Sunday, November 29, 2015

Exploring Insadong and Bukchon Village

This past weekend, I went back up to Seoul for a short escapade.  I visited again with old friends and also had the pleasure of meeting some new friends.  Although the time was short, I had a lot of fun and it was well worth it.

Saturday, I met up with my friend Alice (her chosen English name) and her friend Matt (a Canadian from BC who I suppose is my friend now, too =P).  Like any good meet up with friends, we started with food.  Matt led the way to a good Bulgogi place and so off we went. (I don't know the address, but it was right at the start of the main strip of Insadong Street by the Paintbrush statue).
On the threshold of delicious food!
Matt and Alice, ready for food!
A little blurry, but so good nonetheless.  And so many side dishes!
Once full, we were ready to get to the action.  I mentioned previously that Insadong Street (인사동길) is one of the popular shopping streets in Seoul and it really wasn't hard to see why.  There were so many little boutiques along the sides.  From souvenirs (so many magnets!), clothing stores, scarf stores, pottery stores, art and stationery stores... there was so much to see and it was fun even though I didn't buy anything except for a couple stickers.  The main highlight of the street was a... rectangular-spiraled building.  Yes. I realize that might sound weird.  The building was rectangular, but the center was an open courtyard. Along the four walls were more artsy-stores.  The path around the edge was sloped so that you could walk counter-clockwise all the way to the top.
Alice and I in the courtyard.
You can see how the floor is slightly slanted.
Most of the stores didn't allow photos because their merchandise was so cool and unique.  Before I head home next year, I definitely want to come back here to collect some gifts for friends and family.
After Insadong, we headed north to Bukchon Hanok Village, a residential area of Seoul that is made up of the older traditional style of housing.  The buildings are beautiful to look at and I wonder if they are as nice to live in.
Someone's front door.  Many doors had Chinese Hanja written above, on or beside.
A corner shot.
 With all us tourists walking through their neighbourhood, I wonder if the residents get really annoyed.  There were a few cars that kept having to stop as people paused to take pictures.
This tree is over 300 years old.  Naturally, we had to feel the energy and take a picture.
This little shop had a bench outside and since it is a lovely building, we took a picture, too.
 (Matt makes a wonderful selfie-stick.)
Saturday was a full and fun day.  I'm glad that I got to see more of the city while hanging out with wonderful people.  Until the next adventure, Seoul!

Sending my love and hugs back home.  Happy last day of November!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Chicken Ribs in Jungmun

Last Friday I met up with one of my language exchange friends and together we had 닭갈비 or Chicken Ribs (direct translation; pronounced dak-kal-bi).
Starting to sizzle away!
 For my friends and family who don't know, 닭갈비 is delicious.  If you are not a vegetarian and get the chance, you should definitely try it with friends.

As you can see from the picture, it is cooked right in front of you on a grill-pan type thing.  Along with the chicken and seasonings, there are rice cakes (best part, next to the chicken), cabbage, onions, and the green is sesame leaves, I think.  Generally a spicy dish, you can order it more mild.  When my friend and I walked into the restaurant, we were both immediately struck by the spices in the air from the other patrons.  With each breath, our nose and throat "tickled" as my friend said.
Just about ready to eat! So tasty!
Once ready, you just take what you want straight from the pan.  You can eat it straight up or wrapped in a lettuce leaf (called 삼/sam).  There are also side dishes that you can eat plain or in the wrap as well.  Both ways are delicious, although it is at times nice to have the cooling effect of the lettuce leaf, even though mild.

After eating most of the dish, we ordered some rice to make 볶음밥 (boggeum bab; fried rice) with the remaining seasoning.
The server mixed it all together and cut down the remaining big pieces.
The whole meal was very delicious and we gladly polished the pan.
All done!
After eating all that food, my friend and I were so full that we had to walk it off.  Near the restaurant in Jungmun, there is Cheongjeyeon Falls (and a temple, but I think waterfalls are cooler... sometimes).  Entrance is only a couple of dollars (or free if you are a Jeju resident, which I now am!).  It's a short, yet lovely walk along the river's edge to see the three different sets of falls.  All in all, it was a fun, and delicious outing.  

Here's a couple pictures--some from Friday and some from a couple weeks ago, because yes, I've been before.

Love and hugs!
The 2nd Waterfall (friday)
Same waterfall back in September--look at the difference in water pressure!

Beautiful pool at the "first waterfall,"
Bridge crossing the river and leading to the temple.  Stunning views from the top!
Various shots of the temple.  You can go to the second floor of this temple where the view is again really pretty.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Seoul at Night (N Tower)

Seoul is not a city for early birds.  Like me.  I learned that very quickly.  Nothing opens early.  Most stores and cafes (except for a few of those big chain cafes) don't open until 10 or 11 in the morning.  Some open even later and then stay open later.

Seoul is very much an evening and night city.  At the end of a day's work, the streets flood with people--and come alive.  Shop signs call out warm invitations, street vendors set up their stalls, smells of fried food waft into unsuspecting noses.  While I was in Seoul, I walked through some of the big shopping streets/areas including Hongdae (홍대 - near a university so a lot of students and restaurants as well as shopping), Insadong Street (인사동길 - a lot cute shops and cafes from what I saw. I got some good postcards here.), Namdaemun Market (남대문 시장 - one of the most famous markets in Seoul.  You can get everything here.  Except for a husband or wife, as one Korean told me), and Myeongdong (명동 - known for beauty and skin care products.  Also known to attract a lot of Chinese tourists).  While they were all pretty busy in the afternoon, they got crazy-busy as the sun set.  I didn't think to get any pictures of the craziness, but if you get a chance to visit Seoul, don't just visit these areas during the day.  You will really be missing out on part of their charm and attraction.

Another attraction that, while beautiful during the day, is stunning at night is the view from N Tower in Namsan Park (남산공원).  Mount Nam is only a couple hundred feet tall, but the park is still lovely to explore.  Especially at this time of year when the leaves were changing colour.  I could pretend I was back in Canada for a moment, the colours were so vibrant!  There are many trails weaving through the trees to and around the tower.  The park is a good spot for a picnic or a brief respite from city life.
View of Seoul from a lookout point.
One of the trails leading up to the tour gives this lovely view!  Fall Colours!
C'est moi!  I still don't think that this picture rightly captures the splendor of the woods, but even a sliver of the truth contains truth.
But the view, while lovely during the day, is magical at night.  Different coloured lights illuminate the tower and then the view of the city... Just whoa.  N Tower is a big attraction for groups and couples and it is no surprise as to why.
For perspective: My shot of the Tower and Temple structure during the day.
BAM!  Same view at night.  Look at those lights!
I wish my camera was better... But I still think it's pretty!
I wished I had had more evening-nights to explore the city sights.  I have a feeling that many more would be just as stunning if not more so than their daytime hours reveal.  Next time, I suppose.

Until then...

Love and Hugs.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Deoksugung Palace

There are five palaces in Seoul that have been preserved and opened to the public.  During my time in Seoul, I signed up for a city tour through Viator and ended up going to Deoksugung Palace in time for the changing of the guard ceremony.  (Specific Tour I did).  I had never done a city tour before so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised.  Our guide was super friendly and helpful and the pace of the tour was pretty good, too.

I learned that only the Temples and Palaces are allowed to be painted while any other older, traditional house or building remains naturally coloured.  This interesting fact came into play later when we talked about how a King built a house for one of his concubines. Not technically part of the palace, it remains white and brown.

Anywho... Deoksugung Palace was one of our morning attractions.
View of the Palace from a building across the way.  I like the contrast between old and new.
This first picture wasn't actually taken on that tour.  I went on a second tour the following day, and my guide took me to this vantage point, unknown to foreigners because it's in a business building. I didn't take many pictures of this palace.  Although here is an image inside the main building:
"Throne Room."
 Deoksugung Palace is the most modern palace.  Our guide said that of all the palaces left in Seoul, Deoksugung is the only one that has a western style building.  What's more, the King at the time loved coffee and this building was his coffee room.  Apparently, coffee is also what killed him because there was poison put into his cup, too...

The changing of the guard ceremony was cool to see, too.  It was shorter than the ceremony at Buckingham Palace in the UK, but it was a lot more colourful--and very tourist friendly.
Processing walking toward the front entrance.
The space is roped off for the ceremony.  The two buildings in the back are the old and new city hall of Seoul.
 After the changing of the guard, the rope barriers were temporarily dropped so that tourists could get pictures with the men in their ceremonial robes.  Naturally, I got a few, too.

*Note: some of the men were wearing fake facial hair to fully create a more authentic look.

Aren't we a stoic bunch.
Definitely très cool.  And fun.  Fun is good.

Love and Hugs!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Cafes in Seoul

While in Seoul, I decided that I would make an effort to go to some unique cafes that you don't find in North America--or that are more rare. My research revealed way more cafes than I had time to visit so I just picked a couple.  The main two I visited were within walking distance of each other (although due to opening hours, I ended up going back to my hostel in between times).
I arrived just before opening  and so had my choice of seats.
Thanks Nature Cafe
(Pretty close to the Hongdae Subway Station)
486 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
or 서울 마포구 서교동 486
(Opens at 11am on weekdays)

Yes. Bahhhhhh. Like a sheep. Well, is a sheep.  Thanks Nature Cafe is a sheep cafe and they currently have two sheep for their customers to... sit with.  I don't know if you can really play with sheep.  They aren't dogs or cats... I am definitely not a sheep expert.

If you think this is somewhat unclean, do not worry.  The sheep portion of the cafe is actually located outside of the "cafe" portion.  It was a cute cafe and I would consider going again if I was in the area.
Look at the lovely sheep in my tea latte!
I ordered some delicious green tea waffles.  I didn't eat the whip cream, but the ice cream was nice...
Sheep #1 really liked chewing/licking everything.  He (or she) was really poofy and soft to touch.
Rest of the sheep area.  You can sit with your drink inside the pen if you want.
The man was taking care of the sheep the whole time I was there.
Cafe Number 2!

Bau House
(Outside of Habjeong Subway Station, Gate 3)
서울 마포구 양화로 64 

Yes, friends and other friends, I went to a dog cafe.  I'm missing my dog from back home and wanted to spend some time with giant puppies since I rarely see them during day to day life.  Bau House does not open until 13:30 on weekdays, which my research hadn't told me.  (I think it opens at 12:30 on weekends for anyone who might want that information).

"Admission" is dependent on a purchase.  You can't just come in and play with dogs--nor could you do that with the sheep.  You have to buy a beverage.  The other reviews of the cafe are pretty consistent in saying that they are somewhat more expensive.  I paid 7,000 won for one of the cheapest options, but the dogs made it worth it in my opinion.

Lazy days are dog days...
Sooooo fluffy!  Almost like the sheep!  Ha.
This little one adopted me shortly after I sat down at one point.
The cafe has treats that you can buy for the dogs, and everyone gets excited when one of those bags are opened.  They immediately swarm, waiting for a tasty bit.
They swarmed her as soon as she had the bag!
 What I liked most about the cafe, was seeing the interactions between the staff members and the dogs.  It was clear that the dogs were happy with the people looking after them.  A couple of the dogs would follow the employees around, begging to be played with.  It was funny and cute

Play with me!  Please!!
This is fun... And...
Sneak Attack Kisses!

Stairs leading up to Cafe.
The last cafe is only a mentionable.  I saw it in passing and walked up the stairs, but I didn't stay there.  It was called Manhwa Cafe (만화 Cafe)--or a Korean Manga cafe--and they had nothing in English.  But I thought it was still a cool cafe and decided I would mention it.  If you can read Korean or want to practice your reading, this might be the right place for you.  The cafe is just down and across the street from Thanks Nature Cafe toward the Hongdae Station.  It's on the second story so look up!  Closest address point I can give is 358-1 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul but I don't know the exact address.

That's it for now.  More to come!

Love and hugs.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Snapshots from Gwangju - Mudeungsan

Home again, am I!  I returned last evening and while I really enjoyed being in Seoul, I was really happy to sleep in my own bed.  I have so many pictures and such to go through, but here are some of the shots that I took last weekend.  I'm not very good at taking pictures of city streets--I don't usually think of it until I'm writing posts like this--so they are mainly mountain shots. Ha. 

More on my vacation in Seoul later this coming week! 

Heading to Gwangju!!  Someone told me that South Korea has over 3000 islands.  It would take years to visit them all.
I find it so cool how different societies and countries structure their blocks of land in both a similar and different fashion.  Definitely makes the view interesting.
One of my first stops in Gwangju was exploring the Yangdong Market.  This picture doesn't show you how much there was to see in food alone. A lot of rich smells attacked me as I walked through the alleys.
A welcome view of the city as the sun set.
Hiking around the mountains with Nick.  He didn't do too badly for a novice. ;)
Stunning view looking back toward the city and the other mountains in the park.
Not quite the top, but one of the taller peaks.
And one last picture looking out over the mountains.  So pretty!  But it was also getting cold at this point and we turned to go back down.

Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...