Thursday, January 27, 2011

3 Days in Seoul and Suwon

With an extra day tacked onto a recent weekend, we decided to take a trip to Seoul.

After missing our original train (7:10 am on a day off!), we were on a second one by eight o’clock.  It arrived complete with a game room and private norae-bong (karaoke room).  

Our first stop was Suwon, a city full of royal history and beauty.  

Hwaesong Fortress is located directly in the middle of the Seoul suburb.  It contains Haenggung palace, once home to a king during the Joseon Dynasty.  
{The large red-orange buildings make up the palace}
The fortress is made up of seemingly never ending steps.  Hidden gates and portholes dot its interior to allow surprise attacks on enemies.

Light and powdery snow made for a scenic winter walk within the fortress.

Nearly everyone we passed on our stroll took the time to greet us, smiling and asking, 
“Where are you from?”

The fortress was refreshing, and unlike anything we’ve seen here before.  The snow was also new to us, as Busan has only received a light dusting since we’ve been here.

We reached Seoul in the early evening, dropped our luggage off at our modest but convenient hotel, and set off for dinner.

Thrilled by the lime margaritas we discovered on our first trip to the city, we headed to Dos Tacos.  We had to laugh when we passed a new Taco Bell on our way there. 

The burritos, guacamole and margaritas we enjoyed were delicious.

The signage was amusing as well.

But we were freezing.  The temperature dropped drastically as the sun went down.  Although we’d come prepared with extra layers, hats and gloves, the strong wind whipped around our ice cold faces and pushed us inside for a semi-early night.

In the morning we ventured to Namsan Park and Seoul Tower.  Not accessible by car or taxi, a visit to the Tower requires a long uphill walk or cable car ride.  We opted for the cable car.  The weather had other plans. 

After sandwiching into the small car and lifting from the station for a minute or two, we came to a haltingly dramatic stop.  I involuntarily gave the poor British man standing in front of me a bear hug, and didn’t let go.  We hung suspended in the air for at least a minute, seriously wondering if we were going to die.  

Instead, we quickly zipped backwards the way we’d come, landing back at the platform with little explanation.  When an explanation did come, we learned that unexpected strong winds prevented the car from operating safely. 

Plan B was to trek our way up the hill that housed the Tower.  After a looong walk of familiar never-ending steps, including a good half-mile walk on a path in the wrong direction, we made it.  A friendly woman walked with us half the way, fawning over us and triple checking to make sure we didn’t need coffee or lunch.  Once at the top of the seemingly elusive tower, we found the views of the expansive city to be amazing.

Distances to many major worldwide cities were displayed on the large windows.  The glowing sun cast its light on the urban buildings and rolling hillsides in every direction.

Around the park on every fence were these locks.  Couples can purchase and decorate the locks, then hang them to symbolize eternal love between them.

Our walk back was a piece of cake.  As we had on the way up, we made a new friend on the hike down also.  Hailing from Seoul, the middle-aged man with nearly perfect English lives half of the year in California.  We wondered why he chose to spend winter in Seoul rather than the warm US state. 

Finally down the hill and with rumbling tummies, we spotted our favorite Korean chain and enjoyed a spicy stir-fried lunch.  We ordered beer and Soju to complement the delicious cheesy rice and veggies in an attempt to achieve warmth in the frigid temperatures.

Shopping was next on the agenda.  I had looked forward to the day like a child anticipating Christmas.

Boots anyone?

After Ryan had been sufficiently dragged around, we made time for some relaxation at the hotel before our next meal.  Did I mention that half the reason for this trip was to eat?

Since it was nearly ten by the time we were ready for dinner, our options in Itaewon were surprisingly limited.  Known as “the foreign district,” an overly popular place for tourists and ex-pat residents, it appeared we’d just missed the cut-off for the day’s last meal.  Happily, we found My Thai still serving spicy Pad Thai and Green Curry.

Although curious, we didn't try this menu item:

Sunday morning we ventured back to Itaewon for yet another meal.  The European-esque Flying Pan was less crowded than it had been in the summer.  We were quickly seated at the same table we’d dined at in June, a small corner bench stacked with pillows and surrounded by fringe. The lattes and breakfast dishes were just as delicious as the first time we visited.  It was the perfect cozy and romantic Sunday brunch.
Poached Eggs with pesto and avocado
Ham and Brie French Toast

We spent a few more hours back in Myeongdong, scoring free hand warmers and a few last minute items.  Though the street food piqued our curiosity... 

....We saved our appetites for a Greek restaurant recommended by some friends.  It was back to Itaewon yet again, where we found Santorino.  

Real Greek Salad with Kalamata olives and capers, Gyros, pita bread, crispy fries, eggplant dip, tzatziki….heaven.

Too soon we were back on the bullet train headed home from a whirlwind weekend.  Not that it’s at all warm here in Busan, but I’ll take thirty-four degrees over Seoul’s four anytime!

1 comment:

  1. I love your new blog background!
    Also, I am going to crawl into my computer and eat that Feta cheese. YUM.
    Looks like you guys had fun!