Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Seoul: Day 5/6 - More sightseeing, a little shopping and heading home

Our last full day in Seoul was a beautiful sunny day! We were headed for Changdeokgung Palace...or at least that was the plan. We arrived (and bought tickets) for what we thought was the Palace, but it turned out we were actually at Jongmyo Shrine. Since it wasn't in our original plan it was a nice sightseeing bonus.

The Jongmyo Shrine is where royal ancestors are enshrined and memorial services are preformed for deceased kings and queens. When a king or a queen died mourning at continue at the palace for three years. After the three year mourning period the memorial tablet of the deceased would be moved to Jongmyo and enshrined. The Jongmyo Shrine has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1995 because it is the only Confucian state in all of Asia that has preserved its royal shrine and continues to preform royal ancestral rites.
This is one of the buildings where the tablets are enshrined.

We did make it to Changdeokgung Palace, it was just a little further down the road. This palace was built in 1405, a secondary palace to Gyeongbokgung. The entire palace was destroyed in a fire in the Japanese invasion of 1592. It was restored in 1610 and served as the main palace for 270 years. There is a secret garden that is only accessed with a guided tour of the facilities. We decided to just wonder on our own and skip the garden (I had read mixed reviews so I didn't feel that we were missing much).


As we were exiting form the metro for our next stop, I tripped and fell on the escalator (it was not running at the time). It made a loud noise, I had Baby O in the carrier, there was a large crowd also exiting and it was embarrassing! A nice man ran over to make sure I was ok and help me up. I had bruised/cut knees like a little kid.  Thankfully it was just my knees that were hurt and not Baby O.  Our next stop was to Cheonggyecheon Stream (I forgot to take pictures here). It was not as exciting as I thought it was going to be, but I did read that going at night is better because there are many colorful lights. After walking along the stream for a little bit we stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a snack.

Before heading back to the hotel I had one other thing to do, I was in search of some shoes that I had seen at a store in the metro station. We retraced our path from the previous day (when I had seen the shoes) but couldn't find the shop.  We had just given up when J was looking for a restroom and their they were! And they had my size! Hooray!

Dinner on our last night in Seoul was delicious! I believe that it is called dak galbi, it was a spicy tomato based sauce with chicken, cabbage, potato, onions, carrots and tteok (a rice cake that looked like giant noodle).  All of this was cooked on a round cast iron skillet in the middle of our table. (Thankfully no one asked to hold Baby O, he actually fell asleep while our food was cooking.)

The next day was a long one but uneventful day. We spent pretty much all day at airports (in VERY long lines at Incheon). It was a great trip but we were ready to be home.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Seoul: Day 4 - A Palace, a Caprisun and a Temple, oh my!

On the forth day we headed to Gyeongbokgung Palace. The palace was orgininally built in 1395, just after the Joseon Dynasty was founded. Gyeongbokgung means "the palace greatly blessed by heaven". The palace was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592-'98. A secondary palace, Changdeokgung, was constructed and served as the main palace. Gyeongbokgung was left deserted  until 1867 when it was reconstructed by the Prince Regent. This rebuild was mostly torn down during the Japanese occupation of Korea. In 1990 a restoration effort began, starting with the Heungnyemun Gate.
Baby O was a rockstar in Korea! J could hardly walk through the crowd. He got stopped often for pictures, and people oohing/aahing over Baby O. Baby O is usually a good sport about it and smiles at everyone. It is fun (but also a little annoying) to see how excited people get about Baby O.
The Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds also houses the Korean Fold Museum. It was not a very big museum, but it was fun to see some historical objects, traditional clothing and traditional daily life of the Korean people.
1981 the year of the rooster
As we were leaving Gyeongbokgung Palace we were able to see the changing of the guards. The changing of the guards ceremony is only done for tourist. It was fun to see the traditional clothing.
Next we headed to Insa-dong which is a neighborhood in Seoul to get a quick bite to eat. There is a walking street in Insa-dong with many shops, cafes, small street vendors and street food. After our snack we wanted to find the cocktail vendor that a friend had told me about. She called them adult caprisun's. We got a mojito to share, it was very tasty. After our drink we headed to Jogyesa Temple. There was a pretty building housing a big gold Buddha and some people praying. (There were signs no picture sign up, so I don't have any of this part of our day.)
After the temple we headed back to our hotel to rest a bit before dinner. Getting back to the hotel took a little longer than it should have because we accidentally got on the wrong train. Thankfully we only went two stops out of our way and there was a nice man that pointed us in the correct direction and told us where we needed to transfer.
Before dinner we stopped at a little (and I do mean little) bar that had some of its seating pretty much on the road. After our beers we went to dinner, it was kind of like a teppanyaki restaurant with a flat cooktop in the center of our table. I am not sure what it is called. They had a set menu option that we tried. It was good and there was a ton of food,  a pork chop, steak, a few shrimp a hamburger patty and some vegetables.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Seoul: Day 3 - War Memorial of Korea

On our third day in Seoul we planned to do some indoor activities because there was rain in the forecast. We headed to the War Memorial of Korea, we ended up spending the entire day there. Both J and I found the museum to be very interesting. There are six indoor exhibition rooms and also an outdoor exhibition displaying military equipment. We didn't get to enjoy the outdoor area much, because of the rain.
There were many weapons and vehicles on display.  Below is a picture of a Hwacha, which is a mobile firearms launcher used during the Joseon Dynasty, one of the many weapons we saw. It was used to kill and injure large groups of people with one shot.
The majority of the memorial was devoted to the Korean War. I did not know much about this time in Korean history. This section started with June 25, 1950 and worked its way through the war. There was a interesting section on the UN countries that helped South Korea.

We didn't leave the museum until about 5pm. We decided to just head back to the hotel to rest before dinner.  For dinner we walked about a block away to a BBQ restaurant. The menu was only in Korean, thankfully our waitress spoke some English. 
We had beef and some soju (Korean rice wine). There were also some side dishes of pickled vegetables, kimchee and scrambled egg with green onions. It was all very tasty. There was an older woman who worked for the restaurant that offered to hold Baby O while we were eating. This happens often in China as well, I have never taken anyone up on the offer, but I looked at J and we both said sure why not. I was thinking that she would just stay by our table, but I should have known that wasn't going to be the case. She took Baby O on a tour of the restaurant showing him to everyone and into the kitchen too. There was another patron that wanted to have his picture taken with Baby O, she passed him to the man and Baby O looked up at him and started to cry.
The gentlemen in the middle of this photo is the one who wanted a picture with Baby O.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Seoul: Day 2 - The great hike to the N Seoul Tower

N Seoul Tower
Our second day in Seoul had a slow start, we all slept later than usual since we were up so late. We tried to leave our hotel a couple of times, but we had to go back to get forgotten items. At about 11:30 we were finally heading to the metro station. The closest station to our hotel was approximately half a mile away.

We started our walk in the wrong direction so we took a little short cut through an alley, this alley happened to be part of the open air meat market. (I meant to get a picture but I forgot because I was too busy holding my breath every time we walked by.) J said it didn't smell that bad, but I think there is something wrong with his nose. Each day to and from the metro we walked past people sawing frozen meat on the sidewalk, pig faces, cow heads, pig/cow trotters, innards, etc. It was interesting to see but at the same time I wish I hadn't seen it.

The Seoul metro was pretty easy to use. The ticketing stations had an English option, the signs were in Korean and English, and the announcements were made in both Korean and English. Each ride was just over $1.00 (USD). For the one way tickets you pay a deposit on the card, when you return it you get $0.50 back.  We were on the south west side of the city and most of the tourist attractions were on the north side, this mean for long metro rides, about 45 minutes each way. On this particular day we had to make a transfer which wasn't hard, there were many signs pointing us in the right direction. We were headed for the N Seoul Tower.

The Seoul Tower is located at the highest point in the center of the city on Namsan Mountain. Building of the 777 foot tower was completed in 1971. We didn't have exact directions to the tower, I figured that there would be signs, and that it would be hard to miss since it is a giant tower on top of a hill. We started walking toward it after getting off the metro. We went in the wrong direction for a little bit, but we eventually found the correct stairs and started climbing and then we continued climbing FOREVER! There were SO.MANY.STAIRS!
We decided that the view of the city was good enough from the top of Namsan Mountain and did not pay to take the elevator up the observatory level of the tower. Tickets for an adult were 9,000 Won and children 3-12 were 5,000 Won (about $9 and $5 USD). It wasn't a completely clear day, but the view was still nice. We also got to see the "locks of love". There are many other cities that have similar places were couples leave their locks, most cities consider it vandalism and have the locks removed. This does not happen in Seoul, I believe they even had some metal trees and hearts built so more there would be more space for locks.

As we were heading to the gondola (we did things backwards, we should have ridden the gondola UP the hill and walked down!) we noticed a crowd forming around some people in traditional Korean outfits. We stopped to watch as they were getting ready for a performance. There were men with large swords cutting bamboo and bundles of straw and drummers. I wish we could have stayed longer, but Baby O was only interested for a short time. It was also time for us to get a late lunch (it was about 3pm at this point).

We got some spicy fried chicken for lunch. It was very good, kind of a sweet and sour and spicy tasting. The waitress gave us some gloves to keep our hands from getting messy.
After lunch we headed to Namdaemun Market. We got off the metro at Hoehyeon Station. This is a large and busy market. It seemed like you could buy just about anything here, from clothes to shoes, jackets, purses, underwear, slippers, fruit, toys, fish, belts, scarves, fabric, Seoul souvenirs and I'm sure more. We walked around for a little bit, but didn't buy anything. I'm sure if you were in the mood for some bargain shopping this would be the place to go. After the market we headed back to the hotel. Baby O was ready to out of his carrier and our feet were ready for a rest.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Seoul: Day 1 - Getting There


We took our first (hopefully of many) vacations here in Asia. October 1st is National Day in China and to celebrate J's office was closed from Oct. 1st to Oct. 7th.  We took advantage of the time off and headed to Seoul, South Korea.

Our first day was a Very.Long.Day! We left our apartment at 9:30am and we got to our hotel at about 1:30am. We were thinking that the airport was going to be busy because of the Chinese holiday, we were wrong. We had plenty of time to get some thing to eat and relax a little before our flight to Qingdao, China where we had a three hour layover. Our next flight was a quick one and got us to Incheon Airport around 9:30pm.

After waiting in the long customs lines and then getting our bags we got to our bus stop a little before the last bus left the airport at 11:00pm.  The hotel website had instructions of which exit to take to get to the correct bus stop for our hotel. The ride from Incheon to Seoul took about 45 minutes. We arrived at the hotel and tried checking in, but it turned out that our reservation was at a different location! We were at the Novotel Ambassador in the Gangnam neighborhood, but we were supposed to be in the Doksan neighborhood! Ick! I was very upset with myself for not checking the itinerary closer, it didn't help that it was past midnight and I had a cranky six month old. It was the first time I had booked a flight/hotel combo through Expedia. (I don't know that I will do it again.) The Gangnam hotel helped us get a taxi, which took about 30 minutes to arrive then we had to drive to the other side of town! We didn't get checked in to the correct hotel until about 1:30 am.  Baby O had a quick diaper change, a bottle and then it was finally bedtime for everyone.

Before leaving for Seoul I got a tip from a friend that we should stop at the Olleh counter in the airport.  This was a great idea!  We picked up an Olleh wireless router that we used throughout our trip. It worked out to be approximately $8.50/day and it was worth every penny. There were many counters, although not a lot of the counters were open past 10pm. It is important to remember which counter you rented the router from as you will need to return it to the same counter.

I will be breaking up our trip by day so each post isn't overwhelmingly long. Also, I promise there are more pictures in your future!