If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably noticed that I’m going absolutely mad for Spring. Last week the landscape was baby pink with cherry blossoms for miles. This week, the cherry blossoms are completely gone. It’s so sad that we can only enjoy them for such a short time, but I guess that’s part of their beauty. Plus, to fill their void, there are all kinds of lovely new bright flowers! As much as I do miss the signature yellow daffodils that mark the beginning of spring back in Scotland, I’m loving seeing all the new flowers in Korea. I’ve been spending as much time outdoors as I can because, just like the cherry blossoms, spring isn’t going to last forever. And inevitably, in a few months, I’ll be sitting in front of my fan guzzling litres of waters during the humid monsoon season.
Last weekend, to continue my celebrations of this lovely season, I went to yet another flower festival. In case you didn’t already know, festivals are a big deal here in Korea. There is literally (and for once, I really mean literally) a festival every weekend of the year- these include a kimchi festival, a mud festival, a ginseng festival, and even a chicken and beer festival! On last weekend’s line-up was the Cheonju Mountain Azalea Festival in my current city, Changwon! The base of Cheonju mountain is just a 10-minute walk away from my apartment which was absolutely ideal for long lies on a Sunday! My province is really beautiful at this time of year so I’ve not had to travel far to find a lot of beauty recently. Exactly what I need after months of winter hibernation and far too much Netflix!
It took us about 4 hours to hike up and down the mountain. We could have done it in a much shorter time, but we were a bit snap happy, stopping for a lot of photos along the way. The hike itself wasn’t too difficult, but we did begin to get frustrated because there were a lot of false summits. Every time I would run to the top, ready to celebrate, and then realise that we still had further to go. Cheonju Mountain, you are such a big tease!
On the way up the mountain, we did see some fields of azalea flowers sparsely dotted around, but began to think we had succumbed to another one the Korea tourism board’s sneaky marketing ploys (like that time they said that Gamcheon Culture Village was the Macchu Pichu of Asia?)- it was beautiful, but nothing like the pictures! Where were all the flowers that went on for miles? This better be worth it!
When we finally got to the real summit there were azalea flowers everywhere. The whole mountain was fuschia pink for miles and for once, looked just like the pictures on the internet! The Cheonju Mountain Azalea Festival is definitely been one of the most breathtaking festivals I’ve ever been to in Korea. I really wasn’t expecting it to be as beautiful as it was. Plus, the clientele was a bit older than usual (Korean oldies love a bit of hiking!) so there weren’t so many selfie sticks everywhere. I’m always happy in a selfie stick free zone!
We had bought some makgeolli (Korean rice wine) at the bottom of the mountain which was made in Bukmyeon, the rural country town that I teach in. My co-workers had told me before that Bukmyeon makgeolli is one of the best makgeolli in Korea so, of course, I had to buy some when I saw it! It’s actually a tradition to drink makgeolli when you hike in Korea so it would have been rude not to anyway….
I was pretty starving by the time we got down the mountain and spotted a haejangguk (pork back/hangover soup) restaurant on our way down. These days I can read hangeul (Korean writing) really quickly, which is great for identifying restaurants and reading maps. However, my quick hangeul skills got the better of me this time. There were a few Korean characters I didn’t know the meaning of at the start of the sign. But, I wasn’t too worried- I just assumed it was the name of the restaurant. Our soup got brought to us and it looked VERY different from usual- there was no pork but some strange black thing in its place. Maybe it was a root vegetable? I dug around a bit more and noticed some strange looking white things in amongst my bean sprouts. I was so confused until the Wee Gypsy Boyfriend pointed out to me that those things were actually kidneys and intestines- we then used our translator to discover that that’s what the characters at the start of the sign had actually said! WGB didn’t think it would be a problem for me since I’m Scottish and eat haggis, but I couldn’t do it! He powered on a bit and tried to eat some, but eventually he also admitted defeat. I think he is going to get a pleasant surprise when he comes to Scotland and tastes animal’s insides done right!
To make up for our failed soup dinner, we headed to a nearby restaurant to eat Kimchijeon, which is a Korean pancake with kimchi in the batter. We really needed to get the thought of intestines out of our heads so thought it would be for the best to have a little bit more makgeolli- this time banana makgeolli which is my favourite! Eating jeon (Korean pancakes) after hiking is another Korean tradition- maybe we are actually becoming Korean!
Despite our serious hangeul/food fail, we had an amazing day at the Cheonju Mountain Azalea Festival. Not a lot of foreigners seem to know about this festival, and it should definitely be on more people’s radars! The festival is finished now, and the azaleas are almost gone but I know that there are more azalea festivals around the country later in the year. The Korean word for azalea is 진다래, so keep your eye out for signs with 진달래 축제 (azalea festival) written on them.
Let me know, do you have a Spring festival where you live? Leave me a comment and tell me all about it!