october 1st, 2nd, and 3rd gave us another holiday weekend (not sure why, but no complaints!) coupled with beautiful fall weather, so we decided there was really only 1 place to go: seoul.
we hopped an express bus saturday morning, making the 3 1/2 hour trek with 6 friends. it was good to tackle seoul as a group (especially when our friends have iphones w/gps); i think if it would have just been david and me, we would have been swallowed up in the madness of the city.
seoul is the second biggest city in the world, right after tokyo and before mexico city. numbers differ, but it seems to hold around 10.5 million people (the number jumps to over 25 million if you include the surrounding metropolitan area) which officially makes it by far the largest city i have ever been to. it hosted the summer olympics in 1988, and is home to brands like samsung, hyundai-kia, and LG. it’s modern, safe, and clean but also incredibly ancient with temples tucked in the shadows of apartment complexes.
we saw only a small fraction, but we know we’ll return before our time here is through. here’s a lengthy list of things we did: saturday upon arrival we successfully booked hotel rooms at the classy Noo-Noo Motel (rates were discounted if we agreed not to check into a room until after 11…), explored a traditional antiques/artwork shopping area known as insadong (인사동), ate some delicious indian food nearby, and then ventured to the foreigner-friendly district called itaewon (이태원동) in search of a jazz bar. we found a nice, rather expensive place called all that jazz, and the music was worth the price of admission. the night wrapped up at a “canadian” dive nearby. we decided that this street held the most westerners that we’d seen in weeks.
sunday we ate breakfast at a small bakery, then got down to the han river and booked a river cruise. the weather was pristine as we toured up and down the city taking in the sights. after the cruise we went to the seoul world trade center and walked around. we ate a late lunch at paris baguette, explored a beautiful temple called bongeunsa that contains a huge, towering statue of buddha (this guy is everywhere, but he was particularly large), and then finished up the afternoon at the COEX mall, doing a little shopping.
that evening, we ate at the food court of the mall (real adventurous, i know) and went back over to itaewon in search of some more music. we found a nice mexican tapas restaurant instead that had its wide windows open to the night air. we sat around talking and relaxing.
monday we got up a little earlier to make it to seoul tower. we rode the cable car to the top, which was a fun way to travel and a much better option than trying to walk. we took in the overwhelming sights of the sprawling city (so thankful we got a crystal clear blue sky) at the top for a while and then went to see the love locks stuck to the fences at the bottom of the tower. back at the hotel, we checked out, did some last-minute shopping (including buying dozens of boxes of a traditional korean candy known as a “dragon’s moustache”) and after much walking and searching in and around the bus station, got our tickets and headed home.