Wednesday, 10-12-2014. Day 112.
A (Self) Tour of some Cultural Highlights
Despite being summarily ignored at Paris Baguette the day before, we walked over there again for breakfast.
Why? Mainly because it was close and Jackie would eat what they sold. But our experience was even worse than the day before. It's a small shop, and at one point, one of the gals working there was frustrated at my presence and shoved me out of the way so she could get by. And it wasn't a friendly shove either. This amused me mightily.
After breakfast we walked back over to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza where we paid for the Seoul Sightseeing bus. The idea is for a flat fee you cab ride the bus all day, getting on and off at different sightseeing spots.
These things exist in most major cities around the world, but tend to be a little expensive. The one in Sydney, for example, was upwards of $100 for each adult. This one was a great deal, though, running us less than $40 for the whole day.
We had a little bit of time before the first one left from the Design Plaza, so we went inside to check the place out.
While we were there, we saw a video of some sort for Triviki, a three-wheeled, stand-up vehicle, being filmed. Samantha tried to take a picture of the Triviki but was shut down quickly. We couldn't find the video online, but here's one that looks pretty similar.
After we were chased away by the Triviki heavies, it was time to catch our bus to see Seoul. We decided our first stop would be the Gyeonbokgung Palace (stop number 106).
We arrived at the palace just in time to see the final moments of the changing of the guard ceremony, which was pretty cool. These guys are sort of like the Beefeaters in London and a lot of people were going right up to them to have their pictures taken.
This castle, situated right in the heart of Seoul, was originally built in the late 1300s and was where the kings of the Joseon Dynasty lived and ruled. It's said to have 7,700 rooms and the palace grounds are vast. As we wandered around we kept wondering how far they went (pertty far). We didn't explore the whole thing, because we wanted to get to Jongmyo Shrine before it closed and we were freezing. Have I mentioned it was cold?
So after a quick stop off in the gift shop/café to thaw a bit, we walked back to the bus stop to catch the next sightseeing bus.
King Sejong the Great
Right across from the bus stop, we saw this statue honoring Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty. He ruled for more than 30 years, and during his reign he instituted a lot of Confucianism-based reforms, created Hangul (the system of Korean writing still in use today), and kept the Japanese invaders at bay. So yeah, he was pretty great.
We rode the bus for awhile, and the gals wanted to ride on top. Why not? This was an adventure after all, so we went for it, even if the top of the bus was open to the air. If we weren't cold before, we were now.
We toured around the city and saw some cool stuff, like the Sungnyemung Gate, which we'd seen created in Lego the day before at the Seoul City Wall Museum.
We also saw the new Seoul City Hall, a modern building that was built immediately behind the original city hall. The two buildings now stand next to each other, the new building wrapped lovingly over the old.
Eventually, we got off the bus at the Jongmy Shrine stop. Actually, the bus didn't pull over at the stop we needed, so we had to walk a few blocks back to the shrine entrance. There was a bunch of construction going on around there, so we had to go around the block to get to the entrance.
The Jongmyo Shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we got our tickets about 10 minutes after the last tour of the day had started. You can't enter without a tour guide, and we were a little worried we wouldn't be able to see it because of this. But they hustled us through the park until we caught up with the tour group, already in progress.
But, because we started late, we missed a little of the history about the place, but we did learn it is the oldest and best preserved royal Confucian shrine in Korea. It was first built in the 14th century, but, like so many sacred places in Korea, was destroyed during the Japanese invasion in the 16th century. It was later rebuilt in the 17th century, and it's been largely unaltered since then.
Ancestral worship ceremonies with complex rituals have taken place here for centuries and continue to be held here today. Our guide told us in total, there are 83 spirit tablets of 27 former kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty kept here, locked behind doors.
One really interesting feature was the path to the ceremony halls—there's one path that you're not allowed to walk on, becuase it's for the spirits only.
After the tour was over we walked back to the bus stop and waited half an hour for the bus to arrive. The sun went down as we waited, and the temperature dropped quickly. There was nowhere nearby to hang out that was warm, either, so we just waited, getting number and number, until the bus pulled up only a few minutes late. We were really happy to see it.
We rode it back to Dongdaemun Plaza, which was alive with flickering lights.
By the time we ate dinner at Food Cafe, which was a recommendation of one of our hosts at the hostel. It wasn't anything fancy, but the food was decent and inexpensive with good-sized portions and, importantly, the restaurant was warm.
- UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited: 1 (10 cumulative)
- Buses Taken: 3