Sunday, July 17, 2016

Songpa Naru Park and Banpo Hangang Park

Forgive me if I spend my vacation days doing boring things like visiting parks. I am a person deprived of huge parks and cool days.

Songpa Naru Park
180 Jamsil-ro, Songpa-gu, Seoul

Songpa Naru Park surrounds Seokchon Lake. It looks like two lakes but is really just one big lake with Songpa Boulevard (Songpa-daero) cutting across the middle. Cherry blossom trees, a jogging path, and a walking trail circumnavigates Seokchon Lake.

I got there early in the morning and there were a few people jogging. Clutching my small plastic bag of convenience store breakfast: triangle kimbap and yogurt drink, I searched for a spot to have my breakfast and found a bench near the lone tree that had cherry blossoms left on it. A slight breeze was blowing the last of the blossoms away. Songpa Naru Park must have been a beautiful sight just a week back when all the trees were in full bloom.

Directions to Songpa Naru Park: Take subway line 2 to Jamsil Station, exit 2.  Walk 250m along Songpa-daero Boulevard.

Other places nearby that you might want to check out:
Lotte World Amusement Park
Lotte World Folk Museum
Kidzania (if you are traveling with kids)
Olympic Park

Banpo Hangang Park
40 Sinbanpo-ro 11-gil, Seocho-gu, Seoul

The reason I went to Banpo Hangang Park at night was to see Banpo Bridge and its Moonlight Rainbow Fountain show. The 20–minute show happens four to five times a day, but lucky guy that I am, the show the night I was there was cancelled because it was too windy. As all the other picnickers and photographers packed up and left, I sat around for a bit looking at the skyline across the river. It wasn't long before I was freezing on the concrete bleachers. I got up and walked to the other side of the bridge where the bright lights of Some Sevit were and that's the extent of my exploration of Banpo Hangang Park. My bones by then were too cold to explore the length and breadth of the park.

Directions to Banpo Hangang Park: Take subway line 3, 7, or 9 to Express Bus Terminal Station, exit 8-1. Go straight for 250m, and turn right at the Express Bus Terminal 4-way intersection. Continue going straight for 400m and cross the road. Go straight through the underpass to arrive at the park.

Other places nearby that you might want to check out:
Some Sevit (also known as Sebitseom)

Banpo Bridge

Artificial island called Some Sevit or Sebitseom

South Korea on Three

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Seoul Food

A trip would not be complete without trying local food! Here are the memorable ones from my recent Seoul wanderings:

134-7 Seosomun-ro, Jung-gu, 100-865 Seoul

My friend, GaYeong, brought me to Oh Hyang Jokbal, one of the top 3 jokbal restaurants in Seoul. The restaurant is located in an alley near the City Hall and it took us some time going to and fro looking for the restaurant.

Jokbal 족발 is pig's trotters or pig's feet. The jokbal in this restaurant is cooked in five secret spices/ingredients that gives its delicious aroma. The meat is very tender and is best paired with the restaurant's garlic sauce 마늘소스. We asked for half of the order of jokbal to be not spicy and the other half spicy. GaYeong and I finished every bit of non-spicy jokbal. The other half was too fiery for our tastebuds: one bite and we had to drink a glass of water to put out the fire in our mouths. The jokbal set also came with tteok mandu guk 떡만두국 (rice cake and dumpling soup).

We had this sumptuous meal as our late lunch (2PM), inadvertently avoiding the long queues this restaurant often attracts during lunch and dinner. We walked out of the restaurant staggering in fullness with a doggie bag of spicy jokbal in hand. (Even if the entire order of jokbal were not spicy, we wouldn't have finished it. The set was good for three to four persons and costs KRW 34,000 or about Php 1500.)

55 Donhwamun-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul

GaEun, another good friend of mine, took me to a restaurant known for its noodles. GaEun ordered bossam gwa mandujeongol 보쌈과 만두전골 (pork belly and spicy dumpling noodle soup, KRW 25,000). This was another really good meal! I ate so much and gave up before GaEun did. I think she eats more than I do but she never puts on weight!

Gopchang Alley, Hongdae

After watching Nanta! in the Nanta Theater in Hongdae, I followed my good friend, MinJun, through the streets of Hongdae to a restaurant serving gopchang 곱창 (intestines). He ordered pork intestines and other offal, and started grilling it all once it landed on the table. In between bites, he kept saying he couldn't believe people ate this stuff! I couldn't believe we finished all of it!

I did not take note of the restaurant's name or its address, but if you want to try gopchang, there are many restaurants in Hongdae that serve this.

Hyoja Bakery
54 Pirundae-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul

I had read about this bakery and set a goal to find it. My quest was a success and a shock—there was a long line outside the bakery. I did not expect Hyoja Bakery to be that famous. I had half a mind to turn back and leave, but the other half argued that I had walked a long way just to find it. In the end I fell behind the long line of Koreans and waited my turn. The wait wasn't so bad; one of the bakery workers would walk down the queue and give out samples of their bestsellers. I was the only one that did not look Korean and he asked where I was from, then helpfully enumerated and explained in English what their five bestsellers were: corn bread, onion cream cheese, blueberry cream cheese, bread with tteok (rice cake), and bread with fruits.

To queue or not to queue?

My breads got squished when I got home.
Clockwise from top: corn bread, sweet bread with fruits, bread with tteok.

I planned to buy one of each of their bestsellers but when I got inside the bakery, I was in for another surprise. Their goodies were either too big or sold by half a dozen. I decided to buy three of the five bestsellers even if I knew I wouldn't be able to eat all of it. I figured I could share it with the other guests at the guesthouse I was staying in (Kam Guesthouse). Of the three I bought, I liked the corn bread best. It wasn't your ordinary corn bread; aside from corn, it also had onions, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots.

Sweet bread with fruits for breakfast the next day

Sindangdong Tteokbokki Town
Sindang-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul

I like tteokbokki 떡볶이 (rice cakes). But I have only tried tteokbokki cooked in gochujang (red chili pepper paste). When I found out there was a tteokbokki street that had tteokbooki cooked in a variety of ways, I added it to my itinerary. What I didn't know was that the restaurants in this street only served food good for three to four persons. All I could do was walk down the street and look at every photo on the restaurant glass walls with my stomach grumbling. The woes of traveling alone in South Korea.

Welcome to Tteokbokki Town (a street, really)

Put your soles to work and find these Seoul food with my handy dandy map:

South Korea on Three

Monday, July 11, 2016

Explore a City with GPSmyCity (and Never Get Lost!)

When preparing for a trip or during the trip itself, do you go crazy combing the internet for suggestions on what to see and do? You can keep your sanity in check with GPS My City app, an app containing thousands of articles for over 600 cities around the world.

The mobile app itself is free and is published both for Android and iOS. For a minimal amount, you can upgrade the app to gain access to GPS guided travel articles with an embedded high resolution map pointing out the destinations mentioned in the article—plus GPS navigation assistance! The best part? You don't need the internet to read the article and use the maps. With this app and your map reading skills, you will never get lost.

No WiFi? No Data Plan? No problem.

To introduce you to this very useful app, click on either (or both!) of my two articles for GPSmyCity—Exploring Georgetown in Penang and Taipei: An Artist's Playground—and it will take you to the article, then click on upgrade to access the offline maps. The upgrade is FREE from July 11 to July 17! (If you haven't installed GPSmyCity app yet, it will prompt you to install the app, then once installed, it will direct you to the article.)