Mokpo to Seoul today, this time via the Korail express train! It’s a journey of roughly four hours through lush countryside tessellated with rice paddies. We initially grab tickets for the evening train, but move them up a couple of hours to catch views of this countryside from the train windows before night falls. That’s not the only reason for the schedule change: the sweltering heat has followed us from Jeju, leaving us more than a bit exhausted after exploring Mokpo for the day.
What’s there to see in Mokpo? The hill Yudalsan has a great view over the city, along with a few temples and rest pavilions on the path up. There’s some boardwalks down by the harborfront, a “Marine Products Zone” which we assume to be some kind of market, an old Japanese consulate building, and a modern sculpture garden around the back of Yudalsan. Unfortunately, we’re stuck walking all this with our packs on, which only adds to the burdensome heat. By the time we finish with the sculpture garden, we’re feeling a bit woozy, so we decide to refuel our bodies and spirits with an overly sugary patbingsu at a cafe downtown.
Lunch is a kimchi-shrimp pancake with grass jelly salad (I think the “grass” here is a type of seagrass) in a restaurant overlooking the downtown area. We’re unable to finish all of it, so we sheepishly ask the owner to pack up the rest. This is an uncommon request – they don’t really have takeout boxes at this restaurant, so she jerry-rigs something with a styrofoam palette, plastic food wrap, and a couple of plastic bags. We’re happy she does, because it makes a delicious if somewhat messy snack later on when we board the train!
On the other end in Seoul, we have a mini-adventure looking for a hostel. I’ve starred a few hostel locations on Google Maps, which is my first mistake: we’re not sure where U & I Hostel is supposed to be, but it’s definitely not in the residential back alleys that Google Maps places it in. That’s alright; at least we got a nice walk through a nearby park and university campus on the way there. We hop yet another taxi (we’ve been doing a lot of that over the last few days as we finally get used to the idea that taxis are actually cost-effective here) to Hongik University, managing this only after a friendly Korean man offers to help communicate our destination to the driver. This is a lesson for us: if you look foreign, busses and taxis may not always stop to pick you up!
Nevertheless, we make it to Hongik area and decide against our better instincts to give Google Maps a second chance. This time it works out, and we find a hip guesthouse/hostel called Kpopstay a short distance from the Metro station. Once there, we finally realize how hungry we are: we never had a proper dinner, and the remains of lunch were consumed a few hours ago. One of the other guests, James, offers to show us around the area – he spent a few weeks as guest staff here, so he knows the surrounding neighborhoods pretty well. We end up grabbing a cheap bowl of noodles at a local hole-in-the-wall 24h joint. Makes for a good midnight snack!
Okay, so we’re in Seoul a few days earlier than anticipated, and now we need something to do with all that time. Our friends are busy until Thursday, so what to do? I’m sure we’ll figure that one out, but we’re starting to feel the winding-down-ness of the trip – a gradual realization that it will end, that we’re alright with that, that in fact we might even be excited to get back and a little sad that we can’t do it yet. This we take as a good sign – a proper vacation should leave you yearning for something productive to do when you get back!