Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn't stop to enjoy it."

About a month ago, I had my first visit to Seoul. I arrived late Friday night and my first stop was Itaewon, the foreign/international area of the city. I had 2 shawarmas (hadn't had a good one in about a year since Georgia) and blueberry ice cream. So delicious! Wandering the streets my happiness continued as I spotted a foreign mart. Wow! My eyes couldn't handle it! There were tons of cooking spices, cheese, baking supplies, cereals, peanut butter, hummus, sauces, and much more! I walked out with only Fluff, graham crackers, and some muesli. Quite a feat to limit myself, but I didn't have much room in my bag to be carrying stuff around for 2 days.

Saturday morning I got up super early to catch my bus for the day trip. The weather was ridiculous! It was pouring buckets! After an hour or so into our journey it snowed, now these were not flurries, but giant flakes coming down hard almost sideways! It was sticking all over the place, like a crazy winter wonderland in the middle of April! Thankfully when we arrived at our first stop where we would be going inside, and at that point it was only slightly raining. Whew! Anyway, our first exploration was Gosu Cave.

This is a monstrous limestone cave, "one of the best known in Korea, and known as an "underground palace" because of its breathtaking beauty." True story. Let me tell you. I believe this is the coolest and now my favorite cave I have ever seen/been in. Wow! Some fun facts: it used to be home to prehistoric people, it's 4,264 feet deep, it's inhabited by 25 species of insects and animals, and there are about 120 different stalagmites and stalactites. There are also cave coral, cave pearls, crystals, and in the main chamber there is several majestic 33 ft long stalactites. It was wicked awesome, cool, amazing, stellar, and about 10 other adjectives! So loved it! Inside it started off as a just a walkway, but later turned into a climbing challenge. Stairs ascending high up and then back down into the depths, squeezing through tight rock formations, ducking in tunnels, it was an unforgettable experience.

We had bibimbap for lunch yum! And were off to our next destination. We arrived at a lake where some people would go for a ferry ride and others would hike in the national park surrounding the area. The earlier rain proved to be our friend after all. It created the most excellent view as the clouds weaved in and out of the peaks. It was a really great and intense hike!

Afterward, it was cherry blossom festival time!! I have been wanting to see this for weeks!!  The bright white/pink blossoms are just too pretty! Even though it was still drizzling a bit there was no damper on the festive atmosphere.

Walking through a canopy of blossoms there were countless stalls with snacks, drinks, clothes, and crafts, tents with full tables for BBQ dinners, and a stage with live performers. It was fun zigzagging through all the people, grabbing some yummy treats, and simply marveling at the rows and rows of trees.

That night we arrived back to Seoul and I stayed my second night in a different district. I was in Hongdae area, named after Hongik University, known for "urban arts and indie music culture, clubs and entertainment." Basically the "college town" area. I wandered around the lively streets filled with numerous shops all open past midnight, club music thumping all around, bars, street food vendors galore, bright lights, and people bustling around everywhere.

Sunday morning I awoke bright and early to do some exploring of the city. Map in hand, I hopped on the subway, and was on my way. First,  I passed through a gaint produce market, then stopped at Changdeokgung Palace. Next, I came across a pedestrian street lined with lanterns and cute shops. As I was walking, a local informed me about an outdoor market that happens only once a month outside one of the other palaces, so I headed over there to check it out. It was nice to stroll around there with the fountains, statues and the grand palace in the background! The market had everything: fresh produce,drinks, clothes and shoes, food, and also places to make crafts and watch cultural performances. It was really fun to experience, and what perfect timing! Leaving there, I explored my second palace of the day, Deoksugung. My last stop was a quick lunch of mouth-watering perfect tacos, then it was time to catch my bus home!

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