Exploring Daegu (Gyeonsangbuk-do)

Today was my final day in Daegu. I have been here for almost a week. I have heard some locals and travelers alike express surprise at my staying in this city for so long because apparently there is nothing to do here. But I have enjoyed hanging out here. I’ve developed a pleasant routine of sitting in the hostel common room working and chatting in the mornings before going out for lunch and a short walk, eating ice cream, relaxing in my room and then going out again for dinner. I’ve had the privilege of spending time with some locals who have told me something of their lives and the work of the Empathy organisation.
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Today I decided to forgo work and the routine to do a little sightseeing. I started with Gyeongsang Gamyong Park, which is located near the hostel. Many people were sitting here enjoying the sunshine. The park is home to some brightly painted pagodas and buildings. I know it has historic significance but the signs I saw were in Korean. So I just enjoyed the visual experience.
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A trip down handmade shoe street followed. I admired the handcrafted leather footwear through the shop windows as the sound of small hammers hitting nails and sewing machines stitching leather rings gently through the air.
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My walk takes me through Daegus more industrial streets. Here you can buy everything from electric drills to small motors. Each tiny shop is crammed full of items, leaving the shop keepers to sit out on the footpath waiting for customers.
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I find myself at Dalseong Park. There is a pagoda up on a hill.
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And a sort of miniature zoo where animals from all over the world are kept in small cages. This vulture is huge and keeps charging the people looking at it. I feel a bit sad for the animals; not in a judgemental way but just because I think it must be boring to be wild but caged.
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Small school children play on the grass as teachers watch vigilently. Some teachers wear small microphones like those used by tour guides so their class can hear them. The uniforms vary from sporty to cute little suits and ties worn by five and six year olds. But no matter the uniform, one thing is the same: the brightly coloured shoes.
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There are a couple of bonsaied trees. This photo is for my friend who loves bonsai.
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My next stop is the Seomun Market where clothes, traditional medicines, groceries and street food are sold at small stalls, many of which are marked by brightly coloured umbrellas. Old women fall asleep at their stalls while middle aged women work hard to entice customers to their’s. The enticement here is not pushy and rude like in some other countries. Rather, it is courteous and apologetic; always with the promise of a free taste and discounted price.
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It’s lunch time and I like street food so I start with a piece of fried squid and a piece of fried sweet potato. I take my place at the stools and use the cooking cart as a table.
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A fishcake on a stick is next. I have seen these being sold all over the countyr and finally decided to try one. These are boiled in a broth so they look less enticing than the fried foods. The taste is quite good but it is a little more bland than my pallet is used to. I eat the stick dipped in a soy, sesame and chili sauce while standing at the food cart; the lady vendor fussing over me and smiling.
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Finally I buy a deepfried hot dog sausage with tomato ketchup. It’s a familiar flavour and can be eaten while walking.
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And I leave you with this photo of the entrails. There are a few stalls selling them but I’m not sure how to ask for them to be cooked so I can’t buy any; or at last that’s my excuse.

I buy some groceries for my departure tomorrow. I end my day by patching a tube on one of the bikes here at the hostel. One of the hosts asked whether I minded giving it a go seeings as I am a cyclist. It was a nice quiet way to spend the afternoon patching the tube and chatting to the hostel hosts.

A night out in Daegu (Geonsangbuk-do)

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Rene the Swiss cyclist who I met in Seoul happened to turn up at the same hostel as I am staying at here in Daegu. So what else do you do when a fellow cyclist comes to town? Why you go out to eat food and drink beer. And that’s what we did.
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We started with makchang, a delicacy here in Daegu that consists of pig’s intestines cooked on a coal grill at your table. When raw it looks rather graphic.
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But then you (or, if you are a foreigner who seems to lack suitable BBQ experience, your host) cooks it up at the table until it looks just like any other sort of fried meat. You dip the fried intestines in a delicious sauce, place it on a lettuce leaf, add marinated bean sprouts, raw garlic slices, onion and this delicous paste, roll the leaf and eat. I was sceptical at first but found it to be one of the most delicous Korean foods I have eaten so far.
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After makchang we wandered around a little while looking for a bar where we could drink a beer. It seems these are few and far between in Korea. Don’t get me wrong, you can pretty much buy beer anywhere. But usually it’s sold at restaurants where they also sell food. And being from Australia and Switzerland we are more used to bars where you just buy a drink. Eventually we found a place. They brought us our beers and then a big bowl of buttered popcorn. I found that very random but also very tasty.

Women in war photo exhibition in Daegu (Gyeonsangbuk-do)

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I knew the Women in War photo collection as part of the 2014 Bienniel Photography Exhibition would be moving. Jane from the hostel had told me about it after we spoke the other day and she suggested I might be interested to see it. But I wasn’t quite prepared for how deeply it would touch me. So I will just share with you the thoughts I wrote as I stood there in the gallery:
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Extraordinary photography. Some haunting others stunning. The contrast between the horrors of war and magical colours makes it all the more harrowing. I wonder how I could ever return to the life I once had after seeing all that I have seen this past year already.

There is no rushing here. No glory to be seen. Just the cold realities of war through the lenses of female photographers. The exhibition makes me more sure that all who can should travel to cure their minds of hatred based on fear. For pain and loss are human experiences, not something any group owns exclusively. No matter the side, the flag, the religion, the race or the gender: tears mean sadness, blood means pain and death is forever.

The exhibition ebbs and flows. From the jungles of Vietnam to the soldiers of the Balkans. From death in Africa to uncertainty in the Middle East. A female US marine plays with a child and mothers try to maintain normality in Afghanistan. Acid violence disfigures faces and women are taken to “comfort” men.

Humanity on display both in and out of the photos. An older Korean man sits crying openly. Young couples move slowly with reverance. A teenage girl touches her mother’s shoulder. A raw heart wrenching exhibition not to be missed and from which I pray we will all learn.

Baseball in Daegu (Gyeonsangbuk-do)

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I had been told that Koreans love baseball and that attending a game here is a must do experience. So in Andong I checked the game roster and noticed that the season was coming to a close with just one week left to play. There would be no games once I got to Busan but there were still two games to be played in Daegu. Foreigners cannot buy tickets online in Korea. You must either make a phone booking or turn up at the gate an hour before the game and hope there is a ticket available. So while I was here at the hostel I asked whether someone could phone the stadium to organise me a ticket and, guess what. There was only one ticket available in the whole stadium and I got it.
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I was told my seat would be the worst seat in the house and this was correct. I was behind a post so I had to lean sideways to see the batter
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But who cares. I was at the baseball in Korea. And I bought a Samsung Lions baseball cap to commemorate my first ever baseball game (ever).
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Crowds of people thronged outside waiting to enter the stadium.
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As fried chicken vendors hawked their food. And what delicious food it was too.
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The super cute mascotts supervised the players’ warm ups.
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A white coated choir sang the national anthum.
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And then the first pitch of the game was thrown. Little did I know that this would be the start of the game that sealed the penant championship for the home team: Samsung Lions.
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So I’m no baseball nut and the game is a little too slow and tactical for me to imagine ever becoming totally enthralled in it as a sport. But boy is attendance at a game a wonderful spectacle and something I will certainly try to do again when I travel in other baseball mad countries. I don’t know whether any mascotts will ever match up to the cute Samsung Lions with their grinning faces and cheeky skipping-style running.
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In the next stand a cheer leader encouraged the crowd to engage in choreographed cheering. Before the game started he went onto his little stage and gave instructions. The crowd were encouraged to practice and practice they did. During the game choreographed dancing, cheering and singing reverberated around the ground as the cheer leader did his thing. Might I add that from my vantage point in the cheap seats his dancing looked rather camp with his hip swinging, arm waving and butt jiggling.
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Naturally there were also scantily clad cheer girls for the (mostly male) crowd’s entertainment.
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But the girls were not without their eye candy either. Every time this player (number 7 from Samsung Lions) came out to bat the girls and women in the crowd went wild. I was sitting next to two teenage girls who fell into fits of adolescent giggles whenever he came on and they took many photos of him with their phones, resulting in more embarrassed adolescent giggling.
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In the good seats spectators had tables on which they ate whole meals of rice, pizza and fried chicken washed down with copius cans of beer. Beer is a big thing here in Korea. When you buy fried chicken they give you a can and people carry whole cases into the stadium to share with their friends. There was even a beer sculling competition between the fifth and sixth innings, which was shown on the big screen. Three men went head to head to see who could scull a mug the fastest.
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The game itself was a thriller with Samsung going up 3-0 at the bottom of the third inning and the opposition figthing back with a home run at the top of the sixth and then two at the top of the seventh inning, tying the score at three home runs each at the top of the eight. The Samsung pitcher held the opposition at bay in the eighth …
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And I found myself going wild with the crowd at the bottom of the eight when Samsung scored two more home runs. All that was left to do was for Samsung to despatch of the opposition’s batters without score in the ninth inning. We were all at the edge of our seats … well, actually, everyone was standing with breath held.
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And as the final batter was struck out … the crowd went wild, the players ran onto the field and a fireworks display burst out from behind the scoreboard.
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The Samsung Lions had won the penant race championship in a thrilling game.

As for me … I have yet another amazing memory of my time in Korea. I have to shout out to Julian the German I met in Seoul who is traveling the world watching soccer matches. If I hadn’t gone to the Asian Games with him I probably wouldn’t have thought to try to go to the baseball game. And what an experience I would have missed.

Sangju to Daegu (Gyeonsangbuk-do)

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The rain is bucketing down outside the pagoda when I wake and I briefly consider laying in the pagoda for the day but that would be a bit soft and Daegu is calling. It’s only about 125km away and, while I’ve never ridden 100km in a day with a fully loaded bicycle the river path is flat and I am confident there will be a bed waiting for me at the Empathy Hostel despite my not having made a reservation. Besides, rain is only water.
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The wind is gusting and rain is stinging into my eyes like a summer storm back home in Brisbane. Like those storms this rain is warm and, fortunately, unlike those storms there is no lightning or thunder to make my heart race. As I leave I notice two Korean cyclists packing up their tent under a pagoda near the first certification centre that I pass so now I feel more confident about future pagoda camping adventures.
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As my Goretex fails to keep me dry I pass many Korean fishermen sitting comfortably in their tents with coal barbecues, picnic tables and soju. Their fishing set ups are epic and would make my uncle Big Muscly Bill in Holland jealous. With at least six rods a piece sitting on fantastic rod holders and at least three crab (?) nets in the water and a multicoloured scoop net on the shore, these men are not just here to watch the scenery.
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I also pass some strange totem poles. I can’t quite decide whether I should be afraid or amused. Perhaps a little of both is the intended emotional response.
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Despite the rain there are still some lovely sights. In fact, I think this orange-leaved tree might look more impressive against the steely water as the greenery around it gets washed out by the rain.
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I reach Korea’s answer to Silicon Valley: Gumi. Through the rain I can see a sign proudly proclaim that LG Displays is the Global Number One display company. I guess it probably is if many Australian households are anything to go by. This section of the cyclepath is industrial as it travels through Gumi’s industrial zones.
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At Chilgok Dam and certification centre I stop at the only shop I see on the entire cycleway today. It’s a CVU where I experience my first Korean microwave burger. I have been eyeing these things off for weeks and it seems like time to take the plunge. Naturally, the instructions and the microwave buttons are all in Korean so I rely on the CVU lady to show this ignorant foreigner what to do. The burger actually tastes quite good. It has two mince patties, cheese, mustard and (my personal favourite) pickled gherkin. I have a messenger conversation wtih my friend at home. He wishes for me that the rain stops. I scoff and say I doubt it will. I step outside to find that it has. The skies are not blue but at least the worst of the downpour is over and I can take off the Goretex that has so far failed to keep me dry anyway. I pass a typical Korean city residential area with numbered buildings. I wonder what life must be like to live in such places. Is it any different to living in a suburban house like many Australians do? How many rooms does an apartment have? How big is it on the inside?
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I spy a traditional looking building about 50m off the track. There is a place to park my bike at a pagoda so I walk in to take a look. The building is an old residence that has been partially restored. The story is not so interesting but the building has a charm and I enjoy a short stay.
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After 95km of cycling I see Daegu sprawled out in the distance. The city is nestled between the mountains and river. It feels so close but what I don’t realise is that it will still be 5km before I reach the certification centre and then another 20km until I reach the city centre. But it’s only 2:30pm and this means I have time to make it to that warm dry bed and nice hot shower I have been daydreaming about. The cycleway into the city seems to end abruptly after about 5km leaving me with two choices: ride along crowded pedestrian footpaths that have a cycle lane painted on them or join the crazy traffic. I jam my helmet onto my head and select the latter as it will be much faster and, unlike the pedestrians, the traffic is only going in one direction. I don’t know from where I draw the energy to zip in and out of parked vehicles and sprint off from the traffic lights after the ride I’ve just done but somehow I find myself cranking down the road at speeds of over 30kph and throwing my 60kg loaded bike around as though it was built for trials. It’s worth it when the hostel has a bed and I enjoy a deliciously hot shower.

Andong to Sangju (Gyeonsangbuk-do)

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I have heard a lot about the Four River Rides and the passport that you get stamped at certification centers. So one of the draw cards of my visit to Andong was it’s location at the start of the Nakdonggang bicycle path. This path forms part of the Seoul to Busan ride that I was originally going to do here in Korea before I got side tracked. I was pleasantly surprised that the certification center at Andong Dam had passports for sale so I bought one as a souvenir.
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The moonlight bridge near the dam is the longest wooden bridge in Korea. Even on an overcast day it is beautiful. I walked across the bridge to stand under the autumn coloured trees on the other side. A woman came over and asked me where I was from. She then called over her 10 year old daughter who had to do a school assignment in which she interviewed someone in English. The girl was small and shy. At first she didn’t even want to look at me because she was so embarrassed. So I knelt down to her height and tapped on her shoulder. “Anyonghaseyo” I said smiling. “I only know two Korean words: anyonghaseyo and komapsumnida” I said, nodding at her mother to translate. The little girl giggled a little and turned halfway around to see who this strange person was who couldn’t even speak Korean. “My name is Andrew. What is your name?” I said slowly to her. And there it was … the ice was broken and she was curious now. With her mother filming the interaction on her mobile phone (a Samsung of course) the little girl asked me some questions including what my favourite place in Korea is (the answer was Yangyang and Andong), where I am from (Australia) and what my favourite Korean food is (my response of fried chicken brought a big smile). The girl was from Gumi and went to an English language institute there. She introduced me to her father who works in a company (that is how she described he works in an office) but is a mountain rescue instructor too. Her father is clearly where the girl gets her shyness from so the mother explained that he was going to travel to Australia soon to teach a mountain rescue course. It’s spontaneous situations like this that make me wonder why so many people are xenophobic. After-all, we are all just people who happen to speak different languages or have different customs. And it confirmed to me that children all over the world are going to be our global future in tomorrow’s connected world.
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Back in Andong I came to the mask park. Andong is famous for it’s traditional masks and the annual mask festival (which I missed by only a week). I had a lot of fun posing with the various masks and like the way they are specifically set up for photos.
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After weeks of riding through Korea’s countryside on local roads the cycleway came as a bit of a shock. In some ways it was a pleasant change: there was no traffic and navigation was simply a matter of following the path and signs. But in other ways it was disappointing in the same way that a motorway is disappointing after traveling country roads. The cyclepath skirts around cities and towns, never actually entering them. This means there are limited on-track opportunities for spontaneous stops at little shops or historic sites. It also reduces you to an observor of Korean life rather than a part of it because you race past people working rather than interacting with them in villages and local tourist attractions. You also don’t get the same feel for the land because the cycleway takes the path of least resistance (except in a few places where there are ridiculous 13-18% climbs to get you off the river). Just as motorways are not bad, neither is the cycleway. But I definitely prefer to ride out on the road amongst the traffic, villages and mountain passes.
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That’s not to say that the path didn’t go through and past some beautiful spots. I rode through this picturesque rice paddy.
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Past these stunning riverside cliffs.
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And across the vast expanse that is Korea’s inland rivers.
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Everywhere Korean farmers were working on the harvest.
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These cute little tractors cut rice while couples of men and women worked together to collect and bundle it by hand. I find the rice cutting machines rather cute and think perhaps they could be the subject of a Pixar movie (they would have to be the goodies).
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In another field a digger with two big prongs on the end dug into the dirt while women pulled sweet potatoes out of the ground. It was rather disconcerting for me being someone who comes from a country where health and safety has become so silly that almost nothing seems to be allowed anymore. But I like the ingenuity and am intrigued by the way rural life seems to be modernising here in Korea and the practices that have developed as a result.
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Korean tourist practices also intrigue me. All over the country I have watched as grown men and women pose formally for photos only to break the formality with peace signs and riotous laughter. I like the playfullness and joy of it.
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The cultural difference flows both ways because it seems the Koreans cannot understand why I am taking photos of places without being in it. So sometimes I hand over my camera and allow someone to take a photo with me in it. It makes them happy and perhaps I will look back and wish I had some photos of myself that weren’t selfies.
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In Sangju I notice a man fishing in a blow up boat. I figure it’s a sign that paddling is allowed in this place on the Nakdonggang (river) so I park my bike, whip out the packraft and get some air into it. It’s already 4.30pm so I don’t have long to get myself out on the water before dark.
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Again I don’t paddle far. I just drift a bit so that I can keep an eye on my bike. Besides, after cycling about 85km since my late start in Andong (I didn’t leave until 11am) I just want to enjoy sensation of being on the water. I enjoy about 40 minutes of paddling pleasure before it’s time to find a place to camp.
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And what a place I manage to find. There is an island in the middle of the river near Sangju with lots of little pagodas on it. I go to one on the far side of the river where I enjoy a pleasang night listening to fish jumping in the water and wake to hear a flautist’s music eminating from somewhere in the woods opposite.

Tonggosan Recreation Park to Andong (Gyeonsangbuk-do)

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I wake invigorated by the fresh mountain air. After a short 800m (half mile) roll downhill to the park entry gate I return to the climb I had not quite completed yesterday. For the next 5km I ride up a steady climb surrounded by deep green mountain forest dotted by bright red and gold autumn leaves. Every time a strong gust of wind blows I am showered by leaves. I reach the first of many passes that I will cross through today. These do not have the height of those further north but they are still long hard-won climbs in a magnificent landscape.
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The road takes me from mountain pass to agricultural valley and back again. Over and over this motion and landscape is repeated. But it’s something of which I could never tire.
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Some valleys are deep and rice grows in the manner of quicksilver, filling every available nook and cranny of the land.
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Others are higher, lending themselves more to the growing of beans and cabbage. Everywhere older couples work the fields. Women and men share the burden of farm life together. I cannot help but wonder what will happen when the older generation passes on? Who will take over the farms? Or will new technological ways of farming come to the fore?
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I hear a flute being played as I descend a pass. I never do find the flautist but I do notice two tiger statues looking out over the valleys below. I am heading down out of the mountains now and wonder what the story is behind these creatures. There is a sign but it is in Korean so I will have to come up with some story in my mind.
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The road takes me to a wide river in a long deep valley. This will be the end of the real climbing for the day. There will still be some steep sharp hills but for the most part it becomes easier from here.
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The river is guarded by steep mountains with rocky outcrops and strange shapes.
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But the water is clear and I can see the bottom even from high up on a bridge.
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I feel happy and content as I ride along the open road. The traffic is light, the sun is shining and the scenery is breathtaking. I have heard many people say that they can’t understand why anyone would feel the need to travel outside Australia. Those people haven’t yet seen Korea’s splendor.
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I stop to take yet more photos of the rice fields in their golden harvest readiness.
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And of impossibly large apples hanging form trees. This is the valley the Russians I met almost two weeks ago told me about. The apples look delicious but I know they are someone’s livelihood so I take only photos not samples.
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I only intended to ride about 70-80km today but it’s only 2pm when I mark the 75km mark with a rest in a pretty pagoda. Note the colour of the leaves on the trees behind me. How glorious. It’s been a hot day and I’ve gone through about 3L of water already. I even bought a 1.5L bottle of pineapple Fanta (my favourite Fanta flavour) to help ease the thirst. I can imagine it must be tough going cycling here in summer if this is mid-autumn. The rest is delightful and I have run out of superlatives to describe the atmosphere and views.
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Before I know it I am rolling into Andong. The less said about my arrival here the better. It goes along the lines of being unable to find accommodation after the hostel was fully booked but actually sitting right outside a perfectly good and reasonably priced hotel for half an hour worrying about what to do next. After 100km day on the bike I wanted nothing more than a shower, bed and internet access. Sometimes I can be so dramatic myself just like the landscape.
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After taking a room I upload some photos then wander through the nearby car-free sections of Andong to explore the sights and sounds. What I find is wonderful. There’s a lively culture with neon lights and happy people.
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Not far from my hotel is the food street where vendors sell everything including my favourite Korean food, the donut and also some of the big apples I have seen on the trees.
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I even eat my first decent meal since Seoul: a dish called jjimdak, which is steamed chicken. It is a massive meal but I eat all the chicken pieces, some of the noodles and most of the cabbage. It feels good and I decide to try to book a second night at my hotel to enjoy the foods of Andong again.