Holidays are a little funny over here. We will have the day off for American holidays like President’s Day, Memorial Day, or Independence Day, but the Koreans will still be bustling around with every day life. This makes it a perfect time to visit tourists sites in the country, because there are far fewer people present.
So, instead of going to Yongsan Garrison, where the Army was having a Fourth of July celebration and fireworks show, we headed in the opposite direction. Is visiting a palace on Independence Day un-American? It may have been nontraditional, but it was a wonderful way to spend the day.
It’s been a year since we have visited a palace in Seoul. That doesn’t seem possible. There are five palaces from the Joseon Dynasty. We have visited the largest two: Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung. I found them to be similar, though I prefer Changdeokgung because of its beautiful garden. So, after seeing two similar palaces, plus the temples and palaces from our travels around Asia, we were a little architecture-d out for a while.
Now we’re back! Jared found some photos online of Deoksugung. The pictures were taken from a building adjacent to the palace grounds and gives a bird’s eye view of the palace and the city. Recreating this picture was our main goal for the day. Some of our best adventures have started this way. “I want this picture.” And then we work our way back from that. So, we ventured off to find which building the picture was taken from. We were a little worried about how this adventure would turn out. We knew we’d need to get into and/or on top of a building in downtown Seoul. How exactly were we going to manage that? Upon arrival we determined that based on the angle and height of the original picture’s viewpoint that it must have been taken from one of the City Hall sub buildings. We walked in and saw that there was a security guard and a checkpoint in front of the elevators. Not a good sign. We went up to the security guard and showed him the picture we hoped to replicate and spoke in broken Hangul. He understood, and pointed to a rather large sign that was next to us declaring that the observation windows were on the 13th floor! It was so easy to find the viewpoint; we had nothing to worry about. The observation floor has a little cafe, souvenir shop, and photos of Seoul from the early 1900s (very interesting!) The observation area closes at 6, making it a little difficult to get good lighting during the middle of summer. We hope to return this fall when the sunset is earlier.
After we finished with that photography goal, we spent a few hours wandering around downtown and planned to return to Deoksugung closer to sunset. We went to Cheonggyecheon Stream and found a little market set up at one end. There were all kinds of Korean hipsters selling a little bit of everything. There were shoes with springs in the sole, knitted handicrafts, and a watermelon growing in a suitcase. We found a booth that was selling origami paper doll kits. There were several varieties, each featuring a male and female doll wearing a royal hanbok. The kit comes with all the supplies you need and instructions (in Hangul). They were too adorable (and cheap! ₩4,000) to pass up. I really like the idea, but those instructions are a little intimidating.
After supper, we went back to Deoksugung and wandered around for awhile before sunset and the lights came on. This palace is smaller than Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, but was similarly destroyed during the Japanese invasion and rebuilt by Koreans in recent decades. It’s sad because each time we visit a historic site in Korea, we read about how it was wrecked by other nationalities. Very little original construction remains. The palace itself was not especially interesting to me, but I enjoyed it’s peaceful setting and wandering around to take pictures.
We stayed until 9:00, when the palace closes and the guards are very determined to get everyone out. We went down the street toward Gyeongbokgung, and Jared took more pictures of the statues and palace gates. I had forgotten to bring my tripod, so I got more mosquito bites than night pictures. Our July 4th didn’t include hot dogs (but we did have hamburgers), American flags (but there were flags at the palace), fireworks (but Deoksugung was beautiful with the lights on at night), or a parade (does a line of taxis count?). It was ours though, and it was wonderful.
Check out Jared’s pictures from the day at his Flickr page.
The featured image for this post includes all of my favorite things about Seoul: history, city, and mountains. It really is an amazing place.