Week 30: Chillin (literally) in Seoul for Seollal

Seoul Travel Blog

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At Deoksugung Palace

Yay for holidays! Seollal, or the Lunar New Year, fell on Thursday the 7th this year so we got a five day weekend!  The problem with holidays in Korea is that there's always a mass exodus of people travelling to see their families.  Thankfully, we planned our trip so that we'd be heading into Seoul when everyone else was heading out of the the city.  Many of the city dwellers have family in the small country towns so most people head back to their hometowns to celebrate the holiday with their families.  As was the case on Chuseok, a 3 hour road trip on any other day turns into a 10 hour bumper to bumper highway headache on the holidays.  Justin and I took the 6am bus to Seoul just to be on the safe side.

Monkeyin' around at Lotte World
  We actually made excellent time and arrived in the city by 9am.  The outgoing highway lanes were packed though- fortunately we didn't have to deal with that.

This was our first trip to Seoul (which is pretty sad considering most of our friends went to Seoul their first week in Korea, it took us 6 months longer than normal). We checked into our hostel that I found online, called "Holiday in Korea". It was nothing spectacular but for 40 bucks a night it wasn't too bad. Our room had cable, there was an internet lounge near the lobby and a make your own breakfast spread with toast, jam, hardboiled eggs and tea & coffee every morning. Our first day in Seoul we went to the Art Museum for the Van Gogh exhibit.  Judging by all of the advertisements in English, we thought that at the very least there'd be a few blurbs about Van Gogh in the exhibit in English.

The Korean/German (?) band playing tunes from "The Sound of Music"
We should have realized what was in store for us when we followed the huge sign that said "AUDIO" (in English) and when we got to the desk we found there were only korean audio programs.  Fine.

Once we got into the exhibit we were stuck in a line feeling somewhat like cattle in a herd while we marched past small photographs of Van Gogh's family and long explanations entirely in Korean.  I was able to understand "Van Gogh" and "father" and "mother", the dates, but beyond that I was lost.  The same was true for the rest of the exhibit.  We were shoved in a line filing slowly past the paintings while little kids (and quite a few adults) pushed past us and stood directly between us and the paintings.  I guess my expectations were too high, the paintings were fun to see but the pushy atmosphere made the whole experience less than enjoyable.

This is original ;)
 

After seeing the exhibit and making a not so quick stop by the gift shop we walked across the little street to the Deoksugung Palace. We tried to walk around as fast as we could because it was freezing!  We had a man take our picture in front of a monument but we were barely recognizable, we were so bundled up in our winter clothes. 

Later we hopped on the subway to Itaewon (also known as the seedy foreigner district mostly known for the presence of American soldiers and quite a few "ladies of the night."  Thankfully we didn't stumble into the red light district.  We stopped by the shopping center next to the Hamilton Hotel to peak at souvenirs (the hotel is way overpriced as far as hotels in korea go, you only pay for the good location).

Seoul Tower at Namsan Park
  I coudln't believe how much cheaper the souvenirs were in Seoul compared to those in Gwangju- I found a lamp I bought in Gwangju for half the price at the Hamilton shopping center. Itaewon is also known for its many great foreign restaurants so we walked up and down the street looking for something to satisfy our cravings. Oddly enough, all I really wanted was Korean food so we went to a great Galbi restaurant and pigged out on grilled pork. Afterwards we went to the Yongsan train station and walked around the nearby electronics market. Our friends told us about the great deals you can get on DVD's so we indulged and walked away with 36 new movies :)

On the actual day of Seollal we went to Lotte World, an indoor/outdoor amusement park.  Unlike Disney World which is always packed on holidays, Lottle World was virtually empty when we got there at 10am.  We were able to save a few bucks by asking for foreigner coupons at the information desk.  Once we got into the the park it was kind of like being in a bigger version of Snoopy's playground in the Mall of America in Minneapolis. We were able to ride several rollercoasters, a flume ride, and even braved the cold to go on a mini version of the "Giant Drop" at Great America.  It was fun to walk around the different foreign-themed restaurants and attractions (think of  a much smaller, simpler, cheesier version of Epcot) and we caught a few dance/acrobat/musical shows on the main stage.  We didn't expect Lotte World to be Disney caliber, but we did have a lot of fun.  Afterall, we were in an amusement park in Korea, and it's not too often that we get to do that.  By 5pm (when tickets became deeply discounted) the park got really crowded so we headed back to Itaewon to meet Jon and Emily for dinner at Santorini's, a nice greek restaurant with great appetizers.

Friday we went back to Itaewon to check out "What the book"  a great English bookstore that offers free shipping (for orders more than 25 bucks I think) throughout Korea. We also each got a footlong sandwich at Subway (and it tasted just a good as the Subways in the States!) Then we headed to Seoul Tower in Namsan Park.  We thought a night view of the city would be a pretty way to end the evening. Unfortunately, so did hundreds of other people.  We had to wait for almost 2 hours to take the elevator to the top of the tower.  We did a quick walk around to check out the view and then when we had had enough we had to get in line and wait another hour to take the elevator back down.  Apparently you're not allowed to use the stairs.  * A word to the wise, skip this tourist trap altogether unless you're dying to see the city from a good vantage point. If you do go, I suggest avoiding weekends and holidays.  After our trip to the tower we went back downtown and walked around Dongdaemun market.  Unfortunately, we were both tired and the market looked exactly like the markets in downtown Gwangju so we headed back to the hostel. 

By the next morning we were ready to head back to the slower-paced atmosphere of Gwangju so we went to the express bus terminal, grabbed some bossam (kimchi and pork) at Nolboo for lunch, and headed home.

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At Deoksugung Palace
At Deoksugung Palace
Monkeyin around at Lotte World
Monkeyin' around at Lotte World
The Korean/German (?) band playing…
The Korean/German (?) band playin…
This is original ;)
This is original ;)
Seoul Tower at Namsan Park
Seoul Tower at Namsan Park
Seoul
photo by: chiyeh