South Korea · Tennessee · Travelling

Days 10 to 14 – Busan and Daegu

Day 10 – Songdo Beach, Amnam Park (and Pizza Hut)

On day 10 I jumped on the ‘KTX’ train and sped down to the southern coast of Korea. I say sped as that train flew down the line! Previously I had only taken ‘Mugunghwa’ trains which are older and slower, whereas KTX trains are like bullet trains, very modern and sleek.

I immediately connected with Busan. It is similar to Seoul, but the weather is nicer, it is easier to get around and more importantly I found a VEGAN restaurant for lunch! Big win. It is the second city of Korea and is a large port. It also has a number of beaches, which I intend to utilise as I need a few days of not rushing around.

On my first day I bought a return ticket on the Busan Air Cruise cable car, and headed up to Amnam Park from Songdo Beach. I practically had the place to myself, and with cool ocean breezes it was the perfect place to unwind. I hiked around the park and it was wonderful, with breathtaking views across the southern seas.

Amnam Park and the cable cars in Busan
Amnam Park and the cable cars in Busan

I did find ANOTHER vegan restaurant to try for dinner, but here restaurants seem to close incredibly early, and disappointingly when I arrived at 8.10pm they were already closing…?!!>>>@! Imagine my surprise. However all was Ok because I ended up in Pizza Hut which is virtually the same thing. Will try again another day.

Day 11 – vegetarian delights and the world’s biggest shop

I had a very welcome vegetarian experience today! As I may have mentioned a few times, being vegetarian here in Korea is quite frankly the worst. However, there are nuggets of vegetarian goodness if you know where to look. I found a great restaurant called ‘Ecotopia’ and had a delicious tofu burger with rice, roasted veg and some amazing pickled cucumbers in lemon. The best part however were the amazing people who run the place. The owner told me she had studied in Leeds of all places, and then interviewed me for her Instagram channel! She also gave me a free book. Then they gave me a free cookie a previous customer had bought and left for me, as I had told him he had left his phone on the table. A small thing perhaps but things like that remind me how people can be amazing and generous and kind, which I need to remember from time time…

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Vegetarian goodness

I also visited the largest store in the world! Officially. Well, according to a sign they had up. I don’t deny it has pretty huge. So huge I got completely lost. But it did have a Boots, rather weirdly, so I shopped in there for a while til I found my bearings!

Day 12 – Taejongdae Park and a hidden gem

Didn’t have much on my agenda today, decided to have a quieter day, so I jumped on the bus over to Taejongdae Park, about 50 minutes from my hotel. It’s a hilly cliff-side park which you can walk around, with some fantastic views across the sea. Unfortunately, it seemed like half of Busan also wanted to come with me. Thankfully most of them were very lazy and jumped on this train thing that ferried around the park, meaning I was largely left to my own devices.

Funnily enough it was mainly the older generation who I shared my walk with. It is quite surprising to see how active over people in Korea are. They love using those outdoor gyms and are always power-walking somewhere. I was imagining if they lived in the UK they would be curling up on the sofa watching Corrie most nights instead of hiking up a mountain!

Taejongdae Park, Busan
Taejongdae Park, Busan

I also stumbled across a beautiful and very quiet buddhist temple, with a reclining buddha outside. Most temples do not let you take photos of buddhas but this one was Ok which was good. It is funny though, as because it was not a ‘touristy’ temple on the tourist trail, there was no-one there. Just shows what you can find if you out the guidebook away and just wander…

Yes more meal-drama today, searched out two places to eat, both of which were closed. I finally found my old saviour, the Japanese restaurant and had at least some vegetables to eat. The whole mission-to-eat thing is becoming pretty tiresome. I do not enjoying eating here at all, I find it pretty depressing that Korea is so unfriendly to the idea of not eating meat.

Days 13 & 14 – a trip to the bathhouse and Daegu

On day 12 it didn’t stop raining, so what better time than to visit the quintessential Korean experience – the bathhouse. I have been to one before, in Orange County, with my good friend Liz, so I kinda knew what to expect. Which was a good thing as the experience can be a bit confusing. Where to put your shoes? What to wear? What NOT to wear etc! The place I chose was called Heosimcheong Spa and it was huge! The way Korean bathhouses work is that there is a mixed area called a Jimbang. This is where the dry saunas are, as well as communal lounge areas and a cafe. The wet areas are single sex and that’s where all the saunas, hot and cold baths are. Also where you have to get over your British reserve and whip your clothes off!

There was an outdoor bath, a boiling hot scald-your-skin-off bath, freezing cold baths, powerful water jets to massage your shoulders, you name it, they had it. It was about 8 times bigger than the place I visit in California and I spent about three hours there, all for about £6!

On day 13 I got the SRT (I don’t know the difference between KRT and SRT?) train to the city of Daegu, about 45 minutes way. It is famous for it’s oriental medicine market, which I looked around and smelt some amazing aromas, have no idea what they were though! In the words of ‘French & Saunders’, it was just a bunch of old twigs…. I did see a few disturbing things like turtle shells though too.

I also stumbled across a brilliant sushi restaurant, and some veggie rolls! The lady who owned it had lived in Austin, Texas, which I visited on my last trip so we reminisced about our time spent there which was nice.

I also had a funny/terrifying experience at the railway station. I was just finishing buying my ticket when I heard some screams and shouts and I turned around only to see about six masked men dressed in black hurtling towards me holding semi automatic rifles!?! Well I froze and though good god this is it, I’m dead, when I then saw some man waving a fluorescent orange stick which turns out meant, don’t worry this is just a drill. In a packed railway station. With no notice. Thanks 🙂

Highlights of Daegu
Highlights of Daegu

I ended my day back at the veggie burger place in Busan that I went to on my first day here, so a pretty good day all round food wise! I am heading off to Tokyo tomorrow which I am really looking forward to! Hopefully more so if Trump has departed!

I just wanted to finish my thinking out loud a few thought on my time here in Korea…

Some general musings on my time in Korea

  • Korea is the worst country I have ever been to for vegetarian food. And I’ve been to France! And Germany. If I never have to eat Korean food again I will be a happy man.
  • The people are generally very friendly, helpful and respectful. I always felt safe and welcome.
  • Getting a seat on the subway is a national sport. Heaven help you if you try to get in someone’s way if they have an eye on seat. You’ll stand no chance.
  • Everyone is very law-abiding when crossing the road. I wasn’t.
  • Train conductors will happily go up to anyone who is speaking even vaguely loudly and tell them to shut up which is pretty amusing to see! I somehow can’t see that working on UK trains.
  • Korean men have a disgusting habit of hacking up their lungs and spitting in the street. One guy did it right at my feet. Gee, thanks.
  • Pedestrian crossings mean nothing – Korean drivers would rather run you over than even contemplate stopping.
  • If you come here as a westerner, be prepared to be stared at. Every. Day.
  • Rural Korea is beautiful, the mountains and rivers, the temples and palaces.
  • Someone described Korea to me as a blend of Chinese and Japanese culture which I think is probably spot-on.
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Tennessee · USA

Week 19 – Nashville, Tennessee


Nashville has been squarely put on the map lately by the successful TV show of the same name, all about the country music industry that’s based here. Though of course, Nashville has been famous around the world for much longer as the home of country music.

State Capital

Nashville is the state capital of Tennessee. The impressive state capitol building is here, as well as lots of other grand buildings such as the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The Tennessee Supreme Court Building
The Tennessee Supreme Court Building
The Tennessee State Capitol Building
The Tennessee State Capitol Building

James Robertson is seen as the father of Nashville, having founded it in 1779. Another big figure around these parts is Andrew Jackson. He is a massive hero in the south, his name is everywhere, on various street names, parks, squares and there are even two cities names after him, in Mississippi and in Tennessee. Jackson was a military general in the Civil War. He was also the seventh President of the USA.

Country music

Even though I’m not a huge country music fan I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and museum and I’m glad I did as it was great.

Country music developed as a fusion of British folk music brought to the States by early settlers and the music of black America. I spent about three hours in the museum and saw loads of interesting artefacts including Dolly Parton’s original lyrics to ‘Jolene’ and Elvis’ gold piano. You get to watch lots of clips of some great musical performances, and there was a particularly interesting exhibition about Bob Dylan’s experiences in Nashville, including when he recorded his album ‘Blonde on Blonde’.

Elvis’ gold piano
Johnny Cash gold disc
Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash
Shania Twain’s outfit

Next stop – DC!

Tennessee · USA

Week 19 – Walking in Memphis


Memphis, in the words of Marc Cohen in the song he made famous (Walking in Memphis), is the home of the delta blues. And Elvis.

Rock n’ Roll, soul and the blues

Music made this city and is a big part of why so many tourists come here. ‘Beale Street’ is the main place to hear the blues, as well as soul too. It seems pretty commercialised these days, and a lot more white than it was from what I have read. In the ‘Rock & Soul’ Museum, I learnt all about the history of the blues, soul and rock & roll and how Beale Street was a largely black community. In the days of segregation, black people bought and ran businesses here, and also played the music they loved. This music originated in the fields, where their ancestors had worked as slaves.

Beale Street
Beale Street

So much of what I have seen and heard in the south has been influenced by slavery.

The blues were essentialy created by W.C. Handy, a black musician from Alabama. He wrote and recorded what’s acknowledged to be the first blues record, ‘Memphis Blues’. Lots of other artists began their careers here, for example Al Green and of course Elvis.

The influence of Elvis is everywhere. Rock & Roll music, which he personified, was essentially black music that white people took and popularised. I’d never really thought before how much of Elvis’ music is influenced by black culture.

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley

The Rock and Soul museum is really interesting, definitely worth a visit. You watch a film all about the blues and soul, and then they give you a self guided tour to go round the museum, it also allows you play lots of great songs too. Interesting exhibits too on Stax records and the prejudice that black musicians faced/face.

Wurlitzer jukebox
Wurlitzer jukebox

National Civil Rights Museum and Martin Luther King

One of the most interesting and moving experiences I have had on my trip was visiting the National Civil Rights Museum. Housed in the Lorraine Motel where Dr King was assassinated on 4 April 1968, the museum is a fantastic testament to the struggles that black people have undergone in the US.

The Lorraine Motel in Memphis
The Lorraine Motel in Memphis

The museum highlights various pivotal moments in African American history, included events in Selma, Birmingham and Memphis. Standing in the room where Dr King was killed was a profoundly moving experience. Another particularly emotional exhibit allows you to feel how the young people of the south might have felt when they staged a non-violent sit-in in cafes across the south, to protect against segregation. You can also sit on a replica bus of the one that Rosa Parks sat on, when she refused to give up her seat to a white person. Bearing in mind how recent this history is, it is somewhat difficult to believe this all happened.

Protestors in the Memphis sanitation workers strike in 1968
Protestors in the Memphis sanitation workers strike in 1968

I visited the museum on the day of the Trump inauguration. It felt very ironic and symbolic too, considering the things he has said about ethnic minorities. I hope America does not take a step backwards with regards to civil rights, including LGBT rights.

A quote I have always loved from Dr King is ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere‘.

Art

Of course, like every other city I have visited, Memphis has a great art gallery, the Brooks Art Museum. Bit of a journey out of town to visit but well worth it. One artist I discovered is a local Tennessee artist called Carroll Cloar. Born in 1913, he made his name painting surreal images of the southern landscapes and the people who lived there. A couple of his paintings are below.

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Wedding Party, Carroll Cloar, 1971
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Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog, Carroll Cloar, 1965

Next stop, Nashville.