A Stroll Through Seoul

Trip Start Dec 02, 2011
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6
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Trip End Dec 02, 2012


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Flag of Korea Rep.  , Seoul,
Saturday, March 3, 2012

Today I went up to Seoul and wandered around the Insa-dong (인사동) area. A Korean co-worker recommended Insa-dong when I asked about things to see in Seoul. At one point, Insa-dong was known for its selection of Korean antiques. These days they've largely been replaced by handicrafts and other souvenirs more in the price range of the average tourist. I'm still not entirely sure where I went today. I met a friend who was also relatively new to the Seoul area, and we exited the Jonggak (종각) metro station then just wandered to the east and north.

First, we went through some rather nondescript alleys until we reached a wide pedestrian shopping street. The road was closed to traffic, and the sides were lined with shops selling Korean traditional goods and antiques. Actually, I'm not sure these days if any were real antiques or if they were all just reproductions.

I stopped to look at a few places, but not too many as my friend was not much of a shopper. I also didn't want to spend a lot of money, or really any money, and I suspected many of the items were expensive. One small stand we did stop to look at had some really cool compasses I think were used for Feng Sui (or the Korean version). They didn't have prices listed, and I didn't want to ask. I saw tiny compasses at another place for around 40000 won each. If size was an indicator of price, the full-size compasses I was admiring must have been the equivalent of several hundred dollars minimum. As much as I'd like to, I may not be adding one to my collection anytime soon.

I assumed the prices in all of the stores were high, but I didn't actually do too much checking. So I may have been wrong. At the end of the street, we saw a man selling hand-painted fans. He noticed me eying them and told me the prices. The regular size fans were only 8000 won each, so I couldn't resist buying one. The price even included having your name painted on it (in Korean letters, of course). He didn't quite know how to transliterate my name, so I wrote it down for him in English and he took it over to a nearby tourist information booth where they converted it to Hangul for him.

Since we'd run out of shopping street to wander, there was no obvious next direction to head. We noticed a steady stream of Koreans crossing the road to the north and decided to join them to continue our stroll. We never stopped to establish where we were going, but there seemed to be some sort of scenic/historic walking route the Koreans were following. We passed many houses done in a traditional Korean style as well as a few other buildings with similar architecture.

At one point, we ended up on a short hill over-looking the area. Just below where we were standing was a backyard with three large cats my friend refused to believe were just normal cats. At least one Japanese woman there expressed her own skepticism. I was more interested in the view of the old houses juxtaposed with modern city buildings.

After that, we may have gone off the trail. We found ourselves in front of the National Folk Museum of Korea. In addition to the main museum building that presented explanations of and artifacts from Korean folk culture, there were a few reconstructions of period buildings and traditional sculptures on the grounds. The outside felt a bit like a mini Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. Admission to the museum was free, so we went inside to take a look, as well as use the restrooms. I would be lying, though, if I said our priorities were in that order...

We didn't see too much of the museum because my friend had to leave in the early afternoon. We did spend some time browsing the Life Cycle of the Koreans section. I thought the displays were fairly interesting. There were English explanations, and even in just that one part of the museum I managed to learn quite a bit about Korean folk culture. (I had a basically empty vessel to fill). I wouldn't mind going back one day.

So it was time to go home. Although we had no map and at this point no real idea where we were relative to the metro, we didn't have to wander too far back to the south before we found a city map with metro stops marked on it. We'd managed to basically do a circle and were now just a few short blocks west of the north end of the shopping street we'd started on in the morning.

It was a good day and a nice walk. The weather is finally starting to warm-up and the sun was out. It was still heavy jacket weather, but at least it was heavy jacket, unzipped, with no cap or gloves weather. I would definitely go back and try to follow the entire walking path. I enjoyed looking at the traditional architecture and there was a smattering of interesting modern buildings and cafes along the route as well. I think I would try asking for a map of walking tours at the tourist info booth where they transliterated my name.

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