I could leave on Thursday morning at the earliest and then meet up with the rest of the team on Saturday night at the airport in Seoul. So I booked tickets and hotels and made ready for a little mini vacation in Seoul! It would be two nights and only one full day… coming in on Thursday and leaving out on Saturday.
I asked several friends that were either from there or had lived there, what I should do… the overwhelming reply was the tour of the DMZ was a must. So with a bit of research and comparison shopping on tours I settled in on an all day tour that would allow me to experience the most. The other places were the markets and the ancient Korean Village. The unfortunate part was the Village tour was only available in the afternoon on Saturday so it cut the time dangerously close for getting to the airport… so I missed that one! But the markets were available to fill the time.
So Thursday came and off I went… it started off a bit shakey! Could not get a taxi to take me to the Maglev station right away… that was a bit nerve racking! But finally things fell into place and I am at the airport… plane delayed for an hour, but I am still charged up!
The flight was not long once we got in the air, only an hour and a half… my first time on Korean Air. By the way… very nice airline! Only drawback, it is part of the Delta miles system…not American!
Ok… immigration…baggage claim…customs… I am so familiar with the drill now… but this is the most efficient airport I have seen! No waiting…anywhere! Crazy easy place! I researched ground transportation and felt the KAL Limo bus was my best option… now where is that counter??? Found it… and had 2 minutes til the bus would be there…again… no waiting!
My first impressions of Seoul from the airport to the Hotel…
The first sights that unfold are miles and miles of mud fields. I have no idea until later what that is all about. However… it is low tide and that is simply sea floor that is exposed as a result. It looks very barren!
Then I see what may be the MAIN bridge… bright orange beaming in the distance to the right of me. On my left are mountains. And you can see the tall building of Seoul in the distance beyond the bright orange bridge. Impressive sight!
We finally are crossing the bright orange bridge… and I am now seeing 7-11’s everywhere! And McDonalds... The Coffee Bean… SubWay… Starbuck’s… Paris Baguette… these places are everywhere!
Lots of churches continue to peep out above the surrounding buildings displaying their crosses proudly.
Street Vendors are selling everything from shoes to towels to trinkets of all kinds… just lining the streets as we are passing.
The topology reminds some of San Francisco… up the hills and down the hills as we wind our way through the streets to the predetermined stops to let passengers off and collect new ones heading back to the airport. There are shelves in the terrain that rows of buildings are dotted along.
And finally… the last stop on this verrrrry long bus ride is mine… The Grand Ambassador Hotel. Time to collect my bag and check in… let the exploring begin!!! Oops…only after I get settled in and let Michael know I am safely there… then I… let the exploring begin!!!
The hotel offers a shuttle bus to the main markets and shopping areas. I figure that is my best bet for transportation to do some walking. Not completely certain where I want to go… I just get off at the first stop and start walking. These streets are buzzing with people, food, and anything and everything one might want to buy.
I ask at the desk where I might find a Paris Baguette close and walk a few blocks… get a chicken salad sandwich and make my way back to the hotel to have my dinner… so much for the exploring. It had been such a long day and it is 10pm… HUM… maybe I need to admit I am not as young as I used to be…NOT!!!
Lee Sun-sin (April 28, 1545 – December 16, 1598, Korean: 이순신, Hanja: 李舜臣) was a Korean naval commander, famed for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Imjin war in the Joseon Dynasty. One of the most revered figures in Korean history, Lee is well-respected for his exemplary conduct on and off the battlefield not only by Koreans, but by Japanese Admirals as well. Military historians have compared his naval genius to that of Britain's greatest naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson. His title of Samdo Sugun Tongjesa (Hangul : 삼도수군통제사, Hanja :三道水軍統制使), literally meaning "Naval Commander of the Three Provinces," was the title for the commander of the Korean navy until 1896.
Perhaps his most remarkable military achievement occurred at the Battle of Myeongnyang. Outnumbered 333 ships to 13, and forced into a last stand with only his minimal fleet standing between the Japanese Army and Seoul, Lee delivered one of the most astonishing defeats in military history.
Despite never having received formal naval training or participating in naval combat prior to the war, and constantly being outnumbered and outsupplied, he went to his grave as one of few admirals in world history who remained undefeated after commanding as many naval battles as he did (at least 23).
Lee died at the Battle of Noryang on December 16, 1598. With the Japanese army on the verge of being completely expelled from the Korean Peninsula, he was mortally wounded by a single bullet. His famous dying words were, "The battle is at its height...beat my war drums...do not announce my death."
The royal court eventually bestowed various honors upon him, including a posthumous title of Chungmugong (충무공, 忠武公, Loyal Duke of Warfare), an enrollment as a Seonmu Ildeung Gongsin (선무일등공신, 宣武一等功臣, First-class military order of merit during the reign of Seonjo), and two posthumous offices, Yeonguijeong (영의정, 領議政, Prime Minister), and the Deokpung Buwongun (덕풍부원군, 德豊府院君, The Prince of the Court from Deokpung). Lee remains a venerated hero among Koreans today.
Sejong is one of only two Korean rulers posthumously honored with the appellation "the Great", the other being Gwanggaeto the Great of Goguryeo.
About the Observatory…
Once inside I was able to get better photos…
This is Korea… our guide was able to show us all the important and historical sites with this map that can be lite up as she better explains the area.
The next photos are of products and other things from North Korea… notice the liquor with the snake in it… yuk!!
Next stop is Imjin Gak. Imjingak (임진각, pronounced Ihm-jin-gak), and sometimes in English called the Imjingak "resort", is a park located on the banks of the Imjin River in the city of Paju, South Korea. The park has many statues and monuments regarding the Korean War. There is also a restaurant, an observation deck, a pool in the shape of the Korean peninsula, and even a small amusement park.
The park was built to console those from both sides who are unable to return to their hometowns, friends and families because of the division of Korea.
Imjingak is where the "Bridge of Freedom" lies. The Freedom bridge does actually cross the Imjin river, it is a former railroad bridge which was used by repatriated POWs/soldiers returning from the north. It is more famous, however, and until 1998; was the only point of egress in the western sector other than Liberty Bridge (which was controlled by the ROK Army) onto the DMZ, and the only direct link to Camp Greaves, Liberty Bell, and Panmunjom. This is not to be confused with the "bridge of freedom" which is merely an access bridge to the main span that allowed the 1 way south bound traffic to pass by while northbound traffic stood waiting its turn to cross; it now crosses a stream adjacent to the Imjin River and connects with the North-South railway.
At the end of the Freedom Bridge… lots of memorials.
The bullet holes riddled the rusty engine of the train.
Can you guess which side is ours?
Just behind this South Korean soldier is the door that steps out to North Korea. We were instructed not to touch the soldier and not to go beyond him to the door. In this conference room, the line between north and south runs right through the room and more specifically right down the middle of a very large conference table.
We leave the security of the conference room and are told to line up again two abreast and we head for the main building only this time we line up on the outside facing the North Korean soldier with his binoculars. As you can see from the snapshot below… we are right there at the line!
We are being observed from several vantage points… see the cameras.
Time to bid the North Koreans goodbye… and head back to the Visitor’s Center… but they will provide a couple of other stops… but no getting off the bus… at two historical spots.
In the JSA, near the Bridge of No Return, a 100-foot (30 m) poplar tree blocked the line of sight between a United Nations Command (UNC) checkpoint (CP#3) and observation post (OP#5).
CP#3, situated next to the Bridge of No Return, was the northernmost UNC checkpoint and only visible from OP#5 during the winter months. During the summer months, only the top of CP#3 was visible from one other UNC checkpoint (CP#2). Running across the middle of the bridge was the Military Demarcation Line between North Korean and South Korean territories. The Korean People's Army (KPA) had made numerous attempts to grab UNC personnel from CP#3 and drag them across the bridge into North Korean territory. The proximity to North Korean territory and the North Korean checkpoints on all access routes, along with the repeated attempts to kidnap the UNC personnel working there, led to CP#3 being referred to as “The Loneliest Outpost in the World”.
On one occasion before the incident, North Korean soldiers held a group of U.S. troops at gunpoint, so Joint Security Force (JSF) Company Commander Captain Arthur Bonifas was sent to force the North Koreans to stand down and bring the Americans back to safety, which he did successfully. Bonifas was one of the two killed in the axe murder.
For more details on this incident, go to… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axe_murder_incident
The bridge of no return…
And now … the only snapshot of me in Korea… in front of the visitor center and the GIFT shop… where I purchased a t-shirt and postcards for me and a cap for Michael… yea!!
One of the nicest things that happened on this tour… I met John and Christine from England. We were chatting across the aisle and something I said…he suddenly asked if I were a believer… and one thing lead to another… so we decided after the tour when we returned to the Lottie Hotel, we would have some coffee or a bite to eat. We ended up sitting in the lounge for the next 3 ½ hours talking. They were the most lovely people.
This was the view from where we were sitting in the lounge… waterfall was spectacular!
I left them and made my way back to a shuttle stop to wait for the shuttle back to the hotel… but here are a few market shots.
The market on Friday night was really hopping… but it was going to have to do it without me… I had a twisty fried potatoe thing for dinner and called it a night!
After wandering around the city, I went back to the hotel to collect my bags and wait for the KAL Limo bus to take me back to the airport.