Manholes in Japan

As we traveled by bicycle, we spent a lot of time looking down at the road in front of us, and noticed that every town often had its own manhole design. I soon started taking photos:

In some cases the manholes depicted emblems of the town; in others we were mystified!

Also, I’m not the only one to discover Japanese manholes: https://www.instagram.com/jpn_manhole_collection/ ! And there are even pages for individual prefectures’ manholes: http://asianbeat.com/en/feature/manhole/list_detail.html

Wrapping up in Japan 

We ended our biking in Onomichi, where we had our first noodle-based okonomiyaki (delicious and cheap at $4.50) and also bid farewell to our trusty bicycles. We would have loved to keep biking, but with only a few days left in Japan and a lot of transit in the next few weeks (Tokyo – Bangkok – Phuket – Melbourne – Brisbane – Sydney – NZ) it would be too much of a pain. But how best to leave the bicycles behind? It would be nice if someone could get some use out of them. So we found a couple who’d been looking at rental bicycles and offered them ours instead. We chatted for a bit – they’re Danish and bike around Copenhagen all the time – and exchanged contact info before handing over the bikes, locks, helmets, spare tubes and all. Thus down to a small backpack apiece, we boarded the train to Hiroshima, arriving in the evening and settling in for a night of laundry and guidebook reading. The next morning we walked around town, visiting the Choco cro and the castle, on the way to the memorial for the atomic bomb. One of the buildings directly under the blast is still standing and forms the centerpiece of a peace park dedicated to the victims and to preventing nuclear proliferation. The museum was quite moving, though the scale of destruction remains hard to grasp. A whole city flattened.


Somber, we nonetheless continued with our day: oyster tempura for lunch and the Shinkansen train to Himeji. Never heard of it? Neither had we until reading the guidebook last night, but it has one of the few original feudal castles in Japan, never attacked and not bombed in WWII. It also happens to be right on the train route from Hiroshima to Kyoto.

The castle was very impressive (so many steps to get to the top level! And so much more spacious than a European castle of that era, since wood is much lighter than stone!) and we wandered its grounds and a nearby garden until sunset before boarding the train to Kyoto.


The gardens were set in the ancient samurai quarters:


Our last three days in Japan were spent in Kyoto, the city everyone told us we couldn’t miss. Temples and shrines galore, 17 unesco world heritage sites – and every single Japanese tourist in the entire country, because the very weekend we had chosen turned out to be the height of fall foliage season. We still enjoyed wandering among temples, and even found many where the only other visitors were kimono-clad wedding guests. We thought we had tired of fall foliage season, having more or less followed it south for the last seven weeks, but we were still awed by the deep crimsons and bright yellows of the lovely fall leaves.


We also ate well, taking advantage of our last few days in Japan to have sushi, eel, karaage, tonkatsu, takoyaki, ramen, yakitori, and tempura. On Monday we took the train to Nara, another ancient capital, and enjoyed walking to more temples and Japanese gardens, as well as the big Buddha (in the largest wooden structure in the world, but rebuilt in 1709 to only 2/3 its original size!). For our last meal in Japan, we delighted in fusion pastas with toppings like eel and bonito flakes, followed by Apple caramel pancakes. Plus we picked up liver skewers and Choco cro for the plane. Yum.


And then it was over – we boarded an overnight bus from Kyoto to Narita (a great deal, saving us a night of hotel and giving us more time in Kyoto) and flew out of Japan for the last time. We will miss its cleanliness, fabulous (and surprisingly affordable) food, and orderly roads – especially now that we are doing 5 days of R&R in chaotic Thailand. Affordable delicious food may be the only thing these countries have in common – we quickly packed away our jackets, pants, and sneakers and are living mostly in swimsuits! Michael is enjoying the slower pace of just relaxing on the beach, while I catch up on things like work and the blog and start to plan for Australia, where I speak at the YOW conference for the next two weeks.


If you’re reading this, we would love to hear from you! Unless you’re one of those spammers who has discovered our blog; in that case, go away.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. We are thankful to have you in our lives and grateful for the opportunity to travel and discover the world.

Sublime biking on the Shimanami Kaido

“This is like Paradise Loop, only better.”

So declared Michael as we rounded yet another curve of amazing scenery as we biked through the Seto Inland Sea.

When we’d first started dreaming about our trip and mapping out places to go, we’d done a little bit of research on biking in Japan and discovered the Shimanami Kaido: a series of bridges connecting Shikoku to Honshu by way of a half dozen small islands, with special bicycle infrastructure on each bridge and marked bike paths between them. The websites we found had images like this one, and so we couldn’t resist fitting the route into our trip.

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To get from Fukuoka to the start of the Shimanami Kaido, we figured we could bike north to Kitakyushu (kita = north, so the north end of Kyushu) and hop on a ferry to Matsuyama, then bike from there to Imabari, the start of the bike route. Here’s how that looks on a map:

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So we started at the Fukuoka post office, mailed all of our gear except what we could fit in our daypacks directly to the Narita airport, and headed north. The road was along the coast and looked fairly flat, plus the ferry didn’t leave until 9:55pm, so we had all day to get there, and the road signs said it was only 61km.

Turns out that the 61km measure was for the more direct inland route (whereas ours was more like 90km), trucks take the coastal road to get to the oil refinery, it rained almost all day, and Kitakyushu was a city of over a million people that sprawled and sprawled. We biked in the dark in the rain on city streets for two hours and even had a little bit of a bike crash on the slick metal grates, but we made it, miserable and wet, to the ferry terminal, and had some ramen before getting on board the boat. Luckily, this is Japan, so there was an onboard onsen with hot showers and a hot spa we could soak in before collapsing into bed (or, rather, into hard and not-very-comfortable futons on the floor). At least the ferry folks were nice and let passengers stay on board until 7am even though the boat gets in at 5am!

Setting out from Fukuoka
Setting out from Fukuoka

And OK, we did find a pretty stunning stretch of coastal bike route in the middle:

On the whole, the ride to the Shimanami Kaido was more grueling than delightful, but oh man, was it worth it once we got there. Incredible views over well-engineered bridges, glittering seas, and offshore islands replete in fall colors. They built spiraling bicycle-only onramps to each of the bridges so that bikers could ascend slowly but surely to hundreds of meters above the water, labeled the routes with distances and arrows, and generally made a bicyclist’s life quite delightful for the 70km route from Imabari to Onomichi and for another hundred or so kilometers of optional detours. The map even says awesome things like “Steep hills. You can do it!” to get you up the steep inclines on the optional sidetrips.

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It was awesome. The two best parts were the sidetrips we tacked on: a 20-km loop around Omishima island that turned out to have its own dedicated bike path through tangerine groves and bamboo forests and right along the coast, and a trip across three small islands linked by bridges to each other and by ferry to the main set of islands we were biking between. It reminded us of Paradise Loop, only better (and with more hills).

The tides here are extremely strong, so much so that naval battles were won largely by the better predictor of tides. The water flowed like a river, with huge eddies and strong currents. It was hard to capture on camera, but really impressive to watch.

Still alive

I know, you’ve been dying of suspense since our last post. Would we and our belongings ever dry out completely? Would our bikes still be there in the morning? Or would we think better of our biking obsession and become normal visitors to Japan?

Well, you can cross the last one of those off your list of possibilities. We deciphered the bus schedule just enough to ascertain that buses to our destination probably left between 7 and 8 am or after 9:30 am, and not in between, so we had an early morning (and, being unable to accurately describe our destination, and being the only white people ever to ask about going to the Genkai high school) but ended up finding our bikes just where we had left them and having mostly dried overnight. Hooray! The same could largely be said of our gear, with the exception of my (waterproof!) hiking shoes on which some overzealous hairdryer action melted the insole … Oops. On the bright side, the early start made for nice views of Karatsu castle at sunrise.


And so we had two more lovely days of biking around Karatsu (lovely coastline, with rolling hills and beautiful views, but you’re getting sick of hearing about that by now I’m sure). Highlights included fortifications against the Mongolian invasion in the 13th century and a very unusual take on tacos, with fried Baja-style fish as well as ground beef with taco seasoning, zucchini, broccoli, and unmelted slices of cheddar cheese. They were actually surprisingly tasty.


Oh yeah, and we went back to the view of the rice paddies (up a steeper hill than we remembered, but we mostly appreciated being warm and dry):

Plus some great views of the coast:


We returned to Fukuoka for a rest day from biking, centered around a big sumo tournament! There are only 6 a year and Michael had figured out how to time our travels to the first day of the November competition. We spent the afternoon watching two dozen sumo matches; each lasted only a few seconds, but the process of staring down one’s opponent, stomping one’s feet emphatically, kicking high in the air, and tossing large handfuls of salt into the ring took several minutes before each match. Apparently this ritual used to have no time limits, but in the last century it’s been increasingly curtailed, now down to only 4 minutes of psyching out your opponent before you start.

The sumo was neat to see, and it was useful to have a day of relaxation. I got my Choco Cro fix at last (so tasty!) and we got to compare three different versions of tonkatsu ramen. On Monday morning we headed to the post office to send all but our week’s worth of biking gear ahead of us to Narita airport ($30 for the entire giant backpack stuffed with all of Michael’s and my clothes!) and headed out for our next adventure: biking the Shimanami Kaido.

Soaked

Today we headed out for another 30-mile day trip and woke up pleasantly to cloudy but calm skies.  We got off to a late start due to tossing and turning all night (is this how it will be for four years?), but we had time to watch surfers and climb hills (that sign says ‘sea caves’?) and hike a bit.

Surfers Sea caves Basaltic jointing

We continued on, wandering quiet, hilly coastal roads until we hit Yobuko.  This picturesque town is known for its morning market (which we missed), but also turns out some great seafood.  We stumbled upon our best Japan meal just picking out the set lunch in the window of the first restaurant we saw.  It looked like sushi on rice with tempura, and it was.  But the bonus was that most of the 12 tempura pieces was squid (fried calamari!) and octopus, and the fish was delicious.  And a bonus raw quail egg, miso soup, salad, and dessert.  Not bad for $10.

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We jumped in to lunch just as the forecast rain arrived, but it didn’t look bad to start.  The forecast said only 2mm an hour, which is a drizzle, and we could bike through that.  So we stopped at the gigantic ruins of Nagoya Castle tried to interpret lots of maps (with no English) about the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 (staged at this castle), and took in the impressive sightlines the emperor must have had.

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From the castle we continued around the Genkai peninsula (Japan is a fractal set of islands and peninsulas–if you tried to bike every nook and cranny it would take a lifetime) and the rain started.  No problem, we thought, we’re in rain jackets, rain pants (check out Andrea’s stylish $1 digs), and waterproof shoes.  But as we went up and down and up and down the hills, the rain just kept coming.  It pelted us as we flew down the downhills and froze us as we rode slowly uphill.  But we had a destination to reach, and only an hour til sunset.

Dry

Finally, we reached a scenic viewpoint (just past the nuclear powerplant and before the huge community center) and paused and just laughed.  Not one inch was dry, our phones wouldn’t work for all the moisture, and the rain just kept coming harder and harder.  As Andrea continued her bobbing duck routine (to shake the rain from her helmet before it dripped in her face), we decided to pause our route and figure out options.  There had to be another way home.

Trust us, we're soaked
Trust us, we’re soaked

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Fortunately, our guess was right, there was a bus, from across the street where we stopped.  So we locked our bikes to a railing (hopefully they’ll be there tomorrow, tune in to find out), and waited 15 minutes in soaking rain for a bus to pull up.  We tried to pay and everyone looked confused, until we remembered that Japanese buses pay as you get off.  So we took a half hour journey on a bus with 20 dry high school students and 2 soaking wet foreigners and no one else.  Turned out it was lucky we didn’t try to bike the road, as it was winding, narrow, hairpin turns the whole way.  We would have survived, but we would have caused a 2-mile traffic jam as polite Japanese drivers waited to pass us, and we would have been terrified the whole time.  We will not take that route home.

We got a ham, egg, cheese, meat, and bbq sauce burger from Karatsu burger (famous, it turns out) (3rd best meal of the trip, making this both the yummiest and wettest day on record), ate it immediately, and set out for our hotel, a 1.5 mile walk.  We were wet enough already, what was a little more rain?

Main lesson: you’ll have plenty of time to dry out, eventually.

Blissful coastal biking to Karatsu

We set out yesterday morning from Fukuoka for the town of Karatsu, along the coast to the west. Its name comes from the characters for “Korea” and “port” as it was historically a gateway to Korea, and the guidebook didn’t have much else to say about it beyond its prominence in the local (global?) pottery trade. But the route didn’t look too hilly, and we wanted to do a bike trip, so off we went. 

The rain from the previous day had cleared, and we enjoyed gorgeous views back to Fukuoka as we cycled out of town. As in Korea and Sapporo, biking on the sidewalk is the default way of getting around – but in Fukuoka it’s a tremendously popular form of transport for all ages, making it a nonstop slalom course but also very safe, with cars and pedestrians paying lots of attention to two-wheeled traffic. 

We chose to take the long route to Karatsu, up around a peninsula rather than along the main highway. (Who’s surprised?!) We didn’t know what to expect as this was our first time plotting our own route rather than following the lovely designated bike routes in Korea – but lo and behold as we crossed the first bridge, a sign for a Cyclists Rest Area! The map was more schematic than practical, and only in Japanese, but hey. 


The road signs, however, were in English, and when we spotted a detour to Mongol fortifications, we headed toward it. Miraculously, we ended up on a beautiful cycling path along the coast in a pine forest among dunes! As it rejoined the main road, the cycling route continued, leading directly along the coastline with spectacular views. 


We started getting hungry and, with the miracle of technology that is Google maps, I searched for udon and we found lunch just a block off our bike route with a friendly older woman offering steaming bowls of udon and tempura for $4-8. Mine came with a whole bowl of fried tempura bits to stir into the broth!


Our ride after lunch was as lovely as before; the bike path ended but for most of the route we were on wide sidewalks designed for biking as well as walking; on a few sections we had to ride directly on the road, but cars were courteous and gave us plenty of room. The coast continued to be spectacular, and we passed through many small towns with lovely Japanese architecture. 



By mid-afternoon we arrived at our hotel in the Niji no Matsubara pine forest just east of Karatsu itself, and perched directly on the beach. Here’s the view from our room:

The pine forest (and the mountains we skirted) are visible looking up the coast:


At this point we could use our phones for things other than navigation and checked the election results and became depressed. We wasted an hour moping and then biked into town for dinner and ended up with a 3-course Italian pasta meal, yum! At this point I realized that all my meals since returning to Japan has consisted of noodles, albeit varied ones (ramen, champpon, udon, and now spaghetti in tomato cream sauce). Not that I’m complaining. Also, our ride to town takes us right by the Karatsu castle:


So we headed to bed well fed but distraught at the state of American politics, and ready for another bike ride tomorrow. The forecast called for a 50% chance of rain, though only about 2mm, but I bought rain pants and a raincoat at Daiso for $2 just in case, since my raincoat had been a little leaky. 

To be continued …

Best laid plans

So, I’m a few days behind on posting, and we also have an exciting guest post blog post from Michael, but first I wanted to write about our adventures today.

We’re in Fukuoka, Japan, now, and since the forecast was for scattered showers we decided to go for a quick bike ride out to a peninsula with a city park and nice views back to the city itself rather than venturing further out of town. But first, our hotel had a “Gourmet Guide” of neighboring restaurants showing that there was a Choco Cro (short for chocolate croissant and one of my favorite foods on our first visit to Japan) nearby, so we headed out to get breakfast. But the building it was in – a giant shopping center next to the train station – seemed to be locked.

When we went to the main entrance, it was closed too, and dark, with a lot of soldiers or policemen guarding the doors. At this point we realized we had received an emergency alert from the government – we’ve gotten a few of these, the previous one for heavy wind on Jejudo – and slowly used Google Translate to understand that a giant sinkhole had formed in front of the main Hakata train station, a hundred yards or so from our hotel and from the Choco Cro we sought. Power was out in a number of buildings and streets around the station closed, plus the emergency alert notified us of an evacuation order for … well, for some of the places around the station, but we didn’t know where exactly.

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So we decided to retrieve our bikes and head out – presumably away from the station, we’d be more likely to find food and less likely to disappear underground in a giant sinkhole. Did I say underground? Our bikes were in an awesome underground bike parking garage with thousands of sliding racks for the train station, with a conveyor belt ramp that carried your bikes up to the ground level for you! We paid our $1 parking fee and off we went.

We found a nice small road along a canal and meandered on it for several miles with very little traffic. It began to drizzle lightly, but not enough to bother with raincoats for a while, and just as it started to rain a little more heavily we found a big grocery store where we got breakfast: a prepared Japanese breakfast with soft boiled egg, salmon, lotus root, seaweed, radish, roasted pumpkin, and so on, as well as what we dubbed the Japanese Egg McMuffin: egg and ham wrapped up in rice and seaweed rather than in an English muffin! We ate in the shelter of the bike rack roof and then headed out, along back roads and out to the port, where a series of bridges led to the park that was our destination.

Soon, however, I realized that I had the first flat tire of our biking adventures here – and that we’d decided today not to bring our kit of tire levers, spare tubes, and pump. We’d decided this in part because we’d belatedly realized that our wheels weren’t quick release and we didn’t have a wrench yet, so what good would the rest of the tire-changing gear do us? But of course now we were in the middle of a big industrial area, 6 miles from our hotel and another 6 from our destination, stuck with a flat, in the now steady rain.

We ducked into a local supermarket, where we bought a wrench and looked up our options. Walking home would take 2 hours, but Google couldn’t find any nearby bike shops – until Michael tried searching in Japanese and located Masaya Bicycle Works, only a mile and a half away. We walked over there through various back streets only to discover that they’d decided to take the day off! Luckily, they ran a bike cafe as well as the bike shop, and the barista typed into Google maps and magically came up with another bike store just a few blocks away! We found it without difficulty, and 20 minutes and $8 later, I had a newly patched tire.

It was by now 2:30 in the afternoon, but we decided to press onward and see if we could make it out to the park. We’d read there was a ferry back, though we weren’t entirely sure where it departed from; we’d check out the ferry and either explore further or hightail it back into town if the ferry wasn’t running. Of course when we got there it turned out the completely abandoned park (aquarium: closed; amusement park: closed; ferris wheel: closed) nonetheless charged a stiff admission fee, so we biked along the road instead and soon found the ferry dock and established the time of the next two ferries and that bikes were allowed on board.

From there we had a lovely ride around a small island linked to the mainland (er, the big island of Kyushu) by a narrow isthmus with sand on both sides and lovely views of town. The coastline was winding and scenic, with views out to more islands and back to the mountains that form Fukuoka’s backdrop. The drizzle continued unabated, but we made it back to the ferry with ten minutes to spare and enjoyed chatting with two women who turned out to be from Seattle and NYC and were in Japan for a JET (Japan English Teachers) reunion after having taught English in Japan 10 years ago. They even offered us snacks since ours were buried deep in our plastic-bag-wrapped backpack.

We arrived back in Fukuoka just after dark, but easily navigated along the sidewalks and canal back to our hotel. Fortunately, the first part of the ride was covered by an overhead expressway and thus very dry. Unfortunately, the rain turned from drizzle to quitea downpour just as we emerged from cover, and so by the time we got to our hotel we were thoroughly soaked through! Now we’ve showered and dried and are getting ready for tomorrow’s bike adventure – heading west to the town of Karatsu, where we’ll stay overnight in order to explore beyond it the following day.

So in the end, we are wet but none the worse for wear – and enjoying watching unending footage of the sinkhole from our cozy, warm hotel room.

 

Biking to Bulguksa

On our second day in Gyeongju, we debated hiking on Namsan, a mountain strewed with hidden carvings and ancient temple sites; visiting a folk village; or biking to the temple of Bulguksa. Lonely Planet’s description of the last of these options convinced us to head its direction:

“On a series of stone terraces about 16km southeast of Gyeongju, set among gnarled pines and iris gardens that would make Van Gogh swoon, this temple is the crowning glory of Shilla architecture and is on the Unesco World Cultural Heritage list.”

OK, that sounds pretty good. After a delicious pastry breakfast at Paris Baguette – the ubiquitous chain that nonetheless manages to have such quirky selections of pastries in each location that we have yet to have the same breakfast twice – we paused in the hanok village, where a group of serious-looking mountain bikers soon showed up for a pit stop. Serious looking they might have been, but within a few minutes they were testing out the dart-throwing games in the town square, and taking selfies with this anomalous blonde biker they’d happened across. From the village, we left the main road for a series of winding country roads southeast of town, through small villages and farms. After a few kilometers, I spotted a sign for “Rock-carved Seated Buddha in Bulgok Valley of Namsan Mountain,” just 700m up a narrow but paved road, and we made a short detour. After bicycling uphill for 300m, the road became a small dirt path, so we locked our bikes and hiked up the mountain for a few minutes to arrive at a small carving of the Buddha, apparently the oldest in the area:

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It was clear from the map that we could have wandered the mountain for hours finding more small carvings, but we headed back down to our bikes and rode onward. The road was just wide enough for one car, so we had some narrow passages of trucks and tractors, but very pastoral scenery, with chicken coops and cow barns and even a kennel of dogs. We eventually arrived at the foot of the mountain of Bulguksa – thank goodness for Google maps showing all the tiny roads! – and stopped in for bibimbap and pajeon before heading up to the temple.

The temple itself was lovely and quite different from Haiensa. Michael found it less impressive, but I loved the stonework in its facade and in the stone bridges leading up to the main courtyard. There were not too many tourists there, but we did see a couple in traditional hanbok clothing taking photos and three classrooms full of two- and three-year-olds in matching red pants whose instructors were valiantly attempting to keep in line. They were pretty adorable.

From Bulguksa we hiked uphill to see Seokguram grotto, described as a magical place in the mountains with carvings of Buddha and others in an impressive cave. I’d have to say this one, while lovely, was a bit of a disappointment after a 45-minute uphill hike, another $5 entrance fee (steep for Korea!), and the discovery that the entire site was one small artificial cave with glass covering the entry. That said, the carvings were in good condition, and if it hadn’t been so hazy we would have had quite a nice view.

We hiked back down and got on our bikes for the ride home, choosing to return by a different route toward Bomun Lake Resort. We decided to take our chances after seeing a sign that the road we wanted to take was closed 3km ahead – after all, a little backtracking is not a big deal on a bike – and only briefly questioned our judgment as the road wound up and up and up over a small hill. Turned out the road went through a giant construction site (new resort? amusement park? condos?) but was thankfully passable, so we didn’t have to turn around and go back up the hill we’d come over. And at the far end we got to see the crazily overbuilt Bomun Lake resort, an artificial lake surrounded by Korea’s first inverted roller coaster, a four-season indoor/outdoor waterpark, a giant recreation of a nine-story pagoda, a huge semispherical observatory, architecturally interesting convention centers and aviaries, and much more. Apparently the central fountain is the tallest in Korea too. Quite a sight – and quite a contrast from the old town of Gyeongju with its central royal tombs.

As we biked along the river into the sunset, we arrived back in town just as it got dark.

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Having had our two favorite foods for lunch – bibimbap and pajeon – we ended up going for a Korean interpretation of Italian food for dinner, and had a really tasty meal that won my award for exceeding expectations by the greatest margin, with a seafood spaghetti in a tomato bacon cream sauce … yum!

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I guess I really do like Italian food, though I’m pretty excited for a few more days of delicious Korean meals before we take the ferry to Fukuoka on Sunday.

Hope you’re all well – would love to hear from you! Or have you join us on our adventures … 🙂

Gyeongju: Korea’s “open air history museum”

We didn’t know exactly what to expect in Gyeongju, which we’d heard described as an “open air museum.” Our bus arrived at midday, so we checked into the Apple Motel ($27/night *and* great reviews!) and then headed out on our bikes in search of both historical sites and lunch. But first we found neither: just a guy at a cart selling cinnamon sugar rice cakes fried in butter for $1 apiece. I waited patiently in line for a disk of delicious gooey goodness.

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It turned out his cart was just the start of a huge and dense market, with vendors selling everything from fresh and dried fish (the latter arranged by size) to baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables, wide assortments of shoes and hats, and freshly cooked foods. We had lunch at one of the stands with a seating area: homemade noodle soup and two huge rolls of gimbap for $6.

Kalguksu and gimbap

As we headed back south toward the historic area marked on the map, we noticed a large grassy mound just behind the stores on the busy street we were biking along, and headed that way. Turns out there are so many royal tombs in town that they have several blocks of tombs in a central park right in the middle of downtown! We explored briefly – it’s not every day you stumble upon tombs from the 5th century – and then hopped back on our bikes to tour the broader area, with visits to more royal tombs (including one you could go inside), an ancient observatory, and a reconstructed hanok village.

We even stumbled on a temple with impressive guardians:

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By late afternoon we wound our way back to our motel and took care of some logistics – we now have ferry tickets back to Japan, and we voted … via email, which seems kinda sketchy, but awfully convenient. Hooray for the King County elections department.

I forgot to mention that the weather now has taken quite a turn for the chilly side – days in the high 30s for the most part, and we’re starting to bundle up in our winter clothes and even use the electric blankets at the hotels. So when we debated whether to eat at the night market or in a real restaurant, the latter was the clear favorite. But as we walked by the night market, we decided to take a look at its selection — and ended up getting tempted by its array of stalls. From delicious Korean interpretations of latkes and crepes to spicy marinated grilled pork and a crazy concoction of pulled pork, cheddar cheese, pickled jalapeños, and waffles dubbed a “waffle burger,” we had a very tasty and inexpensive dinner. Oh, and 3 skewers of chicken livers for $1, I could have eaten those forever.

Waffle burger

Tomorrow we will do a longer bike ride to an outlying temple, Bulguksa.

Heavenly temples at Haiensa

After a day in transit (ferry from Jejudo to Wando, bus to Gwangju and on to Daegu), we spent the day Tuesday at Haiensa, one of the “jewel temples” of Korean Buddhism. Nestled in the hills, it’s a gorgeous temple that also holds the Tripitaka Koreana, a set of thousands of wooden blocks in which the Buddhist scriptures were painstakingly carved back in the 13th century. We very much enjoyed wandering around the beautiful setting and wondering about monks’ lives there hundreds of years ago, though the Tripitaka Koreana itself is well preserved inside buildings that don’t allow visitors.

From Haiensa we set out upward to hike to the highest peaks in Gayasan National Park, which sounds ambitious, but was a relatively short 3-hour trek, albeit with a lot of uphill. Views from the top were hazy, but it was nice to make the most of our day at Haiensa.

That said, I have to leave you with a photo of Haiensa itself:

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