Thursday, January 29, 2015

Touring Incheon, South Korea

What better to do on a commitment-free weekend than go on a trip to another city in Korea? Well, that's what we decided to do about two weeks ago (yes, I am behind in blogging!). When we arrived at the USO office for a trip to Incheon, we found we were the only one's on this particular tour (Wait, not everyone wants to walk around outside all day in January?) and so we were loaded into a passenger van with our tour guide for the day.

When you hear "Incheon" most people immediately think of the Incheon Airport, as that is the main reason for most to go west of Seoul. The airport is actually slightly removed from downtown Incheon, however, and all the fun things to see and do there. The van ride took about one hour, even with a bit of traffic on the expressway, and we soon found ourselves in the main tourist area of Jung-gu.

Our first stop was the Incheon Port Modern Architecture Museum, on the street of themed museums, for some background on the area. Incheon is the 2nd largest port in South Korea (Busan is the largest), it has a large amount of reclaimed and rebuilt land near the shore, and it has a complex military history. We picked up some handy maps, a complete guidebook in English about the many attractions in town (titled Nuri Street), and headed back outside to explore.

A model of the port, with the man-made lock system.

Next up was a museum about the railroad, early postal service, first naval academy, and banking, all housed in the former 1st Bank of Japan office building.

We happened upon a temporary paper flower exhibit next door, 
with work by 김 은 옥 (Kim Eun Ok).

These paper flowers were on hats and other accessories used in some spiritual ceremonies.

I found the next picture curious, so I asked our tour guide to translate the captions for us. What she described sounded very much like spirit possession and a voo-doo ceremony. It was interesting to see how uncomfortable this made our guide, who felt it was very scary.

Due to its location on the west coast, Incheon was populated by a large number of Chinese immigrants, which resulted in a large Chinatown neighborhood. We turned the corner and found ourselves at the base of the Boundary Stairs - the left side was where the Chinese settlement ended and the right side was where the Japanese settlement began. If you look closely, you’ll see that both the pillars and lanterns are of two different styles as they lead up to a statue of Confucius.

At the top of the stairs we were greeted by some great golden dragons and then turned left to walk down the Samgukji Wall Painting Street. 

The wall features scenes and characters from the Romance of Three Kingdoms, a Chinese novel with fables and lessons on how to behave during the Han Dynasty. 

There were also some fun places to take some selfies and family portraits along the way. Michael looks like a floating head in this one:

At the end of the street, we entered into the unmistakably adorned Chinatown - red lanterns, golden dragons, and ornate architecture. There is a great example of a traditional Chinese row house, vendors, restaurants, three giant gates (pai-lou), a cultural center, and much more.

A traditional Chinese row house:

One of the many “firsts” for Incheon (there is a entire wall dedicated to them on the History and Culture street) is the fact that the first Korean-style black bean noodles, called Jjajangmyeon, were made here. So of course we had to go to the Jjajangmyeon Museum and then have some for lunch! 

Did you know that there are three different lengths of chop sticks? And that Korean chopsticks are slightly longer than Japanese ones? Of course they are - you know you need to be able to reach all of those tasty side dishes!

Early delivery boxes:

Only seafood dishes should be served on this plate:

Our tour guide, Jeanie, talking about all of the types of instant noodles.

We wandered through Chinatown for a bit and bought some pastries.

I had to take some more pictures of dragons - there were a lot of them.

And then it was time for Jjajangmyeon!

And this rather interesting decor choice...

Filled up on noodles, and ready for more walking, we headed up the hill towards the 3rd Pai-lou and Jayu park. I stopped to take lots of pictures along the way.

Stairs!!  This is set #1.

There were some interesting tile murals on either side of the stairs:

Our guide said that this is the gate as you exit Chinatown, welcoming you back to Korea - thus the ornate colors.

The park is guarded by the animals of the zodiac.

There is a large monument meant to commemorate the relationship between South Korea and the USA.

Also known as Freedom Park, this area affords a great view of the port and is home to the statue of General MacArthur, in honor of the role he played in turning the tide during the Korean War, as well as a few other memorial pieces. 
Here's a view of Wolmi Island (more to come on that in a minute).

General MacArthur's statue:

We headed down out of the park (more stairs) and went past the wall of "Firsts" - first train in Korea, first port, first jjajamyeon, first postal system, first foreigner hotel...there were many more.

Just outside the Jung-gu office building, there was this random, interesting lantern display of snowmen and musical bugs.

Since we hadn’t had enough walking for the day (okay, I had, but little did I know the fun was just about to begin!), we got back in the van for a quick trip to Wolmido Island. Called Wolmi for short, this is popular tourist attraction throughout the year, with a hiking park, observatory, gardens, a food experience center, a sports stadium, and even a theme park

Our guide let us out at the East Gate, near a traditional family house.  We found some fun picture places and tried our hands at the traditional Korean games. 

I love, love, LOVE this next action shot - he's kicking the equivalent of a hacky sack.


Then Jeannie led us to a “hiking trail” up the mountain towards the Wolmi Observatory. I say “hiking trail” as it was really just stairs - lot and lots of stairs - 475 stairs, to be exact. I know this, as they have signs posted telling you how many stairs there are and how many calories you’ve burned every 20 steps or so. This is actually pretty awesome, and the view and scenery were great, but if you have a bad knee like I do, you MAY want to find a different way to go!

Wolmi Mt...the 2nd set of stairs for the day...  

How many stairs...oh, just 119 - that's doable...and look at the calories you'll burn!

Look - here's your calorie burning tally so far - way to go!

Wait, what? 356 more stairs!? Ugh! 


We made it!! (Okay, I made it!) Photo op with the Asian Game mascots!

Wait - ack, more stairs!

The Asian Para Games mascots:

The view at the top was great!
 Here is a shot of Chinatown and Freedom Park (trees on right).

The port and modern day lock system:

Wolmi's theme park, My-Land:

Thoroughly spent and with legs shaking (all three of us!), we got back into the van for a 20 minute ride to our last sightseeing stop - The Memorial Hall for Incheon Landing Operation. 

It’s an impressive complex built by the Incheon citizens to commemorate the decisive military landing that took place on September 15, 1950 under MacArthur’s leadership. 

There is an indoor museum, movie theaters, outdoor displays of military vehicles, and the hilltop Tower of Liberty Protection and flame.  Right about here, my phone battery died and my picture taking was over - until I grabbed Rob's phone and started using his.  :)

The flags of the countries that aided South Korea during the Korean War:

A moment of levity in a somber scene:

The indoor exhibit was very interesting - lots of facts, pictures, memorabilia, and interactive screens.

At the top of the monument's hill is a sculpture called The Tower of Liberty Protection, with an eternal flame at its base.

We had a great, full, tiring day with something for everyone - if you happen to go, just wear comfortable shoes and bring extra batteries for your camera or phone!

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