Spring in Korea is a really beautiful time of year! There are so many flowers that come out in bloom and the weather is usually starting to get nice and warm. Given that Ryan and I have both gotten even more interested in running since we moved here, we went ahead and signed up for the Cherry Blossom Marathon Race. Ryan did the half marathon, I did the 10k, and we recruited a couple of friends to come and do the 10k as well. The race was towards the end of the cherry blossom season, but we were still able to catch some glimpses of some remaining flowers.
What made the weekend even more fun was the area that it was in: Gyeonju – the old capital of the kingdom of Silla which ruled a majority of Korea for period of time. It also has several UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are also considered Korean National Treasures. We had heard from some of our Korean friends that this is their favorite part of Korea so we were excited to check it out. It’s about a 3.5 hour drive, so we started our road trip right after work on Friday night. When we finally made it there, the owner of the pension house (comparable to a bed and breakfast without the free breakfast) where we were staying came running out saying “Kendrick, Kendrick!” She was apparently very excited that we were finally here. She took us up to our room and then sat down with us to show us how to get to the race and what sights she recommended seeing while we were here. We headed straight to bed because we were absolutely exhausted – it was a typical Korean bed which feels like sleeping on the floor; however, we were both so tired that we slept like babies. The other aspects that made it very uniquely Korean were the brightly colored decorations and then the bathroom that has one drain in the middle of the room for all water to drain down; there is no separate shower or divider for that part of the bathroom…it basically means that your entire bathroom is wet all the time which is not what we’re used to but it works. The next morning, the owner came back into our room bright an early to bring us the breakfast of champions in preparation for running.
After getting stuck in some traffic and delayed picking up our shirts/numbers, we were finally ready to start. The races are funny because they have a gun shot to announce the run and it is followed by fireworks and streamers and then everyone starts running. The weather was nice and sunny and we all had a great run! After the race, there were a lot of festivities (I wish I had taken pictures of this but my camera was in the car because I didn’t take it running with me) which included some free food and drinks and TONS of Korean people (and a few foreigners) around – they had tea boiled eggs, bananas, beer, and a big barrel of makgeolli (Korean rice wine). It’s a really fun experience and we’ve loved doing races in Korea – we’ll certainly do some more while we are here.
After the race, we all grabbed lunch together and the girls headed back to Geoje and Ryan and I took the afternoon to do a bit of sight seeing around the area. It’s nice to learn a little more about the country you are living and this was a wonderful place to do it. The first stop was the Bulguksa Temple which is a Buddhist temple on a pretty mountainside with a very long history – the temple starting being built int he early 500s and then the rest of it was built in the mid 700s. Sadly, it was burned down by the Japanese and they had to rebuild it – unfortunately, this is a common story in Korea and they make sure to point it out any time possible. That’s one thing about traveling around Asia that is so different from the US – many of the historical sites here are from hundreds of years earlier than anything in the US; definitely changes your perspective a bit.
Then, we went to the Seokguram Grotto which is a bit of a drive away from the main area of the Bulguksa Temple and then you have to hike up to the Grotto. They don’t let you take pictures of the actual Buddha inside, but it was a cool statue and the view from on top was great.
We really enjoyed our time in Gyeonju – it is certainly one of our favorite spots in Korea. There are some other things that we wanted to see but we weren’t able to see them this time so we’ll just have to go back so we can check it out!