– Sokcho, South Korea to Seoul, South Korea –
Well, it’s apparently a typhoon day. We just missed Hurricane Dorian passing by the US Virgin Islands when we left, back when it was just a baby storm. We left home and Texas had Tropical Storm Imelda, flooding the coast. Now, here in Korea, we get to experience Typhoon Tapah. It’s not going to be too serious, but it rained on us most of the day.
We started our morning at 6am, ready to go run. Mark peeked out the window and discovered it was raining, which made us both sad. We couldn’t go out and run in that much rain. Then we remembered- our hotel had a fitness center! And we only don’t run in the rain because it isn’t fair to Ripley for us to run in hotel gyms without her on trips when she is along. So, we made our merry way down to the hotel fitness center for a nice run with a view of the big waves, wind, and rain on the ocean. It was pretty hot in there, and the treadmills were a little cheap, but it was better than not getting to run at all.
After our run, we lazily packed up our room, showered, and ate the remnants of last night’s dinner for breakfast. Really, there wasn’t much point in hurrying. It was going to be raining all day, as the typhoon wasn’t going to go by very quickly, so we weren’t expecting too much of our visit to the other portion of the national park. It’s a smaller, less visited section anyway, so it would not have been perfect even without the rain.
We ended up leaving around 10am. We were very glad our hotel’s parking was inside the 20-floor building, since that meant we didn’t need to get wet while loading up our bags. We also stopped by the gym for some photos of our morning run, then went down to the front desk to check out. We never bother checking out at home, unless Mark needs a receipt. Here, he not only wanted a receipt, but we wanted to make sure we returned our hotel room keys. Apparently they charge money if you lose one. I can’t think of any hotel with key cards that had that rule that we’ve ever visited before. Weird. I usually have a couple of those left in my purse by the end of a long road trip at home and nobody cares.
Our first stop upon leaving the hotel was one of the area’s beaches, which are actually quite nice. I think they are very nice during the summer (and not during a typhoon). They have golden sand and are fairly large. Mark wanted some photos, though he didn’t manage many. It was raining hard outside the car, so it didn’t end up really being worth it.
It took about 30 minutes, maybe a little less, to get down to the other park entrance. We weren’t too sure what we would see along the way, especially in terms of things that we could actually do in the downpour, but since we didn’t have anything better to do in the rain, we decided to go for the drive.
Seoraksan really is a lovely park, even in the less-visited section, and during a typhoon. Despite the rain and clouds, we could still see the tops of some of those gorgeous rocky mountains like the ones we saw yesterday. The fog added a certain mystery to them, and made things seem a little unreal in places. It was an interesting effect. The wind was blowing pretty hard, too, so we kept seeing sheets of water flying horizontally across the road. Pretty, if not ideal for a day visiting a national park.
We cruised up into the mountains, stopping a couple of times to hop out in the rain and get some photos. With the weather so foul and the road rising in altitude, the temperature dropped pretty quickly, from a nice 74 back in Sokcho to only 59 at the top of the mountain pass. We almost wished we had pants on by the time we got to the top. At least we had left our rain jackets and sweaters out of our bags for the morning, thinking they might help us out in the weather.
We stopped at a little shop/restaurant at the top of the pass, where we got out to take a restroom break and look around. The menus and signs here had practically no English at all, and the man working the cash register did not seem to speak a lick of it. We haven’t really had that problem anywhere else so far. Luckily, all we needed from him was the total for the drinks we were purchasing, so we solved our issue by just looking at the numbers of his screen and handing over the right amount.
It was particularly foggy at the top, with very low visibility. The wind was especially strong at that altitude, so we got a little wet running back and forth to the car. We tried to get some photos and videos to capture what it was like, but we had little success. I have a feeling it would’ve been a nice view up there, had the weather been better.
We considered continuing up the park road, but eventually decided to just turn in our rental car earlier and try to catch an earlier train into Seoul. The rain meant that we wouldn’t see much anyway, and since our original plan was to leave at 3:30, we wouldn’t have gotten into town until 5:30. If we left earlier, we could be in by 4:30, and maybe be done for the evening a little earlier.
It was another hour back to the main road and to Gangneung, from which the train leaves for Seoul. I don’t think I mentioned it yesterday, but the 2018 Winter Olympics were in Pyeongchang, which is basically right on top of Gangneung. There’s an olympic park in town and everything. In fact, the very train route we took is a result of the olympics, as they needed a fast way to transport tourists from Seoul out to Gangneung during the Olympics, and since they were in winter 2018, it wasn’t even that long ago.
In Gangneung, we drove around looking for some lunch, but had little luck. Most of the restaurants were actually closed, given that it was Sunday. They probably wouldn’t have had anything we could eat, anyway. We eventually spotted an E-Mart and decided to duck in and see what we could find to eat in the grocery store. At least we knew they would have fruits and vegetables we could eat.
The E-Mart in Gangneung was a little taller and narrower than the one in Sokcho, but no less full of random shops and things. We had to go to the basement to find groceries, which was a little funny, since we parked on the 6th floor roof. It took forever to get down there. In the end, we didn’t have a huge amount of luck finding things. We ended up getting some fried vegetable pockets, a donut each, and some pineapple. Once again, it was better than starving, but it wasn’t great. Food here is just not going well. I’m starting to think they murder all of their potential vegetarians as children.
After our less than stellar lunch, we realized that it was later than we had intended, and we were not going to make it to the train station in time to get on the 2:30 train. Resigned, we went out to gas up our rental car and turn it in. We arrived about 5 minutes before the train was supposed to leave and went to buy tickets, only to hear that all of the seats were booked for trains until 5:30pm. We could still get tickets for the 2:30 (if we ran over to the train in the next two minutes) or the 3:30, but we would have “standing” tickets, which means you can find an empty seat, but you have to give it up when its owner arrives. Joy of joys. Standing tickets for a two hour train ride.
In the end, we bought the 3:30 tickets and waited for an hour in the terminal until it was time for our train to leave. We shuffled from seat to seat the various train stops until, in the last 45 minutes of the ride, there were no seats to be had, and we ended up standing for about 25 minutes before getting off at an earlier station. Originally we were planning to go back to Seoul Station and take the subway from there, but we changed our plans, since we had to stand. We got off at one of the earlier stops in Seoul to take a couple of local trains to our hotel for the night, the Sheraton.
The local trains weren’t too hard to figure out, and two trains and seven stops later, we arrived near our hotel. We grabbed all of our bags and walked through the terminal to our exit. This area has a huge underground mall, which we traversed a small section of before exiting. There were a ton of people down there with us, either shopping or trying to find the right train. The subway was packed.
After a short walk, we arrived at our hotel near dark, and checked into another great big hotel. Our room this time is on the 7th floor, and given that Seoul isn’t really on the coast, there is, of course, no ocean view. It isn’t a bad room, though I liked the other better. The hotel itself is a little fancier. We’ve had nice luck with hotels on this trip, and we are here in the Sheraton in Seoul for 6 nights, so it is our last one.
After unloading our bags, we hurried back out to find some dinner. It wasn’t raining in Seoul, which was great, given that it had rained almost our whole train ride across the country. Given the proximity of the underground mall, we decided to venture down there for dinner.
That place is huge, and packed with restaurants and shops. They range from cheap, easy fashion to Gucci and Cartier stores. It’s an interesting place. We still didn’t have much luck with food, though, despite the numerous restaurants. Most of them still only had meat. They did have a pizza place, and multiple American restaurants (like Shake Shack and Outback Steakhouse), but still not much on the menu for us. In the end, we got grilled paninis with mozzarella and tomato that had so much cheese I could barely eat the things. It wasn’t a great experience. Having looked in the area for other vegetarian restaurants and seen none, I don’t have high hopes for tomorrow or the next day, either, given that we won’t really have the time to leave the neighborhood those days, since Mark has meetings all day. At least by Wednesday, we should have more time to travel around for dinner.
After dinner, we ducked into a weird, open grocery store in the mall to get a couple of things for breakfast. The breakfast buffet in the Sheraton costs even more than the one in our previous hotel did, and there’s nowhere close to grab breakfast before Mark’s meeting starts, anyway. At least they have a fitness center.
Tomorrow will likely be a very quiet day. Mark is busy until 5:30, and I have a bunch of things to do for the blog and various other trip-related things. I may or may not venture out, depending on whether or not it rains and how much I have to do. We will see.