Also known as 서울로 올라가는 날 after a busy yet beautiful Day 6 ^^ We had breakfast at the hotel, packed our bags, took a taxi and headed to Busan Station where we were going to catch the KTX to Seoul. We weren’t sure what the traffic situation would be like but it took 20 minutes at most.
We had already booked our tickets online, so we just had to show our passport at the ticket counter and collect our tickets. Tickets, and lots of luggage in hand, we decided to roam around the station first before figuring out where to catch the train from. There were lots of stores from the staple Face Shop and Paris Baguette, which you’d probably find if you looked under a rock in Korea, to the more rare coffee shops with yummy goodies like the rice cake gift sets. We didn’t have enough time to decipher if everything was halal so we passed on them, sadly, and after my brother got himself a sweet potato latte in the cutest Hello Kitty tumbler, we set off to find the platform.
We managed to get to the right platform, found our car, the train number was also a match, only it was there too early- which confused us a great deal, being used to just seeing trains pull in and out continuously. We waited for a while and then I just asked a uniformed gentleman if this was the right train and he said we could just hop on. Oddly enough, no one checked our tickets… throughout the entire train ride. We got on with our heavy luggage and were at a loss as to how to store it. I was under the impression that there would be a separate luggage compartment but we looked around and couldn’t see a thing. I went to another compartment, asked a lady working there who said we could just stow our luggage behind the last row of seats in the compartment. Luggage safely stowed away, we then settled in for the long ride. The seats were comfy with lots of leg room, probably because it was the first class compartment, and there was always someone passing through selling snacks.
Having taken the Shinkansen before on our trip to Japan, I wanted to see how the KTX fared when stacked up against the Shinkansen. Personally, I prefer the Shinkansen- despite having travelled in a standard car on the Shinkansen, and the first class car on the KTX. The Shinkansen was cleaner, shinier and all in all a classier feeling product- oh and more organized since someone actually checked our tickets. The main difference for me, though, was the view. While you can get a great view of the countryside from the Shinkansen, the KTX, on this leg at least, passes through an infinite number of tunnels which means you’re in the dark most of the time, until you pull up at a station.
We got to Seoul exactly on time (I love punctuality ^^) and spent an hour or so wandering around Seoul Station, getting our money exchanged for the last leg of the trip and shopping for souvenirs. My favourite store there was dtracks from where I bought a couple of wooden and metal models. Mum bought herself some jewellery from another store and it turned out all the things my mum liked,were exactly what the saleslady was modelling. ^^ There was another store selling more cultural and more expensive souvenirs like mother of pearl inlaid decorative pieces, but we decided it was time to head to Koreana Hotel and grab some much-needed lunch. What that was, I can’t for the life of me remember!
I cannot emphasize enough what an epic location this hotel is situated in. It’s not only within walking distance of Gyeongbok Palace, Deoksu Palace, Gwanghwamun, Cheonggyecheon, Seoul City Hall, Donghwa Duty Free and Kyobo, but the Seoul City Tour starts right next to the hotel and the Airport Limousine pulls up right in front of the hotel. This hotel was like a dream come true… until it came time to book and it turned out that the hotel was fully booked from the 5th of April to the end of May. =O That was a real shame, and we ended up having to hastily change plans and book another hotel to cover the last 2 days of our trip.
We stepped out of the hotel to and decided to head towards Gyeongbok Palace before heading to dinner somewhere along the Cheonggyecheon. Being election season (we were there about a week before the voting started), Gwanghwmun was filled with police officers stationed at every corner. Gwanghwamun appeared to be a place where lots of political events take place- even next to the hotel there was a memorial set up to victims of various terrorist attacks that had taken place all over the world. At the entrance to Gwanghwamun was also the memorial set up for the victims of the tragic Sewol ferry disaster, with pictures posted of the passengers still not found. Two years since the tragic accident and the scars still visibly linger, questions still unanswered.
Just ahead of the memorial you’ll find the iconic statues of Admiral Lee Sun Shin and King Sejong the Great. I have great respect for King Sejong, because there are not too many people in positions of power who bother themselves about the literacy rates in the country and even fewer who step up to actively do something about. Right behind the statue is the entrance to a museum “The Story of King Sejong” where you can learn all about him and his many accomplishments. It’s rather large and connects to a souvenir shop and some restaurants as well. We ended up spending a rather long time underground before we headed back up and out towards the palace.
Unfortunately for us, we were just shy of the ticket deadline which meant we weren’t able to enter the palace grounds, which are actually stunning in Spring. Undaunted, we roamed around near the entrance, then left for Cheonggyecheon.
It was getting really chilly by this time, nothing on Jeju of course, but chilly nonetheless. Right opposite our hotel is the start of the stream marked by the colourful “Spring”. We had hardly walked to the next bridge, when we came across a university student who was doing caricatures. I decided to have one made with my mum, but little did we know it would take about an hour to have it completed.
The caricature artist was really sweet, really meticulous and really adept at shooing off lingering 아저씨s. She was a design student about to graduate, but felt that design wasn’t really the thing for her. Having gone through the same phase at my own graduation, I’m beginning to wonder if the way we go about higher education is at fault- we rush to enter university without a clear idea of what we want to do and once we’re on the verge of graduation, begin to feel that this isn’t what we’d like to spend our lives doing…only by that time it’s too late. The time, the money and the effort that have gone in to graduation oftentimes mean that people cannot turn back and pursue their passions. I wonder if that isn’t one of the main reasons for job dissatisfaction… it’s not the job itself that’s displeasing, only that it’s not the right fit.
The caricature was finally completed when the sun went down, the stream was lit up and our stomachs were audibly craving food. My maps decided not to work properly again, Google Maps led us down the wrong path again, but we eventually made it to Potala.
My brother enthusiastically ordered a lot of food, but being a Nepali restaurant, it wasn’t a taste that we were really used to. Nevertheless, the food wasn’t too bad, the decor was nice and cozy and the best part was getting to meet the owner. It turned out that he was a Nepali who had studied in India, married a Korean, moved to Korea and started a family there. He was a lovely guy and it was nice to speak to someone in Urdu after so long. ^^ He told us how the restaurant had not started out serving halal food, but had only started later on to cater to the large Muslim tourist population. He was nice enough to recommend a restaurant in Myeongdong as well which is where we were planning to go the next day. Tummy’s full, we decided we were officially too exhausted to walk back to the hotel (which isn’t really that far away), and took the first taxi we could find. Day 8 was going to be packed- Itaewon, Myeongdong, Namsan Tower…