Thursday, May 30, 2013

창경궁 - Changgyeonggung Palace

If you find the names confusing, you're forgiven. Changgyeonggung sits right next to Changdeokgung. They even have an adjoining entrance so you can proceed from one to the other. It may not be as spectacular, but the palace grounds are still worth the visit. I found Changgyeonggung to be very peaceful and relaxing. You'll see people chilling around the lake or enjoying the tranquility inside one of the buildings. In all of the palaces I visited, the building below was the only one that you could actually go inside (minus the shoes, of course).

You can find this 7-story pagoda by the lake toward the back.

We also saw this sundial as we wandered the gardens. I tried, but I couldn't figure out how to read it.

I enjoyed the fact that there were very few people at Changgyeonggung. We stayed until closing time and it sometimes felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Because we used the rear entrance directly from Changdeokgung, this front entrance pathway leading to the main palace was the last thing we saw as we exited.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

창덕궁 - Changdeokgung Palace

We visited them all, but if you had to pick only one palace in Seoul, it should probably be Changdeokgung. I say this mostly because of the Secret Garden. Up front, you can get a taste of the Korean palace architecture. In the back, you can escape from the bustling city and enjoy the secluded surroundings of the Secret Garden.

This is probably the only time I was able to get a decent palace interior shot.

To me, the Secret Garden tour is the best part of Changdeokgung. It's just so peaceful and beautiful back there. I don't think these photos do it justice.

Since this trip is really my first time using the 24-105, I'm discovering things about it that I have to watch for. In particular are these nasty bright spots. I haven't looked into it yet, but my first guess is lens flare due to dirt. I'm such a newbie. But I still love the perspective of this photo, so I had to include it.

Seeing this tree makes me think that Seoul must be absolutely beautiful in the fall. Early May probably wasn't the best time to visit, visually speaking. We barely missed the cherry blossoms and it was starting to get a tad warm.

Monday, May 27, 2013

LOL - Locks Of Love

I don't know if there's an official name for them, but I love acronyms, so "locks of love" it is.

I discovered LOL when I was researching Namsan (literally South Mountain) and the so-called N Seoul Tower that sits atop. It's basically a few areas of fence and other structure where people connect a padlock with their message. Apparently, this happens in other places around the world, but in most cases, they get taken down. At Namsan, they actually encourage this behavior. They even have signs that tell you to not throw away your key. I thought it was some sort of joke about needing it in case you break up. In reality, it's an environmental message about the harmfulness of the metal decomposing in the mountainside.

My plan before the trip was to hike to the top of the mountain. However, since we were spending a day on the Seoul City Tour Bus and it happens to have a stop right at the top near the tower, we decided to take advantage of it. I made our LOL last-minute before we left Vegas. It's basically an old plastic folder that I cut up and I found an old padlock in a box in my spare room. Free is good. Once it came time to installing our LOL, I figured we should audition a few locations and take photos. Here are some candidates.

We finally settled on this corner spot overlooking the city below. (It's there somewhere through that haze). By the way, I wrote the Hangul on the heart. It's just a simple thing—"Jieun and Paolo and Bawoo." Yes, even Bawoo gets immortalized on Namsan.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

청계천 - Cheonggyecheon

Right in the heart of Seoul is the surprisingly awesome Cheonggyecheon. You wouldn't think that a highly developed, urbanized stream could be this pretty. The city really did a remarkable job of renovating and modernizing it. Cheonggyecheon has become a popular walking trail for locals and tourists alike.

We first checked it out during the day because we were in the area, but the place really comes alive at night. You'll find people enjoying the various art installations or just hanging out under bridges.

Because the Buddha's Birthday national holiday was just around the corner, everywhere we went had decorations up and Cheonggyecheon was no exception.

The end of the stream, or more accurately the beginning, is marked by this waterfall. They had a lantern sculpture display in honor of the upcoming holiday.

Here are a few closeups of the larger sculptures.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bomb Soondaeguk (순대국)

This is from the same day as my "G'morning Gangnam" post. We were up early and in search of breakfast. That brought us to this amazing soondae place on a small side road near Gangnam subway station. As I soon learned, the best restaurants are tucked away in small side streets. Right at the entrance, we could see the incredible eats in our immediate future.

To help my memory, I tried to take a photo of the restaurant name wherever we ate. I'm not sure if this name means something. For sure, the last two characters say soondae!

I've really started to love soondae lately, especially when it's made well. But this is my first time having soondaeguk (soondae soup). Although it was only the first morning of the trip, this turned out to be one of the best meals I ate in Korea. Their soondae is easily the best I've ever had. It's melt-in-your-mouth tender and delicious.

Extra soondae and cuts of cow leg came included with our soups. I'm definitely looking for this place again the next time I'm in Seoul.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

First Meal in Korea

After touching down at Incheon and the subsequent one-hour "limousine bus" ride to COEX, Jieun's sister and family picked us up and took us to dinner at 명인등심. The plan was to get Galbitang because it's supposedly good there, but it turns out that they only serve that dish for lunch. In any case, my first meal in Korea was a success.

The name of the restaurant means something like "master fillet," referring to the grade of their meat. The BBQ beef that we enjoyed was incredibly tender and flavorful. It could also be Sean's masterful skills on the grill. I found out later that it was also reflected in the premium price of our dinner—not cheap at all.

If you're familiar with Korean cuisine, you know that the side dishes, or banchan, are a staple. One of the banchan was this delicious scallion salad. Evidently, it's a typical accompaniment to KBBQ. The bowl warming up on the grill is Jangjorim, a classic side dish containing beef, garlic, soy sauce, and quail egg—one of my favorite foods!

Towards the end of the meal, they brought out this hot and tasty jjigae that they then mixed with rice to make a porridge. It was a satisfying end to a great dinner.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

숭례문 - Sungnyemun

Also known as 남대문 (Namdaemun), Sungnyemun is one of the eight historical gates of Seoul. Sungnyemun means Gate of Exalted Ceremonies while Namdaemun means Great South Gate. It is considered Korea's national treasure number 1.

It was on my list of things to check out before our trip, but every time I tried to find it on Google Maps, all I could see was this big white building. As it turns out, some crazy old man burnt it down five years ago and the white building housed its reconstruction. We saw part of a documentary showing how the gate was rebuilt by hand by master craftsmen using traditional techniques. Lucky for us, the restored Sungnyemun was reopened to the public the day before we landed.

Right before our trip, I was doing more Google searches and I stumbled across a Lego Architecture rendition of Sungnyemun. I didn't expect to find it, but when I did see it at an eMart store in Korea, I obviously had to pick it up. Below is a photo of the finished product and here is a time-lapse video of its construction.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

덕수궁 - Deoksugung Palace

Deoksugung is the first of many palaces on our Korean sojourn. It happens to be the very first stop on the Seoul City Tour Bus loop, so it just worked out that way. Lucky for us, we were able to catch one of their changing of the guard ceremonies.

Monday, May 6, 2013

G'morning Gangnam

Yesterday, I woke up at around 330am. This morning, around 430am. So I guess that's progress! I'll make use of this awake time to get started with the blog posts. We decided to go for an early morning walk to find breakfast.

I tried to take several panning shots, but this dude on the delivery bike takes the prize. The dyed hair and cigarette hanging from his mouth clinched the title.

The broom matches his shoes.

You'll find these delivery bikes throughout Seoul, breaking traffic rules along with the best of them!

Ding Dong! Hooray for being able to read.

We were headed for a specific restaurant, but we discovered so many other places to eat nearby. This live octopus tank particularly caught my attention.