Pomp and circumstance! Fabulous costumes! Colorful flags with dragons and tigers! Weapons! A marching band! And, all at a palace….Gyeongbokgung, in northern Seoul. There traditionally were five palaces in Seoul, with Gyeongbokgung being the most northerly and the largest. First built in 1395, it served as home to the kings of the Joseon Empire. The premises were destroyed by fire in the Imjin War of 1592-1598, and the palace was abandoned for two centuries. In the 19th century, some 500 buildings were restored as well as all of the palace’s 7,700 rooms. But, under the Imperial Japanese occupation in the 20th century, almost all of the palace was systematically destroyed. It has only been since 1990 that a 40-year restoration plan has been in place, with all of our photos of the gates and the main palace being of the re-creations.
We were there for the changing of the guard ceremony, which takes place with full pomp and regalia twice a day. There is a photo of the giant drum that announces the commencement of the ceremony, then a marching band and the guards with flags, scimitars, colorful costumes, and bows and arrows. At the end of those photos is a short video of a small part of the ritual.
Many, many people were dressed in traditional Korean period costumes called hanbok. The palace is surrounded by many shops where they can be rented for a few hours fairly cheaply: $5 per hour, with a minimum of 4 hours. You can see people in hanboks in many of our photos. An added bonus: if dressed in one, entrance to the palace is free (although normal admission is only $3).
After all the excitement and color at the palace, we went looking for some traditional Korean chicken. We found it in the alley that you can see…they all seem to have a tangle of overhead wires and cables, although this one had lanterns strung the entire length as well. All of the restaurants and stores were tiny, but look at the decorations and hangings. The one that says PVC on top has miles of PVC elbows and joints, as you can see! We loved the photo of the noodle bowl….the chopsticks filled with noodles move up and down! Oh, and speaking of chopsticks, we want to note that while tables are set with forks and knives, in most places, chopsticks are also available, and everything is eaten with them, including noodle soup, and yesterday at breakfast…a chocolate croissant, sandwiched inside two chopsticks, eaten in many small bites! Every morning at breakfast, there is a station where you can have omelettes and eggs made to order. Can you believe….the chefs make omelettes with chopsticks? They put your requested fillings in the pan with chopsticks, then add the eggs. They then scramble it all very fast with chopsticks, and rather than flipping the omelette, as would be done in the West, they quickly roll it to one side of the omelette pan, so that it is shaped like an omelette due to the rounded edge of the pan. They cook it a while, flip it in the air, cook it some more, and slide it onto your plate….a perfectly shaped omelette, made with chopsticks! So interesting.
The last photo is a little poignant for us…we are 9,645 km (5,993 miles) away from our former home in California. But, we get to be in a new home every few weeks! Of course, now that we know our way around Seoul a bit and found a favorite Mexican restaurant and a favorite BBQ restaurant, it is time to depart, in less than 48 hours. Look for our next post from Thailand!