Tuesday was my first solo Seoul day! Luckily Jaclyn trained me well, so I had no problem making my way to the train station and hopping on the train towards Seoul. The subway system here is very punctual, clean, easy to navigate, and foreigner-friendly.
On the train ride I played Pokemon Yellow, which my friend Matt had given me back during my trip to Seattle. I felt pretty classic playing my old school Gameboy Color on the train into Seoul.
I decided to visit Changgyeonggung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine, but after arriving at Jongmyo, I found that area was closed on Tuesdays! Luckily Changgyeonggung Palace was pretty close. On my way over to the palace I stopped and grabbed a muffin coffee – they have some really awesome ideas over here! Weirdly enough, it was an early grey muffin that came with my coffee. No complains though, it was very tasty!
Changgyeonggung Palace was pretty darn cool. Unfortunately I missed the time to enter the coveted “secret garden” tour of the palace’s back gardens. This area is supposed to be gorgeous, but you can only go in with a tour. There were only two English tours, and I missed the last one (1:30pm) by only 15 minutes! Still, there was plenty to see on the palace grounds.
I walked around for an hour taking photos and testing out my new “selfie stick” before joining an English tour.
A quick word about selfie sticks – they are all the rage in Korea! I’ve heard them also referred to as “narcissi-sticks,” and I’ll admit, they seem silly at first. They are giant extendable sticks you can attach your phone to – perfect for taking the ultimate selfie.
While I thought they were pretty ridiculous at first, as a solo traveler, there are many times when I’d like a photo of myself to share my adventure with friends and family back home, but no one is around to take it. And in comes the selfie stick.
OK, it is crazy, stupid, and silly…..but also kind of genius.
Anyway, after I had my fill of selfies, I joined the English tour. The tour was free and very informative – I enjoyed it a lot! The cost of entering the palace was only 3,000 won which is about $3, and the tour was free. I think it’s pretty awesome how cheap these tourist attractions are in Korea, especially when I think back to my times in Europe where every site could cost $10 – $20.
We wandered about the palace (largely open air), learning about what the King and Queen’s daily life was like, and what various buildings were used for. Sadly most of this palace and others were destroyed by the Japanese (often twice, from their initial invasion and then again with WWII). Thankfully the buildings were restored with care. The intricate carvings on these buildings was incredible – the colors, the carvings, the designs, all masterfully done and create a sense of awe.
As with many older tourist attractions, sites like these are often much more fun if you can use a bit of imagination, as there isn’t a ton to see inside of the buildings, but the structures are so impressive that they are worthy of attention alone.
One quick cool thing I love about Korean culture. Well, love/find annoying. Everyone takes of their shoes before entering many buildings. Sometimes this includes restaurants too! I spotted this cute slipper scene around the palace.
After the tour, I sat down to do a drawing of the main palace building. I haven’t been sketching at all since the summer, and I knew I wanted to try to start sketching again while traveling to Asia this visit. The building was huge and intricate, so it took me a very long time to draw it. People kept coming over to look, some right next to my head. I’m pretty sure one women even took a picture of me, haha!
I’m ashamed to stay I got a bit of a late start to my day, so by the time I had finished my time at the palace, it was already 5:30, and so I grabbed the train back to Seoul to meet Jaclyn.
Jaclyn and I had dinner at her friend Young’s restaurant. Young spent many years in Seattle, and her restaurant is called “Seattle Grill.” Jaclyn said she loves to go there for a classic American hamburger, but since I’m on a Korean food only kick, we had cheese tonkatsu and Korean short ribs, both delicious!
Afterwards we headed home and donned a Korean face mask. Skin care is really big here, and you know what they say, when in Rome.
Koreans are really into skin care, so creams and masks like these are everywhere. I actually have seen a few people walking around with giant bandages on their faces from plastic surgery. Apparently Korea is a big destination for plastic surgery tourism (kind of like medical tourism, haha) from other Asian countries, since the Korean style of plastic surgey is very popular. Seems like the most common surgery is to make the eyes larger. 🙁
On that depressing note… until next time! 🙂