I was spending the first four days in Seoul by myself before my family would arrive, and I was glad to have some time just by myself. The solo experience is more of a spiritual one, and because my travel and work schedule has been so crazy busy, I needed the time on my own. Besides, there is no greater high than figuring things out on my own with foreign signs that I cannot read. The first few steps on new soil, the smell of the place along with the new sights and sounds, are absolutely intoxicating to me.
My first day was spent visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace, originally built in 1395 but only recently rebuilt, and only partially so. The palace name means, “Greatly Blessed by Heaven.” It was cloudy when I visited but even so, seeing the distant mountain blending in with the foggy white sky was very beautiful. The architecture, so different from the Western world, had a peaceful serenity. If you ever decide to visit this palace, make sure to witness the changing of the guard ceremony near the front part of the the palace. A guided tour of the palace comes with the small entrance fee. This was well worth it, and I highly recommend it.
I was the most excited about visiting the Jogyesa Buddhist Temple on my 2nd day in Seoul. I think I longed for my childhood days when my mom would drag me along on many Sundays. The smell of incense is always calming and relaxing, and I felt blessed to have had an opportunity to give thanks among the colorful lanterns that completely covered the entire front grounds of the temple. More gratitude was felt as I made a donation (for good luck, too) which allowed me to be “blessed” by having my laminated bio hung on one of the lanterns. I chose a pink one. Then, across from the temple at a restaurant called Balwoo Gongyang (all a part of the temple), I had an exquisite vegetarian lunch prepared by practicing Buddhists. Because I sat on the floor (I chose this option because I was supposed to be Korean, LOL), I was honestly highly uncomfortable. So if you are a Westerner, sit at a table unless you want to get the real Korean experience…but I warned you!
My favorite shopping area was a place called Insadong. The place had a European feel and it was very lively. There were local artisans with boutique shopping, not cheap mass produced goods. I bought souvenirs as gifts for others, and for myself I bought a beautiful pen in a certain type of wood with rose gold colored details. There were also many small side streets with delicious-looking food, although I couldn’t eat most of them since they were made of beef or pork. There were plump, fresh-made dumplings, and they were so pretty that I wanted to try them. But the place I loved the most was a tea shop called O’sullac Tea House. The 2nd level looked out onto the main street, and as I sat by the large window and watched the world go by I was in heaven while enjoying the greenest, most delicious green tea ice cream I have ever had in my entire existence. This tea house should be on every tea lover’s list when visiting Seoul. I would end up returning to this place at least three more times, and of course, I crave the deliciousness now as I write this.
On my last solo day I went to Gangnam, famous for Psy’s GANGNAM STYLE song. It was supposed to be Seoul’s Rodeo Drive so I wanted to check it out. The main building with the Louis Vuitton name attached to it caught my eye, and the roof tiles were so beautiful because they looked like iridescent shells which looked like gills of a fish, revealing the soft pinks, greens, and blues that you would see in rainbows, sea shells, or even exquisite pearls. I didn’t have enough time to shop, really, as I had to take the subway back to the hotel. My brother and his family would arrive, and I was ready for some company by then. The night ended with a very late family meal in a neighborhood I can’t recall, and we all went to bed with a happy tummy.
Peace at Gyeongbokgung Palace!
Blessed at Jogyesa Buddhist Temple
Side dishes at Balwoo Gongyang
Divine green tea ice cream at O’sullac Tea House
Pretty Louis Vuitton, Gangnam Style!
Architecture in Gangnam