Our MERS-induced holiday is beginning to wind down, and we have entered the last few days of freedom before we are inevitably told that we will have to return to work and tend children once more. Kris and I made the most of our day yesterday by taking a bus tour around the suburbs of Seoul. While we had been to Seoul a number of times, we had never taken the time to see a great deal of its sights, and we thought that it was time to rectify that situation. So, we boarded the first Tiger Bus (complete with a coat of arms bearing two tigers), and wondered what we would see on our day out.
Upon boarding, we were given a small pamphlet, detailing the route that the bus would take. We quickly researched them on the Internet, and a few of the stops instantly piqued out attention. We realized that we could not stop at each one of the 22 stops on the tour, and quickly made our preliminary decisions as to where we would stop for a half hour or longer. We decided we would stop at Namdaemun Market, Itaewon, Namsang Hanok Village, N Seoul Tower, and one of the various palaces on the tour. Everything else seemed either something we weren’t interested in or something that would be better suited to devoting an entire day to (such as the National Museum of Korea). At almost the same moment that we had completed our research and vaguely planned our stops for the day, the bus sped off.
Our first stop was Namdaemun Market. It has been said that you could find anything from cameras to clothes to fine dining at Namdaemun, and this is most certainly accurate. After gracefully plonking ourselves onto the pavement from the bus and weaving through traffic, we reached what looked like a nondescript alley, and tentatively walked up into it. We slipped around a couple of corners, and were met with a whole row of shops lining the alleyway. And another. And another. Namdaemun is a labyrinth of good value, with everything seeming relatively well-priced, whilst not looking overly seedy. After a half hour of browsing everything from cereal to monumental camera lenses, we boarded the bus to take us to our next stop.
Our next stop was Itaewon, the famed expat district of Korea, which most certainly lived up to its name. We were met with more English signage than Korean for the first time since we arrived. While it may not have had the buzzing atmosphere we were expecting (it was only 10h00ish after all), it was still a welcome experience to see such a great amount of English. There were restaurants to suit every taste, from Louisiana Cajun Lobster to a traditional German bar to a gewoonte South African restaurant named ‘Braai Republic’. We will most certainly return to Itaewon many times to try out as many of the global delicacies as we can, but none of the restaurants had opened for lunch service yet. So, we left Itaewon, vowing to return someday.
Next on our tour was the Namsang Hanok Village. This is essentially a re-creation of traditional Korean living throughout the centuries. All of the buildings are crafted in the traditional style, with slanted roofs and wooden supports, and it all looked rather charming. While we were in the Hanok Village, we were given the opportunity to have a checkup from a practitioner of traditional Korean medicine. This sounded fascinating, so we accepted. We removed our shoes, and were handed a cup of hot, glorious herbal tea and told to wait while the doctor prepared for us. Coming from a vague knowledge of traditional medicine in South Africa, I was slightly worried what preparations were going on. Luckily, there were no sacrifices involved.
We were lead to decidedly un-traditional heart rate and blood pressure monitors, and our basic vital signs were checked. Then, we were lead to the doctor. While I had been picturing someone vaguely shamanic, the sight of the demure, friendly doctor that awaited us comforted me. With the help of a translator, she established that both Kristen’s and my energy was out of balance. Kristen had too little energy, while I had too much. She administered small acupuncture patches (which were not painful at all) and gave us medicine to take twice a day for two days to help rectify the situation. She also gave us a list of herbs and fruits we could use to rectify our energy. It was a very enjoyable experience. Sadly, our medicine tasted more like warm dirt than the delightful herbal tea we had been given, but we would only find that out later.
The Tiger Bus then delivered us to the N Seoul tower. This tower sits atop Namsan mountain, and boasts a wonderful panoramic view of the entirety of Seoul. We paid for a package that included both access to the tower and an Italian lunch at one of the cafes near the top, and entered the tower. We rode an elevator (complete with inflight movie boasting of sailing through the universe), and were soon at the highest point in Seoul. It was only here that I truly began to realize how enormous Seoul truly is.
While I had pictured Seoul as very closely-packed with high-rise buildings, I had not realized that it sprawled itself over the majority of the landscape in all directions. The view was spectacular, and we spent time taking it in, looking to see if we could spot where we had already been that day, and taking the requisite photographs. We then rode the elevator back down (with a similar inflight movie of returning to Earth), and went to have our Italian lunch. This would turn out to be the highlight of our entire day.
We were not entirely sure what to expect of our lunch. Whatever expectations we had were most certainly exceeded tremendously. We were treated to a three course meal of a light yet sophisticated salmon salad, refreshing margarita pizza, and delectable creamy pasta. While the menu classified it as carbonara, this was questionable. What was not questionable was that it was most delectable indeed. All the while, we overlooked Seoul in a high-backed couples chair, so that we felt like we were in our own world, overseeing the goings-on of some other mystical people, removed yet connected. It was a profoundly memorable experience.
It was also the last stop we would make on our tour. We returned to the bus with our bellies full to bursting, and were hit with an instant case of magie vol, ogies toe. For those who don’t understand Afrikaans, that’s a simple expression that roughly translates as ‘stomach is full, eyes are closed’. We were so sleepy after our delicious meal that we decided to leave on that positive note. We took in the remainder of the sights in passing and in a food-induced haze. We rode the bus home content with our experiences that day, but also excited to return in the future to fully relish all of the places we had merely passed by.