|Hotel room view. OK, not the best walking weather.|
An almost perfect day spent walking in Seoul. Last time, about a month ago, I made a short jaunt to try out the train system (essential, since there's little to see here in Incheon) and to get a look at Itaewon, the shopping district of Seoul favored by Western tourists and servicefolk stationed here. There wasn't time for much more.
This layover amounted to a more luxurious 53 hours, the schedules written so that we could catch up on our sleep. (We cross so many time zones in quick succession that resting can be a challenge.) We got to the hotel about 8:AM on Monday morning and were overdue for sleep. But with the sun up already, and having logged a couple hours' sleep on the airplane on the leg up from Sydney, my body was good for only about three hours before I was up. It was sleeting and snowing for most of Monday (see above), so that made for a short day confined to the hotel. I was back in bed by 7:30 PM.
This morning, Tuesday, I was awake by about 3:AM and twiddled my thumbs until about 8:AM before catching the train into town. My plan was to use a couple notorious shopping districts as signposts for my planned walk, less because I planned to do any actual shopping than because these areas are probably a good example of the larger culture, and because I would surely see a lot of unexpected stuff in between. (A mostly-accurate Google Pedometer re-creation of my route is here.)
It's a long ride from Incheon into Seoul, and the train system is extensive and not entirely user-friendly, at least for a foreigner with no language. (If Wikipedia is to be believed, the Seoul train system is the second largest in the world in both length and ridership.) But I was able to get to my first stop--Dongdaemun--with only a single transfer at Bupyeong. The journey took a good 90+ minutes and one has to remain fairly alert since the English-language announcements and signage are easily missed. (We're lucky to have them at all, of course, and it's only proper that some extra vigilance falls to the tourist; but last time I nearly missed one connection, and then found myself on the right train line but branched off to the wrong terminal--so there's definitely a learning curve.) The trains are slow and the stops deliberate, a change from the crush of New York's subway and that of some Chinese cities I've seen.
Seoul is a big place, and typical of an older city there is little or no grid. I studied the area I planned to walk on Google Maps the night before, and once underway I relied on a couple iPhone apps and my compass to remain oriented. But with that little bit of preparation I found it quite easy to keep going in generally the right direction, and the only real concern was that I terminate at my planned train station, and even that wasn't really necessary so long as I ended up at SOME station in the train system. The getting lost along the way is a key part of the adventure.
The only downside today was the weather. It was better today than yesterday, but it's cold and damp here (low-mid 20s) and everything was covered with a sheet of ice. Everybody seemed to cope well enough--the crush of scooters delivering stuff was on the job despite the cold and ice--but one senses that this is not a daily occurrence here. The barkers in Myeong-dong all had outdoor heaters to make their jobs tolerable. The ice made walking a little tricky and walking at a goodly clip impossible. Still, nine miles (according to my phone GPS tracker) is a reasonable tally for the conditions, and except for the train station at Yongsan EVERYTHING was new.
It was the best possible way to spend a day.
|At least 50% of the train riders were playing with their phones--mostly Korean models, naturally.|
|Shopping a mixture of big, pricey malls and small, Chinese-style booths and kiosks.|
|An unexpected find for the day: the Gyeongdong Market, specializing in dried seafood. Not being a seafood eater, walking thru this market was like watching an autopsy being performed. Ugh, but fascinating, but ugh.|
|Say it with me: Ugh.|
|Really? Holy god, ugh.|
|Holy fuck. This is NOT FOOD. I'll have nightmares for a month. No more swimming. Ever.|
|Finally. Approaching Myeong-dong.|
|Seoul train station main ticketing concourse. Extensive shopping here.|
|One of the train sheds of the Seoul Station.|
|Lots of these outdoor shops: auto work or scrap metal processing or recycling.|
|How to make your already-huge phone even huger. Arms to hug you; it's almost Her.|