One whole day

Our first night’s sleep in Korea was decent. The hotel was nothing spectacular, and the beds were large enough for about 1.5 Americans (which I assume is about 2-3 Koreans), but nonetheless we woke up this morning feeling surprisingly awake and refreshed. There didn’t seem to be a hint of the jet-lag we experienced when we first arrived in France.

Our hotel breakfast was a new experience. There were about 4 hot soups to choose from as well as other savory Korean foods that didn’t look particularly breakfast-y to me. There were, thankfully, some scrambled eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit, and tea. The whole assortment though struck me as odd until I realized two things. One, with all the international travelers coming through, there were probably a lot of people who weren’t on Korean time, and maybe wanted dinner for breakfast. Two, I don’t think Koreans really have dedicated breakfast food. I have since made a mental note to find out more about this.

Following breakfast and a cup of hot green tea (that was oddly “toasty” tasting), we got our bags and headed for downtown Seoul. Tim had made contact with the current Olmsted scholar here, and he was gracious enough to let us store our bags there while we toured Japan. Because in all of 12 hours here, we decided to hop a flight to Japan and travel the next two weeks.

So, to my utter amazement, Tim navigated us without Wifi or GPS from the airport hotel to this man’s apartment. I understand that this is what people did all the time before the era of constant GPS and little blue dots showing you along your designated route, but I am still amazed that it is possible. I swear he has some sort of GPS programmed in his brain…

After dropping off our bags and a little chitchat with the scholar, Tim and I headed out to lunch and to Gyeongbokgung Palace to explore. This would have to be the extent of Korean sightseeing for now.

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Nothing is more Korean than kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage), and for lunch we both ordered a plate of octopus and kimchi which also came with noodles, a little broth, and other pickled things and shredded meat that we weren’t sure what they were or how to incorporate them into the main dish, but we enjoyed anyways.

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A close up of the tentacle-y goodness. Judy Boswell, are you gagging yet?

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A selfie with King Sejong the Great who invented the Hangul alphabet in 1443. At that time, virtually all citizens but the aristocracy were illiterate due to the complexity and length of study required to master Chinese idiograms, which most people didn’t have time to study. To solve this, the king created an alphabet for the average person. However, this new alphabet wasn’t welcomed with open arms. Imagine the farmers now actually being able to read royal decrees! Horrors! The multiple invasions by the Japanese who forced Koreans to speak Japanese and take Japanese names didn’t help with its acceptance either. It really wasn’t until the 19th Century that Hangul was really accepted, and it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the use of Chinese characters fell out of favor. North and South Koreans now officially use Hangul, even if it is different dialects, so I guess that’s one thing they agree on…

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The main entrance to Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was the grandest of the 5 Joseon Dynasty Palaces. It was originally completed in 1359, but was destroyed twice by the invading Japanese. Once in the late 1500’s and again in WWII. However, thanks to diligent record-keeping, the Koreans have always been able to rebuild it according to the original plans.

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The path leading to the first main hall (Geunjeongjeon Hall). The path in the center is raised, making it the highest path, and therefore, used for the king only. The path to the right was for dignitaries who stood according to their rank along the path. The left side was for military officers. The further away from the hall you were, the less important you were. The stones here were markers used to literally organize the rank and file.

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Geunjeongjeon Hall was where government matters were carried out. As you might guess, that was the king’s seat.

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A hemispherical sundial. It was invented here about 10 years before the Hangul language appeared. The 7 vertical and 13 horizontal lines indicate the time of day. The thing in the center points to north. It marks 24 different seasonal divisions as well as the summer (innermost line) and winter solstice (outermost line). We don’t know what the other two objects are- Tim just thought they were neat.

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All the buildings were built on a platform so that they could heat the floors from beneath. The small little structures sitting atop of the two columns are the chimneys. Some of the buildings would have underground flues that connected to other building’s chimneys.

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The two-story pavilion was used for parties and royalty would boat in the man-made pond. The three inner bays represent heaven, earth, and man. There are 12 inner columns which represent the 12 months of the year, and the 24 outer columns represent different astrological events.

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The queen’s former quarters. The things hanging from above are folding doors that can be lowered during the winter or raised and hung out of the way during the summer.

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Another cute couple in their Hanbok (which means Korean clothing). The man’s hat was typical of the everyday man who needed a hat with a tall enough top to cover his man bun. I’m not kidding, that’s what my guidebook told me. Women’s outfits typically have the short jacket paired with the long, bell shaped skirt. I think the outfit is adorable, and I want to dress my niece in it!

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The boy king’s quarters. He wasn’t really a “boy,” but he was a king. I just called him that since this living space was supposedly built so that the king (the “boy”) could show his Dad (who bizarrely was “the Prince Regent,” not the king) that he didn’t have to live under his thumb. Unfortunately, the place is also known as the site where Korea’s empress was assassinated by the Japanese in 1895.

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A place where the king and his wife would come to have their afternoon coffee, not tea. Evidently when coffee was introduced to Korea, the king liked it so much that drinking coffee became an official custom, and even today you can find a lot of coffee shops in Seoul.

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Another example of hanbok. The man’s robe and hat are typical of what a king would wear. In the end we learned that the thing to do is rent these outfits and come to places like this and have your pictures taken (you are also offered free admission)

After our brief tour of Seoul, we headed back to the hotel. That evening I booked us tickets to Tokyo and return tickets from Osaka, downloaded a little guidebook on Japan to my phone, and got us a hotel for the first three nights in Tokyo, and that was really the extent of the planning. So long for now Seoul, Tokyo here we come!

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