Shameless Tourism

15 Feb

It was a great day.  The temperature was above freezing (I think it reached a balmy 3 degrees Celsius) and, coincidentally, it was Valentines Day.  It wasn’t a typical day for me here in South Korea.  In the midst of my 5 day Seollal Korean New Year holiday, it was time to explore.  And so with the company of two fellow teachers at English Village,  it was off to Seoul for some sightseeing.

It was a day of shameless tourism…. without a doubt.  We boarded the Seoul City Bus Tour and within minutes we were whisked to various locations throughout the city.  We even had our own headphones to listen to recordings of information about each site in English (or if we chose Korean or Japanese).  Headphones on head, nestled in the seat of our bright red tour bus, one of my travel companions said “I have never felt more like a tourist then right now.”  And so it was true.

But for the day, being a tourist, well… it suited me.  The bus was a great price, only 10,000 Korean won (about $10 American) and for that basic rate we were toured to many of the highlights and tourist destinations of the city.  We could get on and off the bus as we liked and every 30 minutes a new bus would come.  It was a great overview and introduction to Seoul. There was even a tour guide on the bus and while admittedly, some tour guides were more helpful than others (one tour guide fell asleep in between stops) it was generally helpful to have an English-speaking guide on the bus.

There were a total of 36 stops on the tour. The first three stops spun by before we could get our bearings.  We took a quick diversion and departed the bus at Itaewan, known as the ‘foreigners area” of Seoul and close to the American military base.  We grabbed a bite to eat at Petras Palace enjoying a satisfying lunch of mediterranean food complete with delicious hummus!  Then we hopped back on our tour bus and once again we were on our way.

We enjoyed seeing many sights and destinations from the window of our ride, but didn’t depart the bus again until we reached the Namsangol Traditional Korean Village.  We took a quick stroll through the village, happy to find traditional Korean homes.  We even stumbled upon a traditional Korean dancer!  As it was just the Korean New Year, there also was an opportunity to write down a wish for the New Year on a piece of tissue-like paper and tie it onto a string decorated with many other wishes.

Our next stop was Seoul Tower.  As we approached the tower, our bus drove up a windy road and dropped us off nearly at the top of the “mountain”.  Still there was one more steep hill to walk up until we found ourselves at the base of the tower.  There was a spectacular view of the city from there as well as the Seoul Tower itself looming even higher on top of Namsan Mountain.  This is not just an ordinary tower, but actually a radio wave tower broadcasting television and radio to Korea since 1969.

Of course, you can go up in the Seoul Tower.  The friendly Korean staff load you on the elevator and then shoot you up into the sky over 700 ft to an elevation of more than 1500 ft.  While you ascend, the roof of the elevator plays a video that simulates looking out the top of the tower into the sky and the music sounds like a modern-day rocket.  Me, well, I chose to look down at the ground during that part.  We departed the escalator and was greeted by an inviting space, spectacular view and… gratefully on my part, nicely protected glass windows.

Looking at Seoul from the tower was just another reminder of the size of the city.  Seoul has a population of more than 10 million people and is flooded with apartment high rises filled with the massive population.  From the observation deck of the tower all you could see from any view were buildings, high rises and apartments outstretched far and wide. We took our time there, enjoyed the view as well as  a cup of tea from the little coffee stand.  Then in no time at all, we were on the ground and quickly found our way back to our tour bus.

By now the day had nearly slipped away from us.  The palaces that remained on the tour were now closed.  So we chose to enjoy the rest of our tour from the comfort of our coach, peering out the window as the city of Seoul slipped by. For me this tour was a great introduction leaving me with a wish list of things to do in the future and a sense of where I’d like to go and spend more time.

We hopped back on bus 2200 Paju-bound and in no time at all (just under an hour) we were back on the steps of the English Village.  As were were approaching the gate, one of my fellow teachers/travelers  said, “It’s good to be home.”  I agreed.  Seoul is an interesting and stimulating city, but after a day noodling through its streets it felt good to return to the peace and tranquility of Paju and English Village.  There was a sliver of a moon in the sky and the fresh cool air was invigorating as we made our way back to our apartments.

Today is a quiet day as I prepare to return to work tomorrow after my 5 day break.  I am switching to a weekend shift starting Saturday and will work weekends for two months, with two days off during the week.  All staff take a turn on the weekend shift and I am looking forward to a little change in my schedule, classes and students.

As I sit in the comfort of my little EV apartment, I am grateful for the balance of this new adventures – time to explore new places, time to work and time to rest.  It’s good to be in South Korea!

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