Saturday, August 25, 2012

Walking Around Seoul (Seoul Weekend pt. 5)

In front of Gwanghwamun (광화문), the largest gate of Gyeongbokgung (경복궁). Left to right: Katelyn, Christina, Cody, Jason, Adam, and Lauren. The fans some of us are holding were freebies we got from high school students for taking a brief survey about the environmental impact of eating meat. It was really humid, so the fans were an awesome surprise.
Saturday was a drizzly and rainy day, but fortunately the showers came in spurts, so my friends and I could walk from one historic site to another without much problem. Our first stop was Gyeongbokgung (경복궁), the largest of Seoul's Five Grand Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty (조선). It was first built in the 14th century and has been destroyed and restored several times since.

We actually didn't do much there except take photos on the outside. We didn't go in because we were planning on visiting another palace later that day, and one is enough, I think. On the way to the next palace, we briefly dropped by the National Folk Museum. There were some interesting outdoor displays to look at, but it seemed kind of small. I discovered later that we never even found the museum and had only wandered around the grounds beside it. Oh well!
Funny imitations of stone statues (spirit posts?) on the grounds of the National Folk Museum.
It took us a while to find the next palace; it was only a few blocks down the road, but we made some wrong turns and had to ask for directions at an information booth. On the plus side, our path took us around the edge of Bukchon/Samcheong-dong, which was a cute and fascinating neighborhood to walk around. It kind of felt like walking around hilly Berkeley, and I'd like to go back to explore it more.

Eventually, we made it to Changdeokgung (창덕궁; 궁/gung means "palace") and went inside. We got our timing wrong and missed the English tour and the tour of the Secret Garden in the back, but I figured that walking around it would still be worth it, so we did just that. And played Contact when it began to rain heavily and we were stuck under a gate.
Changdeokgung is famed for having been built into the topography of the land around it, rather than "imposing on nature". The result is a very pretty palace grounds that nevertheless got old quick. Next time I visit, I'll be sure to join the Secret Garden tour. After taking the inevitable tourist photo and the inevitable self-serious band shot, some of us split off to visit Gwangjang Market (광장 시장), South Korea's oldest traditional market.
My kiwi smoothie (키위 스무디)! With photobombers Jason and Katelyn in the background.

When we arrived at "Gwangjang Market", we were confused because we had actually gone to Sewoon Plaza instead, and that turned out to be arcade after arcade of fan stores, stereo stores, lamp stores... nothing but electric appliances! We found a cafe to sit and re-orient ourselves while downing delicious smoothies... and then walked one block over to find the real deal. Gwangjang Market: food, traditional clothes, convenience stores, and random touristy stuff all barely organized along covered streets, or arcades, and tons of loud Koreans everywhere! Although this market is on the tourist maps, it didn't seem like many foreigners were there. Maybe these dried fish scared them away, or the ahjummas making enormous bowls of kimchi, or incredibly dense crowds.

My friends and I quickly found the "street food" section, which was two short streets crammed with food stalls like mini open-air restaurants. It was insane; it smelled amazing; it was also really, really hot. We walked down the entire length of both streets -- it was actually much smaller than your typical Taiwanese night market (夜市) -- and grabbed some ddeokbokki (떡볶이), kimbap (김밥), and all types of fried savory pancakes (부침개), like pajeon (파전)!
Gwangjang Market's street food section! It smelled so good. So good.
I love street food, especially in Asian countries where it's fried, greasy, totally unhealthy, and has mysterious meat in it. This is something I'll take advantage of while I'm here, I think! So far, Taiwan still has the best in my opinion, but we'll see if that changes after a few months!

So that was Saturday morning and afternoon. After the street food smorgasbord, we went back to our hotel and chilled, meeting up later to visit one of Seoul's famous animal cafes! Reader be warned: you are about to see lots and lots of photos of the cutest dogs ever.
Buchimgae feast! It was about ten bucks per plate; we barely finished it, but Adam on the right definitely helped us power through.

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