Seoul is full of soul! Even on a cold winter’s day the city feels warm and alive with its fall colours and friendly people. After flying into the airport, the city is only a 45 minute train ride away, and then our hotel only 5 minute ride from the station! As we drove up, the hotel was lit like a winter wonderland, lights hanging from the trees out front looked like they came right out of the movies and ushered us into beautiful lobby with pillars towering throughout the lobby that lead right up to the Christmas tree! The entire hotel was decorated for Christmas. Rising above the city was my room, situated on the 9th floor it gave the most impeccable city view with the ice rink, and sea of lit trees below. After a scrumptious lemon and salmon slab with cheesy mashed potatoes it was time for well-deserved rest!
The following day we went the N. Seoul tower in Nansam Park. It was a short ride up on the gondola with fascinating views of the urban metropolis sprawling out below us. The park was beautiful, being a mountain in the center of the city; it offers a breath of fresh air in the concrete jungle. Walking around gives beautiful views of the now seasoned cherry blossom trees, with their faded pink petal falling and landing all over the place. The fading color was not all lost though as all around the park is filled with the vibrant color of the love locks that fill the grounds with messages written on them. On a pathway that meanders through the trees, I was able to place my own lock. Finally, we made our way up the tower on top of the mountain. Blasting of to the top of the tower the ride takes 20 seconds and includes a rather comedic lift off sequence. At the top of the tower there are no shortages of panoramic views. 360 degree views of Seoul give perspective to how large the city is and to the architecture within the city itself. Plastered on the windows of the tower are the names of major cities and how far away they are giving us a real idea of how far we have come from home!
Next stop was Gyeongbokgung Palace, the central palace that houses Korea’s cultural heritage as well as its current President! The palace is made in a series of concentric rings leading all the way into is main building which houses the throne for the at the time emperor of Korea. The architecture of the buildings was amazing and the colours that they were painted in couldn’t be done justice by the meager cameras we used to show them off. After our walkthrough of the palace we stopped for authentic Korean cuisine. As usual, one of my favourite parts of travelling is trying different kinds of food! Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, vegetables, meats and soup. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes that are served with your meal. One of those being Kimchi, which is salted and fermented cabbage. I have a student in my class from Korea who just moved to Egypt. Her family helped me plan where to go in Korea, and especially what foods to try. She suggested a Korean style sushi roll filled with seasoned meats and vegetables called kimbap.
After the palace was the walking center of Myeondong. The streets were lined with store after store, and restaurant after restaurant, letting us feel like we were in a mall that was outside with snow falling above us. After a few rounds of Starbucks and an upcoming dinner reservation we headed back to the hotel. Arguably the fanciest dinner I have ever had, we dressed up and went back to the tower. Only this time when we went up, it was even higher and, the floor was spinning! Our restaurant was revolving giving us a fully automated panoramic view of Seoul at night while we wined and dined on some very small portions!
The following day, we set off on the tour arranged by ur hotel (One of the most popular tours in Korea). Our tour started early and drove us in a large tour bus out to the final stop on the Korean metro line to North Korea that was not operational. Next was the 3rd infiltration tunnel that the north had dug into the South’s territory in hopes of getting a preemptive strike. We took a monorail down into the tunnel that was backbreakingly small in its height. Next was the lookout hill where we could use optiacals to see into the propaganda villages and the guard towers that litter the Demilitarized Zone. Finally after a quick lunch, we were on our way to the Border. Called the Demarcation Line, it is the literal line in the sand that divides North and South Korea. After standing on the steps behind the infamous blue buildings we were able to take pictures of the north and their lone guard standing motionless outside their building. It was a sight to see. The South Korean soldiers were sharp as tacks as they watched the line and escorted us into the negotiation building. Once inside we circled around the table that is used for negotiation and it was explained to us how the discussions are done. No one sits at the head of the table except the translators and no one is allowed to cross the speaker wire that separates the table in two. After walking through building we finally got to “cross” the border (the other half of the room) and stand in North Korea. We were then escorted out of the JSA and returned to Seoul for the remainder of our time in Korea.
It was a short trip, but one packed with so many surprises and so many items crossed off the bucket list. Seoul was well worth the time and effort to view, and will forever be one of my favourite countries to visit.