Tuesday, 18 June 2013

[Using] the iron road [that's] runnin' from sea to the sea

I am still having a little trouble wrapping my head around the fact that I am in Korea over a year now. However, one thing that has not escaped my comprehension is that I have been incredibly lucky in my location. I've been able to get everywhere that I've been to in a maximum of half a day of travelling (sometimes a little longer with rest stops and/or transfers). I wish I could say that I have taken full advantage of this but I haven't. There are so many places that I want to go and, although they are semi easy to get to, I've yet to take the plunge. On the other hand, I've been having a fantastic time doing the few travels that I have done.

So how have I gotten around to all the fantastic places I've visited? Well, mostly by train and subway (and sometimes bus). KORAIL is the train and subway system that connects Korea so that "wild majestic mountains [no longer] stood alone against the sun". It's been in existence since 1899 - wow! - with the Seoul-Incheon line (source: Korail).  I've  found it to be a great service - fast, efficient, cheap, clean and that the staff are incredibly helpful. In the bigger cities I have visited, Daejeon, Seoul and Busan, there are subway lines. Seoul's is the most extensive but easily manoeuvred. There are several lines each in several different colours and they are also numbered. They all cross at several points which means getting from A to X is quite easy. To travel across country, I've mostly taken trains. The Mungunghwa is the train that I take the most often and it is the one that runs the most frequently. It's generally the slowest train. The Saemaeul is the second fastest train as they tend to stop less frequently than the Nooriro and Mungunghwa as well as moving at a faster speed. If you visit Chuncheon in Gangwan-Do you have at your fingertips Korea's first two-storey train! I've ridden it two or three times now.  It leaves Yongsan Station once every hour. However, if  you've "gotta get on our way 'cause we're movin' too slow" then the KTX is probably the best option as it is a high speed train. However...you pay quite a bit more for it.

And where have I visited? Well, considering Korea just isn't that big....not enough places! I realise that being here a year I have a wealth of knowledge about some of the different cities and amenities I have visited. There are other places that I have visited but I didn't spend enough time there to feel confident in describing the amenities. Let's start with Seoul. I've been to Seoul a minimum of once a month since being here and I can't get enough of the place. Admittedly, I don't always get to do sightseeing stuff as sometimes I go up to just do shopping or partying. Also, as you go up with people who're are going for the first time to Seoul you tend to end up going to the same places time and again.

Some of my favourite things that I have done in Seoul are the Cheonggyecheon stream which you can get to by going to Gwanghwamun Station and taking exit... This beautiful stream was recently restored and for Buddha's birthday it is filled with stunning lanterns. When I arrived last year I was privileged enough to go here the very morning after I arrived. I got to see the lanterns (unlit) and had much fun crossing the stepping stones. I was there more recently for Buddha's birthday this year with some girlfriends and this time we got to see the lit lanterns!

Close by the stream is Gyeongbokgung palace which I have detailed in several other posts (See HERE). This palace can be accessed by going to the same subway station as the stream but taking exit 2. However, I usually take the exit 5 and walk down the whole way to the palace as the view of the giant statues of King Sejong and the mountains behind the palace are breathtaking. In summer, on the way to the palace they are fountains which children and adults play in while the sun beats down upon them. Much of this palace had been destroyed by the Japanese and some parts are still being restored as of May 2013. Additionally, nearby at the City Hall Station, Exit 2, is Deoksugung Palace.
This small palace is an oasis in this busy hub, a place where it seems to be "too silent to be real". I went here with my cousin in September and the quiet beauty of this palace blew me away.

Besides the palaces and the stream there are many museums that showcase the history of this vibrant city and  intense little country. One of my favourite ones has been the Seoul Museum of Art which showcased an exhibition of Tim Burton's work.The gardens and the Museum were well laid out. I am interested to see what other exhibitions this museum has on offer. This is around the corner from Deoksugung palace where there is also a famous road that has some interesting sculptures as well as some embassies. Some other museums worthy of visiting are the War Memorial Museum of Korea and the National Museum of Korea. The latter has beautiful gardens full of pagoda's lakes and quiet walkways. Set in the heart of the city this museum nicely juxtaposes serenity with chaos. 
The Trick-Eye Museum in Hongdae is great fun. These illusions make it appear as if you are collecting dropped gold coins or that you are an angel fallen from heaven. I went with my brother my first month in Korea and it still remains one my highlights. Hongdae is addtionally a great place to go out.

   There are many other interesting things to do in Seoul including going to the Namsan Seoul Tower - we went in the pouring rain but it was a lot of fun. We got the bus from Myeondong and it took about 30 minutes to get there. You have about a ten minute walk to the tower itself from the bus stop and it's up quite a little hill (I was panting and aching!).

For those who've been living in Korea longer or are weary of travelling without much exposure to Western culture look no further than Itaewon, which is a cacophony of foreign voices.  If you are based in a small town where you are pretty much guaranteed nearly nobody understands you, well you may want to spend your time here with your mouth open. English is everywhere, from the shop names, to the multitudes of people all speaking a language you understand. Itaewon is my least favourite place in Seoul except for a few reasons - "What the Book" an amazing little bookstore, the foreigner market for when you need some western spices etc and for going the odd time to have lunch or dinner.

So you might think I'm mad to go to Seoul as often as I do and you might think I'm mad to not want to spend anymore time than necessary in Itaewon. However, "time has no beginnngs and hist'ry has no bounds" to what I feel I can learn about Korean culture, history and impact that Seoul has to offer.  I will continue to travel and explore as much as I can of Korea. And my quest to learn and see as much as Seoul has to offer will continue until my "minds [is] overflowing with the visions".

PS This post was inspired by Gordon Lightfoot's song "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" and the amount of times my Mam has played this song during the course of my life!
PPS This post was inspired by the many trips I've taken to Seoul.

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