Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Seoul

Treasures, Temples and Shopping

My last full day in Seoul was Wednesday. Laurie planned for us to do a little more sightseeing and shopping. Most shops don’t open until 10am. However, we were able to visit two Korean Treasures located in a public park. The first was the Monument of Wongaska Temple. The monument is Treasure No. 3. The monument is a large granite turtle with lotus leaves carved in the center of the shell. The lotus leaves provide an area for the marble monument to be inserted. The stone monument was a tribute to the lantern festival held in 1465 at the Wongaska Temple.

The second treasure was a ten-story marble pagoda. Due to the amount of weathering the pagoda has endured, it is now encased in glass to prevent further deterioration. The ten-story pagoda was also located at the Wongaska Temple.

The temple was destroyed and the land has been turned into a beautiful public park.

Besides the two Korean Treasures, the other highlight was having a conversation with an older Korean gentleman. He approached us as we were leaving the park. His English was excellent. We enjoyed a brief conversation. He shared with us that he liked Americans and had visited Hollywood. At one point, he held up his hand and I thought he was going to give me a hug. No, instead he exclaimed to Laurie how tall I was! Haha! He was very nice and it was a pleasure talking with him.

After our visit in the park, we went to our first shopping area. It was a cute area of Seoul where there were lots of shops with local crafts and pottery.

I bought a few small bowls with little koi in the bottom. I think they will be a nice addition to our sushi dinners. Perfect for soy sauce!

After shopping, we went to visit a nearby temple. The temple was still decorated from Buddha’s birthday on Tuesday. There were so many lotus lanterns hanging and there was a prayer being led inside the temple. It was absolutely beautiful. Considering all the temples I have visited in Japan, this experience was like none other. It was so peaceful, beautiful, and serene. I told Laurie she out did herself with this celebration during my visit!

Laurie picked us another great spot for lunch. It was tucked down a side alley. We arrived at 11:15 and it opened at 11:30. By the time it opened, there was already a line!

While we waited, I posed with a couple giant kimchi pots!! Can you imagine how much kimchi would fill these pots!

Promptly at 11:30 the restaurant opened and we were seated. The restaurant is known for their Korean dumplings. We each ordered a lunch set. Laurie ordered the pork and dumplings, I ordered the dumplings and traditional pancake.

The highlight occurred when the polite older lady came over and literally showed Laurie how to eat her lunch. She used her chopsticks to pick up lettuce, pork, and kimchi to make a small lettuce wrap. It was hilarious. Complete how to each your lunch tutorial!

After lunch, we continued our shopping adventure around the city. We walked to my very favorite- the Daiso! I knew we had to go when Laurie told me it was eight stories! Along the way, we passed three sections of the Berlin Wall. Germany gave the sections to Korea because it remains a divided country.

During our walk, we also passed a LOVE statue just similar to the one in Philadelphia. I was saddened to read that morning that Robert Indiana had passed away at age 89.

There seemed something poetic about seeing both statues within a few blocks from one another. The world needs less walls and more love.

And clearly, more Daiso! Check out the size of this building!!

I enjoyed shopping and looking at all the options. I kept things under control because I knew I would have to get it home. One thing did give me a good chuckle. Check out this toilet seat! If I find one in Japan I might have to buy it. “Find joy in the ordinary ?.”

We made one more stop on the way home. We visited a very crowded shopping street that was adjacent to National Treasure No. 1.

National Treasure No. 1 is Sungnyemun. It is a large gate located in the middle of the city.

Sungnyemun is one of the four Great Gates of the Seoul fortress or the Seoul wall. We saw this same gate the previous day when we were walking along the Seoullo 7017. As our afternoon wrapped up and our arms were tired from carrying our packages, we headed home. I can’t express enough how envious I am of the location of their house. They are right in the middle of Seoul. When you want to go home, it’s a short train ride. Compared to our 1 hour and 15 minute train ride to Tokyo. Maybe more depending where you want to go. I’m so glad I took the chance to visit Laurie and her family. It was such an easy flight and the city was fun to explore. I hope she has the chance to travel to Japan so I can reciprocate the hospitality. Military families have an uncanny ability to find each other and pick up right where they left off. It’s a pretty special bond. Cheers to you, my friend! Thank you, again. My VIP experience was first class! Arigatōgozaimas!

Seoul City Tour

On Tuesday morning, Laurie and I took the train three stops to Seoul Station. We wanted to catch the Seoul City Bus for a tour around the city. We had a little time before it arrived so we stopped for a cup of coffee and a sweet snack. Check out the name of the cafe – Ding Dong. We thought the sweet snack was filled with blueberries and cream. I think it was red bean paste and cream. Nonetheless, the cream made it tasty.

We sipped our coffee and enjoyed a walk across the brand new Seoul city sky walk known as Seoullo 7017. The Seoullo 7017 is pedestrian walkway designed to reduce pedestrian crossings in the busy city center. The Seoullo 7017 was decorated with beautiful flower planters. The honeysuckle planter was my favorite. It smelled like America in the summer.

In this picture, you can see one of the main city gates that is part of the Seoul wall.

We hopped on the Seoul City bus shortly after 10am at the Seoul Station, stop number 4. We road the bus around the city until stop 21 – Gyeongbokgung Palace. We were able to use the headphones provided to hear an English version of the tour.

Before visiting the Palace, we decided to enjoy lunch. We walked down a side alley and stopped at a cute cafe with what seemed to be Italian cuisine. We were told we needed reservations. We continued on our way along the alley and came to a small restaurant serving traditional Korea food. One of the owners was standing on the corner in her apron. She waved for us to come to her restaurant and we did. As we followed her up the steps she turned around and said, “food delicious.” She wasn’t kidding! It was very delicious! First, she brought us lots of condiments and soup. From left to right, top to bottom, we had: candied green onions, kimchi cabbage centers, mushrooms, broccoli with spicy sauce, and kimchi.

A short time later, she brought out the fish Laurie ordered and the bulgogi I ordered. In South Korea, it is common to share dishes. So, even though we each ordered separate dishes, they were placed so we could share. Which we happily did!

After lunch we walked back to the Palace. At the entrance were ceremonial guards and many visitors wearing traditional dress known as Hanbok. Laurie let me in on the secret – if you rent a hanbok from a local vendor, you receive free admission to the palace. We decided to skip the dress and look like two traditional American tourists.

The Palace is the former main palace of the Joseon dynasty. It was built in 1395 and destroyed during the Japanese invasions between 1592-1598. The buildings were restored during the reign of King Goyong (1852-1919). The palace is the most popular palace because of its large size and beauty. We enjoyed a leisurely afternoon walking around the grounds.

I still enjoy seeing the beautiful painting and details of the Korean structures.

My favorite painting was the painting of the five mountains of Seoul. The painting also includes the sun and the moon, representing the king and queen.

There were numerous buildings throughout the palace grounds and they were so elaborate. The first few pictures are where the king would preside over the court.

Our exploring took us all around the grounds. As it started raining, we made our way towards the exit and to the closest train station. By the time we made it home, the rain was coming down pretty hard. Making it the perfect evening to relax at home in the middle of the city.

Bukhansan National Park

Bukhansan National Park is located on the north side of the city. We hopped on a bus Monday morning and it took us about 40-minutes to get there.

The weather for Monday was predicted to be the nicest all week. Perfect for hiking and enjoying the view above the city. The bus ride to Bukhansan National Park was very simple and a great way to see a little bit of the city. We reached the the entrance to the park a little bit after 9 am. We stopped at the Ranger station to review our hiking route to the peak of Bukhan Mountain, Baegundae, and we were hiking by 9:30. Side note: San means mountain in Korean – Bukhansan means Bukhan Mountain. Here is our pre-hike selfie.

Please notice the cute lanterns hanging throughout the entrance to the park. They are lotus lanterns and placed in celebration of Buddha’s birthday on Tuesday. Also notice the recycled rubber matting placed on the wooden bridge. The rubber helps provide more secure footing when the bridge is wet and also reduces the wear on the wooden bridge. Brilliant!

The hike through the National Park was beautiful. The trail was very well maintained and included a lot of stairs to climb. Shortly after the entrance was a spot along the trail to wash your hands and bring good luck for your hike to the peak.

Before too long we reached a view point. Already we could tell this was going to be a perfect day for the hike. The tall building in the picture is the Lotte World Tower, the tallest building in Seoul.

Around the city of Seoul is a stone wall. Even though the city has spread beyond the wall, it remains part of Seoul’s history and continues to be maintained. Part of our hike today was along the wall.

The Seoul wall has several gates. We hiked past one as we were climbing up.

We continued our climb up countless stairs. The views as we reached the top became even more amazing.

Check out this huge rock. Laurie snapped my picture with it and then informed me that was the summit we were hiking towards! There are tiny specks on the right side of the mountain, those are people!

Clearly, we had more hiking to do and more stairs to climb. It’s hard to read the distance sign, it says .1km and it’s pointing straight up! The last part of the climb was pretty intense. There were chains to hang onto and use to hoist yourself to the top.

When we finally reached the summit, we were so excited and invigorated.

After enjoying the view, we were ready for lunch. We packed sandwiches and a Korean pear to enjoy. I think we had the best view in the city.

After lunch, we began the climb down the other side of the mountain. The path was less crowded on the way down. I was able to snap a few pictures of the chains. Hopefully, you can see the trail became pretty challenging at the end because of the smooth rock and vertical angles. We were both glad we had long legs to help us climb!

Going down was easier and harder at the same time. It was less exhausting and yet more tiresome on our legs. The pounding was painful. Our tired quads and calves were shaking by the time we reached flat ground.

We caught the train home, showered, and were ready for dinner. Laurie, Izzy, Maddy, and I went out for Korean Barbecue. At the restaurant, we had a hot pot placed in the center of the table. It was covered with a grate. On the grate, we were able to grill our meat. We made lettuce wasps with the meat and assortment of vegetables. After the long hike, the dinner and beer were delicious.

Perhaps the favorite part was dessert. Ice Cream! Maddy and Izzy enjoying their sweet treat.

As we walked back home, we caught a glimpse of sunset. It was a sweet ending to a fantastic day!

Seoul Tower & National Museum of Korea

My flight arrived late at the Incheon airport Saturday night. By the time we made it to Laurie’s house, it was after 11pm. They live right in the middle of Seoul. Their location is perfect for exploring the city!

Sunday morning, we went to the Seoul Tower. It is located in a large park in the center of Seoul.

We had a short walk to the top and stopped for pictures along the way. Seoul Tower is the tall structure in the first picture. The city stretches out for miles and miles. So many tall buildings.

As we approached the area around the Tower, we saw the actual Geographical Center of Seoul.

Part of Seoul’s history is the stone wall surrounding the city. The city has since spread beyond the wall, but the wall continues to be maintained and preserved.

We arrived a little early and wandered around the park while we waited for the Tower to open. Seoul has their own version of “love locks.” They were mostly concentrated in a specific area of the park. We did observe locks being cut off that were not placed in the appropriate area.

Shortly after 10 am, we bought our tickets and took the 25 second elevator ride to the top of the tower (236m high – 480m high including the mountain). As we walked around the observation deck, we enjoyed a tub of popcorn and a beer. Sightseeing and beer at the top of a tall tower. What a great way to start the day!

Can you guess where I took this picture?

Yes! In the bathroom stall! Check out the sign.

After our visit to the Tower, we worked our way through the park and back to the house for lunch.

We stopped near the base to look at the many different kimchi pots. They are very cool, but I don’t think one of these will fit in my luggage! The shop owner was very nice and offered to take our picture.

We returned home to eat lunch and relax a little bit before walking over to the National Museum of Korea. I still can’t get over where they live – literally right in the middle of the city. Conveniently located to everything!

The National Museum of Korea was built on the land that used to be the US Army golf course. It has since been turned into a beautiful museum with lovely gardens.

Throughout the gardens were numerous statues and pagodas.

It was easy to identify the distinctive differences in the color patterns of Korean structures compared with Japanese structures. There was much more elaborate painting using blues and aqua. This shelter housed a large bell.

Inside the Museum were numerous exhibits about Korean history, shipwreck artifacts, pottery, and crafts. We walked through about half the Museum before running out of time. The Museum is free to visit. If we have time later during my visit we can return. There really is so much to see and learn!

Wabi-Sabi Sole Goes to Seoul

Dave had a work trip this coming week. While he was going to be away, I decided to book a flight to Seoul, South Korea. We have (Army) friends from Naval Station Great Lakes stationed there. This was very last minute planning. So last minute that my Seoul Travel Guide didn’t arrive in time! I’m depending on my friend, Laurie, for a complete tour. I’m excited to see them and explore another city/country.

I booked my ticket on JEJUair, a budget airline. I couldn’t help but laugh as I looked down at my duct taped suitcase and converse. In my favorite flying attire, I’ve definitely dressed the “budget” part. I have to give an explanation about the suitcase. In November, when we went to Sasebo, the handle of my suitcase broke off. Fortunately, we were able to buy a new set of luggage at the Black Friday sale on base. It was a set of three. I put the small bag inside the large suitcase and packed the medium size separate. On the flight home, my brand new medium suitcase was broken. There was a HUGE crack! I was so annoyed. Two flights and two suitcases. (Insert eye roll) I decided instead of buying another suitcase, I would just duct tape this one and use it until it completely falls apart. So far, it’s gone back and forth to Thailand, Hokkaido, United States, and now to South Korea. Fingers crossed it makes it home. Duct tape for the win!!

Anyways, back to my trip to Seoul. I’ll be gone for a few days. I’ll do my best to share my adventures as I go. Thanks for understanding if I fall a little bit behind because I’ll be tethered to a wifi connection. As always, thanks for reading!

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