Leaving Gongju and heading north to Seoul was perhaps one of the biggest contrasts I’d ever seen. The difference was first and probably most noticeable through the train station of both cities. Gongju was almost completely empty whilst standing on the platform, with only the sound of speeding trains piercing the otherwise total silence.
Both trains on our journey, due to a required change, were quiet so there wasn’t much need for our assigned seat numbers, something which I was grateful to Korean rail for earlier in our trip.
To say Seoul station was busy would be an understatement of the century contender. Streams of people arriving from what seemed half a dozen trains at the same time filtered up the escalators and into the main concourse. The signs for the subway are clear and majority are in English, yet the flow of people heading towards one of the three lines which served the central station meant that you could be from a different planet and still end up at the subway.
The way in which subway tickets work in Seoul is quirky. When buying a single ticket, which comes to around 1.350 won (90–95p) 500w can be retrieved as a deposit. This I assumed was done in order to save on paper, making it a seemingly successful initiative.
It was just two stops on the airport railroad line, which you’ll be surprised to know does in fact service both of Seoul’s international airports, to our hostel. It was a 15 minute walk from the station, yet carrying baggage in the afternoon sun made it feel much further.
Always ones to get to grips with surroundings earlier on, we headed out into pretty cosmopolitan looking area between our hostel and the Hongik University subway station we’d earlier alighted from. It felt as though there was a bar, cafe or restaurant occupying every other building in this half a mile stretch, which made for positive viewing given that we had a week in this part of the South Korean capital.
Our first night ended with a drink or two in a retro gaming pub, allowing customers to pick from a wide choice of food and drink whilst playing classic games such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Tekken amongst others. Cool chilled vibes and ice cold beers, I figured this wouldn’t be our last visit.
Day 1 started a little later than other days, but the lie in was needed as a result of the previous evening. I spent a short period on the roof terrace of the little star hostel to do a bit of reading, I was nearly half way through Stephen kings ‘The Shining’ by this point so I had high hopes to finishing it before touching back down in London. I would have stayed up longer, but the sun and heat had other ideas.
After a brunch stop on the way to the subway, it was six stops on the number 2 line to our first destination. Something which caught my eye upon riding from the subway steps was the stance which South Korea takes on smoking. Signs on the street suggest that it is illegal to smoke out in the open, with smokers being directed into covered smoking areas on the street. Whether this had any kind of benefit I couldn’t figure out, perhaps to make the streets more appealing? Give it a google if you have the chance, call it homework if you will.
Myeongdong Cathedral was built in the late 19th century and was one of the first catholic cathedrals in South Korea. It sits just off from one of the busiest shopping areas in Seoul, and this along with the huge modern skyscrapers which surround it make for two significant juxtapositions.
It is a modest structure which replicates the same gothic churches which dominated Europe from centuries gone by. It made for a peaceful break from the bustling shopping streets, with virtually no sounds from the outside world being detected whilst sat in the aisle.
The streets of this part of the city are hot and crowded, yet the tall buildings and curious aromas which seem to change round every corner make every step an unpredictable one. Weaving in and out of locals and other westerners, of which there was a noticeable number, was often tedious but never dull. Thousands of people going about their various types of business, thousands more destinations to be reached.
Not bad for a first day, if I may say so myself.