“Life is like the river, sometimes it sweeps you gently along and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere.”
Life prospers around rivers. And when a river cuts across a densely packed urban city — it literally brings in a breath of fresh air. We’re incredibly lucky to have the River Hangang (한강) balancing those dizzying high-rises with spots of blue and green.The Han is home to dainty dandelions, cooing couples, and adventure seeking enthusiasts. It’s also the perfect place to spend a lazy weekend in Seoul and switch off from the stresses of city life.
In April, after a rather cold spell of winter and brooding skies, the sun had finally come out again. The air quality gradually improved and it was time to head outside. We had sold my mountain bike on Craigslist Korea and bought a secondhand bike from a student who was leaving Seoul. I needed to test my new bike, before we tried longer cycling trips along the Han. That was reason enough for us to wake up early on a Sunday morning and hit the cycling path along the Han. We started at Mapo and continued right upto Mangwon.
Seoul Battleship Park
On one of our earlier trips, we had cycled all the way to the outskirts of Paju (the closest city to the border) from Mapo. Back then, our regular rest spot was being converted into something new. I had heard about the Battleship Park before, but I didn’t expect it to be so easily accessible from the cycling path. Our regular rest spot had been converted into a Museum/Park of sorts in less than a year. I’m not a fan of war museums or anything related to war. But, it had been months since we travelled anywhere, and it was too tempting to skip. So we parked our bikes outside and bought 2 tickets.
The main entrance leads to an information area. Boards and interactive video displays give a background about the Korean Navy and the battleships on display.
The winning entries of a children’s painting competition were exhibited on the other side of the room. These kids were either incredibly gifted or had very pushy parents. I wanted to bet on their talent and also hoped that their interpretation of battleships would be understood by adults someday. We’d probably have a better world if we saw it through the eyes of a kid.
Exterior of the Submarine
A large group of school kids were on a field trip. I felt a little sorry for the kids who were trying so hard to makes sense of those knobs and what the captain (guide) was saying. Some of them looked bored. I was happy to be an adult. Trailing a group of kids is never a good idea, unless you like waiting until the instructions are over. So we decided to come back after exploring the floor above.
History of the Hangang River (First Floor)
The first floor has a timeline of critical events in Korean history linking them to importance of the River Hangang.
The first floor gives you a bird’s eye view of the submarine below and the multipurpose square beyond it. But if you want to get an idea of the scale of the battleships, you need to head to the rooftop observatory above.
The view from the rooftop was pretty amazing and we got a panoramic view of the Han, the cityscape, Frigate Seoul and the multipurpose square.
Patrol Killer Medium
A bridge connects the information centre to the deck of the Patrol Killer Medium. These battleships were first commissioned in the ’70s and were primarily used to guard the Korean coastline. In addition, the Patrol Killer Mediums were also used during the wars against the North in Yeonpyeong.
The school kids were done with their instructions and we had the deck pretty much to ourselves when we got there. It was fascinating to stand on the deck of the Patrol Killer Medium. It was also comforting to be stationary on solid ground; I doubt I’d be as enthusiastic on water or choppy waves. The chair for the person who mans the artillery looked hard to get into. We tried to figure out how he or she would try to fit inside and couldn’t think of a logical solution. It just makes you respect the armed forces all the more.
Wheelhouse & Story of the Navy Video Room
The lower chambers are divided into a media room — narrating the story of the Korean naval fleet. There were smaller rooms with knobs and levers that looked extremely complicated to the untrained eye. The smell of paint and metal filled the closed confines of the room. The wheelhouse was facing the multipurpose square and for a moment, I tried to imagine: how would it be to steer this beauty.
If you’re tall, you may want to watch out because the doors have low ceilings and it’s quite possible to bang your head.
The submarine isn’t meant for people who suffer from claustrophobia. I was happy to have the hull cut open so I didn’t have to worry about that. Part of it reminded me of our old physics lab with oscilloscopes and knobs. Those knobs and wires looked super complicated.
The Frigate Seoul was constructed in the ’80s and was decommissioned after a successful stint guarding Korean waters. The entry to this battleship is closer to the cycling path.
We passed through dimly lit corridors leading from the officers’ quarters (separate for male and female) into the soldiers’ mess. Obviously, the captain’s room was the best and the most comfortable.
At this point, I must have got a bit tired because it didn’t seem like fun anymore. The narrow spaces and close confines got to me. It’s difficult to avoid thinking about war and its effects when you’re confronted with reality. It’s harder to get a better picture of the view outside when you restricted by a narrow window.
The wheelhouse pointed towards Seoul City. It was much bigger and had complicated equipment. Some ajusshis were clicking selfies with the city as a backdrop.
The deck has multiple levels to explore. We looked around for a bit and gave up eventually.
It was good to head back to the cycling path and return to regular life…