We’ve conjured some new terms on these travels of ours; you may remember the Barriga Break. Before leaving for Korea, we passed through the USA briefly to visit loved ones, and a friend from our hometown who lived in Seoul several years ago inspired another: Gophering. Val described Seoul as an ideal city to pick a random subway station and pop out of the underground to take a look around. Come gophering with us to a few of our favorite discoveries:
Take the Green Line to the Sports Complex stop on (if it’s baseball season) almost any night of the week and follow the crowds to Exit 5. Once your noggin has cleared the tunnel, you’re walking straight toward the ticket booth of the Jamsil Baseball Stadium. It’s that close! Most people were stopping at the street vendors who sell beer and weird Korean snacks, but we opted to for the whole baseball experience and waited until inside.
Tickets in the nosebleed section cost $10 and the crowds are as rambunctious as Cubs fans, although sadly The Wave hasn’t caught on here. After the game, it’s fun to wander above-ground; this was the site of the 1988 Olympics and has good public art and plenty of Olympic rings for nostalgia.
From what I gather, Seoul is notorious for tearing down old neighborhoods to make room for new high-rises; doomed buildings can be identified by a red tag. In the district of Hammang-dong, though, the tags had been there for years and as Seoul’s current mayor has preservation-minded leanings, a few plucky souls began renting affordable storefronts from landlords with vacancies caused by the raincloud hanging over the community.
Getting to the neighborhood was worth the huffing and puffing it took to climb the long stairway to our landmark, a large mosque complex perched at the high end of the street. In a country where diversity is relatively uncommon, the residents here range from old Koreans selling rotisserie chicken from a rickety grill in the street to young Muslim youth headed toward the mosque and beautiful Indian women in saris pushing strollers past the new tattoo parlor. As it’s not far from Itaewon, the largest expat quarters of Seoul, there were even plenty of Americans lounging in coffee shops tucked into doorways.
Bukhansan National Park
Hiking must be the official national leisure activity of Koreans, complete with a national uniform. We discovered Bukhansan National Park one Sunday when we gophered out of Dobongsan Station (Line 1 or Line 7) along with – and I don’t think I’m exaggerating – 20,000 Koreans. Despite the crowds (according to our friend Marie who lives here, they’re unavoidable on weekends anywhere on hiking trails or beaches near Seoul) the park was beautiful with lush greenery, temples tucked into hillsides across steep valleys, and a decent view of the city, marred slightly by the ever-present spring smog.
Ewha Women’s University
I liked this one so much I gophered here twice – once with Marie and later with KC. Home to the world’s/country’s largest all-female university, this campus off the Green Line combines modern glass-and-metal architecture and rooftop gardens near the university’s entrance while quickly giving way to a campus reminiscent of the most idyllic of European or New England colleges complete with old-fashioned stone buildings and forested walkways.
I wish we’d found a flat near this stop. It’s surrounded by modest residential apartment buildings and the street leading to the university is lined with street food carts, something of a rarity in our streets.
This stop on Line 4 never disappoints. Walk in one direction and you enter the National Museum grounds, 76 acres of indoor museums exhibits ranging from a children’s museum to the current from Paris’s famous Orsay Museum, ponds, and peaceful walking paths. KC even found an inversion table at one of the exercise stations, something he’s missed consistently since we sold ours before leaving the US.
Walking a few blocks in another direction, the Han River beckons. Whether we have walked the riverfront green space, rented a tandem bicycle, or sat on a bench to enjoy the sunshine and a book, it’s a pretty area that soothes the soul when big-city-miniscule-apartment living closes in too claustrophobically.