Misinformaton Gangnam Style and a Relaxed Sunday in Hongdae

This weekend I was due to attend a KOTESOL conference in Seoul but knew I had the best part of Saturday to do some pottering around.  On arriving at Ganganam Express Terminal around 8:10 am I took a detour to Samseong Station.  My intention was to have a slow breakfast and read the digital news from the UK and particularly MCFC. Arriving here (adjacent to the Co-ex Mall) it was strange as everything appeared closed. I headed east disappointed by the ovecast weather and traipsed up the hill towards the Kring Kumho Gallery. I had also ascertained from the Visit Korea website that the Gallery did not open until 10 hence my slow breckie plan, on arrival I noticed that Kring Kumho was now adorned by a Prugio (the construction company) sign. IMG_2468As there was only a sushi restaurant open in the vicinity  and no indication that the building was actually in functional use I took some snaps and returned to the subway. If indeed, as it seems, the Kring Kumho is no more, it would be nice if Visit Seoul took the opportunity to update their website! Bah Korea!

Co-ex itself was apparently being re-modelled and as shopping is quite low on my weekends priority list I had to find my coffee spot.  It was now 09:15 am and there were fledgling signs of life. I stopped to snap a memorial to South Korea’s $1 billion of overseas trade and another to the 2010 G20 Summit which was held at Co-ex.  Skirting co-ex the Radisson was having major surgery and the Hyundai Department store provided a lavender clad forecourt and a spidery Luis Vuitton window display. I was heading in the direction of Seolleung and the Royal Tombs, I’d visited in winter but it hadn’t been a particularly pleasurable day and so a return seemed a good idea. I spotted a none-chain coffee shop with a smiling welcoming vendor at the door. “Coffee sir, a muffin on the house!”, how could I refuse both this hospitality and the chance to re-charge the iPhone? The Colombian coffee was exceptional and the cinnamon muffin delicious, we chatted about education and my dislike for the big coffee chains, I then settled for my Pellagrini fix!

Fifty minutes flew by and the steady trickle of customers and our pleasant exchanges fueled my desire for a Blueberry Smoothie. As were the coffee and muffin it was exceptional and after the disappointment of the Kring Kumho none-event my spirits were uplifted.

IMG_2530The Royal Tombs were a further 10 minutes to the west of here and surprisingly busy.  They are set in a well maintained landscaped park which locals make full use of to get their power walking fix and escape from the Gangnam maelstrom. It’s possible to view 2 of the tombs pretty close-up but access to the third is completely denied.  The first tomb Seonjeongneung refers to Seolleung, the tomb of King Seongjong (the 9th king of the Joseon Dynasty); unfortunately the visitor is only afforded a side view which is a little irritating.  Some intelligent bod at the Tourism Office should be able to work out that if they built a walkway along the rear of the tombs then the visitor would firstly have a fantastic viewpoint from the tombs across the city and secondly the tombs would still be awarded reverence and protection. It’s a bit like only having access to one side of the Pyramids. Anyway I cheated by accessing the rear of the second (Queen Jeonghyeon, the second wife of King Seongjong ) tomb from a hill behind and got to sample a great view of both the tomb and Gangnam beyond. The third tomb Jeongneung, the tomb of King Jungjong (a son of the two) is completely inaccessible and its ornate carved statues can only be viewed from afar. This lovely landscaped park is situated in the heart of Seoul and forms a dense forest of pine treas, making it an ideal place for the public to enjoy a stroll and also escape the excessive heat of the Korean Summer..

Address: 133-2, Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
How to get here : 5 minutes’ walk from Exit 8, Seolleung Station, Subway Line 2

As it was now around lunchtime I headed to Banana Backpackers to check-in, shower and prepare for my KOTESOL conference. Unfortunately the shower preempted a nap and I awoke at 4pm an hour after the conference started!

IMG_2568I therefore made haste to Seoul station as I was meeting FOBY at 5:00 pm FOBY time which is 5:20 pm Englishy time. Leaving the subway firstly I was accosted by very loud purveyors of Dunkin Donuts at 10,000 won a pop and observed some roof maintenance which paid no regard to any Health and Safety Executive rule book.  I decided to pop into the old Seoul Station 284 which is now a gallery, the forecourt outside is awash with vagrants either sleeping or slurping on their Makeoli. The Exhibition of contemporary installation, paintings, and digital photography was of mixed quality but some exhibits were at aesthetically pleasing unlike my previous two visits. Exiting I took a left over the bridge crossing the tracks passing more of the worlds unloved and a delivery area where hundreds of wheeled cages provided an interesting overhead photo. The back of the old station again provided a home to a cluster of unkempt souls whose sleep was fueled by excessive amounts of the traditional rice liquor.

IMG_8157I crossed over the very busy and dangerous dual carriageway climbing the hill to Sohn Kee-chung Memorial Park. The forgotten man is remembered in this Guardian article. He, a Korean athlete, won the gold medal in the marathon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a member of the Japanese delegation. He was forced to compete under their badge. The athlete is also famous for this quote.

“The young can now run in an independent country. They needn’t worry about anything. They can run and run. Who would stop them?” The park provides peaceful respite as it sits in the midst of Dongja-dong clinging to the side of the hill. Sohn Kee-chung is commemorated by having a Memorial Exhibition Hall and two statues one a huge bust  and the other showing him in full flow.

I wandered back towards the station to meet FOBY and then we took the subway to Nosapyeong before strolling to Itaewon 2-dong. Our destination was the Magpie Brewery. We sampled two beers as the third was out of stock. The Pale Ale described as crisp, citrusy and golden with a slightly bitter finish (4.8% abv), which was a pretty fair description and the Porter, whose CV is a warm, dark beer with chocolate and espresso undertones (4.8% abv). Again it was hard to argue. We followed this with a wholesome and delicious Thai fill at Taste of Thailand Sukhumvit where we also met HM, MH and JU before returning to craft brew land and The Booth. IMG_2606What I realised is I could easily afford to set up my own shin dig around here, small venues, cheap and affordable decor and bar staff with charisma 🙂 which along with playlists could be the USP! We returned to Jongno, popped into Lovestar and then to BB after a great evening.

Sunday started with a walk for coffee down by the Cheongyecheon and a the deposit of an electronic message pertaining to education at the Seoul Plaza Ear. From here we headed to Hongdae for what I expected to be the flea market.

IMG_2639“Every Sunday Hongdae is full of people browsing at the weekly flea market looking for a bargain among the selection of unique crafts, paintings, and second-hand goods. Even if you’re not planning on spending any money, the flea market is the perfect place to mill around and soak in the unconventional style that has become known as the essence of Hongdae..”

Despite the tourist blurb above it wasn’t happening so we took in some graffiti and headed to Sangsangmadang for a coffee on the terrace. The eleven-story Sangsangmadang building houses a cinema, live performance hall, art gallery, and studio. On the first floor there is an art square, which displays and sells crafts and accessories handmade by designers. On the second floor is an art gallery displaying artwork by Korea’s contemporary artists, and work by Korea’s young artists is available for sale on the third floor, offering a glimpse into today’s young society in Korea. In the basement cinema, independent films from Korea and abroad are shown, and the underground live performance hall features various performances such as music, dance and theatre. IMG_2647Shockingly the terrace is not open to the punter just for the staff to suck on their 20 coffin nails a day, so we headed south towards the aA Design Museum. IT was a great place to have Sunday lunch Calzone and vino rouge, the lush greenery around the terrace providing protection from the midday sun. Heaven!  This southern part of Hongdae would be a great place to live, a more laid back aura and an excellent choice of eateries. The aA hosts classic Scandi designs, Bauhaus inspired architecture,and a juxtaposition of vintage and contemporary designs. Designer furniture complements 19th-century French doors and antique London lamp-posts.

After a detour to Galleria in Gangnam we headed to EBT for our respective journeys to Chungers and Cheonan.

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