Nature has a way of helping you cope with change. There’s a brief interlude before the onslaught of severe cold or heat. These intervals don’t last for very long; but give you the respite, you’d need, to handle the difficult months to come. After a cold, seemingly never-ending winter and a chaotic trip back home; I couldn’t have been more ready for spring.
The first week of April marks the start of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Seoul. However, it’s always better to check the exact dates on local tourism sites, before planning your trip to Seoul. The window of the ‘Pink Sky’ is narrow and it’s highly possible that you’d miss full blooms, if you’re a couple of days late.
Now, as a tourist/traveller; the palaces, mountains, and parks are the most popular spots for cherry blossom viewing. It’s where everyone will be. If you’re only visiting Seoul, it makes good sense to brave the crowds. If, you’re a recluse like me, or are staying for a little longer, it’s quite easy to avoid the tourist attractions and yet, enjoy one of the best times to visit South Korea.
The Streets of Seoul
When you’re living in Seoul, at times, you tend to take things for granted and get lost in the routine. After being away for a month, I spent the first week meeting friends. And it’s strange because I should have been outside — watching the buds bloom. Fortunately, the streets of Seoul are lined with a diverse bunch of trees — perfect for fall or spring viewing. The quiet back alleys or even the route to the local subway station are perfect for blossom spotting.
Gyeongui Line Forest Trail
The Gyeongui Forest Line Trail runs from Hyochang Park to Hongik University. It’s an old railway line that was spruced up last year. And, just as everything develops at a rapid pace here, the forest line wasn’t very different either. Over the past year, we’ve witnessed this trail change in a matter of months. It’s where we love to walk and take in the gorgeous bits of green hiding the towering bits of grey.
Come spring, the bare trees burst with colour. I’ve often wondered, if the locals ever get bored with the beauty of the blossoms. Instead, they seem to enjoy every bit of it and are as much in awe of this beautiful sight as us. The best part of this recreational forest trail is that — it isn’t the least bit touristy. So, you’d see people jogging or walking under a canopy of fully bloomed trees. It’s also the time couples become more noticeable and with the weather being so fantastic — I wouldn’t blame them. Love is definitely in the air. And when you walk under the canopy of white trees, it’s even possible to believe in magic.
Cherry blossoms are either pink or white or both colours. Sometimes, the natural lighting may make the same blooms look different. Prune blooms look similar to cherry blossoms and the fragrance (or absence) is what separates the two. Since I’m not an expert, I’ve found it hard to differentiate between the two.
Every Wednesday, my Korean friends and I, meet to read (in English and Korean) and discuss books. This month, we decided to read outdoors. On a sunny day, we entered the bare grounds of Changdeokgung Palace. I’d visited this palace, two years back, on my first trip to Seoul. By the third week of April, the blossoms had faded away, though I imagine the palace would look really beautiful during full bloom.
There’s an entry gate to the Changgyeonggung Palace from Changdeokgung Palace. It was my first visit here and I was truly captivated by the lush greenery of the botanical gardens. Few trees were still in bloom. During the peak blossom period, these gardens would have looked more stunning. The quiet environs of the pond was perfect for our reading and to soak in the beauty of nature.
Yeouido Spring Flower Festival
On a weekend, during Yeouido Spring Flower Festival, walking through the streets of Yeouido can turn out to be a nightmare. Crowds of tourists and locals throng the streets and beautiful as the trees may look, it isn’t the best experience. There’s a lot of activity here and it’s nice to get a look at local artists and entertainers.
Although, it will be hard to keep your eyes of the trees, the tulips on display are equally gorgeous and worth every photo moment.
My Korean friends, Jebi and Jeongran, (from the bookclub) wanted to show me a quieter trail for blossom viewing. Weekday afternoons are perfect for escaping people. Jeongran showed us a quiet path leading — through a forest — to the Seoul City Wall. If we continued further, we could’ve have hiked along Bugaksan Mountain. I’d already hiked this mountain, last year, and I didn’t have my passport, so I couldn’t continue. Anyway, we decided to walk around and explore Waryong Park.
As we climbed a series of stairs and reached higher, we left the city behind. Seoul City looked beautiful — tucked between — cherry blossoms and green trees.
What happens when the blossoms fade away? After a rain of petals (for a couple of days), the streets and sidewalks, of Seoul, get littered with cherry blossom dust. Even in their last moments, there’s a strange kind of beauty accompanied by a sweet smell of decay. Soon it will be summer and the earth will heat up. I think those fleeting moments are perfect to welcome the change in seasons.