Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Weekend In Seoul Part 1...lost in translation...

I was lucky enough to enjoy an extra long weekend recently and of course, me being me, I took this as a sign to get away to yet another global destination. With a friend teaching in Korea, a country famous for its food, industry, history and scenery, where better than open my eyes to yet another culture.

Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul - etravelsense
Tranquil gardens of the Gyeongbokgung Palace
Singapore had been my last stop in Asia for the opening of the iconic Marina Bay Sands, a city where a language barrier was no real issue. Korea on the other hand, is somewhat different. They are crying out for English teachers and is now expected in the school syllabus but I found that many of the older generation spoke only a limited amount of English. Although my language skills are limited to that of European languages, I did try learning a few key phrases in Korean but all of which were redundant once I was overwhelmed in this grand city.

Arriving at lunchtime, finding my way into the city center was relatively easy being dropped off at Seoul train station with a short walk to my hotel for the weekend, the Ramada Hotel and Suites in Namdaemun. For me, a fan of walking, it was a great location. Easy access to a number of different subway stations and to City Hall and the Cheonggyecheon river, once a hectic motorway that was converted to a calm and peaceful river to give the people of Seoul some light relief from the hustle and bustle of the streets above.

My adventures took me to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, dated from 1395 it was rebuilt twice since, the most recent after being destroyed during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The tranquil surroundings of the palace gardens with the towering skyscrapers to the South and mountainous forests to the North, tickets cost just 3000 won and offer some beautiful photo opportunities.

Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul - eTravelSense
Cheonggyecheon River in the heart of Seoul
As the day grew dark, the time had come to explore the menu options in this capital city. Knowing only that there was a vast array of dishes to try, there would be no pizza or pasta for me this trip. My first venture? A tiny little restaurant in the heart of Insadong with a computer to order from. That still didn’t help the messy conversation I had with the owner as she tried to explain what each dish was. At least there were pictures so I threw caution to the wind and tried what she suggested…..a bowl of cold noodles. Not my ideal meal, I have to admit but I was determined to make the most of this and try whatever I could. I headed to the Seoul Tourist Information for more advice on the next day’s adventure.

The lady at tourist information was incredibly helpful. She was no doubt getting annoyed with my constant questions about the best way to enjoy Bukhansan, one of Korea’s many stunning National Parks. She assured me that the hike I wanted to do was dangerous and advised me against it. What I really wanted to say was “but danger’s my middle name”, instead I politely agreed, knowing my attitude is if you tell me not to do something, I’m going to do it.

That night I relaxed in the hotel in preparation for my dangerous attempt at mountain climbing the next day.

Fearless ajummas, mountain kittens and Soju in part 2