I had big plans for this weekend, well big plans if you like watching lower level football I suppose. In addition to the National League game at Chungju on the Saturday, Jen and I had been planning on going to the Challengers League Cup tournament on Sunday. It’s a competition for the third tier teams played over the space of a week in the one town, Jecheon on this occasion. There were seven games scheduled for the Sunday, spread over two stadiums. The winners of each match staying on until mid-week for the next round whilst the losers presumably clear off back to their holidays.
My job doesn’t usually interfere too much with my hobbies, not outside of normal office hours anyway, but unfortunately I had to go to a meeting in Oman and my flight departed just before midnight on the Saturday evening. That meant if we were going to do anything on the Saturday then it had to be Seoul-based and there wasn’t any football going on.
There are plenty of hills within the city though and so we decided to have a walk up Gwanaksan. There are a few different trails and a highest peak of 629m. Best of all, it’s only five subway stops from our apartment. If you are going for a walk though, you might as well just go for a walk and so to get there we followed the route of Line Two of the subway above ground from Yeoksam to Sadang. It took us about an hour and forty minutes to walk the subway line and then another twenty minutes or so to find the start of the trail once we’d got to Exit 6 of Sadang station.
It was worth avoiding the subway, mainly because we walked past some baseball cages where if you put a couple of five hundred won coins into a slot a machine fired baseballs at you at speeds varying from 100km/hr to 140km/hr. As I’d never played baseball before I naturally selected the fastest cage. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? After all, my first ever curry as a teenager was a Phal and whilst my mates cried with laughter, my eyes streamed with tears as the heat of the spices prevented me eating more than a quarter of it. For those of you who don’t know, a Phal is a like a Vindaloo, but with two tablespoons of extra gunpowder.
I’m not really one for learning lessons though and the first 140km/hr ball passed me before I’d even started my swing. As did the next few. I adjusted a little and eventually hit some of them, the best of which would probably have been caught somewhere near first base whilst the rest varied between being knocked into the ground near my feet or glancing off my bat into the fence behind. Fortunately none of them smacked me in the chops as I don’t think I’d have fancied arriving in Muscat the next day minus a few teeth. Whenever I’ve seen people in these cages they are usually half-pissed after a post-work drink with their colleagues, so maybe it’s one of those sports like pool and darts where a few beers improves your skills.
At Sadang station there was a line of old blokes awaiting the arrival of free food organised by a charity. As I stood around I was twice asked by locals if I’d like to join the queue. Perhaps it’s my age, maybe the way I dress, but I obviously looked a bit like a worthy recipient. We’d packed a bit of a picnic though, so I left them to it.
When we got to Gwanaksan, we followed the signs for Yeonjudae. It was a bit of a slog at first with very few sections were you could walk on the level. There’s an area about half an hour into the hike where you can replenish your water bottles, lift a few weights or hang upside down from a bar like a bat. It was a warm day so we settled for a drink of water.
We continued upwards for another hour and a half or so, stopping to look down on Seoul every time there was a decent view. It’s amazing how close we were to the heart of the city. The trail was very crowded, probably I suspect, more with people just happy to get out in the hills on a day when it wasn’t raining rather than with those who were prevented by work commitments from going to obscure football games in even more obscure towns.
We didn’t get to the top. It’s one of those where the actual peak is fenced off because it sites some sort of communication tower and there didn’t seem a lot of fun in hauling ourselves up ropes and chain ladders in the final stages just to be able to reach a fence. We took a different route down, slightly longer at about four kilometres and one that mainly follows a river. There were plenty of people taking advantage of the cold water to cool down and I did the same.
We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, a couple of cats and a dog with bright pink feet. I suppose for all it’s a hill, it’s still in the city. As we approached the end of the trail it got even busier with lots of families picnicking by the water. One couple were actually sat in the river whilst playing some sort of board game.
We emerged near to Gwacheon subway station and after initially hopping on a bus going in the wrong direction ended up taking a taxi back to Yeoksam. Overall we probably did about thirteen kilometres in six and a half hours. That doesn’t seem like much of a pace, but when you stop to play baseball or dangle your feet into a river that’s how long it takes.