WARNING – PICTURE INTENSIVE
First off, there are a lot of pictures in here so here is a forewarning.
Over the weekend, I took a trip to Seoul with two of my coworkers. I wanted to get out of town for a little while and see what Korea has to offer, because I’ve been feeling that I am not getting a true sense of what Korea is about with where I am living currently. I must say wholeheartedly that spending the weekend in Seoul changed my outlook on what both Korea has to offer and what Korea is all about. Seoul is a living, breathing, massive modern metropolis teeming with millions of people. I wish that I lived here.
Friday Night Shenanigans
We arrived Friday afternoon/evening. We crossed the Han River on the train while there was still light so we were able to see the river and Tower 63, which we meant to go to but were not able to.
The gold tower is Building 63. It has an observation deck/art gallery on the 60th floor, which just so happens to be the topmost floor. The name is not arbitrary, instead the name 63 comes from it’s 63 floors – 60 regular floors, with 3 basement floors. Weird.
We got off the train in Yongsan (also home to the Army Garrison) and walked to the subway station so we could go to our hotel in Gangnam. On the way, I felt quite at home when I saw my favorite clothing store from the US.
Train stations sometimes double as malls, and the Yongsan station is no exception.
Crossing the street towards the subway we ran into some street vendors…. Very tempting, but I passed. I should have tried it. Next time!
I’ve shown pictures of the subway before, but I need to point out how awesome the subways REALLY are. Most stations have these screens that show not only commercials, but they tell you how close the next train is. The entire weekend I never had to wait for a train longer than 4-6 minutes, and you can track the train on the bottom of the screen. Extremely convenient.
One subway transfer and 8 subway stops later, we were back across the river in Gangnam. The reason why we did it this way is because the train only stops in certain places, and this stop was the first stop that was close to a subway. We ended up crossing the river again, but we had to in order to make the connection. All in all we crossed the river 4 times Friday night.
We booked our hotel earlier in the week through Priceline. I lowballed my Priceline bid for 5 star hotels in Gangnam at around 85 bucks and it took it at 95- not bad for a hotel that goes for $335/night. The Seoul Renaissance may be an older hotel, but it’s still classy.
As an aside, when we checked in there was a whole group of flight attendants and pilots checking in that were with Emirates. Emirates has a daily flight to and from Seoul to Dubai on one of their A380’s. There were at least 30 flight attendants there; you don’t really realize how many people it takes to run an A380 until you see them all in the same place.
We walked down the street towards the subway. One of the cool things about Korea is they really put some thought into their buildings. Sure you get some boring buildings sometimes, but more often than not most buildings have some form of “flair” for lack of a better term. I’m sure my previous architecture teachers would have a heart attack if they heard me using the word “flair.”
We took the subway to Itaewon, which was 2 subway connections. Green line to the Orange line to the Brown line. Itaewon is the international district of Seoul, and has a fairly robust nightlife. It’s also known for its expat bars. We went to a place called Sam Ryans which is German or something. Or it tries to be German. Good try, at least.
We decided to go to a few different places to see what was out there. I must say that I was a little out of my element. I’m not used to hanging out with people who could literally be my parents. Well I am perfectly fine hanging out with my parents, and the bonus is that I’m related to them. But it’s another thing to hang out with 50-somethings on a more casual social level when you’re 24. They think I’m 28, which is fine, but there’s still a level of awkwardness present. I need to find some folks my own age…
This expat bar was filled with white haired dudes.
After leaving that dive, we were trying to decide where to go next. I was with two undecideds, so I asked the nearest person who spoke english where a good place to go would be and he suggested “across from the Dunkin Donuts on the third floor, NOT the second- don’t go to the second floor.” We found the Dunkin Donuts and heeded his advice about the second floor (from the pictures on the door I think it was a thinly veiled prostitution ring) and went up to the third floor which was a live music place. I instantly saw this gem:
And proceeded to watch this kid, who couldn’t have been older than 17, try and perform heavy metal for us.
We quickly left.
An interesting tidbit is there aren’t really any…trash cans. It’s sort of like NY where all the trash is thrown on the street… So you go into a fancy place and there’s trash sitting outside.
We ended the night at this british place that was strangely devoid of any british people. I would have thought that they would have gone hand in hand, but alas, no dice. The upside is that these are the types of places you want to go to if you want to get away from the standard korean fare when it comes to alcohol. There are really two main options, which is Korean beer (Cass) or taking shots of Soju which is rice liquor. Pardon my ignorance but I don’t know the brand name of Soju, but the Korean word for it is 참 이슬. It’s the “green bottle” and I don’t care for it at all. ANYWAY, the British place was okay, but I wouldn’t want to go there in the middle of summer as they have no air conditioning.
Then it was back to the hotel. Getting a cab was fairly painful as the taxi stand had no real “line” to speak of so everyone sort of just ran out into the street in order to hail a cab. We didn’t want to mess with the subway because, well, by that time the subway was closed… Oops.
Saturday Morning – Yongsan
Leaving the hotel bright and early the next day, we caught the subway to Yongsan. The Army Garrison has a huge hotel that serves some pretty bomb.com food, so we wanted a nice american breakfast. This is probably the closest you will ever get to american breakfast in Korea. The hotel itself is an awesome place to check out, and is literally the only building that will be left standing after the Yongsan Relocation finishes up.
Obligatory breakfast picture:
Saturday – Korean War Memorial
Conveniently located next to the Army Garrison is the Korean War Memorial. This is a giant museum that houses artifacts from the Korean War, a history of Korean skirmishes, planes boats and tanks, and a memorial honoring those that died in the Korean War. I was really upset with the lighting situation at the Memorial because it was extremely bright with a white sky which makes for terrible photos. 😡
Upon walking on the grounds you start to see how massive the place is.
Each side has bronze statues.
Over to the left of the building you have an outdoor exhibition.
The outdoor exhibition has planes ranging from jets to a B52 bomber, a boat, tons of tanks, planes, trucks… Awesome to look at.
This ship was fascinating. It was literally picked up and placed here – remnants of war and all.
The red outlines are actual bullet holes incurred from the Korean War. And on the glass… From what I understand that is actually blood. It makes the whole war a little bit more real when you see it in person.
The design of the courtyards was really well done, and it’s an awesome place to see for sure.
This stealth boat is an actual capture. North Koreans used these boats to sneak into enemy territory (in this case, into SK) and spy. All that can be seen is the top of the boat, everything else is submerged. This one in particular was a huge deal way back when, and the spies escaped into SK after their boat was discovered. There was a manhunt and according to the article the men were hunted like “animals.”
From the courtyard you can enter into a wing of the building that ends up taking you to the front of the building. These wings are part of the memorial, which list all the names of all those killed in the war.
The front of the building leads to a giant courtyard that is….just massive. Awesome place to be.
Once you enter the building there are two wings that you can go into that house various things.
Off of the main halls there are exhibits that tell Korea’s military history and all the skirmishes they’ve been in for the past thousand years or so. Museums here are big on models, which in my opinion, is AWESOME.
Then there’s the actual memorial. This was a very somber affair and was very, very well done in my opinion. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Once you enter into the memorial hall there is a room with lit candles that are constantly tended by an attendant. Very somber and very touching.
From the memorial, we caught a cab to just north of city hall to a man made stream that goes through town. We went by a protest being held for the ferry victims and it was a very sad affair… I really feel for them. The emotion that was conveyed there was really touching, even with the language barrier.
The stream is manmade and stretches for 4-5 miles. It is quiet when you’re down by the water and you can’t hear any street noises. Definitely a great place to be! Plus, due to the water the temperature is a good 10-15 degrees cooler than the street.
And with that, this part ends. There is much more to come, but I think this post is long enough. So now I leave you with a teaser.