Monday, April 12, 2021

Springtime in the Secret Garden

Saturday morning the Army casually dropped the news that Seoul was no longer off-limits! It’s been on the USFK restricted list since before Thanksgiving so when we saw the official announcement that as of Sunday 6am the entire peninsula was open to us we quickly booked a hotel room at the Army lodge up in Yongsan for later that evening. Our plan was to head up after naps, have dinner at our hotel and then be ready to head out into the city first thing in the morning. 

From our Seoul To-Do List we decided to check off the Changdeokgung Palace and its secret garden.  We had previously visited the Gyeongbokgung Palace on our first family weekend in Seoul what now seems like ages ago. It is probably the more recognizable of the palaces in Seoul and we throughly enjoyed seeing the changing of the guard there and exploring that massive royal complex. But after this weekend T.J. and I both agree that Changdeokgung is our favorite. It’s less overwhelming in size, more peaceful, it meanders and winds around, forcing you to duck through open doorways and peek around corners to find a new surprise each time like a surprising green space with a 700 year old juniper tree. Though it's maze-like, there are signs designating a tour-route you can follow if your strong-willed toddlers are game. 


(I wonder how many royal babies from dynasties past tumbled off these steps??) 
And then, tucked into the back corner, a walled garden within the walled complex exists like an oasis within the city. It’s called a secret garden (“biwon”) or huwon (“rear garden”) and was reserved exclusively for the use of the king and palace women during the Joseon Dynasty. Today it’s tranquility is preserved by limiting the number of visitors allowed per day. A separate ticket with a reserved entrance time is needed to access the secret garden from with the palace walls. We purchased these online ahead of time and were able to show our mobile tickets for entry, which made it much simpler and guaranteed we didn't miss out on the garden.  Typically, pre-covid, you have to enter the huwon with a guide. Since covid, they’ve cut back the numbers allowed even more and for now it’s simply self guided, which means we probably missed a lot of its unknown charms. However, with two little wild ones in tow it probably worked out for the best to be able to move at their pace. But even with a sweaty hangry baby and a toddler we were able to appreciate this little unexpected paradise. 
After we found our way out, we wandered around the Bukchon Hanok village which buts right up next to the palace. This hilly neighborhood is known for its traditional and historic hanok architecture. It's full of private homes, guest houses, quaint coffee shops, artists boutiques and little shops with tiled roofs and charm to spare. 
We didn't stay too long though before getting back on the metro and making our way over to Itaewon. There we found a table outside at one of our favorite spots and enjoyed lunch outside on this beautiful spring day before heading back to our car and saying goodbye to Seoul again, although hopefully not for 6 months this time. 

*If you want to peak inside the walls of Changdeokgung Palace and its Secret Garden check out my vlog here