Thursday, 31 January 2013

Ice-Skating at Seoul City Hall

Angela and I recently decided to go ice-skating one evening after work. Neither of us had skated in nearly a decade (probably a lot more, in my case), but after a little practice we soon became pretty self-assured, occasionally even a little cocky, whizzing around the rink like Torvill and Dean. In fact, during our allotted ninety minutes of skating, we fell over a total times! After my rather graceless skiing venture (which I made a post about at the beginning of this month), this was a huge success, and both of us felt pretty proud of ourselves for walking away from the rink bruise-free and dry-clothed!

We arrived at City Hall metro station, where some umbrellas hung over Exit 4.
The ice rink was fairly busy, and there were a lot of Koreans who were obnoxiously good at skating; not a surprise given that they seem to be superhuman when it comes to navigating ice on the streets.
Before it was our turn to skate, there was an interval while the staff polished the rink with buckets and watering cans. This seemed a little rudimentary for technology-obsessed Korea, but they did use an ice resurfacing machine at the end of the evening.
Angela, posing while a man in a hanbok (traditional Korean dress) skates by.
Me, trying to get my bearings.
We got our photo taken with the old man in the hanbok.
There I go, graceful as a swan.

Angela and I had a great time at this ice rink, and we're planning on going again while the winter lasts. If you're interested in visiting it yourself, you can easily find it by going to City Hall Station, Exit 4 or 5, and following signs to Seoul Plaza.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Ganghwa - The Misty Island: Part 2

Click here to see Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

Once we left the summit the trail became much more rugged and dangerous. Still, traversing rocks was a lot more fun than climbing endless stairs! 

Looking back at Manisan, you can just about see some of the other hikers making their way along the ridge of the mountain, as well as the alter and the helipad at the very top.

There were lots of crevices, slippery rocks and steep drops that posed as obstacles on the way along the crest of the island. It was really fun getting over them though. Kind of like living a real-life platform game.

This friendly Korean couple was kind enough to offer us some hot tea and tangerines.
A fellow Seoul Hiking Group member, scouting the trail ahead. 

Here I am just before a steep cliff, which we had to abseil down using a rope.

We had to be really careful of some of the steep rocks at the side of the mountain. 
Finally past the rockier part of the trail, we made our way down the woody lower slopes of the mountain...
...and discovered a Buddhist temple.
A woman praying.
After the hike was finished we took a quick bus ride to a nearby town with a beach. On this part of the coast there was no barbed wire or military personnel, thankfully.

A love note etched in the sand in Korean. 

Even in the winter Koreans have time for some beach-badminton.

Fireworks on the beach (you can just about see one in the photo).

When I woke up last Sunday morning I really wasn't in the mood to go for a hike. But I'm really glad I dragged myself out of bed at 7 in the morning and forced myself to go, because what an awesome adventure it was! I got to see some stunning mountain scenery, hiked along some particularly challenging rocky terrain (which has helped prepare me for some of the more difficult hikes I'll go on later in the year), AND I got to see North Korea. Overall, a very successful day.
Speaking of North Korea, I'm hoping to get a much closer look at it sometime in the weeks ahead. Expect a DMZ post soon!

Ganghwa - The Misty Island: Part 1

Last Sunday I went on my fourth trip with the Seoul Hiking Trip, this time to Ganghwa Island on the northwest coast of South Korea. It sits just a mile south of North Korea, which can be seen from the island. Our main goal was to ascend the island's highest peak, Manisan, though we also visited a fort on the north coast, and a beach when our hike was finished.

Ganghwa Island, shown in red, is separated from North Korea by the Han Estuary.
A statue we passed on the bus heading out of Seoul.
Crossing the bridge from the mainland to Ganghwa. The island was shrouded in mist when we first arrived. 
Before beginning our hike, we stopped off at a fort on the north coast of the island, so that we could see North Korea.
The coastline was lined with barbed wire fences to stop North Korean defectors from entering the country.
My first sight of the world's most secretive country: The Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The misty weather only added to its eeriness.
We entered the coastal fort to get a better view. 

Inside the fort was a pavilion over five hundred years old. 
Another view of North Korea.
A South Korean soldier surveys the waters for any suspicious activity. It is not uncommon for North Korean defectors to attempt to enter the South using makeshift rafts or boats. 
A view of the long, barbed wire fence that extends across the north coast of Ganghwa.
A small military bunker facing North Korea.

Seoul Hiking Group taking snaps of the North. The soldiers didn't seem to mind. In fact they were quite friendly.
After a short bus ride into the hinterlands, we begun our ascent up Manisan, the island's highest peak.
Warren, our fearless leader, briefing us on our mission!
The Three Friendly Walruses: mascots of Ganghwa.
The beginning of our ascent started off on a very smooth surface. This was not to last very long, however.
We climbed about six hundred stairs.

Admiring the views while we rest.

More stairs...
At last...the summit! With a small altar on top.
Korean hikers picnicking on the rocks.
From the summit we had a great view of a nearby helipad where other hikers were hanging out.
The altar, up close.
On the helipad.
Click here to read part 2 of this post.