2.5 months in Seoul, South Korea
Sunday, July 29, 2007
SEOUL IN A WEEK: the whirlwind tour - part 1 of 3
Last Saturday, three of my favorite things came to Seoul:

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
On Saturday morning, Kaila and I went to Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun which opened at 9 AM sharp to sell a big stack of the seventh Harry Potter book to eager fans. The crowd was smaller than I expected, and we were able to start reading our new books by 9:30 AM :) Got a cozy armchair at Caribou Coffee in front of a fake fireplace and curled up to read for 3 hours...

Favorite things 2 and 3. My friends Marian and Maddy all the way from Jersey!

My friends' flight got in around dinnertime, so we took the airport limousine bus from Incheon Airport back to Sinchon just in time for a delicious dinner-- Korean barbecue for only 3,500 won per person and fruit-topped yogurt at the local Milky Road.

Sunday, July 22:

The next morning, we went to visit what is considered the most beautiful palace in Seoul-- Changdeokgung. We went on the first English tour of the day, at 11:30 AM.

In front of the palace entrance:

Waiting for the tour to start...

Our tour guide leads the way through the first gate,

The roofs of the palace buildings:

Hole-y windows allow for ventilation in the heat...

Changdeokgoong is unique because it works the natural scenery of the area into its architecture. Ponds, trees, and stone harmonize with the structure and placement of palace buildings. On the Changdeokgoong tour you can also see Biwon, or "Secret Garden".

The "gate of eternity": our tour guide told us that those who walk through the gate will live forever ^^;

Palace guardians on top of the palace roofs. Korean versions of gargoyles, but in our tour guide's opinion, much "cuter".

End of tour. With a final "감사합니다!", we were off to the next stop, nearby Insadong!

Insadong is in walkable distance from Chandeokgoong and is a long street with tons of vendors and traditional shops. The road is closed to cars on the weekend, meaning even more shoppers, vendors, and activities:

Great place for souvenirs; you can shop around because a lot of the shops sell the same things (at sometimes different prices), and Insadong's muuuuccch cheaper than most other tourist gift shops.

The famous Korean celadon, pottery made with a special light green glaze that makes fine crackles on the ceramic surface..

Marian buying a celadon mug to bring home:
Han-ji, special Korean paper. It's handmade paper made from the mulberry tree that resists humidity and pressure, and lasts for over a thousand years. Here it's sold in a variety of patterns:
Lanterns in a side alley:
A mysterious man with an elaborate sign.. not sure who he is? But a lot of passersby stopped to stare.

We stopped for some cold traditional tea at Old Tea Shop, a place that attracted our interest because we'd heard that it had live peacocks and monkeys inside!

Once we went inside, no peacocks or monkeys were evident, but there WERE great decorations and little birds flying all along the ceiling:
We decided to sit in a traditional booth, with floor cushions instead of chairs. We took a look at the mysterious book lying in the corner.

It turned out to be a guest-log, so we took a pen and left a memo on the han-ji. Maybe it'll still be there in 1,000 years!

(Below) We ordered cold pear tea and jujube tea (made of dates),
omijacha, five-flavor tea, (the orange drink below) which was somehow sour, sweet, and spicy at the same time. It is made from berries from the Chinese magnolia tree.
I ordered my favorite, sujongwa, a cinnamon punch (I have a weakness for cinnamon... unfortunately there is no cinnamon gum to be found in Seoul). You can also taste ginger in it. Mine came with a dried persimmon at the bottom.

We also got complimentary rice cakes and puffed rice snacks. Yum!

The bathroom came equipped with a heated toilet bowl and... fish in a stone bowl at your feet.

Cool, refreshed, and ready to head back out into the crowded street:

After walking around Insadong some more and shopping, we went to have hanjungshik for dinner. Hanjungshik is a traditional Korean meal with maaaanny courses. The restaurant we went to is my one of my favorites. It's called Jahamun and is an ordeal to find. Not located near any subway stations, and according to our taxi driver, having erroneous directions on its website. If you want to go, go to Gyeongbokgoong subway station and take a taxi for about 20 minutes (our driver had to call the restaurant from my cell phone for directions).

We ordered the 38,000 won/person meal (their most popular set), which consisted of 18 different dishes! We got to eat the same things that the former royalty of Korea ate... Here are a few:

Seasoned chicken wrapped in eggplant:
Sashimi that came with the traditional Japanese wasabi-soy sauce OR Korean spicy sauce for dipping:

Korean mini savory pancakes..
Stuffed prawns:
Seasoned ox-tail:
Banchan, Korean side dishes, and a special bean paste to eat with rice:

Maddy demonstrating her excellent metal-chopstick abilities.
For dessert we got rice cakes with red bean and walnuts in them, and sujeonggwa, the cinnamon punch, to my delight (sujeonggwa twice in one day!).

Our waitress had to explain all the dishes to us. We also got her to take a photo of us and the table laden heavy with Korean food.
The restaurant was nice enough to phone a taxi to pick us up directly from the restaurant, and let us take our bamboo rice bowls home as souvenirs :) The rice we ate contained dates and chestnuts, and was steamed and served in hollow cylinders of bamboo.
Bellies and brains full of new Korean foods and names, we headed back to Sinchon.
Next day-- Namsan Tower, the highest point in Korea, shopping in Myeongdong, Korean soju bar, and karaoke!
posted by Jane @ 10:49 AM  
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