Once landed and out of the airport one of my first impressions of Seoul was a gas mask supply unit in the train station in Seoul. This was just the first of a few reminders of the fact that the contested border is less than 100 km away.
My usual SIM card shopping was more complicated than usual because of a lengthy registration process that took around two days to finish. Navigation via Google Maps did not work properly because of some government regulations about restricting detailed map material. And once I arrived at the bubble my hotel app set for me, I discovered the address was wrong. Luckily my actual hotel was not very far.
So after this ordeal I went to hunt for some food. I walked along a huge shopping street and eventually went into a decent looking restaurant. I was tired and very hungry so after the first amazing spicy fried rice I topped it off with a burger. I paid and only on my way back to the hotel I realized I had just paid over 30 €.
In conclusion: I had better first days in a new country. 🙂
My goal for the next day was a Gyeongbokgung Palace located in north Seoul. On my walk there I saw those interesting shelter signs that lead down into the subway.
The palace was actually a big complex that contained another huge palace (one is never enough apparently) and a big garden. Interesting concept: The mistress of the emperor had her own little complex separated from the main palace. The empress apparently requested that it was painted black and was less beautiful decorated. 😉
These pictures are the first with my new camera. The camera has no zoom and a fish-eye lens so there will be more in the pictures but less macro stuff. I found the switch that took care of the distortion effect a couple of weeks later.
Directly south of my hotel was a nice hill with some hiking trails. The next day I took a gondola up there and had some nice views of the city and could also walk along the old city wall and had a quick workout at a outdoor gym up there.
After a rain caused off day I switched into an amazing new hotel next to the main train station and explored a huge war memorial that included an exhibit of war machinery. They had a lot of information about the first war and the current situation. I found it really impressive that they did not paint North Korea as the “bad guy” and emphasized more a hope of unification.
I also checked out a nearby big electronic mall and was disappointed (again) by seeing nothing special.
Seoul is surrounded with some very nice hills with good hiking trails. The southern mountains were more on the easy side. So when I took the subway north and arrived in the middle of countless hiking stores selling surprisingly cheap gear, I knew I came to the right place. I bought a new beanie (lost mine somewhere in Vietnam) and went up the mountain. Once up there I walked or better climbed quite a while on the ridge which was really cool and also a little scary. At least there were some handrails.
On the way down I started talking with a fellow hiker from the United States and we ended up getting some fried chicken and the obligatory reward beer together. Compared to my blunder on the first day this was really cheap.
After this phenomenal day I had a couple of chill days and did some planning and caught up with friends from home. A short excursion to a local market and a big old city gate where they held a military ceremony was also nice.
On the evening before leaving the country I tried the famous rice wine. At first it tasted a bit weird but… well long story short I was a bit hungover when I hurried to the airport. I think I was getting too laid back with the buffer times for the whole airport process and almost missed my flight. But in the end I took my seat in the plane heading to Japan.