Flexibility being an important part of travel, I had decided to extend my stay at the Ritz by one night so I could enjoy the luxury of a comfy bed before my multi-day train journey. I also didn’t want to deal with figuring out how to catch the airport bus at 6am from a spa when it stopped right outside the hotel. I felt a little guilty on missing out on the great spa adventure, but it turned out to be a good thing as I came down with a cold my last night in Seoul. (I’m trying to remember: there is no guilt on this trip. Nothing is a “have to do”. Why is it so difficult to remember that?)
However, I felt bright and chipper during the day, able to walk around another palace (Changdeokgung), its secret garden, and two neighborhoods nearby (Bukchon, full of traditional Korean houses called hanok that are actually still lived in, and Insadong, a souvenir shopping neighborhood).
Changdeokgung was better preserved than the other palace, and so it and the secret garden behind it have been named UNESCO sites, the garden specifically because of how it stays in balance with nature. I spent 2-3 hours in the complex taking a palace tour and then a garden tour as well, as you can only enter the garden via a tour. I found the palace to be lovelier than Gyeongbokgung, with lots of little nooks with amazing old trees next to curling tile roofs. The garden and its pagodas were lovely, but I suspect they are much lovelier in a few weeks or months with spring, summer, or even fall foliage. I think I was also getting ready for lunch by the end! Armies and tourists march on their stomachs…
I then ventured into Bukchon, where the hanok houses are clustered on a hill (Seoul is a very hilly city). I toured one called Simsimheon, which was a little awkward since I was the only person touring this private vacation home at the time. I got to sip a cup of delightful plum tea (again, very sweet) while overlooking the hanok garden. I also tried some street food: “spicy rice cakes”, which were chewy puffed rice sausages liberally painted with a hot sauce that thankfully was not too hot. I then made my way to a restaurant that I had seen offering bibimbap. I tried snail bibimbap, and I must admit that the snail was not great, though the rest was tasty. The snail basically tasted like chewy.
Next came the quest for a western style toilet. I found a public toilet, but it was Korean style (over which you squat) and I wasn’t feeling adventurous enough for that. The subway station had a mix, and I was fortunate enough to get a western one so I wouldn’t have to wave a Korean girl forward while pantomiming that I was waiting for a western toilet. (How would you even begin to pantomime that? Takes better charades skills than mine, that’s for sure.)
I then walked down to Insadong, where I had more sweet, yummy tea, bought some magnets, and searched fruitlessly for individual postcards to no avail. (All they had were books of postcards containing lots of sites I hadn’t seen and only a couple I had, so I didn’t buy them.) I tried some more street food, a pancake-shaped piece of fried dough filled with honey and sesame seeds. Delicious! Also burning hot.
I headed home relatively early, knowing I had an early morning ahead of me.