Friday, June 10, 2011

Seoul: Day 1

Last weekend we had a long weekend and so finally made it to the capital city of South Korea, Seoul. It was a short 4 hour bus drive away and aaabsolutely worth it! Seoul is like nothing I've seen before, anywhere in the world. It pulses with life every moment of the day. People everywhere, lights, sounds, food, smells; this is the city that never sleeps. Whether you're out all night at the pulsing clubs or shopping til' you drop, there's never a lack of things to do.

We arrived in Seoul Saturday afternoon, so had the whole day to explore and walk around. The first thing to tackle was the subway system. I'm always a little nervous about a new public transit system, since I've had experiences where info is hard to find, buses or trains are sporadic, and the system is just not... smooth. Not so with Seoul's subway. It was absolutely fantastic. Everything is in Korean, Chinese, and English, and there are gigantic digital interactive maps at every station. Never once did we get lost or turned around. Oh, and did I mention that it's only $.90?

The divine subway

Our first destination, after settling into our hostel, was Hongik University, or Hongdae. This is a neighborhood surrounding the university with a plethora of shops, restaurants, and cafes. We spent hours just wandering the streets and moseying into any store that caught our fancy. Everything in this area had so much character: the buildings were older, the streets meandering, the colors muted. We stumbled upon a yarn shop, beautiful handmade jewelry, fruit stands, and get this... a TACO stand! I was wary of this, of course, but we decided to buy just one taco. It. Was. Amazing. So authentic, so perfectly cooked, and topped with grilled cheese and cilantro! I wanted to stand there all day and just eat these amazing tacos. But alas, there was more to see... We wandered into a music festival a bit later and experienced our first Korean rap. It's best described as just... odd. Also found in Hongdae: models selling... something?, graffiti, and a rasta cafe...

taco stand chef

me devouring said taco

I (heart) graffiti

Korean rapper... nice jersey

Could these models look any more similar?!

Rastaman vibrations

When dusk hit, we headed across the city to an area called Myeongdong, one of the major financial and commercial districts in Seoul. In fact, in terms of floorspace rent, it's one of the most expensive commercial areas in the world! (thanks Wiki) After visiting, I can see why. At night, the shopping doesn't taper off, but seems to increase! There were so many people in the streets, we had to link arms and squeeze through in order not to lose each other in the crowd. There are a number of upscale shopping centers here, as well as a Louis Vuitton, Coach, Prada, Chanel, etc. On street level, there countless marketeers selling clothes, bags, and about any knock-off you could imagine. This is also where we found the H&M as well as Forever 21. That night we headed to a Nepalese-Indian restaurant for some curry, tandoori chicken, and mango lassis before heading over to to Cheonggyecheon, a small stream in the middle of the city.

This picture does not even begin to describe the Myeongdong madness. This is one small street out of hundreds in the area, and isn't even the major area of the district.

Here's one of the many street vendors in the area selling grilled squid, a popular light snack.

Where Cheonggyecheon stands now there used to be a gigantic highway. However, when the city underwent a huge beautification campaign, this area was remade into a public park and walking area. Across the river have been built many small bridges. At night, it's a very popular destination for both young couples as well as families, Koreans and foreigners alike. At the end of the walkway, there is also a small waterfall that is illuminated at night. This is where we ended out night of exploring before retiring to our hostel. What a beautiful night it was!

Uncommon calm in Seoul

The beautiful waterfall and the spindle sculpture called "The Spring" seen behind it, designed by Claes Oldenberg, who also designed the Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Stay tuned for day 2!

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