– Seoul, South Korea –
Today we had the whole day to spend wandering around in Seoul. We had a couple of solid plans, and a few other things we were considering doing, depending on time. Sometimes the mind is willing but the poor, tired feet and not. When we do trips like this, where we are spending more than a day or so in a city walking around, we try to pick a morning activity and an afternoon activity, then just see what else we can get. It’s silly to wear yourself out completely trying to have fun.
In any event, we began our day with the same rituals as our past few days. We got up at 6:00am, we went down to the exercise room for our treadmill run, then we came back up to the room for some breakfast for our refrigerator and a shower. It’s kind of nice not having to pack up and move to a new hotel everyday, just like it was in Jasper National Park back in the summer, but I still think I like the maximum adventure trips just a little more.
Today, our first stop was N Seoul Tower, which is also known as just Seoul Tower, or Namsan Tower. It was built in 1971 on top of Namsan Mountain, originally as a communications tower. It was opened to the public in 1980, and is now a popular tourist destination as well. It looks down on the city of Seoul, and given that the city exists all the way around the tower, which is way above it on the mountain, it gives an excellent panoramic view of the 5th largest city in the world.
Since we knew we would be out and busy all day, Mark cleared his laptop and work notebooks and such out of his backpack and we repacked it with water bottles and anything else we might need for the day. We didn’t want it to be too heavy, but we also didn’t want to have to try to hand carry anything that wouldn’t fit in his camera bag or my little purse. It worked out well, though he did get a little hot with it on his back all day.
Our journey today began with a ride on the subway to the stop nearest to Seoul Tower. It isn’t too far from our hotel, though it is on the other side of the river. It’s only about halfway between the hotel and the palace we visited yesterday. When we arrived at the stop, we emerged still at the bottom of another little hill. To get to the tower, you first climb the little hill, where you’ll arrive at the base of the cable car system that will take you up the mountain to the base of the tower. You can walk up the same distance that the cable car goes, but considering the significant change in altitude of the cable car ride, it’s probably quite the walk.
Since we didn’t particularly care to get hot or get any more exercise, we obviously elected to take the cable car. The walk to its base took a little over 5 minutes. We bought our tickets and were on the cable car only a few minutes later. Tickets were relatively inexpensive, as many things are here in Seoul. The tower cable car isn’t as popular as the cable car in Seoraksan National Park was, but it was the weekend then, so maybe that accounts for the difference. Our cable car was still only about half full when we left for the top. Once again, it wasn’t a long ride. I think it took us 2-3 minutes to get to the top once we were loaded up. The view from the cable car is already high enough to be cool, so we could already tell the top was going to be really awesome.
When we reached the dock of the cable car at the top of the mountain, we came out of the little cable car building and walked up another few flights of stairs on a wooden platform that led up to the base of the tower. Along the platform were tons of love locks, along cables clearly placed there for just that purpose. Not sure what a love lock is? Generally, they are a nuisance. They are frequently placed on bridges or fences in big cities in relatively famous places. They are basically a form of vandalism in most places. Many cities have to go through and clear such locks off of the bridges and things they are placed on, as thousands of the things eventually add a significant amount of weight to a structure that was likely not meant to bear it.
A love lock is a padlock locked onto something, meant to symbolize the love of a pair of sweethearts, usually teenagers and very young adults. Typically people write their initials on the lock and either the date the lock was placed or their anniversary or whatever, then leave the lock there to symbolize their eternal love or something. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m generally a little contemptuous of them. I think they usually throw away the key. At Seoul Tower, the love locks are a part of the experience, a part of the touristy aspect of the place, and they are sold in the gift shops and people are encouraged to place them on the cables around the platform we came up. As a form of folk art, I guess it is kind of fun. It is pretty ridiculous too, though.
There’s a little restaurant, a gift shop, and a couple of other things at the base of the tower, where we stopped to buy our tickets. Once again, while tickets to go up the tower were a little more expensive than tickets for the cable car, they were still completely reasonable. I think Mark and I only paid about $35 for both of us to ride the cable car and take the elevator up the tower, which is less than we paid for just one of us to go up the Empire State Building. You can also get tickets that include a movie and popcorn at the top, or go to a restaurant on one of the upper floors.
In fact, the whole thing seems to be set up to be a sort of date night, from what I can tell. When we made it inside the tower, we noticed immediately lots of “romance” and “love” themed signs and decorations. To get back to the elevator for our ride up, we had to walk through a room that had wild, panoramic lights flashing around, which you can see some of in one of the photos above. We also had to go through a photo booth and get our pictures taken together. I guess the love locks are just a part of the theme. On the elevator ride up, they made us watch a little video of our elevator shooting into space while we ascended. It gave me vertigo, so they are lucky I didn’t faint or puke on them. Who wants to be in a moving elevator and watch a moving video? Ugh.
Anyway, it took about a minute to go up the tower in the elevator, which we did with just the two of us and one member of staff. It wasn’t terribly busy yet, given that it was only around 10am or so. Once out of the elevator, we emerged onto the observation deck, which is a round, glass-windowed room that looks down on Seoul from all sides. There are big binoculars and steps for looking around, and we went all the way around taking cool photos. It’s really amazing how big Seoul is. We’ve done the Empire State Building, like I said, and seeing New York City is nothing like seeing Seoul. You can’t even see all of it from up there. Giant towers are still fading into the distance.
The smog didn’t help, of course. It cast a blue shadow over a lot of the city, which made it hard to see out past a certain point. Still, the view is gorgeous, and it is hard to fathom just how enormous the city really is. We had fun trying to find all of the places we have already been here, and pointing out various things around the city. I am really glad we went up the tower, as it has definitely been my favorite thing about Seoul so far.
They also had a gift shop selling Halloween candy and souvenirs at the top. Mark and I bought ourselves a little magnet and some stickers, and we mailed a postcard to our friend Ana, who is babysitting our pool and our winter squash plants. I hope the postcard gets to her. I’m never 100% clear on how to label international mail, but I think I did it right, and I think the cashier understood us enough to get us international postage. We tried, anyway. Luckily we bought her another postcard at the palace yesterday, in case the one we sent from the tower never makes it. We’ll just hand deliver the other one.
When we finished taking our photographs on the observation deck, we went down to the next floor down, where we stopped at the restrooms. I can’t remember ever describing restrooms in the blog before, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. The bathroom stalls in the ladies’ room each had one glass wall that looked out on the city, and the toilet was situated sideways in the stall so you could look at the view while you had your bathroom break. It was a little funny. Mark tells me the urinals faced out towards the view, as well. I took a photo of the toilet in my stall to send to my mom, like the classy lady I am. I knew she’d appreciate it.
Since we had paid plenty for the privilege of being up in the tower, we decided we weren’t ready for our little morning adventure to end yet, so we stopped at the little coffee shop on the lower deck and bought drinks. They had a number of tiny tables arrayed around the windows on that floor, so we took our drinks to a little table and stared down at the city while we drank them. Mark had a latte, which is a little boring, but I had a “grapefruit ade,” which we’ve seen advertised (and in other fruit flavors) in coffee shops all around the city. I think they are likening it to lemonade, which makes sense, but the spelling is a little hilarious, since that’s how they spell it in English everywhere here. It’s also not really that lemonade-like.
My drink had a thick, fruit grapefruit puree at the bottom with only a pump or so of sugar, then was filled to the top with carbonated water. It was actually really good. It wasn’t too sweet, it had real grapefruit in it, and I was overall very pleased with it. Our lemonade is usually much sweeter back home, and not made like that at all. I was pleasantly surprised. Next thing to try: bubble tea. We have bubble tea shops at home, but having them here feels more authentic. It started in Taiwan, so I guess we are at least closer to the source than we would be back home.
When we finished our drinks, we went and stood in line to take the other elevator back down to the ground floor. There were more people waiting to go down, though it still wasn’t packed. The down elevator isn’t on the observation deck, which I assume is so they don’t have lines forming up there. There was some line infrastructure on the lower level where we were. I have a feeling they have a ton of visitors at certain times. It also looks like, with all of the romance themes, that they intend for couples to come up there in the evening, to have dinner and see the city at night. I bet the view is even cooler at night.
Back down at the base of the tower once again, we took some photos of the tower itself, as well as more of the locks. They had a few trees made of love locks, which was pretty funny. They also had a statue of a golden pig. Apparently it is the year of the golden pig, which only comes around every 60 years. The year of the pig alone comes around more often, and I guess each year also has a color as well, based on the Chinese Zodiac, and 2019’s color is yellow. The combination is what only comes around every 60 years. The golden pig is supposed to be incredibly lucky, as pigs are a sign of luck, and gold is a symbol for wealth. Mark took a photo with the pig, and since the sign said to make a wish and rub its nose, he decided to participate. He won’t tell me what he wished for, but I think he wished we were less miserable on our flight home than we were on the flight here. That’s a wish I could get behind, at any rate.
Once Mark had his pig pictures, we made one last sweep through the love locks to take some little videos for Instagram. They are quite a sight, even if they are a silly one. It was after noon now, and we were getting a little hungry, so we checked the little restaurant on the observation deck for food, but it didn’t appear to have anything we could eat, so we continued back to the cable car deck.
We shared the ride back down to ground level with a pair of ladies and their tour guide. The ladies were wealthier ladies from ths US, and the tour guide was a local woman. We chit-chatted with them about what we were doing while we were in town and where everyone was visiting from. Since we had been in Seoul for several days, we were able to make some suggestions about things to see, since they had just arrived.
The view going down was kind of fun, even though it made me a little more nervous than some of our other cable car trips. The car was practically empty this time, so I felt like I was a little closer to the edge. Regardless, it’s different looking back down at the city than it was going up and looking up the mountain at the tower. It was also fun skirting the tops of the trees as we glided down.
Back at the cable car building, we ended up walking down some stairs to get back to street level instead of going back down the hill we had come up. We were looking for something for lunch, so we wandered around a bit, hoping for something to magically appear, but nothing ever did. In the end, we just bought some teas at a 7-11 (yes, the real thing). We keep running into places that have 2 + 1 deals marked on some of their signs, which turn out to be a buy one get two free sort of deal. We ended up with three teas, and free drinks are nice, but then Mark has to carry the extra. Alas.
Since we couldn’t find food, we decided to go back to the subway and head on to our next destination for the day. If nothing else, we knew we could find Indian food in that area, since it was back in the same neighborhood as the first palace we visited. Our second destination was Changdeokgung Palace, which is the other major palace in Seoul, though they do appear to have a few smaller ones in other places on the map in the city.
Once we got off the subway, we started in the direction of the palace, looking for food along the way. We lucked out and found a Mono Cheese, which we had seen before as a little kiosk in the Express Bus Terminal subway station near our hotel. We knew they served grilled cheese sandwiches, which isn’t the best thing for you, but at least it is vegetarian.
We ordered a grilled tomato and mozzarella panini and a regular grilled cheese to split. The panini came with a little salad, which was nice. The plain grilled cheese was sweet, which I guess I should’ve suspected. How can you ruin grilled cheese? Add sugar. Blegh. I’m getting really sick of sweet things. I’m going to go home and eat nothing but beans and savory things.
At least the little cafe had somewhere to sit. We ate our sandwiches and sipped on drinks while we rested. It had already been quite a day. I had a lemonade, and Mark had a coke. The convenience stores may have an abundance of unsweet teas, but most of the restaurants only have hot tea that is unsweet. When I finished my lemonade, I dumped my bottle of water over the lemony ice to enjoy the flavor a little longer. It was lovely in the hot afternoon.
By now it was nearing 2pm, and we still had a palace to explore, so we hustled on down the road to find the palace. This one was mostly walled in, unlike the other palace, and some of the gates marked on the map were closed, so you couldn’t enter through them. This turned out to be because this palace actually charged an entrance fee. We luckily happened across another group of tourists, who directed us to the correct entrance, so we could get inside. Luckily he was spot on, and we took some photos of the gate and found the ticket booth pretty quickly.
Tickets for the main grounds were 3,000 wan, with another 1,000 for entering the palace itself, and another 1,000 for the “secret garden.” Mark and I elected to do the first two, as the secret garden section required a guide, which meant that you had to wait until a certain time to go off on your tour. I think we would’ve had to wait for a tour guide that spoke English, too, which meant it would’ve taken even longer. We found a guide book in English, which was good enough for us, and we set off. The map for Changdeokgung had a nice numbering scheme, which made it easier to visit all of the buildings in the palace and know what they were. It started with the ticket booth at number one, so we were already on track.
Changdeokgung Palace was built as a secondary palace after Gyeongbok Palace, and housed different rulers from the same dynasty at different times during the period. Construction of the palace was completed in 1412, and like many of the palaces and other buildings of cultural significance in Seoul, the palace has been destroyed and rebuilt more than once.
The palace was first burned to the ground during a Japanese invasion in 1592, then was rebuilt. It was burned again in 1623 and rebuilt. Then, the palace took heavy damage during the Japanese occupation, beginning in 1910. Wikipedia tells me that only 30% of the buildings on the palace grounds were there prior to the Japanese invasion. The rest I guess were lost. That is a disturbingly common thing to read here.
We spent about an hour wandering along the main grounds, following from building to building marked on the map. This palace was less popular than the other, and had fewer visitors in traditional dress, though we did still see some. Overall, it was a lot easier to get photos there without people in them. When we finished up the main palace grounds, we went through a little gate into another palace area, which was originally built as a sort of mother-in-law castle, from what I understand. This secondary area is a bit more modest looking, and blends in a little more with its natural surroundings. It is still obviously a palace, but it is not nearly as ostentatious as the other portion. The buildings were dark brown and white instead of bright reds.
We also walked out along the grounds and down to the greenhouse/conservatory, which was an adorable building made of white metal and tons of glass, as you might expect. There were a number of girls in traditional dress taking photos there, as the view was sort of romantic and fewer people visited the greenhouse in general. It was decidedly hot in there, so Mark and I didn’t stay inside with the plants for long.
It was after 4:30pm when we finished up with the palace and headed back to the subway to head back towards our hotel. We were tired, but we still needed groceries for our hotel room dinner, so we took an early subway stop and walked to the grocery store to grab some things to eat. By the time we were done with that, we were totally spent for the day, and it was nearing 6pm when we made it back to the hotel.
We had dinner in the room and watched an episode of Psych that we had downloaded to my iPad while we ate. I think today was the most time we’ve spent out and about so far. It was a lot of fun, and I really loved visiting the tower. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Seoul. The palaces are cool, too, of course, but if you can only pick one, definitely pick the tower.
Tomorrow we are going to visit a national park that we discovered right on the edge of Seoul. We didn’t realize it was there at the beginning of the trip, and while I don’t think it will be as cool as the ones we visited last weekend, I think we will still have fun. It takes an hour to get over there on the train, and you are still technically in Seoul when you arrive. It’s such a big place.