|Neither one of us slept well last night, hopefully we will do better tonight. We went down to breakfast about 7:00. No pancake or waffle machine - we are not in America anymore. Breakfast included the usual breads and croissants, yogurt, fruit, and cereal. The hot buffet included hard boiled egg, sausage, kimchi, stir fried cabbage, cooked mushrooms, tater tots, plus other items like three different soups.
We were picked-up at 8:50 to go to the gathering place for our all-day tour with VIP Travel. We disembarked and were given ear pieces in order to hear our guide. This was nice because while listening to our guide, Erica, I could walk around and take pictures and explore. There were 19 of us on the morning tour. We walked across the street to the Joyysea Buddhist Temple where we learned about the religion and the temple architecture. We were given 20 minutes to explore on our own.
Jean & I took off our shoes and explored inside the temple, which was super crowded. It seemed that every square inch of the floor had mats with worshippers all around and behind the three large buddha statues. We then strolled around the grounds before meeting up with the guide and the others to cross back across the street to take our minibus to our next destination.
We went to the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at the Gyeonbokgung Palace (one of five in Seoul), which was built in 1395, and was the palace of kings of the Joseon Dynasty until it was destroyed by fire and abandoned. Then it was rebuilt during the 19th century, and then most of the palace was destroyed by the Japanese when they occupied Korea at the beginning of the 20th century. Since 1945 the walled palace complex has been rebuilt which continues to this day.
The changing of the guard ceremony began a few minutes after we arrived inside at the main gate courtyard. The ceremony was very colorful and regimented. The music was a little funky, but one should expect that when the band included conch shells being played. Among the many spectators were some young people and some Westerners in traditional Korea dress. Erica later explained that one is able to buy/rent the traditional clothes (later in the day we saw some of the stores). The young ones post to social media in their garb and spread interest in the palace, in return wearing the garb grants you free admission.
After the ceremony, we explored the palace discussing Korean history, customs and architecture. Japan has occupied and ruled Korea several times throughout their history, the most recent being in 1910 through the end of World War II. During one of the earlier occupations, the fourth king developed the Korean alphabet. It wasn't accepted right away by the ruling class, but females did use it, and eventually it became accepted.
We observed in the outer court after passing through the third inner gate, the Throne Hall & Executive Offices. In the Inner Court area was the King's Quarters, the Queen's Quarters and other buildings, including the Royal Banquet Hall.
We spent over an hour touring the palace before exiting through a back gate to see the Presidential residence known as the Blue House (Cheong Wa Dae). We stopped to take out photo opportunity, before walking down to a square with a large fountain, and several demonstrations going on. This is where a citizen or group of citizens may gather to protest whatever issue concerns them. Conveniently, there is a large police precinct next to the square with a major presence in the square and a nearby park. Everything seemed calm and reasonable. On the far side of the park we boarded the minibus.
Our next stop was a ginseng business' headquarters to first learn about the history of the various ginsengs varieties (white, red, black and others) and the benefits of this natural Eastern medicinal root. They then took us into a salesroom to give us the sales pitch about using the powder, or what I call gunk form (looks like molasses) or the actual root. The health benefits of each form in a daily dose were explained. They had the powder mixed in tea for us to sample. We did not purchase any of their products. They were all in large packages, and we have many days ahead and little room in our luggage. There was another store where they had products for purchase in smaller quantities, such as tea bags, candy, etc. Jean purchased a small box of tea.
It was now 1:00 and that concluded the morning tour. We lost some of our group here since they had not purchased the full day tour. We were now a group of nine and our next stop was for an included Korean lunch at Gosire Restaurant. We had three choices - a beef/rice dish, a vegetable bibimbap, or a spicy dish. Jean and I both chose the beef dish which was a broth with noodles, vegetables and beef with the side dish of white rice. There were kimchi, mushrooms, beans & other vegetables that were on the table that you could add as you desired. I enjoyed the meal.
We had sat at a long table with a mother and her son from Orange County across from us. She was of Filipino descent. They had been visiting relatives in the Philippines, then the short hop to Korea, then back to the Philippines before returning home. Jean talked to some people from Idaho & Maryland next to her.
Refreshed, we set out for Changdeokgung Palace. This is an UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built in 1405 as a secondary palace of the Joseon Dynasty. It was destroyed during the Japanese invasion in 1592, and rebuilt in 1610 and served as the main palace for about 270 years.
Erica gave us an option. Since this was the second palace we were visiting, if anyone wanted to skip walking around, they could wait in the snack area and then continue with us at the end of the palace walk. No one took that offer.
The palace set-up was similar to Gyeonbokgung Palace we had seen earlier, so we did not spend as much time. Erika pointed out some differences, such as the Queen and King shared quarters here. This palace is known for its beautiful gardens, but it would take two hours to walk through them.
We then boarded the minibus to travel to the Insadong Arts and Crafts Market where we had 45 minutes on our own to walk the street, find souvenirs (Erica recommended Mother of Pearl), have tea or whatever you wanted to do. Jean and I walked the street looking at the shops which included shops to buy art brushes, blank canvases. While walking we were observing the people and culture. K-pop products and stores were everywhere. K-pop is a music genre that originated in South Korea and has become popular around the world.
We then entered a large store where individual merchant booths sold a variety of products from clothing to souvenirs to jewelry and more, including the Mother of Pearl items. A lot of the merchants had nice items and hawked them as we walked by, but we were not in the mood yet for souvenirs.
We then transferred to the Namdaemun Traditional Market (named after the Great South Gate of the old city which is nearby) that in better economic times was open 24/7. But like the rest of the world economy, currently not all businesses are open 24 hours anymore. We walked the streets among the bazaar/flea market. It was enjoyable observing the locals and other tourists as they walked among the over 10,000 various vendors of items such as prepared foods (we bought some items for dinner after the tour), apparel, jewelry, meat, fruits/vegetable (Jean was able to obtain a lemon for her iced tea that she makes), souvenirs, etc. However, I did not see a book or used book store. I am still looking to add to my Harry Potter in a Foreign Language collection. As of last count I had 29 different language translations.
This was the end of the all-day tour, and we were returned to our hotel, eventually. Our driver first stopped at a different Travelodge before getting it right. It was 5:00 and we had had a long day. We enjoyed our dinner from what we had purchased in the market. Jean had bought three items. We cut them in half and shared. One item had a chicken and onion filling, another had a bean filling, and then for dessert half a donut.
I started the blog entry, but kept falling asleep, so I hit the sack about 6:00 and woke at 4:00 to finish this entry. Still adjusting to the 13 hour difference.