Sunday, May 20, 2018

Last stop

We moved to another hotel, the one that was booked ages ago together with the air tickets. A 14 km ride through only a small part of Seoul. The new hotel is nearly on the Han river bank. The route back to the river was completely flat, we simply rode round this awful hill.
On the last day of a bike tour like this there's always the challenge of how to pack the bikes. When we lack bicycle-boxes, like now, I usually use bubble wrap, preferably 1 meter wide and minumum 10 meters per bike. Where to buy such stuff? Jay told us that in summer this is nowhere for sale. In winter time Koreans buy it to stick it on their windows for extra insulation (winters are really cold here), so then shops have it, not now. But Jay had a solution! So what was the first thing that we saw when we entered the reception of the hotel? A big roll of bubble wrap standing among the suitcases against the wall. Jay had ordered it through the internet and had it delivered here! (Good idea, why not done that myself? Well, try this in Korea, not able to speak, read or write the national language!) Warmshowers friends are real friends, aren't they? So two hours later the bikes were packed and waiting for the transfer to the airport. 



Alas, this transfer will only be tomorrow afternoon, once the tour is over we feel like going home and this last day will be a long one. 
Finally some stats:
Cherry blossoms during the first weeks, other blossoms later. 
Spring time: erratic weather.
One month Japan: 996 kms, 7630 meters ascent.
One month South-Korea: 1133 kms, 9806 meters ascent.
Total 2129 kilometers, altogether we climbed to a virtual altitude of 17436 meters. 
Both are mountainous countries, reasonably heavy cycling.
Fantastic cycle-paths in Korea.
Very kind and helpful people, though in both countries language is a serious problem (very few people speak English).
Both countries are very much organized, Japan even more so than Korea,
A great feeling of security.



The last week

Daejon, that was a week ago.
Back on our bikes we rode north from Chungju towards Seoul. All the time along the Han river. Mostly very beautiful and the first days under beautiful weather conditions. Then again there were two rainy days. We didn't get very wet though, as it was heavily overcast with now and then heavy showers. Each time we could find shelter, once even under a roof of solar panels over the cycle path (this is a modern country!). 
The path goes, with the river, all through Seoul, a gigantic city. We were not lucky, we left the path too early, which resulted in unbelievably steep short climbs in the city in order to reach Toyoko-inn in down town. Walk and push, assisting Eveline pushing her bike up together. A case of bad preparations of myself, as down town is not high at all. I just chose a route over a steep hill. Do I have an excuse? Not really, I was lazy. I only used my Garmin, which is loaded with maps from OpenStreetMap. It doesn't show contour lines or profiles. I should have used Bikemap first, or another planner, which does give profiles with ascents and descents. Could have prevented a lot of sweating.


Once there, things were quickly forgotten and we spent some lovely days in Seoul, including a tour into DMZ (the Demilitarized Zone). 








Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Meeting friends 2

A more than lovely weekend. 
We had organised our route in such a way that we would be not very far from Daejon, where our Warmshowers-friends Jay and Jenny live. Still we had to make a train ride of nearly two hours to reach them. Jay met us at the station, Jenny welcomed us in their nice and comfy appartment.


An evening together, then a totally rainy day with a walk in the forest, lunch with Jenny's parents in their home in the country, a visit to two art museums and a walk in the park.




The Sunday was sunny, we visited the traditional market near the station and had a long coffee in one of these many modern coffee joints. Then back to the train. 
This will most likely not be the last time we met.







Thursday, May 10, 2018

Meeting friends

As you may know we have an account with Warmshowers.org. This is an internet 'community' consisting of world-cyclists offering each other free lodging. We have hosted many cyclists from all over the world and we ourselves have been the guests of many hosts in many countries. And more often our hosts have later been our guests. Cyclists make friends very easily apparently. Tomorrow we will travel to Daejon and be the guests of Jay and Jenny. Last year they travelled through Europe on their bikes and stayed with us for one night. Now we will be their guests for two nights. Looking forward.



Language problems

Not being able to read anything, hardly able to find someone to have a conversation with or to ask for information. 
Today: After a beautiful ride from one river valley to another we have landed in a motel. Motel? The reception desk consists of a small sliding window at the height of my belly where a woman shows five fingers to indicate that the room will cost Won 50.000 (€ 40,--) and hands over the key after sliding the creditcard through the slot. No pin code or signature required, payment accepted. Rooms mostly are nice to very good. No breakfast or restaurant in the house, but free coffee, a water cooker, a computer, a tv, a fridge with some free drinks, free wifi, and 4 too small towels. A convenience store is never far.
Then, later, dinner time. The lady waves her hand in a certain direction. We don't like this restaurant: traditional Korean, low tables, guests squatting on the floor. We are not made for that, we cannot sit like that and eat without feeling pain, becoming stiff and falling over. After a while we see another possibility, could be a restaurant. We walk in and when I ask "Eat?" while making suggestive gestures the woman at the counter says "Chicken". We answer: "OK". Her next question is: "Beer?", pointing at a beer tap. Wow, a beer tap, the first time to have a draught beer after Nagasaki, a month ago. Another: "OK". That's the whole conversation. Two minutes later we both get 500 ml of cold beer, ten minutes later a big dish of deep fried pieces of chicken, battered, with a small cole-salad and some radish are put on the table. Chopsticks are in the box on the table, as well as paper tissues. So this is what we had ordered. You never know beforehand.
It's quite a job to eat all the chicken. After having finished we walk up to the counter and the lady presents us a calculator, digits showing 22.000 (€ 17,29). The creditcard slides through the slot, again no code or signature required, the ticket comes out and that's it. We call on the convenience store for a beer to take to our room, do some reading, blogging, whatsapping and then: bed-time.



Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Pyeongchang 2018

A bit to our own surprise we passed one of the sites of the recent Olympic Wintergames. We knew we would come near Pyeongchang and for the last couple of days we noticed that roads had recently been renovated and are in pristine condition. And then, suddenly, there was the Jeongseong Alpine Center. Later inquiry made it clear to us that here the Super G, the downhill and the combination were held.
Now it was mainly a new but somewhat desolated place with some last snow left on the slopes.







Saturday, April 28, 2018

Coincidences?

In 1974 (oops, ages ago!) we were in Macedonia on the Greek border when the regime of the Greek colonels fell and the restoration of democracy in Greece started. We remember the cheers of the young exiled Greeks who  had fled military service speeding over the border back to their homes and families.
In 1990 we were in East-Berlin in Olaf and Gudrun's garden house, the year after the two Germanies reunited.
In 2015 we were in Turkey when in national elections Erdogan lost his majority in parliament. As could be foreseen he tricked democracy by not forming a new government within the term of 45 days and starting another conflict with the Kurds and thus regained majority in the next elections. (This event should not be mentioned here, as it is negative).
Now, april 2018, we are in South-Korea when the leaders of both Koreas meet and declare that they are willing to make the peace.
Next destination???? Israël????


Long distance bicycle paths

In the Netherlands there are many signed bicycle paths, local, regional and national. The so-called LF-routes (Long-Distance routes) are routes that cross the country from north to south, east to west, diagonally, along the rivers, along the zero Amsterdam Northsea level line etc.
In Europe there are the long distance Euroroutes, Vélo routes etc, In many European countries there are dedicated cycle paths to serve the long distance pedal powered traveler. And the number is increasing! Good thing!
Now South-Korea is, or may be, the first Asian country to have Long-Distance bicycle routes. Right now we are on a dedicated route along the east coast. There is also the 4-rivers cycle path, that goes from Busan to Seoul, over 650 kms, and connects to several other along the river cycle paths.
The path we are currently following is marked by blue and white signs and by white symbols and a blue line on the pavement. Sometimes it's just the road side where all the traffic is, very often there are separated path ways, sometimes even special boarded constructions. Well made!










Thursday, April 26, 2018

Why?

Why do Korean road-cyclists hide themselves behind these obscure masks? It's not their religion I suppose. It cannot be the weather, that's fine. Nice temperature, no wind, nothing. It seems that you cannot ride a road bike here without this awkward disguise.
Some say that many Koreans don't like a dark tan and that's why they cover the skin. I consider the price very high, free breathing is pretty important when delivering a physical effort like cycling.





Saturday, April 21, 2018

Bye Japan

We've left Japan.
The last three days in Japan we spent in Kioto and walked miles from one temple to another shrine. Impressive, beautiful and it kept us interested. It's impossible to realize and grasp how much creativity and effort has gone into all these enormous and beautiful places. It's the same everywhere in the world, in Europe we have our cathedrals and castles, communities can achieve so much, voluntarily or forced.


After our flash-visit to Kioto we returned to Fukuoka where we had left the bulk of our luggage and our transport, the bikes in the Toyoko-Inn near the enormous Hakata-station. We have become "members' of this hotel chain, which is no-nonsense, clean, very affordable and exactly what we need. In Busan we are staying in another location of this chain, now very familiar to us. Since we have spent over ten nights with them, we are getting one night free now!


The next morning we pedalled a few kilometers to Hakata international ferry terminal where we checked in for Busan, South-Korea. Tickets about €80 p.p incl. the bike for a six hour way to the other side of the East sea. Funny that, when boarding, we followed the same routing with our bikes on our hands as the other foot-passengers with their trolleys. We were given a 'shared cabin', a space where there were 12 futon beds on tatami mats. The sea was flat, the ride smooth and easy. Exactly on schedule we disembarked, no problems getting through customs and we reached our Korean Toyoko-Inn at about 19.00. 




In Busan, second largest city in S-Korea, we are riding on the right side of the street again, but the first traffic we meet is rougher than we were used to during this last month. We cannot read anything as we could not in Japan, Toyoko-Inn doesn't seem as clean and quiet, people seem to be nosier, there are homeless people in the little park in front of the hotel, we again have to find out what and how the small restaurants work. Things feel alien, normal for the fist encounter in again another country/culture.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

No litter and ever-shining cars

The Japanese are not only polite and friendly, they appear to be a very clean people. We have f.i. seen how deliberately they wash themselves before stepping into an 'onsen' (hot public bath). But they are not only clean on themselves, they are so on their environment as well. 
There are only brand-new cars in the streets it seams. But no, all the time you see people washing, rubbing and polishing their cars on parking lots. The result is shining car paint all over.
Then the most striking thing to me is that there is absolutely no litter on the streets. There's no scrap of paper, cigarette-but, empty softdrink-can or bottle whatsoever to be found. Very nice and agreeable, we have seen otherwise in other parts of the world.
Now you would expect lots of garbage bins on lamp posts, railings etc. But again no, there are none! None at all. We don't quite understand how they do it. When we buy our coffee and sandwiches etc. to take away the only place where we can dispose of the packing and empty cup is in the shop where we bought it. We do see other buyers do the same.

That's it, you will find no garbage bin ever in a Japanese street, neither will you find any litter. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Shrines, temples and kimonos

Travelling from Fukuoka to Kyoto by Shinkansen is fast and comfortable. Smoothly covering 650 kms in less than 3 hours. There's no enjoying of the scenery though, mostly the train moves between noise barriers or through tunnels. But, as the train does, time flies....and there's a lady selling coffee on board.

We will spend three days in Kyoto, this former capital of the country. Then we'll return to Fukuoka and take the ferry to South Korea, where we hope to disembark at 18.00 on April 20th.
Kyoto is famous for its places of worship. The two main religions of this country both have their biggest and most beautiful temples (Buddhism) and shrines (Shinto) here.

Today we visited two prestiguous ones and, when passing, by some smaller ones (as there are really many). We were not the only ones, crowds of Japanese joined us. They just wandered over the premises in awe, as we did, and really prayed (in the way I described in a former blog). But we were really surprised and pleased to see that many visitors were traditionally dressed. We saw hundreds of women and men in kimono. Mostly very elegant. We had the impression that most of these people were not used to wearing this traditional gear, they kept making photos and selfies and there were lots of kimono-rent-shops near the shrine. But it certainly gave a positive contribution to the atmosphere.







Saturday, April 14, 2018

Round

Yesterday we arrived back in Fukuoka, where we started our tour three weeks ago. We rode 996 kms, and doing so we made 7630 altimeters. The latter is not surprising, as Japan is nothing more than a group of volcanic mountains rising above sea-level.
The scenery outside the cities, and especially the parts directly along the coast, were mostly beautiful and frequently even stunning.



There were good days and lesser ones. One day we got entirely wet because of the constant rain, another day we had to struggle against a gale-force head wind, that sometimes blew us from our bicycles. But most of the time the conditions were nice.
Because of Japan being so mountainous there are not many roads between the various settlements. Consequently all the traffic is concentrated on these few connecting roads. So fairly often we were amidst heavy traffic, which is not ideal for nice bicycle touring. But never dangerous or scary.
Cyclists here are supposed to use the foot path, but using the main road surface is not a problem at all and thus we mostly did. The Japanese seem to love their cars, you see everyone behind the wheel. Young and old, workers, salary men, house wives in aprons, they all move around in their cars. And they drive just as they are, very law-abiding and respectful. So we were never harrassed by annoyed drivers. On the contrary, we always got all the space we needed.


We don't consider the cities that we visited beautiful. Often really ugly. No comparison with our own continent, no historic and lively city centres, just high rise commercial buildings and lots of traffic. But places as Fukuoka, Kagoshima and Nagasaki were agreeable enough to spend some days, for their musea, Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and atmosphere.
Mentioning that we find the Japanese law-abiding and respectful does not imply that we experience them as shy or humble. No, they are extremely polite and they bow a lot, but we find them friendly, helpful, assertive and witty. They just show a great loyalty to the rules and arrangements of their society.