Monday, August 24, 2015

Seoul

July 30: Thursday

Yay for Seoul! We stayed in a cute Airbnb studio near Insadong (which is on the northern side of the city). 

We start out by walking to the Changdeokgung royal palace and take the Huwon Secret Garden Tour, which is a tour of the more forested and peaceful palace grounds with pavilions ad lotus ponds. One great thing we learned is that the kings of the dynasties that created these spaces were quite philosophical and humble in their approaches to how the buildings were structured (e.g. shaping a pavilion like a boat over a pond to blend in with the natural surroundings), and often emphasized using doorways as a picture frame to look at beautiful scenery and work on scholarly works. Marc made an interesting observation that this was the complete opposite of what we saw in Versailles, which was based on extravagance and manicured landscapes.

Beautiful gateways.
The building is a library, the large gate was only for the emperor to enter.
The pagoda was supposed to be shaped like a boat to appear to be floating on the water.

We went to Myeongdong, a super trendy shopping street.
Crazy, crowded, and a shopper's dream.

First things first, we go to a cat cafe! I'm allergic to cats, but I just can't resist the opportunity. Most of the cats are very sleepy and you can just pet them as they sleep.
This one was a favorite.
So many lazy cats!
Yup.
No sooner had we left the cat cafe, when we realize there is a dog cafe! Being a dog lover, of course we have to go. The dog cafe is not quite as nice as the cat cafe, but it's an opportunity to pet some cuties. Sadly, mostly they were waiting around for the cafe workers to give them treats, and they wouldn't let us play with the puppy since he was too wild.
His face seems to say "I'm not so sure about this guy."
Don't be fooled, the photographer bribed that dog with a treat.

July 31: Friday

Another day of many temples and palaces :) First stop, Changgyeonggung Palace.
Guards in full costume!

We also took photos at the tourist center dressed in traditional clothing. I still am not sure if Marc's outfit is appropriate or not...
I dunno if he's allowed to wear that...

Stopped by the National Folk Museum of Korea (mostly to escape the heat, let's be honest). 

Then it was off to Deoksugung Palace.  We were lucky to be there during the changing of the guards. Which was a long, and quite elaborate process which involved a crew of at least 30 marching through the palace grounds playing music, passing various boxes and keys between elaborately dressed soldiers, beating a large drum, and even doing a sword fighting demonstration.



We then stopped by City Hall to see one of the largest indoor green walls (a wall of all plants). However, there was some sort of labor demonstration outside, so we booked it in the other direction afterwards. 



August 1: Saturday

Probably Marc's favorite day in Seoul, we took a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the border between North and South Korea. 

The first stop on the tour is the Third Tunnel of Aggression. This is the third tunnel that South Korea found in 1978 where North Korea was trying to tunnel under the DMZ to South Korea. The tunnel is 1.1 miles long and about 230 feet below ground level. Even though it's only about 2 people wide, and not even 6 feet high in some places, they estimated that about 30,000 lightly armed men would be able to pass through the tunnel in about an hour! Another crazy fact is that when South Korea confronted North Korea about the tunnel, they claimed they were looking for coal and subsequently painted the walls with coal powder to corroborate their story. They don't let you take pictures inside, sorry folks.

Next we went to the Dolsom train station, which is the last train stop in South Korea. We were told that many South Koreans actually work in North Korea, where production is relatively cheap. For example, if you have a Samsung phone, chances are that it was made in North Korea.


After a security briefing with the US soldiers that work at the DMZ, we head over to the Joint Security Area. This is the only place where North and South Korea face off daily. There are a few small houses that straddle the actual border, where they hold official talks between the two sides. They let us go in and for a few minutes, we were standing in North Korea. 
Temporarily in North Korea.
Serious business.
Outside, the Republic of Korea (ROK) guards stand at attention all day facing the North Korean soldiers. These ROK guys were serious business, and we were warned not to get too close! There was only on North Korean guard on duty that day, so he was clearly out numbered.

Finally, we went to a lookout point where we saw the city of Kijong-dong, which is a propaganda village that is largely uninhabited, but meant to look like a prospering North Korean village. This picture is terrible, but it shows a North Korean flag and flagpole. The story goes that when South Korea built a flagpole, North Korea immediately responded by building an even taller flagpole with a larger flag. No joke, hilarious.


August 2: Monday



We take a trip to one of the largest open air markets, Namdaemun. There are a ton of vendors selling everything from clothing to selfie sticks to bed sheets.

Then we took the Namsan cable car up to the N Seoul Tower. Similar to Paris, they have locks with people's names written on them, and even lock "trees."
Practicing my Korean girl selfie poses.

We saw two cool cultural performances in the N Seoul Tower plaza with musicians who wore swirly ribbon hats and another where fighters chopped up some bamboo.
Marc and the N Seoul Tower.

That night, we saw Nanta! the cooking show which featured a little bit of everything: drumming with knives, some dancing, singing, plate tossing, slight of hand, comedy, etc. It was impressive that they did all the show with real knives, though the ticket price was a bit expensive. 





August 3: Tuesday

We decide to do our own things for the day :) I decide to go shopping (of course). I started at "Ladies Street" near Ewah Women’s University. Strangely, the 90's are currently completely en vogue in Korea. We’re talking spaghetti strapped dresses with white shirts underneath, scrunchies, flannel, jean skirts, platform sandals, overalls, etc. And all size SX, sigh. Still determined to shop, I head out to the shopping area in Myeongdong and find a few cute purchases.  

Marc walked around, but he said he didn't find anything interesting except these mildly interesting bunnies that were lounging in an open cage in a random park.
These rabbits are bored.
Later in the evening end up in Insadong to meet up with Marc for dinner. Insadong is actually our right in our neighborhood and is known for its crafts, antiques, and tea houses. There are tons of traditional Korean restaurants crowded along narrow alleyways. We ended up eating somewhere in Insadong almost every night!

Next stop, Seoreksan National Forrest!

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