Sunday, September 4, 2016

A View of Seoul. N Seoul Tower.


When George and I wer talking about a trip to Seoul and things we wanted to see and do, he only had one request - that we go to the city's highest point for a view.  Apparently, it's something that he has regularly done on his trips.  So, after we cut short our time at Jamsil Stadium, we took a taxi to Namsan Tower.

I thought the driver would take us right to the base of the tower and so I was surprised when he dropped us near the parking lot of a hotel.  I was puzzled as was George and so we simply asked, "Namsan?"  Namsan is the name of the hill that the tower, which is a popular tourist attraction, is situated on. The driver replied to us in Korean while pointing us in the direction of a path that led uphill.  Oh....we have to walk the rest of the way up.  Hmmm....I wondered how far that walk would be.  With my exhausted body just minutes from collapsing, the thought of an uphill walk, in the hot and humid weather, was not something I was relishing doing.

We paused at the start of the walk to take a quick look at the posted map.  The path would indeed take us to the tower but there was no indication on length of walk :-(

I had promised George we would do this so off I trudged.  The good thing was that we were walking in a forest.  It was nice to see all the greenery. 


It was an easy walk - there were plenty of people coming and going.


The first stretch of the path ended in an open area.  George spotted the shuttle bus and we made a run for it.  For 1,200 won each, the bus would take us to the tower.  Hallelujah!!  I didn't even care that I had to stand for the ride as the bus was full of seated passengers.  


The bus wound its way up the hill and it was quite a long ride.  The longer we rode, the more thankful I was that we had a ride.

I snapped a couple views of the city along the way.  Sadly, it was an overcast today and the smoggy haze did not make for a pretty view.  I was surprised to see just how big the city is - there are a lot of buildings here!


Of course, there were a few people walking up and down the road but I would say that most people prefer taking the shuttle.

The shuttle dropped us at the bus stop area.  For reference, we made a note of the bus numbers that would take us back down the hill.  From here, there was still a short walk up a steep stretch of hill to get to the tower.  The place was packed with Koreans - I didn't notice too many tourists around.

Seoul Tower opened to the public on October 15, 1980 and has since become a major tourist attraction. The 237 meter (777 feet) tall tower sits atop Namsan Mountain. The observatory offers panoramic views of Seoul and the surrounding areas.

In 2010, the structure was renamed *N Seoul Tower*.  The letter *N* stands for the tower’s *new* look, which resulted from a 15 billion won remodeling project that occurred a few years earlier.


I was out of won so before entering, I hit up the ATM machine to get more currency.  Normally, I wouldn't use a cash machine located in a public area but for some reason, my gut was telling that Koreans are not scammers and the machine is safe to use.  I hope my intuition is correct.


It cost 10,000 won each to enter the tower and ride the elevator up to the observatory.  There was a long queue but it moved quickly.  The elevator sits in the inner core of the structure so you can't see out.  But to make up for that, there's a video on the ceiling of the elevator that simulates a ride up from the exterior of the tower.


Of course, the observatory offered 360 degree views of the city.  Unfortunately, since we've only been in Seoul for a very short time, neither one of us could point out any landmark.  If not for the river, which runs east west, south of the tower, I wouldn't even have know which direction I was looking out at.  I kept trying to find Gyeonbokgung Palace but I think it's too far away.


Too bad for the overcast day and smoggy haze.  I think if I were to do this again, I would come at night to see the lights of the city.


We weren't up at the observatory level for all that long - maybe 10 minutes at most.  Then it was back down the elevator to the ground level.

Even with my wide angle lens, it was hard to get a full shot of the tower.

As we walked out the entrance, I heard the sound of a woman singing, "My Heart Will Go On" to the strains of the music from a live band.  I could see that George was not interested to hanging around for the performance so I just slowly walked by them.



Although we had taken the bus up to the tower, we figured there was a cable car down so we decided to take it.  On the way to the cable car station, we passed by a display of love locks.



I've seen displays of love locks in many countries, including those in Paris but I have to give it to the Koreans for having the most colorful locks. 


The Koreans also win the award for writing their wishes and prayers on the inside of cellphone covers and attaching them to the lock.  There's just not enough space on a small lock to express all that you want to say.


There was also a tree of locks.  I think it makes for a very unusual and touching piece of art as every lock as a sentiment of love attached to it.


We followed the path and the crowd to the cable station.  We got our ticket and waited in line.


There were so many people ahead of us that  by the time I boarded, I was squashed in the middle.  We should've waited for the next car.  Oh well.


I peeked out the glass as best I could but at times, it really wasn't much of a view.


I snapped a few more photos as the car made its way down to the street.




Once we reached the street, we hailed a taxi to take us back to the apartment.  I really wanted to rest a bit before heading back out for dinner.

I had the taxi drop us off near the American Embassy.  From there, I knew how to get us back to the apartment - it would be about a 10 minute walk.  We crossed the street over to Gwanghawmun Square where there is a statue of King Sejong aka Sejon the Great (1397-1450), the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty.  Sitting with a gentle smile on his face and a book in his hand, the bronze statue of 9.5m in height celebrates the King and his great achievements which include inventing Hangeul, the Korean alphabet.

Surrounding the statue, on the edges of the Square, is the 'Waterway of History,' a stream flowing on tiles with inscriptions of Korean history.


On the opposite side of the street is a small city square located next to Sejong Center, a public performance venue, museum, and wedding hall.  It's a lovely space for people, especially those who work nearby, to come out and enjoy their work day lunch.


We only stayed in the apartment for about a half hour before heading back out.  For convenience, we decided to head back to Insadong for dinner but being lazy, we took a cab.  Today, I was far too tired to protest.  Otherwise, once the sun sets in Seoul, the temperature is comfortable and it would have been good to walk.

It's Sunday today and Insadong was crowded with people.  It was nice to see Koreans, of all ages, strolling the streets here.


I left it to George to pick a place to eat.  Of all things, an Indian restaurant caught his eye and I didn't object as we will have nothing but Korean food in the days to come.  Indian would be a nice break.  We took the stairs to the upstairs restaurant and got seated at a table next to the opened window.  The waiter dropped off a couple of menus but before I could even figure out what I was going to eat, George wanted to leave.  With the windows opened, the restaurant was obviously not air conditioned and the dining room had not cooled down.  Poor guy was miserable sitting there.  So up and out we went.

I suggested we check out the restaurants located down the alleys and to keep our eyes out for a place that had a closed front door and no open windows as that would be a good sign that the place was air conditioned. It didn't take long for us to hit the jackpot.  It would be a simple Korean meal.  Since Insadong is such a popular tourist area, the chance that the menus come with pictures is high.  Two thumbs up for us!


George and I shared a simple meal of stewed beef which came with the usual complement of banchan and brown rice.  It was plenty of food for us.




After dinner, I managed to convince George to walk back to the apartment - we had to burn off the calories we just consumed.  It was still early night when we arrived back. We both needed time to pack up our luggage as we are leaving tomorrow morning on our road trip through Korea.  I also needed a few minutes to clean up the apartment - I like leaving apartments as clean as possible after our stay.

I've enjoyed my short time in Seoul and while I was not expecting much of this city, I have to say that I've come to appreciate it.

Goodnight from Seoul!