The bus jerked forward, gears crunching and horn blazing. If you want to feel like you’re back in old Asia and not modern Korea step on a city bus. I check my phone again nervously, 10 minutes until my KTX leaves and just 500 metres but the traffic is crawling, I knew I should have taken the round route on the subway. The driver decides to take a minute or so to stop the bus so he can shout and swear at someone parked in the bus lane – evidently indifferent to the fact the next stop is the station and there’s probably a few passengers catching trains. I finally get off and speed walk to the station atrium messaging my friend June as to where she is.
Just getting off the subway.
So I pace around the station minutes ticking down: 6,5,4.. June nonchalantly arrives, cat ears and everything.
“Shall we go to the platform?”
I barely say hi, more just turn and start semi running to find the platform. I’m not one for leaving things close, and spend the first part of the journey relaxing that we’ve made the train.
We’re staying in Itaewon – a central hotspot in Seoul for foreigners – with lots of restaurants, bars and coffee shops. Also super close to Seoul’s highlights ~ Airbnb has won us another affordable gem. We go out for Mexican food and I feel like I’m back in London. Mainly because of the the prices and the number of foreigners surrounding us – it’s been a long time since I’ve spent the equivalent of £20 on dinner – but it was super tasty.
Saturday morning I get up fairly early to hike in Bukhansan national park on the outskirts of Seoul. In just my shorts and t shirt I look pretty out of place on the public transport surrounded by Koreans in full hiking gear, poles at the ready, but this is a 2 hour hike that I expect to get done in 90 mins and I doubt full gear will be necessary. If somehow an emergency hits I’m hardly going to be alone on the most popular route in Korea, so bagless I head.
I walk up at a decent pace, latte in hand, shooting past the pole walkers. I get to the summit in just under an hour, shirt clinging to me with swet, then chill to take in the scenery. Even with the crowds it was a great view. Heavy greens interspersed with karst cliff faces, the urban sprawl of Seoul hazing off into the distance. I meandered way down a looping route to take in more of the mountain – I was meeting June later than originally planned as her Aunt was taking her for mermaid sparkly blue pedicures.
Saturday afternoon and we checked out Gyeongbokgung palace. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. It felt like an ancient version of Seoul itself, with the complexes sprawling outwards from the hub. The place was massive and really fun to check out – I’d recommend to anyone, even if you’ve checked out lots of palaces in your travels.
Saturday evening and we were out in Hongdae a student centre in Seoul. Prices dropped, and Soju a plenty was consumed with June’s cousin. Sunday was a more relaxed start at a recommended brunch spot The Flying Blue Pan – some delicious smoked salmon, poached eggs and avocado – this was most definitely holiday weekend, before taking the cable car up to the summit of Namsan park where Seoul tower is.
Namsam park is viewable from most central areas of the city – with different districts looping around it. From the top you get panoramic views of the city and the mountains that cradle it together. The closeness of mountains around all the Korean cities always gets me. So many people squeezed into these pockets of space. We walked down Namsam into the large shopping district, Myeondeok, and I finally replaced my trainers that have been steadily dying these past couple of months. The steep Korean prices on Western products hurts, but it was a necessary purchase.
That evening we are back out in Hongdae to watch Nanta – a popular show – probably most comparable to a scaled back comedy version of Stomp. The show was great fun, even if a little childish, and the kids that couldn’t stop laughing added to the spectacle.
Monday was memorial day and I guess fittingly we started by checking out the war memorial. It certainly wasn’t peaceful – there was a large family event on with lots of colouring happening and kids darting around. It was nice to see a usually somber place used in this way, a more energetic way to remember those passed with the future generations scampering around, hopefully in the position where they won’t have to put themselves in positions that could lead to their name engraved on the walls.
We finished our trip cycling along the river and then just crashing out in the park. The riverside was busy and many Koreans had brought down their pop up tents so that they didn’t have to sit in the sun or on the grass. It felt more like a tent show than people out for the afternoon. We just lay on the grass, being unequipment of camping gear. We crashed pretty hard then and on the slow train back to Daegu – it had been a great but exhausting few days checking out the capital.
There’s more I want to see so I’m sure I’ll be revisiting in the future, but it was a great introduction to the city.