This was a day planned for a lot of walking so I ventured out alone to Suwon on the outskirts of Seoul. I took the metro all the way there. It was a little long compared to taking a commuter train, but the easiness and cost (about US$1.50 or so) made up for the time. When I arrived at the Suwon main station, I found the Tourist Information office (outside of the main entrance 100 yards to the left), to get direction on reaching the Hwaesong Fortress. A short but scary 15 minute bus ride and I was there at the Paldalmun, one of the entrance to the Fortress. Well, at least as much as I could tell since the entire gate was surrounded by scaffolding and a tarp for renovations. Too bad.
I expected to see a fortress, maybe even on a hill, especially since this was a UNESCO World Heritage site
. Not so. At this point, the only part of a fortress was this giant "box" hiding the Paldalmun. Fellow travelers, do not despair, there is the more to this fortress than you can see at this point! Map in hand, I navigated to the right in search of the remaining parts of the fortress. All the remains, really are the walls which at one time, surrounded the enclosed space reserved for royalty. Today, it encircles a portion of the town of Suwon. I found a bastion and climbed up the stairs to start my 5+km hike around the fortress.
At this point I could not see and path to the outside of the walls so I opted to start my journey walking to the wall itself. I was lucky as there were very few people on my journey which made for some excellent photo ops.
A few turrets down the way, I decided to venture on the outside of the wall for a bit and view the Fortress from a different vantage point for a bit.
Shortly after I excited the walls and walked up the narrow street, an elderly woman came towards me, grabbed one of my hands, put two candies in it, smiled and walked away. I smiled in return, thanked her and continued my journey smiling and my heart filled with thanks for this kind gesture.
Eventually, I ran into a small group of tourist who were walking in the opposite direction. A little later at about the halfway mark, I encountered a group of 50 or so high school students on a field trip. I was greeted by loud "Hello Sir
", "High Five
" and other English language greetings accompanied by laughs and giggles. They were a fun bunch of kids, and there I was smiling again.
I then made my way to the bronze statue of King Jeongjo. Quite an impressive monument in addition to the statue itself. I offers a great view of the entire Fortress area, a fitting place for a King surveying his dominion. There was one more hike necessary to complete the tour of the Fortress walls, but it was ALL uphill at a very steep incline. This guy was too tired to make that last bit, so I took the easy road to complete the tour of the Fortress! I know, I know, but after all, I am not as young as I used to be!!!
I walked back a ways to visit to the Hwaseong Haenggung (the Royal Palace) which was also almost deserted. My kind of visit!! As I entered the first courtyard, some children were playing some of the traditional games of the era left there for visitors to enjoy. One, which seemed quite difficult to me, was to throw and arrow into a vertical metal tube/holder.
The young boy too was struggling, but a young man came along and with his first, second and third tries made it in. I was impressed!
I am always amazed at the "simplicity" of palaces in this part of the world compared to the palaces of Europe. They too are large, broken down into quarters, but seem to be more about quiet, tranquility and peace and comfortable living. In Europe, they are more about status and displays of wealth it seems. Just different approaches to life I guess, neither good or bad, just different.
I definitely had my exercise to day, but it was well worth the journey. Too bad Mom was not able to be there with me to enjoy this walk along the walls of history.