Tuesday, 19 August 2014

창덕궁 와 반포대교 | Changdeokgung & Banpo Bridge

Google GIFmaker strikes again!
When you're on holiday with a limited amount of time, in a country as culturally and historically different to your own as Korea is to the UK, sightseeing tends to get pretty relentless, right? For me, anyway. I need to see as much as possible in the short time I have, drink it all in so I feel like I get my money's worth. Until someone gives me my own private jet, or invents cheap teleportation, I think I'll continue to live that way.

So here we are, onwards and upwards to Changdeokgung, or Changdeok Palace. I get confused when I see these places labelled as "Changdeokgung Palace", "Gyeongbukgung Palace", etc, because 'gung' means palace. So you're telling me we're at Changdeokpalace Palace? Same with the islands. Wolmido Island is, essentially, Wolmi-island Island. Hm. (Then again, English is no better. River Avon? Pfff.)

I digress. Let's not shoot the pedant. Changdeokgung is one of the Five Grand Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty. We didn't get to go on a tour because none of the ones available worked with our schedule, so we decided to wing it. The buildings are beautiful enough on their own, and we can look up the history later.

Sadly, this also meant we missed out on seeing the fabled "secret garden", but ho hum. Another day, another palace.



I really enjoyed this palace, because many of the buildings have the shutters opened so that you can peer inside and actually see what it's like. I'm a little bit in love with the intricacy of old Korean architecture and decoration, especially with those 5 colours to brighten every inch of the walls, ceiling, and maybe furniture too. The rooms are kept reasonably dark, presumably - like old stately homes in the UK - to protect the innards from light damage. But as your eyes adjust, more and more becomes visible and it's such a treat.



Stupidly, I forgot to pack extra batteries so other than a million ridiculous selfies on my phone, this is the last photo I managed to take before calling it a day on the DSLR, on the off-chance we needed it for something more important later.

PRISON'D!
I spent ages trying to work out what on earth happened to my face here to turn me into a Forsyth wannabe. Turns out even the front facing camera on my phone has a really wide angle, to the point where there's some fisheye distortion at the edges. Hm.
There's a little shop on the palace grounds, well-built to match the other buildings whilst still obviously being a modern day establishment. They sell some gifts and trinkets, as well as a nice array of Korean story books full of myths and fairy tales. There's also some great-looking books for learning Korean, and not a terrible price if you're looking to pick some up. Most of the stuff in there is pretty expensive though, like premium gift for your mother kind of expensive. Upwards of 100,000 won for some jewellery? Ahhh, I think I'll stick to this very cute notebook for 1000, thank you.

There's also a cafe taking up half of the shop. I had a rather syrupy sweet apricot tea, which was lovely, but not worthy of the price tag in my opinion. But what can you do on a hot day? Come at me, ice cubes.


I did actually take some photos of buildings, see. I think I was still a bit traumatised after my encounter with a flock of cicadas. Little did I know that they are the most butt-ugly insects I have ever had the misfortune of accidentally putting my face a little too closely to. Damn my curiosity.

(Not that they touched me. It was a case of hearing "Oh look! Cicadas!", rushing over to FINALLY see the raucous little blighters, to find its a bit dark in this shady corner. Let's move closer. Closer. Clooooserr. Clo-OHDEARLORDWHATISTHAT?!

I like to think that seeing a strange girl burst out from between two buildings, shrieking, brought some exciting drama and gossip to some tourist's otherwise gentle vacation.)

Once we'd had our fill of history, we wandered down the road to likewise fill up on food. 모듬전 and a rather generous bowl of sweet and sour style fried chicken. All delicious.



One of the convenient things about going to the more touristy areas of Seoul is that when you walk into a lot of restaurants, especially on main streets, the waiter quite often just brings over a special English language menu complete with photos. It's really quite nice and a great example of the accommodating Korean hospitality we've experienced time and time again over here.

Seeing as the day was still young and we were pretty central in Seoul, we started looking for somewhere else to go while we ate. After some deliberation, we settled on the Banpo-daegyo Moonlight Rainbow Fountain Show. It's a bit of a mouthful.

Basically, one of the many large bridges spanning the Han River has been kitted out with fountain spigots and brightly coloured lights down one side. A few times a night, the fountains are turned on and the water glows in all kinds of colours thanks to the lights, that change in time with various k-pop hits. It's quite a popular show from the looks of it. When we finally found it (the directions on quite a few websites we found weren't particularly clear) there was an enormous crowd of people settled on the pavement and benches, ready to watch with snacks and hot food at the ready.


Thanks to the confusing instructions we found, we managed to be sat on the wrong side of the Banpo bridge when the show started. Here's the photo I took that alerted me to the fact the gushing water was coming from the opposite side:


 To its credit, the directions did guide us through the rather lovely Hangang Park, all kitted out with outdoor gyms, sweeping cycle paths and jogging tracks, as well and nice green areas for relaxing in. It was a lovely place to walk as the sun went down.

For clarity, to anyone looking to visit Banpo-daegyo, the VisitKorea website gives its first transport option as "by subway: Dongjak Station, exit 1 or 2". Easy enough, we thought. This option actually throws you out into a sort of crossroads under several bridges, or freeways, or something, with a stream to the left. Basically, follow that stream out towards the river (you should be able to see it, there's a little bridge and a cycle path. If in doubt, try following any signs for Hangang Park)

Once you reach the Han River, avoid getting mown down by cyclists and children on scooters, and with your back to the station you just came from, turn right. It's actually quite a long walk now, which the tourism website doesn't make clear. Unhelpfully, you also walk under at least one other bridge, which confused us for quite a while until a rather helpful lady using the outdoor gym informed us this was not the bridge we were looking for.

So, keep going past the outdoor gym, past a lot of trees, grass, rushes, all sorts. Keep going down this lovely walkway for quite a while. If you fancy a detour, you can go down one of the little paths toward the river when one presents itself and watch people fishing, the paths generally run parallel to each other. But you're looking for that big shiny building in the previous photo. In the evening this is easier, because it flashes all kinds of colours and is generally quite difficult to miss. There's another building next to it, and a large plaza that you'll pass through on your way to Banpo. (There's also a convenience store on the right, if you want to grab some snacks before the show.) Keep going until you reach a road running under a bridge. This is the bridge you want! Yay! Cross safely, settle down on one of the steps, and wait for the show to start.

It's easy enough to find if you know how, but quite a few sites don't really make it that clear. The walk from Dongjak to Banpo took us maybe 25-30mins, minus a lot of stopping, sitting, looking around, and general confusion.

Oh well. It was a lovely day out, and I guess any annoyances are just water under the bridge.

geddit?
Not-Banpo-Daegyo



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