And then there were two.
As Miss Leila winged back to the states this morning, it just leaves your intrepid travelers SaraG and I to pick up the mantle and scour the streets of Seoul looking for the interesting. Today we find the interesting by hunting down Korea’s National Treasure #1, seeing a man about a fortress wall, hiking up-up-up to Namsang tower, jaunting off to lock some locks to a fence, try to gauge just how big is too big in shirts for SaraG, me finally break down and buy that jacket I’d been thinking about for days, but not before completely blowing the budget on an impulse buy, then we end the day and possibly our relationship, with a trip to the Han River.
Sound like a lot? Oh, it was. Wait until you see our step count for the day!
While we did our friendly duty and got up to see Leila off to her taxi for her early morning flight, we promptly curled back into beds and chilled, deciding we didn’t have the need to jump out of bed to push, push, push. Oh, we’ll take it easy we said. Just figure out as we go along, we said.
We were fools.
Once we deemed an appropriate time had passed for us to have considered ourselves ‘slept in,’ we poured over my tourist maps and the guidebook left to us by our Airbnb host….or possibly Leila. I can’t remember which. We considered what was left on each of our to-do list, which was surprising, not as much as we had figured. Making a decision which didn’t have too many rounds of “what do you want to do?”, we decided we were going to start out by hunting down Sungnyemun Gate, which is, officially, Korea’s National Treasure #1 (Since 1962). Sungnyemun Gate is one of the 8 gates along the fortress wall which surrounded the city during the Joseon Dynasty. The history on this gate is pretty amazing, from the reconstructions to the demolition of the outer walls during the Japanese occupancy to the arson which burned down the top wooded pagoda in 2008 by someone who has also set fire to one of the palaces. (Dude. Side note, what an A-HOLE) Check out their Wikipedia page here to read all about it.
Just like with the palaces, the gate is surrounded by the city, literally. The busy streets literally encircle it. Its one of those places where you get off the train, walk up and up, wonder, “have we headed in the right….oh, there it is!”
This is not the only gate which remains (I believe there are two more), this is the oldest.
Tempting traffic, trying to get the best shots of the gate we can in between cars, we hit the tiny park that surrounds parts of it and just take it all in.
Before moving on because we had more places to be! More history to catch!
But this was the best start as we were on our way to find something that was pretty high on my must-be seen list. The remains of the fortress walls that once surrounded the city. Gate. Walls. Seems like it made sense.
We decided to press on, finding our way to Namsan Park, intent on getting a close up look to the legendary Namsan Tower. Which, of course, makes me think of one question:
Do you know Namsan Tower?
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
While we did handily have our Naver Maps at the ready, really, it wasn’t super necessary. See that big tall thing in the background there, just keep walking towards it until you hit a hill and then just keep going upwards. In order to get there, we wandered through the local neighborhoods, skirting the edges of Namdaemyun Market, where we’d been with Leia and Lisa just the other day. We started to climb up higher and finally, as we seemed to be lifted out of the alleyways, we arrived at Namsan Park, the entryway to the trails leading up to Namsan Tower.
It was green and quiet, just us and a man in a suit on a chilling either before or during work. Or maybe it was just him in his usual clothes just hanging out, no work involved at all, who am I to judge his life choices? He barely looked at us, absorbed in his coffee and music.
To the right was now a length of stairs which lead up towards the trails, and next to that? The fortress wall! We were hiking right alongside it. It was a total kdrama moment…you know, just with less Kdrama hero and more sweat. What we didn’t realize was this was just the beginning of the train, the starter course, the hiking hors d ‘oeuvres if you will. It was wide open spaces which periodically lead to giant statues of people we didn’t know, marking essential bits of history we didn’t know.
When there were placards in English explaining what the statues were, their history, we stood and read them, learning a lot about the perseverance of the Korean people throughout history. And when they didn’t translate who they were? We simply made up a story.
One might ask why we simply didn’t take the tram up to the summit like any average Kdrama loving person in Korea for the first time. Easy enough? They were closed. They closed down like the week before we arrived and were out for maintenance our entire stay. Of all the rotten luck.
I love the fact that we actually hiked our way up the mountain. We got to wander the stair covered trails, through the trees, around vistas, all the while next to varying lengths of fortress wall in various states of rebuild, wonder if this part or that part was original, knowing a lot of it had been taken out by the Japanese during the occupation. We saw amazing views of the city, passing people of all ages coming up and down the paths. It was also something that SaraG and I were achieving together. Sounds weird but we’d been through so much during this trip, were faced with days alone with no one but each other for company, when before we’d only spent odd hours together here and there. Starting this new experience doing something physical, something challenging, I think it was a great way to kick it off.
There were two very different parts of the ‘park.’ The first part being more park-y with the statues and the open spaces. The second was the steeper, uphill hike. The two sections were separated by a snackshop. Well. There were other things there, but let’s focus on the most important thing. Though it seemed appropriate to have one of the packets of ramen, I just wasn’t hungry enough for that, so we simply got waters and snack bags. Dukboki flavored for me! It was weird. Spicy and overly sweet. I’m now addicted and pick up a bag whenever I pop over to my local H-Mart.
LAUGH. Actually, step back, before we hit the snack shop (where it was just the bored girl and us behind the counter), we hit the essential building,: the bathroom. As we walked there, we passed a man in a very loud yellow sports outfit shouting and acting crazy in front of a film team. You could tell when they weren’t filming, he was a little mortified for himself, but we tried not to stare too hard. Our guess? It was some sort of CV being filmed.
Fortified by overly sweetened snacks, we continued on, for the first time, I regretted my choice of the heavy sweater, sweating balls as we headed upwards.
But before long, the fortress walls getting older and older, we reached the summit. Or, before there, we arrived at the K-famous, fence locks. The walls were a sea of color, brightly colored locks attached to every available surface. Some attached to fencing, some affixed to the locks that were attached to the fencing.
There were layers upon layers of locks, digging through you feel like an archeologist of love, the top shiny and new, their vows of love bright and bold for everyone to see, but as you sunk lower, the locks were older, rusted, barely legible. It makes you wonder about all those people who were there before. How many of these people are still together? Are there people out there who went there on dates and fervently wished on those locks?
Once we were there, we became a little bummed out as this was a place that was on all of our wish lists and here it was, just us who had been able to make it. It wasn’t really fair. In honor of our comrades, we purchased them the cutest little locks, filling out their names with ultimate biases, found the perfect place, and attached them to history.
We wandered the top of the mountain again, as we did with SM town, got al the way there, looked at the cost to go to the top of the tower, and said…eh, we’re good. Come on, how much better could it have been from where we were? What we’d achieved on our own?
We found where you tuck away your keys, which honestly I’d forgotten about, thinking we would take the cute matching keys back to our friends. Nope, you actually toss them here and move on with the idea that your love will last forever if you can’t reopen the lock.
By then, we were famished, and we wandered Namsan looking for sustenance. Feed us Namsan, feeeeed us. There was a lot to choose from, which was a bit of an issue. You ever get to those moments when you’re just like, I don’t want to make another decision again, possibly ever? Sometimes I def hit those walls.
We ended up in a little Japanese place where a cute guy gestured us to a table. When you were there, you chose what you wanted from the picture menu and then fill out a little card telling the server what you wanted. SaraG and I decided to get an order of Katsu and one of dukbokki to share. It might be that it was delicious or it might have been that we were just famished but, yeah, it was pretty tasty.
Having no intention of hiking back down, we took the time to figure out what we wanted to do next as we ate, and planned how to get there. After lunch, our batteries recharged, we set off to investigate the different parts of the observatory area. Passing on hologram pictures of me with BigBang (turns out, not something I regret). Wandering outside, we realize the stop for the bus is right outside where we were, we decided to hop the next one to continue on about our day.
Surprisingly, the trip down was a lot faster and less sweaty than the way up!
Once down the mountain, we decided, you know, since we were right there, to wander around Namdaemyun market, just walking, poking in and out of the little stalls, trying to get lost, trying to see every corner but turns out? This is not a thing you can do! In one stall, which was long and skinny, packed tight with clothing until you could barely see what was inside, SaraG had trouble narrowing down all of the things she wanted to get. It was like this stop was made for her. Like it called out “SaaraG coome and buyyy meeeee….” She was able to pick up a bunch of styled shirts she’d been looking at during our travels.
While I waited for her to dig through racks, I decided to half-heartedly poke around. After my belly patdown, I’d been careful not to express to much interest in places like these. Being a lady of a specific size, I wasn’t that sure I was going to find anything that would actually fit me and wasn’t sure I was up for the inevitable disappointment when I didn’t. That was until I saw this red and black buffalo check long coat with hood layered with a black and white striped dress. Sounds weird? It was. And it was delightful. Though I hadn’t allowed myself to buy that jacket from days ago as I hadn’t wanted to spend the money, and this was actually only like 5000 won less and had thought and talked about it since this took SaraG going, “That looks great! You should totally buy it!”
And I did!
It’s huge, it took up an enormous amount of space in my already packed suitcase, it makes me look like I’m a hipster lumberjack and yet…I don’t freaking care. It’s probably the coolest thing I had bought to that point, and I bought it from a lady who worked a tiny little clothing stall in a tiny little corner of an overwhelmingly large and unique market in Korea. I think that just makes it cooler and therefor I am cooler.
I’ve put a lot of thought into it.
We wandered, pleased as punch with our purchases and decided to call it a day. And by day I mean, it was getting late and we needed to be off to our next stop. What had we decided on? We were going to take up Leila’s charge and find that park we’d talked about the night before by the Han River. That’s right, back to Kdramaland, baby!
Getting there was a HOOT.
Finding the bus we needed, we waited and waited. There were a lot of people waiting along with us. The bus came, all in its bright green glory, already packed to the gills and, with a deep breath, we pushed our way on. When we say this was a tight fit, SaraG and I essentially clutching each other as we leaned into a kindly ahjussi as the bus continued to get fuller and fuller. Back home, once the bus reaches a specific capacity, the bus driver will wave a hand at people waiting on the stop, “Full! Wait for the next one!” If they stop at all. Not so in Korea. It’s like they see each person as a challenge to see just how many people they could cram in there, we were mushed in with the old the young as people just leaned into the pile. We tried not to laugh, but it was hard to do. Periodically I tried to figure out where we were, where we needed to get off, but really, it was a crapshoot and we ended up getting off a few stops too late.
By this time, it was dark, and we walked the sidewalks, trying to find the Han River. SaraG made friends with a tiny little bit of a girl who had just been to the dentist with her dad. It was adorable. Reminds me of this time in Busan when we were in the elevator of our Airbnb with a halmoni and her granddaughter, and she was trying to get the shy little girl to bow to us. So. Freaking. Cute.
We cut under an underpass followed some signs, and there it was: The Han River! We got off the road at a perfect spot, one fo those boat launches paved in bricks leading down to the water. Off to the site was a long bridge. With us was another pair of friends, sitting on the ground, huddled, chatting and laughing quietly over the music playing from a phone. It looked like fun, so SaraG and I found a spot a ways away and popped a squat. The air had a slight chill to it, but it was clear and the perfect night to hang out with your friend by the water.
The real question is, what does one listen to while they are making a memory they’ll never forget? We scrolled through my phone and pretty quickly came up with this:
We sat there, just looking at the water, taking in our time there, being with our friend, listening to the music we loved, the music that brought us together as people. I don’t want to be too gummy, but I’m not going to lie, it was a really big moment for me. It was like the accumulation of everything. There may have been tears. A little. Maybe. But I’m not telling.
It was the perfect moment and will always be one of the biggest highlights of our trip.
From there we took our selfies, our together shots. The river, the bridge. Then we realized the path continued on, and we walked the length of the river. Chatting nonsense, stopping for pictures, imagining stories of famous meet-cutes. The pathway was lightly filled with people on dates, people running after work, people walking their dogs. It was a piece of ordinary. Under another bridge, there was one of those community workout areas with the random young man working out. We wandered, walking further and further until we realized 1) we didn’t think we could get to where we needed to be from where we were, and 2) we were going to have to walk all the way back, picking an arbitrary spot, we walked until we reached it and turned back.
Such a great night!
The bus on the way back was surprisingly empty. Surprisingly? Thankfully? Either way, we were on our way back to Hongdae for food. Remarkably, and now I regret a little bit, we did pass up on a BT21 shop, but that might have just been us being done, tired and hungry and not a reflection of our love for BTS. After some debate we ended up in a ramen shop, hot soup seemed to be a great cap to the day. Then we realized we ate Japanese food twice in one day in Korea and chided ourselves a bit, but it was yummy., so we moved on. We also got to hear the guy in the table across the tiny restaurant mansplain to the girls he was with on whatever topic he felt they needed to be educated on. We tried very hard not to roll our eyes.
Steps, adventure under our belts, time to call it a night, right? Naaaawwww bishes, we weren’t done! Since I’d bought that jacket with nary a thought, I figured it was time to find that shop I’d seen the jacket I’d wanted a few days ago, throw the budget aside, and buy it,
I’m joking. At no time did I ever throw the budget aside. Believe it or not, I came in under budget! That being said, I dragged SaraG she voted “dur, I don’t know why you didn’t buy it before” and bought it.
We celebrated with street waffles filled with a myriad of delicious and decadent fillings.
Yes, we had just eaten ramen. Who is going to judge us? Not you, right??? Hands and bellies full, adventure level set at maximum, we called it a day. I’m not entirely sure how we could have even thought to top a night with the Han River and street waffles. Not. Physically. Possible.
Now for that critical question. Ready for that step-count?
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY ONE: AIR PLANES, TIME TRAVELS, AND MULTIPLE SARAG(S)
- Korean Adventure Day Two: Sadly, No Zombies
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY THREE: THE SOLO JOB
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY FOUR: BY THE POWER OF STEVE!
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY FIVE: STAIRS, AND MEERKATS, AND POLICE…OH MY!
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY SIX: EMERGENCYS, BELLY RUBS, AND TIPSI TEXTS
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY SEVEN: THAT WEIRD SHAPED ARTY BUILDING IN GANGNAM
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY EIGHT: KPOP TAKES A VACATION
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY NINE: WE LOVE A MAN WHO LOVES A MARKET
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY TEN: STEPHANIE DOESN’T DO NAKED
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY ELEVEN: LET’S GET SAEGUKY
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY TWELVE: THAT TIME WE DIDN’T BREAKUP BY THE HAN