Seoul street scenes
We detoured via the Hamilton Hotel to check arrangements for the airport bus. It appeared that the bus picked up and dropped off in the same location, which the concierge confirmed. We had looked into getting a taxi, but the jumbo taxis were not big enough for four bikes and four people, meaning the bus was a better option.
We then caught the nearby metro to Changdeokgung Palace, hoping to beat the crowds. Miel had sent us a photo of the nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace which has been swarming with people the day before. At 9:30 it wasn't busy at all, and whilst entry to the palace was free due to the Chuseok holiday, we were even able to purchase 4 of the 50 tickets available on the day for the 10:30am English tour the secret garden. We had decided to visit just one of the four palaces in Seoul, and chose this one as it was reputed to be the most beautiful.
Main entrance to the Changdeokgung Palace
The Changdeokgung Palace was constructed in the early 1400s as a secondary palace of the Joseon Dynasty. It was destroyed by the Japanese, and damaged by fire, but members of the royal family lived there till the death of the princesses in 1980s. We wandered round to see the throne hall, council hall, and the residences of the king, queen, and crown prince.
The Secret garden is only accessible via a tour, and was a place for the kings and members of the royal family to relax. It was considered secret as commoners were not allowed into the garden. The tour meandered past lotus ponds, pavilions, the library, residences for visting nobles and places for meditation and writing poetry. The guide told us a little about life in the Joseon period, including the up to 20 layers of clothing worn by the queen and nobility and demonstated the special walk required to accommodate such bulky dress. We also learnt how the floors were heated, which is also the reason why people in Korea sleep and eat on the floor, given that temperatures drop to minus 20 degrees celcius in winter. The tour allowed plenty of time to enjoy the gardens, and we all agreed it was worth a visit.
Library in the Secret Garden
Gateway between male and female parts of the house
In the Secret Garden
You were not allowed to eat in the palace or the gardens, so we stopped for a snack before heading off to peruse the shops of Insadong. This street is closed to traffic, and by all accounts was the best place to pick up souvenirs. We could only hope that there would be better options than we had seen at the market on our first day in Seoul.
The street was busy, with lots of people wearing the traditional Hanbok costumes. There were also places to rent the garments, if you were so inclined. Jonno and Georgia found a few souvenirs to take home to their friends, so mission accomplished. There was a real carnival atmosphere to the street, with tradional musical performances and food stalls. We tried some sweet pancakes called hodduk, which we thought must be good given the lengthy of the queue, and they were delicious. We also bought some savoury fried buns that were very tasty.
Traditional music buskers in Insadong
From there we walked down to the nearby Cheonggyecheon Stream, which was once a raised highway that was demolished to create a beautiful parkland and walkway through the centre of Seoul. There were heaps of people enjoying the rushing water, either sitting beside it or walking along it. We stopped for another snack of bread and cheese to watch the crowds before continuing on. As we emerged at the end to find a subway, we came across an a capella performance, who sang Amazing Grace accompanied by a dancer on another nearby stage.
A water feature along Cheonggyecheon Stream
A couple in traditional Hanbok costumes
The crowds enjoying the stream
Suzanne and Georgia
An A Capella performance
Back at the house, Simon started work on washing and packing the bikes, managing to get one bike sorted, before we were due to meet Miel and John. They arrived with a few dinner options that met our request for food that was traditionally Korean that we would not have tried before. We decided upon Tosokchon Samgyetang, whole cooked chicken in a rice broth, with option of Korean pizza (which we assumed would be a Korean pancake). We walked through a nearby cafe/restaurant area that we hadn't seen before on our way to catch the bus. It was a bit of a walk at the other end, and we saw Gyeongbokgung palace all lit up.
Heading out to dinner with Miel and John
The chicken came in a stone hotpot, together with the inevitable kimchi and pickled radish, and also accompanied by ginseng tea and ginseng liquor (adults only), and a bone bucket. The seafood pancake was similar to ones we had eaten at home. However, the chicken was quite different, with dates and chestnuts and just melted off the bones. Whilst a whole chicken sounded like a lot, it was about the size of two quails, and we had no problem eating everything in front of us.
Walking back to the bus, Miel bought Georgia (who she considered to be a little sister) a headband, which suited Georgia. We had a good chat with Miel and John, learning that John was from Pakistan, and a member of a very large family, whilst Miel has one brother in Seoul and a sister in Japan. Miel would love to live somewhere else for a while, maybe England or Australia. It was lovely to be able to spend the evening with them and enjoy a meal that we would never have tried otherwise. We parted with plans to meet at 3:30 pm the next day as they had offered to help us transport our bikes and panniers to the bus stop. An offer gratefully accepted as we can easily manage the bikes or the panniers but the two together are a challenge over any distance and it is about a 10 minute walk to the bus stop.
Georgia's new sister