Calguksu (칼국수), hiking and staying up for shopping in Seoul (clearly all cities should have shopping until 5am)

Our stint in Seoul was coming to an end; after two days of running around, we were tired but still aiming to cram as much as possible into our final day in Korea’s capital.

Our first stop was lunch (we slept in a little that morning). As a result of the abundance of food we had ordered and/or were served in Ohseagyehyang (오세계향) (see the Gyeongokbung Palace blog post for more information), I decided that my lunch would be yesterday’s leftover dumplings and Sichuan spicy noodles, whilst Anna and my travel companion went on the hunt for food. We found a restaurant called Eunseong Calguksu for lunch, a traditional Korean eatery whereby my two companions ordered Calguksu. Calguksu is a noodle dish originating in Korea, which consists of noodles in a fish broth (or some other form of meat broth) with vegetables and long egg noodles.

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The area where the Calguksu restaurant was

After lunch, we grabbed a quick coffee before getting a bus from near the restaurant and heading towards Bukhansen National Park (which took about an hour and 15 minutes) to do some hiking. Because of our lack of climbing experience and the fact that we didn’t own a single cagoule between us (let alone three), we took an easier hiking route which meant that we missed a lot of the best views that exist further up the mountain. Unless you can climb that far up and are incredibly well kitted out (which we weren’t- climbing gear is not cheap), the views are not unbelievably impressive. However, the hiking route was very pleasant nonetheless, and a nice contrast to the urbanised and high-paced lifestyle we’d been living in Seoul until that point.

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The entrance to the walking route and map of the area

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A view whilst hiking and the leaves we stumbled across

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Interesting graffiti in the park

We found a cute little coffee shop near the park at the end of the hiking route. Here, we ordered some food and drink (a lovely onion bagel with Philadelphia and a peppermint mocha) and just relaxed and chatted. We were considering what to do that evening; a large part of me want to visit the Gangnam district (and I won’t lie, that infamous song by Psy definitely had something to do with it) but in the end we decided to head to the Dongdaemun area- reknowned for its late night shopping and upbeat ambience.

We returned to Gongjon restaurant (the Vegan restaurant we visited on the first evening- see the “A little sample of Seoul” blog post), located in the Dongdaemun-gu region. When we arrived at the café, it was crammed full of people- with lots of gorgeous dogs running around as well! We quickly deduced that this must have been an animal rights/lovers, vegetarian or vegan or pet-owners meet up (sorry guys, we weren’t detective enough to find out which, I think the former). Fortunately, the owners had enough space to squeeze us in so, like the carefree tourists we are, we gate-crashed the gathering. Dinner was good, but spicy was an understatement! Last time I ordered the tomato and burdock spaghetti- lovely, but with a definite kick of chilli. This time, under the recommendation of my travel companion who thought it would be less spicy, I ordered Aglio e Olio Pasta. After all, I thought, how spicy can a garlic and olive oil pasta be?

I was wrong.

One word, my friends. Jalapenos.

And yes, I ate it all.

And yes, the flavours were great but my mouth watered and tears were forming in my eyes and I got through my raspberry squash at a record pace.

What was bittersweet about this meal, though, was the fact that it was our Seoul goodbye to Anna (although we were seeing her in a few days in Daegu).

We gave her our gifts, a white patterned umbrella from Osaka and two hand-picked pearls from a stall in Cheung Chau (where we were also able to choose what silver pendant we wanted the pearls to be set in- see “Cheung Chau: sunshine, seafood and street stalls”).

After some shared sentimentality, we hailed a cab onto Dongdaemun. And wow- what an amazing vibe!

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Dongdaemun shops lit up at night

Lit up like a Christmas tree, with blue lights radiating outside one building, stairs lit up with black animated figures walking across them and the DDP (Dongdemun Design Plaza) festival in full swing, the shopping district managed to effortlessly encompass a clubbing and nightlife vibe, with bars and clubs being replaced by shops- both high-end and bargain priced. Music was being blasted out from a stage, where a band were performing and multiple people were crowded around. Street stalls were selling all sorts of foods- from twisty potatoes to sausages and doughnuts to waffles.

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Feeling so Avatar right now

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The animated stairs

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A sign leading towards the Art Hall                     The expensive shopping area

We first walked around the expensive shops and, despite finding some avant garde and genuinely gorgeous pieces, our wallets were not going to stretch that far. We walked down the street a bit to a building selling every kind of clothing imaginable alongside bags, shoes, souvenirs and accessories. The format was that of a market, spread out like a shopping centre; a range of stalls selling similar types of item existed on each floor yet each stall was manned by different people and stall owners. In spite of their unwillingness to smile, Anna managed to find herself some wonderful shoes for work and a very smart watch. The pricing was okay- not the cheapest but definitely affordable- think shops like New Look and H&M (with perhaps some clothing shops undercutting these prices slightly).

Although a big part of us wanted to stay out late (the 5am closing time hung over us- the huge temptation being staying out until that time purely to shop), we had to be sensible. An early flight out of Seoul to Jeju Island- combined with the fact that we hadn’t repacked our bags yet- meant that after a few hours, we returned back to the Blessing Hotel to pack. Spurred on by some excellent 90s hits (thank you Youtube) we packed whilst wondering why no boy band currently comes close to matching “Backstreet’s back- alright”. When we got to Britney, we realised that if our neighbours could hear us and didn’t grow up in the 90s, we were probably responsible for their suffering. So apologies if you’re reading this blog post 🙂

Stay tuned for Jeju Island, a hidden gem (at least to us Westerners, it is apparently a popular tourist destination to Koreans and Chinese people) which turned out to be rather enjoyable!

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this entry- I really appreciate your continued support.

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Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁) , a traditional Korean tea and exploring the “most international area in Seoul”- Iteawon.

Many Asian countries have their own identity; though this may be subjective depending on whether you are native or foreign, we found Japan to be traditional and China to be an intriguing mix, a country which sometimes lives up to its first world international persona and other times is languishing behind with marked (but often internationally hidden) third world dimensions.

South Korea, however, is a delightful borrower. It shows off aspects of Japanese and Chinese heritage, yet is influenced by another country as well- the United States.

And as testimony to that influence, we started our day that morning at Dunkin Donuts for breakfast. Having never been fortunate enough (or indeed, able to afford) to go the United States, this was my first introduction to the popular American brand. And I enjoyed it- my travel companion and I sat with long onion and garlic bagels and lattes, and Anna had a doughnut and a coffee. Having finished breakfast at this nearby train station (we could have also gone to a nearby Starbucks or Baskin & Robbins if we so wished), we hopped onto the metro to where Gyeongbokgung Palace was located.

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At the nearby train station, the Pullomen langors.

Legend has it that if you walk through the stone arch, you will never grow old.

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Guess who wants eternal youth!!!

Gyeongbokgung had a few surprises in store for us; for one thing, the Changing of the Guards (typically reminiscent of Buckingham Palace) also exists here. And watching the procession was amazing!

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The Korean Guards during the Changing of the Guards

There are some very interesting things to note about Gyeongbokgung. For one thing, it was built in 1395 but it burnt down by fire in 1592 after a Japanese invasion. The Palace was restored in 1867, and whilst there were initially 500 buildings, only 125 now remain (I paid attention to our tour guide on the English group tour).

Also, it is useful to note that if you are a young Korean student, you can get into Gyeongbokgung palace for free provided you have proof of age.

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The gates of Gyongbokgung

The palace was beautiful- adorned with a lake, gardens and buildings made up of colourful materials, most commonly a dusty cinnamon colour.

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We were allowed to walk around the King’s chamber (though, as expected, the furnishings and paintings were behind a rope barrier) but the Queen’s chamber was more closed off to the public.

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Note, the palace also gets a lot of educational visits. Above, a primary school tour group gets shown around

As obedient tourists as we are, we eventually tired of the tour and so crept off to the gardens. Like the palace, these were lovely- made lovelier by the riot of colours that met the eye:

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After we finished exploring Gyeongbokgung palace (경복궁), we moved on to Insa-dong (인사동) to find something to eat.

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Anna had done prior research on a vegan restaurant, called Ohseagyehyang (오세계향) in the area. We headed through the lanes of souvenir shops, including those selling your typical tourist items to those whose windows were filled with marvellous homemade ceramics, paintings and jewellery. As we reached our destination, it transpired that the vegan restaurant was shutting for a little while whilst staff went on a break. We were all very hungry, and a bit unsure as to what to do in the meantime; however, it turned out that we needn’t have worried! Nearby lay a cute, traditional Korean tea shop. We walked around the side and removed our shoes (as is customary when entering a home and some restaurants in Seoul) and climbed some stairs until we entered the tea area.

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In the top right-hand corner, the tea place we went to

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The interior of the restaurant

Here, people were sat on cushions, separated by only a low wooden table. Anna ordered for us and we ended up with, amongst other things:

Sujeongwa/cinnamon punch (cold)- which was lovely!

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Patbingsu (red bean ice dessert)- which I wasn’t keen on but Anna and my friend (who comes from Hong Kong) enjoyed. Perhaps it is just less suited to a Western palate.

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Schizandra berry tea- very different

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AND

A sweet set- full of light rice cookie-esque treats- this was my favourite- so yummy!

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After we had finished tea and let food digest a little, we went on to Ohseagyehyang (오세계향) for a late lunch/early dinner.

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Picture of the exterior of the vegan restaurant.

Note that it says “vegetarian” because it used to serve dairy and eggs before it became vegan.

The three of us had mixed opinions regarding the food but I really loved my dishes, which consisted of a spicy Chinese-style noodle dish and vegetable dumplings. Anna also ordered this really lovely mushroom filled batter dish, served in a moreish sweet and sour sauce.

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The lovely mushroom batter filled dish

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Our table of food! Front right- my beloved noodles

We walked around the many shops and little shopping precincts in the area. In the precinct below, on the top floor, was a poo café. I felt this symbolised a substantial cultural difference. As a Brit, I don’t find poo to be especially cute but clearly some people in Korea view the substance very differently 🙂

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Picture of a shopping precinct

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Pic of poo café exterior

Finally, we headed to Iteawon, somewhere that Anna described to us as being “the most international area” in Seoul, and somewhere with a large variety of nightlife. We headed out with the intention of grabbing some drinks, and after heading into a very international nightclub full of (I hate to say it) creepy Western guys staring at any young female, we made a sharpish exit. We stumbled across a little French restaurant and bar called Un Deux Trois. Since the cocktail menu was impressive here and the restaurant had a lovely, sophisticated ambience, we sat down for drinks and Anna and I shared a gorgeous cheese board (I always have a lot of love for Goats cheese). I also ordered a wonderful blueberry cocktail- whilst I can’t remember exactly what ingredients it consisted of, it was more like a dessert since alongside liquor, it consisted of vanilla ice cream and was topped with chocolate shavings.

Eventually we decided to head back to our hotel and just have a few drinks, chat and chill.

Tomorrow was our final day in Seoul, and we were determined to make it a memorable one.