Monday, December 11, 2017

Days 22 - 30 - Our Last Week in Korea - The End of an Amazing Six Month Group Tour with Friends

Our last week in Korea was great.  We enjoyed a nice hotel with a king bed right off of a main street, one block from a major Metro station, and with zillions of restaurants and stores within a few blocks.  Tired form four weeks in Korea, we kicked back a bit and tailored our activities to short excursions on most days.

Our first day back was spent lounging.  We went through all of our bags and made some additional deletions to our inventory.  Some clothing is being donated to a local charity and we're discarding things that we have now been carrying around for 500 days that have not been used.  We are slowly but surely getting our luggage weights down to more manageable amounts.  LOL.

In the afternoon we visited a local Costco store.  It was a nice Metro ride across town to a suburban location.  We roamed the store getting the feeling we were back in the is exactly the same...except for the people and some of the stock on the shelves.  Nostalgia crept in and we succumbed to a traditional hot dog, chicken bake, and a soda.

We visited a local Mexican restaurant for dinner.  They advertised themselves as "better than authentic" and that was fairly accurate.  They were most definitely not authentic Mexican but it was tasty.  And NO CHOPSTICKS or Kimchi for a change.

We booked a half-day tour to the DMZ - the North Korean border.  It was an interesting ride with a guide who eased whatever tension we might have had.  Nonetheless it was the DMZ and it was the border...and there was plenty of security.  The morning started out with fog and snow and ended with sun and a warmer day.

Fences and guard towers lined the highway that skirted the river between both countries.

At the Freedom Bridge we wandered the site.

The old train that used to go back and forth over the river between the two countries.  Now a museum.
A border fence with lots of prayer ribbons.
Popeyes for lunch...yes, a real chicken burger and the North Korean border.

No man's land.
The security checkpoint to get into the DMZ itself.  Our passports were checked.  A high military presence was everywhere...of course.
Entering the DMZ.
The train station that connected the two and until 2008 had a train that ran back and forth.

North and South Korea passport stamps.
"Boarding" the train to Pyeongyang.

The vehicle gate...highway closed since 2008.
The lookout.  Atop a nearby hill we could see into NK.

The girls inspecting the military troupe visiting the site.
A video at the Third Tunnel.  There have been four tunnels dug under the border by NK and all have been discovered.  The Third Tunnel has been turned into a tourist attraction.  The video was a bit disturbing as it was 100% propaganda for reunification...something no one sees happening any time soon.

The tunnel is 250 feet below ground and was discovered by accident.  The South Koreans closed it off with three barrier walls seen bottom left and then dig an inception tunnel for tours.  The inception tunnel is 1190 feet long and descends at an 11% grade.  
It is a long downhill walk and as you can see, those are people WAY DOWN THERE.
At the bottom it leveled off into the actual tunnel where we walked another 1000 ft.  The actual tunnel is only about 5 1/2 feet high so that last hike was hunched over.  At the end of the tunnel were the barrier walls.
It was interesting and a bit unnerving to be honest.  And a long climb back up to the surface.  We were taken back to Seoul and later than night continued our hunt for western food by having pizza and pasta at an Italian place.  We are in the middle of all the embassies so there are plenty of non-Korean choices.

We spent the last three days taking long walks in the neighborhood, spend a whole day hunkered down in the room because it was so darn cold, and our last day packing up and getting ready for our goodbye in the morning.

We have spent the last six months with George, and the last five months with Andrea.  In that mix another 15 came and went as we traveled from Iceland to the UK and then on to Northern Europe, Scandinavia, all the way across Russia, and into South Korea.

At our last meal together just an hour ago, we all admitted that we have spent more time together in the past six months that we have over many years with family and other friends.  And George, our brother, and Andi, our sister, are our family in so many memorable ways.

So here's to the gang...we'll see you all again in Nepal, and a few of you along the way.  Tomorrow marks the first day since we left the USA that we will be alone...and that will get some getting used to all over again.....

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