Tumuli. Tumuli. Tumuli. It's fun to say. They're also fun to look at, these giant round mounds popping up around the city of Gyeongju ( The tumuli are actually tombs of the Shilla kings and rulers of ancient Korea. One, called Cheongmachong ( or the Heavenly Horse Tomb, is opened for sightseers to go inside. It's dark and cool, and a little disconcerting when I see that I'm inside a pile of rocks about fifteen feet deep that is covered with dirt ten feet deep. Also, you're standing inside someone's grave.
In the tomb, we marvel at artifacts like an uncomfortable-looking wooden saddle and a fragile gold headdress. Shane, Mom, Britt, and myself wander through the rest of Tumuli Park, grateful for the cloud cover that are keeping us cool. It's so nice to be surrounded by fresh air and green.
The path through Tumuli Park leads us through a stretch of gnarly knotty trees. Because of the rain that has just passed through, the park is nearly empty and very still. Smells fresh and mossy and I feel like I'm in a children's storybook. We walk on.
After a bit, we reach a place I recognize from my student's textbooks. I'm standing in front of Cheomseongdae (첨성대), the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia. Seeing this landmark now in person is so anti-climatic that I have a hard time believing it's actually a big tourist site. It looks like a pudgy chimney. I'm the only one in our group who takes a picture.
From Cheomseongdae, we sojourn across a field toward another wooded area, which a sign informs us is Gyerim Forest (
Later, after walking through the rapeseed field, past the red and white hollyhocks, under the gourd and zucchini vine-covered tunnel, and after taking turns sticking our faces through a painted board that made it look like we were the Shilla princess in a pink hanbok riding a white horse sidesaddle, we make it to Anapaji Pond (.
I've never seen so many or such huge water lilies. The leaves are larger than my head. By the time we finish walking up and down the pathways, we're tired and ready to head toward the bus station.
To get there, we have to walk down Hangover Soup Street. Hangover soup (haejangguk or 해장국) is a traditional stew made from ox or beef bone broth, soybean paste, sprouts, radish, green onions, and sometimes ox blood. Today, each of the hangover soup restaurants is nearly identical, and each is empty, save the proprietors swatting flies away from giant silver pots. I guess that by 3:00 in the afternoon, the hangovers are done for the day.