Towering Inferno

I live in a part of Gangneung that is still mostly farmland, but the city is expanding deeper and deeper into rural areas. Apartment buildings are going up at an incredible rate, even though the population is shrinking. Second homes for Seoulites and investments for speculators, perhaps. I make photos of the construction now and then, just because I pass the sites every day and I always have a camera in my hand. It’s decent composition practice as well. Getting the tower cranes aligned well is a challenge.

 

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The tower cranes were nicely aligned one day when I was coming home from a walk.

 

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The exterior of this complex is done and the cranes removed. You can see yellow elevators attached to the outside of the buildings. In the foreground are a dilapidated traditional home and some hothouses. These will probably be replaced by the usual convenience store, math/English/Korean cram school, and restaurant that sit in front of every apartment complex.

 

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Building tops. The weird colours are from Kodak Ektar film, which I can’t seem to do anything with. Or the lab scanner can’t. I’ll just tell people it’s art and I laboured for hours to get those colours.

 

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The same buildings a few days ago. Something caught on fire at the construction site and the neighbourhood was full of nasty black smoke for an hour or so. My wife saw this on her way to work and texted me. I ran out with my Canon compact and a film camera to make a few photos. The film photos are not developed yet. They probably look about the same.

Despite this awful fire being just across the road from my apartment complex, people here are still parking in the fire lanes.

Let me know if you have a fascination for apartment construction photos and I’ll get you some more. 🙂

Happy Lunar New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome

The Olympics are in town. Or two towns, rather. Officially, the Olympics are in the tiny town of Pyeongchang up in the mountains. A nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Actually, you probably can’t live there because rich speculators bought up every bit of land they could find when the Olympics were announced and the prices have gone mad. Snow events like skiing are being held in Pyeongchang (which already had some ski resorts), but ice events such as hockey and curling are being held in Gangneung, where I live. The Olympic Village and other important infrastructure are here in the city as well.
As far as I can tell, the city has done a good job of preparing for the games and everything is very organised. The city has spent some money on Olympic themed decorations for the streets, including these Olympic circles above Culture Street in the central Gangneung area.

 

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Nikon F6, Fujifilm C200 film. I don’t remember the lens.

This probably looks very impressive at night when the circles are lit up, but I’m not interested enough to go downtown with camera and tripod in freezing weather.

Some local businesses are also doing their bit to welcome the world to Gangneung for the games. A café on Culture Street put this lettering in their door:

 

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Nikon F6, Fujicolor C200 film. A lens.

The name of the cafĂ© is “Welcoming” but it looks odd to say ‘Welcome to Welcoming’. A ‘fereigner’ might be someone from another country who doesn’t speak English well. Gangneung, which shouldn’t be two words, is capitalised for some reason. ‘Jok-Bal’ is ham hock. ‘Horid’? Maybe it’s not that good here? ‘Pok Cops’ might be pork chops. Or a chance to jab law-enforcement officials. Oh ho ho.

Good luck to the athletes, the organisers, and local businesses getting some extra custom during the games. As for me, I’m going to avoid any Olympic areas for the next few weeks. It’s all a bit too hectic for me. I’ll just stay home and cook up some pok cops for myself.

 

 

 

Black and White. And Colour

One fine day in January I decided to make some black and white photographs with my digital camera. I was frustrated with using film because of the expense, the difficulty, and what I thought would be poor results. Rolls of film were piling up on my shelf and I didn’t want to send them off for development for fear of disappointment. So I took the 50mm off my F6, attached it to the D810, and headed downtown.

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I have made photos of this truck parked by the riverside before but from the other side and including most of the vehicle. The strong line of the shadow attracted me on this day and I shifted about until I came up with this minimalist (?) composition.

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I think I can call this another minimalist composition. The top of a building, the tips of some trees, and a few wisps of cloud.

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And my third simple composition. The poem has nothing to do with the scooter. It’s something like, “While rambling across the winter field, I decided not to thoughtlessly say that I had not gained a thing.” Once a month or so the building management puts up a new poetry quote on the outside wall. Quite nice, I think.

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The camera was in black and white mode when I made this photo but I switched it to colour after I got home. The green bus is barely visible in the monochrome version but it’s supposed to be the main point of the photo.

I eventually sent off the film for developing and got the slides back a couple of days ago. Not quite the disaster I was expecting . . . .

 

Gyeongju Trip, Part 3

I got up at 9:30 in the morning on Wednesday and drank some of the complementary 3-in-1 instant coffee in the room. Then I went out to look for a new pair of shoes because mine developed leaks in the soles. By the time I found a shoe shop my socks were wet so I gave up.

Strangely, I couldn’t see any tall apartment buildings anywhere. Maybe the main tourist area is a no-development zone? In most cities and even small towns you can see high-rise apartments all over the place. It’s quite nice not to see them, actually.

I headed to the famous royal tomb park and made some photos there, despite the constant and slightly heavy rain. The park is quite nice, and I wish I could have visited in better weather.

 

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Just outside the park is a replica of the Great Bell of Shilla. I don’t know where the original is. Maybe Seoul?

 

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Public parking lot. It’s interesting how modern life and ancient remains exist side by side in the city. I wonder how the ancient Korean royalty would feel about ‘peasants’ parking by their final resting places.

 

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More modern and ancient in the same scene.

 

 

 

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An impressive root.

 

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This might be the obvious way to make a photo of this tree and tomb, but I rather like it. I think the tree on the right and the tomb to the left make the photo.

 

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iPhone panorama of a path and trees. Red leaves in winter! Beautiful.

 

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This display consisted of bits and pieces of ancient building that were dug up around the city. Archaeological ‘spare parts’, I suppose.

 

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Artsy-fartsy tomb photo

 

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Do Not Enter

 

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A couple of the few people I saw in the park.

 

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One of my favourite photos of the trip.

 

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More lovely curves.

 

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Peek-a-boo

I really enjoyed my time in this park and I think with a spot of good weather and a full set of photo equipment I could be happy for a whole week just photographing this one park.

It was getting close to dinnertime when I exited the park but it was hard to see anything except shops selling Gyeongju Bread. But off to the left was this small restaurant that sells traditional Korean meals. The sign says it’s been in business for seventy years.

 

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Country Wrapped-Rice

 

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The restaurant looks very large because this is a wide-angle panorama photograph, but it was fairly small and cosy.

A lot of the menu items had seafood but I was able to order a set menu featuring a kind of hamburger patty. I told the employees I can’t eat fish but they gave me five seafood dishes anyway.

 

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The soup at the bottom is made from fermented soybean paste and was delicious. The beef patty is to the right. On the far right is a number of leafy vegetables. The idea is to wrap up bits of meat, rice, and veg and pop it in your mouth. Yum. I ate as much as I could but there was a lot leftover. 

 

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I think I mentioned this is Part 2, but I wish that more buildings were like this one. Fantastic.

 

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Tombs in another park.

 

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Most visitors to Gyeongju come to see this 7th-century astronomical observatory. I guess it’s interesting, but I prefer the tombs and temples.

 

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A parking attendant’s bicycle. He put an umbrella over the seat to keep it dry, but it kept blowing off.

 

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City trees are often wrapped in rice straw during the winter. Someone once explained that insects make their homes in the straw rather than burrowing into the tree.

 

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I was tired of walking and I wanted to write in my journal so I stopped into this coffee shop.

 

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Its claim to fame(?) is a birch tree with memos attached. I guess people write their wishes on the memos and stick them to the tree. I wished that the owner would stop giving paper and plastic cups to customers who are drinking in the shop.

On the tourist map there was a village made of traditional Korean houses and I wanted to see that. It wasn’t far from the coffee shop so I set off after finishing my jasmine tea. I found the village easily enough and I was hoping to make a lot of photographs, but I was quite disappointed. All the houses had high walls around them and the houses that were open were converted to restaurants and coffee shops. I didn’t stay there long.

 

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village/commercial area

 

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This beautiful building is now a snack shop.

 

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I guess a lot of selfies are done here.

 

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The final disappointment of the village was this car blocking the sidewalk. The writing on the street says, “No Parking or Stopping.” To avoid getting a ticket, this guy just parked up on the sidewalk. Amazing . . . .

I felt knackered after walking so much, so I jumped in a taxi and went back to the hotel, even though it was just 2:30. I bought a convenience store lunch box to have for supper because I didn’t want to go out any more that day. I showered, took a nap, and spent the rest of the day in my hotel room reading, writing, and watching TV and movies until late at night. That was quite relaxing.

The next day I left Gyeongju and went to Daegu to visit a friend. I enjoyed my trip to Gyeongu, but two full days in bad weather was enough. I would really like to go back again some spring or autumn to photograph those tombs and maybe some temples.

I hope you enjoyed my little travel diary, and if you ever come to Korea I highly recommend Gyeongju. Bring an umbrella and some good shoes . . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gyeongju Trip, Part 2

I was skimpy on details in Part 1, but I will write more this time, even at the risk of boring people. You can always skip to the photos if you’re not interested in the writing.

I didn’t get up until 10.00 in the morning, which was just as well because the weather was cloudy and the light was low. Not great for photography. My sad breakfast was leftover fried chicken from the night before. My first stop of the day was the Tourist Information kiosk in front of the train station. I told the young woman working there that I didn’t have a car and was interested in tourist areas within walking distance. She gave me a map of Gyeongju and circled a number of things I could get to easily.

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The hotel’s elevator. Notice that there is no fourth floor. The Sino-Korean word for ‘4’ has the same pronunciation as the word for ‘death’ and it’s considered bad luck. Much like some aeroplanes have no row 13. Sometimes the ‘4’ in an elevator is replaced with an ‘F’.
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Dull day in Gyeongju. Despite all the beautiful tourist areas, the city itself has lots of these ugly buildings and signs. Like most cities here, really.
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I don’t know if this scooter owner is buying lots of beer or delivering beer to a shop. I’d like to have a (lighter) cart like that for my bicycle.
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Gyeongju Train Station. I like the tiled roof and it’s a shame more buildings aren’t done in this style. There is a New Gangneung Station for the KTX bullet train that runs up and down the country but I didn’t get to see it.

I went to the wrong tourist site after leaving Tourist Information. The woman circled the back entrance of a tomb park and I headed for that. Unfortunately, there is another, smaller park of tombs before it and I went in there. I was a bit disappointed and it wasn’t until I had come out and looked at the map again that I realised I had stumbled into an unfinished park.

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This eyesore is next to the entrance of the Jjoksaem Tomb Park, the place I entered by accident. There is a tea room on the second floor and it’s hard to see what might be on the first floor. In front of the building is a coffee vending machine and a tin drink vending machine. The big yellow sign says that the street is for ‘hangover soup’ restaurants.
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The rear part of the tea room building is so badly run down that the city has covered it with wood so it doesn’t ruin views from inside the park. In the background, you can see some tombs.
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I did manage at least one ‘artsy’ photograph inside the park.
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This tomb-shaped building is an archaeological museum.
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The museum is basically just an enclosure for this tomb that is being excavated. There are some displays on the walkway that goes around on the second floor but there is very little information in any foreign languages. You can’t get down to the first floor. The museum seems like it’s not quite finished. Admission was free so I couldn’t complain.
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From a balcony outside the museum, I could see these old buildings just outside the park grounds. The store on the right sells Gyeongju Bread, a pastry filled with red bean paste first made in 1939. Shops selling this pastry are everywhere in the city, especially near tourist areas, the train station, and the bus stations.

I made another short tour around the park after I left the museum and took a path that maybe was off limits. There was a traffic cone standing in the way that lacked authority so I went past it. I guess it’s not an officially opened path because the area is not cleared up yet. I made a few photos.

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The back of a building. One of my favourite photos of the trip. It started to rain at this point, and you can see some raindrops on the blue metal.
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I never did get a satisfactory composition for this scene. I think some unsightly buildings were to the right and I didn’t want them in the photo.
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The detritus from some run down business to my left extended into the park grounds. No doubt this will be cleared away once the park is ready for full tourist activity. I can see why the path is not yet open to visitors, but I like this sort of photo.

It was getting close to midday by the time I left the park and I headed to a beef restaurant near the exit. The restaurant was in a traditional style building and quite large.

 

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This is less than one half of the restaurant. A beautiful building.

 

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One page of the menu. I had the Ugeoji Short Rib Soup. ‘Udeoji’ means the outer leaves of a Chinese cabbage, usually dried for making soup in the winter. 10,000 Won for a bowl of beef rib soup is a little expensive but this restaurant was very good.

 

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Although this was a high-quality restaurant, I didn’t like most of the side dishes. I ate the potato salad, some of the spicy fried squid, the pickled garlic, and the rice. The beef in the soup was very tender and was delicious dipped in the soy sauce.

The park and the restaurant are next to the neighbourhood of my hotel so I dropped by my room to rest for a little bit. Unfortunately, the (very friendly) cleaners were in the room so I didn’t stay for more than a minute. I got a disposable raincoat from the front desk to cover my camera with and then went for a short walk through the streets.

 

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Gyeongju has an abundance of smokers and cats. This guy must be a regular customer at this restaurant.

 

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There are also lots of southeast Asians in Gyeongju. I saw quite a few SE Asian shops, some restaurants, and places selling mobile phones to foreigners. Shops in Korea are garish in general but this one has taken it a step further.

There was nothing good to see in these streets (except the cat) so I started off for the Gyeongju National Museum. It was raining so I figured I may as well go to an inside cultural site. The museum is a few kilometres away from the hotel but a lovely walk with hills and trees. I made a few photos on the way there and on the way back.

 

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Okay, this isn’t that lovely, but it’s one of the few places in the country where you’re likely to see a service station with a traditional tile roof.

 

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A coffee truck. The sign on the door says that the owner sells and services coffee machines. Could one of these trucks be converted into a camper van, I wonder?

 

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A Gyeongju City bus. An anti-smoking poster is on the side. One hopes the campaign takes effect soon.

 

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A coffee shop with a traditional gate and tile roof. From what I could see, the inside of the coffee shop was modern.

I arrived at the museum and made a photo of the front gate with my iPhone. It wasn’t raining too heavily, so I made some photos of the grounds before entering any of the museum buildings.

 

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You get your free ticket at one of the windows on the left and then pass it in at the booth in the centre of the gate. I’m not sure why you need to get a ticket if the museum is free, but maybe it’s how they keep track of how many visitors they receive each day.

 

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I used the panorama feature of my iPhone to make this photo of the museum’s main building. On the right is a pavilion holding a large bell.

 

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Another panorama, which includes the main museum building and a traditional depiction of a cloud in brick. 

 

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This bell was completed in the year 771 and was commissioned by King Seongdeok for his deceased father. 

 

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I made quite a few photos of this pagoda from different angles but this one is probably the best.

 

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Traditional Korean vending machines. 🙂

 

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No trip is complete without a group photo. I was alone so I made a photo of someone else’s group.

 

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How many centuries has this fellow been standing in the rain?

 

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7-11 seems to be the most common convenience store in Gyeongju and the museum had one with a tile roof. I had finished looking through one building at this point (no photos) and decided to have a snack and write in my journal.

 

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Like so.

After taking a little rest I went into the main building to see the displays there. Photography is allowed if you don’t use flash or a tripod so I made some photos. I photographed many things but I’ll just share some of the better ones.

 

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Pre-historic pottery. Mobile phones are nice for selfies and daylight photos, but nothing compares to a proper camera with a large sensor when lighting conditions are not good like inside a dimly lit museum. 

 

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Golden crown with jade ornaments.

 

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I can’t remember what this is, but the green bits are from the shell of something called a jewel beetle. 

 

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When this martyr’s head was cut off, milk shot out of his neck. 

 

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Wolseong Palace and Gyeongju during the Shilla Kingdom. A sign says the city may not have actually looked like this. 

 

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Statues of rather fierce looking turtles. 

 

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The museum’s gift shop. There were some interesting things inside, but I wish that more of the things for sale were about Gyeongju, and not Korea in general.  

 

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Leaving the museum.

If you’re ever in Gyeongju, I highly recommend the National Museum. It would be worth living in Gyeongju just to spend days and days photographing the grounds and buildings.

I was satisfied with my first full day in Gyeongju, despite the rain. The only thing I didn’t like about the day was the choice of food for supper. Most restaurants are for couples and groups, and lone eaters are very rare. I feel uncomfortable sitting in a restaurant by myself here. Also, many of the good foods like grilled ribs can only be ordered in servings of two or more. And many restaurants in the evening are filled with noisy drinkers and can be unpleasant. So, sadly, I went to another chicken place and brought back another meal of fried chicken to my hotel room. (I never thought I would ever use the words ‘sadly’ and ‘fried chicken’ in the same sentence. 🙂 )

One more part to come!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gyeongju Trip, Part 1

This winter I made a trip to the city of Gyeongju, which was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla (pronounced ‘shilla’). The kingdom had a good run of 992 years (57 BCE – 935 CE) so they left quite a few things lying around for people to find, restore, and put in museums.

The modern city of Gyeongju has just about 300,000 people and isn’t even the capital of the province it’s in. I once read somewhere that ancient Gyeongju was considered a fine city because all the buildings had tiled rooves and no thatched rooves were to be seen. There are still tiled rooves in the historical and tourist areas, but the rest of the city is not much to look at. Not that I saw, anyway. Maybe because I spent all my time in the older part of town.

I brought my Nikon D810 and a 50mm lens on my trip because I wanted to keep things simple. I probably should have brought a 28mm lens as well because some of the tombs and museum buildings were large. I used my iPhone when I needed a wide-angle lens. I could have and should have left both the DSLR and mobile phone camera at home and just brought my Canon S100 compact camera. The lens goes from 24-120mm and the image quality is good enough for travel photos. The DSLR has excellent image quality but is a pain in the arse to carry around all day. Lesson learned.

My trip began at Gangneung station, from where there is no train to Gyeongju. There is a rail connection, but it won’t be open until after the Olympics. The station will be too busy bringing people from Seoul by bullet train to allow regular routes for now. I bought my ticket for Gyeongju at the station and took a shuttle bus to Jeongdongjin, which is just south of Gangneung. Routes from Jeongdongjin to the rest of the country are operating normally.

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The fancy new station built for the bullet trains bringing the world to the Olympics. You can see Jehovah’s Witnesses in the foreground with several racks of pamphlets.

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Another view of the station sans Witnesses and including people taking their photos with the Olympic symbol and mascots.

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These banners hanging from the ceiling of the station appear to have been sponsored by individuals and have messages wishing for the success of the Olympics.

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The shuttle bus trip took about half an hour and got me to the train five minutes before it was scheduled to leave. I made this snapshot and jumped on board.

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This concerned-looking man was walking up and down the platform while I waited for the train to depart. I don’t know if he works for Korail or if he was just bored.

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No train trip is complete without something to eat while looking out the window. I bought these at a convenience store because the vending machines in the train are wicked expensive and there isn’t much choice.

When you take an express bus in Korea, the view consists of asphalt, sound barriers, and other vehicles. Bridges go high above valleys and straight through mountains. The trains go through all the little valleys, following streams and passing little villages you might never see travelling on highways and main roads. A train trip takes twice as long as an express bus to get somewhere but the experience is a hundred times better. Korea has some very beautiful views when you get out of the towns and cities.
I didn’t make any photos of the train views because they don’t come out that well (speed + dirty windows = poor photos) and I wanted to enjoy the scenery instead of worrying about shutter speeds and contrast. I’ve made photos from train windows in the past and none of them is worth sharing.

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The shuttle bus left Gangneung at 1:00 in the afternoon and I arrived in Gyeongju at 7:30. The hotel I reserved is only a five-minute walk from the station so I didn’t have to fuss with maps or taxis. The photo above is a nearly 360-degree view of the room made with the panorama feature on my iPhone. The bed was comfortable, the TV had several channels of cheap movies and shows, and there was a desk. I got a good deal because I reserved in advance and because it’s the off-season.

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The bathroom was large and had good water pressure.

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The hotel provided things like dressing gowns, razors, toothbrushes, shaving lotion, a kettle with tea and coffee, hairbrush, and so on. The cleaning staff were friendly and efficient.

There are no photos of Gyeongju on Day 1 because the sun set while I was on the train. After checking in and having a look at the room I went out for supper. Well, I got a fried chicken takeaway and brought it back to the room to eat while watching crappy action movies. A vacation tradition.