Another adventure starts with packing up the bikes in Antalya and taking a taxi to the airport. With a stop in Moscow it took 21.5 hours to get from our house in Kaleiçi to a campsite about 4km from the Incheon (Seoul) airport. Our flight landed late in the evening, and it was 1:30am by the time we were pedaling away from the airport. Our late arrival, finding a good place to camp near the airport, and even the 21 hour travel time reminded me of our journey from Antalya to Faro six months earlier.
We were happy our campsite happened to be in the shade because we slept till 11 the following morning. That’s 5am in Turkey so it was no surprise really to sleep so late. Having failed to get any won (Korean money) at the airport (the ATM wanted over US$10 for the transaction!), our first order of business was finding a more friendly ATM. There’s a new city (called Airport New Town?) not far from the airport, and after stopping at a bank, our second order of business was food.
Well, we sure didn’t know at the time what a food adventure we were embarking on with that first lunch. We’ve been in South Korea about 12 days now, and it’s been one fantastic meal after another. We’re continually surprised to keep finding new dishes.
Another surprise from our first week of traveling is just how good the bicycle infrastructure is. We’re here because of the Four Rivers Bicycle Path from Seoul to Busan, claimed by some to be the longest paved bicycle path in the world. However, even off the paths, the bicycle infrastructure is fantastic in many places (we have found nasty roads as well, e.g., up to Namhansanseong Fortress).
It took two days of riding (almost 100km) to get from the airport to Seoul where we met Jack, our co-conspirator for these Korean adventures. Ferda and I checked into our hotel, rested a little, and then rallied to meet Jack for a five-hour tour that evening. It was a food tour! What a great way to spend our first evening in Seoul.
At our very first stop we sat down to dumplings and a fermented rice beer called makali, a tasty drink that’s turned into our favorite Korean beverage.
Here’s Ferda in front of a selection of pickled things, extremely popular here (and very tasty).
As the evening wore on the food tour got progressively more challenging, one might say. Here we have raw beef with live octopus.
And this one is anus muscle (of chickens, I believe):
I don’t have a photo of the cartilage, but I can assure you it was extremely tasty.
Ferda and I only had one day in Seoul (Jack had arrived a few days before us) so we went straight to some of the famous and crowded tourist attractions: Jongmyo Shrine, Changgyeonggung Palace where we managed to catch one of the Secret Garden tours, and Gyeongbokgung Palace. The former two are UNESCO World Heritage Sites but weren’t really all that interesting.
Of the attractions we saw in Seoul I guess my favorite was Gyeongbokgung Palace.
We walked quickly around the Bukchon Hanok Village (not a village at all, a Seoul neighborhood). At first glance it seemed to be a lousy attempt at historic preservation, but I think we really didn’t give it enough time. There are lots of workshops, little museums, and such — probably a lot to learn about Korean traditions.
Certainly Seoul deserved more than the single full day that we gave it, but the Four Rivers path beckoned. We didn’t actually follow it very long before our first detour: the Heolleung and Illeung royal tombs. Another of Korea’s UNESCO World Heritage sites are the royal tombs from the Joseon Dynasty, approximately 40 separate sites, mostly a bit north of central Seoul. The Heolleung and Illeung tombs, located on the SE fringes of the metropolitan area in Gangnam-gu, were more convenient for us. We arrived as it was getting dark, hoping to pitch our tents near the entrance. However, there’s some national security campus adjacent, and no one wanted us anywhere near there. It got a little late and a little desperate, but eventually we found a gazebo on the top of a hill in an urban park.
In the morning — doh! — the tombs were closed because it was Monday. Here’s the view sticking my camera through the locked gate:
Not far east another UNESCO site beckoned, the Namhansanseong Fortress, up a steep, curvy, narrow road with way too much traffic. This turned out to be the worst road we pedaled in Korea. Again the site wasn’t terribly interesting, mostly enjoyed, it seems, for the mountain trails quite close to the world’s 5th largest metropolitan area.
It was our last excursion in the greater Seoul area. Time to pedal a bit and start our journey south to Busan.