Friday, April 01, 2011

Seoul - Part II

We had learnt from our previous visit not to take the passenger metro and waste an hour stopping at every station, we took the KTX fast train from Suwon station which took us to Seoul in 30 minutes. Also we didn't bother to take the expensive Seoul city tour, we took tickets straight to Gyeongbokgung metro station. 

I haven't seen all the metro stations of Seoul, among the ones I've seen Gyeongbokgung was the grandest of all.  The imperial architecture starts right at the metro station leading out to the National Palace Museum of Korea and eventually to Gyeongbokgung palace.  It was cold and gloomy when we got out of the station which was bit too disappointing for me. A rehearsal of "change of guards" was happening and there was a crowd attired in red, yellow, blue imperial attire, some with weapons and some with instruments like bugles and drums.  I was asked not to get too close to them, I had to change to 70-200 to shoot them from a distance.  After a few clicks, we entered the palace by paying 3000₩ (about Rs. 120).

Gyeongbokgung is a restored palace, but that doesn't make it any less elegant.  This palace which was once destroyed during Korean war is now restored to its original state.  Architecturally it resembled many of the Chinese palaces I had seen with vivid coloured wooden ceilings, red walls and rectangular patterned green wooden windows, dragon and lion motifs at the edge of the roof etc.   The palace opens up with a grand gate with three arches, the pavement from the gate leads to hall of affairs which is the biggest edifice in the group.  Behind the main hall is the private quarters of the royal family, followed by the rear garden.

National folk museum of Korea is located next to the garden, it's a collection of rare  Korean artifacts.  It easily takes a couple of hours to finish the museum, I didn't have so much time, I just had a glimpse and walked out.  We then entered the National Palace Museum which was a collection of all the findings/belongings of the palace and the royal family, things like royal stamps, banners, scriptures, attires and accessories.  The entrance to both these museums are taken care by the same ticket that we bought for the palace.  The museums are super clean with information brochures, descriptive text, pleasantly climate controlled and have immaculate toilets.  For a detailed visit of all the aforementioned places one has to dedicate atleast about 6 hours, the span is vast and items too many to cover.

We were hungry, after a quick reference to our "Korea travel guide", we head to Namdaemun street market.  As we came out of the metro station, we were welcomed by the pleasant smell of...hmm...a dish with noodles and vegetables stuffed inside a bun, finely shallow fried to golden brown.  It was yummy, we walked the shopping street which was bustling with vendors selling sweetmeat, dolls, chocolates, clothes, vegetables and pulses, bags and leather sundries, delicious food and what not.  We settled down in one of the small street-side restaurants which dished out something that resembled our akki rotti, we ordered a few of them and various parts of chicken skewered and roasted with spices accompanied by a bottle of Soju.  After devouring everything, it was time to pay up, the steward told us 15000₩ and we were glad to know it was cheap and delicious until he made it clear that it was 15000₩ per person!!!  We were looted in the broad day light!!! 15$ per person for street food!!!  It was a foreign country and we didn't know a word in Korean, we coughed up and walked out, went to Dongdaemun market area.

Dongdaemun is home for high-rise shopping malls, some selling only clothes, some toys, some with posh designer shops.  Dongdaemun gate a.k.a Heunginjimun is a popular landmark that attracts your attention the moment you get out of Dongdaemun metro station.  It's kinda interesting to see such an imperial structure surrounded by modern malls and buildings all around.  We entered one of the shopping malls and bought some souvenirs,  we even watched a 4D movie while the other team members made us wait for them while they peacefully haggled and shopped taking their own time.  It was a good place for some candid clicks too.

From Dongdaemun we head to Hanggang riverside park.  We got out of Yeouinaru station, walked few minutes to the ferry ticket counter.  I just loved the scene - beautiful park with cyclists and skaters in action, the Hang river bund, Seoul skyline on the other side of the river, the wharf, the bridges over the river.  We bought tickets to the ferry which cost us 14000₩ (around Rs. 560) for about 70 minutes cruise and we had to wait for about 45minutes.  We boarded the ferry and got comfortable leather seats outdoors.  There were chairs in rows on both sides of the aisle inside with a stage on which, for this particular ride, the magic show was supposed to happen, for the next ride it was live music.  You get food and drinks onboard for double the price.  We chose to remain outdoors for a while until we almost froze due to cold winds.  The cruise passes under innumerable bridges - some modern and some with historical significance, the skyscraper 63-building (which houses the wax museum) on Yoeuido island, the parliament house, the thermal power generation unit of Seoul and other well known landmarks of Seoul.  It was hard to take any pictures since it was dark and we were moving.  However I tried clicking few shots with 800 ISO, results aren't that great.   

By this time our batteries were totally drained, without much contemplation we just took tickets to Yongsan and from there back to Suwon.  Below are some some scenes from Seoul, your comments are welcome.

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