Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Seoul: Wander Around City Hall Station

A blank slate for Day Two. All the planning was up to GaYeong, a friend I haven't seen in four years. She told me to meet her at exit 12 of City Hall Station (Seoul subway line 1 or line 2). Hugs and how-are-yous, then off to explore the area near City Hall Station.

Jeongdong Observatory
15 Deoksugung-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
(13th floor of Seosomun Building)
Daily 9AM to 6PM

First up, a cup of joe at Jeongdong Observatory to warm the body that breezy, chilly morning. We went up to the 13th floor of Seosomun Building where the observatory slash coffee shop was. The observatory/coffee shop overlooks Deoksugung Palace; and a little to the right, Seoul Metropolitan Library, Seoul City Hall, and Seoul Plaza; and the tall buildings and mountains beyond. I was pleasantly surprised by this little gem of a coffee shop. It was a great place to catch up and to start the day.

Deoksugung Palace as seen from Jeongdong Observatory

Deoksugung Doldam-gil
덕수궁 돌담길

Warmed up enough, we went for a walk along Deoksugung Stonewall Road or Deoksugung Doldam–gil, the road on the south side of Deoksugung Palace. We strolled along the brick-laden sidewalks (with trees and benches every few meters) until we reached a little rotunda with a sculpture in the center. Then we traced our way back. Because, in truth, this stroll wasn't on the plan. It happened because we took a wrong turn. We were supposed to go to Deoksugung Palace straightaway after our cup of joe at Jeongdong Observatory.

Deoksugung Doldam-gil (top), squished sculpture (center), a rotunda at the end of the road (bottom)

99 Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul
Tuesday to Sunday 9AM to 9PM
Admission Fee KRW 1000

We went into Deoksugung Palace for one building: the Seokjojeon Hall, also known as Daehan Empire Historical Museum. GaYeong didn't tell me that she had booked us for a tour in the hall/museum that I dawdled around Deoksugung Palace grounds, causing us to be late for the tour. Thankfully, they still let us in.

Seokjojeon Hall, a very western looking building, was designed by a British architect and construction started in 1900 and was completed in 1910. (Aside from Seokjojeon Hall, there is another western-style building in the palace grounds called Jeonggwanheon Hall and it currently houses the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art 국립현대미술관.) Seokjojeon Hall was originally planned as the official residence of Emperor Gojong but the emperor preferred staying in another hall in the Palace. Seokjojeon Hall then served as temporary residence of his son, King Yeongchin (the last crown prince of Korea).

Seokjojeon Hall consists of three floors. It has a huge dining hall, the emperor's and empress's bedrooms, and the emperor's library. The interiors of Seokjojeon Hall were classy beautiful. Too bad the tour was in Korean that I went in and out of Seokjojeon Hall none the wiser.

The building on the left is Seokjojeon Hall

Inside Seokjojeon Hall (clockwise from top left): Empress's bedroom,
Empress's boudoir, grand dining hall, and  privater dining hall.

After the Seokjojeon Hall tour, we looked around the palace grounds. I had no idea what the history and significance of Deoksugung Palace was because it was already past the last free English guided tour (Deoksugung Palace English guided tours at 1030AM and 130PM only), thus no guide.

Junghwajeon Hall is the main hall of Deoksugung Palace

As we left Deoksugung Palace, a Changing of Guards Ceremony was taking place. (Ceremony schedule: 11AM | 2PM | 330PM)

Guards at Daehanmun Gate

Seoul Metropolitan Library
110 Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul
Tuesday to Friday 9AM to 9PM
Saturday and Sunday 9AM to 6PM
Closed on Mondays

Because I am nuts for books, even libraries are not spared. After Deoksugung Palace, we went into the Seoul Metropolitan Library, checked out every floor, looked at book spines (most of it was in Korean), and spent some time in a room dedicated to the Sewolho Ferry Disaster.

A sobering exhibit/memorial

Seoul Plaza
110 Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul
(In front of Seoul Metropolitan Library)

We went out of Seoul Metropolitan Library a little solemn (effect of the Sewol Ferry Disaster memorial) and walked slowly to Seoul Plaza, just outside of the library. Seoul Plaza is an open space where events like exhibits and concerts are held here every so often and, in the winter, transforms into an outdoor ice skating rink. 

Across the road are Seoul Plaza and Seoul Metropolitan Library

134-7 Seosomun-ro, Jung-gu, 100-865 Seoul

And then it was time for lunch at Seoul's Top 3 Jokbal (pig's trotters) restaurant: Oh Hyang Jokbal, tucked in an alley that took us some time to find. All the more aggravating our hunger.

A jokbal feast at Oh Hyang Jokbal

Other places nearby that you might want to visit:
Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA)
Grevin Seoul Museum (Wax Museum)

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

South Korea on Three

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