May 06, 2011

once is rarely enough...

Last weekend I ventured down to Chuncheon. The trip out of Seoul was Food tourism at its finest, although getting out of the city was a great bonus. Chuncheon is the city in SoKo that is credited for creating my favourite galbi dish DakGalbi. I wrote about this magical mix of chicken, cabbage and spices a short time ago (reread it).

The town is a short 70 minute bus ride outside of Seoul OR if you are into scenic routes, it is a meagre 2 hour subway ride. I elected to take the subway because Sundays are typically a bad day on the roads in any culture (the Sunday driver expression). The subway also offered views that a highway could not (the highways are often flanked by giant walls in Korea), and it was great to see how beautiful the countryside is.

Upon arrival, the foodism (food tourism) instinct took over, and my friends and I scoured the city map in search of Chuncheon's infamous DakGalbi streets. The first treasures the map revealed to our group was not the afore mentioned streets, but paragliding, white water rafting and a shooting range (all creating further reasons to return). It wasn't until a much closer look could we get past adrenaline sports and found the gooey chicken center we were looking for.
Once on the right path, and on the correct street (Myeongdong DakGalbi street) I flashed back to Amsterdam, and the red light district. I found the revelation extremely weird, but I feel that it was because this street existed down a narrow pathway, very similar to some streets in Amsterdam. We arrived around lunchtime and several of the restaurants had line ups out the door, and several had no patrons at all. I knew right away that I'd prefer to wait for a restaurant in demand, than simply sell myself short.

We went to the second busiest restaurant on the street, and had to endure a short wait. The Galbi was good, although one thing I immediately noticed was that it was not that spicy. It seemed to be a tame version of what I've enjoyed before. The mild feast was welcomed by a couple in my group who aren't fully up to snuff when it comes to Korean spice. I left the restaurant full, but not blown away.

We went for a short walk/bike ride after our meal in an attempt to work off what we'd just eaten. The town itself was nice, although sold more chainsaws than I've ever seen before. A short list of other attractions: The Virgin Soyanggang; She was a virgin who secretly pined for the affection of a man, not in itself an entirely original concept, but Korea seems to like to build things for virgins who never loved. The penis park in Samcheok boasts a similar origin story. Apparently this statue has a song penned under the same name though, take that penii statues! There was also a bridge that seemed cool at first, it had humps, many humps, humps that would please the black eyed peas. However, what looks cool often fails the test of time. Before I even reached the other side, I felt that the lady lumps were more of a nuisance than anything else.

While we were biking I caught glimpse of a temple on the top of a small hill, and once we finished I made a goal of reaching it. The only problem was that there was no visible pathway. At first we traipsed along the bottom of hill, and our first summit attempt landed us in some Korean vegetable gardens. Our second attempt was fizzled as we thought we saw a path, but then we didn't know if it was a path, then thought it could be a path, but that it probably led back to the vegetable gardens we'd recently explored. Hope came in the form of a dirt trail, with a sign I'm sure read "do not use" but the Hangul was ignored, and the third summit attempt was underway. The path was super steep, yet that didn't falter our group of valiant hikers, and we found our way to the top. Slightly out of breath, the view was even more breathtaking. It was sunset, and the orange glow took a yellow gleam as the yellow dust was out in full force.

Along the route, we managed to meet a backpacker. She had an interesting story, about a month ago she was working, enduring the daily grind, when it was time for a change. She decided to volunteer teach in Cambodia, and booked a flight to Seoul (I'm still somewhat confused about her geography skills, but she wanted to see Korea). Her material possessions now reside in her car in her parents garage. She had already spent a couple days in Seoul, and was working her way down the coast to Samcheok (to see the penis park). We thought it was strange that she arrived in Chuncheon without hearing about DakGalbi (perhaps the allure of virgin monuments??). With that, we thought we should bring her into the fold

Hence the reason for our return to DakGalbi street. It was later in the evening, and the crowds we faced earlier had resided. We went to the busiest place on the street. On our previous visit, this establishment had a long line up out the door. We felt it must be worth it, and my oh my was it ever. This DakGalbi was amongst the best I have ever had. It was a great introduction for our new friend, and it enabled our group to leave Chuncheon full and blown away.

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