Exploring Seoul

Tuesday, 09-12-2014. Day 111.

Squid, locks, city walls.

We didn't know anything about Korea, but that didn't stop us from venturing out and doing a little exploring. Jackie discovered a brochure (she continues to be the queen of the brochures) at the hostel for a Lock Museum that was nearby, so we decided to walk over there and give it a look. But first, we needed to get a little breakfast.

The first thing we noticed was that it was cold. How cold? About -4°C, the coldest temperature our family has seen since, well, forever. The second thing we noticed was we were getting a lot of stares; Westerners weren't that common is Seoul, it seemed—at least not during winter.

Silk Road Milestone

Silk Road Milestone

Dongdaemun Silk Road Milestone

On our way to breakfast we passed the Silk Road Milestone, a tall, wooden marker on a traffic island that celebrates. This isn't a memorial to the more famous Silk Road across China, this seems to be honoring the Silk Road of Seoul, where traders from Russia and Mongolia came to sell their goods and eventually settled here.

Jackie really wanted a bagel, so we headed across the street to Paris Baguette. The food wasn't bad (if you like a lot of bread) and the coffee was decent, but it was pretty obvious from the moment we walked into the shop until we left that we weren't exactly welcome there. We ate quickly, then bundled up (did I mention it was cold?) and headed off toward the lock museum.

DDP!

DDP!

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Our route took us right past the massive and massively distinct Dongdaemun Design Plaza. This place, which opened earlier in 2014, is unlike anything else around. It's ultra-modern, looking a lot like a giant alien spacecraft landing in the middle of Seoul. It's made from something like 40,000 aluminum sheets (it's said none of them are the same) and houses a design museum, a fashion design center, an exhibition space, and a skylounge. And at night, it glows.

It was a great landmark, and we figured if we got lost in our meanderings around the city, all we needed to do was tell the taxi driver to take us to this place.

The Design Plaza is in front of the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park, a cool but somewhat odd collection of old, historic buildings, ancient ruins, and even the remains of an old baseball stadium. Some of the remains from the dig that uncovered the area are on display on the ground floor of the Design Plaza. All in all, it was an strange juxtapositioning.

There are a lot of street vendors in Seoul selling pretty much everything. Food, clothing, accessories, and other trinkets. A lot of the clothing is from brands like The Red Face (which looks a lot like The North Face) and is significantly cheaper than elsewhere. If I'd waited to buy a winter coat from the streets of Seoul instead of an upscale mall in Tokyo, I would have saved $50 U.S. But I also would have froze half to death getting there.

At one point as we walked, we saw one woman cooking something on the side of the street. We were intrigued, and as we got closer, we saw it was squid, pounded flat and roasted over an open flame. It looked like squid bacon. She held up three fingers (meaning it was 3,000 won, or about $3). She was selling it as fast as she could make it, so we bought some. It was very chewy and not quite the taste sensation we were hoping for.

Heunginjimun Gate

Heumginjimun Gate.

Heumginjimun Gate.

Just down the road from the Dongdaemun Design Plaza we ran right into this impressive gate. We didn't know it yet, but Seoul used to be surrounded by a long wall, and this gate, right in the middle of the city, was the east entry into the city originally built in 1398. It was one of four large gates at the cardinal locations.

Interesting Sculpture

Say no more.

Say no more.

A short time later, we walked by this colorful sculpture in front of the National Institute for International Education. You can draw your own conclusions.

Lock Museum (쇳대박물관)

A lock on display at the Lock Museum.

A lock on display at the Lock Museum.

We rounded the corner, walked down the street and arrived at the building housing the Lock Museum. The museum itself took some effort to locate (it's up the stairs on the fourth floor, but you have to enter through the third floor), but find it we did—and none too soon either. We were freezing.

This place is exactly what you think it would be—a museum full of locks and keys, both from Korea and all over the world. They claim to have more than 4,000 locks and key-related items on display, and, while we didn't count them all, there certainly were a lot.

A lot of locks.

A lot of locks.

There was a whole room that looked like a locksmith's workshop that also featured a display of locks, keys, and letters sent to the museum by visitors who wanted to add to the collection. Jackie had a great time and it was a challenge to get her to leave.

Not ready to leave yet.

Not ready to leave yet.

Before we headed back to the hostel, we stopped in at the cafe on the first floor for a coffee and some other beverages to warm us up for the walk back.

This is how cold it was: water turned into some sort of strange solid.

This is how cold it was: water turned into some sort of strange solid.

Seoul City Wall Museum

A section of the Seoul City Wall.

A section of the Seoul City Wall.

On the way back, as the sun started going down and the tempurature dropped even more, we stopped, completely by accident (we were looking for a bathroom) in at the free Seoul City Wall Museum.

This is where we learned that Seoul was once surrounded by a wall that was nearly 19 kilometers long, originally built in 1396 or 1397. It has a fascinating history, including being used , and portions of it still stand today.

In one section of the museum, a Lego recreation of the Sungnyemun Gate (the south gate) built by Brickmaster, which was pretty impressive.

You can build your own (smaller) version with the Lego Architecture Sungnyemun Gate Kit.

You can build your own (smaller) version with the Lego Architecture Sungnyemun Gate Kit.

Picking restaurants in Seoul was a bit of a challenge because of the language barrier. By this time we were dealing with some hungry kids, so we stopped for at a random izakaya place because it was something of a known quantity (they served ramen) and because it was warm.

Korean Ice Cream

Ice cream? It's way too cold for that.

Ice cream? It's way too cold for that.

On the way home, among the many street vendors, we saw one vendor who was selling Korean ice cream just like we saw in Hong Kong at Bingco. As exciting as that was, it was too cold for eating ice cream outdoors. Instead, we headed back to the hostel and our radiant-heat floors.

Notable Statistics

  • Locks seen: more than 4,000
  • Squid eaten: 1
  • Ice cream eaten: 0

is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. He also drinks coffee.

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Exploring Seoul
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