The New “Happiest Place on Earth”

Our first week in South Korea has flown by, and today we packed up and took the long bus ride to Gyeongju. After so many packed, busy days, it was nice to have a few hours to relax as we drove through the Korean countryside.

I know from my experiences in Italy that rest stops outside the US tend to be much nicer, but I was still impressed when we stopped for lunch. Unlike the Burger Kings and KFCs that mark American rest stops, the Korean ones offer a large menu of freshly-made meals, complete with multiple side dishes. Each option is displayed as a plastic model, which is very helpful for tourists like me. I settled on a fried pork chop with rice, tater tots, and some kimchi on the side – it was almost the exact same meal we had for lunch at Hanyang University, and just as delicious. This was honestly one of my favorite meals from the trip so far, which is astonishing considering the meals I’ve had in US college dining halls and rest areas are mediocre at best.

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These plastic models made ordering much easier!

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I also noticed the continued prevalence of sustainable infrastructure, with solar panels implemented even in the rest stop. The structure functioned as both a shade for the parked cars and a way to generate solar power.

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Solar panels everywhere…

When we arrived in Gyeongju, I felt an immediate difference from Seoul: towering skyscrapers were replaced by more traditional buildings, the landscape became much more open, and there was a sharp decrease in tourists. Walking the streets of Seoul, I was used to seeing some other foreigners, but here, we seemed to be the only outsiders around. The change was a bit jarring, but I liked the fact that we were getting out of the tourist sites into hopefully a more local experience.

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A bit of a contrast to bustling Seoul

After checking into the hotel, we spent the afternoon at a nearby amusement park, Gyeongju World. We started off with the largest roller coaster and spent the rest of our time on the smaller rides like the pirate ship and the Ferris wheel. Most of the rides were similar to theme parks I’ve visited in the past, but I have never seen anything as adorable as the cotton candy animals at Gyeongju World.

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Today was the perfect way to relax after our lively, full week in Seoul. Overlooking the lights of Gyeongju from the top of the Ferris wheel, I felt so content, and ready to jump back into company and cultural visits tomorrow.

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Gyeongju World, with the lights of the city beyond

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