Saturday, May 06, 2006

back to Seoul

After a leisurely checking out of Hotel Sheel (noon! no 9 and 10 am checking out here! take note, Japan), we jumped on the subway and headed to Country Life for lunch, the vegan Korean food buffet at Shinsa station. Fantastically delicious and very reasonable (8000w for all you can eat). Highly recommended.
From there we headed to Gyeongbokgung, the biggest palace in Seoul. We were just in time upon arriving to witness the colorful changing of the guard at the main gate, with many men in colorful elaborate costumes and interesting instruments and flags. The grounds were expansive, with many different enclosures and sub-palaces for different royalty. The king had his own quarters, of course, and the queen, crown prince, and dowager each had separate sections as well. The buildings were mostly open-plan shells, with little furniture or decor left inside, though the woodwork was elaborately painted. I was again suprised at the relative lack of tourists on such a nice day in Seoul. Occasionally, groups of about 20 Chinese tourists would come along, but quickly dissapated. Nothing like the swarms we had left behind during Golden Week.
More of a highlight, however, was the National Folk Museum on the grounds to the palace, with free entrace that comes with palace admission. It's a large and interesting museum, with extensive dioramas, mannequins, and displays showing various aspects of Korean life and history. Outside is a small sculpture garden including phallic sculptures, zodiac sculptures, and scenes from a traditional village.
I found it very interesting that same sexes of all ages hold hands everywhere. There doesn't seem to be any weird stigma like there would be in the states - we saw old and young women, 20-something men, older businessmen, and all sorts of other combinations. It was really nice.

From the palace grounds we walked past Anguk station and up Insadong, the folk art street. Lots of vendors selling souvenir-y stuff, and very crowded, but not just with foreign tourists. There are several veg restaurants in this area, including the aforementioned Dimibang, as well as Soshim, which was closed by the time we tried to go there, and a Buddhist restaurant and shop that was incredibly expensive. We ended up eating at Little India, about 1/2way down Insadong and on the 2nd floor: mediocre, overpriced curry. But vegetarian. They served the curry with a side of pickled radish, which I thought a strange touch, but no weirder than the ketchup they serve with samosas in Japan.

We tried to check in at Hotel Sheel again, eager to try the Cyber floor, but they were booked up! We went across the street to the All in Motel, which was a tad cheaper but much shittier. I'm not posting their information, it's not worth it. They had internet, though.

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