I hadn’t planned a weekend excursion but on Thursday I noticed that Sungnyemun was to re-open and there was a Friendship Festival in Seoul Plaza. I popped into booking.com to see few vacancies but notice a new kid on the block, Mini Residence in Seocho, South of the river. They were offing single rooms for 20,000W so I booked the Saturday and Sunday evenings having no 8 am class Monday due to mid-terms! I quickly planned a weekend itinerary, Saturday I would do some architecture photography in Gangnam before heading to the Sungnyemun event and finally a stroll along Cheonggyecheon Stream. Dinner would be in Cafe Street Bangdae. Sunday my plan was to explore the hilly area between Heuksok-dong and Banpobon-dong before embarking on a trek through the trois parcs à Seocho y compris Montmatre. Sunday afternoon was to be spent at Seoul Arts Centre and the evening in the shadow of Parc Montmatre, Seorae Village.
My accommodation in Cafe Street was around 10 minutes walk from Line 9, Gupanbo Station, and only two stops from Central City Express Bus Terminal. I’d planned my architecture walk beginning in Garosugil-gil (Dosan-daero buk 5-gil) near Sinsa station. The street is popular for its trendy boutiques, cafés, restaurants and people watching. My first destination was the Gallery Yeh at the South end of the street. On the way I passed an artisan bakers/café Antique Alley Cafe stopping off for breakfast. Arriving at Gallery Yeh, or Gallery No Yeh Open, I was greeted by bolted doors and an exhibition desert. Despite this the architecture whilst a little brutal was interesting and photogenic.
From here I headed east towards Gangnam, flaneuring through the side streets and coming across some unique small building usually home to production company’s or design groups. I passed the Scandanavian Design Centre, the Marimekko store, a clockwork yellow Veloster, a myriad of Mini-Coopers, expensive VW’s known as Porsche Cayenne’s, a generous portfolio of plastic surgery clinics and the strangely named “Gobble N’ Go” café opposite the Lantern Building. Eventually I traversed to Dosan Park, home to a museum and whose perimeters are kissed by the Houses of Hermes, Paul Smith, Jimmy Choo, Marc Jacobs et al. A stroll through the peaceful park is an antidote to the hustle and bustle of Gangnam. At the east end of the park stands a bronze statue of independence activist Ahn Chang-ho. Dosan was Ahn’s penname, it is his museum that resides at the park entrance. I came across a woman foraging for roots and shoots, a mother and child playing peek-a-boo and a film crew shooting what could have been a soap scene. I also snapped a perfectly coiffured mannequin taking a rest from her beautifully manufactured Jimmy Choo’s.
I left the park to admire the Paul Smith boutique but an inarticulates creaming young woman waved frantically indicating photography was not allowed, even I suppose from the street? The building has a certain je ne sais quoi not enhanced by the banshee like staff. Just around the corner was a more friendly establishment called, yes, Je Ne Sais Quoi. The staff here offered me an espresso and practiced their Englishy. Mr. Smith take note! Maybe some Virgin Atlantic customer service training for your lot! Farther-on is the extremely pungent Ann Demeulemeester store. Whilst having architectural merit the store is covered in rotting earth. The architect Min-seok Jo completed building it in 2007. The Ann Demeulemeester shop is on the first floor, the Tom Greyhound shop is on the basement floor, and the fashion outlet mall ‘spaceM’ is located on the second floor. The plants covering the shop are Japanese spurge. As opposed to planting vines and ivy to grow up the walls, he planted them directly on the outer walls of the building. It is insidewhere the problem is, the stairwells are flanked by totting sods of turf. At the end of this street is Maison Hermes and a beautifully aluminium clad cosmetics emporium belonging to the SK-II brand.
I stopped at the Artisan café for a brew and a Ham and Mozzarella panini. The café sits on the ground floor of the Horim Art Centre and had a constant flow of souped up automobiles stopping for WAG’s to re-fuel on caffeine. I crossed over to view another mirrored skyscraper in whose shadow a wedding was taking place. Once again, but this time my assailant was a little more senior, I was pressed into capping my lens by an irate security guard. I stopped for a sort while to observe the happy event before taking the short walk to Platoon Kunstalle which was closed. Fortunately someone noticed my plight and allowed me entry to view an excellent photographic exhibition in the bar area. Opposite Platoon a nightclub was adorned by a diamond encrusted skull complete with missing tooth, shades of Mr. Hirst, I presume?
It was past lunchtime so I took the subway into central Seoul Station to make my way to Sungnyemun and the opening ceremony. OMG it was kettling hell, madness personified, as the teeming hordes were held back by the cohorts of boy police. Folk climbed wall’s, telegraph poles and television vehicles just to catch a brief glimpse of the ceremony. I nestled myself against a wall with a row of newly planted shrubs between me and the masses. Obviously everything was running late, there was much pushing and grumbling and my intention to take some great photos was relatively speaking, thwarted. I managed a few shots which are shown in the slide show attached but after around an hour I squeezed through the crowd, crossed the road and headed towards Seoul Plaza where I knew the Seoul Friendship Fair 2013 was in session.
The event has live music, traditional performance of song and dance and stalls selling a variety of superfluous stuff. In saying that the atmosphere is essentially very welcoming and enjoyable, it serves as an event to promote Korean Tourism globally and this is year 19 since its inception. Over 300 invited performers from around the world entertained the crowds over the Saturday and Sunday. The cuisines and souvenirs of around 60 countries were represented at the fair. I also snapped a guy whose lower half resembled a swan, Mathew Bournesque.
I took the short stroll to Cheonggyecheon where throngs of people enjoyed the beautiful weather; cooling off their feet in the stream. There is another lantern festival taking place and these beautifully crafted exhibits stood proud in the centre of the stream. The giant multi-coloured ice-cream cone sculpture hosted more live music as kids enjoyed frolicking in a canary yellow spongy bouncy area. I don’t know how else to describe it. I decided to follow the stream to Jongno 3 where I would take my train back south of the river. I stopped for a half hour to paddle and then strolled towards Supyogyo Bridge passing yet another TV crew filming to celebrate the onset of spring.
As I left the stream I came across a band preparing to perform with their wind instruments and saw two guys racing their Ferrari’s towards Namsan Park and Tower. Returning to Bangdae, I took on more caffeine before going back to the hotel to rest up. In the evening I headed down café street before settling for some top-notch Fried Chicken and beer at Ho! I got my head down early knowing I had a full schedule on the Sunday, how full I would find out later. Rising early to visit a paperless loo, I left the guest-house with the sun risen and a haze hanging in the air. At the end of café street is a synthetic waterfall and staircase set in an oriental garden which rises steeply up the side of a hill. I decided to explore expecting great views across the Han River towards Namsan Tower. On reaching the top I realised this was another military area enclosed by a 8ft green steel fence offering zero panorama opportunities. In saying this walkways were well signed and I decided, after viewing a map, to chance the elevated hike. Ignoring the greenfence, enclosed dirt track and occasional sentry post to my right they views to the left were satisfying. Views of South Seoul across the dongs which clung limpet-like to the sides of the hill. I Google-mapped and saw we were in fact directly opposite the American Garrison across the river and Seoul’s National Cemetery. Someway along the Azalea clad hill-walk there was an entrance to the complex but as I’d planned other activities today was not the time to visit. I continued my undulating walk until I reached the hill overlooking Soongsil University, at the summit is an observatory. I took the walk to the top but unfortunately the hazy atmosphere afforded me no chance of capturing the view over Noryangjin Fish Market and towards the 63 Building. The hill was alive with older citizens exercising on the free outdoor gyms and photographers attempted to capture the fleeting brilliance of the red and lilac Azaleas before they become extinguished by the unrelenting Korean summer sun. I watched a guy practicing his sword skills and others using the barefoot massage walkways, another was singing traditional Korean songs accompanied by a flautist. I’d noticed the sign to Soongsil and as my hunger pangs were increasing I followed the footpath down the side of the hill. Halfway down a fork baffled me but fortunately two monks stopped to help me, inviting me for tea at their hermitage, the Baegunam Hermitage.
The Hermitage is directly behind the university and from the outside looks relatively nondescript, a concrete box in simple terms. Inside the story is different a beautiful juxtaposition of new and traditional materials, wood, stone and handmade paper. They showed me around, the main prayer hall, the children’s centre and the library before we settled in the small but lovely café for lotus tea. An unexpected but super pleasurable diversion from my itinerary.
I took the 600 metre walk to Soonsgil University station, my destination Seoul National University of Education to begin my trois parcs à Seocho y compris Montmatre trek. I’d been directed to exit 11 and expected a short walk to the park entrance. The SK garage didn’t materialise and so I kept walking up the hill for around a kilometer until a saw a sign introducing the first parc, Seoripul park, I climbed the steep path to the left as my compass said that would take me south. At the top people were participating in torturous exercises on the ubiquitous gyroscope equipment, others just slept.
I passed through quickly and descended towards Silk bridge (Nue-dari) which crosses a main artery, the awesome structure gives access to Montmartre park and the National Library of Korea. Southern Seoul used to be a hub for silk production in Josean dynastic times and this modern architectural gem pays homage to that. Montmatre park was buzzing with dog walkers, jugglers, picnicking families and yet more people punishing their limbs. I took a footpath downhill as I wanted to view the new Digital Library of Korea.
The library proper houses over 7 million volumes, manuscripts, and periodicals, including over 840,000 foreign books and a vast digital archive. It is also known as a “dibrary” (Hangul: 디브러리), a Konglish word combining “digital” and “library.” It was opened in May 2009 after seven years of construction. On my visit it was relatively quiet (it was Sunday) but one gut was entertaining himself with a remote-controlled helicopter/multicopter contraption, others at in the shade taking time out to read, the Cafe Bene was particularly busy and it had an outside terrace where I enjoyed chocolate fudge cake and espresso.
I climbed back to the top of Montmatre park and followed the western path which led me past a bible group and down to another footbridge which gave access to Seorigol park. The park is the largest of the three and simplistically is a mountainous forest. There are a number of marked pathways of various gradients each labelled with a count of calories you could burn off! At the highest point was yet anotherwell-stocked gym fully patronised of course. Bangbae station lies at the foot of the hill some 600 metres away. Located near Bangbae station is the shrine for King Sejong the Great’s older brother Prince Hyoryang (효령대군). It’s name Cheonggwonsa, unfortunately it was closed for renovation.
From Bangbae I headed to Seoul Arts Centre for the sculpture exhibition. The last time I visited in the fall it was for the disappointing Van Gogh exhibit and the grounds were barren, today the atmosphere was electric. There are so many cafes, rest areas, fountains,artworks and characters in this place, it really is a cultural hub for Seoul.
I saw the Georges Rousse exhibit, “Georges Rousse: Space, Fiction, Photography” at the Hangaram Museum. Rousse’s large-scale installation works for the center’s 25th anniversary included a site-specific spatial construction (the Seoul Pyramid) in front of the Opera House and the “blue” work inside the exhibition hall are accompanied by a selection of the artist’s photographs. I then spent the next couple of hours viewing theoutdoor exhibits of the
Seoul Sculpture Festival, relaxing on the terraces and in the cooling air around the dancing fountains. It was great to see Seoul come alive again after the dark dank days of winter. For some the vitamin D count wouldremain low as they hid behind coats, brolley’s and masks. For some it was time for yet another nap; the kids ran about excitedly giggling and causing “good” mayhem. Older people found shade and cooling smoothies; all ages posed with the white-washed french mannequins miming to order. I left via the impressive footbridge which leads the visitor back towards Nambu Bus Station. On arriving back in Bangbae I enjoyed a bluebaerry smoothie, read some National Geo and headed back for a shower and a nap.
After this rejuvenation I walked through Bangbae, up and down the hill towards the”French Quarter”, Seorae Village. Seorae Village is a small French enclave in Banpo 4-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, starting from Seorae-ro (next to the Seoul Palace Hotel) by Sapyeong-ro, the southern end of Banpo-daegyo (bridge). It is called the French Village because it is home to hundreds of French people. It is my idea of a bit of heaven, whilst I’ve loved embracing most of the food and culture of SK, sometimes just sometimes…. I had a bacon and garlic pizza at a restaurant called Red Brick. My vino rouge went down very well as I transported myself to the Place Des Vosges and a stroll around Le Marais. As the bottle disappeared I became quite nostalgic and my mind wandered to the future. More on that in another post. I started back stopping at a wine bar where I fell intoconversation with a biker jacket clad photographer and the bar owner. I was leaving Seoul on the 06:35am to Chungers and going straight to school, mid-term tests no classes. I and the dead iPhone hit my pillow around 2:00am. Oh happy days no need for the Naked Chef!