Shrine, Palace, and Tower


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Asia » South Korea » Seoul
December 28th 2009
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 37.5323, 126.957

A gorgeous, glorious day! It began with brekkies (at the local Starbuck's, which was disappointing), then a return to the hotel room for an hour or so. At 10am, we headed into the cold but perfectly sunny day. We took the Metro from City Hall to Jongeo-3, then walked down the street of jewelers to the main road, then over to the Jongmyo Shrine.

The shrine was interesting in many ways, but we were particularly impressed with the sheer beauty of the setting -- the evergreen trees, the ponds and islands (symbolizing earth and heaven). We viewed a video which showed the ritual of honoring the ancestors (still performed every year by descendants of the royal family in a ceremony that lasts seven hours). The spirit tablets are surprisingly plain -- just wood, unadorned. The buildings, too, are very simple -- and, though the courtyards were open, the cells of the buildings were all closed. Still, the courtyards full of snow were very beautiful -- restful and bright. We learned that the Japanese had burned many of the buildings, so we began to joke that the signs above the fire extinguishers all said, "Break in case of Japanese." Probably not as funny as we thought it was.

From the shrine, we crossed over the overpass to the Changgyeonggung (palace -- which the Japanese had turned into a zoo instead of burning). Like the shrine, the gardens behind the house were in many ways more interesting than the palace -- although the buildings were very beautiful in the sunshine and snow. The pond was frozen … and we laughed at the duck which, judging from the prints, had landed on the ice, skidded a few feet, then walked to shore. (Maybe it forgot to migrate.) At the upper end of the park was a greenhouse, which we entered: tropical plants, bonsai, a pond. It was a warm and pleasant respite from the cold outside.

We ended up with a visit to the main building of the palace, which was under refurbishment. Again, the courtyard full of snow was very beautiful, and I enjoyed the carvings on the stones next to the steps up to the main building.

Exiting the palace, we walked down the main street, to the underground shopping arcade, where we bought Keegan a belt. Many of the shops sold cloths and made traditional Korean clothes (presumably for weddings). We would have wandered more, but we were very hungry, so we boarded the metro and went to Myeongdong (another shopping district) for lunch. We all craved pasta and found a decent Italian restaurant on the third floor … with a view of a salon across the street, which displayed an advertisement of a bald man with an octopus on his head.

After lunch, we started the climb to the N Seoul Tower. As we walked up the street to the cable car stop (where the climb begins), we were asked many times if we were looking for a China visa. Presumably, they are not actually selling fake visas but visa-getting services. In any case, we were looking to climb a hill, so we did not find out.

The climb up the steps was, on the whole, not bad at all … though the steps were periodically very slippery, especially on the side of the hill in the sun. We paused at the “photo island” for the view (stunning -- surprisingly clear), then climbed the rest of the way to the top. At the top, we took photos of the kids with the giant teddy bears outside the museum … and were amazed by the number of locks on the railings. Couples in love write on padlocks, bike locks, even handcuffs, and fasten them to the railings, symbolizing their everlasting love. Some of the locks had attached plastic hearts; others had photographs of the young lovers. The railings were positively covered with them, and one sign said, “Do not through your keys away!” -- so we wondered how many keys could be found in the leaves below the tower, tossed away by passionate young men, to demonstrate that he would never need the key again.

We did not linger but returned down the hill, to the cable car station, then walked along the road towards the Namsangol Hanok village. The walk was in the shade, so cool … but the road, now pedestrian-only, was rubberized, providing a very secure surface for walking. They seem to be constructing a stream alongside the road -- should be very pleasant in summer. The hanok village was a bit of a disappointment. Of the five houses, at least one was reconstructed … and the homes were all similar to our eyes.

It grew cold as we wandered around the village, so had a bit of a chill. We took the subway one stop and found a Starbuck's for coffee and sweets, which helped warm the core. Then, back to the hotel … where we discovered the power was off. At first, our room was lit only by the glow from the neighboring office structure, but after about 45 minutes, the emergency light came on, so we were able to see well enough to play Hoopla. After the game, we were all a bit tired, so Paul and I lay down to rest, while Kyla and Keegan used the laptop (thank goodness for battery power).

About 9pm, the power came back on again. We had, none of us, felt very hungry, so we decided to order room service. They had little available, but we did get fried chicken -- so reminiscent of KFC that we wondered if they just went out across the street. Then I journaled, while everyone else watched a movie on television … then, late, to bed.


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