Saturday, June 4, 2011

Korea Memories - Saturday, May 21st

Our third day in Korea was a busy one. Susie and Sungwon had conference activities to do, so I spent quite a bit of the day exploring Seoul on my own. Seoul public transportation is very intelligently set up. The subway system is easy to use, even if you don’t speak any Korean, and it’s very cheap.

The first place I visited was Nam-san. This is a small mountain right in the middle of the city. When Seoul was first settled, they chose the spot because they had mountains to the north and a river to the south. In fact, many Korean cities are situated in this same configuration. The mountains to the north help protect from invasion and block the cold winds during the winter. The river (or water) to the south is another form of protection and assists with travel and commerce. Now, the Han river runs east/west through the middle of the Seoul area since the city has expanded south so much. But just north of the river sits the small mountain of Nam-san, and on top of this mountain sits the Seoul Tower, sort of a mini version of the Seattle space needle.

I took the cable car to the top of the mountain, and it was great to see the city kind of unfold in front of me (looking north).
This is the Seoul Tower standing at the top of Nam-san.

This picture is looking south over the Han river. Unfortunately it was a pretty rainy/cloudy/foggy/hazy/smoggy day. The view was still pretty outstanding.

I sort of took this picture as a joke. Many times the English in Korea would be loosely translated, which would result in some humorous grammar at times. I figured I was in for a pretty cool bathroom if it was entitled PLAZA toilet and had it’s own dedicated elevator.

Well, the plaza bathroom turned out to have the best view while relieving oneself I’d ever seen.

After leaving Nam-san I headed for Deoksu-gung, a palace used back in the late 1500’s. There are a few large palaces right in the middle of Seoul, and the juxtaposition of this ancient architecture with a modern skyline backdrop is stark.

This picture is of the Deoksu-gung throne room. I was continually amazed at the attention to detail in the painting on the palaces and temples. The colors were beautiful and the craftsmanship was second to none. I’ll post some more close-up pictures in a later post. Not only was the painting impressive, but except for a few rafter beams, all of the palaces and temples were constructed sans nails. All the pieces were interlocking. Unbelievable.

After meeting up with Susie and Sungwon, we walked over to Gyeongbok-gung, which is probably the most impressive and largest palace in Seoul. The buildings, fence, residences, etc., were mostly the same, but they were just much bigger. Also, there was a beautifully manicured garden in the back part of the palace.

We finished up the day at a Japanese restaurant and then walked along the Cheonggyecheon stream in downtown Seoul. This was a waterway that was actually uncovered during some construction work. They turned it into a very nice waterway with walking trails and lights.

Whew. We did a lot that day. With that much walking I wasn’t having much of a problem falling asleep on the floor in the hotel room.

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