After spending a couple months getting acquainted with our new home in Japan it was time to really test this “homeschooling so we can travel” theory. My husband had a week and a half long trip to Seoul and we were going!
We flew up on Saturday to give ourselves an extra day of family sightseeing before the work week started. Sunday morning we bundled up in our winter jackets for the first time this winter and headed out for the Gyeongbokgung Palace. We got combination tickets that included the palace as well as several other sights - perfect, now I knew what we were doing for the week! We took a free english tour of the palace, (we came to notice it was common to have on average 2 english tours offered each day at most sights, hugely helpful!). The tour was great and explained way more than we would have gotten otherwise. After the tour was our first of many hot chocolate stops to warm up.
From the palace we walked to Insadong Street to take in the local scene, and search for some lunch. After an afternoon of browsing unique shops, galleries, and street vendors we had one more stop to make. Kyobo Bookstore, a huge bookstore with a great english section. Not a big deal if you live in an english speaking country but for those of us that don’t it was a huge treat. This would not be our last stop here while in Seoul.
Monday - Off to work/school. We were very fortunate to have access to the executive lounge during this trip and it was a huge help. We stayed at the JW Marriott Hotel Seoul and found that the executive lounge largely catered to business travelers. Which meant if we went towards the end of breakfast, we could roll right into school and have the lounge largely to ourselves. This worked great and is where we spent all our school mornings.
After finishing up school and having a little snack we headed out in search of adventure! Today's destination was Bukchon Hanok Village. A small part of Seoul with winding streets and traditional houses. We had a lovely (albit cold) wander about the area, with the highlight being a mid afternoon break at BooksCooks. It was perfect, we warmed up with some tea and hot chocolate as we waited for our fresh scones to be made.
If you are not well versed in Paddington Bear, let me catch you up. Paddington visits his friend everyday at 11:00 am for hot chocolate and biscuits. This is referred to as “elevenses”. While our own elevenses were mid afternoon instead of late morning we found ourselves with the same daily ritual throughout our time in Seoul - it made for a great way to try out different tea houses and keep morale up on those cold days.
Tuesday - After another productive morning we headed off for adventure. Perhaps more than my sidekick was ready for. From our time in Morocco I’m very comfortable and love venturing into local markets, and if it's a food market all the better. So where better to head for lunch than to Gwangjang Market. After wandering through some of the shopping stalls we jumped into the madness once we hit the food stalls. I was a little taken back by the trepidation of my sidekick. She was in near disbelief when I told her as a baby she was in markets like this all the time. In fact, instead of running to Target if we needed something this is where we would go. Luckily much of her discomfort was cured by a sugar covered honey filled donut for her to eat as we scouted out our lunch options. We finally settled on a place that wasn’t serving anything still moving and had 2 open heated seats, (that we were largely convinced wouldn’t electrocute us).
After a hot lunch we headed back out in search of the unknown! Or at least more unknown markets. We finally stumbled upon Dongdaemun market area that is mostly known for selling wholesale to locals. Some things could be purchased individually though and we found a hat reminiscent of Paddington Bear and a scarf to match. My sidekick was toasty warm, or at least warmer. We ended our adventure with elevenses in a massive and unpicturesque as possible mall, so I could use the wifi, figure out where all our wandering lead us, and figure out how to get back to the hotel with as little outside time as possible, since the weather had turned darker and wetter.
Wednesday - Today we headed to the National Museum of Korea. I was pleasantly surprised by the kids area, it was more than I was expecting at a fine arts museum. After thoroughly exploring the kids space we dove into the main exhibits. I would say it went pretty well. My sidekicks’ attention span was probably shortened by the lack of english descriptions. We took our standard afternoon elevenses break before finishing the exhibit halls.
Thursday - We dove back into the cold! Remember that combination ticket we got the first day? Well we decided to check out one of the other included sites. We headed to Deoksugung Palace. We got there just in time for the afternoon english tour. We were also the only ones on the tour - not a bad way to check out the palace and learn its history. The tour ended just in time to see the changing of the guards, which is one of my sidekicks favorite things to do, even worth waiting in the cold for. After a significant amount of time outside we were ready to warm up with some tea and hot chocolate.
Friday - Done with school for the week and with a full day to play we headed south of the city to the Gwacheon National Science Museum. This was a huge treat for my sidekick and with an admission fee of $4 well worth doing if your sidekicks need a break from touristing. Despite there being very little English she was in heaven. There was a small area for only the little kids (9 and under) that she loved. But even the areas for the older kids had enough interactive things to keep her busy. We also saw a show at the planetarium. This was the only event at the museum where the lack of english information really affected us. I think the show was about the constellations, but who knows? Fortunately it didn’t take anything away from the enjoyment for my sidekick. We even had lunch in a train car (on site), what more could a kid want?
Saturday - Party of 3, please. Now that we were all sightseeing together it was time for the bigger sights and to revisit some of our favorites. We headed out in the direction of Seoul Tower, taking a gondola to the top of the hill and then walking up the tower. After mailing a couple postcards and purchasing our tourist photo of us at the Seoul tower in a snow globe we headed down. This time we opted to hike down instead of hitching a ride on the gondola. From there we headed back to Bukchon Hanok Village and BooksCooks for victorian finger sandwiches (only available on the weekends) to go with our scones. Another perfect day in Seoul!
Just like the other sights we got there and joined an english tour, the first for the palace, and then a second which was required to see the secret garden area. After an amazing tour we headed back to Gwangjang Market for a locals lunch. My sidekick was much braver the second time around. Although I believe there might have still been a donut. After lunch we took a much shorter stroll through some of the markets. Although we did happen across a stroll stacked to the ceiling with bundles of used books, newspapers and magazines. After a little digging we unearthed a few english books that came home with us. From there we wandered down to Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a very cool area designed by one of my favorite Architects, Zaha Hadid. We explored galleries, shops and more ending with elevenses.
Week 2 - After 9 days straight of sight seeing my sidekick was ready for a break. We spent some time working through some of our newly acquired books and I let her pick what she wanted to do on our last day - so back to the science museum we went. Overall an amazing week and a half.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Seoul. I can’t wait to go back again when it’s warmer weather as there are so many amazing parks and outdoor areas we were not able to take advantage of.
Till next time ...
JW Marriott Hotel Seoul - This is where I would ordinarily include a brief hotel review, however the JW Marriott Hotel Seoul has undergone a major renovation since our stay; so any review would be irrelevant. So I leave it this, I look forward to visiting again post renovation.