We arrived in Seoul on a Friday evening, hungry and excited. We decided to look around the Hongik University area (or "Hongdae" as it is more popularly known). Although it was very cold and we had our backpacks on, we wandered all over the area that I've come to know secondhand through the lovely bloggers of Doing It Korean Style and I lost my mind in Seoul. I even saw the infamous TinPan, advertisements for something called "The Donkey Show" which looks absolutely terrifying, and a bar called Boobi Boobi (you can see photographic evidence of these things in the photo album above). It was club night, but we were there around 7 p.m. so the action hadn't started yet. We would have loved to actually hang out for the party scene, but waking up to go skiing at 7 a.m. is not conducive to a late night.
We found a beautiful little Spanish restaurant called La Paella (guess what it serves?). The chefs were Spanish and the food deliciously spiced and savory (and since we ordered the vegetarian paella, also rather healthy). We devoured it quite fast. I continue to maintain that if I lived in Seoul I would be broke and fat, but my tummy would be very, very happy.
After dinner, we were looking for a coffee shop to rest and talk and discovered a little gem a bit off the main Hongdae strip called Cafe Atre (I believe... it may have been Arte, but it was next to a "Piano Cafe" if that helps you find it). The menu was amazing. Min Gi ordered an iced coffee drink and a scone, while I got a tea called "Snow White's Apple" (complete with apple slice in the cup) and a piece of chocolate "cake" that was more like a brownie. The atmosphere was very comfortable and although cutsey (like all of Korea), the wooden beams made it feel like a converted barn and was kind of rustic for Seoul.
We found a nice motel in nearby Sinchon and met our tour bus to Phoenix Park the next morning. We returned to Seoul late on Sunday, ready to file the paperwork at the U.S. embassy on Monday morning.
|Jongmyo, Royal Ancestral Shrine|
After filing the paperwork, we headed to one of the few remaining UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Korea that I have not yet visited, the Royal Ancestral Shrine of the Joseon Dynasty, Jongmyo.
A small bit of historical information: Most of the ancient sites and palaces around Seoul and Gyeonggido are relics of the Joseon dynasty, which was the last Korean dynasty lasting from 1392 until the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1910, or from the dynasty before that, Goryeo. However, the area surrounding Daegu is Kyungsang-do, which contained the Silla kingdom from the period of the three kingdoms before Goryeo dominated. I must say that, in general, I find Silla art and architecture to be far more compelling and emotional than the more severe and sombre Confucian designs of Joseon. I believe, although I have not done nearly enough research on the matter, that this preference comes from Silla's stronger connection to Buddhism and religion. I admire Joseon's attention to geometric unities and impressive structures, but I am not stirred by them in the same way I have been at temples throughout the Kyungsang provinces.
However, at Jongmyo, I did feel a bit moved. Perhaps the gray sky and remaining snow and ice enhanced the impressiveness of the architecture. Or perhaps I was just relieved of the burden of filing those immigration papers, but either way, I was quite speechless in the face of the main shrine area.
After passing through Jongmyo itself, a small foot bridge over a busy Seoul street leads you to one of the less important of the five main Seoul Palaces, Changgyeonggung. Although we were tired from carrying around our backpacks all this time, we explored the grounds a bit.
All in all, I'm glad I got to see a bit more of Seoul. I'm finally starting to feel a bit more comfortable in that city. Enough so that I think I might be able to live there if I get a job there in the distant future. That's a good thing to know.