The next morning we were ready for a full day of historical tours. Jongno-gu is the Joseon-era historical core of the city and is home to most of the palaces and government offices. The area also houses several premier attractions like Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace and the National Folk Museum of Korea, to name a few. The Gyeongbokgung Palace is the former seat of power and is Korea's most famous royal palace. It's tough to miss given its location at the northern end of Seoul's main boulevard, Sejongro, a stone's throw from the Blue House (the President's residence) and the U.S. Embassy. Built in 1395, the palace has been destroyed and reconstructed numerous times. English tours are available about three times daily for visitors to learn more about Korea's architectural traditions and court customs. Give yourself at least an hour to stroll around the pavilions and halls within the palace's spacious walled grounds. After touring this amazing palace we were ready for lunch and enjoyed dumplings and noodles at Ho Dong Oak.
|Gyeungbokgung Palace entrance|
|National Folk Museum with view of mountains.|
|Painted roof with view of mountain.|
Behind the palace lies the 78-acre rear garden, known today as Biwon or "Secret Garden". The garden just reopened to the public in September 2012 after extensive renovation, but is only open during limited times so plan accordingly. (We, unfortunately, missed it.) Afterwards, we had another traditional Korean dinner with fermented delicacies from Southeastern Korea at Jaella-Do.
|The main throne room of Changdeokgung Palace.|
|Siru: pots to make rice cake|
Jyongmyo Royal Shrine is a Confucian shrine dedicated to the memorial services for the deceased kings and queens of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. It is the oldest royal Confucian shrine preserved and the ritual ceremonies continue a tradition established since the 14th century. When it was built in 1394 by order of King Taejo, it was thought to be one of the longest buildings in Asia, if not the longest with each room reserved for a king and his queen. Like many of the the other historical sights of Korea, Japanese invaders burned down the original shrine and a new complex was constructed in 1601. The original memorial tablets of the kings were saved in the invasion by hiding them in the house of a commoner and also survive to this day. There are 19 memorial tablets of kings and 30 of their queens, placed in 19 chambers. Each room is very simple and plain in design. Only two kings' memorial tablets are not enshrined here. In addition to the tablet, there is a wooden panel listing the king's accomplishments. We were fascinated by the various ponds that lead up to the shrine area featuring Japanese pine and Chinese juniper trees.
|Jidang: square pond with a round islet, which symbolizes the belief that heaven is round and earth is flat.|
|Jars of ginseng - good for men's health.|
Another item of note I want to point out is the ritzy town of Gangnam. Made famous by PSY with his pop song that took You Tube by storm, we visited the area and had a royal lunch at O Jung Sam Mi.
|Time capsule with view of Namsan Tower|
Other cultural events are often held in the exhibition area of the village. While there, we witnessed an amazing display of athleticism with a Tae Kwon Do demonstration. It was a cool break from the history lessons, to sit and watch the martial arts display.
|Clay pots fermenting soy sauce.|
Lastly, I wanted to share a funny picture I snapped in a parking garage. Apparently, this is quite common to have special reserved parking spots for women. I have seen reserved parking spots for expecting mothers at a doctor's office or hospital, but none for "females only" such as this. It was funny and I had to snap a pic: