Jeju, Part 2

Trip Start Jul 09, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Day 17- A day at the beach with adoring fans...
  We met a South African guy in the lobby of the hostel who had rented a car the previous day and explored the island.  On the big map he showed us his course of travel, and we showed him how much ground we covered on a scooter!  We totally won that competition.  Today we were to give our rear ends a rest, and take the bus to the beach.  We stopped at a little bakery along the way for an almond bun and a red bean roll.  After being sent from one bus depot to the next, we finally found our bus to Hallim Park.  The bus was decked out in seventies style curtains and red leatherette seats.  We passed our old familiar Wooden Sign (it's just a big wooden sign that says 'wooden sign').  We pick a woman up along the way.  She had a baby in one of those sling-things wrapped around her, and a toddler tagging along.  Both were taking turns screaming and carrying on.  A few minutes into the ride, she pounded me on the shoulder and handed me two tangerines.  I guess it was a peace offering for having to listen to her children.  We were thrilled with the fruit, and thought the kids were adorable, so we were happy.
  The beach was everything I had imagined it to be (or how the Jeju tourist book described it).  Perfectly white sandy beach with black lava rocks, and the clearest blue water.  The beach looked out to a nearby island, which stood out like an emerald stone on a blue silk sheet.  We did our first real negotiating of the trip, and were able to get two tubes for just $5 (they go for $3 a piece).  I don't really remember a time, since the trip began, that we really just relaxed.  Lying on the tubes in the shallow water could not have felt any better.  As I entered my Zen-like state, a group of bible camp kids had made their way over to us.  Since arriving at the beach, we have been gawked at and even waved at, but these were the first brave souls to approach us. 
  Three adorable little girls (I think they said they were 10), told me that I was beautiful.  After we began to make conversation, I suppose they began to get more comfortable with us.  They began rubbing my legs and feet, and would just stare at me.  One of the girls was enamored by Phil.  She kept pointing to his chest, saying "very hairy!".  We had to pull ourselves away from the kids to make it to the shore for some lunch.  A small stand on the boardwalk offered corndogs, and I just had to try one.  We found a little bar on the boardwalk which served mixed drinks out of Ziploc bags.  I had a peach one, and the bartender gave Phil a pineapple one for free. As we walked back to our towels, the guys selling tubes offered us some of the sausage they were eating, we had to try that as well.  We started to feel like royalty. 
  When we got into the shower, back at the hostel, the effects of a day in the sun became apparent.  Although Phil had applied spf 30 sunblock (all day), he was still burnt to a crisp.  I had only applied some to my face, and managed to make it out with only a little redness.  Seafood was the thought for dinner tonight, but trying to find a place in our budget would be the test.  As we walked past one of the seaside restaurants, we saw a little dog who resembled my little Jolie.  This was the place.
We had to experience (at least once) one of the local seaside restaurants that suck touristos like us in with outdoor seating and large tanks of live crustaceans and colorful fish made to order.  We made our way down the street passing a couple hawkers seeking to pull us in until we almost stepped on a very cute shitzu (reminding Michelle of her beloved Jolie at home) and her playmate, an older Maltese.  (I know, not the best way to choose a restaurant but their prices were better than the others and the staff had a charm about them)
My goal was to sample to the abalone congi (or rice porridge) JeJu was famous for.  Granted, I was forewarned in the Lonely Planet that the ratio of abalone in the dish had diminished considerably over the years due to its rarity which has sky rocketed prices for the giant snail.  Nevertheless we had to try it.  Michelle chose (and smartly so) a whole Snapper. 
They started us with a panchon of tempura squid, seaweed, starchy vegetables, coleslaw in a cream sauce and large sardine like fish served at room temperature.  Fishy with tons of little scales but very good. The usual suspects of kimchi, seaweed, spinach, fried tofu skin and a couple others would accompany the meal.  
Just as the Lonely Planet warned the bits of Abalone were almost invisible.  The broth and rice had that sea urchin-crustaceon delicious flavor but no chewy pieces.  Oh well.  Michelle's snapper, though a bit overly salted for my taste, had that sea burst freshness you look for in a place like this.  (This was to be expected as the poor guy was alive just a couple minutes beforehand).  I was dared to eat a fish eye and lovingly obliged. 
Upon arrival, we noticed the walls were covered in diner's graffiti.  We'd seen this in a couple other places but weren't sure it was so common.  Upon completing the meal, Michelle carved out a "we were here in 07...." that will remain indefinitely.  We were very proud that it was the first statement written in English throughout the place
Day 18-  A trip to the capital...
  The day started with the 516 bus through the mountains.  It was a wild ride to say the least.  The winding road was barely wide enough for two-way traffic, so when we saw the on-coming buses barreling around the same sharp curves (also doing 50mph), we were scared.  Surprisingly enough, we were still hungry when we arrived in Jeju-si, the main city on the island.  We found a Mr. Pizza as we exited the bus (we both had been secretly hoping to try it).  Now, Mr. Pizza could be compared with a Pizza Hut in NY.  Eat-in, waiter service, serving specialty pizzas.   The comparison would go out the window after that.  I went to wash my hands after entering the restaurant, and I almost collapsed after seeing their facilities.  A rose petal-shaped sink sat amongst the hand painted flowers on the walls.
PFS-  I was really blown away by this pizza.  It could give some of the famous spots in NY a run for their money.  The crust, though not as thin and more bakery or baguette like, was light, crispy and addictive.  Just the right amount of yeast and water.  Our Medium size pie (lunch special) included onions, bacon, pepperoni, ham, corn, olives and peppers.  The toppings worked in great harmony.  Michelle, who I pegged to barely finish 2 slices turned in a stellar performance matching me at 4 healthy slices.  Oddly enough, a side of sweet pickles and seasoned mayo came on the side.  I tried a bit of both and they did nothing to enhance the perfect pie. With a choice of two sodas (grape and orange Fanta), 12,000Y or about $13.  Not bad for one of the best pizzas you'll try..... anywhere.
  By the time we left the restaurant, the weather went from hot to Africa hot.  We were looking for the National Jeju Museum to learn a little more about the island we had become so fond of.  After a taxi took us to the wrong museum, we decided to just skip it and check out the nearby beach.  Samyang beach is famous for its black sand.  Locals believe that the black sand has healing effects, and it is common to find them burying each other in it.  The beach had a completely different vibe than yesterday's.  There were no food stalls or party areas.  We actually showed up when a huge bible group was in the middle of their prayer session, ankle-deep in the water.  We found the one shaded section near the modern showers, and set up shop.  An old (very wrinkled woman) was finishing up her nude wash as we approached. 
  Not long after we arrived, the lure of the ocean began to fade, and we decided to move on.  We were not alone, however.  Three straggling little girls decided to follow us the four blocks to the bus stop.  The bus driver, who would take us to the harbor, was probably the craziest we have encountered so far.  If he wasn't honking, blowing lights, or making sound effects as he drove, he would completely pass by some of the stops with very angry people trying to wave him down.  The harbor was beautiful.  It had been completely renovated recently.  A long stone canal led the way to the sea.  Along the canal sat comfortable benches, perfectly trimmed trees, and exercise machines.  A group of elderly people taking shade under one of the gorgeous trees offered us two slices of watermelon (It must be custom to give passing Americans fruit, because it was happening all of the time now).  A group of kids were jumping from the stone bridges into the shallow canal. 
  At the end of the canal sat a replicated pirate ship.  The interior resembled a tourist booth.  Maps and information hung on the walls.  Upstairs was an air-conditioned dining room with televisions.  This was the perfect place for us to cool-down and relax for a while.  Had it not been for the local (who I'm sure spends most of his time here), we would have had the place to ourselves.  The man was watching the end of a Nicholas Cage movie when we arrived.   A few minutes later Fast and the Furious 2 came on.  I'm not sure that I was absorbing any of the culture of Jeju through this activity, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. 
  A walk along the water brought us to the newly-built Ramada Hotel.  The lonely planet says that the hotel was built to resemble a luxury liner, and as I looked closer it did remind me of one.  The large atrium certainly had a nautical theme, and the building itself was shaped like a sail.  The reason for us entering the hotel, was the huge 'Casino' sign on the front (I have been dying to play a few minutes of slots).  The sign in the elevator of hotel, however, really had us laughing.  "For the hygiene of you and the other hotel guests, please refrain from eating or drinking anything from the market"
  This time the casino sign would not be a tease; there actually was a casino in the hotel. The walls were marble and the ceilings were 20 ft high.  Three large rooms made up this creepy casino, one for the slots, and two others with the combined total of six tables.  There was absolutely not one other person in the casino (not even a dealer).  I walked over to the video poker machine, and saw that it only cost 100 won (about 10 cents).  I put in a dollar, and began to play.  When my dollar ran out (about 20 minutes later), I decided to leave, realizing that casinos are no fun without people screaming and bells ringing. 
  The sky lounge on the top floor was beautiful.  We decided to treat ourselves to a drink in the executive lounge which offered breathtaking views and over-priced drinks.  We thought Phil's scotch was reasonably priced (at $6) until the waitress brought out a shot glass.  My beer was only about five dollars, but the 18% tax and gratuity helped nicely to jack up the price.
  A cab seemed like the best way to the bus stop (although we didn't know exactly where it was).  I figured we would just go back to where it dropped us off, and we could find it.  As the taxi driver stopped at our destination, Phil starts to ask him if he knew where the bus stop was.  I get upset because I notice that the meter is still running, and as I alert Phil to this he tells the driver to, "forget it".  Next thing we know the driver pulls out (with us still in the car) and starts driving past our stop.  I give Phil a (I told you that you ask too many questions, now we are going to be overcharged) look.  Phil throws the guy 3,000 won (the price of the trip so far) and tells him to, "stop the car, we can't pay anymore".  The driver throws back 1,000 won, and takes us right to the bus which is ready to leave.  We jump out of the cab (thanking him profusely), and jump onto the bus which was seconds from leaving.  Phil - 1, Michelle - 0.
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