The day is sunny and cold. The air is crisp. It reminds me of Minnesota, only with more Korean signage. Snow crunches under my shoes as I walk across the partially plowed street.
The multi-lane streets are wide and make part of town feel spread out, despite the tall buildings. With the sparse traffic, it almost has a mid-western vibe.
Jukjeon-dong is the name of the neighborhood I'm staying in. It's part of Suji-gu, which is one of the three subdistricts of Yongin City. Yongin City, in turn, is located in the Gyeonggi-do province. Gyeonggi-do actually surrounds the city of Seoul, much like a malformed donut. Suji-gu is approximately 29 km from Seoul, (18 miles), but it's basically a suburb of the city.
Today is Saturday, the official start of the Lunar New Year. 2017, the Year of the Rooster. Many shops are closed for the holiday, even Dunkin' Donuts is opting to open a couple hours later than usual.
I've been living out of a suitcase for a week and a half and am feeling travel-weary. I'm following my friends Noah and Stephanie who have volunteered to be my guides and travel planners for my weeklong stay.
We chat about life and living abroad as we make our way toward the metro station. The tracks are above ground here, and we wait on a platform of concrete and tile a couple stories high. I open Pokemon Go as we wait for the train to arrive. I'm just out of range of a couple of Poke-stops. Sad day.
The Seoul Metropolitan Subway is a behemoth people mover system. With over 680 miles of track, the system boasts an annual ridership of over 3.6 billion passengers. The cars are wide and square. They feel more like the train cars than subway cars. Where the Hong Kong MTR cars feel sleek and modern, this feels robust and utilitarian.
At the same time, the Seoul Subway is high tech too. The stations I visited were easy to navigate and displayed information in as many as four or five languages. I'd easily rank it in the top five metro systems I've transited.
We ride from the Jukjeon station northward. I believe we get off at the Moran station, but at this point I'm just following my guides, happily oblivious to where I'm going or my method of transportation.
Noah and I stop at Ediya Coffee for a quick cup of hot caffeine. Stephanie stops at the Paris Baguette a few doors down to grab a snack.
A few minutes later we're at a bus stop waiting for the bus that will take us to the start of our hike. It's bus 30-1, or something like that. It bumps and jolts up and down the steep streets seeming to wind it's way toward our destination.
The path up the hill is wide enough for a car and paved with concrete. A hill slopes upward to our left, and to our right are what look to be various gardens and parks. There's paved pathways which have stones, brick, or other odd looking textures cemented into place. My friends tell me that this is a Korean thing. They have special sections of the sidewalk with different textures so people can experience walking on different terrains.
We pass a small stand with half a dozen air nozzles. I'm told hikers can use these to dust off their shoes and clothes after they get done with their hike. Seems useful, though also a bit unnecessary.
Sheltered from the wind, the uphill workout warms us up. My hat and jacket soon feel a bit to much. The hike isn't particularly steep, but we've walked nearly a mile before we reach the Namhansanseong South Gate. The wall construction reminds me a little of the Great Wall, but it's built into the hillside, rather than sitting atop it.
We walk along the wall, following it Northward. We stop occasionally so I can take more photos. It seems that each new corner and each new hill offers a slightly better view of the city laid out below. Months later I'll find I have dozens of similar photographs with only slight variations on perspective.
At a small outpost we stop and Noah makes hot chocolate with a portable camp stove. It's nice to rest for a bit. The small pagoda is painted like many of the other buildings I've seen around Asia and China. Red and teal with hints of blue and yellow. The paint is worn and chipped on the old structure. Some of the beams are covered in smog-grime.
We follow the winding wall, eventually coming to the North Gate. Two giant drums sit atop the gate structure. An occasional hiker will pound on them, a deep rumble echoes off the surrounding hillsides.
The three of us find a picnic table and stop for lunch. My guides have packed sandwiches, wraps, and fruit. It makes for a lovely meal, the perfect compliment to a morning full of hiking. We've traversed close to two miles from the South Gate and the respite is nice.
After lunch, we walk through the fortress village, cutting across back to the South Gate. We take an alternative path down, winding back and forth along the ridge until finally merging with our original path near the entryway.
The hike was good, but left us all sleepy on the metro-ride home. We spend the rest of our day relaxing, watching movies, and playing board games.