Monday, 2 January 2017

Central Seoul

Date: Thursday 29th December 2016
Weather: It had snowed lightly last night giving every building in Seoul a beautiful, light sugary cover of snow. The day was a little cold due to a light breeze but there was still a beautiful blue sky.
MP3 track of the day: Gangnam Style – PSY













Having gone to bed early the night before, I found myself wide awake at 7 am. Once again I decided not to pay for breakfast at my hotel and instead, I waited until I reached my destination for the day; Jeongdong … the central district of Seoul. Instead of walking, I used my rail card for the first time (and interestingly, my card was docked 1,275 Wong (85p) when I went through my first ticket barrier and NOT when I went through my last. This meant that no matter how far you travel on the underground; no matter how many changes you make, as long as you don't go through a ticket barrier a journey will always cost the same amount no matter how far you travel). Though being respectful to your elders is very important in South Korea, it would appear that queuing is not. As I went to board the train Koreans of all ages pushed in front of me and my elbows had never been so busy.

I alighted at the 'city hall' stop and, once at street-level, I got my bearings. I found myself looking across a large circular area of snow-covered park land. In front of me was a hotel, (the President) which I'd almost decided to stay at, and around it lots of tall skyscrapers. To my right was another huge hotel with a beautiful Christmas tree outside. To my left was the city's library with the city's new city hall directly behind. The library is one of Seoul's many colonial architectural buildings and most of these buildings are within this area. They were built within the Japanese occupation period of 1910 – 1945 and were built along Neoclassical lines, although there are splashes of Art Deco as well. Understandably, a lot of the buildings built during the occupation period have been pulled down or destroyed and, it is said, that some Koreans are not too fond with the buildings which remain however, these buildings are now protected and, I think, it is a good thing too as a) they are some of the prettiest buildings in Seoul and b) they are still a part of the cities history whether that history is good or bad. What is interesting is that these colonial buildings were the tallest buildings of their day and this was on purpose; it was to remind the Korean people who were actually in charge. These days these buildings are choked by a lot of skyscrapers humbling them. As mentioned above, the new city hall is directly behind the old Japanese colonial library and the city hall has been designed to look like a wave, towering over and washing away Seoul's colonial past.

My first stop was a 'Dunkin Donuts'. I ordered a doughnut, a hot chocolate and a 'cheese and ham bake' which was okay however, I preferred yesterday's sandwich. Whilst in 'Dunkin Donuts' I studied my map and made a plan. I would visit the small palace of Deoksugung first before walking around the area taking in all of the buildings. I would then leave this area and head east through Namdaemun Market and into Myeondong; Soul Korea's main shopping area. With that decided I left 'Dunkin Donuts' and made my way to the palace. As today was not 'South Korea's Day of Culture', I had to pay to get in. Once I had my ticket I slipped cautiously past the guards - who were again in traditional clothing - and went through the first gate. Paying wasn't as much as of an annoyance as you may think; it reduced the amount of people looking around the area enormously.

Compared to yesterday's palaces, this one was tiny though no less interesting. This complex had both Chinese-looking ancient buildings and Japanese-colonial buildings; along with the snow, it was a joy to photograph this area. Once finished, I left the palace and walked around the area taking in all of the embassies and staring up at the skyscrapers. I also managed to find the area the demonstrators were currently camped and therefore, I saw the gate to Gyeongbokgung palace I'd visited yesterday. Finally, it was time to leave this area and so I headed south-east, past the city hall once more and past a beautiful ancient Korean gate called 'Namdaemun'. Near to this gate was a Korean sweet shop called 'Bizeun'. My guidebook had highlighted it due to the fact that this shop made traditional Korean sweets and, though they didn't look as delicious as chocolate, I felt that they would make an interesting gift for my work colleagues. I decided to return later.

I had now left 'modern South Korea' and was now entering Namdaemun Market; a chaotic area of street stalls, boiling food products, shouting and motorbikes winding their way through pedestrians. The place was packed and, as most things on sale were either clothes or food, I chose a road and just kept walking east until I left the market, occasionally stopping to examine goods in more detail. This market was a maze of small side streets and hidden building entrances with three or more floors of stalls. You could have spent a whole day here and still not have seen everything; it was crazy and my senses were on full alert.

Once out I'd made it to the area of Myeongdong; Korea's main shopping area. Some Japanese visitors spend their entire trip within this area, never leaving Myeongdong's borders and it showed due to a number of Japanese signs splashed all over the walls. The area seemed to be focused on only two products; clothes and cosmetics, neither of which I am particularity interested in. I therefore used my guidebook to find a 'famous restaurant' and went for lunch.

The restaurant was packed with people and miserable-looking waitresses. I was abruptly shown to my table and then, five seconds later, I was asked what I wanted to order (I hadn't even sat down). I apologised and quickly opened the menu. I spent a minute or so deciding what I wanted and placed my order whilst apologising again for no reason whatsoever. I'd ordered ten dumpling things and a spicy soup; again the blandness of the dumplings went well with the spicy soup. Once finished I paid for my meal before returning to my table - to pick up my bags and coat – to see that all of my plates had magically disappeared. It was then that a different miserable-looking waitress approached me and asked bluntly what I wanted to order. I apologised again and told her that I'd already eaten. I then ran out of the restaurant.

Back in the streets of Myeongdong, I went back into 'modern South Korea' by entering two very expensive looking shopping centres. I skipped the clothing sections and took the elevator down to the basement to look around the food area. I bought some South Korean chocolate. Through with shopping, I left the shopping centres and found the traditional South Korean sweet shop (I spent £50 on eight boxes of sweets for my five schools). I then slowly made my way to Seoul's main train station where I collapsed within another 'Dunkin Donuts'.

Once refreshed, I decided that I would head back to my hotel to drop off all of my shopping (each box of sweets weighed 200g) before I would head back out at night to go up Seoul's Tower. I left Seoul's main train station at 5:15 pm and arrived back at my hotel at 6 pm. After a quick freshen-up, I left my hotel at 6:30 pm and made my way back to Myeongdong; which is where the entrance to the tower is.

Darkness had fallen and the night sky was perfect; there wasn't a single cloud in the sky. Sadly everyone else in Seoul had thought the same and the queue to get into the cable car was horrendous.

The cable car took me up a small mountain which is located directly in the middle of the city of Seoul. Once the cable car had stopped, I found myself at the base of a modest-looking tower (though, due to being planted on the top of a small mountain, the tower was the same height as Tokyo's Skytree). I then joined another huge queue which took me up to the observation deck. Before reaching the observation deck, I had to deal with one of those stupid people who take a photo of you in front of a green screen, before planting it onto a fake background of Seoul Tower. If that wasn't enough, the elevator roof had a stupid fake video. As the elevator ascended up the tower, the video showed us bursting into space, flying around an asteroid belt and landing on an alien planet with Seoul's Tower sticking out of it. As you can imagine, I was quite relieved to arrive; I then spent my time gazing down onto the city of Seoul. Though the glass windows could have done with a clean, the view was amazing. Seoul was lit up like a Christmas tree and I could even see my hotel. I very much enjoyed taking in the view and I also enjoyed looking at the glass, as the names of different major cities were written on the glass with how many kilometres away they were.

I spent a good forty-five minutes at the top of the tower before, reluctantly, joining another huge queue to get down. The lift performed the same stupid video but in reverse however, mercifully, the cable car had no stupid 'fake' special effects. Once back in Myeongdong, I checked my watch … 10pm! Due to the sheer amount of people, it had taken three and a half hours to go up Seoul's Tower. Annoyingly, once back near my hotel, most restaurants had closed therefore, I found myself in 'Tom and Tom's cafe' ordering whatever they had left (though, not until the waitress had finished her text message). It took twenty minutes to receive two pepperoni pretzels. I thanked the waitress and took my food out of the cafe. I visited the local convenience store for a twix before getting back to my room at 11:20 pm. I ate dinner, had a shower and collapsed on my beautiful king-sized bed. What a day!

Toodle Pip!

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