Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Our Weekend in Seoul

This Labor Day Weekend T.J. was on call at the hospital in Seoul but we decided to take our chances and book a hotel room for all of us to stay up there for a couple nights. We found a suite at the Aloft hotel in the Myeongdong area of the city, which we picked mostly because of it's location and partly because they had on-site parking! Booking a hotel in a city you're still verrry unfamiliar with is a bit of a gamble but this one paid off. It was the perfect home base for us to get out an explore, close to a metro, plus smack dab in the middle of innumerable shops, late night street markets and more restaurants than you could eat at in a lifetime.

We decided to get a later start with the hopes that Tommy would nap in the car and be rested by the time we arrived at our hotel, ready to go once we got checked in.  Needless to say that never works and Tommy didn't nap plus he managed to spill (on purpose) his entire water bottle all over himself so he arrived at the hotel shirtless and not exactly rested. Still, we dropped our bags and then headed out to see Namsan Seoul Tower which was a convenient walk from our hotel. 
We took the inclined elevator up to the cable car and bought our tickets however just before we were about to get in the queue for the cable car, T.J. got a call and after a little back and forth we headed back down the elevator and then he headed to work leaving Tommy and I to figure out a plan B. I'll admit that initially I didn't handle the change in plans all that well as I was pregnant and hormonal disappointed and slightly overwhelmed being dropped off in the middle of Seoul on my own. But we rallied and cheered ourselves up with mandu, several yummy things on sticks, and of course a 32cm ice cream cone!
 T.J. had to work for a bit longer in the morning so Tommy and I decided to try our luck again at Seoul Tower and this time we succeeded! Going first thing in the morning also meant that it was much less crowded when we arrived and we were able to get right on the cable car. At the top we were greeted with panoramic views of the city plus a rainbow of colorful love locks lining every available surface.
 I decided not to purchase the lift tickets to take us further to the top of tower and just let Tommy run around the base which had plenty to see plus several cafes where I treated us to a churro before we headed back down. We headed back towards our hotel and picked up lunch to go from Paris Baguette to take back to T.J. Tommy went down for a nap and mom and dad crashed too. Once we were all rested we dithered for a bit on what to do with the rest of the day before deciding to trek over to Gyeongbokung Palace. This had my initial plan for earlier in the day as I wanted us to be able to see the changing of the guard (which takes place at 10am and 2pm) but going later in the afternoon still sounded like a fun idea!

We found the metro, not the one we thought we were getting on at but still in the right direction, and after buying a new T-money (metro card) for myself since I'd left mine back in the hotel, and a quick line transfer, we came above ground at the palace. Unfortunately our little delays and misreading the details online meant we arrived 10 minutes after the last entrance (it changed on September 1, the day we visited, from 5:30pm to 5:00pm).  I had to just laugh and shrug my shoulders at this point since it was very in keeping with the theme of the weekend. We wandered around for a little bit at the main entrance gate and then hopped back on the metro in search of dinner, as yummy food seems to always compensate for the best laid plans.
 We successfully found our destination, Gangnam Myeonok,  tucked down a side street and up on the 5th floor, and were shown to a table right away.  We ordered galbi jjim (the small size is enough for 2 people to share) and dumplings. Soup and kimchi arrived first followed by our steaming bowl of fall-off-the-bone braised short ribs and we happily tucked in.
After dinner we wandered around the bustling Myeongdong roads which fill up with even more people and vendors the later it gets. It's such a fun scene and I definitely need to go back and do some shopping!  We grabbed more ice cream and a yummy hotteok (korean donut thing filled with some sort of brown sugar type goodness) and Tommy charmed every little girl he passed.
The next day we were determined to see Gyeongbokgung Palace! We grabbed a quick (but delicious) breakfast at an adorable cafe. That is one of my favorite things about South Korea so far- the sheer number of delicious and unique cafes with different styles, themes, creative and beautiful desserts and drinks! They may turn me into a "coffee drinker" yet! 
Filled up on pastry, we hustled to the metro, this time knowing exactly what we needed to do. Of course that didn't stop me from accidentally getting on the metro as the doors were closing leaving T.J. and Tommy waiting on the platform for the next train. Oops. We reconnected at our destination and arrived at the perfect time to see the changing of the guard which takes place twice a day at 10am and 2pm inside the Ganghwamun gate. We bought entrance tickets (only ₩3,000 each) and got a good spot to watch. 
The palace is MASSIVE which was sort of unexpected since it's smack dab in the middle of this bustling mega city. It's surrounded by modern towers but in the distance you can also see beautiful soaring mountains.  We seriously underestimated how much time we'd need to properly take in all the palace grounds. I definitely plan to go back and set aside more time to explore and also try to hop on one of the free English tours. Even in our quick breeze through, it was impressive to take in. 
I've realized that I made a small mistake when planning this little weekend and forgot to check my expectations before we headed out. I had this picture perfect plan in my head of what we'd try to do each day- a list of 1-2 big things to check off each day, plus some recommendations for restaurants to check out and foods to not miss. Of course, I should know by now, married to someone with an unpredictable job, with a two year, navigating a foreign city, not to get too attached to any plans.... I just need to let the weekends unfold as they need to and enjoy every sweet moment wrapped up in the unexpected ones. Plans or no plans it was a fun weekend exploring more of this city that I'm quickly falling in love with!

**If you want to see more of our weekend in Seoul check out my youtube video here!

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