Archangel's blog A pointless waste of time

18Aug/140

Day 11

So, the eleventh and final day in Seoul... Today again it's raining. Is Seoul crying because I'm leaving?

Despite the rain Jinu still wanted med to experience one more mountain, one not far off that he really likes. So after sleeping in for a bit we got on a bus and headed out once again.

When we got there it was still raining but only a slight drizzle. This hike was a lot easier than the last one but three things were working against me: the rain, I'm tiered after so many mountains and my right ankle is complaining. So the trek wasn't actually that enjoyable. Soaked through (both from rain and sweat, it was still warm) we eventually made it to the temple that was close to the top. Here we stopped for some food. The temple actually had free food for whoever got there. Nothing special, just rice and vegetables, but still. So I filled up with some food and water.

After eating we walked around the temple a bit and then the last straw was drawn: it started getting cold. It was foggy up here, so there was no warmth. So cold and wet, realizing that there would be no view to speak of I I braved the top, I decided to call it quits. I'd spend the rest of this day on easier things and unwind a bit before going home.

The trek down was pretty slow. Slippery rocks and both a knee and an ankle complaining made it so. But got down without hurting myself further eventually. Fortunately walking on flat ground doesn't hurt as much as up or down, so I could get around without to much hassle.

I had looked through lonely planet and found a market I haven't seen but would like to: the Seoul folk Klee market. Turned out Jinu had never been there either, so we were both green to the area.

First we walked through the part that had old appliances, everything from tvs, radios and cameras all the way to kitchenware of every size. Nothing I wanted to buy but still fun to see. We then moved in the part that had more clothes, antiques and assorted brick-a-brack. Also fun to browse through. Found one Buddha statue that I thought of buying, but couldn't get the prize down to my level (not even with Jinu's help). So no sale. I also found some insanely cool Buddha statues that were way to huge to get home and on top of that even more insanely prized. I'll have to settle for photos of them.

After this it was time to me to go to a movie in my own. With Jinu's help I'd found a Korean movie with English subtitles. Yay!

Hold it! Don't count your chickens... And all that. Wasn't quite the success I'd hoped for. Halfway through the film it broke! Everything went dark... People left and complained, they came back in and explained (in Korean! Why do they think people went to one with English subtitles?) that it would take 10-15 minutes to fix. It took about 10 minutes, so ok, I could take that.

Then during e climactic final battle scene it broke down again. This time they just came in and told us to go home, they couldn't/wouldn't fix it this time. I did get my money back, small consolation and I did get an extra free ticket, even smaller consolation. So of into the rain to catch a bus back to Jinu's place and have a quick dinner. Now I'm going to pack and get ready for departure early tomorrow.

Steps taken: 20 743 (16.42 km)

And I've uploaded some pictures both for day 10 and 11 in the gallery: Gallery link

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18Aug/140

Day 10

Day 9 should have started with us going outside of soul to some special place by the river and seeing the sunrise. When the alarm rang it was however raining so we realized there would be no sunrise to see. So we slept a little more then still left for this park despite the rain.

The place he took me to is where two rivers meet and combine into the Han river that flows through Seoul. So it had scenic views across the water and huge ponds filled with lotus. The lotus had start to bloom but had we been there about a ask later I think it would have been really impressive.

We also stopped by a few historical sights along the way.

We then headed back to the city for lunch. I had told Jinu how much I like the different kinds of pickled Korean vegetables, so he took me to another buffet. This one had loads of different kinds of pickled vegetables! So I gladly ate my fill. It was really good! The restaurant was housed in a building that looked like a huge ship. Very weird.

Then Jinu had to work, so he dropped me off at the subway and I headed out on my own. I had decided to se an exhibition I saw advertised the day before: Weta Workshop Fantasy. It's an exhibition with statues, paintings and some video from the guys at Weta Workshops, the studio behind the special effects in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (among other movies). They of course started the exhibit with characters from the Rings movies, probably because they are what's most famous. They then had a section with statues made by the artists there but without any affiliation with films. Some very nice and cool works of art. They had a really cool and odd one of Don Quixote.

The last two sections were two different kind of collaborative fantasy projects by artists at Weta (with some outsiders two). One was very much for kids and was cute but not really my thing. The other one was also mainly for kids but with a grown enough attitude to be compelling to older audiences as well. It was a book, paintings and sculpture project in a fairytale world (some parts made me think of wind in the willows). The sculpts were really cool and imaginative. Made me actually want to read more about the story but even more made me wish they did a stop motion film with sculpts of this quality.

Being the rainy day it was I decided to once again treat myself to an afternoon at the spa. This time I spent even more time there and dared to venture out into the common area.

You enter on the bottom floor, and this is where the changing rooms are.
One floor down in the basement is the actual bath with pools and saunas (the segregated ones).
One floor up is massage section, here you can get all kinds of treatment.
Two floors up are the enjoyment section. Here that have group rooms for talking, TV rooms, lounge section, arcade room, bookshelves to read from and a restaurant/cafeteria.
Three floors up is the common sauna area. Here you have different kind of saunas and relaxation rooms. I tried the jade sauna which is a room where all the walls and the ceiling is covered in jade and the floor is a thick layer of loose jade gravel. Here you're supposed to lay down among the jade, many even buried parts of their bodies in it. But to do this you needed to bring a towel, the room and thus the rocks had a temperature of 60 degrees. I bit to warm for unprotected skin. Another room was the salt room, which was filled with what looked like white quarts rocks. And then they had two rooms with lower temperatures, one with charcoal (supposedly good somehow) and another with higher oxygen concentration. I actually fell asleep awhile in the charcoal room. And then they had a 85 degree sauna also. Though I've probably forgotten one or more of their other strange rooms. For me it felt very weird to sit in a sauna with shorts and T-shirt on.
The last floor had sleeping rooms, separate for men and women. They even had a room for snorers.

So all in all you could easily spend a lot of time here.

After deciding I was clean and fresh enough I headed back to Jinu's place. But on the way I picked up a donut and a yoghurt shake. Felt good to treat myself a little extra.

As soon as I got back we hopped in Jinu's car and headed across town for dinner, picking up the same friend that joined us yesterday on the way there. Today we visited a place that specialized in different types of Korean pancakes. For starters we had kimchi chige (a stew with kimchi and pork) and then we had loads of different fried things, fish, vegetables, mushrooms, tofu and some mixed patties. To this we drank Korean rice wine. As usual it was good and there was to much food for us to finish. But since we were joined by another friend of theirs we actually managed to finish it all. And once again, after finishing with food and drinks they wanted to have some ice cream. This time we ended up at Haagen daaz for a few scoops.

Then they evening was over we headed back and fell asleep.

Steps taken: 8367 (6.6 km)

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17Aug/140

Day 9

I said we were supposed to get up early and catch a bus... Yeah, didn't quite work out that way. My alarm rang and I got up, but my head told me that I wasn't supposed to get up. I had a hard headache that told me I had slept to little. Checked out Jinu and he was out cold. So I decided that his plan B (which he had but hadn't told me what it was) would have to suffice, but in a few hours. So I promptly fell into bed again and just as promptly fell asleep.

Woke up a little after eight and felt a whole lot better. Now I was ready to tackle the day and whatever it had to offer.

The start of his palm was that we were to get brunch at a place he liked on the other side of town. So off we went and hopped on the subway. The place he took me to was the kind of place you'd never find on your own as a tourist. It was inside a building and had no signs I could see outside, so unless you knew it was there you'd have no chance finding it.

This place had an all you could eat buffet and it only cost about 34 kr! That's what I would call cheap! It wasn't as big or as fancy as the place he took me on Thursday, but still good. And included in this price was soft drinks (coca cola, sprite, fanta, etc), tea, water and some strong tasting cinnamon drink. They had eggs and instant noodles you could cook yourself if nothing in the buffet caught you fancy. Needless to say, I got full, so full.

After this we took a walk through the surrounding area, this was the university area to the west of town. Since I hadn't been here it was nice to see. But we walked through it pretty rapidly.

Then we took first the subway then a bus and arrived outside of town, to the north, at the foot of Bukhansan, the tallest mountain in the region.

We were supposed to meet up with another friend of Jinu but even though we were late she was even later... We had planned to be there at half past two, two but it was three when we arrived. When she wasn't there fourth minutes later we decided to head on up without her. The trek was said to take four to five hours to perform and the sun was supposed to go down a little after seven. We did the math and didn't like it.

So we headed out with a spring in our step. Determined to finish the trek before sundown we got in higher gear and practically ran up the mountain. This was one of the harder climbs I've done! When I in previous posts talked about steep ascents I seem to have not know what I was talking about. The climb to the top was 2.6 kilometers and climbed from about 300 meters (where the village and bus stop was) to the peak at 836.5 meters. The last 300 meters was not for the faint of heart! I don't suffer from vertigo but still found parts of that a bit scary.

But the view was amazing! And we had such good luck with the weather, the sun was shining, a few clouds were up and the only fog was in the distance so we had mostly clear views of the surrounding area.

Even though we actually made good time up we practically flew down the mountain (in a sense it became interesting to see how fast we could do it). We did get down safe and sound (though my right knee and ankle had started to complain during the descent). The time: two and a half hours. And that was with a good fifteen minutes stop at the top and a few water and breather breaks in both directions.

It was a hard but good trek with great views. But it did realize that I'm feeling a bit tired and that this probably was to be my last hard exertion on this trip. Five mountains scaled might be enough.

A long bus ride and a shorter subway ride later we were back in town and ready for dinner. We were again supposed to meet up his friend (the one that missed us earlier today) but we were actually a bit early so Jinu suggested som food before dinner (yes, really!)... So we headed to his favorite ramen restaurant and had a bowl of ramen soup each. It was good, but I'm still partial to ramen Ki-Mama back home.

Then we finally met up with his friend and headed for a fried chicken restaurant. This time the big bowl of fried chicken was actually boneless, so more to my liking than the last time. Beer and soju was imbibed together with this chicken. All three were good and so was the company, so we sat there till around eleven before we headed home. But on the way to the subway the other two wanted ice cream, so we stopped by Baskin Robbins and had some ice cream before we finally hopped on a train heading back home.

A little before one pm I fell exhausted into bed.

Steps taken: 25 480 (20.1 km)

A few pictures in the gallery, but only from the iPhone so far.

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16Aug/141

Day 8

Today it was back to walking a fair amount but also a lot of bus travel.

We got up at 7 and got ready the left for the bus station. We made it to the bus with only one minute to spare! Luckily we had reserved seats, it was completely sold out. Then, traffic!

As I have previously stated today is Korean freedom day, so it's the start of a three day weekend and the pope is in town. So seemed like all the people that aren't catholic decided to get out of Dodge. It was bumper to bumper for a long while. What shocked me was the even when we got out on the highways and country roads it was more often that not queues. This traffic jam extended for miles and miles! In the end a buss ride that was supposed to take a little over two hours took about four. So we had less time than expected on the trek.

The place we went was an old merchant road used long ago to get things through the mountains from the south up to the capital. So it meandered up the hill a bit and had three big gates along the way as protection from bandits and invaders. The hike we took lead us up the hill for 6.5 km to the last hate and then back down again. Had we had more time we could have either continued and gotten a buss farther on the other side, climbed a peak nearby or taken a stroll through the old town that was built at the beginning of the trail. This town has been used for filming in several period dramas. But we just had time for the walk up and down. Jinu also had time for a quick dip in the river which was very cold.

The scenery was beautiful along the way. The road followed a small river (or was it a brook?) and along the way there were several natural and artificial pools and channels going back and forth on both sides of the road. There were sharp cliffs hemming the road in and thick lush forest all around. So as I said, the scenery was really beautiful.

For the first few kilometers it was way to many people for my taste. Luckily most people were to lazy to go all the way up to the third gate, so the further up we got the more space we got to ourselves. So it eventually became calm and serene for a while. Really nice.

At the top I realized I hadn't ate anything since breakfast and we were going to have vey little time to catch the buss. We decided to get some take out at the bottom and eat it at the buss station. We got burgers from Korea's answer to McDonalds: Lotteria. Same, same but different. But felt pretty good then since my stomach was really growling.

On the way home the buss wasn't more than half full so there was plenty of space to rest. Could even fall asleep a little while. And this time the buss actually took only the advertised 2 hours and 10 minutes. So we were back in town a little after 8pm and took the train to a good barbecue place Jinu knew about.

So I finally got to have Korean barbecue. Yay! It was an all you can eat style so as soon as we were running out of meat Jinu just asked for more. And the quality was really good, the taste was great and it was very tender. I even got to taste cow tongue. It was ok, a bit chewy though. All in all a great dinner. And unlike at home where they use gas burners they here had actual coals in a sunken part of the table. The only downside here was that it was a hot meal in more ways than one. I tried som pickled chilies that were very spicy and the had a large garlic clove that I thought was pickled, turned out to be raw and very strong. A little while after those two my stomach was a bit upset with me. It soon settled back down content with grumbling a little.

We then headed down to the river where we met up with another of his friends (a college of the first friend). Even though it was late the river park was filled with people, it was a really laid back atmosphere. We bought some strange juice (mine was more like lemonade) and had some snacks. The temperature was cool but not at all cold, so we just sat and talked for a few hours. Then we realized it was late and our original plan was to get up at 5 to catch a buss and go hiking again so if we left now we might get 4 hours of sleep...

Jinu thought we should walk the scenic route home, he said it was not longer than the other and would take a maximum of 30 minutes... It took 45! I almost fell asleep walking, I was so extremely tired and spent.

When we got back I just brushed my teeth and immediately fell asleep.

Today's gallery contains mostly food, haven't had time to upload for the big camera: a href="https://www.dropbox.com/sh/zv1y15uqbqwxhkt/AACEIcJxtiqHJPMN-DLnOBNba "target="_blank">Gallery link

Steps taken: 29 121 (23.05 km) actually it was a bit more since we walked back, but after midnight the counter resets. So day 9's count is going to include a midnight walk.

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14Aug/140

Day 7

Today has been the most laid back day yet.

I took a quiet morning at the guesthouse and packed my things since it was time to check out and Jinu was coming to get me. Due to enormous amounts of traffic he got a bit delayed, so I just relaxed in the courtyard.

He picked me up in his car and we drove halfway across town for some lunch. During this lunch I got the explanation for the traffic and thus also for the excessive amount of cops I'd seen previous days: the pope! Turns out the pope is visiting Seoul, he landed this morning. We drove past the big square I visited on day 1 and on this there was now a huge stage erected. There were over a hundred thousand guests invited but they expect more than a million will be in attendance when he speaks tomorrow. So glad I already saw that part of town. Also feels like it might be a perfect time to leave Seoul and do some trekking.

We drove to the an area called Myeong-dong, close to the market I ate yesterday. He had reserved us a table at a buffet he likes there. Talk about huge buffet! They had a little of everything and some more. There was sushi, dumplings, steamed rice in both Bambi and some leafs, soups of all kinds, other assorted dishes, you could make your own bibimbap, you could make your own combination of noodles, they had several different kinds of noodles and noodle soups and there was of course a lot of desserts (where you could even make your own soft ice cream). I didn't even sample half of what they had but still ate till I felt a bit nauseous. It was really good though, should just have stopped a little earlier. There are a few shots of the food in the gallery.

After lunch we walked some of the food of by strolling through the neighborhood, looking at shops and talking. This area had a ridiculous amount of shops with beauty products. It was just back to back cosmetic shops. How they all can turn a profit was beyond us both.

We also passed by Seoul's main church which was cordoned off. Guessing the pope will make an appearance there.

After walking some of that food off (would have had to walk the rest of the day and evening straight to walk all of it off I think) we hopped in the car and drove to his house. Again this are up quite a bit of time do to traffic jams. The pope is visiting, there were lots of road construction going on and since tomorrow is Korean freedom day today is like a Friday and the traffic adjusts accordingly.

At his house I got to meet his mom, but she doesn't speak English so we didn't really do more than greet. He lives with his parents in a nice neighborhood in Gangnam, near the river. Their house is right next to a park so the living room has an open view of trees and feels private and calm. I got to flop in the home office/guest room.

Then Jinu had to go fix some things at work for a while so I was left to my own devices. Decided to rest for a while (that lunch really took it's toll) and then have a walk. Sadly I just fell asleep and woke up around the time Jinu was to get back. But considering the current plan was to go out on the town tonight and then get up at 6:30 tomorrow to get on a bus it might be a good idea to bunk up on some sleep. Having woken up I unpacked a bit, surfed the web and wrote some of this, then Jinu got back and we got ready to go out.

We hopped on a bus to go across town to Itaewon, which is the party district. What I found fascinating was that it took the buss almost 50 minutes to get across town at 10pm! The traffic was as bad as Stockholm is during rush hour, madness! When crossing the river I could see a freeway and there was a traffic jam, at that time of night. Imagine how it is during rush hour...

In Itaewon Jinu gave me a tour of the area, we walked and talked. Eventually we got a late night kebab. We ended up not having any drinks, neither of us felt like getting in to a loud club packed with people. But it was interesting to see the area. So many bars and clubs in such a small area. Not at all like back home. And the streets were full with people. So have seen the nightlife even if I haven't lived the nightlife.

After this tour we got on another bus back to his place. This time it took only 30 min.
Now it's time to sleep!

Steps taken: 5782 (4.56 km)

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13Aug/140

Day 6

Today I actually haven't done that much and have taken even fewer photos.

The weather report said that it was going to be a cool 25 degrees and cloudy with a risk of rain in the afternoon. So I decided to brave the last of the four mountains before lunch and then try my luck at Techno Mart again after lunch.

So after breakfast I took the subway two stations away and started the walk up the hill to the village of Buam-dong where the north gate opens up to the mountain. The guidebook recommends taking a cab or bus since the village is so far away. Didn't look that far to me! Took me about half an hour of walking and that was uphill. So not so bad in my book.

I be heard that I would have to present my passport to climb the mountain but I also had to open my bag to even approach the village. I think it might be because the route I took was close by the palace and the home of the president. There were loads of police everywhere and several times a I was asked where I was going.

Once there I filled in the form and presented my passport and in return got a badge I had to wear around my neck whilst hiking. Then off I went!

The reason why I have so few photos is that they were even stingier here than on the last mountain. You're not allowed to photograph towards the city (for previously mentioned reasons) but neither are you allowed to photograph along the wall, since there are active security measures and at most places you weren't even allowed to photograph away from the wall due to the aforementioned security measures. So not that many photos. Once when I got to palace that allowed pictures the scenery was kind of boring and on top of that it was very foggy so you barely saw the view. So skipped it.

Todays trek was even more exhorting than yesterday's. Don't know if it was actually worse or my body just tired (or a bit of both). Rested for a while on a bench at the top. I'm a bit saddened by the fog, would have been a wonderful view otherwise. There was a rock at the top so when you climbed it you had an uninstructed 360-view of Seoul. Quite nice!

During my rest at the top I silently debated whether to continue on and end up where I was two days ago or go back down the same way and try one of the restaurants I had hard about in the village. On one hand i really would like to walk more on the wall. On the other hand I would like to try one of those restaurants and felt a bit spent today and it was supposed to start raining in the afternoon. As you can hear it was quite clear which won out. I started back down again and was soon glad i did when it started raining lightly.

But walking down is no fun, especially with my fidgety knee. But down i got and decided to try some fried chicken. I had read online that this place had the best fried chicken in Seoul. Turned out to be a really popular place too. Soon after I arrived the places was filled to the brim, they even moved people around to fit more people in.

The food was ok, but I might not be the best to judge since I'm not really a super fan of chicken, especially of the unboned variety... Big portion though! Most people shared on portion and when I was about to leave she tried to get me to take the rest in a doggy bag.

On my way down I again encountered lots of police. Since I was heading away no one asked me where I was going this time. But damn there was lots of them! I'm talking some at every street corner. And not on, but several. At one corner there were lines of cops in rain capes sitting down on the street, waiting for something. At the next corner there were bout 30 cops with riot shields. Then outside some shop (think it was a café) there were at least 30 more, again some with riot shields. There must have been a visit there by someone important, but still felt excessive. And there were even more further down the street. Would really like to have known why. But didn't ask and neither did I try to photograph them. Don't know the rules of photographing police in Korea and didn't feel like getting into trouble.

I then hopped on the subway and made my way to Technology Mart. And yes, today it was open! Spent a long time perusing there, even went up to the cinema on the seventh floor and considered buying a ticket. But since nine of the Korean movies had subtitles and the tickets weren't exactly dirt cheap it felt stupid, so decided against it.

Whilst walking aimlessly amongst the stalls with cameras and other gadgets I realized I don't enjoy that as much as I used to. Wondered why and the only answer I could come up with was that partly I had just outgrown it but also a big part might be that nowadays with the internet it's so easy to read all about theses things so nothing is really new when you see it in the shops. I guess...

But what did strike me was that my feet were killing me! And I had no idea what to do next. Then a stroke of genius hit me: Go to a spa!

So I hopped on a subway to a central part of town and looked for a spa I had heard about. Took a bit of walking, on sore feet, but I got there. The good thing with these spas is that you don't need to bring anything, you get all you need there. Lovely!

So after I payed and got my receipt, plus a pair of shirts and a T- shirt, I put my shoes in a small locker. I the exchanged the locker key and receipt for a key to a bigger locker. I got changed and headed down to the bath.

Here the baths are segregated, men and women separately. There are some rooms that are unisex, that's when you're supposed to wear the shirts and T-shirts. I decided I didn't need to strut around with the ladies so braved it out with the gents.

There were many types of baths; warm bath, cold bath, massage bath, cold massage bath, ochre bat, jade bath, mugworth bath and salt bath are the ones I can remember trying and then there was the jade sauna and the yellow clay sauna with salt. In the last one they had a big tub of salt that you just grabbed fists of and rubbed yourself with.

I rubbed myself thoroughly with salt, felt great. But it was of course not possible for me to rub my own back and I thought to myself "it's not like I'm going to ask one of these gentlemen to rub my back with salt". I didn't need to, one of them soon asked (when I say asked I more mean mimed. I was the only westerner here and the Older Korean men here weren't that goos at English) if I needed help with my back. When in Rome! So he rubbed my back with salt and I realized this was a "I'll rub your back if you rub mine" (first time in my life I've used that in the literal sense). So after he had rubbed my back with salt I did the same for him. I'd like to see that happen between two strangers in Sweden (not likely).

All in all I spent an hour and a half there and felt exceptionally rested and refreshed afterwards. This was really what my sore body needed. Right then and there it felt like the best spent time and money ever. Might not be really be so, but totally worth it though.

After that I took a stroll to the nearby market (the one where I was offered free booze a couple of days ago) and popped in to a small restaurant for something I had wanted to try, dolsot bibimbap. It's the same dis as bibimbap but served in a hot stone bowl, so the rise gets a bit crispy. A really nice and simple meal to round of a relaxed day with.

When I was finished it was still raining. But since it was more of a drizzle than a pour I walked a few blocks to let the food settle before I hopped on the subway and headed home for the evening.

Tomorrow I'm checking out of the guesthouse and meeting up with Jinu. So don't know if the updates will be as thorough the next couple of days but will try to get something on here.

Steps taken: 20 585 (16.24 km)

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12Aug/140

Day 5

This was the day of ever changing plans and surprises (both good and bad ones).

The weather forecast indicated that it was going to be sunny until around 1 pm, then it would rain for a couple of hours. I wanted to climb all of the four primary mountains of Seoul so thought I might take one more today. Lonely planet sadly informed me that Ingwasan's peak was not open to the public. But there is a shamanic village at the foot of the mountain that was supposed to be worth a visit. So getting close to the mountain would have to do. The plan for the afternoon was then to head to Techno Mart, Koreas largest mall for all things technology. And thus escape the rain.

So took the subway (after some breakfast) just two stations away. And here my first troubles started, I had three maps when I got of the train, the guidebook, one on my iPhone and the one the subway had on the wall. The problem being that neither of the three maps had the same small streets marked and it was not a straight path to the village. Had to backtrack a couple of times till I found the colorful gate to the village. And the walk there was uphill! I could already feel my legs being sore from the day before.

The Shamanic village was located on a steep hillside and had colorful houses and lots of murals. These murals were of a more religious nature than the one I saw yesterday. In some ways more beautiful.

I walked through the village and up the mountainside behind it. Soon found the first item on the agenda, a holy rock. Nice but nothing spectacular, the view was better.

Got turned around and lost a few times trying to find the stone carved Buddha and finally gave up. So moved on and hiked away. When coming upon the fork in the trail where the book said I was to turn right due to the closed peak I saw no sign forbidding me to head left. Not being in any hurry I decided to try my luck and headed left. Lots of up and down along steep trails till I came upon the fortress wall. And lo and behold! People were walking along it, on the other side. Seemed the top had been opened again. A lucky twist so I changed my plans, for the better. The trail followed the wall in both directions but I didn't know which way to head so that I could cross to the other side where the trail to the top was. Decided to try uphill first.

I'm glad I did! Didn't find a way to cross but found a gorgeous peak where no others seemed to go. Had a wonderful view of the city. Used the delayed trigger on the camera to get a self portrait.

Then headed back down towards the stairs I had spotted, that way I could cross the wall.

Crossed the wall and headed towards the top. I might not have reached the same amount of steps or length today as yesterday but I'd say I still had a harder day. Compared to today yesterday's hikes were walks in the parks (which in the literal sense I guess they were). This was a very steep ascent! Some parts were more akin to a climb, even though there were steps carved in the mountainside. And this mountain is a lot taller that the last two. And the sun was blasting me with heat... Harsh!

The sad part about this trek was that it wasn't allowed to photograph the city from this angle. Actually for a serious reason. In 1968 North Korean agents climbed the wall and tried to assassinate the president in the presidential compound. So no great pictures. You'll just have to take my word for it that it was beautiful and a hard trip.

When climbing up I realized that this enabled me to continue down on the other side and eat lunch in a village there I had heard was supposed to have several good restaurants and then continue onto the last of the four defining mountains, Bukaksan. Sadly, just a little way down the mountainside I remembered reading that due to the assassination attempt one now had to present ID to enter that part of the wall, and I had left mine at the guesthouse for safekeeping. So my plans changed once again. Techno Mart was back on.

Just had to find my way down from this mountain without going all the way to the far village. This involved taking another route, backtracking and choosing yet another route and feeling quite lost. But as long as I was heading downwards I knew I'd get to civilization eventually. And so I did! Found one of the main roads and started down it in the direction of the nearest subway station. But felt kind of hungry...

A bit further on I saw a market on the other side of the street, the kind that goes along around into a block. Decided to see if they might have some cheap street food. Got in and saw stalls with buckets of food and people walking amongst them with plastic trays. Could it be? It was, it was!

I had read about this place but forgotten where it was and had now stumbled upon it by happenstance. What the deal is is this: you walk up the stairs in the middle of the market. There you pay 5000 won (37 kr) for a plastic take away tray with several separated compartments and get 10 coins. These coins are the legal tender among these stalls. Then it's just a matter of walking up and down and pointing at what you want and paying 1 to 2 coins per thing till you're all out of coins. So much to chose from and so much that looked great! I managed to fill myself up pretty good with this. Both great food at a great price and a great experience. Really wonderful lunch!

Replenished and relaxed I made my way down the last stretch to the subway and went across town to where my memory said the techno mart was. You might see where this is going... No TM to be found. I hadn't written down where to go, I'd just looked it up on the Internet and the name of the station clearly sat right in my mind. What to do?

Thank god for open wifi networks! I found one belonging to a nearby motel (they had on for each floor) and quickly found the info I was looking for. I was half right (and thus of course also half wrong), the name I thought sounded right did so because that was the name of the street. I was just about 1.5 kilometers off, on another subway line. But a little walking never stopped me!

But what did stop me was that when I got there only the bottom floor, fashion seemed to be open. Turned out once in a blue moon the closed or day for no particular reason. Aaargh!

So, what now? I remembered a very odd market I had read about, it's held in a stationary subway train on a station with an extra platform. So I hopped on a train and got there to find... Not today! What the‽ I was starting to despair a bit.

Decided that from here I could walk to Samsung's headquarters that was closed when I was there on Sunday. And I could manage to fit in on temple ground and one burial ground on the way. So more walking it was.

The temple ground was well worth the visit. In the middle of Gangnam, a very busy neighborhood but still so calm and serene. I managed not to make a fool out of myself today as well. Success!

The burial ground on the other hand was a bit of a disappointment. The graves were on high grassy mounds, but you weren't allowed to walk on the grass. So all you could do was stand on the ground below and glimpse the top of the graves. No way to enjoy the splendor (or indeed assess if there was any splendor to be had). Glad the entry was only 3.7 Kr, didn't need to feel that cheated.

Eventually I found Samsung d'light, as they called there store and exhibition center. Three floors, where only the first was a store. The store I could have been without but the others were a bit interesting. Nothing to get to excited about though.

Sadly I suddenly felt a bit nauseous. So I sat down on the square outside and relaxed for a bit. It subsided a little but didn't go away completely so I decided to get some dinner and hope that satiated my upset stomach.

For dinner I decided to head back to the area where I had sushi two days ago. Today it was jam packed! Talk about a bustling neighborhood. Many restaurants even had lines outside them. And sadly many restaurants were pretty pricey. I was starting to despair again when I saw a charming little place that seemed to have interesting food at reasonable prices. There was even a Korean eating alone at one table, then a lonely westerner must be ok.

I ordered a set meal with ten small dishes, rice, kimchi stew and bulgogi (marinated beef). Everything but two dishes were great, lots of different flavors. A really tasty dinner, and lots and lots of food! All for the reasonable price of about 160 Kr, including beer. Not dirt cheap but neither expensive.

Tired and satisfied in finally made my way back to the guesthouse once again where I'm now resting my weary legs and feet with blisters.

If the weather is willing tomorrow I'll see if I can scale the fourth, tallest and final mountain.

Reflection 1: The guidebook said that western tourists seldom ventured into the northern parts of Seoul and after spending several days around said northern parts I can verify that this is indeed so. As soon as you get closer to downtown the amount of western tourists increase dramatically. Not that I'm complaining, it's nice to have some peace and quite, but they really are missing out on some of the better parts of Seoul.

Reflection 2: I had heard that cosmetic surgery is popular in Korea and when seeing the silly amounts of advertisement and the copious amount of clinics along the streets in the fancier areas I can only say that it seems to be as popular as I was lead to believe. Scary...

Reflection 3: The senior citizens here are no layabouts! When scaling the mountain today it was mostly me and senior citizens. One I talked to was 69 and doing a climb I found strenuous. Impressive!

Steps taken: 29 361 (23.17 km)

And don't forget to check today's gallery: Gallery link

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11Aug/140

Day 4

My feet and legs are sore!
Today I climbed (I use the term liberally here) two of Seoul's four defining mountains (one of them I actually scaled twice). So not only is this the most active day when it comes to steps and distance but also when it comes to vertical movement.

Started my day eating a chiabata and drinking som freshly squeezed strawberry juice at a little café about a block away. Felt like a good start.

Then I took the train to a station on the north east side of town. This area is an artsy area known for theaters and murals. I started the day by walking through the area and could soon confirm that there are a lot of theaters and all the buildings are unique. It's a really charming neighborhood. There were also lots of restaurants. I then headed for the other side, where Naksan park can be found. So called because the mountain Naksan is in it. It was a steep walk up steep streets to get to the park. Once there I wound my way among steps and paths to the top. Granted, this is not an especially tall mountain. But the view at the top was still very nice.

As I said, there are four main mountains in Seoul, they define the old city. Across all these mountains and connecting them there was a fortress wall, with guard towers and four gates (on in each direction). Naksan is the east one and is not the tallest of the mountains. Here can be seen som parts of the original fortress wall, restored.

From the top I decided to follow the wall back south a bit to see what I found. What I did find was Ihwa-dong, on of Seoul's "Moon villages". So called because the poor inhabitants (mostly refugees from the war with Japan) could see the moon from their hilltop homes. Though that sounds nice it was really more like a slum. But a few years ago it was decided to brighten the village up a bit and 46 artists and the community helped beautify the area with loads of murals. So it was actually a very interesting walk down through the village.

Back down again I decided to have an early lunch so that I could walk far north along the wall in the afternoon. I found a Shabu restaurant (I know, strictly speaking that's Japanese, not Korean. But they are really big on Japanese food and fusion of it with Korean) that seemed to accept singles (Shabu is like the Japanese version of fondue, usually there has to be at least two people) so I ventured in. Success! Party of one accepted and I sat down with a beer to enjoy myself. Which I did! Though it was borderline to spicy (my fault for ordering the spicy broth). I did have to do the forbidden thing, blow ones nose at the table, several times. My nose turned into a leaky faucet. Didn't help that the ceiling fan kept blowing the hot steam from the pot straight in my face.
Still a great lunch! And for the price of about 82 Kr (including beer) I'd say it's a bargain.

Then I headed back up to the top of the mountain to follow the fortress wall in the other direction.

Btw, today's weather was sunny and warm, with only a few charming clouds in the sky. So nice weather for photography but harsh weather for walking.

After only a few hundred masters down the mountain it became apparent that I couldn't follow the wall the whole way, as I had hoped and wanted. It ran straight trough a residential area and I was blocked by a fence. But one of the four gates was further on so I decided to find my way past this neighborhood and join up with the wall further on.

That took longer than expected! Streets run every which way, are step and winding and many with dead ends. Had to backtrack a couple of times before I resorted to going the long way around via bigger roads. Started to give up hope and thought of what my changed plans should be. Then by chance turned around and saw up behind a wall I just had passed, the gate! So found it and made my way through it and along a small part of the wall till once again it was broken by a residential area. Now I was pretty far north and realized there was no more wall to be had here. So decided to head to the subway and make my way to another if the main mountains. But before I did that I wanted to see a temple not far away that was supposed to be very tranquil. Turned out to be farther than I thought and had to get help with directions (luckily found a young man who not only knew the way but was going there himself). On my (our) way there we wound through a district called the Beverly Hills of Seoul, both because it's actually located on a hill (yay, more steep streets to scale) and because the houses are very expensive luxury villas. Very posh! What I could see of houses and gardens was beautiful though.

The temple was well worth the walk here. The temple itself wasn't so special but the grounds were as stated very tranquil and beautiful. Had one been so inclined one could have stayed in Buddhist temple stay here with education in Buddhism. The huts on the hillside they stayed in looked very cozy. During my walk here my most embarrassing moment of the day: saw a monk walking through a gate further on and decided to take a picture, but since it was far away I walked two steps further with my camera pressed to my face... Then I stumbled and heard a noise. I had just knocked over a wooden sign on the ground in front of me. What did this sign say...? "Meditation area, please be quiet" Whoops! And since I had shorts I had been forced to put on a silly cloth around my legs to hide them. The only westerner there is tripping around in a skirt and knocking things over. Very proud moment!

After this beautiful scenery and embarrassment I again headed downhill and finally took the metro across town to the southern mountain, Namsan.

This mountain is a lot taller than the last one, but did I make it easy for myself and join most the other tourists? No! Most western tourists seemed to take the cable car to the top, most Asian tourists seemed to take the bus around back to the top. So, I walked! Straight to the top? No, no, no! Of course I took the walk all the way around the back and up along the old fortress walk. This included going almost all the way to the top, the down again on the backside, then up a lot of stairs along the wall, then down in a small valley before heading to the top. The maps seemed to indicate that it was a little over 6 km, but again, not on flat terrain!

At the top of this mountain is what is today the geological centre of Seoul and here can be found N Seoul Tower. Only about 240 meters high, but since it's at the top of a mountain the view is spectacular. Sadly the windows were curved and gave a lot of glare, so I couldn't get any good shots.

Once on a walking frenzy I of course followed the old wall all the way down on the other side of the mountain and came back to almost where I started. From here I walked a short distance to one of the other four main gates into the old city. This one is sadly a new reconstruction since the old one was burned down by an arson in 2002. This one looked very nice but stood on the middle of a busy intersection and you are not allowed to get close to it (understandable since we know how the old one perished). So again, no good shots to be had.

Right next to this gate is Namdaemun, another of Seoul's enormous and bustling markets. I happened upon the part that had all the camera stores so I perused for a bit but was soon stopped by two young men. They were not exceptionally good at English but the conversation that transpired amounted to this: they wanted to know if I drank alcohol, since I do they wanted me to have some free alcohol, they were having a promotion for their brand. This free drinking was to take place in 45 minutes and I was to please come back.
Say it with me: there is no such thing as a free lunch!

I walked around the area and just looked at what was on offer for a while. Being the sceptic I am I did want to look this gift horse in the mouth. So I headed back to the little open square in question but stood a bit to the side and watched first. What I saw was a lot of tables laid out in front of a podium, on the tables were full place setting and lots of strange foods were laid out and last but not least there were quite a lot of big video cameras on tripods around the tables.

No, I'm not so fond of free alcohol that I'm going to walk straight into that, whatever that was. Call me a coward but I snuck away to eat and drink on my own terms.

Again I tried some street food. This time from different vendors, but on fills up more quickly than one would think. Once full and satisfied that I had seen the merchandise I needed to see I walked through another district to a subway station a bit farther away and then made my way back to my guesthouse where I'm now resting my weary legs.

By popular demand (ok, not really popular demand, just Erik's demand) there is in today's gallery a few pictures of yours truly. All complaints can be made out to Erik.

Steps taken: 30 559 (24.11 km)

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10Aug/140

Day 3

Felt tired this morning so snoozed a bit before getting out of bed. Once on my feet I bought a grilled sandwich and some juice at a place nearby. After finishing it I headed for the subway.

A man Got on the train a station after me, he was trying to peddle some sort of ear cleaning apparatus that looked like an electric toothbrush but with a glowing stick at the end (a mini-light saber for your ears if you will). Didn't see anyone taking him up on his offer.

On the agenda for today was shopping districts! There are three adjacent areas filled with shopping. The first I visited was Apgujeong, this area has shopping of the more expensive kind. I first felt bad that I'd slept that long but when I got here I realized it didn't matter, the shops that were actually open on Sundays hadn't opened yet. One downside to being here on a Sunday was that not all shops were open. This however didn't matter to much to me since I wasn't going to be shopping in them anyhow. And the upside was that there were fewer people there, thus making it easier for me to photograph things. The enjoyment for me was the buildings. Every big brand had their own building and they were all trying to top each other. All different and unique facades.

I also found some tech stores clustered in one area, which made me happy. The big brands had flagship stores with all their best gear on display.

For lunch I fell of the Asian wagon and had a burger. In this area there was a lot of western food and when seeing a place that seemed to serve really tasty burgers I couldn't resist.

Another common thing in this area seemed to be "board game-bars". I saw them advertised everywhere, a few had Monopoly in their name. I wonder if they really are meant for drinking and playing board games...

The second area I walked into was Sinsa. This area has even more shops but more of the reasonably priced variety. And here everything was open and it was bustling. I really liked the atmosphere here and even perused a few of the shops. Lots more restaurants here too. Found a Swedish/Scandinavian store that sold (among other things) dalahästar and hade a café named "Fika" that sold bullar and semla.

Walked here for quite a while and could have been here longer. But I had another area I wanted to see and I started to feel my bladder complaining. It's not so easy to be relaxed and enjoy the surroundings when there is another need literally pressing. The bad news being there were no toilets here. I eventually settled for a soft ice cream and using that establishment's facilities. On day one I had a soft ice cream (seen in the gallery) and that one was very nice and when I found another of the same franchise I decided to eat some more. This place specializes in organic products and use honey instead of sugar. The one I had last time had a bit of honey comb on too. This time I tried one with pistachio-sauce, sunflower-seeds and cashew-crunch. Also very good but the last one was more refreshing.

Ice cream consumed and waste dumped I headed out once more, this time to take a longer walk to the last area on the agenda: Gangnam, of Gangnam Style fame. Sadly, on the way there it started raining, lightly at first then more and more. I did get there but decided to first spend some time I'm Samsungs flagships store and exhibition centre. But since I couldn't find it I consulted the guidebook and realized it wasn't open on Sundays. Darn! So I changed my plans and took the subway to COEX mall, the largest underground mall in Asia.

And it turned out they are renovating... Yay!
Still quite a big mall, but many of the stores were closed, so window shopping didn't take long. But there was one more reason I came here: the aquarium! The largest one in Korea, and it was open. Huzza!

The aquarium was big with lots of different exhibits. The good part being that most of the tanks were of a good size, they were all well maintained and fresh, and most had English signs. It was also interesting that they had a few tanks not only on the fish but about different ecosystems (like rice paddy and river). They of course had the mandatory tunnel through the shark tank.

The negative part was that they had some other animals, a monkey, squirrels, otter, beavers, etc, and these animals' enclosures were mostly to small and not that charming. Made me a bit sad. Still worth the visit I think.

After this dinner time was drawing near, so I headed back to Sinsa to find some place to eat. By now it was pouring down so I didn't want to search for to long. What I settled on was something I've wanted to try for many years but been to chicken to try: sushi train! Now that I've actually started to eat fish I thought "why not". It was good. But I think I might be a fish-snob... I do seem to prefer the more expensive ones.

After dinner the rain had abated so I decided to walk one station further before hopping on the train back home.

Reflection 1: outdoor activities seem popular on Sunday's. I've seen lots of people with backpacks and walking sticks dressed in outdoor attires.

Reflection 2: musicals seem popular. I've seen advertisements for Chicago (Korean version), Mozart, Dracula and Zorro.

Reflection 3: there's valet parking everywhere in the fancier areas, almost one on every street corner.

Reflection 4: (negative) People in the fancier districts seem not have a need for bathrooms. In these areas I could not find a single public bathroom.

Steps taken: 23 762 (18.75 km)

Gallery updated with (iPhone) pictures for today: Gallery link

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9Aug/140

Day 2

First things first: I've updated the albums with a few more pictures since this morning.

Now the most important part: I have now technically been in North Korea!

So, more details?
Ok, if you insist. I started the day early, too early. Afraid of being late and not knowing exactly how to get to the tour office and how long that would take I started out with lots of time to spare. I arrived almost an hour early... But then I had time to upload some pictures, so no harm.

At 9 the actual tour started, we were a whole bus filled with tourists and one guide. We were more or less bombarded with information the whole day long. So for details about the DMZ, the tour and my reflections on it you'll have to ask about an oral account when I get back home.

On this tour we visited four places, in order: Dora observatory, third infiltration tunnel, JSA and Dora station. Sadly I haven't taken many pictures, and even fewer good ones. There were quite a few restrictions on when, where and how one was allowed to take pictures. So the few times that pictures were allowed there weren't really any good ones to be had and it was also rushed. The whole tour was run on a tight schedule.

Note to anyone who decides to take a DMZ tour if your ever in South Korea (from what I've heard there are actually such tours in the north as well, but very expensive and probably not as good): make sure you go on a tour that includes the JSA! Not all tours do and those that do are more expensive. But trust me, it's worth it, that's the most interesting part (and then one where you're actually inside the DMZ).

First up Dora observatory. As the name implies it's an observatory and thus it's situated on a hill. It's right outside the border of the DMZ with a view of the DMZ and the north. Here we were treated to a small lecture and some interesting tidbits about the area. There was a good view to be had but we were not allowed to photograph it, security, security, something, something...

The next stop on the tour was the third infiltration tunnel. This was discovered in 1976 after a defector from the north told the south about tunnels that were being constructed to aid a possible invasion. The tunnel ran all the way from the north, outside the DMZ to right outside the DMZ on the south side. This is where they found it and could stop it. The tunnel is a long and very small tunnel (luckily I'm not claustrophobic but still felt uncomfortable) that has a small incline so all water drains to the north side. But to (badly) hide that the tunnel was for invasion and infiltration purposes the North Koreans had smeared coal on all walls and claimed it was an old coal mine. Problem is that there aren't any coal deposits anywhere in this area.

To get down to the tunnel, that is about 73 meters under ground, we had to walk down a 350 meters long walkway at an 11 degrees incline. My knees did not like the ride down. Thankfully this part could be walked upright. Then we were allowed to walk 265 meters into the tunnel and see the concrete blocks erected to keep the north out. This part could did not allow for an upright posture! Even most Koreans had to stoop a bit, imagine how I felt... These 265 meters felt like several kilometers! And then back again... My back complained quite a lot at the end.

The third stop is the most interesting and the one that took the most time, the JSA (Joint Security Area). For this we actually ventured into the DMZ and got of the bus at Camp Bonita's where we were greeted by US marines. This area is controlled (as the name implies) by both South. Korean forces and US forces under the command of the UN ("fun" fact: there are two other nations that have a constant presence in the JSA, there is a Swiss-Swedish camp). So per regulations we switched to an on site bus, and left our bags in our bus, (no hidden bombs please!) which was escorted by an American soldier. In the JSA we were first treated to a small lecture of the history of the JSA, including a lovely double ax-murder of American soldiers. Then we were driven out all the way to the MTL (Military Demarcation Line) which is the exact border between the two countries. On this site there are some buildings that actually sit right on the border and this is where negotiations are held. Here soldiers of both side stand guard on their respective sides. Weird place to be! Our presence elicited soldiers from the north to come out and march past on their side to make some sort of point.

We then entered one of these buildings and upon reaching the far end of the building, but not exiting, we were actually on North Korean soil. So, there it is!

Then it was of to the next stop, on of the guard towers. This one is located that it is actually surrounded on three sides by North Korea. It had a good view of the North. On their side of the border all trees are cut down so as to make it harder for defectors to get across.

On the south side but still inside the DMZ there is actually a real village, it's been there since before this whole mess and has been allowed to remain under certain provisions. Don't remember the real name but it's nickname is "Freedom village". So of course the North had to build a village inside the DMZ on their side. The nickname for this village... "Propaganda village" This due to the fact that the village has no inhabitants, most of the doors are painted on the houses, the windows are just holes and at nighttime the light can be seen dimming with each floor (i.e. There are no floors) and many hours of the day propaganda spews forth from speakers. In the middle of the village there is a flagpole with the North Korean flag. When the village in the south got a 100 meter tall flagpole the north erected one that is 160 meters tall and boasts the largest know flag in the world, the long side is 31 meters and it weighs approximately 600 pounds dry! Madness...

On the way back we were shown the site of the mentioned ax-murders. Grizzly...

Then we were on to the next and last stop: Dora station. This is again outside the DMZ, and it's the last train station in the north. It was built when there was still hope of some unification or at least cooperation between the two countries. Now it's a dead end.

Then it was a bus ride back to Seoul. The fascinating and scary part is that Seoul is less than an hour away with bus, and not a speeding bus. The North Koreans' artillery could easily reach Seoul...

Once back I headed to my guesthouse to recuperate a bit before heading out for dinner. Again I walked around quite a bit before settling on a place that looked popular. I had steamed pork with tofu and cooked kimchi. The serving was huge and could have been halved (wouldn't have minded if the price was halved too). This dinner did cost a bit more than previous ones.

I then bought a big beer and some snacks at the nearest shop and headed back to my own personal courtyard where I'm now relaxing.

Tomorrow might bring some bad weather, so haven't decided what that day holds, yet.

Have a good one!

Steps taken: 10556 (8.33 km)

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