Remembering Istanbul

I’d last visited Istanbul during the Christmas break in 1990 and so when I noticed a photographic exhibition in Seoul I made plans to go there on Saturday. The “Eye of Istanbul” was a retrospective of Ara Guler, the revered Turkish and Magnum Agency photographer. I’d been to the Museum of Photography before and therefore with prior knowledge of the location headed to Seoul’s Olympic Park early on Saturday morning.

As I left Chungju the forecast was fine, the Siberian weather forecast for later in the week was not in evidence. The entrance to the park is dominated by the “World Peace Gate” designed by architect Kim Chung-up. It’s apparently an attempt to display the natural harmony between traditional and modern Korean architecture, utilising the round curves of Korea’s traditional architecture to portray an image of the rapid progress and ascent of the Korean nation. The Eternal Olympic Flame nestles under its wings.

Just past here the SOMA Museum of Art has a Starbucks café and shop, a permanent display of Olympics-themed video art by Nam June Paik and five galleries for special exhibitions.

Opposite the colossal 2.7km Baekje-dynasty earth fortification, Mongchontoseong, built in the 3rd century AD, occupies the parks centre flanked by Olympic venues. The Baekjae Museum has some precious golden relics of the Baekje kings, a seven-pronged sword and the usual uninteresting pots. A dire sculpture garden surrounds the museum.

The earthern fortress itself is a great walk as it rises and falls providing a scenic athletic track for walkers and joggers alike. There are plenty of areas to stop and take a rest and soak in the views. They appear to be creating a shallow lake within its bowels but I’m unsure if it’s recreating a past feature or just a Korean idea to keep the kids occupied. On this visit I also noticed an army of scarecrows along one path.

After circumnavigating the fortress I headed over the dual carriageway flanking the park in order to reach the gallery. Ara Guler creates a distinctive documentation of daily life in the cultural capital of Turkey from the 1940’s to the 1980’s.  As the bridge between Europe and Asia, Istanbul has been the capital of both the Byzantine and Constatine Empires, firstly as Byzantium and secondly as Constantinople. It has a personality that is as many layered as its history, something that Güler’s images communicate with great sensitivity. In these noteworthy black-and-white images, the city’s depressed aesthetic oscillates between tradition and modernity. In his youth Guler had held the ambition of becoming a painter. Here, he paints a portrait of his home town and captures its soul.

After taking coffee I walked the kilometre to the new Lotte Mall in Jamsil. The mall has all the usual homages to consumerism but did not have, as I needed, an array of stores supplying walking boots.

Hastily exiting this behemoth of excess I made my way to Seoul Station to re-invigorate at the Silom Firepot Sauna.

My guest house was located in Yaksu which I’d chosen because I saw a review that it had a restaurant with the best chicken in Seoul. My accommodation was great and the host the most friendly I’d experienced in Korea.  The Agit Guesthouse is in a great location but I suggest visitors don’t try and walk there use the subway!

The Coco was indeed the best fried chicken in Seoul as reviewed by Groove Korea and I will be visiting again before my epic journey home through Asia. After returning to the guesthouse the hospitality continued with free beer and snacks until the midnight curfew. I swapped biography’s and music tastes with fellow residents from Hong Kong and Japan.

After Sunday breakfast I was given a free umbrella and made my way to Dondaemun to see the Hepburn Exhibition. One of the most iconic movie stars in the history of Hollywood, the late British actress and fashion icon Audrey Hepburn, appears in a series of highly personal and rarely seen photographs in the DDP Art Hall. It’s a great exhibition to potter around on a rainy day. I added some extra snaps to my Instagram collection before heading to Shinsegae to check out the backpackers clogs.

I surpassed my budget but I am well satisfied with my Salomon GTX’s which have a 5* review in the knowledgeable press.


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