72 Hours in Seoul: Reunited in a Strange City.
People always talk about how difficult maintaining long-distance relationships are, but no one ever tells you how equally challenging long-distance friendships can be. After spending every day together for 9 years, the strangeness that overcame me when parting ways with my best friend for university was, and still is, indescribable. Being on two different continents and existing in two separate time zones was taking its toll on us. So, whilst struggling through my essay-filled February month, I booked a flight to see her for March. Destination: Seoul, South Korea. I had a mission to spend time with my best friend, and only 72 hours to complete it.
Seoul is a city perfect for hipsters and all-around creative people. It radiates art and culture and is bursting with a mix of the old and the new. One street, with its sleek and contemporary aesthetic, is completely different from its earthly and traditional neighbour. Hongdae, its namesake standing as a university for the arts, embodies this feature wholly. I adored this little area dedicated to independent shops, with a sea of bright, pastel colored markets that overflowed onto the main road. Spending time wandering around Hongdae gave me a newfound admiration for Korean street style. Girls glided effortlessly through the markets in large, flowing coats and cropped wide-leg trousers, without a doubt showing that what you wear should reflect your personality – it doesn’t matter what the magazines say!
So here I was in Seoul, with my best friend, reunited at last. We started the next day bright and early. With our stomachs filled with breakfast and coffee, we ran up the subway stairs to catch the next train to Myeongdong, the number one tourist destination for shopping. To my relief, the Seoul Metro is incredibly easy to use; the speakers even play a cute Korean tune when the train is approaching the next station! As a fan of public transport and people-watching, I loved experiencing the Seoul Metro. And it was an experience. There were people going to work, to school, to military training, to a fashion show. I soon realised, however, that I wasn’t the only one doing the watching. Just as we were approaching Myeongdong Station, a sweet older Korean lady with large circular red glasses shuffled over and tapped me on the shoulder. She told me I looked like an artist. I told her I had turned my bedroom into an art studio. She proceeded to give me a red booklet filled with information about her own art; all her most recent pieces and all the places I could find them in Seoul. As we stepped off onto the platform, my friend and I thanked her and told her we would try our best to attend her exhibitions. Time ran away with us and I regret we never did, but the next time I go to Seoul it will be the first thing I do!
“Scents of fried snacks like Odeng and Tteokbokki drifted through the streets, as we ourselves drifted aimlessly through traditional Seoul.”
Stepping out of the subway, back onto the streets of this sprawling metropolis we came to Myeongdong. Tourists from all over Asia and beyond visit Myeongdong for its unique atmosphere and incredible shops. Built as a square with over 50 alleyways, it is paradise for anyone who loves good weather and amazing shopping.
While Myeongdong is famous for its modern clothes stores, Insadong is its counterpart; the old to the new. An old-fashioned, yet artsy and unconventional area filled with specialized green-tea cafes, art galleries and stores selling Korean trinkets. If you want to experience South Korean street food and browse amongst quaint knickknacks and charms, Insadong is the place to be. Scents of fried snacks like Odeng and Tteokbokki drifted through the streets, as we ourselves drifted aimlessly through traditional Seoul.
Despite the excitement of arrival and the first day, the highlight of the weekend came on the last with a visit to Gyeongbokjung palace. Every corner of Gyeongbokjung palace is photo-worthy. Originally home of the royals of the Joseon Dynasty, it was built in the 14th century and has suffered through many dynastic changes and numerous wars. Though it has been re-constructed and gradually renovated to match its original form, the palace was one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever set foot in. The palace is a marvel, so enormous it made the ten thousand or so visitors look obsolete and miniature. We were surrounded by nature, by forest paths and waterfalls with spring water that trickled in a rhythm so perfect I could have sworn it was a recording. Girls would parade around in their traditional Korean Hanboks, blending in with the blue mountains above and the bright red and green palace surrounding them. My best friend and I spent over 3 hours just walking and talking, soaking up every last bit of the beautiful Korean scenery and architecture before we had to part ways once again.
“Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.”
– William Shakespeare.