We spent the past weekend in Seoul and had such a great time!We took Friday off work and headed to the bus station in the morning for our four hour bus ride. We got to the station 10 minutes before the bus left, grabbed tickets, and jumped on the bus. The seats were big and reclined a fair ways so it was much more comfortable than I had always imagined bus rides in Asia. We certainly enjoyed taking a nice long nap. When we woke up, we were driving through the middle of Korea and it was really beautiful! It was very green and there were mountains and fields of rice on both sides.
We got to Seoul in the early afternoon and ventured into the subway to find our way to our hotel. Both Ryan and I have always loved taking public transportation - we’d love to live in a city where we could take the metro to work everyday. We finally made it and we dropped our stuff out and headed out into town – our first stop was to grab some lunch. We found a little dumpling stand and had some of those – they were excellent. A little known fact about me is that dumplings are one of my culinary weaknesses so our trip was already off to a good start after we got some of those!
The weather was a little rainy but we didn’t want to let that stop us, so we caught a cab and headed to one of the 5 palaces that are within Seoul. Our guidebook had said if you only have time to see one, make sure it is this one: Changdeokgung. We walked around the palace – we really like the architecture and how colorful everything is!
There is a “secret garden” within this palace and we wanted to check that out as well – you had to be on a tour to be able to go into this area and the English tour had already finished, so we signed up for the Korean tour anyway – we hung out with the group and looked around. It was great! So much of the buildings were for reading and relaxation and it was surprisingly peaceful for being in the middle of one of the world’s largest cities.
This building is a two story building for reading – the first story is a library and the second story is reserved for quiet reading…I think my Aunt Elly & Aunt Cathy would love this place so this picture is dedicated to them.
After this tour, we walked around the Namdaemun market that was near our hotel – it was huge – it spanned for blocks with people out selling everything you can imagine from socks to purses to pineapple on a stick. There were even stores underground!
Our friends had told us to check out the International area of Seoul which is called Itaewon (eee-tay-wahn). They recommended a Mexican restaurant which was good – margaritas and fajitas were just what we needed. It’s amazing how much you miss the small things from back home…like sour cream and restaurants who serve margaritas! They also recommended that we check out the area behind the Hamilton hotel because there are lots of fun little restaurants and bars. We did just that and it was such a lively place – so many people out and about and lots of different places to go. We grabbed a few beers in several of the bars and then headed back home because it started pouring down with rain!
The next day, we woke up early and headed to the USO for our DMZ/JSA tour (see the post here: DMZ/JSA Blog Post). Once we were back from the tour, we headed to the Seoul tower. To get to the top, you take an outdoor elevator up to the cable car, the cable car up to the base of the tower, and then an indoor elevator to get to the top of the tower. Once at the top, it was very obvious just how large Seoul is – it stretches for miles and miles. They had markers all over for how far different cities are from where we were standing. One thing that I thought was crazy was that we are twice as far from home in the US as we are from the North Pole. I never thought I would say that!
Afterwards, we walked around one of the other areas of Seoul called “Myeongdong” which was bustling – there were tons of people walking around the shops. We really enjoyed all of the energy and it was fun to look around the shops.
We started to get hungry and being typical Americans, we started to crave pizza. We looked around for a bit and couldn’t find any Western restaurants and then we turned a corner and there was an Italian restaurant! We were happy to have the opportunity to satisfy our craving (that does not happen nearly as often in our current hometown of Okpo) and we ordered some pizza & lasagna – it was surprisingly delicious!
Afterwards, we grabbed a cab back over to the Itaewon area of town to enjoy a beer and people watch a bit. This was great because there is such a wide range of people walking around – there were many expats from all of the world and also quite a few Koreans – there were all different ages, too – it was really fun to see such a vibrant group of people enjoying themselves!
Our last day, we slept in a little bit and then headed out for some Dunkin Donuts (we like getting reminders of home sometimes) and as we were getting our coffee, we realized we were standing next to the side entrance to one of the other palaces. There was a guard standing outside and I remebered that they have a Changing of the Guard ceremony several times a day. We decided to hang out and watch it. It turned out to be a good find…certainly unique.
We walked around the city a little more and then decided to grab some more dumplings (they really are my weakness) and then find our way to the bus station to head home.
Right before we went in the train station, I decided to try on a pair of shoes at one of the stands – they were everywhere and I wanted to see if I could get some. I tried on the biggest size and it was not nearly big enough…so, moral of the story is that American feet may or may not be too big for Korean shoes that are sold in the markets. Oh well…it was worth a shot!
We really can’t wait to check out Seoul again – we had such a great time and it was a wonderful city!