DAY 1 – Gyeongbokgung Palace, Insadong, Gwangjang Market
Because of the time difference, I arrived in Seoul airport at 8am, having boarded my first flight at 9am the previous day. I really enjoyed my flight (even though, because the sounds for the letters ‘l’ and ‘r’ are swapped around, one of my Japanese friends wished me a good fright), despite my plan to sleep not working as well as hoped.
I was met by the wonderful Corliss who had brought with her a wonderful selection of welcome gifts for me ❤ We got to talk a little on the bus from the airport towards Seoul and I was altogether very happy to see her and be on the very first day of my Christmas adventures.
After dropping my luggage off at my guesthouse, we went to visit the King Sejong statue. In front of the statue lies a celestial globe, a rain gauge, and a sundial, all of which King Sejong apparently invented himself during his reign. The recent protests against the South Korean President Park Guen-Hye all happened in the open area and square around this statue, perhaps, Corliss thought, why there was quite an obvious police presence.
Just 200m away from where this photo was taken is the Gyeoungbokgung palace, the main palace of the Josean dynasty, and our next stop. We saw quite a lot of people in the traditional dress, han bok, because you can get free entry to the palace if you are wearing it (though the traditional dress is a lot more expensive than the entry price of 3,000 won – about £2).
The views were beautiful, and I enjoyed the walk around the different courts.
I also had my first too-tall-for-13th-century-Korean-architecture experience.
One of my favourite things about the palace was its location. Looking forwards towards the innermost courts the view is wholly scenic, but looking back you see the buildings of the modern city. I think the contrast is really quite beautiful.
Right by the palace is the National Folk Museum of Korea. We had a little wander around, and I learned about the different seasonal celebrations, what you do to mark your parents turning 60 (host a special feast with wine and something beginning with ‘o’ that we didn’t know), and saw an old Korean casket (the photo of what looks like a colourful ship).
And with that, the morning was complete. A quick walk and first Korean meal later (planning a separate post for food-evaluations), we used the afternoon to explore the area of Insadong. It gets lots of visitors because it’s known for having lots of craft items and traditional Korean goods, and there were a lot of independent shops.
(also, at different points whilst we were walking around there was light snow, and I was all too excited!)
Earlier, when we were chatting over lunch, Corliss mentioned that she wanted to see the film La La Land which her teacher had recommended to her. I also really wanted to watch it and, since it isn’t released in the UK until Jan 13th, we made it a plan! I was quite tired at this stage, with the combination of jet lag, lots of walking and a new environment, which made going to the cinema a great choice because it got to have a rest and sit down whilst also having a really good incentive to stay awake. We both loved the film – especially the soundrack.
By this time it was about 7.30pm so we went to Gwangjang market for dinner. The colours, sights and smells were all a wonderful way to end a first day.
DAY 2 – DMZ, Namdaemun Market, Myeongdong
Most of this day, Christmas Eve, was spent on the tour to the DMZ. I had such a good time, and had so much to say about this trip that I wrote a separate blog post for it – 2km from North Korea – Visiting the DMZ. 🙂
After getting back from the tour around 2.30pm, we ventured off to the National Museum of Korea. The architecture of this building is seriously good. We were less enamoured by the exhibits inside, but it was nice to see what we would not have missed out on…
We then went around Nandaemun market and sampled different street food, before progressing onto the shopping district of Myeongdong. Senses overload.
This is the bear in the LINE FRIENDS store. Line is a messaging app (like WhatsApp) which is very popular, especially in Japan, and the different characters on the app are sold as merchandise in the stores. More importantly for us, a really big, really soft big teddy bear!
We finished Christmas Eve off with a Korean BBQ, which was very welcome after a day in which we had taken 30,000 steps according to the pedometer on Corliss’ phone.
DAY 3 – Inwangsan Mountain Hike, Bukchon Village, Han River, Yeuido Park
Christmas day! I woke up and unwrapped the presents from my parents, including chocolate coins which are usually always delivered by Father Christmas, which meant I got to start the day with my traditional Christmas breakfast of chocolate 🙂
In the morning we went on the Inwangsan Mountain Hike, which I was super excited about – especially in the beautiful sunshine!
I was so happy about the entire thing and there was literally nowhere else I’d have rather been for my Christmas morning (s’ok parents, you guys were asleep in the UK at this point so I’m ok to say this). As this photo shows, Corliss was a little less fond of the steep rocky paths we were climbing up.
But the views standing at the top were completely worth it. And when I asked the next day what Corliss’ favourite activity from the past few days was, she named this, so all was well.
On the way back down a lot of friendly people spoke to me/at me in both Korean and English which I couldn’t understand. I was very happy just smiling and saying ‘Kamsahamnida’ (thank you) aha. Most of the people passing us were of retirement age and were kitted out in full hiking gear, which had made us quite worried when we initially set off (like, just how hard is this climb gonna be?).
The first part of the afternoon was then spent looking around Bukchon village, which has lots of traditional Korean houses, before ordering a huge quantity of chocolate ice (ice cream being an all weather, all seasons food here).
At this point, Corliss realised she had lost her phone… Presumably all in the name of making our first Christmases away from home more memorable. This meant her going with her friend Robbie on a trip to retrieve said phone from the bus she had left it on, whilst I met up with her other friends Yasmin and Katherine and we headed over towards the Financial Centre, and Yeuido Park.
There, we met Patrick, walked along the river, looked around a Christmas market, met with Alecs and Ali and headed back to Yeuido Park to be reunited with Corliss and Robbie.
A fun evening of queuing for ice-skating which turned out to be fully booked, sledding, and renting roller skates ensued (don’t worry Mum+Dad, I wore a helmet and was conscious of the need to avoid Scenario Break-a-bone-roller-skating-in-a-foreign-country-on-Christmas-day) .
To end what was a truly wonderful Christmas day, we ate pigs’ feet. And, as much as I didn’t want them to be, they were very tasty.
DAY 4 – Hongdae, N Seoul Tower
On Boxing Day, we went to Hongdae, an area well known for its nightlife and thought of as a ‘young’ area.
After having some lunch, we visited the ‘Trick Eye Museum’, which is fairly self explanatory. You’ll see that some photos worked better than others and that I make a happy but not very graceful ballerina.
The museum also has an ‘ice’ (refrigerated plastic) section, complete with slide, and a carnival section in which, being the child I am, I enthusiastically clambered into the ball pool.
We then drank some bubble tea and travelled to the Han river for a cruise. We were so early that we had time even after going for a walk, so we made faces.
We finally boarded the boat and set off, and we were on the river just as the sun set. 🙂 The building with the green dome is the National Assembly of Korea, looking particularly lovely against the sky. In the last twenty minutes of the cruise there was a guitar performance by a guy who played us a few songs, including Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’. Ahh, beautiful, peaceful and slightly strange times.
We took the bus back across the river (have you ever seen such a wonderful view out of the window of a bus?!) towards the cable car for the N Seoul Tower (as seen in the photos from the Insangwan trail).
A long queue for the cable car later, and we made it up to the top and spent some time looking out over Seoul, before getting an incredibly crowded bus back down into the main city.
We ended the day with the ‘traditional’ fried chicken and beer, and a walk around the Dongdaemun area, featuring an interesting encounter with some sale assistants trying to sell me a wholly inappropriate selection of jumpers (and Corliss explaining in Korean ‘no, she’s a church-goer’ aha).
DAY 5 – Goodbyes
The last day 😦 I got to eat breakfast in the canteen of Sungkyunkwan University, where Corliss is studying Korean this year. It was so wonderful getting to meet her friends and see where she is studying! 🙂
We then had a look around, I drank some more bubble tea, and Corliss ordered some contact lenses in an opticians. After this, it was time to check out my guesthouse and reluctantly get the subway to the airport…
After checking in and going through security in the airport, because I was a foreigner, I got to paint a tile. I’m still not sure why, but it was a good way to distract myself for half an hour whilst I tried to ignore the fact that I’d just said goodbye to Corliss.
And so it was, that with four beautiful days behind me, my time in Korea came to an end.
All the thanks and the love in the world to you Corliss! You were the absolute best-friend-turned-tour-guide I could have ever asked for! ❤