Savoring Seoul.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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City Park Motel

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

We are so happy to be on the road again!

Three days in Seoul and we have savored food of the most delectable and, to us, unusual kind. Gimchi, fermented cabbage preserved in chili and spices a Korean staple, marinated seaweed, radish in chili, sesame leaves, street food of fried cakes and another of spun sugar with almonds, are just some foods we have sampled. In doing so have discovered our chopstick skills are in need of much more practice!

What we can tell you about eating out in Seoul firstly, is that you will have food in front of you in a nano- second. "It is the Korean way" our Korean friend Sue says. Upon taking off our shoes at the restaurant door (a high degree of difficulty with our hiking boots), and lowering ourselves onto the cushions on the floor, and sit cross legged (an even higher degree of difficulty at our time of life), we find little bowls of tasty food placed on and hot cooking coals brought to put in the centre of, our table and a very efficient, no nonsense, wait person ready to ask which marinated meat we would like to cook. Once chosen, the meat is then brought to the table and cut up with sharp scissors, ready for us to cook along with a little pot of garlic cloves to roast over our own individual coals. Magnificent!!

The restaurant we dined in Saturday night even had individual decorative table exhaust fans, which pulled down from the ceiling, for use and returned upwards again once we had finished cooking our meat. Lunch on Sunday, was a different style with a “lunch box” of special Korean foods on a divided tray and a bowl of rice wine and yet another lunch was a pot of delicious bubbling beef stew placed on a heating plate in the centre of the table for sharing. Street snacks we have tried include a type of cake which is deep fried, a bit like a donut, and a sort of fine spun sugar like fairy floss wrapped around almond meal.

We arrived in Seoul at 9pm on a Friday night and our friend Sue, who had worked for Bayview in Coral Bay, was there to meet us, with a big smile, a bag of snacks and metro/bus passes already loaded with cash so we could immediately get on our way to our hostel. Thank you Sue! Our original plans were to spend our first week of this trip in Japan but with the disasters there we reluctantly changed our first flight to Seoul instead of Tokyo.

A double room had been booked ahead on the Internet by us at the Beewon Guest House and Sue had booked herself in as well for a dorm bed, however when we arrived, there had been a mess up with our booking. Sue’s bed was OK and a frantic phone call by reception secured us a room in another establishment just a 100 metres down the road. Now ordinarily, this would be a very bad start to our time in Seoul, but it turned out to be a real hoot. Our new accommodation was a “Love Motel”! Let me explain.  A “motel” in Korea has a different meaning – it is usually an establishment where respectable people (couples still living in the family home and also unmarrieds) meet up for illicit sex and rooms can be hired by the hour or the night. So here we are in our room, that has all sorts of bottles of lotions, condoms ready at hand on the bedside table, with huge mirrors, and then we turn on the TV and guess what? Yes, naughty stuff on there too! Nice room at a hostel price with amazing under floor heating – I think we were the winners and didn’t mind being bumped from our hostel room.  A bonus also was it wasn’t very busy so no unusual noises kept us awake at nights!

We have had three days of full on sight-seeing here in Seoul and its surrounds. On Saturday we were up early for a full day tour to the border with North Korea, visiting the infamous DMZ  & J.S.A.(Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area – more on this later)  then took a cable car ride, at dusk, up to the site of the Seoul Tower for a gorgeous view of the city lights coming on. Sunday we spent the day with Sue and her friend Amy at the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Changdeok Palace and Jongmyo Shrine and enjoyed walking the streets in the weak spring sunshine (around 5 degrees max at the moment!) as well as eating gorgeous food all day.

Our trip to the border with North Korea was educational and fascinating. We visited and walked through a tunnel, one of four discovered, where the North Koreans had tunneled under the DMZ into South Korea ready for a surprise attack. We saw the bridge where POW’s were exchanged and the massive flag poles of each country where there had been a bit of a petty competitiveness over who could have the highest. The DMZ is a 4 km strip right across the country that is neither North nor South Korea and within this is the “Joint Security Area” which is the only place where South and North leaders meet on neutral ground. We were given the impression that the South wants unification but only on their terms. There are two villages in the DMZ one on the North side and the other South and opposite. The people living on the South side while technically South Koreans, are given independent status in that they pay no tax, nor are required to complete military service.  

It was back to work for Sue on Monday, and as she lives a long way away, we said goodbye on Sunday night after she had helped us book some transport and made sure she marked our map with metro stops and exits to help us.

Our third full day in Korea saw us take a one and a half hour trip South by metro to visit the World Heritage listed Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon City. South Korea has 10 UNESCO World Heritage listings. The 18th century military fortress walls and watch towers of Hwaseong are beautifully preserved, whilst inside them modern buildings mix with the old and a busy road runs right through the middle!  We walked up top of the fortress walls, the full  circle, which was around 6 kms, before heading back to Seoul for our last night and another delicious Korean BBQ dining experience. Next we are off to the Southern parts of South Korea by train.   

Footnote: Jongmyo Shrine, Changdeokgung Palace Complex and Hwaseong Fortress are UNESCO World Heritage listed.
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