Seoul Day 2: Congee and Palaces

Today was our first full day in Seoul, and it was magnificent! (And delicious)

We started our day with a brisk early morning walk through the mostly quiet streets of Myeong-dong. All evidence of the late night shoppers and street food vendors had been swept away, leaving just quiet winding cobblestone streets in the morning light. On the 3rd floor of the building across from our hotel we found a Congee House, one of only a few establishments open for breakfast at 7:30 am. There we each had a giant bowl of congee – classic abalone for me and bulgogi for Hans. Each bowl of congee was accompanied by three varieties of kimchi, barley tea, and a cold clear soup, and served in a quiet open wood-paneled dining room drenched in sunlight. The abalone congee was amazing and filling happy food, ranking as one of my top 10 favorite international travel meals ever. If you’re ever in Seoul, you absolutely have to try it, preferably for breakfast.

Filled to the brim, we set off on our day’s walk around the city. We walked north along the Sejong-daero to Gyeongbokgung (“The Palace of Shining Happiness”) – the largest palace in Seoul, originally built in 1395. The gateway is called Gwanghwamun – itself rebuilt in the 1990s – which is guarded by both palace guards (left upper) and several stone carvings of lion-like haechi figures. In the throne hall (left middle and right), there are dragons carved into the ceiling which can only be seen from the side entrances (left lower).

We also saw many very happy visitors dressed up in the traditional hanbok dresses.

Afterwards, we walked through a traditional crafts area – Insa-dong – and down to the Cheong-gye-cheon (left), a stream running through the city that was previously covered by a raised highway, now dismantled, and converted into a 5.8 kilometer park. There were some really fun street paintings on the walls (right).

Near the end of the Cheong-gye-cheon is a massive new curved silver design center that looks like a cross between a space ship and an Epcot building. The Dongdaemun is covered in 45,000 aluminum panels, and houses exhibits and design studios. You can go up to parts of the roof, which have grass parks on top.

We walked back up north and then around to Namsan – the hill in the middle of the city on top of which sits N Seoul Tower. After a moderately long hike up to the cable cars, we rode the cable cars up the hill, and then took the elevator to the top of the 236.7 meter tall Tower. Oddly, the tickets for two included a large popcorn and soda, just like the movie theater! The view was nice, and you can really appreciate how large Seoul really is.

Afterwards we met one of H’s friends for our last meal of the day in Gangnam – an area south of the Han River made famous by Psy, with interesting modern buildings.

He introduced us to Dak Galbi (left), a spicy dish of chicken, vegetables, and rice cake that is cooked at the table in a massive steel pan. We ordered the “mild” sauce, but it was still super spicy (though delicious). The egg and green onion omelet (right) was also delicious and happily not spicy at all.

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