Sunday, September 22, 2013

Weekend (6.22.13 - 6.23.13): Beomgye, Tadpoles, and Trekking Mt. Gwanak

While I do have a tendency to put off posts for as long as a year, I was actually waiting to see if I'd hear back from a website about publishing part of this one before sticking it on my personal blog. I never did, but I might make it part of something bigger and try again. At any rate, the horrible sauna-like Korean summer is finally over, but it wasn't all bad. May and June are good for doing summery things like this.

On the Saturday Si and I went to Beomgye with a couple of our coworkers for dinner, one of them having assured us that he'd found a basement department store food court with enough variety to please everyone. And, he was right!

I got fresh-blended fruit juice from the cute place pictured above and had bibimbap. The lovely woman who took my order not only spoke English, but understood perfectly that I wanted a vegetarian order with no onion and told me to come back and tell her if she didn't put enough veggies in it. What an awesome mom she must be. 

Everyone else had an individual thin-crust pizza, including the "salad pizza" with tomatoes, greens and balsamic on top. 
We also shared orders of cheese fries. It was truly a feast of kings.

After all that nomming we were looking for something to do besides to go a bar or sit outside a convenience store and drink, and we found a free rooftop garden atop the Lotte building with the neat Tetris lights on the side.

It was actually pretty lame, but it's still a nice idea. I wish they had more of them in the States. If it was a bit more interesting or interactive you could even charge a buck or two. It's a good way to kill time if your friend's running late or you're waiting for a movie regardless.

There's what can only be described as an enormous goldfish bowl..

Rabbits and guinea pigs that Koreans always display in zoo-like enclosures as
if they were exotic wild animals for whatever reason..
... and cute little deer.

It was a nice little dinner and walk around. At least we saw a couple places we'd never been to before. Usually that's all I ever want to do. Even if something turns out crappy, at least you can say you tried it, right?

The next day was a bit more active. My apartment on the very southern edge of Seoul sits at the base of Gwanak-san, and another side of this large, long mountain is easily accessible not far from where I work in an adjacent city.

If you're living in Seoul and looking for an outdoorsy afternoon trip that won't break the bank, I recommend taking a light hike up the ravine that runs through one of the nicer, larger apartment complexes in Gwacheon.

Assuming you've already eaten, are bringing a picnic lunch from home, or waiting to eat until afterward, the day we had can be replicated for less than 8,000 won (for two people). 

Just be aware that the stream coming down from the mountain gets quite deep during the rainy season (and the weather is horrendous), so the best times to do this are late spring - early summer and late summer - early autumn.

To get to this area, the fastest way is to take Line 4 down to either Gwacheon or Sadang. If you take the Seoul Train down to Gwacheon, from most of the exits (minus the library one) you'll emerge near the park area and Complex 10, but it might be easier to take a bus from Sadang, and it only takes like 10 minutes. If you're going that route, there's a huge bus stop that basically takes up a full city block of enlarged sidewalk outside Exit 4. You can take the 1-1, 11-1, 11-2, 11-5, 777, 502 or 540, the last two of which are blue buses that also say the names of the stops in English. 

So, if you're going by bus, get off at Complex 10, the stop after Gwacheon Catholic Church. Then, simply start heading for the center of the apartment complex. It's a 5 - 10 minute walk.

If you've gone inward from the bus stop, you should be able to find a road that leads you to a park housing a large tree in the center of the buildings. According to the locals, that's the oldest tree in Gwacheon.

Keep heading up the road until you find the stream with steep man-made sides that runs between some of the buildings: it's what you're looking for.

You can easily hop across the stepping stones and walk along dry parts further up the ravine when the water's low, and further up the base of Mt. Gwanak you go, the more people you'll see. While lots of people take their kids swimming, picnic, read books, pitch tents (no, not that kind), exercise and just chill in this popular, conveniently-located stream bed, it's still not annoyingly crowded or anything.

There's also a road above/alongside the stream bed, if you don't feel like clambering over large rocks and a couple of concrete walls. If you do decide to walk up on the road, you'll come to a pedestrian bridge and picturesque temple just before the area we were shooting for begins.

Doesn't seem like this is going to lead anywhere at first, does it?


A bit further still, you'll find a moderately patriotic Korean restaurant that has seating alongside the stream (though it's usually pretty far above the water) and a very large, photogenic dog keeping watch out front. 

We got a couple of cheon-on ice creams from the woman selling them there before heading to the cool, refreshing pools we'd set out to see. 

After the restaurant and the service station for the lift that goes up the mountain, the road ends and you have to climb down to the rocks.

For us, the purpose of this little jaunt was to find and catch some tadpoles and salamanders. Being from the desert, I'd never actually seen any before. 

Before leaving Sadang we stopped at the Daiso and got a plastic container and small, handled sieve for this, which, along with bottled water and those ice creams, is how I came up with the total cost of $7 or $8, including transportation. Damn it, Korea, you so afforable.

Even though it was hot and sweaty, I wore shoes that weren't at all suitable for climbing, and Si had to test out his new flashlight app for us to get back down once the dark snuck up and closed in on us, it was a nice day. We caught lots of cute little creatures and managed to enjoy the great outdoors while only a few minutes from one of the biggest cities in the world.

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