My friend Julie, who I know from university back in London, is currently taking an intensive Japanese language course in Japan. It was her birthday last weekend, and she decided to come and spend it in Korea with myself and Eunju. Because of her lessons, she could only be here for a couple of days, so we did our best to cram in as much as possible in the short amount of time we had. She arrived late on Thursday night and went straight to Eunju’s house, where she would be staying, so I arranged to meet them the next day.
I caught an early bus the following morning, and after being on it a couple of minutes, received messages from Eunju commenting on my wet hair, which I hadn’t had time to dry after a rushed shower, and complimenting my outfit. Confused, I turned around and realised that they were on the same bus, so Julie and I had our reunion there, having not seen each other since May. We got off the bus at 광화문광장 (Gwanghwamun Square), and after I had secured a much-needed coffee, we began our sightseeing. Firstly, we walked through the memorial for the Sewol ferry disaster, which I hadn’t seen before. I was in Korea last year when the disaster occurred, and it was certainly an upsetting but important place to visit.
We walked down to 경복궁 (Gyeongbokgung), which is one of my favourite places in Seoul, passing the memorial to King Sejong – who created the ingenious Korean alphabet, hangul – on the way. We had just missed the changing of the guard ceremony at the palace, so decided to take our time exploring and wait for the next ceremony. What I love about the palace is that, no matter how many visitors there are, it’s always possible to find peaceful spots away from the crowds. The weather that morning had been cool, but as it passed noon, the humidity intensified, and we spent the last part of our time waiting in the air-conditioned comfort of the cafe. I wasn’t planning on taking any photos because I visit so regularly, but everything was, as usual, too beautiful and photogenic for me to resist taking at least a few pictures.
After the changing of the guard, we walked to Insadong for lunch. We had a delicious lunch at 잔치집 (janchi jib – lit. ‘feast house’); I just had naengmyeon, but Eunju and Julie shared an incredible meal of several courses (which, sadly for me, included a lot of meat and fish). Having eaten until we could barely move, we realised we were next to the famous 쌈지길 (ssamjigil) mall, which houses an array of shops selling beautiful handmade crafts. It is also home to 또옹가페 (ddo-ong cafe), which is…poop-themed. It’s recently had a lot of international attention online, and as a big fan of novelty cafes – the more ridiculous the better – I was keen to visit. However, the whole experience was something of an anti-climax. Though the interior is decorated as you might expect – poop cushions, bidets filled with plants – and is fun to sit in, the internet had promised me poop-shaped cakes and coffee served in toilet mugs. What I actually got was a regular (though tasty) soy latte served in a regular mug, and no poop cakes in sight. Eunju hilariously asked whether the bingsu they served was poop-shaped, to which we were informed it wasn’t; she then asked if they could make it poop-shaped, to which we were informed they couldn’t. All in all, not the experience I had been hoping for. They do sell 똥빵 (ddong ppang, lit. ‘poop bread’) outside, though, which comes with a choice of fillings. Disappointed by my cafe experience, I consoled myself with one of these, which was delicious, and I can’t figure out why they aren’t available inside the cafe itself.
We then walked to the 삼청동/북촌 (Samcheongdong/Bukchon) area to explore the beautifully decorated winding streets. This is another of my favourite places in Seoul to wander around – providing, of course, that it’s not too hot, because it’s a little hilly – due to its plethora of cute cafes, shops, and art. We didn’t see much of the traditional Hanok village itself because we had to meet Hanna, another friend from London, but this didn’t bother me because I’ve visited before. As a result, though, most of my photos are of beautiful flower shops.
After more walking and a little shopping, we met Hanna and made plans to have Korean barbeque for dinner – something everyone (provided they’re not vegetarian, like me) should try while visiting Korea. We made our way to Myeongdong via Jogyesa, a spectacular Buddhist temple which is beautiful no matter what time of year you visit; however, this time it was covered in beautiful blossoming flowers, which was particularly lovely.
We then continued on our way to Myeongdong, where we visited a few shops (it is, after all, the shopping district), and then had barbeque (bibimbap for me) and soju. The barbeque place was interesting in that, in addition to the usual leaves/lettuce to wrap the meat in, it provides sheets of rice cake as well. These are tasty just on their own, too, which meant I could enjoy them filled just with vegetables. Afterwards, Hanna took us to a dessert cafe she knew that does an enormous oreo bingsu, and we certainly weren’t disappointed; we actually didn’t manage to finish it even though there were four of us.
From here, we headed to the area I was staying in at the time, 해방촌 (haebangchon), to meet my friend Min and let Julie try 막걸리 (makgeolli), Korea’s other famous alcohol, at a special bar near our apartment. Already exhausted from a non-stop day, it wasn’t long before we decided to make our way home for the night and get some sleep in preparation for another packed schedule the following day.
[Day two coming soon~]