July in Korea means leaving home
with an industrial-strength umbrella. For about six weeks, summer cloudbursts
called sonagi in Korean routinely drop 20 centimeters (8 inches) or more in a
single day, swelling rivers and inundating streets. “Sonagi” is also the name of
one of Korea’s most beloved short stories. Penned by Hwang Sun-won and published
in 1953 during the Korean War, Hwang captured a nostalgic snapshot of innocent
love between children. The story has inspired countless TV and film scenes of
couples who discover a romantic bond when a downpour leaves them huddled
together beneath an umbrella or a tree.
While an unexpected summer
soaking can be fun, keeping dry can be romantic, too! For example, why not take
your date to a museum or gallery for a dry (and air conditioned) summer visit?
But if you’re looking for something off the beaten track, greater Seoul also
offers less-conventional activities that can win you some extra romance points,
get you out of the house and won’t leave you soaking wet! Here are a few
|Incheon’s Airport Oasis
The Korean Peninsula’s hot, wet summers and cold and snowy
winters have cultivated hardy native plants. While spring is when forsythia and
cherry blossoms burst awake from their winter sleep, it’s during the summer that
Korea’s parks and forests become truly verdant. Unfortunately, summer is also
when seasonal monsoons bring weeks of wind, rain and mud. Given this reality, a
nature lover’s best bet might be visiting an indoor garden.
controlled microclimate of a greenhouse can host an exotic mix of plants and
flowers. One case in point is the surprising strand of tree ferns located inside
Incheon International Airport. Native to South Korea’s sub-tropical Jeju Island,
the three-meter-tall trees in the Transportation Center greet passengers as they
transit between the AREX Airport Express station to Incheon’s main passenger
Called Stargarden, it’s two sturdy glass and steel tunnels
softened by 9,000 herbs, cacti, aquatic plants (and waterfalls!) and hanging
plants. An attractive boardwalk rises and dips through 2,000-square meters of
space that’s been divided into seven themed gardens. Located amidst a cavernous
hall in one of the world’s busiest airports, the ambitious botanical space is an
unexpected treat for the weary traveler.
On a recent visit, an exhibition
featured the winners of a design contest for the airport’s second terminal
(exhibit runs through August 3rd). Scale models of seven honored designs were on
display, including the winning plan by a joint-South Korean-American consortium.
With construction scheduled to begin in May 2013, the renderings suggest that
Terminal Two will expand Terminal One’s experiment with indoor landscaping.
Innovative approaches to airport management is a major reason why
Incheon has received Airports Council International’s “Best Airport Worldwide”
award for six years running. In the words of USA Today, a major American daily
newspaper, “Why can’t all airports be like Incheon?”
Incheon International Airport’s Stargarden
Hours : Open 24 hours.
Tel : 032-741-2686 Ext.
Web : http://cgg.cha.go.kr/
Changgyeonggung Palace’s Daeonsil
Cost : 1,000
Hours : 09:00-18:30 April-October; 09:00-17:30 November, March;
09:00-17:30 December-February; Closed Mondays.
Web : http://cgg.cha.go.kr/
more on Changgyeonggung Palace, click here
In Search of New
And finally, if horticulture isn’t your hobby of choice,
we’ll try something more athletic. Especially when the elements make exercising
out-of-doors difficult or dangerous, it’s important to find other ways to stay
fit. Cases in point are the growing number of indoor climbing gyms. While
Korea’s legion of very fashionable hikers have long made a sport of traversing
the country’s mountainous terrain, rock and even ice climbing have recently
emerged as popular pastimes. Peak climbing season typically runs April through
November, but even the most seasoned climbers head indoors during the monsoon
As a result, in recent years a number of Seoul-area climbing
schools have opened to help climbers hone their technique during the off-season.
One of the best facilities for a wide range of skill sets is the Kolon Alpine
School Education Center. Located directly below the bald granite head of
Bukhansan National Park’s Insubong peak, the seven-level center includes retail
space, classrooms and two climbing rooms.
Watching as climbers
deliberately plan their movement across a wall covered in grips of various
sizes, shapes and colors, it’s easy to see why climbing is an excellent
full-body exercise. The careful calibration of one’s weight and balance relies
heavily on the legs. Newcomers to the sport will soon learn that climbing makes
use of muscles that most of us have forgotten we had. But for men and women,
alike, climbing is a great way to gain muscle tone without adding significant
bulk. Furthermore, those interested in indoor training don’t have to invest on
expensive equipment, since most indoor gyms require only a good pair of climbing
Should you want something more adventurous, Kolon Alpine School
has also installed an ice climbing wall. With a Guinness Book of World Records
plaque to prove it, the school boasts the world’s highest indoor wall of ice.
Once inside the chilly chamber, ropes dangle beside an igloo and ice-making
machine. Especially during these hot and humid summer months, I can’t think of a
better way to cool off.
Kolon Alpine School Education Center
Cost : Inquire
about class and membership fees.
Hours : 14:00-23:00 Monday-Friday;
10:00-18:00 Saturdays, Sundays; Closed Holidays
Web : http://cafe.daum.net/alpinekolon
|At first glance, the persistent
rain of the summer monsoons can put a literal damper on your plans to get out
and enjoy all that Korea has to offer. Rather than let the summer sonagi squash
your sense of adventure, however, see the rain as the perfect reason to venture
off the typical travel itinerary and experience more of what Korea has to offer.|