Friday, December 2, 2011

Night Walk in the Rain

Augie explored the area last night looking for diet coke and found street after street of restaurants. We decided to check it out tonight, and of course it had to rain. Out came the umbrellas and off we went. This is the building which our hotel is part of, the rest, about 9 stories with basements and subbasements, is a super-mall. Every high end store you can name has a full blown all the bells and whistles store here. Name a designer, he/she is here. This is the largest mall in Seoul, which is really saying something -- Seoul is a town made up of malls connected by a few houses and a subway. This one has its own subway station.

Despite the rain, the crowds are out. Each sign in the picture is a different restaurant. There are no English menues, this is the local eating hangout. There are several hundred restaurants in about a 6 block area. The local specialty is a small barbecue at your table, cook your own meat.

In addition to the restaurants, there are stalls lining the main streets. Dozens and dozens of them, all selling "something on a stick." If you can jam it on a stick, coat it in batter and deep fry it, it's probably for sale here.

Since we already had had dinner, we passed on a few of the local specialties. Catch and cook your own is the motto at many restaurants.

Friday in Seoul

Today we made the rounds and saw everything we wanted to see in the city. We walked a million miles and rode every subway line. When we got back to our hotel this evening, the mall next door was hosting the premier of Tom Cruise's new Mission Impossible flick. So we got in on the action and snapped a few pics of him. He spent a lot of time talking to people and signing autographs. A lot of ooohing and aaahhhing was going on. No one swooned and no paramedics were needed, but it was touch and go. Apparently there's a fan base here.

Christmas decorations are already up all over the city. Since there's a little bit o'Irish in each of us, the holidays sometimes get confused in the translation.

We toured the Deoksu Palace. The biggest and most famous palace, the Changdeokgung Palace, we didn't get to see because they only give guided tours and the English tour was not until 2:30 and we were there at 1:00. It was too cold to stand around and wait, and there was too much to see. So we moved on.

McDonald's delivers!

We toured the Namdeaemum Market, street after street of everything you can think of. They say if you can't find it here, it probably doesn't exist. We tried lots of interesting street foods.

We also toured the Namsangol Hanok Village, where we saw how the Korean people lived. We wanted to hang around downtown and take the night bus tour, but it doesn't start until 8 pm, and we were finished with our touring at 5:30. After all the street food, we weren't hungry enough to go hang out at a restaurant for 2 1/2 hours, so we headed back to our hotel. Augie discovered a really cool area near our hotel last night, so we may go out again later.

Tomorrow we plan to take a long train ride to the Sawon Fortress and another Korean Folk Village.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Back to Seoul

When we arrived back in Seoul, the driver dropped us off downtown near the Deoksugung Palace and we just happened to catch the changing of the guard. It was quite a pagent.

We were hungry and decided to go have lunch before checking out the inside of the palace and the museum. Augie found a recommendation from a fellow geocacher for a restaurant nearby called the Taco Place. We're in Korea, so why not eat Mexican?

After lunch, we checked in with the local tourist information office to get some suggestions about what to see and do in the next couple of days. Since we have a beautiful, rainless day today, we decided to try to do as much as we could. They suggested that we see the Gyeongbokgung Palace first, since it closes at 5 pm. It was already 3:30. They have a folklore museum on the palace grounds.
Augie and I were both born in the year of the Ox. They had all the animals represented.

This was an exhibit on how to create Korean syllables.

Statue of one of the most famous and beloved kings. He is in the center of a big square, which had police barracades all around it, and bus loads of police lined one side of the street. We thought there must be some famous dignitary coming to visit, but we found that there was going to be a protest later today.
It turned out that there were a lot more police than protesters.

We stayed in the Palace and museum until closing time, then walked back to the subway to return home. It's just too cold to walk around after dark, and I only have a sweat shirt. So when we got back to the shopping mall under Times Square, I broke down and bought a nice, warm, lined, hooded jacket. I hope we have another rainless day tomorrow, because now with my warm jacket and gloves, there will be no stopping me.


The trip this morning to the DMZ was very interesting. The South Koreans are certainly capitalizing on the area by making it a tourist attraction. The North Koreans have tried to dig tunnels under the DMZ to try to invade the south, and so far they have discovered 4 of them. We got to tour Tunnel 3.
Donning hard hats, we trekked down a 350 meter tunnel, descending about 73 meters deep. It was so steep, it was difficult to keep from running. When we got to the original part of the tunnel, it was easy to see why we needed hard hats. We had to walk hunched over, and still managed to bump our heads every now and then.
Here we are at the end of the tunnel, where the South Koreans had dropped a grenade down to seal off the tunnel. Now comes the hard part ---- walking back up the 350 meters, a very steep incline.

Next, we visited a rail terminal, where George Bush visited and signed his name. He wrote, "May this railroad unite Korean families." When North and South Korea are finally reunited, it will be possible to take the train across the Korean Peninsula, join with the Trans Siberian and Trans China Railroads, and travel into Europe.

A map of Tunnel 3.

Pictures with the South Korean guards.


They eat things here like live octopus

We miss Vietnam already. In Vietnam, we were warm, with temperatures in the 80's and 90's. Here we're freezing, with temperatures during the day in the 30's. When we arrived yesterday, it was pouring down rain. We took a bus from the airport to the Times Square area of Seoul, where our Courtyard Marriott Hotel is located. We have more luggage now than when we began, so manoevering around in the rain was very difficult. Augie waited under an overhang while I went around trying to figure out where our hotel was. I discovered that there is an underground shopping center under this entire area, so I led Augie down an escalator and we were able to drag our suitcases through a huge mall towards our hotel. A man came up and asked if he could help, and he carried one of our suitcases for us and led us to our hotel.

We quickly found that if you stand around with a lost puppy look on your face, someone will come up and ask if they can help.

In Vietnam, we were accustomed to paying $5 - $10 for an entire meal with drinks. Here, not even our breakfast is included and a drink is at least $5 and a single item on any menu is about $8. Luckily, there's a MacDonald's across the street from our hotel, so that's where we had lunch.

Since it was still raining after lunch, we decided to stay out of it as much as possible. So we took the subway to the downtown area and bought tickets for the hop on/hop off bus. It takes at least two hours to make the entire circuit. During the trip, Augie and I were both so exhausted from last night's red eye flight that we kept falling asleep during the ride in the nicely heated bus. So we got off after one circuit, bought tickets for tomorrow to tour the DMZ, and took the subway back to our hotel.

Changing of the Guard Deoksugung Palace