I remembered watching the 1988 Olympic Games on television never expecting that almost 30 years later I would be exploring the Seoul Olympic Park.
We took the metro to Mongchontoseong station on Line 8 and entered the Olympic Park through the World Peace Gate. This colourful entrance was built as a sign of peace and harmony for the Games. Since then, the park has been transformed into a large outdoor recreational area with six of the facilities built for the Olympics remaining. These include the swimming pool, three gymnastic arenas, fencing and the velodrome. The largest of the gymnastic arenas is now used to host concerts and other performances.
As we admired the Flag Plaza, numerous school children on field trips came up to us to say hello and to practice their English which was nice. The park is vast and takes several hours to explore and we decided to follow a walking trail around the Mongchonho Lake. We passed the remains of the historic Mongchontoseong Fortress. This earth rampart, which is surrounded by a moat, was being renovated during our visit and was cordoned off so we were unable to glimpse at its remains.
Our stroll continued up One Tree Hill before dropping back down to the lakeside. Along our way we spotted a heron, ducks, pheasants and a rabbit which were so nice to see. The park also contains 200 sculptures created by both national and international artists some of which are the size of houses.
Our looped walking trail returned to the Flag Plaza where we found the The Seoul Olympic Museum which has free admission. Opened in 1990, it was established as a commemoration of the Games and to keep alive the memory of the hugely successful Seoul Olympics. Its aim was also to inspire future generations with the Olympic spirit.
Wandering around the galleries we were impressed with the way the museum had re-created the excitement and emotion of the Olympics offering a wide variety of exhibitions about sport and culture with video footage of key events.
The story began with all the planning that went into preparing for the Games. Seoul was selected to host the summer Games in 1981, finishing ahead of the Japanese city of Nagoya who were expected to win. It was the 2nd summer Olympics hosted in Asia after the 1964 Tokyo Games.
There were fascinating displays on the history of the Olympic Games from ancient to modern times with galleries featuring past Olympic venues and a brief history of their highlights. Exhibits included torches, medals, badges, posters, mascots, scarves and coins that have commemorated past Games. We paused for cups of coffee in the cafe which overlooks the Flag Plaza before continuing our tour of the successful 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games held earlier in the year in South Korea. Included in the exhibits here was a curling simulator celebrating the South Korean women’s team silver medal in the sport.
Leaving the museum, we continued on foot to Jamsil, strolling along its leafy promenade beside the Seokchon Lake. From one of its viewpoints we were able to see some of the rides across the bay at Magic Island which is part of the vast Lotte World theme park. Adjacent to the theme park lies the enormous Lotte World Mall so we popped inside to take a look around and find somewhere for lunch.
The mall has 11 floors above ground and 6 underground levels with a separate ‘Avenue’ building aimed at the luxury market. The complex was so big it was almost impossible to find anything we wanted so we settled for some ice creams before heading to the Jamsil metro station.
From there we took a train to Hyehwa station (Line 4, Exit 2) in Daehangno, a theatre and university district. Near the metro station we made a brief visit to Marronnier Park which takes its name from the horse chestnut tree growing in the centre. The park was once the home to Seoul National University but is now an urban park.
Our reason for coming to Daehangno was to visit Naksan Park set high above on Naksan Mountain. This 100m high hill follows the old fortress wall connecting Hyehwamun and Dongdaemun, the two gates in the northern part of old Seoul. The wall was built under the Joseon Dynasty to protect the city from invasion.
After climbing up a steep path and a few too many steps we reached the viewpoint at the top from where we could look out in both directions. Unfortunately it had become quite hazy so our views were not as good as expected. It was a pleasant walk alongside the wall, passing several small cafes and a cluster of old cottages as we walked downhill towards Dongdaemun station for our metro train back to the hotel.
A welcome rest followed before having barbecued chicken for dinner in the nearby district of Insa-dong. Finally, it was back to the hotel to pack up our belongings for the second part of our South Korean adventure the following day.
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