Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

Beijing may have the Forbidden City, but Seoul has a ready answer in the Gyeongbokgung Palace – literally Greatly blessed by Heaven (Gyeongbok) Palace (gung), it is the largest of the five great royal palaces, and was originally constructed in 1395 – three years after the founding of the Joseon dynasty. But the facts and figures do not convey the scale and grandeur of the palace, with its more than 330 buildings, tranquil lake, and sprawling grounds with the mountains in the background. But perhaps a few photos might help.

The first thing that strikes you is the contrast between the bustling glass-walled towers and huge TV screens of the city and the tranquility of the palace once you step through the gate

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

The next thing is how clean the place is – despite the crowds of tourists there was not a speck of litter on the ground. And although there were quite a few people, the scale of the place soon dwarfs them.

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

So we made our way towards the throne room – brilliantly painted and decorated, but way too dark for most point-and-shoot cameras. And with flash prohibited many despaired of capturing the sight. My secret? I used the fold-out screen and gently rested the camera against the window and set up for a long exposure – something like 3 seconds did the trick

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

Soon we encountered a pavillion set in a tranquil lake, with carp taking care of the water quality and keeping the algae and mosquitoes down. Mind you, in Autumn that is simply not an issue.

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

Another long exposure gave the water a mirror finish despite the minor ripples from a gentle breeze.

The Palace – being made from wood – suffered from fires, and was twice largely destroyed by the Japanese in 1592 and again in 1915. The current restoration and reconstruction has been ongoing since 1990. Early fire fighting methods included the positioning at regular intervals of huge bronze vessels containing water which could be bucketed by hand to put out any small fires before they spread too far.

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace – bronze water vessel

Are your feet aching yet? Well there is a small tea and souvenirs shop with western-style toilets for your comfort. I strongly recommend the green tea – so refreshing!

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

Parts of the palace are quite labyrinthine and soon we found ourselves in hidden courtyards and strange passages – you could easily imagine a complex life here

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

And so we turned back towards the entrance through long cloisters

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

and back towards the modern world

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace


Seoul – street markets day and night

The Insadong district of Seoul contrasts wide modern streets with narrow back alleys filled with street traders. Some have clearly been plying their trade for generations, such as this knife sharpener and seller.

Korean knife sharpener

Korean knife sharpener

The variety of goods available was breathtaking. For example there were hat sellers with every style you could think of, including traditional Korean style hats that resembled horse riding helmets, through to berets and dress hats of every description

Hat stall, Seoul

Hat stall, Seoul

The toy maker was a delight – with many automata and whirligigs along with traditional spinning tops and puppets all carved from wood and delightfully painted. Some were whimsical, like the flying pigs, and others had a more steampunk flavour .

Korean toy seller

Korean toy seller, Seoul

And they were there day and night. Of course all this power shopping is enough to make anyone hungry. And this, too, is catered for by the plethora of street food vendors with everything from eggs on toast to traditional korean noodles – you name it and you’ll find it here.

 

Seoul - street food vendors

Seoul – street food vendors

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The markets start in the late morning and go through to around 10.00pm – and these run across several streets and laneways. While there are always the main Western stores, you have to head to the back streets for the interesting stuff, like these garden ornaments

Garden ornament vendor, Seou

Garden ornament vendor, Seoul

There is certainly something for everyone here 🙂

 

 

Seoul – art and craft supplies

Insadong – the district in which we stayed turned out to be a real gem. Not least because it is the artisan district and is absolutely packed with small traditional shops with amazing hand-made art supplies.

Seoul brush shop

The calligraphy brush shops catered for every size brush up to ones the size of broomsticks! All beautifully crafted and using fine hair for the brush. Needless to say Sharon was over the moon.

Seoul - paperThen we found the paper shop – not newspapers and magazines, but paper – nothing but paper… All of it hand made and with flowers and leaves pressed in, and every shade and thickness you could want, from the lightest rice paper to the heaviest card and with the whole range of the colour wheel.

Seoul - craft supplies shop

There were also paper-crafted objects, like fans and bookmarks and cards, but for us the fascination was with the textures and colours and varieties of the paper itself.

Finding gems like this is what makes travel worthwhile 🙂