Wednesday, December 11, 2013

11 Dec 2013 -10 C Snow Gyeongbokgung and Seoul Arts Center

Seoul greeted us this morning with a fresh layer of snow.

We set off early for Gyeongbokgung to see the 10 am changing of the guards. The palace guards , however, had different plans – due to the snow, the changing was cancelled and we could only catch the show at Gwanghwamun at 1 pm.

It was a free and easy sort of walk around the palace ( 3000 won each ).  It was a sprawling place and we did an intensive 2 hour snooping around. At times, I would eavesdrop tour guides but for the most part, we were left to our own devices.

The snow blanketed much of the grounds but it was understood that its former inhabitants were far from cold. In the good old days, they had ondol-floor heating in the living areas, a life saver in its bitter winter.

We made a stop at the folk art museum in the palace grounds, which was free. It had relics from olden days but the majority of the exhibits were art pieces and kid’s interactive areas.

At the back of the palace, we saw the Blue House . Reservation was needed for a guided tour. We managed to see our Singapore flag , which meant a Singaporean dignitary was visiting that day.

Over at the Hanok Village ( east of the palace ),  we lunch on dobokki    near the tourist information section. It was surprising good and affordable (  9000 won ) , considering it being in tourist territory.

From 1 pm – 3 pm , we explored the Hanok village. At strategic points, ‘mobile’ human information centers guided us less we got lost. Most places offered vantage points with great views of the city juxtaposed with the ancient houses. The only problem was the consistent steep incline.

The map was not drawn to scale and like many, we were lost near the Korean studies university in Samcheong-dong. Might as well, because I got to see the cute enclave of cafes and boutiques.

We found our way back to where we started and headed to Anguk, where we hopped on the train back to Hongdae. It was 1.5 hr of rest before we don our best for a concert at Seoul Arts Center. It was one of our highlight, because Misha Maisky was performing. It was only befitting that we should enjoy his 3 concertos that night well rested and refreshed.

The taxi ride from Hongdae to Seoul Arts Center cost us just 15200 won. It was unbelievably affordable ride despite the peak hour and heavy traffic. The same ride in Singapore would have been a ridiculous amount!

Dinner was a simple fare of sandwiches and coffee ( 20 000 won ) . We explored the SAC but it was not as spectacular in the night light. The bitter cold prevented me from staying out and we waited out with the expectant throng in the concert hall.

Misha Maisky did a generous 3 concerto performance. I had booked the tickets earlier by phone ( 50 000 won x 2 ) made possible by VISA. Our seats at the 3rd floor was too far for us to hear the nuances of Dorak, Bruch and Saint-Seans though I find the overall experience enjoyable. Maisky endured a 15 minute ovation with 3 encores and we appreciated his work by a purchase of his CD featuring the same songs he played that night ( 16 000 won ).

The most interesting experience happened at the end of the day. Impulsively I hopped up a bus with the rest of the concert goers and hubs had no choice but to follow suit. We were crushed left and right and in that state, I could not feel the bus move at all. It seemed that it made a couple of slow turns before it disgorged the ‘contents’ of the bus at Nambu Bus Terminal Station.

By the time we reached Hongdae,  we were famished again but could not find anything of sustenance. Just like usual concert days, we had ramen in our room. H  has fallen asleep by now and we our first skype with her in our holiday.

Next up, a day out at ancient Suwon.

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