In May, 2012 I had the thrill of travelling on the “Three-Countries-Three-Weeks-Three-Kids” tour. Imagine how cool that would be, then double it! The first stop on my once-in-a-lifetime trip was to Shanghai, to visit my daughter. Following my visit there, I flew to Seoul, South Korea.
I got into Incheon late at night and was met by my son. We got on the train back to Seoul, then switched to the subway when we got to the main train station. From there it was off to the hotel, which was between two subway stations, so of course we got off at the one on the downhill side and dragged luggage UP the hill in the middle of the night (it might have been raining) rather than getting off at the uphill station and rolling them down. (As a parent, you have to have things to tease your kids about. They’re going to do it to you – ask any of my kids about “the hammer.”)
Pro tip for traveling in Asia (and Europe) — you can make your life so much easier if you take a few minutes to figure out the train, subway, and bus systems. Unlike many (most?) cities in the US, all cities have very advanced public transportation systems which are cheap, easy, and used by everyone. Even if you don’t speak a word of the language or recognize any of the written characters, you’ll find many (most?) signs in English as well. If all else fails, you can do simple comparisons between the characters on the map and the characters on the signs to know when you’re at this station instead of that station.
The next morning we were off to the Seoul Tower on Namsen Mountain in central Seoul. (Towers for communications and/or observation sites are everywhere in Asia. This is not a bad thing.) Namsan Park is a large, lush park covering a peak in the middle of downtown Seoul. It reminded me of a cross between New York City’s Central Park and Los Angeles’ Griffith Park.
Much more functional than the Pearl Tower in Shanghai, the Seoul Tower is utilitarian, concrete and antennas. “Functional” is not a bad thing in this setting and is easily explained by the heavily armed totalitarian regime just thirty-five miles away.
It was a hazy but sunny day. From the tower you get a fantastic view of the city, with plenty of signs and guides to point out different landmarks, such as the ancient Imperial palace, the current Presidential palace, the skyscrapers of the downtown area, the stadiums and facilities built for the 1988 Summer Olympics, and the Han River running through it all (running left to right in the hazy distance here).
This random neighborhood is near the base of Namsen Mountain. It’s typical of the kind of urban density that you see everywhere here. Seoul has an area of 233 square miles with a population of over ten million.
Looking at the bigger picture, that’s a lot of kilometers between here and home!