Seoul: Pottering around Jogno, Baekasil Valley and the World Cup Parks

A couple of weeks ago I spent a relaxing weekend in Seoul, the Saturday morning  I simply wandered around Jogno committing iphoneography on the locals. I started in the area around Jongno-3 ga, exit 6, one of the last remaining well-preserved few streets of Hanok houses in the Jongno area. I then visited Tapgol Park where the Independence Proclamation was read. The independence movement relief plate and the statue of Son Byeong-hee are located here. The park is of great historical value and commemorates the Korean national spirit as it was the starting point of the March 1, 1919 Independence Protest.

I carried on south towards the Cheonggyecheon which was quiet but I did snap a number of characters before meeting FOBY at City Hall. We headed up to Buam-dong leaving the 7022 bus at Changuimun (창의문), the oldest of Seoul Fortress’s four small gates and heading right up Jahamungil, the road that runs behind and follows the contours of, Bugaksan Mountain. We were heading for the Baeksasil Valley to escape the heat.

Before getting to the valley entrance we passed the Art for Life cafe and after around 10 minutes further advancing up the hill rested with a coffee at Sanmotoonge Cafe, which means (Corner of a mountain). This gallery & cafe, located on Bugaksan Mountain, has a magnificent outlook over Northern Seoul. It’s also celebrated as one of the locations where the Coffee Prince drama was filmed in 2007.  There is also a veranda on the second floor where you can get pleasure from both the view and the placid, natural vibe. From here we continued up the hill and then following the signs descended towards the valley itself.

Baeksasil Valley is a picturesque part of the Seoul that conjures up the ambiance that you are completely in a rural area. Its title literally means “valley of mountains surrounded by streams.” The area was a “just what the doctor ordered” escape for the aristocracy during the Joseon Dynasty; they created landscaped gardens and second homes here. The quarter we passed through was calm and attractive; an ostensibly surreptitious modest neighborhood concealed away from the rest of the city. The entrance for once, is well signposted; you’ll find yourself faced with a wooden staircase that gently leads your tired muscles into a serene hike through an ancient Joseon garden. Further on we came to

In their entirety, the trails in Baeksasil only cover a few kilometers, but what makes the walks here unique is that not many people take the time to “discover” them. It would be sad to sacrifice this tucked away jewel. Near the end of the trail we came to Hyeontongsa Temple were we were offered tea and a warm welcome. The temple sits atop a giant pink granite rock which must be spectacular in the rainy season when it becomes a tumbling waterfall. There’s a bridge of course for this exact occasion but during the dry season we didn’t need it. We continued our walk leaving the valley to emerge at the university were we caught the 7022 back into Jongno getting off at City Hall. To visit the valley, take a bus from Exit 3 of Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3) and take a bus (7212, 1020, and 7022) to Buam-dong Changuimun Gate, it takes around 10 minutes.

We walked back along the main thoroughfare to Jongno-3 ga, FOBY’s usual hunger pangs getting the better of him. We stopped for a nibble at a street stall; the “everyday” chicken skewer was hotter than the performance of Andros Townsend for England! Later we headed back for that wonderful Korean Pork Barbecue at Jongno-3 ga exit 6.

Sunday saw us head for World Cup Park, somewhere I visited in the cold depths of the Korean winter, today’s trip was to be less of a trauma. The World Cup Park was built to commemorate the 17th FIFA World Cup. Opened in May 1st, 2002, the park was once a 15-year-old landfill that held over 92 million tons of garbage. It took 6 years to stabilize the waste (measures were taken to prevent the garbage runoff from contaminating the environment) and an additional year to build the actual park itself. The park is located near the Seoul World Cup stadium, and is made up of five smaller parks including the Pyeonghwa ‘Peace’ Park, Haneul ‘Sky’ Park, and Noeul ‘Sunset’ Park. The park takes up a 1.05 million-pyeong area and is usually crowded with in-line skaters.

We crossed over the huge stepped bridge at the stadiums south end which is also linked to Home Plus or Tesco’s in UK speak.  There was some huge event taking place, it was to do with health care.  There were as usual lots of places to gorge and a main stage which played host to Korean “rap” performances. Init, blad, bruv, cuz and allow! We crossed the car park towards the “Blue” bridge over the highway; this gave us access to the stairs and the Haneul “Sky” Park. Around 85 diverse species of flora grow here; the gigantic plateau is renowned for its Cogon grass and Eulalia. Visiting in early October when the reeds evolve a golden tint, and the skies are generally clear and blue is a must-see in Seoul.

Haneul Park, at one time a mountain of garbage, it now a green “eco” hill with 22 sentry points presenting (on a clear day like today) wonderful vistas of Seoul CityMt. Namsan, Mt. Bukhansan, and Mt. Gwanaksan. 5 wind-powered generators supply energy to the park and the park’s maintenance office. As we climbed the stairs we noticed pinned at regular points on the steps are small plaques with a number. Precisely 291 stairs are ascended before accessing the top. It was busy today with the hordes of masked ninja’s and labeled students carrying their lunch boxes towards the summit. Once there the climb is well worth it, away from the main path that circumnavigates this giant plinth it’s still easy, even when busy, to find quiet spots if you follow the paths that criss-cross it. The sun was shining bright on the upland slopes and when the wind stirred soft through the springing grass it was a relaxing experience. The faux post boxes flitted perilously on their stalks as we made our way through the Zen like garden. We stopped at the central Gazebo, still one of my favourite spots in Seoul. This punctuated, arched, organic stainless-steel form provides awesome view down the paths and across the plateau towards another piece of public sculpture, the ‘Growing Sculpture’ In Haneul Park, an observatory, is an art piece. Its Korean name means ‘A bowl that holds the sky in it’.

From here, after taking in the views in all-directions, we descended the hill, strolled through the event area and snapped some fake iron-men. We covered our ears to avoid the terrible rappers and took an “Italian” lunch in Homeplus before taking the metro back to Central City Terminal for our differing departures home.

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