Friday, December 26, 2014

Seoul with the Mansour Family!

On Friday, Val and I were allowed to leave school a little early, which gave us some extra time to finish packing before we left for Gwangju and catch our bus to Seoul. When it was time to leave, we realized it wouldn’t be practical for all of us to take the city bus to Gwangju with Tim and my mom’s 4 suitcases and our backpacks. In order to save on money and space, we got them into a cab and Val and I caught the next bus to Gwangju. After regrouping at the bus terminal, we killed time by exploring the YP Bookstore and shopping for some little gifts. We all took a nap on our bus ride to Seoul and before we knew it, we had arrived at the Seoul Express Bus Terminal. Then, on our way to Itaewon we almost got in trouble with Subway Security. When trying to leave the Itaewon Subway (it was now past midnight!) the automatic machine wouldn’t let us leave because each person is suppose to have their own subway card and we all shared the same one. So the guy got angry, but with his limited English and our lack of Korean, he decided it wasn’t worth his trouble and let us go with a warning. Sometimes being a confused foreigner works in our favor. But for the record, we did pay for each of us to get on the subway, so it’s not like we were cheating the system. Finally at about 1:30 am we got to the hostel and checked into our rooms to get some sleep for the early day ahead.

After a much needed breakfast at Dunkin Doughnuts, we met our tour bus along the street in Itaewon. Our first stop was at  Jogyesa, a temple in the middle of Seoul. At the entrance there was a stunning tree with flowers attached to the branches to form clusters of flower balls. It had a large temple (and another small temple) with giant gold painted statues inside. We didn’t chose to go inside,but it was pretty to look at from the outside!

Seoul Tour Bus

We called this the broccoli tree!

Another part of the tour was to drive by the Blue House. It’s the same thing as the White House in America, but you are not allowed to stop outside like at the White House. So we literally drove by slowly to get a quick peek. The Blue House got it’s name from it’s blue colored roof.

After the Blue House we went to the Korean Folk Museum. We had a short time to explore the museum, but that’s all we really needed. The museum was a lot more interesting and lively than the one Val and I visited in Gwangju. It had lots of displays and artifacts, and they were even had descriptions in English. It was extremely crowded though, and there were many tour groups there, all with a leader who held a tall flag to lead their group around. lt was funny to see.

Next, we went to the Gyeongbok Palace. We were told that we only saw 30% of the Palace because the other parts were previously burned down in past wars with Japan. They are currently rebuilding the other 70% of the Palace, which I believe will be completed within the next year. A cool fact that we learned was that the Palace buildings were built on rocks with small tunnels underneath them. Back in the day they would burn a fire under the building that would heat up the rock tunnels,and then in turn, heat up the wooden floors and rooms of the palace buildings. Then we saw the banquet hall, which extended out into the water and was very beautiful. It’s reflection was so vivid when looking at the water. Another interesting thing we saw at the palace was a reenactment of the changing of the guards at the front gate. The guards wore the traditional clothing and carried traditional weapons. It was a really cool cultural experience to see.

The palace in the middle of the bustling city! 

Our whole tour group!

The last stop on our guided tour was the Ginseng Factory in Seoul. It’s basically the tourist trap at the end of the tour. We did get to learn about the famous Korean Ginseng and how it’s grown and processed, but it doesn’t come cheap. They sell it in many different forms, including tea, sticky gummy slices, and even just capsules for those that don’t like the taste, which I was one of them.
After we finished our morning tour, we headed down the streets of Insadong, a popular place for shopping. It has many small shops with all kinds of things to buy, but it is a lot more modern than the traditional markets. While looking around, we also saw a small parade come down the street. Why, you might wonder? We have no idea, but it was pretty cool!

Random parade! 

After a delicious lunch at Pasha’s (a Turkish restaurant) in Itaewon, we took a taxi to the gondola to go up to Seoul Tower! Val and I found our lock on the fence from our last visit, and then we bought a new one for all four of us and locked it onto the tree of locks near the tower. This time, Val and I decided to stay down below while Tim and mom headed into the observatory in the Seoul Tower. We did a little shopping in the gift shop and hung out while they got to see the stunning views of the city and surrounding mountains. Once they were finished, we met up in time to see the amazing sunset and took some great pictures. Then we walked to the bus area and caught a bus to Namdaemun Market.
In the gondola! 

Searching for the lock! 
Found him!  

So beautiful! 
Adding their lock to the tree! 

Beautiful sunset! 
We spent some time walking around the market going in and out of shops. There were several stores selling lots of christmas decorations. We found some great gifts and some fun things for ourselves. The traditional style markets bring a unique quality and experience to shopping. After we completed our shopping, we had to find a taxi back to Itaewon for dinner, but there wasn’t an available taxi in site. Also, we somehow wandered onto a bus road where taxi’s are not allowed to pick people up. While looking for a taxi, we came across this fountain with a cage of Christmas lights covering it. Once we got closer, we saw that the Shopping mall building next to it had moving images of Christmas things projected on it from a projector across the street. It was really cool to see. We also got a clear shot of the Seoul Tower lit up in the distance. After some fun pictures, we headed down a different street where we finally found a taxi that could take us back to Itaewon.

Back in Itaewon, we went out for dinner at On The Border Mexican restaurant. Mexican food is really rare where we live, so when we visit Seoul we make sure to capitalize on the opportunity! We’ve never heard of this restaurant before, but apparently it is a chain in parts of the USA. The food was great and definitely appreciated after a long period without those tastes! After dinner we took a walk along the main street of Itaewon before heading back to the hostel for some rest.

On Sunday, Tim and mom had still had plenty of time to explore as their flight wasn’t until Monday afternoon, but Val and I had to get back to Hwasun in preparation for work the next day. In the morning we all went out to breakfast at the Flying Pan Blue restaurant. We had some trouble finding it (in the pouring rain!) because it is below street level, but was a very nice little place with great breakfast food. Tim and mom both ordered the triple chocolate waffles with ice cream. The waffles were chocolate with chocolate syrup, giant chunks of chocolate, and ice cream on top. I don’t know how, but they managed to eat it all! 

Val's breakfast! 

Tyler's breakfast!

Tim and Donna's breakfast!

We took some time to walk around Itaewon more and looked at some little shops. Then it came time for Val and I to pack up and we all headed down to the Subway. Tim and my mom were headed the opposite direction to explore a little more. As we arrived at the platform, the subway pulled up for them. We said quick goodbyes and then they were gone as quick as they came.

Saying goodbye! :(
It was a real treat having them here and sharing our experiences. We are so thankful for the support they’ve given us and hope they have some great memories of Korea. Now we are making preparations for Val’s parents who will be coming in mid January! We are in the process of writing about our holiday season here in Korea! Time is flying by and we can’t believe 2014 is wrapping up!

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