More Seoul meet ups!
Seoul Travel Blog› entry 291 of 658 › view all entries
People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Maria (Russia), Anton (South Korea), Kevin (South Korea)
So Monday brought an end to my stay on the floor of the hostel laundry room, as Joon the receptionist was moving back in there after his weekend at the bar. It was actually pretty disappointing as 5,000won ($5) had me my own private little space with duvets to sleep on and a nice warm floor, which did my back the World of good! So into a 2 bed dorm i moved on Monday night, which cost 18,000won ($18) and i would have to put up with a bag rustling, noisy and inconsiderate Japanese man. I wanted my floor back hahaha.
After some toast, yoghurt and tea for breakfast, courtesy of the hostel, i made my first priority to find a camera shop to burn a CD of my photos.
About 12.45 Maria and her husband Anton turned up to meet me, just in time for the changing of the guards. Maria is an old school friend of Julia's, whilst Anton is a Korean native who studied Russian literature in St Petersburg for 5 years and that is where the two of them had met and fallen in love. Anton is not his real name, but his adopted Russian name, i'm guessing his favourite author is Anton Chekhov? There story is quite funny actually, as they have already been married once at the registry office in Russia, but are currently planning a traditional Korean wedding in Seoul and this will be followed by a traditional Russian wedding in St Petersburg.
After watching the guards march up and down, accompanied to traditional music, we were met by Anton's friend Kevin, who worked at the Palace. He kindly got us all free admission and within the space of 2 minutes had volunteered his services to take me on a bicycle ride down the Han River the following day! How could i possibly say no to such a kind gesture!?
Kevin went back to work and the 3 of us took a guided English tour around the Palace, which housed several impressive buildings, all of which had been lovingly restored over the years. Whenever i spoke to the pair of them though, i noticed that Maria always seemed to answer and at first i couldn't work out if Anton understood me or not, but he always seemed to acknowledge me as if he did.
After a nice tour we moved on to the National Folk Museum, which was informative and well layed out, but as anyone who knows me should have figured out by now, museums aren't really my thing! So after 30 minutes i was ready to be moving on, although i did find the dioramma on Kim-chi to be an insightful guide into Korean eating habits, which i hoped could stand me in good stead for the rest of my stay in the country!
Once we had left the Palace, we walked along some pretty streets until we came to a very nice restaurant, where i was treated to a Bacon Lettuce and Tomato sandwich, which i know isn't very Korean, but it really hit the spot! Next we walked around the library gardens and then down Insadong street, one of Korea's main tourist streets, where i got the chance to swing a mallet around like a lunatic for a short while.
Earlier in the day i had mentioned that i would like to try some Korean food and the local drink Soju, so Anton suggested that as it was Dinner time, we should find a nice restaurant to sample 2 of the finer points of Korean culture, their food and drink. A Korean barbeque restaurant was selected and some delicious pork was ordered, which Anton cooked up on the grill above the coals in the centre of our table. I was taught how to eat the food properly, wrapping some meat, rice, sauce and onions into 2 leaves and then eating it all in one go.
It had been a fantastic evening, which had perfectly rounded off a great day and they walked me back to my hostel, as i still had no clue as to my bearings within the city, especially at night! Along the way Anton bought us all a Korean Hot Dog, which is actually fish on a stick and he even began to speak some English to me.
I was awake before 09.00 on Tuesday and met Kevin around 10.00 and we wandered down to the Han River, where i hired a bicycle (Kevin already had his). For the next couple of hours we cycled along the river and passed lots of old Korean ladies picking miso in the bushes, other cyclists riding by and plenty of joggers getting some exercise. It was nice to chat with Kevin and have him explain that this was really what a normal day for an average Korean was like - when they are not working that is.
We stopped off at Seoul Forest for a little walk around and i was surprised to see a park full of deer. It was one of those moments where the contrast was so sharp, from river to motorway to deer park, all within a 100 metres of each other! Back on the bikes and we cycled along the river side and over a bridge with a cycle path, before deciding that we best be heading back. The Han River has several bridges spanning it and makes for a lovely little ride, especially when the weather was as nice as it was for us. The ride finished up on the opposite bank to the Olympic Stadium, where the 1988 Seoul Olympics had been held, which as a sports fanatic was a nice way to finish the ride!
We had both worked up a decent appetite, so Kevin decided that he would take me to lunch at a little traditional restaurant that he knew, which specialised in dumplings and noodles.
The two of us moved on for a drink in Starbucks, where we sat and chatted a while before Kevin had to go and pick up his little girl from school. He brought her back to Starbucks to come and meet me and she was a real little sweetheart. She munched on a cookie whilst we continued our conversation, but soon it was time for her to be getting home to watch her cartoons, so i said me goodbyes, to end what had been a really fantastic day.
I caught the subway then to the USO office to try and book my DMZ tour to the North Korean border, but disappointingly found it fully booked for the next 2 weeks. I therefore headed into the centre to take a look at Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral, which was undergoing some restoration works, so sadly had a huge sheet covering all of the front of the building. From here i walked down into Namdaemun Market and saw the Post Tower, Town Hall and several other interesting buildings. The light was fading as i watched the sun begin to set over Cheonggye Stream and it was time for my second meeting of the day, this time with Mukesh and Polina, who i had spent Sunday evening with.
So my night didn't quite work out as well as my day! Mukesh sadly thought it was Monday and not Tuesday, so i was left stood at the metro station for about 45 minutes before i gave it up as a lost cause.
I had a lie in on Wednesday, as i could hear the rain outside and didnt fancy getting wet. When i did wake up i had some breakfast and just hung around the hostel until the weather brightened up, at which stage i went out sightseeing. First stop was Seodaemun Prison, which was a Japanese prison used to supress and torture Korean freedom fighters during their occupation. It was a really sombre place, but i sadly had the misfortune of a group of school girls running around screaming and shouting and basically showing no respect for the environment they were in.
My next adventure for the day was to go on what the Lonely Planet described as the 'Inwangsan Shamanist Hillside Walk', which led up a steep hill and offered some wonderful views of the city. A nice Korean lady pointed me in the right direction when i showed her where i wanted to go and i was soon clambering past some ornate little temples, a bronze bell, Zen Rock and a few people praying - im not sure if these were classed as the Shaman, certainly very different from the one i encountered in the Amazon!
Once on top of the hill, i made my way along the path that connected to the Seoul fortress wall and just expected a couple of crumbling bricks, so i was delighted to see a fair expanse of wall that i could walk along.
My passion for football dictated how my evening was to be spent, with the outcome been that i was back at the World Cup Stadium to watch my newly adopted team FC Seoul, take on local rivals Suwon. I arrived early enough so that i could get a seat right in amongst all the 'hardcore' fans who stood and sang for the whole game! Thats my kind of scene and where i always love to be when i travel away to watch Leeds games.
The atmosphere was great, with 2 guys with loud tannoys and 3 drummers at the front of the crowd, instigating all the songs and chants. Fans jumped up and down to certain songs and you could feel the stand literally vibrating beneath you! Large flares were lit sporadically, huge flags were waved and at half time everyone seemed to get sparklers from somewhere and lit them for the start of the second half. I was given one by the guy next to me and another guy gave me a handful of paper to chuck up like confetti when the players ran back onto the pitch! Typical Korean hospitality, i love these people!
The game sadly ended FC Seoul 0-2 Suwon, with both teams having a player sent off at the end. I was impressed though that all the players gather at the end and shake hands and then come to thank the fans for their support.