SPRING IS HERE PEOPLE! I am determined to savor every fleeting beauty it offers. I have never been more conscious of weather than I am here in Korea. Before now, I have always had the comfort of a car to get around in. If it was snowing, drizzling rain, or blazing hot, never fear! Heated seats and ice cold A/C were there! Now, I walk everywhere and in every weather condition. I am forever conscious of the 24-hour weather forecast. I have invested in a squishy pair gel shoe inserts. Some nice muscles have been developing in my calves.
One of the most exciting parts of Spring in Korea is the grand appearance of the stunning cherry blossoms! Almost overnight, the streets are transformed into picture-perfect venues, framed in a halo of pink and white. There’s a constant murmur of cell phone cameras click, click, clicking, as everyone tries to capture the breathtaking scenery. And as quick as they come, after about a week, the blossoms fall off, and everything goes back to normal.
During Cherry Blossom Season, there are countless festivals around the country, offering ideal venues for your blossom viewing enjoyment. After hours of research, we decided to side-step the more popular venues, and head to Gyeongju, a well-known but far less crowded festival location. No regrets in this choice, I absolutely recommend Gyeongju to anyone making plans for next year’s cherry blossom season. One of my favorite practical features of this city is that bike rentals are everywhere, and very inexpensive! An awesome way to see the city.
Gyeongju was the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty, which ruled the Korean peninsula from 57 BC – 935 AD. Referred to as “The Museum without Walls,” Gyeongju is filled with pride for Korea’s heritage, and holds many of its historical treasures. Here are just a few:
Originally built in 674 CE, Anapji is the ancient palace complex constructed by a king of the Silla Dynasty. The king made the palace grounds a paradise, filled with exotic flowers and animals. After the fall of the Dynasty in 935 CE, the palace was neglected and eventually fell into disrepair. It wasn’t until 1974 that any efforts were made to recover this historical treasure. After twelve years of excavation, Anapji now stands as one of Gyeongju’s most breathtaking venues. Totally recommend seeing Anapji at night! The reflections off the pond are incredible.
Cheomseongdae Observatory (첨성대)
The oldest surviving astronomical observation tower in East Asia. Built in 634 CE by Queen Seonduk of the Silla Dynasty, Cheomseongdae means star-gazing tower in Korean. The reality of having historical sites as old as this surround me has been really hard to grasp. I mean, they’re not even under glass, or behind those red velvet ropes. Furthermore, the irony of these ancient relics being surrounded by a throng of selfie-obsessed tourists gives a whole new twist to the viewing experience.
Royal Tombs (왕릉)
The Silla kings were buried in Gyeongbuk in crazy awesome looking tombs. While many of the identities of the tomb occupants are known, several of the tombs were left unmarked. One of the most famous tombs is that of King Munmu. Munmu asked to be buried outside the city on the ocean, so that upon death, he could transform into a dragon and continue to protect his Dynasty’s coastline. Although we were fairly certain climbing the mountainous tombs was not advised, after watching many Korean tourists trek to the tops, we decided to follow suit. At the top we were able to enjoy a gorgeous view of the city, and kind of felt like kings ourselves. I’ll admit, as the wind flicked my hair and a dead king lay under my feet, the lyrics to Lorde’s song “Royals” rolled through my head more than once.
Bulguksa Temple (불국사)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bulguksa was the zenith of our trip to Gyeongbuk. Built in 574 CE, this temple complex has seen its fair share of hardship. The complex was burnt down during the Japanese invasion, 1592-1598. After 200 years and over 40 renovations, the temple fell again to disrepair, and was a target for looting in the 1800’s. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that Bulguksa was fully restored to its original beauty. It is now home to many national treasures.
Before leaving the city, we partook in the Cherry Blossom activities, and spent the afternoon at the local festival. Many fried foods were consumed. Many pots of boiled silk worms were avoided (already made that mistake once). Perfect end to a perfect weekend.