On any given Saturday or Sunday in Seoul, the subways and buses are packed with families and friends decked out in brightly colored hiking gear. This eclectic bustle of rainbow-clothed people are on their way to hike the numerous mountains surrounding the city. These mountains are islands of calm surrounded by the ever-busy and bustling metropolis, a deep breath of peace after the chaos of city life.
We chose Yongmasan, as it was only a 30-minute trip away from where we live. At 348m elevation, it is touted on more serious hiking blogs to be an “easy climb” – and for the most part it wasn’t overly challenging.
As all hiking adventures begin in my life, I realized I had no idea what to wear. I opted for the very practical sun dress, sun hat, and my only sneakers – which are these purple Puma walking shoes, not the most ideal for hiking…but we’ll get to that later.
We started by taking in the artificial waterfall, that turned off unexpectedly after we stood by it for a bit… Conserving water I suppose? Adjacent to the waterfall was a rather impressive rock climbing wall, had I been a more coordinated – and more appropriately dressed – human being I would have been inclined to try it.
The hike was a steep climb up the mountain, but not unmanageable. As we traveled up, we saw countless other hikers, a majority of them elderly and making it look a lot easier than it was. Seoul is an active city, and its inhabitants participate in a healthy amount of exercise regardless of their age. The climb also provided us with great views of the city below, which were enjoyable to look at as I was passed by 60-year-olds making quicker work of the mountain.
This was my first real exercise out after I had been injured, and it was nice to feel more like a normal human being again. I also only fell down once on the way up, so it really was easy going (I live up to the title of my blog- I am a clumsy person). Near to the top, as my legs were starting to feel closer to jelly than actual legs, there was a wooden deck that jutted off the side of the mountain where other hikers were gathered to take pictures with a view. We found our home-area pretty quickly, Lotte Tower being easy to spot from a distance.
Another set of stairs and we finally reached the top, panting a bit. This is where I began thinking that it is time to get back in shape. We had read that there would be a makeshift outdoor Makgeolli seller, but it seems he wasn’t out that day – or perhaps taking a break. No alcohol, but an ice-cream man was there selling popsicles from an ice chest. Dotted around the summit in groups of 5-10 were hikers enjoying picnics….and with closer inspection, a lot of them happened to be alcohol picnics. The groups were playing drinking games on picnic blankets in the shade of trees.
Instead of going back down the way we came, we chose to go forward. Seoul boasts numerous interconnected mountains that surround the city, so we decided to continue walking toward the next one and cut back down the mountain on the next available trail. We got a little lost, and I fell a few more times on the loose dirt on the way down. Gained a walking stick, then lost a walking stick on my last fall. Haha, I really did fall a lot this hike, this is where I blame the shoes. We eventually found our way with a helpful sign.
Near the end of the trail, a wasp flew to hover directly in front of my stomach. I have never been stung, and harbor a significant fear of it, so naturally I started to enter that fight-or-flight mode type feeling. The wasp and I stared at each other, frozen in place for a few heart rending seconds. Miraculously we chose opposite directions to avoid each other, and I high-tailed it out of nature and back into the city.
Our companions, being very in shape and younger suggested we walk the distance to another, further subway stop and take in the Han river. We agreed, much to our muscle’s later chagrin, but it was enjoyable to play on the funny work-out equipment that are scattered along the path that meanders next to the Han.
After another hour or so of walking (my poor feet), we made it to the subway station and proceeded to Seoul’s “Little Russia” area. Didn’t know it existed? Me neither! One of our friends happens to be of Russian heritage and guided us to it.
Little Russia is nestled in the side streets and alleyways near Dongdaemun market – created by migrants from places like Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, etc. The signs along the street and in business are a mixture of Cyrillic and Hangul with some English strewn here and there. We found a small market/restaurant and my boyfriend and I tried borscht for the first time, which is a beet soup and a staple of Russian cuisine apparently. It was delicious! I was also unaware of the Russian proclivity toward dousing their food in sour cream, which was actually an unexpectedly good addition of flavor to what we ate. We also, of course, paired it all with vodka – it just seemed the appropriate thing to do.
We ended the day strolling through Dongdaemun market as the sun began to set. A satisfying day that made the subsequent week of sore muscles feel worth it.