August 15. Independence Day.
We started at 종로3가역 and made our way to a park nearby which is home to South Korea’s 2nd National Treasure. The impressive pagoda has a history of its own and every time I see it I find myself wondering how people could create such a piece. The park itself is a memorial of March 1st, a protest that Koreans launched against the Japanese occupation.
This date marks the day that South Korea was no longer under Japanese occupation. I tried to remember everything that my dad told me about Korean history the last time he brought me here to this park. There are carvings depicting scenes from the March 1st protest and from throughout Korean history. It’s a small park with a few pavilions, and for the most part it’s usually empty.
We made our way around the park and eventually got to Insadong.
It starts off as wider street and narrows down to a single lane alleyway. Shops line the street, mostly with antiques and cultural knick-knacks that foreigners love to take a look at. We stopped at all the regular shops and spent an hour walking through the alleyway enjoying the sights.
Eventually we got to the end of the alleyway and made it to the main event of the day… Gyungbokgung Palace.
A leftover from another world, that’s how I’ve always remembered it. Most of the actual structures are original with a lot of rebuilding done since. The palace itself is the inner palace while the rest of the palace was burned down in the last invasion. There is a map of the original palace grounds in the museum next to the palace and it was huge, stretching from the walls to Insadong and probably included the park we had started the trip. Upon entering the palace gates, we were greeted by the inner gates. We, along with everyone else, took pictures and moved in where we were greeted with the King’s Throne room (pictured above). Around the throne room are statues of the twelve zodiac animals (the rooster below).
We paused to take photos and browse while looking around at the skyline.
We made our way around to the queens chambers as well as the some of the other buildings. I was a little disappointed to see that all the rooms were closed. In the winter, they open a few of them up and heat the floors the old fashioned way (stone ovens underneath the floors) and let visitors sit down inside. Eventually we made our way tot he National Folk Museum and the old-fashioned village that had recreated next door.
All in all, it was a pretty awesome trip. I’ve been to the palace before on several occasions but I’ve never had the chance to visit the village, the huge tower (pagoda?) or check out some of the smaller nooks that I did this time. Honestly the village was the most interesting by far, if the dating is right then the last time my father was in Korea it didn’t look too different from what they had set up. Only 30 years ago did Korea look similar to that.
We rounded out the day at Baskin Robbins 31 where we were finally able to try the Ice Cream Fondue. Awesome.
I wasn’t expecting much from this visit besides spending money and time on my girlfriend’s little sister. Instead, I went to places I wouldn’t normally go and revisited places that I’d been to only to see them in a whole new light. Definitely an enjoyable time.