Gyeongju: Relics from the Silla Dynasty

You know how sometimes you get a really good idea?  To go on a day trip, say?  To a really interesting and renowned place where your children will learn all kinds of fascinating history, and you will get to take beautiful photos?  And then it all works out perfectly and you can’t believe how everything lined up so well and you just sigh with contentment and pat yourself on the back?

Me neither.

My plans always sound so good.  And then something like Nature shows up and crashes my party.  Language Barrier joins in (Sigh. Again.) with the party hats and noisemakers.   Just to make this fiesta really pop, Sickness and Discomfort round out the festivities by bringing the band.

Monday was that day.

We planned a day trip to Gyeongju, the historic city about an hour away from us.  For almost a thousand years during the Silla (pronounced like the name “Sheila”) Dynasty, it was the capital city in Korea (or what would become Korea… Koreans actually don’t even call Korea, “Korea.”  But I think I already mentioned that about 100 blog posts ago.  Surely you remember?  wink wink).  This dynasty  was around from 57 BC to 900-something AD.  I’m not a dates person, but you can feel free to look it up.

To sum it up, all the stuff there is really old and authentically Korean. (Sillan?)

As fortune would have it, Sunday I came down with a cold.  Not the worst I’ve ever had, but still uncomfortable and sneezy.  Then Zeke woke up from his nap and he was running a low-grade fever and was super-clingy. But I’m not a stay-home-because-we’re-mildly-ill kind of person.  No, ma’am.  So we pressed on with our plans.

Then Sunday night, Kevin looked up the weather report.  Rain.  All day.  Now, I may have mentioned before that rain is not common here in the winter.  The last time it rained was… I don’t remember… November, maybe?  The last moisture we saw was the snow in late December.  So I scoffed.  Not going to let rain ruin my MLK Jr Day! No, sirree.

On Monday morning we got our stuff together, met up with some friends, and after a couple false starts headed down the highway.

We arrived to the Gyeongju National Museum excited to get out of the wet, nasty, cold , only to find that dunh, dunh, dunh: it’s closed on Mondays!

Nothing left to do but console ourselves with a quick visit to the outdoor Giant Bell.  (Surely, its official name.)

This photo was taken about 15 minutes after we arrived.  Of the children, only Gabriel is even remotely dry and that is because he disobeyed me and wore his rain coat and rain boots instead of winter coat and tennis shoes.  Did I mention my kids are often smarter than me? (I am still pretty new to this “winter” idea. Why, oh why aren’t winter coats waterproof?!)
Anyway, it’s a nice bell, and very big and old (700’s, I believe) and it has a lovely tone that sounds like this:
but not exactly like that, it turns out, because no one is ringing the bell.  They simply have speakers set up near the bell to mimic the sound it would make if I had any luck at planning successful adventures/educational field trips.  And of course the kids were the ones to discover this as they were running amok.  I was a bit disappointed but the kids just found it hilarious! 
After we were sufficiently soaked, we headed to a nearby complex to view the oldest observatory in East Asia and some royal tombs.  Oh, yes: they are both located outside.  In the rain.
Here are the tombs, sufficiently creepy due to 1) fog, 2) dead winter grass and trees, and 3) raindrops on my camera lens. (!!!)

There is (supposedly) one tomb called the Tomb of the Flying Horse, which is open to the public to enter.  In spite of asking several Koreans, who were polite and gave some halfhearted attempt at pointing us in the right direction we never found such tomb.

I even went off on my own to quickly determine if a promising path was worth the dragging-along of 8 children under the age of 8.

No dice.

I did, however, enter the really creepy forest and was ecstatic to have a minute alone to take some eery-looking photos.

The weather, however, did not cooperate, and I ended up taking 5 or 6 shots, the best of which was this one:

Foiled again by the rain on my lens!  I ultimately decided the long-term health of my camera was more important than getting a cool shot, so I packed it up and hoofed it back to the families to let them know that there would be no Flying Horses in our near future.
(Aside:  Is there a cool trick you photographers use to keep rain off your camera, other than an umbrella?)
Which leaves us with the Cheongseondae observatory.  I recently watched an episode of Minor Revisions where Jen and her dad discuss theology and astronomy while  inside an observatory.  I got really pumped thinking how unique it would be to see a 1500 year old structure with the same purpose.
And (drum roll, please) here it is:
Observatory?  Check.  Old? Check.  Really cool?  Meh.
Of course, after thinking on it a bit (and joking a lot with the other adults along) I came to the realization that this actually is an impressive structure.  Spending some time in the digital, interactive mini-museum next door didn’t hurt, either.
The coolest things about the observatory were 1) the fact that it was designed and commissioned by the sole ruling queen of the Silla Dynasty: Queen “I Can’ Remember Her Name and I Can’t Believe I Threw Away the Brochure”, and 2) the construction was unique.  They used a soil scaffolding.  So as they put stones on, they also added more and more dirt around it and inside it until the whole structure was completed.  And then they shoveled away all the dirt from the outside and down to the window on the inside.  
Smart, eh?  These Koreans ain’t too shabby in the brain department.
We followed up our very wet excursion by eating lunch in a drafty restaurant.  It was the only Korean restaurant in a mini-mall full – FULL! – of bakeries that all sold the exact same thing “Gyeongju Bread.” Didn’t have time or energy to try it, though.  Maybe when we head down the next time we will spin in a circle with eyes closed and pick a bakery to patronize.  But only (this is an actual threat, mark my words) if the weather cooperates.  Otherwise, no bread for you!
After all was said and done, I am glad we went because now I know the way there and the layout and location of the major landmarks.  (This will prove helpful when my siblings are visiting in a few weeks!!  Woot woot!)
Also, every blog post needs an angle and it turns out my: “poor me I live in a foreign country don’t you feel so bad for me” angle was next in line.  Thanks for putting up with me.
If you made it all the way to this point, I will reward you with this little-known fact: 8 American kids make more noise in a restaurant than 40 college-age Koreans.   As prone as I am to exaggeration, this is completely true.  An awkward fact that embarrassed me more times than I can count on Monday.  See, when we arrived, the restaurant was nearly empty, and the kids’ voices (ok, whimpers and cries of “I’m soooo coooooold”) were echoing around the cavernous restaurant.  A few minutes later a tour bus full of college kids entered.  I was so relieved.  Something to cover our noise.  Nope.  Their tables were practically silent, with only a hint of murmuring.  Ours were… well ours were full of regular kids!


  1. Your creepy picture is fantastic! I don’t anything about cameras (obvi) but I’ve seen those big black plastic ring things that go on the front of the lens. What are those for?

    • Well, Dwija, you are going to think I’m an idiot (I actually am) but I HAVE one of those rings on my camera, just turned around to keep it out of the way. I think it’s for keeping sunlight out of the lens when shooting during the day? But i certainly could have tried it Monday. Argh. File this one under: Duh.

  2. LOL. A camera hood. I have used mine… a total of.. never. That sucks that museum was closed on Monday… I have done similar things… too often to count! At least you got some good pictures though. I am also pretty convinced that Asians are quiet in general. I can only really say that b/c my family hardly ever talk.

    • Well, I’m glad I’m not the only one who rarely uses it. And as for Koreans being quiet… I’ve definitively heard them yell and get rowdy, but it’s mostly outside. I think when it comes to enclosed spaces it’s considered rude to be too loud. Which is why we are ALWAYS a spectacle when we go out to dinner. Always.

  3. I love trips like those. When they include bad weather and closed attractions, my family calls them “Cari’s Follies”.
    “Micaela’s Follies!”

    • Aaaaaand, I’m off to add a new label to the blog. Maybe even a page, depending on how many of them I dig up. I love the word “follies!”

      P.S. The whole time I was writing this I was flashing back to your 70’s Nativity adventure. Cari’s Nativity Folly, as it were. 😉