Seoul, Korea: Home is Where the Heart is

Front gates of Gyeongbokgung Imperial Palace (Seoul, Korea)

Gyeongbokgung Imperial Palace in Seoul, Korea

We are in Asia!!!

After 30-hours of flying, we finally arrived at our first stop of our travels in Asia: Seoul.  And yes, 30 hours of flying.  As my sister-in-law put it: “Can’t you fly around the world twice in 30 hours?!

Not only did we fly across the globe, but we crossed over from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere, so perhaps that does count as flying around the world twice?

It’s been three months since we’ve seen a familiar face, so Jason and I were excited to travel with his parents, along with his sister (Jeanne) and her husband (Dave) for the next two weeks.

A huge platter of Topoki in Topoki Alley (Seoul, Korea)

Dave and Jeanne about to dive into a huge platter of Topoki (rice cake dish) in Topoki Alley

Jason’s aunt and uncle also happen to be in Korea and they were so sweet to pick us up at the airport.  It was a welcome change after 3 months of arriving in new places and having to figure out where to go and how to get there as soon as we arrived.

First meal in Korea with Jason's family

First meal in Korea with Jason’s aunt, uncle, sister and her husband.

We pretty much went straight to a Korean BBQ joint (I guess, they just call it BBQ there) close to the apartment we were staying at.  I’ll be writing a separate post about the food in Korea so I won’t go into too much detail now.  All you need to know is that we ate like we hadn’t eaten for the past 3 months.

Korean BBQ and banchan (little side dishes)

Korean BBQ and banchan (little side dishes)

Actually, after three months of South American food, it was as if we hadn’t really eaten in 3 months.  I know that comment may draw some negative responses but we really gave South American food a decent chance to win us over.  I’ll get into it more during my food post….I’m digressing.

Rocky Mountain Tavern in Itaewon neighbourhood in Seoul

We even found a Canadian pub in our neighbourhood – Rocky Mountain Tavern! A little taste of home away from home

You know how they say, “Home is where the heart is?”  Well, for those two weeks, our hearts were in Korea.  And thanks to Dave’s persistence in tracking down a traditional Korean house (called a hanok), our hearts even got to stay in a pretty cool place in Seoul.

Traditional hanok in Seoul

Traditional hanok in Seoul

Inside the traditional hanok in Seoul

Inside the traditional hanok. There’s lot of room – 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms for just the 6 of us 🙂

We visited the popular neighbourhood of Insa-dong with Jeanne and Dave.  The main street of Insa-dong (called Insadong-gil) is a fascinating mixture of traditional and modern Korean culture.  I’ve read that 40% of Korea’s antique and art galleries are found here, along with the majority of traditional calligraphy and stationary shops.  Queen Elizabeth II even visited this street to peruse the traditional stationary items a few years back.

Insa-dong, Seoul, Korea

One of the calligraphy stores in Insa-dong

Mixed in with the traditional art shops are also some interesting food stalls and snack shops.

Dried seafood cart in Insa-dong, Seoul

A cart full of dried seafood – dried squid, fish, octopus. She roasts it to heat it up and you get a bag full of toasty dried seafood. So delicious! We had a lot of dried seafood in Korea – she served the best version.

Dragon's beard candy in Insa-dong, Seoul

Dragon’s beard candy – hand-pulled sugar mixture (1024 separate strands!). Originally created in China, but has spread to many other Asian countries. I first had this when I was 8 years old in Los Angeles. Still tastes just as good today 🙂

Funny-looking ice cream cone in Insa-dong

There was an ice cream shop that sold “funny-looking” ice cream cones. You can see it in this picture as he’s filling the cone. Dave and Jason shared the cone.  I have a picture of it, but you can use your own imagination.

We also spent an afternoon with Jason’s parents at the Gyeongbokgung Imperial Palace.  It’s the main and largest Imperial palace in Seoul, standing as a symbol of national sovereignty.

Inside the Gyeongbokgung palace front gates (Seoul, Korea)

Jason with his parents just inside the Gyeongbokgung palace front gates

Almost completely destroyed during the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century, work has been underway to restore it to its former glory since 1990.

The main throne hall of Gyeongbokgung palace (Seoul, Korea)

The main throne hall of Gyeongbokgung palace

Changing of the guards at Gyeongbokgung palace (Seoul, Korea)

Changing of the guards at Gyeongbokgung palace

There’s a beautiful garden and pond near the back of the palace grounds.  It was probably my favourite spot of the whole palace – so peaceful.  It actually reminded me a lot of the beautiful temples I saw in Kyoto, Japan a few years back.

Hyangwonjeong Pavilion on the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds

The beautiful pavilion on the palace grounds – a peaceful little oasis hidden near the back.

While the sights were pretty interesting in Seoul, the most unique experiences while in Seoul came from taking part in many of Jason’s family gatherings.

We met up with both his mom’s side and dad’s side of the family.  His dad’s side owns a large plot of land on the outskirts of Seoul.  It’s used for farming, food production, and as an occasional vacation home.

Jason's family land near Seoul, Korea

Jason’s family land near Seoul, Korea

There’s also a family burial plot where many important members (e.g. politicians, influential business leaders, etc) were laid to rest – dating back as far as the 1500s.  Once a year, the extended family gathers here to pay their respects.

Jason's family burial plot near Seoul, Korea

Jason’s family burial plot – dating back to 1500s

And of course, no family gathering is complete without a huge feast of Korean food.  (I guess, they just call it food there)

Korean seafood restaurant in Seoul, korea

A family feast to end the day. Leave your shoes at the door and have a seat on a cushion (if you’re lucky enough to score one). Little did we know, that we’d be having almost all our meals in Korea like this.

DSC02741 (800x533)

I know I said that I’d write a separate post about food in Seoul. But food is so ingrained in Korean culture that it’s hard to write about Seoul and not add some reference to food 🙂 And yes, that’s a whole octupus in the saucepan.

The next day, we met with Jason’s mom’s side of the family.  We were lucky enough to visit during Chuseok (or the Harvest Moon Festival) celebration.  It’s basically the Korean Thanksgiving and one of the most important and festive holidays of the year.  During the Harvest Moon Festival, family comes together from far and wide to honour their ancestors and to share in a fantastic feast together.

Happy Chuseok!

Home-cooked Harvest Moon (or Chuseok) meal

Jason’s family went all out and made everything from scratch.  It’s not everyday you get a delicious, authentic home-cooked meal – especially when travelling for 6 months 😛

Home-cooked meal for Chuseok (Seoul, Korea)

Home-cooked meal for Chuseok (Kimchi, Chapchae, dumplings, tempura)

Home-cooked meal for Chuseok (Seoul, Korea)

Home-cooked meal for Chuseok (Banchan, rice cakes, kimchi radish)

After dinner, we all went out in search for some drinks (and more food…the eating never stops when you’re with family!)

Seoul, Korea

Sensory overload

Seoul, Korea

Did I ever mention that Jason gets his love of alcohol from his mom’s side of the family? 🙂

And of course, no family gathering is complete without some Karaoke!  Quintessential Korea = Dancing to Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style‘ during our Karaoke party in Korea.

Karaoke in Korea

Oppa Gangnam Style!

I love family.

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8 thoughts on “Seoul, Korea: Home is Where the Heart is

  1. Hello my lovely children . have you been a fun time travelling?
    It is great to see how you guys are doing in the blog. there’s not much left
    until you guys finally go back. so enjoy the rest of your vacation while staying
    healthy and also learn lots of new things.~thanks for remembering our anniversary as well.!
    hope for a safe and great vacation!!……………….Love mom

  2. Your blog about Korea is making me so wish I could go to Korea and Japan etc…, Just Asia in general… maybe I should take 6 months off and go travel around Asia =) hehe.. LOL, I wish!
    Miss you both and safe travels for the rest of your trip! =) Love, Ange ~^,^~

  3. So cool that you guys got to stay in a traditional Korean house! I LOL’ed at your BBQ reference. haha. I can’t wait to read your food posting!

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