While my friend was teaching the future generation of Korea the English language, I was off exploring every corner of Seoul I could find. My first stop was Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main royal palace of Seoul, located in the northern part of the city. Having heard it is the grandest of five palaces in the city, I had to go see for myself.
Traveling alone can be freeing because you don’t have to follow anybody, you can go wherever, eat whenever and do whatever. But when traveling alone you always have to ask other people to take your photo. During my time walking around Seoul alone I discovered that many people don’t know how to take a photo. Even if they have a fancy camera around their neck.
Standing in front of the main gate Gwanghwamun I looked around hoping someone could take my photo. Luckily I was in a very touristy area so I had a quite a few choices of “photographers”. I noticed a group of Chinese tourists taking photos near me and asked one of the gentleman if he could take a picture of me. Next thing I knew the whole group wanted to have their photo taken with me. I felt like a celebrity turning and posing for different cameras, taking selfies, and constantly keeping a huge smile for everyone. I must say it was tiring after just a few minutes, but I enjoyed my five minutes of fame. I am still not sure why they all took such an interest in me but it gave me a great boost of confidence.
The gates of Gwanghwamun were closed unfortunately because all palaces, museums and other historical sites are closed on Tuesdays in Korea. I switched my itinerary to Bukchon Hanok Village and made my way towards the historic neighborhood just a few blocks east of the palace.
Bukchon Hanok Village is a neighborhood filled with hundreds of traditional houses, “hanok”, that date back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1897). Today many of these hanok are restaurants, tea houses, cultural centers, and guest houses. Strolling through all of the little alleys and hanoks, I fell in love with the architecture of the neighborhood. Around every corner I found something new so I spent hours wandering between cafes with fresh coffee brewing, a florist shop I could smell from a block away with dozens of beautiful flowers arranged nicely in a row and little stores selling trinkets and socks. If you love socks Korea is the place to go, everywhere are stores selling $1-$3 socks with cute little designs and you can’t beat the price.
In between some of the traditional hanok were modern buildings incorporating the past and the future into one cohesive structure. I was in awe of how beautifully the neighborhood was harmonized and felt like I was in architectural heaven. But after several hours of walking I needed a coffee break. Tucked away from the main road I found an idyllic café, Café Russo, to enjoy a coffee and chocolate cake.
Food is a passion and hobby of mine. Usually due to a student budget I did not eat out as often and cooked at home instead but in Korea it is much cheaper to eat out than cook at home. This is mainly due to the fact that the country has such a small agriculture market and much of the food is imported from neighboring countries. I had no problem eating out for each meal and tried to taste as many different kinds of food as I could. Every place I ate at was like eating a home cooked meal and I quickly became accustomed to sitting on the floor and eating at a low table. Koreans mainly enjoy pork dishes and a side of kimchi, both of which I love (the kimchi was a new love I acquired during my time in Korea).
There was one place that I couldn’t resist though and insisted on going to twice a day, Paris Baguette. The most popular and franchised bakery in a highly competitive market in Korea, I could find a Paris Baguette within at least ten minutes of walking in one direction. I couldn’t resist walking into the bakery, picking up a tray and loading it with delicious treats. It may have not been the most traditional Korean food but how could I resist fresh cinnamon twists, buttery croissants and apple pie filled pastries. Had I not done so much walking around Seoul I would have gained twenty pounds just from all of my indulgences at Paris Baguette.
x the Adventurer