Seoul, South Korea
The Hangang River cuts the city of Seoul in two, the Korean tourist information site states this river has witnessed the history of the Korean people for over five thousand years. Korea has a population of around 52 million people, of which nearly 10 million live in Seoul, 98% of the population are Korean. Seoul means ‘capital’ in Korean, and has only been in use since 1945.
My hotel is situated in an old traditional part of the city, and I took a wander around the narrow lanes, some not wide enough for a car, peeking into the traditional restaurants, where shoes, left by their owners, stare back at me, as they are not allowed inside, and looking at menus all written in Korean, so I have no idea what they are serving, even though it smells delicious.
The lanes lead me onto a wide, quite, street noted for its arts and crafts.
My first morning here I visited Deoksugung Palace, originally built as a residence for Prince Wolsan, (1469-1494), although destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion in 1592, it was used as a royal residence until 1919. Deoksugung means palace of virtuous longevity.
The palace has a mixture of Korean and Western style buildings. Junghwajeon Hall, is one of the western style buildings and was the centre of politics during the Korean Empire. A pair of dragons that decorates the canopy above the throne of the king, can also be seen on the ceiling of the hall.
The original palace was a vast area with many buildings, the palace grounds are considerably smaller now and with very few structures remaining, although it still covers a huge area.
Three times a day, every day, outside the Daehanmun Gate, there is a changing of the guard ceremony. The band plays traditional musical instruments, the guards are dressed in very colourful, traditional costumes, and what takes place is based on historical research.
When the ceremony has finished the guards all march away from the palace, I caught up with them waiting to cross the road, and when the lights changed they marched across to the banging of the drums. I noticed a lot of the beards worn by the guards were stuck on.
Cheonggyecheon Stream is a ten kilometre stream that flows from Gwanghwamun to Dongdaemun, it’s a delight coming across this in the middle of the city, with it’s waterfalls, walkways and footbridges.