Monday, September 5, 2016

Joel's walking tour of Seoul

We flew into Seoul's Incheon airport last night - enjoying the smoothest, most efficient entry into a foreign country that we've ever experienced. We settled into our elegant and spacious Somerset Palace apartment like it's our second home - and no wonder with Joelly and Kay, our near neighbours (in an even more spacious apartment) on the same floor.

Joel spent the day with us today, 6 hours of walking (and eating) our way around the best sights in downtown Seoul.

First stop was the lookout (via cable car) from Seoul Tower in Namsan Park.

To the north there were the mountains and the North Korean border (about 100klms away). In every other direction there were buildings as far as the eye could see. Seoul's population is around 10 million living in the city proper - but you can double that number if your count the wider region bordering the city.

Everywhere possible at the lookout is festooned with's supposed to be a very romantic thing to do - but it looks to me like a pretty disastrous problem that someone will have to do something about eventually.

Seoul Tower looked a lot like Black Mountain Tower to us!!

Then we walked from the cable car station northwards to Myeongdong, one of Seoul's many upmarket shopping districts - and this street largely free of cars.

Until we eventually reached the Seoul City Hall - a very memorable building that tells us a lot about South Korea and its place in the world!

The view below shows the first much older City Hall - built by the Japanese in colonial times - in juxtaposition with the much more modern South Korean built building. Its very innovative free form glass design makes the new building look like a wave about to crash over the older building!

Inside it is all natural light, and over 60,000 potted plants, creating walls of green foliage and a perfectly balanced environment.

We were ready for lunch by now - and Joel knew just the place for us.......a very simple little sit down eatery - serving Korean lunchtime specialties - so clean, fresh and delicious - wonderful!

I love this food! We shared this delicious lunch and some interesting table conversation with Steve, the head of the BBC Bureau. The foreign correspondents all know each other in this town.

I want to remember this place for next time!

This down at heel old building was an unusual sight on our walking tour today. Joel said it won't last much longer.

This small waterway in the centre of downtown is much appreciated by the locals and a real feature of celebrations during seasonal festivals (and Christmas).

As we got closer to the big ceremonial plaza leading to the presidential palace we were very moved by the sight of this very quiet but purposeful group of protesters (including one woman into day 8 of a hunger strike) - still seeking answers from the government about the tragic Sewol Ferry sinking in 2014 that resulted in the death of over 300 passengers, many of whom were young high school students. 

As we got closer to the presidential palace we could not help but notice this statue of King Sejong (the Great) - responsible for creating South Korea's language in 1443.

We were lucky today to see the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace.

 ......and admire the many girls today we saw dressed in their Hanboks (traditional dresses). Apparently it is considered a fun thing to do while you visit the cultural landmarks of the city!

Joelly found us a great dessert place up behind the Museum of Modern Art - one of many we can try apparently!!

This heavenly dish is shaved ice (flavoured with condensed milk), topped with red beans and rice balls - YUMMY! (Red bean snowflake.)

We took another small detour on the way back to Somerset Palace to have a closer look at Seoul's main Buddhist Temple. Here I saw a completely pot bound Lotus garden for the first time (I thought they had to grow in water)!

And then just a few metres from the entrance to the Somerset we saw another protest group (much smaller this time) watching over this memorial statue to the Korean "Comfort Women". The statue sits in mute witness just opposite the (now demolished) Japanese embassy in Seoul. The Japanese government wants it moved now that an apology has been made. However the apology is not considered acceptable - so that statue is not being moved!. One of the protesters engaged me in conversation about the issue (in English). I felt very moved by her determination and by the injustice of it all!!.

People watch over the statue, covering her with a raincoat when it rains etc! 

We've loved our first day in Seoul - the easiest, cleanest, most well run and refined foreign city we've ever visited. It's not a tourist city and we're at a distant disadvantage not knowing Korean language - but we have Joel and Kay - and the apparent good will of all Sth Korean residents in welcoming foreign visitors.

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