Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mom, Memorial and Market: an autumn weekend in Seoul

Mid month, we welcomed Ryan's mom Sarah from Mexico.

Besides working on combating jet lag and getting her bearings in Asia, her first week in Busan was spent visiting our kiddies, exploring the local Costco, and giving us haircuts.  (Thankfully my hair has now recovered from the traumatic incident of early summer.)

The three of us spent our first weekend together in Seoul.

Intrigued by the DMZ tour we took in June, Sarah went ahead Thursday evening in preparation for an early Friday tour of her own.

Ryan and I met her in Seoul later that night after work.  The location of our hotel was amazing.  We were practically on top of a subway stop, leaving the immense city at our fingertips.  The accommodations themselves were acceptable, aside from the pillows, which were as thick as couch cushions.

Trying to ignore our sore necks, we spent Saturday at the historical UNESCO Changdeokgung Palace.  
We began our day with a tour of the “Secret Garden" which sprawled behind the palace's grounds.

Within the garden were modest wooden buildings housing the servants' quarters. 

Hello Sarah!

As our tour guide led us further into the garden, numerous intricately painted buildings and gates began to pop up among the immense greenery.  These were areas where the royal family relaxed all those years ago. 

At one point during the tour we came across this sign near a construction area, which we couldn't quite figure out.  We nicknamed it, "Baby on Fire." 

We also appreciated another sign we saw nearby, which we decided was Korea's way to represent the Oregon Ducks.

After the tour, we took a break from the palace and grabbed lunch nearby.  Sarah had a great time dabbling in mandu, one of Korea's delicacies.  

Ryan enjoyed cold iced noodles with beef and chili sauce.  I stuck with my safest bet when it comes to Korean food, bibimbap

On our way back into the palace after lunch, we found a sweet woman in front of the gate passing out books  to visitors.  She was kind enough to pose for a picture with our newest tourist.

From there we explored the rest of the palace.  Home to a king during the Joseon dynasty and built in 1404, the palace's main structures are elaborately decorated and massive in size compared to the Korean temples we’d seen up to that point.  We are the ants in front of the giant buildings.

Also unique to what we've seen in other buildings, many of the roofs were decorated with small steel animals.

Uneven stone sidewalks created a path through much of the palace grounds.   At one point, only royalty could walk on the higher strip, while the servants and commoners tread on the surrounding lower paths.

In the afternoon we took a trip to the Korean War memorial, a large building with beautiful and meaningful sculptures lining its outdoor entryway.

Inside were four floors, detailing ancient Korean history as well as the more recent events of the Korean War and the continuing conflict between North and South.  
38th parallel dividing North and South Korea
Memorial for the United Nations who participated in the war
Hall with names of the Korean War casualties

Short videos interspersed with war dioramas and artifacts brought the country's dark history to light.  An elderly man outside the museum thanked Sarah for America's past assistance to Korea.  It was very sweet.

For dinner we ventured to a Thai restaurant in Itaweon.  We dined on deliciously spicy curry, unique pad thai ( actually wrapped in an egg rather than having egg bits dispersed throughout) and crispy spring rolls.  

After dinner we settled back into our hotel, helping ourselves to extra towels from a maid's cart in order to roll them up and use them instead of the couch cushion pillows on our necks.

On Sunday we walked the few blocks back to the War Memorial, picking up where we’d left off after being booted out at closing time the previous day.

Unfortunately the sprinkle we felt as we entered the memorial decided to let loose as we departed, becoming a downpour.

We practically ran to the first lunch place we could find, and had a nice Italian (Korean style Italian) meal.  The small restaurant was well decorated, clean and inviting.  The bathroom was complete with a sparkly toiletseat.

The food wasn’t bad either.  Hearty potato soup and a rich cream sauce over shrimp and spaghetti was a nice indulgence considering the stormy weather.

After lunch we ran to the subway, dodging raindrops, and purchasing matching plastic pastel umbrellas to keep us dry.  Above ground we explored Namdaemun Market, a famous sight in Seoul.

We haggled with grumpy shopkeepers over the prices of souvenirs, and were encouraged to eat at each food stand we passed by.  

Farther into the market were also endless stationary, bedding and clothing stores.  

Rows of food stands pushed ginseng and traditional snacks.

Others tried to entice us with junk food displays reminding us of home.

Our last stop, the well-known Namdaemun Gate turned out to be under construction.  Unfortunately we caught only a glimpse of it, housed inside this building as it undergoes restorations through 2012.

Giving into the rain, we headed to the train station earlier than planned to begin the trip back to Busan.

We returned home to one day of work before our trip to Japan during our six-day Chuseok vacation.  More on that to come!

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