Sunday, September 16, 2012
Last weekend Sara and I decided that it was time to take off and explore another city of Korea. After minimal research I discovered there was an International music festival taking place in Gwangju, with the promise of live music we were sold. Our friend Charles was also feeling the travel itch and decided to join us on our adventure across the country. Gwangju is the SW province of Jeonnam-do, and thanks to a big mountiain smack dab in the middle of the country it took our bus about three and a half hours to get there. Charles had a bit further to travel but thanks to some generous co-workers he was able to get out early so we all met at the bus terminal around 10pm. Our first task was to locate a place to stay for the night, we going to head downtown but after the help of a few friendly locals we were directed just a few blocks away from the terminal. Between the rain, cars and overtired silliness that came upon us, we had quite the laugh trying to find a place to stay - but eventually settled on a motel just a few blocks from the station. It wasn't the most beautiful place i'd ever seen but you couldn't really beat the price (25,000 per night). Not really feeling up to making the trek downtown we decided to see what was nearby offering food and drinks. We found a small bar/restaurant with an extremely friendly waiter, who spoke near perfect English. We caught up while sharing stories and laughs over a pitcher of beer and snacks, but soon decided to call it a night as we all had long days. I think getting back to the motel was among our biggest challenge of the weekend.
The next morning we woke up and our first thought was coffee and food, past that we didn't get too far. We decided we'd likely have the best luck if we traveled to the downtown area so we caught the subway and made our way there. We opted for coffee and sandwiches from Gloria Jeans for breakfast (didn't know they even had those here) and it was delicious. After feeding our bellies we wandered the downtown area for a while, did some shoe shopping, and pet some adorable puppies. We then made our way to the river to relax and take in some scenery, not to mention escape the looping playlist of Gangnam Style
One of our Korean friends is originally from Gwangju (but now goes to University in Seoul) so when we messaged him asking for things to do one of his top suggestions was lunch at Minsokchon, specifically the one located in the Sangmu area (conveniently on the opposite side of town from where we were). Assuming Daniel knew what he was talking about we decided to make the trek across town, which really wasn't that far - only about 8 subway stops. The problem came after we got off the subway, we weren't really sure which way to go from there. We decided asking information would be our best bet which was kind of true. Let's just say our walk to the restaurant was a bit of an adventure including many friendly people, lots of directions, hand signals, a few back tracks and even a hand drawn map! It started with the men at the info booth telling us to turn left but indicating right, then the man at the 7/11 who drew us a map (with poor scale) causing us to walk much further than we had to, a few calls to our friend Daniel, and even more directions from some random people on the side of the road. By the time we found the restaurant I believe it was close to 3:30 and we were all ready to eat!
By the end of the second group hunger was again upon us and this time we had plans to locate a Mexican restaurant called Tequillaz which (according to their website) is located near the back gate of Chomnam University (where the concert was held), how convenient! Well after walking up and down the same street about 10 times and asking a few locals who looked extremely confused we were about to give up. Just then a group of foreigners came by and we thought we'd give it one last try, "Oh, Tequilaz?! That's not here anymore, they moved downtown." aweeeesome Again we were determined so we grabbed the first taxi we found and made our way downtown, luckily getting dropped off not to far from the restaurant (which we found through the help a few more foreigners). This time, not worth it - subpar Mexican food and Korean beer, fail. I think I should just stop trying to get Mexican food in Korea, honestly some of the best I've had so far is right here in Gumi (ha in your face bigger cities). After our adventures of the day we were again getting worn down, Sara decided she was ready to head back so not wanting to split up Charles and I made our way back with her. Not quite ready for bed Charles and I decided we'd return to the bar from the night before for one last drink, and to visit the cool waiter, after all we did tell him we'd come back.
Sunday morning greeted us with grey skies and rain so a day trip to the Boseong tea fields was out of the question. Instead we lounged around the motel before making our way towards the station for breakfast, a little shopping, but before long it was time to head back to the reality of Gumi. It was a good weekend in Gwangju, a lot of people underestimate the city and brush it off as a place you don't need to visit. I'm not sure if i'll make it back before leaving Korea but i'm glad I had the chance to get a taste of what it has to offer. I must say that every person we met there was more than willing to help us, something I haven't experience to that extent in the rest of Korea. From giving us directions, leading us to our motel, and offering advice on what to see, eat or do, the people we encountered this weekend couldn't have been more helpful.