We woke up while we were docking in Incheon, South Korea this morning.
We had breakfast at the Terrace Café.
The disembarkation in Korea took some time. We had to go to the Horizons, Deck 10 and stand in line to get our passports. Then we walked to the table where we had a face to face with immigration. While walking to the table there was a computer and a gentleman that would scan us to see if we had a fever. They are concerned with the Mersa virus and Zika virus as well as others.
We had purchased a van with a driver and a guide for the day so that we could meet, Jimmy, who is stationed at Kunsan Airforce Base. Jimmy took the KTX Bullet Train to Seoul and we picked him up at the Yongsan Train Station. It takes him 35 minutes to drive to his train station at Iksan and then an hour and 15 minutes to take the bullet train into Seoul.
On our drive from Incheon to Seoul, our guide, Hong, said driving to Seoul could take an hour or more. Jim and Hong discussed the relationship with North Korea, wars, and politics.
Jimmy arrived into the Yongstsn Station at 9:02 AM on the KTX bullet train. Traffic was pretty heavy in Seoul. We picked him up at 9:35 AM and our adventure began.
Our first stop was to the Gyeongbokgung Palace where there was a changing of the guard going on as we arrived. This palace is revered as one of the greatest in all of South Korea. It was constructed in 1395 by the Joseon Dynasty and later restored in 1867. This is the largest of the five grand palaces that the dynasty built. There were lots of pavilions, gardens, ponds, bridges and courts on the ground covering about 100 acres.
We visited the National Folk Museum of Korea. It is next door to the palace and has 100,000 artifacts focusing on Korean life from prehistoric times to the end of the Joseon Dynasty in 1910. We saw life as it begins, endures and ends in Korea.
We visited the Jogyesa Temple which is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Korea. There were 3 large gold Buddhas inside. There was a service going on as people were reading and worshiping. It is located in the center of the city in Insadong. We saw a rare 500 year old Baeksong lacebark Pine Tree and a 450-year-old Chinese scholar tree.
We came at the best time because the courtyard outside the Buddhist temple was covered with lanterns hanging all around getting ready for The Lotus Lantern Festival in May which celebrates Buddah's birthday. The white lanterns signify the dead and the colorful laterns signify the living. For $10-$30 you can get a card and put your name on it then it is hung up on the bottom of the lanterns. There was a man that was taking the cards from people and attaching them to the lanterns with a portable ladder on his cart. The lanterns will be lit and everyone comes together and is wished happiness.
We stopped for a traditional Korean lunch at a restaurant called Go Gung which was downstairs off the main street. Korean food is all organic and healthy. We had bean sprout soup, 2 kinds of kim chi plain and spicy, anchovies, bibimbap which was a bowl of various food items that our guide mixed together for us, small pancakes, green salad and a seafood pancake. We shared a Korean beer called Cass. It was a good meal which we all enjoyed.
We walked in an area called Insadong which is a blend of contemporary and the traditional. Along the streets are restaurants, cafés, Tea houses, shops and dozens of art galleries and museums. At the end we met our driver for our ride to Nansen Park.
Mount Namsan Park is a revered symbol of Seoul. The mountain is located near the center of the city. On the top is the Seoul Tower also known as the Namsan Tower. It was not a good day to visit the tower as it was foggy and overcast so we would not have been able to have a very good view. Plus it was the weekend and it was very crowded. The park has hiking and jogging trails where you can see lots of trees and flowers. At the base of the park there are numerous statues of Korean Patriots and fountains. The cherry blossom trees were blooming and so beautiful. The cherry blossoms fall off so easily with just a gentle breeze or someone touching the tree with a little shake.
We went to a shopping area called Namdaemum which is Korea's largest traditional outdoor market for clothing, daily goods, kitchenware and other products. Jim was looking for a black leather belt and was able to find one. There were vendors selling cakes, showing demonstrations of making 16000 string candy, fishcakes, anything you could imagine. It was a fun place to see.
The War Memorial of Korea Is located in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, and exhibits and preserve materials related to the Korean War and serves as a national moral educational venue. It was established to commemorate the noble sacrifice of patriotic martyrs by the War Memorial Service Korea Society on June 10, 1994. It was a huge place with an outside area that had airplanes, tanks and other weapons used by the North Koreans, South Koreans and the Americans.
The main building was huge and the large area was dedicated to show that the South Korean people want to never forget the American help and this 1950 Korean War. Jim was moved when given a book that describes the day by day events throughout the complete war. The museum was free and so was the thick book. When we arrived they were having a procession on the large outside grounds which was honoring the dead of the war with costumes, music and pageantry.
The Memorial Hall has the name of everyone who was killed in the war similar to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. The United States was listed by states and we found a James W. Christian that had died in the Korean War.
For dinner we went to the happening area of Itaewon. Jimmy had been wanting to go to a restaurant called Vatos Urban Tacos when he had been in Seoul before but there had always been a long wait. We got there early thinking there would not be a wait but we still had a 35 minute wait. We walked the street and looked into the shops while we waited. Pat found a beautiful Swarovski crystal necklace as her souvenir from Seoul. She walked in the door and had looked around but didn't see anything and on our way out the door in their window we saw the necklace. She met the designer of the necklace and got her picture taken with her.
We went back to Vatos Urban Tacos and waited for our table. The restaurant has started a Ko-Mex revolution, which marries typically Korean flavors — like kimchi and pork belly — with Mexican staples such as jalapenos and carnitas. The restaurant was alive with people and music playing. We sat at a high table in the back with black pipes to hold bags and purses. Jimmy ordered the meal for us. We had urban tacos Galbi short rib tacos and Baja fish tacos. We got chips and salsa when we sat down and they were three fried tortillas not broken up. We also ordered guacamole and they gave us a basket of chips. We split A Belgium White draft beer. Since Jimmy's birthday is May 5 we celebrated by getting Nutella tortilla chips and wishing him a Happy Birthday. They were a hit, of course, anything with Nutella is good. We had a great time and it was wonderful to visit and catch up. We called our guide and he and the driver picked us up.
Then the night had to end… Jimmy had to catch his 7 PM train to Iksan on the KTX bullet train. We got to the train station about 6:30 PM and dropped him off and then drove back to the ship which took about an hour. The driver had trouble finding the road that led right up to the door of the ship but after a few wrong turns we made it.
It was a fantastic day and night in Seoul!
Goodby South Korea!