The US Ambassador's guide to biking around Korea
"Oh my goodness," laughs Ambassador Kathleen Stephens, when asked about her reputation as a hard-core biker. "I ride bicycles not motorcycles."
The U.S. Ambassador, who has been one of the most popular ambassadors to Korea to date, and who is currently wrapping up her three-year term, brightens when talking about her favorite bike routes and favorite Korean food.
"I found, somewhat to my surprise when I came back to Korea three years ago, that Korea is a great place to ride bikes, whether you ride road bikes or mountain bikes," says Ambassador Stephens, who lived in Korea at various times throughout her life prior to being appointed ambassador.
When she first arrived in Seoul, she rode mountain bikes almost exclusively. While in Seoul, she was introduced to the pleasure of road biking, and has done much of her recent riding on a road bike.
"Seoul is a city that's famous for changing rapidly, and in the three years I've been here, every time I've gone out for a bike ride I've found a different trail, and that some trail that I was on earlier has been improved," she says. "It's really quite amazing."
In the city, Ambassador Stephens loves to ride along the Han River, where one can see "the heart of modern Seoul."
"If I want to have more of a vertical experience, I like to ride up Namsan, the mountain here in the heart of Seoul," she says. "Or up Bukak skyway, which is to the north. And I can ride to both those places from right here in the house."
Ambassador Stephens has completed a number of bike rides around the country. To mark the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War last summer, she went for a ride that was also a historical excursion into the deep countryside.
As she is known throughout the country as being very approachable, due in large part to her engaging blog, it's little surprise that she was greeted warmly by veterans and older Koreans with vivid memories of the war.
Ambassador Stephens also enjoys riding along Namhae (South Sea), and says she would like to visit Jeju, a "biker's paradise."
"You can actually take a boat from Incheon to Jeju-do," she says, adding that people often do so with their bikes.
"It leaves from Incheon at night, you listen to the Filipino band all the way down, you get off in the morning at Jeju-do, you start riding."
The ambassador switches effortlessly between English and Korean (track video to 3:15 to see her speaking Korean).
When asked about her favorite Korean foods, she says she can't say that she has one particular favorite, but what she likes about Korea is how the local flavor has been retained in small restaurants in Seoul and all over the country.
"What is my favorite restaurant? It's usually the last restaurant I was in," she says, laughing. "There are so many places to eat here, I think it's almost a shame to go to the same place time after time."
And what will she miss most about Korea once her term of duty is up?
The people, she says.
"It was truly a great honor working as the American Ambassador to Korea for the past three years," she says in Korean.
"I was deeply moved by how welcoming the Korean people were. And although I am leaving soon, the Korean people will always remain in my heart."
CNNGo's interview with Ambassador Stephens was conducted at her residence in Jeong-dong, Seoul. To read the Korean language article about the interview, click here.
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