Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Cafes on the River Han

One of the natural landscapes that dominates the city of Seoul, besides the numerous mountains jutting out from between the concrete buildings, is the Han, a kilometre-wide river which runs through the centre of the city. Traditionally, the river was used as a trading route for industry and merchandise, bringing goods into Seoul via the Yellow Sea. But as a result of Korea's division into two warring states, with a demarcation line running straight through the middle of the Han estuary, trade and navigation ceased on the river. Since it was never seen as a particularly scenic or recreational part of the city, the Han became for many years a bland, bridge-laden obstacle over which cars and trains navigated between two halves of one city.

However, in recent years the government has attempted to revitalise the river, establishing it as a centre of leisure and relaxation in a plan known as the "Han River Renaissance Project." This includes the construction of numerous pedestrian bridges, cycling routes, cafes, and parks along the banks of the river. While it doesn't yet compare to the splendour of strolling along the Seine in Paris or the Danube in Budapest, it still has enough charming spots to make it worthy of a lazy weekend promenade.

Angela and I visited the river a couple of weekends ago, navigating it mostly on foot, with a few metro rides here and there. We were specifically attempting to visit the lookout cafes that overlook the river at various points, though we saw some other interesting sites along the way.

A view from Gwangnaru Pedestrian Bridge, on the east side of Seoul.

On the bridge we found a "music bench."
Disappointingly, the bench didn't make any music, despite looking like a piano. But it's okay, since Angela is pretty good at making her own music.
A view of the northern banks of the Han.
Not sure what these spiky flower things were.
Here we found the entrance to our first lookout cafe: Riverview 8th Street Cafe.
Though the snows of winter had all but disappeared, there were still some remaining pieces of ice here and there.
The cafe seemed to be empty, except for a piano. We were still allowed inside though.
With some trepidation, Angela walks on the glass floor hanging over the river.
Heading back out onto the bridge.
A quiet park on the banks of the river.

Another cafe by the river where cyclists like to stop and snack.
Inside the cafe, we ate gimbap and sandwiches (a good compromise between local culture and cravings for western food)

Some locals playing baseball.

There are lots of free exercise machines placed underneath bridges along the river.
This is the Olympic Bridge, the construction of which actually finished in 1990, after the Seoul Olympics of '88, due to construction delays.

Another view of the Olympic Bridge.

An elevator up to the top of the bridge.

We briefly visited Seoul National Cemetery during our walk, which I'll make a post about soon.
Nodle Altair Vega Cafe at sunset.
Inside the cafe.

We had some tasty drinks there, including a sweet potato latte (on the right).

We also ate a delicious gorgonzola and honey pizza.
Once we left the cafe, we continued walking along the bridge, with some splendid nighttime views of the city.
The snow may have disappeared but it was still awfully cold, much as we wanted winter to be over!

Though trade and cargo ships no longer navigate the Han, you can still travel parts of it in sailboats, kayaks, or ferries like the one above.

Our last cafe: Cafe Noeul.
The snazzy interior.

We got some fancy cocktails.

And there we ended our daytrip on the Han. We haven't seen all of the river's lookout cafes yet, and there are many other parts of the Han River Renaissance Project that we'd both like to experience. When the weather gets warm, we'll be sure to cycle along its many cycling paths, and probably take a cruise, if not kayak under its bridges.

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