Getting away, without having to get awayA sunset over the sea, with no buildings blocking the view. A relaxing walk through nature. An afternoon spent viewing remarkable works of art, within a remarkable piece of architecture.
There are ways of escaping the city that don’t require escaping the city ― or going very far, at any rate. JoongAng Ilbo columnist Kim Seo-ryeong recently decided to take several half-day trips to some destinations within Seoul, or a short drive away. She found some quiet sanctuaries from the hubbub of the city that didn’t require spending ghastly amounts of time on congested freeways ―nor, for that matter, did they require her to forego such urban conveniences as a decent cup of coffee. None of these miniature trips require the investment of more than half a day.
A beautiful park (and some good places for coffee, too)
On Dec. 24, 1937, a famous patriot who fought for Korean independence from Japan, Ahn Chang-ho ― also known by the name Dosan ― was released from Seodaemun Prison because of illness. On March 10 of the following year, he died. He was buried in Manguri Cemetery without a funeral.
In 1973, the bodies of both Mr. Ahn and his wife, who had died in the United States in 1968, were moved to the newly dedicated Dosan Park in Cheongdam-dong. In front of their tombs are several old crape myrtles, shrubs with elegant flowers.
A road in front of Dosan Park is called Riverside Road, in honor of the city in California where Mr. Ahn’s family settled in the United States. At the park’s entrance is a path shaded by trees. When I was here, it was very breezy, and the sight of the wind moving the leaves was very soothing.
Past the tomb of Ahn Chang-ho, there is a fork in the path. To continue your walk in the conventional fashion, go to the right. To the left is a “therapeutic path,” one of several that can be found in Seoul.
The surface of this path, called Geongang Jiapgil, is studded with small stones; if you walk on it in your bare feet, supposedly you’ll reap the benefits of a kind of foot massage, including improved circulation. Try it for about 100 meters and see if it doesn’t improve your day.
Be sure to stop by Dosan Ahn Chang-ho Memorial Hall while you are the park, to learn about a man who was truly dedicated to his country.
There are a few interesting teashops near the park. Right in front of the main gate is Neurige Geotgi (02-515-8155), which means “to walk slowly.” It’s spacious, with a high ceiling and a wide entrance; the atmosphere is very relaxing.
If Neurige Geotgi is too crowded, within about a 10-minute walk is another place called Gabemihak (02-3444-0770), which is known for the quality of its coffee. The owner, Nagahama Yoshiko, lived in Japan for a long time, and opened the cafe seven years ago because, she says, she couldn’t find good coffee in Seoul. Since then, she has been roasting coffee regularly; so much coffee has been roasted in the shop, in fact, that the pillars in the store have turned black.
She says she roasts beans about twice a week. When an order is made, she grinds beans four days after roasting, which she says is when they taste best. This is clearly an owner who takes pride in her coffee.
She serves some rare kinds of coffee ―organic coffee from Latin America that’s produced only in small batches, and what’s called Yemen coffee, which has a hint of fresh apple in the taste. These are 10,000 won ($9) per cup. A cup of the coffee of the day costs 7,000 won. Told that her prices are too high, the owner says, “Think of everything that went into making this cup of coffee.”
A front seat near the counter is the best place to enjoy the smell of fresh-roasted beans. Every Wednesday, the shop holds “coffee school” to teach the process of making the best possible cup of coffee. Tuition is 20,000 won.
The sunset, the sea, the birds and you
The bright lights and skyscrapers of Seoul don’t lend themselves to enjoying a sunset. Those seeking peace, quiet and a clear view of the sun as it sinks below the horizon have little choice but to get out of the metropolis.
If that’s what you’re looking for, you might try Ganghwado island, which is off Korea’s west coast, near Incheon, about an hour’s drive from Seoul.
As I stood on Ganghwado recently, watching the sun set over the open sea, it felt as though time had stopped. I felt a sense of relief that there was still time left before the end of the year, and winter’s dark grip.
Koreans love to watch the sunset during winter, but there’s certainly something to be said for one that takes place during the change of seasons.
Ganghwado is made up of vast plateaus, or dondae. For this reason, it was an ideal place to build a fortress wall. The beaches on the west side of the island make for optimal sunset viewing; I recommend, above all, Buno-ri Dondae.
Strong winds and tidal plains lend this area a feeling of the past. The tidelands cover an area of more than four square kilometers (1.5 square miles).
There are many places on Gangwhado from which to watch the sunset, but Buno-ri is one of the best.
As I watched, the vista was bathed in a range of colors; longbills and wild ducks crossed the sky, their wings spread wide. It is impossible to describe these vibrant, extraordinary and slowly changing hues.
A walk north along the beach from Buno-ri leads to the island’s main village, Janghwa-ri. If there is a place here that best fits in with the surroundings, it is a cafe called Moment (032-937-9027), surrounded by farmland.
The cafe’s owner, Kim Chan-ju, was fascinated by the scenery and built the house on the site a few years ago.
Architect Ryu Chun-su designed the building to encompass both Western and Eastern styles. A large patio allows for a lovely view of the sea and the sunset.
Mr. Kim wanted to share the view with others, and so he opened his house to the public. He installed a few tables and hung the sign that reads “Moment.” Of course, the views of the sunset at the cafe are different from those at Buno-ri Dondae. At the cafe, seeing it through a window almost gives one the sense of watching a film. And the view from the patio is nice, too.
For a short respite, try the ‘street of art and culture’
Pyeongchang-dong, in the Jongno district of central Seoul, offers a taste of peace and freedom to people who are tired of busy city life. Famous for its exotic museums and cafes, this is a neighborhood that can bring comfort to the exhausted mind and body.
Surrounded by mountains, Pyeongchang-dong is only a 15-minute walk from Gyeongbok Palace. Three mountains, Bukak, Bukhan, and Inwang, enclose the region, and give fresh air and wonderful scenery to visitors.
There are many enjoyable sights along what is known as “the street of art and culture.” These include art museums, exhibitions, gift stores, sculptures, antique shops and outdoor cafes. Small houses, shaped like temples, in alleys complete the look of this unusual street.
In the center of Pyeongchang-dong, Gana Art Center (02-3217-0237) shines with its white-tile exterior, and Seoul Auction (02-395-0330), right across the street, shows off its green panels. Both buildings are designed in French style, with a feeling of simplicity; exterior walls, steps and corners all seem aligned.
The garden at Gana Art Center is my personal favorite. It has 10 old pine trees, and stone statues of people and animals that give the place a solemn mood. There are stainless steel replicas of classic works by Auguste Rodin, Emile Bourdelle and Arman Fernandez. There couldn’t be a nicer place to have a cup of coffee than on the second-floor terrace, which has a clear view of mountains and villages.
In the galleries on the first floor, various events and exhibitions are held year-round. A first-floor restaurant boasts a mural by Jang Uc-chin, a well-known painter who died in 1990.
Total Museum, which is right beside Gana Art Center, is also worth a visit; the red rust of the outdoor iron sculpture there looks nice against the green grass. A few minutes’ walk away is Kim Chong Yung Sculpture Museum (02-3217-6484), where coffee costs only 1,000 won (it’s instant, though).
On the third floor of Seoul Auction is Cafe Motte (02-379-6500), which is well known for its splendid view; some say it’s the best in Seoul, especially at night. The terrace is wonderful, especially in midsummer. It would be nice to go there when the moon is shining, or when it’s windy after a summer shower. You can’t help but become a patron of this place when you see the marvelous spectacle of drifting clouds in the sky.
Other good sites include Palace (02-394-6068), which sells Chinese pottery, Pyeongchang Art (02-3216-0034), which sells precious antique artworks, and a gift shop, Mink (02-379-6511). For more exhibitions, visit Kimi Art, Sejul Gallery or Ungno Lee Museum.
To get to Pyeongchang-dong by bus, get off at Olympia Hotel Seoul beside Mount Bukak. Driving there is a safe bet, since there always are enough parking spaces on the street.
The works of a landmark Korean painter, housed in a museum that’s beautiful in its own right
Through Nov. 14, the Whanki Museum is hosting “Man's Life Is Short; Art Endures Long,” an exhibit marking the 30th anniversary of the death of the artist after whom the museum was named. The abstract painter Kim Whanki, who lived from 1913 to 1974, was a major figure in Korean art. The exhibition gathers his major paintings from the 1950s.
But even if this exhibition weren’t there ―in fact, even if there were no art there at all ― the Whanki Museum (02-391-7701~2) would be worth a visit.
It’s a rather small, quiet gallery, located in Buam-dong near central Seoul. Its unique building was designed by the architect U Gyu-seung, who was well acquainted with Mr. Kim. Even the stairs leading up to it are an architectural wonder. Climbing them, a visitor can see Mount Bukak and Mount Inwang. The stairs lead in and out of the building, around corners and a garden. At the top is a lilac tree, a good place to stop and rest for a while.
The building is made of beautifully colored granite, giving it a hard, dense texture. When the museum was being built in 1992, the late Kim Hyang-an, Mr. Kim’s widow, wanted it to be is beautiful as it could be, which is why the granite is of such high quality. Though the building has a Western style, it seems in harmony with its surroundings, including Mount Bukak.
Inside the museum, of course, are works by Kim Whanki. Over the years, Mr. Kim’s work evolved from traditional Korean subjects, like mountains and the moon to, in his later years, abstract lines and dots. Against the white walls of the exhibition spaces, the blue, pink and yellow dots of Mr. Kim’s watercolors almost seem to float.
Near the entrance of the museum, visitors can buy bags, scarves, umbrellas and T-shirts with designs from Mr. Kim’s paintings. The scarves look as though they’d look almost as good framed on a wall as the paintings do. Combine a visit to the gallery with a stop to see nearby Jahamun, also known as Changuimun, a gate built during the Joseon Dynasty, and then take a drive along Mount Bukak Skyway. It makes for a refreshing half-day in the city.
by Kim Seo-ryeong