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.
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.
Another view of the station sans Witnesses and including people taking their photos with the Olympic symbol and mascots.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bathroom was large and had good water pressure.
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.