Australia to Germany the long way

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boomy

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In the evening we headed to Myeong-dong, the city's fashion district. There were so many people out waking and shopping, it was hard to find the way sometimes among the huge crowd.
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The city got into the Xmas spirit
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boomy

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The flagship store of luxury mall Shinsegae.
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We later went to have dinner at N tower.
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The restaurant on the top has impressive city views but it was hard to get a good photo due to the light reflection from inside.
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On the way down we saw many young couples writing love massages to each other and hanging them in the wall, very cute.
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boomy

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DMZ
Not far from Seoul is Imjingak village, the most northern village we can visit coming from South Korea. From there it's only a short drive to the North Korean city of Gaeseong. South Korean used to be able to go there with special tour busses running daily from Seoul but the North stopped it a few years ago.
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During the Korean War all bridges connecting the North and South were destroyed and the DMZ became heavily land-mined. Later a foot bridge was built for the sole purpose of trading back prisoners of war. This bridge is known as The Bridge of Freedom and close to 13,000 prisoners got to cross it after the war.
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Standing on the bridge it feels the North is so close, just on the other side but yet so far and unreachable. It's a very frustrating feeling to many Korean families from both sides who can't see their relatives for so many years.
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Many coloured ribbons and massages on the southern side of the bridge in honour of the soldiers who died in the war and family members who are still trapped on the other side. It's an sad place and reminded me the Berlin Wall a bit, I hope this bridge will be open for all one day.
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boomy

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Near the bridge there is a train that was destroyed during the war and it was put there as a symbol of the destruction of war.
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Looking towards the North
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boomy

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We later went to visit the 3rd infiltration tunnel, one out of 4 tunnels discovered by the South and the only one open to visitors.
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The tunnel was discovered in 1978 after a tip-off given by North Korean defector. It's about 2.7km long, 2m high and also 2m wide and up to 30,000 soldiers and go through it every hour.
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We started climbing down the tunnel and were amazed how long and steep the walk was.
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The ceiling downstairs was very low and being a tall person I kept knocking my head into it much to the amusement of my loving gf. Lucky we were given hard hats otherwise I would end up with a massive headache :p
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The steep climb back up was hard and I felt sorry for the older people who clearly struggled and had to stop frequently to catch their breath. The air was damp and by the time I reached the exit I was all sweaty and sticky, not the best feeling, especially when it's snowing outside and you can't remove your clothes.
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boomy

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Dorasan station used to connect the North and South by rail. It was restored and opened in 2002 when there was still hope of an agreement between the two sides to restore railroad connections broken during the war. It's a modern station with customs area all ready to go but in reality it's mostly another sad reminder to the countless efforts made by the South to restore connections with the North to no avail.
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There were high hopes when it was opened.
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The line is leading to nowhere...
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boomy

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Seoul to Busan
We pre-purchases our tickets to the bullet train in one of the first class cabins. The difference between first and second class is wider seats, better legroom and 1-2 seating layout in first as opposed to 2-2 in second. There was no complementary drink/meal.
 
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boomy

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Good amount of legroom and excellent wifi made the 3.5 hours journey very pleasant.
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Enjoying the views from the warm cabin.
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Snow blizzard is going on outside.
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boomy

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Busan
The modern train station
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Driving on the way to the hotel admiring the tall buildings close to the ocean I had a very positive first impression of the city.
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Saw that above the local police station.
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Beautiful mountains in the background.
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boomy

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Westin Busan
Booked: Superior Park View.
received: Executive Beach View.
I enquired about a suite upgrade (SPG platinum benefit) and was told the hotel is fully booked and there are none available. The lobby was indeed very busy with families coming for the Xmas holiday and TBH they can probably utilise the suites better then us.
We got a room on the executive lounge level, a good start but the rest was disappointing. The room was small, old and tired, not on par with the usual high Westin standard.
The room.
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City view at night from the front of the hotel.
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Hotel view (on the left) from Chosun beach.
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Night view of Chosun beach from the room.
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Daylight view of Chosun from the room.
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The executive lounge was small, very crowded and we could barely find a place to sit. I got a voucher to eat breakfast at restaurant as a "compensation" for not getting a suite. I was happy with that, especially after a visit to the lounge which I thought will get very busy at breakfast time. Well, the restaurant was also busy and we had to wait in the queue for a few minutes.
The positive things about this hotel are it's location and the beach view.
The negatives are old and tired rooms, no King bed, small bathroom, crowded executive lounge, no shuttle to airport/train station.
Conclusion: I will not go back until the rooms are renovated or a very attractive rate is offered. I'm happy to pay $200 per night for a proper Westin but this hotel is not up to standard.
 

boomy

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We had lunch at a traditional clay house outside the city where locals used to live once and later was transformed into a restaurant.
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We managed to book one of the "private rooms" which is a small clay cabin where the poor used to live once and now it operates as private dining room.
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We ordered a set menu, the main dish in the middle is duck cooked in a whole pumpkin.
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For drinks we had the house Makgeolli, a traditional alcoholic drink made from rice with about 8% alcohol.
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In the past every Korean household used to have it's own Makgeolli recipe and that used to be the main alcoholic drink for centuries. When Korea hit hard times the government handed a certain portion of rice to each family so they can have something basic to eat. To prevent the people from "wasting" that portion of rice on making alcohol, the government banned the production of Makgeolii and invented the Soju which over the years became the most popular drink in South Korea.
 

boomy

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In the evening we went to Gwangalli beach and for dinner we had local fish sashimi in a 10 story building that operates as restaurant. The first floor is the fish market where the fish is chosen and then go up to one of the other 9 levels to find a table and the fish is delivered together with side dishes and drinks to order.
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JMFK

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Qantas
Platinum 1
In the evening we went to Gwangalli beach and for dinner we had local fish sashimi in a 10 story building that operates as restaurant. The first floor is the fish market where the fish is chosen and then go up to one of the other 9 levels to find a table and the fish is delivered together with side dishes and drinks to order.
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This looks awesome! Sounds like a great restaurant!!!
 

boomy

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The next morning we took half-day tour of Gyeongju, Korea's oldest city and capital of the Kingdom of Silla who ruled about 2/3 of the Korean Peninsula between the 7th and 9th centuries.
It takes only 30 min to get there via fast train from Busan. This time we purchased second class tickets.
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Once arrived we were picked up by the tour bus. First destination was the tomb of Silla king Taejong. He was famous for being the first to establish diplomatic ties with China (Tang). The circumference of the tomb's mound is 114m and it's hight is 8.7m.
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There are many similar tombs in the area, some bigger then others, depends how important was the person buried inside. During the Japanese rule they excavated many of the tombs and stole a lot of relics, some are still on display in Tokyo.
Second stop was Cheonmachong (heavenly horse tomb). It was built by placing a wooden coffin and wooden chest on the flat floor and building a wooden chamber over them. Boulders were piled on the top of the chamber and a mould was built over the pile. It's circumference is 157m and hight 12.7m. It is believed to date from the 5th or 6th century. The tomb was excavated in 1973 and because it was so large and covered with so many boulders, the operation took two years and some 11,500 relics were recovered, include a gold crown and a pair of saddle flaps painted with a flying horse (which gave the tomb it's name).
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Unfortunately photos inside the tomb were not allowed.
 

boomy

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The third stop was Doggung Palace (the palace of the crown prince). It was used to hold parties, celebrate special events and welcome foreign dignitaries. Over the years the area was abandoned and uncovered during excavation work in 1975.
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The former dictator of South Korea Park Chung-hee (father of current prime minister) invested a lot in uncovering and preserving national monuments that many of them were either badly neglected or completely forgotten over the years when Korea was very poor and the last thing on people's mind was preserving the past.
The fourth stop was Bulguksa temple, built in 751 to serve as a centre of Silla Buddhism and of prayer for protection of the country from foreign invasion.
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Well, it didn't do the job because the Japanese did invade in 1593 and burnet down the entire temple. It was not until 1973 that it was completely restored and eventually designated as the world cultural heritage by UNESCO in 1995.
 

boomy

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After the short stay in Busan we headed back to Seoul on the bullet train. We were both scheduled to fly the next day, myself to meet the family in Europe and the missus back to Australia due to work commitments so we decided to spend our last night in Incheon.
In the past was there was no reason to stay in Incheon unless for an overnight transit to save the long ride to Seoul but in recent years a new suburb was developed, called Songdo.
 

boomy

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Songdo (island of pine trees)
Less then 15 years ago the area used to be no more then a muddy surface in the Yellow Sea. In 2003 the Korean government filled it with 500 million tons of sand with the vision to build an international business district close the the airport. In an effort to attract foreign investment the government offered major concessions to foreign business and individuals. Songdo was marketed as the "The City of The Future" and "The World's Smartest City". The project end up costing more then $40USD billion and the goal was to crate a brand new architect designed high-tech city that will showcase Korea's technological power.
The city is not finished yet but looking down from our suite at the Sheraton it looks impressive. we visited an outdoor mall (not very suitable for winter) and also a smaller indoor outlet mall near our hotel. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in the area but none seemed to be very busy. Maybe it's because the freezing temperatures outside or maybe it's because the city is not finished yet, we couldn't see many people on the streets. Although the area still lacks the bustling atmosphere of downtown Seoul it still worth a visit just to see how the cities of the future are going to look like.
 

boomy

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Sheraton Incheon (Songdo)
Booked: King Deluxe
Received: Executive Suite
It's a relative new hotel, only 5 years. From outside the building looks modern and it blends well in the environment.
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We tried to check in when entered the lobby but were sent to do it in the executive lounge. I already said before I can't see the point in doing that when there is no queue in the lobby but when in Asia...
We received a suite upgrade and found two complementary bottles of water, a bottle of wine and welcome letter in the room.
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The suite was large, clean and modern. It was exactly what I would expect to see at a new 5* hotel.
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Day view of Songdo from the suite.
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Night view of Songdo from the suite.
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