Slap bang in the middle of Seoul this beast of a palace looms out of the dramatic backdrop of Mount Bugak. The ancient home of the Joseon dynasty bustles with a thousand tourists making their way into the impressive grounds.
As soon as you’ve passed the main (and most impressive/most restored) pagoda it all turns quiet and just, well a little bit like paradise. The size disperses the many tourists pleasantly and you’re free to wander around the lake in relative solitude.
My favourite aspect of this particular palace was the way you were led through all the different buildings not just the most spectacular parts. I loved walking through the Queen’s derelict garden and random office buildings. It all felt very 12th Century National Trust, and I bloody love a period house.
The Lantern Festival
It was pure coincidence I was in Seoul for the annual lantern festival. The idyllic stream that runs through the centre of the city would have been just as spectacular without it, so this really was something else.
My previous experience of lanterns were small paper oblongs held together by strut type things in a sort of concertina shape; I was so wrong, so very wrong.
The intricate bursts of colour defied reality. The glowing cluster of sculptures transformed the stream to a molten fire of colour burning through the city. Each sculpture more elaborate and ornate than the next. Absolutely out of the world.
Hongdae is just so fucking cool, you just have to get amongst it. A lot like Hackney, Brunswick Street or Williamsburg etc. but on an outrageous, out of this world scale as seems to be the case in Asia.
The cafe scene in Hongdae was a favourite for me, I’m a coffee fan and the venues ranged from tiny, cute and eclectic to enormous library-cum-cafe-cum-shop. All open until midnight, and all selling bagels. Brilliant. Students spilled out onto green spaces after dark creating an atmosphere of uncompromising cool.
It would take you years, decades even to go through all of the cafes, bars, eateries, shops and clubs in Hongdae. But my favourite café was Timing Coffee; impeccable service where we always seemed to be eligible for some sort of discount and free snacks. This one man band café was slow, but worth the wait and he more than amply glossed over and tardiness with his infectious charming hospitality.
The Peace Memorial
A moving tribute to the many wars in Korea over the centuries. The timeline seemed that the country had been involved in one war or another almost eternally. The message of peace and unity was expressed continually throughout this enormous symbol of peace.
The garden entrance greets you with enormous exhibits to all the UN countries that lost lives in the Korean War. A startling but beautiful introduction.
Further round the grounds were military aircraft, tanks and weaponry on display; a gargantuan collection. A rather off-mood soundtrack of the waltz played as we walked through.
Inside was somewhat chaotic as there was a platoon convention that day. Scores of people in full military dress up walking around with mock bazookas was a bit of a shock but afforded many an amusing photo-op. We descended into the museum at the memorial; each room seem to lead to a sort of reflection space. A slightly abstract low-lit room to have a quiet think about the previous room. This only added to the immense scale and sadness of the memorial. From now on no museum experience will be complete without a reflection room.
If I stood in the centre of London, even in Hyde Park the last feeling to envelop me would be tranquillity. Yet sat outside City Hall’s central green space the calm and quiet went completely undisturbed by the eight lane road quietly roaring past. Colourful square blankets dotted around the park with locals picnicking over lunch or just sitting for a little while.
Inside City Hall building it was hard to believe it was a work place at all. The enormous garden wall brought the serene of outside in and just felt like some sort of a nature retreat. Unfortunately the Sky Plaza viewing platform was closed for a private exhibition that day, but I can imagine the view would have been spectacular.