July 27, 2014
After our first full week of teaching we were ready for the weekend! We decided to go into Seoul yesterday and do a little sightseeing.
We began in the Gwanghwamun area of Seoul which was the seat of power in Korea during the Joseon era (1392-1897). It is an area that still houses government buildings and contains some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s a large area so we only covered two of the more popular sites – Bukchon & Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Bukchon is a neighborhood that was traditionally reserved for Seoul’s elite. Now, it’s a great example of what Seoul was like before its modernization in the late 20th century. We acquired a map from the information office in Bukchon and followed a winding, sometimes steep, path through the neighborhood. It’s a really quaint area with a lot of hanok homes – traditional Korean homes – and small handicraft galleries, stores, and coffee shops and restaurants. We were fortunate that it never rained and instead stayed nice and breezy.
The hanoks in Bukchon all have black-tile roofs and central courtyards – madang. They are built from wood, stone, and earth. We were able to tour part of one – although I didn’t take many photos because the rooms were quite small – and had some traditional Korean tea before our tour began.
After wandering around Bukchon, we made our way over to Gyeongbokgung. The palace was built in 1394 by the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, King Taejo. It was one of the first structures built in the new capital city, but it has had a fairly tumultuous history. During the Japanese invasions in 1592-1598 the palace was burnt to the ground not by the Japanese, but by Seoul’s slave population who took advantage of the chaos t0 destroy the slave records. The palace lay in ruin until 1867 when it was finally rebuilt. However, tragedy struck the palace yet again in 1895 when Empress Myeongseong was assassinated by Japanese agents. King Gojong left the palace and never returned. When Japan annexed Korea in 1910 much of the palace was torn down. Restoring the palace has been a big project since Korea’s liberation in 1945. In fact, there were several buildings that were under renovation while we toured the grounds.
After we toured the palace we left Gwanghwamun and went to Itaewon, another area in Seoul. We went with a purpose – to eat at Vatos Urban Tacos (one of the founders is a fellow Longhorn – Hook ’em!). We just had to see if we were going to have a reliable taco place in times of great need, and Vatos didn’t disappoint. We had a nice flight of craft beer and some tacos – carnitas and fish. The chips and salsa was great too. Next time we’ll have to try the queso and margaritas and see how they measure up.
We made one last stop in Itaewon before heading back home – The Foreign Book Store. I have a feeling we’ll be visiting this one again. It’s stacked with used books and some new ones. I easily found several books to buy but practiced some self-restraint and only bought one. Zach picked up a nice Seoul guidebook and one on Korea so now we are all set to start exploring the country.