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A couple of weeks ago was the Korean harvest festival called Chuseok – a three-day holiday that, this year, fell on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, thus creating a five-day weekend. In addition, my delayed summer holiday followed on immediately, giving me twelve consecutive days of non-work.

On Wednesday, I held a coffee morning here in Cheonan, which got a pretty good turn-out. I was given a late birthday present of some chocolate cake/pie, which was very tasty. Afterwards, three of us set out on a quest to locate a cat café in Cheonan – in which we eventually succeeded.

The following day, Chuseok Day itself, I headed up to Seoul and met a group of friends for a walk around Gyeongbokgung – the main royal palace. It was busier than I’d expected and pretty warm, but we had a good time looking at the fantastic architecture, posing for photos and browsing the exhibits in the Folk Museum. After that, we had food and drink in a Bukchon café and played card games. I’d told people I wanted to see a film in the evening, but that didn’t pan out; those of us still remaining had dinner at a cheap Korean restaurant in Insadong before heading home.

Gyeongbokgung

Actually, I headed to Zach’s home, as I’d invited another group of friends to a day of gaming in Sinsa on Friday. We only actually played two games. The first was a Burning Wheel one-shot run by Peter – which, somewhat surprisingly, turned out to actually be a one-shot which is to say, we finished it on the day).

Our disparate group of characters were supposed to retrieve an Elixir of Life from a dragon’s hoard to give to a dying princess. Most of us had ulterior motives. The game ended with the prince drinking the elixir himself (thus becoming immortal) and escaping with a magic sword of truth and killing one of the last surviving characters causing the victim to come back as a ghost and haunt him. Our cheer at this happy conclusion caused the coffee shop staff to ask us to be quiet. After dinner we played my game Islands of the Azure Sea, which I’d just updated. I’m starting to think a maximum of eight players is rather too many.

I had a wedding to go to on Saturday, then, on Sunday, I met Natasha – an Englishwoman I and my ex-girlfriend met while volunteering on a farm in Iceland, and who was visiting Korea for a couple of weeks – and Alisha a friend from the Tolkien reading group. We headed back to my place so Natasha could drop off her bag, and they peered at my cat in her hiding place. Then we went up to Sinbu-dong, the city centre area, and spent an hour at the cat café (which is called The Cat) that I’d previously located. Jocelyn joined us while we were there.

The café is divided into two areas, a larger area with the entrance and counter and so on, and then a smaller, but still reasonably big, area partitioned off with a large window running the length of one side and glass sliding doors on another side. Before going in here – which is where the cats hang out – you have to change your footwear for cheap rubber sandals and clean your hands with disinfectant, as well as putting your possessions in a locker.

The Cat Café

When I was there the first time, the owner told me he had eighteen cats. They include a Maine coon, a Scottish fold, an American curl, a sphynx or two, some oriental shorthairs, a couple of munchkins and others. The cats – apart from the munchkins – are all very friendly and seem quite happy. The Maine coon has its back shaved, for some reason, and one or two cats with long fur look like they could do with a bath – I’m not sure if their greasy fur indicates an illness or the fact that they get petted a lot by people with sweaty hands. There was one big cat – an Abyssinian, I think – that gave all of us a hug.

After the cat café, we went to the Arario Gallery – which I’d never been to in my ten months in Cheonan. I got Alisha and Jocelyn to pose next to a couple of Anthony Gormley sculptures. The current exhibition was by a Korean artist called CI Kim and included an interesting range of media, from found art washed up on a beach to big plastic triangles to paintings of children holding emotive signs.

Buddha Statue

We went for coffee downstairs in the Coffee Bean. Jocelyn left us, but Eve joined us, and after a bit we met Mike and Tera and their friend Brandon for a trip to Taejosan, a nearby mountain, home to Gakwonsa, a Buddhist temple with a big Buddha sculpture. After looking around the temple, we had dinner at a vegetarian buffet restaurant. Then we (minus Alisha, who had to return home) headed back to Mike and Tera’s for a game of Cards Against Humanity.

On Monday, Natasha and I started carrying out our plan to head down to Busan and see some of the south coast. We got to the KTX station in Cheonan nice and early and therefore arrived in Busan nice and early. We hadn’t identified anywhere specific to stay, but we decided on Haeundae because there are plenty of hotels, motels and suchlike around there. Our plan was to ask at a few places and see what was reasonable in terms of price. In the event, we checked out a small pension first and at ₩50,000 for a room for the two of us it seemed OK and our search came to an end. We probably could have found some where nicer, but it was par for the course for Korean pensions.

Mermaid Statue

We walked up an down the beach. It was sunny and breezy and a big embankment of sand had been built for the forthcoming Busan International Film Festival festivities. The purpose of this wall, we could only guess at. We had a burger for lunch at a fancy-ish burger place – best burger ever, according to Natasha – then walked around the coast towards Gwangan. We took pictures of the mermaid statue and the fourteenth century (or earlier) Hae Un Dae carving in the rock, walked around the APEC conference building, craned our necks at the blue skyscrapers and tried to find the Busan Museum of Art. When we finally located it, it was closed – it was Monday. We had a coffee at a Twosome Place (no, really – it’s one of the many coffee shop chains in Korea) and played cards.

APEC House and Gwangan Bridge

Then we took the subway and walked to Busan Museum – also closed. So we walked up the hill to the Cultural Centre, finding a friendly cat on the way. Natasha marvelled at the chandeliers in the concert hall lobby and we watched some musicians have their photo taken on the plaza outside. We went back to Gwangalli and had seafood for dinner, watched the lights on the bridge and a lightshow projected on the rain from a jet of water.

Gwangalli Beach

The next morning, we spent an hour on the subway to the Intercity Bus Terminal, an hour on a coach to Gohyeon – the main city, it seems, on Geoje Island – then well over an hour on a bus out to Haegeumgang. Actually, the driver dropped us off at a nearby village – even though the route information said the bus terminated a Haegeumgang – and we had to wait for another bus for another ten minute ride.

As we hadn’t really researched exactly where we wanted to go, I asked a ticket clerk at the bus station in Gohyeon what was a good beach to visit and she recommended Haegeumgang and told us which bus to take. Haegeumgang is a picturesque, rocky island and it has no beach – so I may have used a word that translates more accurately as ‘coast’. We didn’t take a ferry around the island, but, after a lunch of more seafood, we walked up a nearby hill to a view platform with great views in most directions. When I tried to reach the actually summit, I found it to be closed with a padlocked, barbed wire-encircled door.

Haegeumgang

After missing two buses, we took a taxi back to Gohyeon (₩17,000) and a coach back to Busan, then subwayed to the Museum of Art – which was open. The museum was pretty massive, but its spaciousness made it seem like there wasn’t that much stuff in it. We wandered around all the galleries, admiring, in particular, a collection of works about Korean-Japanese relations, such as the painting of two dogs biting each other, a series of woodcuts telling the story of a Japanese-run mine and a huge mural of corpses and Buddha statues based on the Gwangju massacre.

We headed back to the pension for a shower, had dinner at the burger place and met Jessica for an all too brief chat.

The next day, we headed back to the Bus Terminal, with all our bags this time, and caught a coach to Suncheon. Once we’d checked in to a hotel – Hotel BMW, ₩35,000 for a room – we caught a bus out to Suncheon Bay Ecological Park – the site of Korea’s biggest wetland.

Suncheon Bay Ecological Park

We dutifully walked around the museum first, reading and forgetting various bits of information about wetlands, then looked for something to eat in the ‘cafeteria’ and the ‘convenience store’. Rather inconveniently, as we were both hungry, they had nothing more than small pastries and crisps. After eating a packet of crisps each (actually, mine was a dried tofu snack), we started walking through the wetlands on jetty-like walkways, taking pictures of the massive fields of reeds and the occasional heron, crab and bunch of mudskippers.

Suncheon Bay Ecological Park 2

On the far side of the reed fields, we walked up the familiarly named Yongsan, a forested hill with an observation platform looking out over the bay. I took lots of photos of the view, including distant hills and islands and the circular reed beds on the coast. Natasha was particularly taken with the maroon-ish colour of some of the vegetation.

After a convenience store lunch and a brief encounter with a couple of Mormon girls (one Korean, one from Salt Lake City), we headed back into town and then out again to Seonamsa on another pretty long bus ride. We walked around this Buddhist temple at dusk as the monks were performing some sort of ceremony. This began with monks taking turns to perform epic drum solos on a giant drum in the entrance building (on the ground floor of which was a shop, the attendant of which harassed Natasha as she looked around). Then the monks gathered in one of the halls for chanting and praying. It was nice and peaceful; there were a few other tourists around, but not many.

Buddhist Drumming

The following day – Thursday – was our last day together and we decided to check out Yeosu Expo – the site of a world exposition last year. I was a little confused about what was going on there because there was also a garden expo in the area, but that turned out to be in Suncheon. Yeosu is close to Suncheon, but is a separate town. Yeosu Expo is also a terminus of a KTX line, so it seemed like a good place to head back home from.

Yeosu Expo

Unfortunately, there was really nothing going on at Yeosu Expo – there was some sort of ‘character festival’ for kindergarteners and the nearby aquarium seemed to be open for business. Most of the exhibition halls were closed and empty and the whole place seemed a bit sad and dilapidated for something that is only a year old. We had a strange French toast-croque-monsieur thing and a drink in a café on the site and played some cards then caught our train home. It was a regular train rather than KTX – four hours to Cheonan, five to Seoul – as it was at the most convenient time.

It was great to spend time with Natasha and quite satisfying to use my minimal expertise to show her around. It was also good to finally have my summer week off work, even though it was a pretty tiring round of early starts and long bus and train rides. It was also a little weird to consider that Natasha is a link to my ex-girlfriend and that our lives are pretty close, but completely divorced from each other. But it’s only loneliness that makes me dwell on this, I suppose. But Natasha was great company – it was lovely to spend time with someone as good-natured as her; her being British was a bonus, too.

Natasha and Sean

Although there was lots of moving around, this short, concentrated burst of travelling works quite well, I think. Busan is a great place to spend a couple of days on holiday, and there are lots of places on the south coast that would be worth exploring; the little that we saw was very pleasant – even Yeosu Expo had a certain charm. The experience makes me want to explore more of the country – just not necessarily by myself.

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In Albania, most people travel around the country by furgon, which is just the Albanian for mini-bus. They’re generally white, fairly new and seat about 15 people – although they often carry more passengers than that. There are no bus stations, but various major pick-up points at squares and roundabouts, where these white vans gather.

We had read and been told that there was a furgon going from Shkoder to Ulcinj (‘ool-cheen’) just inside the Montenegrin border at nine and four every day. When we checked out of our hotel and walked to the nearby square for the furgon at 8:30, a man approached us and asked, ‘Ulcinj?’ and showed us to a café and there was another tall, middle-aged man there drinking and talking to some others. They didn’t speak much English, but we thought the second man was the driver. As a nearby church bell started ringing the hour, he finally came out and walked us to his car. Not a minibus, just a people carrier. And for €5 each he drove us, a young guy sitting next to us in the back and another older man in the passenger seat over the border into Montenegro

Ulcinj is actually south-west of Shkoder and we were heading north, up the Adriatic coast, to Kotor. From Ulcinj, we took an actual minibus to Bar, and from Bar we rode a rickety, exhaust fume-filled bus to Kotor. The route took us along a winding road, with mountains on one side and sea on the other. Just before the town of Budva, we passed Sveti Stefan (Saint Stephen), a tiny island densely packed with red-roofed old buildings, connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus of sand and a causeway. It’s an interesting and very picturesque location, which explains why it’s now an exclusive resort.

Habiba was just saying that she might have preferred to stay at Budva or nearby when we passed inland and reached Kotor, which is on at the end of a long, twisting bay and is pretty much surrounded by mountains on all sides. The place was as spectacular as anything I’ve ever seen. The new town near the bus station is nothing special, but the highlight, and the location of the hostel we stayed at, was the old medieval town.

This mini-town is remarkably well preserved. The walls are completely whole, inside it’s all paved with rectangular marble stones worn smooth over the years, and the buildings are all handsome stone structures arranged pretty randomly, thus making a maze of irregular alleys and squares. It’s such a picturesque place there’s something unreal about it; walking around is like navigating a level in a first person shooter. It was spotlessly clean – a welcome change after the refuse-strewn Albania.

Above the town, the fortifications continue all the way up the mountainside. They’re less well preserved and in the upper reaches, the dark grey ruins have been completed with paler masonry to make them safer. The hike up – which we did on our second day there – is steep, but not too strenuous as it’s not a long distance and we kept stopping to take photographs. There’s a church halfway up and a little fort at the top, some of it modern, maybe from the Second World War. It’s an interesting place to explore as there are lots of ruined but mostly whole rooms and staircases and the walkways branch every now and then, giving a choice of routes up and down.

Outside the old town, we also took a couple of walks along the shore of the bay. While it’s an inlet of the Adriatic, it looks a lot like a lake, with mountains on all four sides, but the water turns a corner further along, maybe a couple of miles from Kotor. There is a marina at the very end of the bay in front of the Stari Grad (old town) and all along the waterfront there are lots of little stone jetties, presumably where people in the nearby houses moor their boats, just by the narrow lane where they park their cars. There isn’t much of a shoreline, just bits of shale here and there. Because it’s so protected, the water is very placid.

We stayed at Montenegro Hostel, right in the middle of the old town. They had a deal with a nearby restaurant to provide cheap meals – something we took advantage of every breakfast and dinner. Actually, we didn’t stay at the hostel, but in a room in someone’s house just round the corner, but the rooms were let by the hostel. It was a nice attic room, but it was a little cramped vertically. In the bathroom I couldn’t even stand up to pee.

Presumably they don’t have many Montenegrins staying there. We’d read long before arriving in the country that Montenegrins are some of the tallest people in the world and we saw quite a few beanpoles – maybe because we were on the lookout for them.

We ate a lot of pizza while we were there – and in the region generally. There are lots of pizzerias in Albania, Montenegro and Croatia, obviously because of the close proximity of Italy. People also say Ciao to say goodbye.

Two days after we arrived, we caught an afternoon bus to Dubrovnik, two or three hours up the coast.

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The day after we returned to Athens – Saturday – we did some more sightseeing – the Temple of Olmpian Zeus, which was very close to our hostel – and planned our journey to Albania the next day. We should have done that planning earlier, really. We thought we would be able to take a bus to Ioannina in north-west Greece, then another to the border town Kakavia, then another to Gjirokaster in southern Albania, and a final one to our destination of Berat. Probably doable.

However, Habiba spoke to the travel agency that had organised our trip to Santorini, and found that there were Albanian travel agencies that run buses to the country. So we went to the area where they all reside and bought tickets for a direct night bus to Berat for €35 each.

Habiba’s mum left very early for Istanbul and a flight home the next day. We were going to have breakfast together, but she decided she needed to get to the airport as early as possible. We said goodbye to her at the hostel and then went back to bed.

As we were now not travelling during Sunday daytime, we had another day to look around Athens. We had breakfast at a café with lots of baked stuff near the Acropolis. A small flock of little birds sntached up our crumbs – which we provided readily enough from our crumbly pies.

Then we went around the Roman Agora and the Ancient Agora. We didn’t have to pay any entry fee for either because it was Sunday. The Ancient Agora is in a large park that contains a completely reconstructed ancient building, the Stoa of Attalos (a stoa is an arcade), and the Temple of Hephaestus, which is perhaps the best-preserved ruin we saw.

Afer that, we walked up a nearby hill called the Areopagus, which provides a great view of the nearby Acropolis. It started raining while we were up there, so it wasn’t all that pleasant. We headed back to Snytagma and watched the soldiers dressed in traditional tunics in front of the Helllenic Parliament building. They were evidently in service of the Ministry of Silly Walks, as they slowly marched back and forth with exaggerated leg movements. Behind the parliament is the National Garden, which was not exactly bursting with colour, as it was a rainy early spring afternoon.

In the evening, we picked up our bags from the hostel and made our way by subway to the Albanian travel agency and – with some communication difficulties – got on our coach bound for Berat. The seats were pretty small. The bus was less than half full; we considered moving to different seats to get away from people behind us kicking our seats, but we reasoned there would probably be more pick-ups later. We never did move and there was only one person picked up along the way.

The ride was pretty hair-raising. The driver powered the bus along narrow, winding mountain roads. As it was night-time, we couldn’t really see much outside – probably a good thing. The drive was so hectic that getting any sleep overnight was out of the question.

When we got to the border, we got out of the bus and presented our passports one by one at the Greek Immigration desk. Then we drove on to the Albania checkpoint, where a man got on the bus with a passport-width wooden box and collected everyone’s passports. A while later, the driver’s assistant gave them back to us. Habiba and I check our Albanian stamp – plain black and not very interesting.

Then we had more windy roads to navigate up through Albania. Past Gjirokaster, closer to Berat, which is in the southern central of the country, the roads degenerated to patchy country lanes. The bus had to slow right down in many places in order to pass. Then there were various stops at small towns near Berat that drew the ride out to thirteen hours. I showed the driver the address of the place we were staying at and he eventually let us off at a footbridge we had to cross. From there it turned out to be a short walk to the guesthouse.

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Buses to work have been mostly OK recently – I’ve either become accustomed to the noise and the jouncing or my luck in catching quieter, gentler buses has improved. However, one ride earlier in the week was particularly bouncy. When it neared the stop I wanted to get off at, the driver hesitated for a long moment at a zebra crossing, apparently asking me and another passenger if where we wanted to get off – as if the fact that we’d rung the bell and stood up wasn’t enough.

As soon as I got off the bus, I tripped on the uneven pavement, fell on my hands and rolled on to my back. In frustration, I kicked the bus shelter – pretty hard. Too hard, really, as my right big toe hurt pretty badly. I limped off, down the steps to the river, but I had to stop and rest a moment. I took of my shoe and sock and held some snow to my toe. It was already quite purple in the nail and the skin around it. When I eventually continued, I realised I didn’t have my travel mug and had to go back to the bus stop to where it was lying on the ground.

At the end of the day, much of my right foot was swollen. The toe itself, several days later, is still swollen and still hurts. The sensations reminds me of my wart treatment from a few years ago. I haven’t seen a doctor about it. There’s no structural damage – it flexes readily and painlessly. But the nail is pink and it’s surrounded by some bruising. I’m a little worried that the horror of my thumb might be repeated, but the bruising is not that intense – the nail is lilac with bruising, not black with pooled blood. I’ll be happy when the swelling goes down and it stops hurting.

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I take the 9407 express bus to work every weekday morning. It generally comes about every ten minutes or so (except Mondays, when it seems to take half an hour to arrive), so I’m usually not hanging around too long at the stop – which is good in this winter weather. Because of the traffic light intervals before and after my stop, whenever the bus stops there it immediately has to stop again at a pedestrian crossing a few metres away.

Today, as yesterday, just as I was getting to the bus stop, the 9407 was pulling away and immediately stopping, so I ran and got up to it just as the green pedestrian light came on. I knocked on the door. Unlike yesterday (when I didn’t even have to knock to get the driver’s attention before he let me on), the driver just lifted his hands in a shrug and didn’t open the door. The zebra crossing had plenty of time to run down, so I waited, making what the fuck? gestures.

A moment later, it was clear I was going to be boarding that bus, so I walked towards the stop and punched the side of the bus in frustration. I got dirty knuckles and a little bruise on my middle finger.

I had to wait at least five more minutes for the next bus and I was less early for work than I had hoped. Stupid bloody bus driver.

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I’m nearly two months into my new job and it’s going OK. Sleep and getting up in the morning hasn’t been too much of a problem. I usually try to sleep a little on the express bus down to Bundang, but it’s not easy. The drivers often have the radio on, sometimes at annoying high volumes. They also often have a beep that sounds when the engine revs too high – presumably to let them know when to change gear (unlike the UK, where people drive real cars, the vast majority of Korean cars are automatics (not that I’ve ever driven a car, manual or automatic)).

The main problem, though, is the buses themselves. They’re coaches, really, but living in such an American-oriented society I inevitably think of them as buses. Korea has a great public transport (not transportation) system – there are lots of bus routes and buses, subway lines and trains. The buses are all pretty rickety, though: they jolt and judder and jump up and down every time the driver changes gear or applies the brakes. The drivers also don’t drive too well: they tend to accelerate as fast as possible and then brake as hard as possible.

I’m back into reading as a result. If I can’t sleep on the bus in the morning, I might as well make a little more progess on The Three Musketeers (a novel about four soldiers who rarely use muskets). I can only manage a couple of pages in the evening, though, before exhaustion overtakes me.

My roleplaying game system continues to progress. I’ve been working on a new version that is taking longer than the first version to complete – I don’t have any full days to dedicate to it, now, though. From a high point of six players, the group has shunk a little to three regulars. The campaign that I’m running has taken a lot longer than I imagined to get to the point it’s currently at. The players are at a turning point, however, and I think I need to change my approach for the coming episodes – cutting out extraneous combat, maybe dealing with longer periods in condensed form. We have fun, though, which is the important thing.

Habiba and I are planning our trip to Europe, which will start early in the spring. I learnt from the internet that all international train services in Greece were cancelled earlier this year because of the financial crisis there, also it’s a very chancy business getting inter-island ferries at that time of year. This changes some of our plans – we’ll have to bus it (that word again) from Istanbul to Athens, or maybe Thessaloniki. The next stop will be Albania – transport links there and in the former Yugoslavia also look a bit ad hoc, so that’ll be interesting times.

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I finished watching Prison Break on the ferry over to Korea. It got silly towards the end, in the sense that the writers seemed to have added so many plot threads that it became impossible for them to resolve them in a sensible, self-contained fashion. So (warning – spoilers follow), with Lincoln now trying to retrieve Scylla for the Company, working against Michael, and Michael recovering from brain cancer and working against his mother, a greedy, calculating Company operative who wants to sell Scylla for big money and is willing to kill to bump up the price, with Don Self gone renegade for no good reason other than it ups the drama quotient, with T-Bag toadying up to whoever holds the whip hand, with the FBI finally appearing to do something about all the mayhem, with agents for buyers for Scylla wandering in from the cast of Lost and being rapidly killed off, the hand of the writers intervenes to resurrect Paul Kellerman (killed off in season two) to solve everyone’s problems and hand the magic hard drive over to the UN. The denouement worked nicely, though.

Then (warning – spoilers continue) episodes 23 and 24 saw Sara imprisoned for the murder of Michael’s mother (she shot her in the back as the older woman shot Michael in the shoulder) and the series returned to its original theme – breaking out of prison. And we see how Michael dies. These last two episodes were probably meant to be a whole fifth season and the speed at which the plot flies by and the lack of tension (we already know from episode 22 how everything turns out) make them a damp squib compared to what went before.

I didn’t sleep well on the ferry – lots of rocking and rolling in the literal sense. I did a fair amount of reading. The ferry got in a few hours late, but I had my phone on and charged and Habiba called often for updates. I disembarked and passed through the Quarantine, Immigration and Customs with little problem, walked from the ferry terminal to Dong-Incheon Station and took the subway bakc home.

At home I was finally able to relax a bit in a familiar environment. I laid out everything I’d brought back from China on the table for Habiba’s perusal. She seemed very pleased with her gift – a pair of shiny, colourful bracelets – which I was fearing wouldn’t be quite to her taste. We had a leaving party to go to, but later in the evening we had a chance to (very successfully) try out the sexual position die I’d brought back.

The very next day we had an early start as we were taking a free bus down to Gyeongju a capital of one of the three kingdoms of medieval Korea and site of many tumuli – burial mounds – and other historical structures. We went with Jessica and shared a room at the motel, Nokwonjang, I’d stayed at a year and a half ago. (We had tried to check into a place a little closer to the bus station, but the old ladies working at the ‘Romance Hotel’, wouldn’t allow the three of us to share a room.)

We had a look round one park containing several tumuli – Daereungwon – and the pretty, pavilion-lined pond – Anapji – and east Asia’s oldest observatory – Cheomseongdae – on the Saturday evening. On the Sunday, after breakfasting and checking out and storin our bags at the railway station, we took a bus over to Bulguksa, one of Korea’s most important temples and saw the Dabotap and Seokgatap. The first of which (a pagoda that appears on the 10 won coin) was covered up with scaffolding and screens when I visited Gyeongju in 2009 – so it was satisfying to go and see it in the stony flesh.

Then we had lunch and took a bus up a mountain to Seokguram Grotto, a man-made cave that houses a beautiful statue of Buddha. We paid our four thousand won to enter the site knowing that we would have to be quick to catch the two o’clock bus back to get the free four o’clock bus back to Seoul. After a short walk, we arrived at the entrance to the grotto, but there was a huge queue of people, so we decided we didn’t have time and walked back to the car park. Shame – especially as Habiba and Jessica probably won’t return to this important site. I’d been there before, so I wasn’t heartbroken about it.

After two more bus rides and a taxi ride we were back at the Concorde Hotel in the big hotel area (by which I mean the area of big hotels) a little outside Gyeongju on the shores of a lake, which was our pick-up point for the bus to Seoul. The reason this bus was free was that it’s Visit Korea Year (2010 to 2012 … somehow). And, of course, we weren’t the only ones who wanted to take advantage of the freeness. In Seoul, at least one person had to be turned away; and in Gyeongju, several people were turned away – possibly because they hadn’t obtained tickets – the guide, while he spoke reasonable English, just didn’t express himself very clearly when trying to explain to the people on the bus. This delayed our departure a little, but, by the time we got back into Seoul and off the bus, it was nearly 11:30 – two and a half hours later than advertised. This meant Jessica couldn’t return to her home in Osan, a city south of Seoul, and had to stay at ours and go home in the pre-dawn darkness.

It was a nice enough visit, but the weekend crowds were large and annoying. It’s definitely worth visiting Gyeongju, and it’s also worth going during the week.

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