By the third full day in Korea, my eye was feeling better (still only wore contact though per the advice of Dr. Henry who apparently earned his optometry degree by mailing in $1 to an address on the back of a matchbook) and the jetlag fog had mostly dissipated, so this was the first full day where I felt like myself and I had to stop myself from running through the subway station, screaming, “ERIN’S BACK, BITCHES!”
Plus, Chooch and I were being rowdy in the hotel hallway that morning so Henry hissed, “shut the fuck up” but he did so under his breath because he’s afraid of us.
Yes, things were definitely feeling normal! We commemorated the start of a great day by taking an #OOTD selfie in a subway station mirror, a la Joan Kim.
Anyway, this was us on our way to this cool urban walkway called Seoullo 7017. It’s a former highway overpass that was recently repurposed into a skywalk, full of plants and brightly-painted pianos, with plenty of seating which likely makes it a great spot to escape the daily office grind.
Chooch and I adopted this dumb pose for nearly every picture and it made us crack up but Henry was just like, “You guys look dumb.”
We got to the walkway pretty early on Saturday morning, so the streets were still relatively quiet. If there’s one thing about Seoul, it’s that everything stays open extremely late, but nothing opens early, man. Not even cafes.
Also? THIS IS THE FIRST BLUE SKY OF THE TRIP! I was like, “Something looks diffe—-OMG THE SKY IS BLUE! THE SKY IS FUCKING BLUE!” From this day on, the weather would be mostly clear, with sporadic showers here and there so I was relieved. I really thought a fucking monsoon was going to come in and flood out our vacation.
Henry was trying to enjoy all the pretty plants but Chooch and I were giddy AF and kept making Cheetah Girl jokes which never sits well with Henry, and then there would be the occasional person passing by on a morning walk, and they would look at us like we had escaped a mental institution.
ALWAYS stop & smell the Korean flowers, guys.
You can see how the rain clouds were still chilling in the background; they stuck around just long enough to make us wonder if we were about to regret not bringing our umbrellas but it never did rain that day, just once earlier in the morning, before we even left the room.
That glass building to the left of the green-dome is Seoul Station, a major subway station but also the KTX and AREX train terminals. There’s a Lotte Mart there, Lotte Outlets, plus a ton of restaurants, cafes, and other shops. We spent a shit-ton of time there last year, spinning around in circles, being thoroughly lost, but Henry and Chooch are like pub-trans pros at this point and we just breezed right through every time we had to go there on this trip. It was cool seeing it from this perspective though, considering we’re always inside and underneath it.
Lush urban vegetation! Pittsburgh has Point Park downtown, but I do wish there were more green areas to visit while I’m on my lunch break walks. Pavement-pounding gets pretty old after a while.
Meanwhile, Henry took a timelapse of traffic on the other side of one of the railings and I don’t know it was so funny to us, but it was and Henry was like, “YOU KNOW WHAT, GO FUCK YOURSELVES.”
Then, I saw in the near distance one of the numerous “Gates” around Seoul, so I was like, “CAN WE WALK THERE” and Henry was like, “LET ME LOOK AT MY MAP” and then somehow, we stumbled upon one of the the secret alley entrances to Namdaemun Market and I was SO CONFUSED, because I am directionally challenged and even here at home, it’s fucking WILD to me when I look at a map and realize where certain neighborhoods are in relation to Pittsburgh because I can’t grasp the concept of NORTH EAST SOUTH WEST. One time recently, Nate was asking me which direction we were flying out of the US to Korea, and I had to stand next to him so we were facing the same direction so that I could wave a hand in front of us and say, “OK so if this *wipes air with hand*is America, we fly out this way *points to the left*.”
“Oh OK, so….west,” Nate said in his best effort to eradicate any ounce of condescension from his tone.
In most US cities, you’d generally want to avoid alleys of any kind, but in Korea, this is where you can find hidden gems, like tucked-away mandu guk (dumpling soup) restaurants or a food stall housing a breakfast sandwich-slinging ahjumma.
Chooch got an egg & cheese toast and as much as I wanted one too, I held off because I knew more options awaited.
Namdaemun is also a good place to get some cheap threads & good Korean donuts, yo. I wish Pittsburgh alleys had less piss and the possibility of rape, more egg toast and knock-off designer clothes stands.
But first we had to go and find that gate so we cut through the main roads of Namdaemun to get there. (Again, mindblown that we were where we were. I should study a map more often, I think.)
But FIRST first Henry had to embarrass us at 7-Eleven in front of the cute cashier because we kept taking our stuff up to pay and Henry would be like ME NOT READY, ROARRRRR and we would have to take our stuff off the counter but then finally Henry put his shit on the counter so we were like ok cool it’s time to pay and we put our stuffs down too (they sell SM idol group jellies there so I got EXO and NCT127 for Veronica!) but then Henry just kept standing there looking at his phone and Chooch and I were like tugging on our collars, asking each other with our eyes, “What is he doing???” And the cashier kept looking at us and we were all smiling at each other nervously, then finally Henry thrust his phone at the young man and barked DO YOU HAVE THIS and apparently it was a picture of Ibuprofen and the guy was like I don’t know what that is and so Henry was like FOR A HEADACHE?! and the guy was like OH! Here, this will work and gave Henry a box of something else but it ended up being children’s Tylenol and THAT IS NOT GOING TO WORK, Henry growled to us outside of the store as Chooch and I were saying in tandem, “you are so embarrassing!” Ugh.
We reached Sungnyemun Gate, which was free to explore. It’s billed as the first National Treasure, so how could we not give it some tourist love? This is one of the eight gates of the Fortress Wall that once surrounded Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty. It was built in 1396!
1396!! It’s super hard to wrap my head around things like this. It was rebuilt in 1447, survived some damage from the Korean war which required repairs, before burning to the ground by arson in 2008. It was rebuilt in 2013 — as of this time, it was the most expensive restoration project South Korea has ever seen. There are still some smoke-stained stones.
I love resting my eyeballs on sights like these and imaging what it must have been like when it was in use.
You just, you know, don’t see things like this in Pittsburgh and gives you a brand new perspective on a life and time where a city needed to be walled-inn to protect itself. And I love that these historical bad boys are just right smack in the middle of modern, high-tech Seoul.
The colors on that ceiling though!
Imagining trying to break down that door. Maybe my ex-neighbor “Ned” the Kingpin should have replaced his door with one like this,
Honestly, you walk through the doors of the gate and you’re back in the 21st century.
Thoroughly history-fed, it was time to revisit Namdaemun for some additional feeding (this time of the mandu variety) before leaving behind all the palaces and gates for super-new Seoul a/k/a Gangnam. Stay tuned, or turn the channel if you’ve had enough of Korea; break my heart – it’s fine!