Thursday, September 1, 2016

My First Morning in Seoul.

The store front of a small cafe in the Bukchon neighborhood.

I woke up at 6:15a this morning, tired as hell. I did not sleep well at all last night. I tossed and turned until I finally fell asleep around 2a and then I pretty much woke up every hour after that. Considering I had not sleep much on the flight over, not sleeping well last night only compounded my exhaustion.

After I realized I wasn't going to fall back asleep, I got up, made myself a cup of tea, checked my emails, read some Facebook postings and watched some Korean TV. It's pretty boring TV here - a LOT of infomercials, soap operas and talk shows. So far, I've not found an English Channel :-(

I decided I would head out for breakfast around 8:30a so shortly before then, I showered and got ready for the day.

I didn't have to go far for breakfast. There are a couple of small coffee shops just a short walk from the apartment. I just picked one that looked like it offered interesting baked goods. Koreans are not known for their pastry and like most Asian cultures, mix strange things into their baked goods. I picked a bun that looked like it had melted cheese on top of it. I figured it would be a savory bun and I much prefer savory to sweet. It cost me 2,500 won which is about $2.25 USD for this small little thing.....not cheap.

I then went to the mini mart next door and picked up some of what I would call *cup of ramen*. You know, the stuff that comes in a styrofoam container - you just add boiling water to it and wait a few minutes before eating. I figured it could come in handy if and when I don't feel like heading out to dinner one night. Often, I walk myself to death during the day and by dinner time, all I want to do is stay in and eat rather than having to venture out again in search of food. I can be very lazy :-)

The verdict on the pastry thing? Not good. The bread was tough and chewy. Inside was an odd filling. It was pieces of surimi (that fake crab) mayo mixture that was sweet. The bits of melted cheese on top added the saltiness. It was not good at least for my taste buds. Tomorrow I will have to try something sweet instead.


All the while that I was in the apartment, Laura was trying to call me. As I had feared, I was able to receive her call but for some reason, I could not answer her call. I've been having the same issue in my house and I think it's because the WiFi signal is not strong enough for me to pick up the call. I've been using WiFi calling since I've been here as I can use the phone for free. Anyway, after the last call, I texted her to tell her that I was still interested in getting together if she was.

After breakfast, I decided to venture out. It was already a warm and humid morning. The skies were hazy.

My plan was to head to Buckchon, the neighborhood filled with all the old hanok homes. I would pass Gyeongbokgung Palace along the way.

Stepping out of the apartment, it was first sight of Seoul. Very modern and surprisingly, although it was rush hour, the roads were not jammed with traffic. Perhaps, they were in another part of the city.

Gwanghwamun Gate, Geyongbokgung Palace.

Then streets of Seoul.  The traffic lanes a very wide here!

The palace is located only about 3 blocks from the apartment. I did not go inside today- will wait for George to arrive before I visit the place. I followed Google Maps to make my way around the palace walls and head towards Buckchon. From the palace, it's probably about another 10 minute walk before I arrived at the start of the Buckchon neighborhood.


They have plastic food here too.  Guessing with the scoop of ice cream on top that this is a dessert but what are the tomato halves doing there?

I just took a street and started walking. The street I was first on was narrow but wide enough for cars. On both sides were small restaurants, boutiques, small shops and art galleries.  It was still early in the morning and none of the establishments were open for business yet except for the small eateries that were dishing up breakfast for the worker bees.

Like many old cities, this one has been revitalized and turned into a very upscale neighborhood. I decided I needed to veer off what seemed to me to be the main road and head off to a side street. I was still in search of a hanok home. It didn't take long to find one. The streets got more narrow as they wound through the more residential parts of the neighborhood. Most were not wide enough to for cars. I'm sure the residents appreciate that!

Soon enough I found my hanok homes but there too few of them.  In my mind, I had the image I had seen of Bukchon during my trip planning and none of the streets I wandered through matched that image.  Maybe I wasn't in the right area?


In any case, the houses were interesting to look at though I was dying to see what was inside the closed doors.




Located in and among the homes were tiny little commercial establishments.  Thankfully, the menu placards come with pictures on them which bodes well for me as I don't know a lick of Korean.


The streets in and around Bukchon were really quiet - not a soul around.  I felt like I was intruding.


I eventually ended up back on the main road that I had arrived in on.  Here, the commercial establishments were much larger in scale though many were still housed in traditional Korean style buildings.  Very cool that they have maintained the look and feel of Bukchon.



More plastic food.  I loved these take out containers of various types of noodle dishes.

I had to take the photo of this pig, standing outside an art gallery.
From one street to the next, I just wandered through the hood. Eventually, I decided I had had enough and made my way back to the palace.

I came across this sculpture outside the National Folk Museum of Korea.  Not sure what to make of it.

Japsang decorate a rooftop of one of the palace buildings. Japsang are figurines of hermits, Buddhist monks, odd-looking individuals, and monsters.
They serve as both ornaments and guardians of a building.

The characters are a reminder of Korea's Chinese heritage.

As I was approaching the palace, I heard the shouts of a military call. I saw a group of men, dressed in colorful, traditional costumes, stand before the gates. I figured it must be the Changing of the Guard ceremony that takes place several times a day before the main gates. I ran up to watch them in action. Unfortunately, I had arrived to see just the last few minutes of the ceremony. I will have to check on the schedule and come back tomorrow to see the full ceremony just in case they don't perform it when George is here on Saturday.






When Laura and I chatted yesterday, we had decided to meet up at the apartment at 11:30a. So even though we were having some communication challenges today, I decided I would head back to the apartment to wait to see if she would show up at 11:30a.

The story continues in the next blog posting. :-)