Namdaemun Market, Olympic Park, Lotte World Tower, Gangnam

Day number 6 in South Korea is over and it resulted in over 19 000 steps and many memories to bring back. First we walked to Namdaemun Market, one metro station away from Myeongdong, then we met up with Felix and took a quick walk in the Olympic Park, then to Lotte World Mall where the 5th tallest skyskraper in the world is located: Lotte World Tower. And we then ended with dinner in Gangnam.

Namdaemun Market

Namdaemun Market is a several blocks big market with everything from food (except we couldn’t find where the main place for street food would be), to cutlery, and clothes. I bought a new belt and two pair of earrings. There was a whole block with indoor jewelery vendors, aisle after aisle with people sitting and making beautiful jewelery. It was called Daedo Jewelery. I love simplistic accessories and they had plenty and it was hard to not throw all my money at the vendors. But two pair of earrings for 10 000 won together was okay, they even matched, but from two different sellers!

Before our next stop we walked to one of the old gates to the city that was nearby, Sungnyemun Gate. Just an ancient piece of architecture in the middle of all the stress and life that Seoul offers 24/7. Like the palace we saw the other day, this looked brand new. They must have a crazy budget for maintaining teir cultural sites. The Koreans seem to be a very cultural people, so I am not surprised.

I just read that the gate was destroyed by a fire in 2008 and was reconstructed for five years. That’s the downside of all their palaces and architecture being made solely from wood. It was originally built in the 14th century and was one of three gates leading into the city. Today it is Number 1 National Treasure of Korea. Pretty cool! Of course, here comes the 360 pic of it where the contrast are clearly visible.

Olympic Park

In 1988, the summer Olympics were held in Seoul. Long before my time, but as a fairly sports interested person, I knew that it had been here sometime at least. After the visit with work in Lillehammer, Norway in September, this is now the 2nd Olympic place I visit this year. Winter Olympics was held in Lillehammer in 1992. It was a beautiful park!


Do you see the huge and disgusting spider?

Lotte World Tower

The tallest skyskraper today is Burj Khalifa (where I went in 2016, and it was so cool!), but after that one, not many people are aware of which skyskrapers follow. At least I didn’t. The fifth tallest is apparently located here in Seoul. And it is not N Seoul Tower that is definitely the more famous one, but Lotte World Tower. Owned of course by the mega multinational conglomerate. The tower is 555m, has 123 floors, and was opened just a year and a half ago in April 2017. On floor 118, there were glass floors. Scary stuff! Mom and I watched  the sun set into a mountain hidden behind a smog cloud. What’s so sad about this is that it is mainly not smog from the South Koreans, but clouds coming in from China. Depressing. This week has been really bad. Worse than usual. Bad timing I guess. But the visibility was better today than any other day so I am not too upset, even if it would have been nice to see the sun set behind an actual mountain instead of in a cloud. We did actually see N Seoul Tower in the distance. That’s some kilometers at least (like 11 – shit, this city is big!).


Down there in the beginning of the park, you can see the Peace Gate when entering the Olympic Park. That gate was huge!
Traffic in Seoul is insane.

The Lotte World Mall was mostly underground and was huge. We didn’t walk in it for too long, shopping didn’t lure us today. We took a look around outside and here you can see how tall the tower is from the ground.

Gangnam

Last stop of the day was Gangnam. It was very spread out and Felix looked around for a while before finding a restaurant which was closed the last time he was there but it was said to have amazing Jjimdakk. It is chicken, dumplings, fish cakes and glass noddles among other things in a soy sauce. It was really good! We shared one big three-persons-plate, because here dining is a social activity. It was spicy, even though we took the non-spicy version. But it was manageable and really good!

Naminara Republic of Korea, Petite France, Meerkat Friends

Today was a fun day, 16 000 steps, not too much. We did two things, or three really: Petite France and Nami Island and then ended the day with Meerkat Friends, an animal café in Hongdae.

Petite France

This was part of the tour we got from Klook, to visit the small village that was supposed to look like France. It was cute, but I have been to both Paris and Marseille in France and almost 2 hours of walking around there was a bit too much. Usually the stops at tours are too short, but not this one. Here is a picture of what it looked like in 360. What is funny about this place is that, almost nothing was actually French, lots of German old ceramics, paintings from Italian painters and so on. But I guess that doesn’t really matter for the Asian tourists coming there who never went to Europe.


I miss exercising, so this was at least a small effort today.

In Petite France, there were Swedish stamps.

Nami Island / Namiseom / Naminara Republic of Korea

The main stop for this tour was Nami Island, which is also its own country since 2006: Naminara Republic of Korea. It has its own passport and even currency and government. It is a small half-moon-shaped island, only 5km in circumference. Really pretty place and Winter Sonata, a K-drama has been filmed there. It was pretty, but most of the leaves had fallen off the trees compared to in Seoul. This was an island located in the city of Chuncheon, about 1.5h from Seoul.

There was a main boulevard with restaurants, the famous Metasequoia Lane and other cute stuff. Many snowmen which I think are from the TV series? We had lunch, I tried tteokbokki carbonara. Really delicious. Tteokbokki is stir-fried rice cakes.

We were there for about 3 hours. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. Here is a 360 picture as well.


This is the place where the first kiss between two people on the show Winter Sonata took place.

There weren’t many red trees, but the few ones were glowing and lighting the dull surroundings up.

A pine tree that turn yellow.

Snowman-shaped tteokbokki of course.


I decided to try to be half-asian at least. No posing here!
This is the most bizarre statue I have ever seen.
And of course, the other tit is on her back, feeding the other kid, haha.
The famous Metasequoia lane.
These colors!!
Haha, why bother removing the selfie stick when taking a call.

A setting sun over Seoul was amazing on the way back when we were stuck in rush hours trafic.

We got back to Dongdaemun after 5pm and decided to quickly check out the Dongdaemun Design Plaza for a bit before heading to Hongdae and the special café. It was such a cool place! Here is a 360 picture of it, or at least the bottom of it.


There was a LED rose garden there. Really pretty.

We then took the metro to Hongdae where we went to Meerkat Friends café. It was a cafe with meerkats and other animals such as racoon, cats, wallaby, foxes. It was the cutest place and the animals were so nice and friendly. We even got to feed them all. It was a nice place and it honestly felt like the animals had a good time there with big windows, so much air, and it was kept very clean. Six of the meerkats fell asleep in my lap, the racoon wanted to escape and begged for food. The foxes were so adorable and one of the wallabies had a baby in its pouch. We were there for a long time and got unreasonably many pictures, but due to space limitations, I can’t upload them now, sorry. I will as soon as I possibly can though!

UPDATE 2018-11-10: I didn’t want to wait, but decided to upgrade my blog. I have now 6GB, that should at least be enough for this trip! Here comes the pictures from Meerkat Friends.


They were digging everywhere to try and find food. My hair was completely ruined after those 10 minutes in that Meerkat pen.
When they calmed down and realized I didn’t have any food, they climbed up in my lap one after one and fell asleep. Eventually I had 6 of them sleeping there! So adorable!


Baby meerkat playpen!
One of the babies had a cast!
This was one was not allowed to be touched because she has a baby in her pocket!
Feeding and kissing foxes.
So beautiful creatures!
The most beautiful cat ever. I’m glad my cats can’t read this.

New profile pic everywhere perhaps?

 

Yongsan electronics market, COEX mall

Rain, rain, rain and even more rain. Proably not as much as it can get during monsoon season in July and August, but it was constant throughout the day and got way worse by the time we were on our way back to the hotel.


So we planned today’s activities accordingly and ended up doing some shopping.
First we went to Yongsan electronics market. Along the whole street was small shops and at the end was a mall, ET Land, where they had most things to do with electronics. We didn’t buy anything, didn’t really have any plans for it anyway, but when we saw the prices, we definitely didn’t want to buy anything. 956 000 for a Samsung Galaxy S9! Haha, the prices here are ridiculous. It equals around 7 700 SEK, and if you buy it in Sweden right now, it is 7 000. Not worth buying electronics in South Korea. 

We then ventured outside of the Metro comfort bubble and took a bus. Sure, to a Metro station, but still. We went down to Gangnam and Starfield Coex mall. Indoor and with plenty of stores. Not too many familiar but I still managed to walk out of there with goods worth of 190 000. I’ve been looking at a Patagonia down jacket, but it is 2 900 SEK. Probably worth it, but still a lot of money. I found a very nice down jacket at Uniqlo for around 1 400. Half the price and I got to try it on in a store before buying it. This is it. I also got a pair of really warm gloves with touch, perfect for the upcoming winter back home. In the shopping mall was also the most incredible library! Unfortunately, all the books were in Korean. For some reason, I can’t upload my 360 picture of it on Google Maps, so here is a link to Facebook for now.

For lunch we went to the food court and I had bulgogi bibimbap. Never tried before, but so good! We had a break later in the day at Starbucks and moved around activities for the last days here in South Korea and then went to the Aquarium. Kinda childish, and very expensive, but I love sealife so it was worth it.

DMZ, Deoksugung Palace

We have been here for less than three days and are already tired out of our minds. Maybe it is the jetlag, maybe it is the thousands and thousands of steps we take every day or all the commotion all around us all the time. Either way, we are seeing tons of things and I have already started to feel that the days left are not enough.

Today we had to get up early because a bus picked us up at 7:30 and took us to the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone. The border. The war since June 25th 1950 is still very active since they didn’t sign a peace treaty, but they maintain the peace by cease fire and at least the South Koreans are hopeful of a united future. During the Korean war the North pushed down the South so they only had the area around Busan. But then the south pushed back and got the country back. Now, there is a 4km DMZ, 2km on each side where you can only go by a tour. In this zone on the South Korean side, 200 families live. They follow rules, like they have to be in te zone 260 days every year and follow the curfew 6:30pm to 6:30am. But there are benefits as well, they don’t pay any taxes at all and they don’t have to serve in the military at all. The rest of South Korea does, or at least the male population, for 21 months due to the still ongoing war. In North Korea women have to do 7 years and men 10. Or perhaps it was 10 and 13. Our guide was super sweet but really hard to understand sometimes.

Along the highway toward the border, there were barbed wire fences and military outposts. Before this climate change, the water froze and North Koreans could just walk over.

Our first stop was at a Memorial site (I think), right outside the DMZ.

Then we went to the Third Infiltration Tunnel, which was very close to the actual border, we realized later on. We walked down a tunnel that the South Koreans had built to get down there, and then walked along the 260m long tunnel, 73m below the surface. The ceiling was so low that I had to duck most of the time. Lucky short people! It was tough walking that far, bent over. It was wet, all rock, but really cool. At the end of the tunnel (in total it was 1600m, but most of it was on the Northern side and we only had access to 260m), there was a blockade with a window in it, looking through it you could see the second blockade and through that window the third blockade which was on actual North Korean ground. Scary close! No phones or bags were allowed down there and absolutely no photography, so no pictures from the tunnel today. Didn’t seem worth it to risk it, haha!

The next stop was the Dora Observatory where we could see the DMZ on the North Korea side. It was foggy, but not as bad as yesterday apparently and we did actually see something. At first we didn’t really understand what we saw. But the barbed fences in the middle, going almost straight from us north, was the actual border. Right on the right side of the fence was the entrance to the Third Infiltration Tunnel, we then realized we were really close to the border, scary stuff! On the left side of the fence, there was nothing. Absolutely nothing, except a fake propaganda village straight above the tunnel entrance. The North and South had a competition on who could have the tallest flag pole and raised it a little all the time. Eventually North Korea won and got a record in Guinnes World Records. We saw it fairly clearly, but it was hard to see on the pictures. A while back, there was a girl who managed to get away from her group and actually pass the border. She was instantly shot to death. I wonder from where, they didn’t have any visible outposts, or basically anything on their side.

South Korea from the Dora Observatory.
The other side where the border is like an S. To the right of the barbed fence, in the middle where there are buildings, is the tunnel entrance.
The proganda village right under the “G” in the word propaganda. Or at least right  under the G is the huge flag pole and to the right of the pole is the city.


Right above the left-most buses in this picture, can the flag pole be seen.
Dora Observatory and our guide, Yeoni Jin in front.

We learned about defectors on the way back. Around 1 000 each year, and only 10% survives. Most go north and try to cross the border to China and then go directly down to Thailand where the Thai won’t send them back directly like Vietnam. A year ago there was a guy who managed to drive across the border, he was shot, but dragged himself across and was rescued by South. This was all over the news last November. When he was in the hospital the doctors found out that he was full of worms. Even the military are starved and in extremely bad health! Anyway, there was no real reason for him to cross the border from the JSA (Joint Security Area, where the presidents met up until recently when it became only a tourist attraction) because that was apparently THE place to be. Only high-ranked and trusted soldiers were stationed there. So many didn’t really understand why he would risk his “good” life and crossing the border. It turned out that he was drunk and had driven South. It is forbidden to drink in the North and maybe he was facing a death penalty anyway? Don’t know if it is true, but the tour guide said it and it felt like it was something fun to post here.

The defectors coming to South Korea are tried and when it is determined that they are not spies, they get benefits, like free housing for 5 years and a mentor to help them adjust to the rich life of a South Korean. Not too bad.

The both countries also speak the same language, although the North has some extra words and a very thick accent.

Fun facts are fun :).

Another quick stop was at the Dorasan Station where hopeful South Koreans donated money to build this station in hope of a united Korea one day. The rail is connected, but no trains go North from here, only South and for tourists.

On the way back to Seoul, we stopped at the Korean Ginseng Center. Ginseng is a root that has magical properties according to Koreans. I’m sure it is good, but not 300 USD good for a 9 month supply. I’ve never tried, so I am not missing anything. The root is as best after 6 years, and the government of South Korea takes all the 6 year ginseng for South Korea. The younger ones are exported.

Ginseng 1 year old to 6 years old.

Lunch was included at a restaurant in the city at the end. Beef stew that was very sweet and good. Mom and I talked to a Mexican guy and an American girl who sat at our table. The girl was from San Diego, what are the odds?

The rest of the afternoon was spent in Deoksugung Palace. We wanted to see the changing of the guard, but due to the dusty air today, it was canceled. But we got to see beautiful trees again and some traditional Korean buildings. These were also from the beginning of the 1900’s. Even if basically all the palaces were destroyed in the Korean war, they were rebuilt, but from what I understand, most of them are from the early 20th century. I think I read somewhere that at least one was reconstructed several times from a palace originally built in 1300-something. I want to see that one. If I don’t misremember architecture history 101 from Cal Poly, Asian architecture didn’t really change that much, they were very conservative with their buildings. And culture.  

We then quickly met up with Felix at the War Memorial of Korea. Unfortunately the museom closed 30 minutes after we got there, and we had a Korean walking behind us, making noises to hurry us up and almost kicked us out 15 minutes before closing. Too bad, it would have been interesting to learn more about it. It was free admission, so maybe another day if we have time?

A quick stroll through Myeong-Dong again to have some street food for dinner. I then felt adventurous and bought a bottle of something Korean. One sip was all it took for me to go back in the store and get a Coke, haha! At least I tried and got a cool bottle.

Namsan Park, Namsangol Hanok Village, Seoul Lantern Festival

19 000 steps has resulted in many beautiful pictures. But they are not as pretty as the real thing was, obviously. We did three things today. Namsan Park (where N Seoul Tower stands on top of the peak), Namsangol Hanok Village (a village down below the park with old traditional Korean buildings) and Seoul’s 10th anniversary Lantern Festival.

NAMSAN PARK

Today was very smoggy, so we decided not to go up in the N Seoul Tower today, it would have been a waste of time and money because we wouldn’t be able to see anything. So we just walked around the park among the amazingly and unbeliavable trees. How can trees even have that color??


Many stairs to walk up to the tower.
There is a cable car going all the way up. But where’s the fun in that?
N Seoul Tower at the top of the mountain.
Locks of love. Ridiculously many.
We managed to catch these guys ceremoniously lighting one of the beacons.
These trees were insane!! Nature is not supposed to be that intense! I couldn’t stop looking at them, or taking pictures of them for that matter.
No filters, I promise!
We quickly checked out the N Seoul Tower Plaza where they showed off some amazing 3D screens and other cool stuff. Lots of restaurants. We picked a Japanese one and it was so delicious!
Not all trees are beautiful. Fall is here too.
There are so many outdoor gyms here!
The National Theater of Korea. Very ugly from the backside.

Some branches even contained both red and green leaves!
Or this tree that looked like a stop sign.
A very old, and special in some way that I can’t remember, archery field. That distance was looong.
We found a squirrel! Does that bring good luck? 

We walked in the red clay containing far-infrared radiation that cleanses toxins and is supposed to be good for blood circulation. Our feet weren’t as tired after when we put on our shoes again. But that could have been because of the ice cold foot shower we took.

 

NAMSANGOL HANOK VILLAGE

This village consisted of several homes from the early 1900s. Most of them were moved there from other places in the city and one was constructed anew because the original was to frail to move. Although they had constructed it very detailed and even made the ground as uneven as in the original spot. There, in that park, was also the Time Capsule that the city of Seoul buried in 1994, on its 600th birthday, leaving instructions for the inhabitants living of Seoul on its 1000th anniversary to open. It was a huge monument that contained 600 papers describing Korea’s history.


While we were in the village, all the phones of everyone there started beeping. Security alert: extreme! it said. And the rest only in Korean. Thank Google for the camera function in Translate. Apparently the smog will be really bad tomorrow. Felix told us yesterday that most of the smog actually comes from China, but still, all the cars with even numbers at the end of their registration will have to leave it at home tomorrow. We also used this app to learn what other signs said, for example, there was one in the park asking us to not pick up acorns, but to leave them to the squirrels. They are nice to animal life here. In Namsan Park they had similar signs but for stray cats living there. They fed them and everything.
Koreans way back were short.

 

Seoul’s 10th anniversary Lantern Festival

This was such a cute festival! There is a road in Seoul, Cheonggyecheon, that they redid in 2005. A river has always been there and used by the people, but it turned bad, unsanitary and with non-permanent buildings and such, so they made it all better and wow, it is so pretty there! I don’t know what it looked like before, but it is really pretty now. Cars are on normal level, and you have to walk down stairs to get to the water. Nice sidewalks on both sides, trees and lights and it felt very safe to go under the big car bridges. Such a pretty place. The lanterns were put in the water and there were so many of them. One part was about history and tradition, one was about dreams and passions and one about the future.Cheonggyecheon


This, is something that really confuses me. Asians don’t take pictures of things, they take pictures of themselves infront of things. Always making weird things. At one point in the Namsan Park, I got angry looks at me for walking, but seriously, three people were standing on one side of the road, each holding leaves, with their partner standing on the other side of the road taking the picture. What is the deal? What’s the purpose of always being the center of a photo? Why take a photo in front of a pretty lantern? The light from the lantern will make the person invisible and you can’t see the lantern. So why? It must be a cultural thing, but I have never really thought about it until now, when everyone is Asian.
Christmas decorations outside a Lotte Department Store. Oh, that’s another weird thing that I don’t really understand and honestly finds a bit creepy. There is this company, Lotte, which basically owns half the city. Buildings, stores, food distributions. It’s scary. They control everything. They are not as big as Samsung, but Samsung is global, Lotte is only Korean.
This is the street (Myeong-Dong) we walked along yesterday, during daylight. A completely street during the night. Stands selling food, millions and millions of people. I got a honey rice pancake as dessert. Real yummy!

First day in Seoul: Myeong-Dong & Korean BBQ

This has been such a long day. Traveling with the timezones is the worst. Especially since it is almost impossible to sleep on the airplane. I have basically been awake sinve 4am on Sunday (it is now 1pm Monday in Sweden, 9pm here in South Korea).

We had a layover in Paris, had breakfast and took off 4 hours later. The flight to Seoul was 10h, but went by surprisingly fast. I watched two movies, read a lot and tried to sleep, not sure if I was successful or not.

8am, local time, we arrived and everything went really smoothly since then. Koreans generally don’t speak English very well, so I guess that’s why all their signs are translated to English? It is very easy to know where to go, just follow the signs, which are also better than pretty much anywhere I have ever been.

We took a bus from the airport to the hotel, or actually it is a hostel, Starria Hostel. But mom and I have our own room, our own bathroom and they serve breakfast, so it doesn’t really feel like a hostel. Oh, the bathroom… It is like they put a shower in the room inside glass walls and installed a sink and a toilet inside it. I haven’t tried it yet, but it feels like a very bad solution. Everything will be wet!

Today was all about coming here, no plans, just doing what we felt like. While waiting for check-in at 2pm, we walked around in Myeong-Dong, a big shopping district right where we are staying. So loud, so many people, even on a normal Monday. I have had a constant headache today, probably because of lack of sleep, so all the noises were more annoying than interesting. We had lunch and we learned that this country is not cheap. But good food though! We have a long list of recommendations from back home.

Once we checked in, we decided to take a nap, 2 hours of sleep was heavenly before meeting up with my brother. We took a taxi to where he is living, in Sichon, where we had Korean BBQ. 1kg of pork, barbecued right on our table. No carbs (which Felix told us Koreans barely eat, I guess they do LCHF), kimchi and other salads on the side. Small portions of it put inside a lettuce leaf called Ssam. They are only available here in Korea, no export because the Koreans need them all for this wrap-dish. One-bite-sized to not spill. Apparently it is very romantic to prepare on of these and give to your partner.

Felix also showed us what to drink with this. Somaek (abbreviation of Soju and maekju) is a shot of Soju, a traditional Korean clean alcoholic beverage that kind of reminds me of a weaker type of Vodka, made of rice, and beer. I tried it, and it wasn’t as bad as beer itself, but I was way too tired and had too much headache to drink the whole thing.

He told us many interesting things, like for example that 98% of everyone in Seoul are Koreans (no wonder I felt really out of place, we barely saw any other people today). The rest I think I alraedy forgot. I am tired :). Even with a hard bed, I think I will sleep like a rock tonight.
I think we might not have been allowed to fly over North Korea.


Myeong-Dong cathedral. Did you know that South Korea is a mostly Christian country?
This is probably the prettiest tree I will ever see in my whole life!
Fall is really here and I can’t wait to go to parks and see more of these beautiful colors.
The street we live on. RIght above the Namsan park and N Seoul Tower.
The shower with installed toilet and sink.
I honestly want to see what this looks like during rush hour. I will most likely hate myself if I ever go and see it.

Review of “Only Human” by Sylvain Neuvel

Title: Only Human
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Series: Themis Files #3
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 336
Published: 2018, Del Ray
My Grade: 3 out of 5

GOODREADS’ DESCRIPTION

In her childhood, Rose Franklin accidentally discovered a giant metal hand buried beneath the ground outside Deadwood, South Dakota. As an adult, Dr. Rose Franklin led the team that uncovered the rest of the body parts which together form Themis: a powerful robot of mysterious alien origin. She, along with linguist Vincent, pilot Kara, and the unnamed Interviewer, protected the Earth from geopolitical conflict and alien invasion alike. Now, after nearly ten years on another world, Rose returns to find her old alliances forfeit and the planet in shambles. And she must pick up the pieces of the Earth Defense Corps as her own friends turn against each other.

MY REVIEW

5, 4, 3. That’s my judgement of how these books unfortunately went. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all three books, but the first was by far the best, the second was slightly less sharp and the third was promising until the end that made the whole book kind of feel a bit unneccessary and very flat. Let me explain why.

If you haven’t read the first two, then here comes spoilers, but I can’t really write this review without it since all the books are connected. The second book ended with the main characters ending up on the planet whose inhabitants created Themis, the Ekts. Super cool. I love other people’s fantasies on how different planets might look. It is somehow different than fantasy where it kind of feels like it is Earth, just another version of it. I loved Esat Ekt and how Neuvel managed to describe the world and the people in depth through files, mostly conversation logs between the characters.

The book starts with the characters coming back to Earth and every chapters now and then was to look back at what had happened there. Sure, it was smart and kept it interesting, but I also think that it would have been better to have put the focus on Esat Ekt and only written a small part of what happened back on Earth after, in normal and logical chronologial order. And the ending should also be completely different. No, wait, I changed my mind. It should be as it is, it is clever. But the ending should have been different! More interesting and not so flat. It was almost anti-climactic. Siri Pettersen had a gigantic cliffhanger at the end of her Raven Rings trilogy, that exact ending would have worked perfectly here too. Just saying.

Even though I mostly wrote about the flaws now, it is a good book and I really enjoyed reading it as well. But when compared to the two prequels, it just doesn’t feel right to give it a higher grade than 3.