Saturday, September 3, 2016

George's First Views of Seoul.

At Gyeonbokgung Palace.

George and I started our first day together in Korea with breakfast at a Starbuck's located just a short walk from our apartment. Such a difference from last night when we had a quick bite at a local restaurant also a short walk from the apartment.

I have to admit, I have rarely been inside a Starbucks ever since I joined the ranks of the retired.   But George is a very loyal customer - he even has some sort of a reward card from them.  Anyway, I went along.  After all, my breakfast yesterday morning was nothing to write home about so why not give Starbucks a shot.  At least I can get a cup of coffee and maybe a pastry of some sort.....that's not filled with surimi and mayo.


We arrived a few minutes before the place opened so we just waited outside.  George had his usual 4 shot venti sized coffee and a pastry and I had a tall Americano with a cheese topped bagel.  The coffee was as you taste in the US.  The bagel was like a doughy piece of bread.  Okay but most certainly not a bagel as we know it in the US.  It wasn't much of a breakfast but it was a whole lot better than what I had had yesterday and for me, enough to tie me over to lunch.

By 9:45a, we were at Gyeongbokgung Palace waiting for the Royal Changing of the Guard ceremony to begin.  This was my 3rd day of seeing the guards.  I almost felt like a local bringing George here :-)

Today, we arrived in time to see the dress rehearsal which takes place in a courtyard adjacent to the main one.







Since this was my 3rd time here, I knew exactly where we had to stand to get the best views.  I secured a spot while George went ahead and bought the entry tickets for the Palace itself which we would go see once the ceremony was over.


Thankfully, George shot a bit of video so we can remember what the ceremony sounded like.  I was so preoccupied with taking photos, I had completely forgotten to take a video....which I should have considering I knew the ceremony pretty well by now.


Today, I mainly took photos of the royal band so I actually got to enjoy more of the actual changing of the guard ceremony. 








After the short 15 minute ceremony was over, George and I entered the palace complex via Heungnyemun Gate.  The palace buildings and courtyard reminded me very much of the Forbidden City in Beijing albeit on a far smaller scale.


Gyeongbokgung Palace was originally built in 1395, three years after the Joseon Dynasty was founded by King Taejo (Yi Seong-gye). After all the palaces in the capital were razed by the Japanese during the Imjin War (1592 1598), Changdeokgung Palace, a secondary palace, was rebuilt and served as the main palace. Gyeongbokgung Palace was left derelict for the next 273 years. It was finally reconstructed in 1867 but was then largely torn down during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945). An effort to fully restore Gyeongbokgung Palace to its former glory has been ongoing since 1990. So, pretty much most of what you see is relatively new construction. It's truly sad that a country with such a long history has lost so many of its historic and cultural landmarks.

Looking at Heungnyemun Gate towards Gwanghwamun Gate.

George and I walked around the complex. We started with Geunjeongjeon Hall which is where the king granted audiences to his officials, presided over large official functions and met foreign envoys.

Geunjeongjeon Hall.







From here, we just wandered between the courtyards which were all filled with buildings.  Somewhere in these courtyards were the royal living quarters which we didn't even attempt to look for.  To be honest, these sorts of palaces are not very interesting to me.....a lot of buildings with empty rooms.  Not to mention that they all start to look the same very quickly.  I'm sure I will be chided for making that statement but for me, it's true.






Eventually, we left the interior courtyards.  I told George there had to be a garden somewhere and indeed there was.  We eventually found a spot of green and there, a pond and a pavilion as well.  The gardens were very well manicured and presented a very serene space for strolling through.


Gyeonghoeru Pavilion served as the royal venue for feasts for foreign envoys and for the king and his court officials.  The pavilion sits alongside Hyangwonjeong Pond.

A two story pavilion was originally built here in 1412 during the reign of King Taejong. About 60 years later, during the reign of King Seongjong (1469-1494), the pavilion began to tilt. It was decided that the pavilion would have to be be rebuilt.  But before it could be rebuilt, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion was burned down by the Japanese in 1592 during the Imjin War. The current structure dates back to 1867 and it is one of the few palace structures to have remained relatively intact since then.



Two Korean women, dressed in traditional hanbok, strolling through the palace gardens.


From Gyeonbokgung Palace, I walked George over to Jogyesa Temple.  He had no interest in the temple whatsoever.  What held his attention were the lotus flowers.  George loves flowers!  So we were at this historic site for all of about 10 minutes.   Next, I walked him over to Insadong.  Basically, I was retracing my steps from yesterday.


By now, it was around 11:30a and for George, it's lunch time.  Honestly, the poor guy didn't have much to eat for breakfast so I was certain he was hungry even if he wasn't about to say so.   I told George that most of the eateries were located in the small alleys that ran off the main street.  We just had to pick one, any one really.  We looked at a few menus as we walked along.  Somehow, we ended up at a restaurant located at the dead end of one of the alleys. 



Thankfully, the menu had pictures and the staff spoke a few words of English.  We ordered a couple of dishes to share - George picked a sauteed pork dish and I picked the dumplings.  I am going to go out on a limb and say that Korean life is about efficiency.  To this end, the cutlery (aka metal chopstick and spoon) and napkins are stored in a drawer that slides out from under the table.  


As is protocol for a Korean meal, the banchan got delivered first.  I think I like nibbling on the banchan better than anything else!  I'm a grazer by foodie preference so these little dishes are just my cup of tea.



The pork was spicy, garlicky and sweet.  That seems to be a common flavor palate here.


The dumplings were filled with chives and pork....a common Korean combination for dumpling fillings.  Korean comfort food.


Lunch was fine though sadly, I am quickly coming to the conclusion that I am not much of a fan of Korean food.  On the way to the restaurant, we had walked by a dumpling restaurant.  The piles of freshly wrapped dumplings, ready to boil, were enticing.  Had we rejected the restaurant we would have come back here for lunch.  In hindsight, we should have gone with the dumpling place.


I had left plenty of room for dessert :-)  So, I wanted to head to Sulbing which I had read had great bingsu.  I had pinned the place on my map but even with that, it was difficult to find. Why?  It was located on the second floor of a building.  We walked by the building at least twice until I happened to look up and spot the sign.

The menu board was posted above the counter and everything was in Korean.  So, I just picked the one dessert that looked the most intriguing.   After we placed our order, we were given a buzzer.  We found a table, by the window, and waited for the buzzer to go off.  It seemed like an eternity before the thing vibrated.  George went to get our dessert and this is what he returned with.  The thing was massive and it didn't look like any bingsu I've ever seen or had before!

It was a beautiful, composed dessert.  I had to take a few minutes to admire it before digging in.  The black is black sesame seed powder and it was surrounded by sliced almonds. On top was some cooked red beans and mochi like cubes.



I put my spoon in and I was expecting to pull up shaved ice.  Instead, it was ice that was so fine and fluffy, it was like dry snow.  In the middle of the dessert, there was a powdered filling of something sweet and crunchy which provided a very nice textural contrast.

We had also been given a small container of evaporated milk to drizzle over everything and so I had another bite with the milk.  That added a very nice touch.  Oh my God, this thing was so delicious.  The bowl is huge and when George put it down, I didn't think I could eat the whole thing but I pretty much demolished it all with George helping with a few bites.  I read later that Sulbing specializes in what they call ice milk flakes so this is actually not regular ice but it's ice milk.  No wonder it tastes so much better than any bingsu I have ever had!   I know this is something that I can't get back home so I relished every single spoonful.

I left Sulbing ever so satisfied.   On to another palace!