A whole lot of Seoul.
Seoul Travel Blog› entry 27 of 251 › view all entries
April 12th, 2008 – by: cmgervais
We both woke early and enjoyed a gourmet breakfast of French bread and peanut butter in the room. Then we headed to the Sofitel fitness room, which is pretty good as far as hotel fitness rooms go. They actually had a hanging-upside-down contraption -- Steve's dream machine. Lying on his back, he put his feet in two ankle cuffs. He pushed some buttons and was soon dangling upside down! Not for me. He was excited to do it, but said it wasn't all it's cracked up to be. No miracle cure for his sore hip.
The hotel has a free shuttle that stops at various locations in the downtown area.
From there, we headed to the Tourist Info kiosk and asked about DMZ tours. We were told they don't run on Sundays. (But later we were able to secure a reservation for tomorrow through the Sofitel.). Armed with no fewer than three maps (none of them corresponding to each other), we found a lunch spot in the Myeong-dong area, which is large pedestrian section of downtown area featuring many shops and street food.
There was a bit of a line at the restaurant, then we were rushed in to our table. The menu had four options, and I was able to communicate that I am a vegetarian (and verify the waitress' understanding!) There was one dish for me, which was green noodles with a lot of red sauce and some vegetables. Red sauce means hot. She made the international sign for spicy, fanning her mouth with lips pursed. I made the international signal for "Bring it on!"
Oh, yeah. It was spicy. So spicy it spent the next 3 hours trying to escape my stomach by burning a hole through it. Delicious! To Steve's dismay (I think he wanted to finish mine off!), I ate every bit of it, and it was a pretty big bowl. Steve had a chicken soup that he said was bland, but there was some super spicy kimchi served on the side which cheered him up.
Form there we just wandered the Myeong-dong area, watching people. Then we sat for a bit and I read something in my tourist office book about the changing of the guards at Daehamnun gate at Deoksugung Palace -- in 20 minutes!! I figured out our position on our map (no small task) and we raced off towards the palace gate. There are huge multi-lane roads right through the city, and the crossings are underground. You don't always know where you will pop up! But we managed to arrive just in time for the ceremony, which lasted about 30 minutes and was conducted in four languages for the benefit of the many spectators.
After the ceremony, we sat on the sidelines trying to figure out our next move. Soon, we found that we were the tourist attraction! Some school children were looking at us and tittering amongst themselves, when one boy (about 8 years old) came up to Steve and said in remarkable good English, "Good afternoon! My name is (unintelligible). How are you?" Steve answered, "Nice to meet you. My name is Steve!" and shook the boy's hand to complete the Western-style introduction. The kids were delighted and lined up to shake Steve's hand and practice their English. Many were wearing glasses and nice clothes, and they looked like little scholars. It was hilarious and great fun.
Then we checked out a nearby department store called Lotte. Lotte is a big player in Seoul, apparently -- they have stores, hotels, and their name is plastered everywhere. The store was having a "premium sale" and was a complete madhouse! We stopped to look at rain jackets (Steve abandoned his in Osaka since it leaked) and found an American brand (Hard Wear? can't remember). $650 for a rain shell! We thought it had to be a typo. There were others for considerably less, but some of the prices were astounding. People were snapping up things left and right! I think the exchange rate is killing us.
Then a break at Starbucks. (Also premium priced. But, mmmmm.).
From there we walked along Cheonggyecheon stream, which had been covered by a freeway for about 36 years.
From there we walked south on a street that was marked on the maps as an "arcade," but it wasn't very nice at all. Mainly they were selling hardware, WD-40 and the like. Every so often I'd get a peak into some tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant with semi-decayed fish outside, and I'd be Gack! Don't want to eat there!
Made it back to the hotel to get ready for a Buddhist "temple food" (vegetarian) dinner at a highly recommended place called Sanchon. We took the shuttle bus to the area, then spent 40 minutes exploring back alleys to find it.
On our way out of there, we happened upon some street musicians with brass instruments (trumpet, French horn, trombone, and a tuba or perhaps a tenor tuba) playing dixie / swing-like music on Insadong street. They drew a big crowd and people seemed pretty inclined to put money in the pot, which is always nice to see. I took some video with my little camera, which I will upload if you want to check it out. They obviously weren't locals, but one guy spoke Korean so we wondered what their story was. Perhaps they are in town teaching? Either way they were excellent musicians and their little concert was the perfect end to an excellent day.
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