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Seoul’s Metro, Palaces, Anti North Korea Demo and Korean Calligraphy

Seoul’s Metro, Palaces, Anti North Korea Demo and Korean Calligraphy

8th June 2013.

This post is going to be fun because I am going to take you for some serious Seoul sightseeing. Proper cultural and traditional places (palaces!). I have put in two videos on Korean calligraphy and an anti North Korean Demo we saw in the centre of Seoul, as well!

It is still our first week. We are having tofu with kimchi for breakfast as usual. South Korea is famous for its kimchi variety but that inevitable carries the increased risk of picking the awful kind. That is exactly what happened. Hard and long cords of strange tasting kimchi. Breakfast scenes comparable to Charlie Chaplin eating his shoelaces in The Gold Rush.

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Korea is not veggie land. It is still fairly difficult for us to find food without killed animals in it, so it is mainly soup with delicious Korean noodles. We bought soup and fresh noodles which I combined but the soup/sauce we bought was more spicy than tasty and so the noodles were a good base. Of course the noodle package also included two sachets of hot chilli sauce!

Gosh, food can get so spicy here and I thought I do like spicy a lot.

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Let’s move out from the kitchen to the metro.

T-money cards is what you should get if using the metro more than a few times in Seoul. It will save a lot of time as you won’t have to buy a one-way one-time transportation card with bothering to get the deposit back every time you arrive at your destination.

The T-card also saves money. It can be bought at any convenience store (but not at the metro ticket machines!) for 3,000 won (covering card costs – not returnable). But you do get a cool 100 won discount for each train ride when you use T-Card! So after 30 rides you  have levelled out the card cost, right?

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To charge it, you use the ticket machines at the metro.

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Done!

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Some stations have interactive screens, where you can check tourist sights (in English), the weather (in Korean) and other things. The English language button doesn’t always provide what you think.

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This is where we read about Dongdaemum Fashion Town which we visited later that day (next post).

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Koreans do have a foible for fortune telling – the last button reads your horoscope!

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We had to get stuff printed and found a 24h print shop which did all scanning and printing professionally, speaking no English. South Koreans rarely speak good English and I was wondering what languages are taught at school.

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Sightseeing!

Deoksugung Palace. Build in the 15th century it served various royal dynasties. Called Palace of Virtuous Longevity until ironically destroyed by the Japanese, invading the country in 1592.

The Japanese occupation affected pretty much all palaces and old buildings which is also pointed out on all sights. It feels like a heavy historical burden on both countries. Sorta like the tragic events of Germany’s and Poland’s past. Both Nazi Germany and Japan considered themselves supremacist races but now play totally reversed roles in world politics. History can have interesting twitches.

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A colourful guardian.
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This one was inviting tourists for pictures.

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Pick up a booklet on the palace. Black-white and incredibly off putting but useful for directions and in-depth explanations of palace buildings.

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You can join a free English tour (running once daily!) but you gotta check the timetable. 13.40 Sat and Sun, 10.30 Tue to Fri.

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We went on our own. Eh, which way?

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The temples are minimalist, kept in a sturdy colour palette of red and green with some flower and ornamental drawings.

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Trees! When did I last come across a tree in Tokyo?

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Serious portrait of me man.

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Court yards and royal housing.

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There was hardly anyone there with us. The benefits of perpetual travel!

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Nerd.

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Western influences of interior design in gold.

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Did we not take a picture here already? Yes, okay, yay!

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The royal heating system ran right underneath the houses and may have caused fires. According to Korean sources those were intentional Japanese attacks, as the heating tunnels are separated from wooden structure by solid stone.

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Nice palace scenery, huh?

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Designed by a Russian architect in 1900, it has Korean and western décor with a nice airy veranda and colonnades.

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A place where the Korean King enjoyed his first Russian coffee… and almost died from it. Reading into past royal matters, I found terrible plots and murder and poison and all the typical palace conspiracies that are so fascinating to read about in novels and watch on Game of Thrones.

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The palace is surrounded by residential blocks right next to its walls.

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Please enjoy. It took time to get a focus. Our camera broke down in Japan (after I had accidentally dropped it twice, only).

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Do not buy unless you like the taste of rinse water of canned beans.

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In the very beginning of the 20th century there was a great push of the Great Korean Empire for modernization. A Briton build this neoclassic building for the royal family. After the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910, the Japanese used it as a museum and it is now the National Museum of Art.

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The Japanese smuggled cultural treasures and dismantled one of the halls to rebuild as a private residence in Japan. Tragically, the Kanto earthquake in 1923 destroyed most of it but the foundation stones were returned to South Korea in 1995. What you will see in Seoul are mostly reconstructions of traditional architecture.

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View onto the western-style garden and bronze fountain from 1938.

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I was impressed by the accurate timing of the King’s sun clock.

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Architecture has changed a bit lately.

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Gwangmyeongmum gate. I decided to conquer my weaker self and write down at least one of the freaky building names. Foreigner incompatible spellings.

Such a lazy princess.

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The alarm system.

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The most advanced killing machine shooting 100 arrows at once using gun powder.

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Refresh make an ‘international call’ at the palace.

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Entrance to the main throne hall.

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The hall burnt down in 1904 and was reconstructed with a less opulent one-tiered roof.

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Three footpaths run along the courtyard, flanked by stone markers bearing the ranks of court officials. The centre footpath was reserved for the king.
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Just wait with that pic until I touch up my hair, okay?
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City walk impression. Unreachable purple soft ice cream across mega road. City planning provides similarities to communist building-brilliance in Poland. Huge streets running right through the city causing enormous noise levels.

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Cool bike. Unless you stay on the sidewalk with bikes, you will die. Cars come first.

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Children were having a fantastic time at Gwanghwamun Square’s 12-23 Fountain.

The Fountain’s numbers are symbolic. The number 12 represents 12 ships of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin (big statue) whom he used to fight a superior number of 133 Japanese warships in the legendary battle of Myeongnyang. During the Japanese invasion Yi achieved remarkable 23 victories without loosing a single battle.

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What a blast!

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The kid’s swimming pool.

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Big kid with big weapon.

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Even dressing rooms were provided for.

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Next by was another, more traditional activity area. Skilled writers were drawing popular sayings in Korean Hangul or Hanja (adapted Chinese characters), following the art of calligraphy.

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Anyone could pick a sentence from a thick phrase book with clever sayings and have it written down.

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We are tea addicts, consequently ours reads: Don’t worry, have a cup of tea! All the other sayings were deeply philosophical.

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Watch the creation of artistic writing.

 

We were well taken taken care of and advised on drying time.

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Done!

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Well, not yet. The girl made sure it didn’t get smudgy with her fan!

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There was a lot going on at Gwanghwamun Square.

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This Korean lad explained to us that it was a memorial event for Korean war veterans. After he had found out that we were from Poland, he knew a lot about Poland suffering a similar tragic fate under German attack, starting WWII. He named some Japanese general and drew parallels to Hitler. It seems that Korea and Poland share a similar history.

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The reason why there was so much police was… not Tomek’s presence.

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But heated protests against the terrors of North Korea. The demonstration was loud but small. My impression of South Koreans is that a rather relaxed attitude prevails towards constant threats from North Korea.

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Watch the demonstrators in action.

 

In every country we visit, the biggest, excessively guarded and walled in bastions  are American embassies. ’60 years of partnership and shared prosperity’ looked like a fragile phrase.

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Police and one demonstrator at the next sight.

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Gwanghwamun is the main and largest gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

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We were lucky to catch the colourful changing of the royal guard ceremony.

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Three different guards.

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They have very long sleeves.

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It is striking how the world has changed around the palace.

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Striking is also the ever present and strained Japanese-Korean relationship of the past. 

The Korean Empire had lost its independence to Japan in 1910 and Seoul was the capital of Colonial Korea. In 1911 the huge neoclassical Japanese Government General Building was build for colonial administration, deliberately on palace rounds, thereby destroying all but 10 of 400 royal structures. A symbol of Japanese imperialism, the Japanese administrative colossus was demolished – Gyeongbokgung Palace has been reconstructed, starting 1996.

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Destructive history repeated itself. Gyeongbokgung Palace was build right after the founding of the Josen Dynasty in 1395. It was reduced to ashes once before during the Japanese invasion in 1592, finally to be rebuild in grand style in the 19th century – not even to last 50 years!

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Throne hall.

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Throne hall with throne.

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Tip: do not buy a single entry ticket for the palace (like us). If you are planning to see more palaces, buy the combine ticket and save money!

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The girl next to me wasn’t yawning but singing.

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Scroll through our touristy pics of Gyeongbokgung Palace!

 

We don’t know what the ring is for – don’t take a picture. He said.

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All buildings have very long names and meanings. This is Geunjeongjeon, the throne hall, meaning ‘all affairs will be properly managed if Your Majesty demonstrate diligence‘.

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Spotted a princess and a prince!

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A real princess wears pink skirt and pink shoes.

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The smart heating system underneath the buildings keeping royalty floors warm and cushy.

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It’s easy to miss the Longevity Chimney. The wall of this chimney is engraved with many decorative designs, depicting ten symbols of longevity. It is considered the finest chimney of the Joseon period.

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In the garden of the concubines’ quarters lies this pond with a beautiful pavilion. I learned that the Korean queen was assassinated here by Japanese forces in 1895, as she turned for support to Russia to free the country from Japanese domination.

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Today, it is a popular picture spot to do this:

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Some obnoxious tourists do this:

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The looting of a Japanese businessman was mentioned in regards to Jaseondang, the living quarters of the royal couple. It was relocated to Japan and destroyed in the Kanto earthquake. The remaining foundation stones were found to be part of the new Okura Hotel, returned to Korea in 1993.

Fine example of reconstruction.

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The picturesque site of Quing China architecture introducing luxurious interiors and new construction materials to Korea, such as brick walls.

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This is probably one of the coolest sights at the palace: The soy sauce terrace with jars and jars and jars, storing soy sauce, salted fish and soybean paste. But for some reason the doors were closed.

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All the good stuff locked up.

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The palace is a mega maze and a great place to play hide and seek.

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He will never find me here!

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She’s hiding behind the pillar. Good. Let’s take a rest.

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From Gyeonghoeru pavilion royalty took in the surrounding view on Inwangsan mountain.

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The number of columns, the tiny figures of the ridges on the roof are full of symbols and meanings.

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There is a romantic legend that after the king was forced to divorce his first wife, she placed a pink skirt on Ingwasan mountain as a sign of affection.

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Final look and admiration for amazing reconstruction work.

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Off we go shopping! Join us tomorrow for part two of our day.

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