We woke to the sound of heavy rain beating against the windows and on checking the forecast it seemed to be set in for the day. Breakfast was again tasty with some different hot dishes from the previous morning. I spotted some cream of mushroom soup which isn’t something I would usually have for breakfast but it tasted delicious served with croutons. I find it surprising when travelling through Asia to see things like spaghetti bolognese, fried chicken and stir fried beef and rice all available as breakfast options. Naturally, there are also yogurts, fresh fruit, rolls, toast and croissants to keep everyone happy. Returning to our room, due to the inclement weather, we re-scheduled our itinerary so that we could keep indoors as much as possible.
Our first stop of the day was to the National Museum of Korea located at Ichon metro station. The museum is surrounded by a mirror lake and pagoda which didn’t look at its best due to the grey skies. The majority of Seoul’s museums are closed on Mondays but thankfully this one was open giving us a respite from the rain.
Admission to the country’s largest museum of Korean history is free. It is the third most visited museum in Asia and has around 11,000 artefacts on display. The museum tells the story of the history of Korea. The main galleries on the ground floor range from the Silla kingdoms through to the Joseon dynasty from 1394 to 1910 until the start of the Japanese occupation.
The upper floors focus on donated items to the museum, calligraphy, sculptures, crafts and paintings which were interesting to view. All signage was also in English making it easy for us to follow. Numerous school parties were visiting, each divided into small groups and they seemed to enjoy practising their English by coming up and saying hello.
Leaving the museum, we visited the adjacent National Hangeul Museum which showcases the history of the Korean alphabet. The museum opened in 2014 and has free admittance. Despite not knowing anything about Hangeul we found the well designed galleries interesting and learnt a little about the building blocks of the Korean language. Interestingly, the Korean language predates the modern alphabet by almost 1,500 years having only been developed by the then king in 1443 to promote literacy amongst his people.
We then returned to the Myeongdong district by metro and found a cafe for a light snack. The rain persisted so we decided to take a look inside the enormous Lotte department store. We took the lift to the homeware department and enjoyed looking at the huge Samsung washing machines and fridges with their specially designed kimchi drawers. For those unaware, kimchi is a popular Korean side dish served with most meals and consists of fermented vegetables.
Just after leaving the store we came across the Worri Bank Museum so we stepped inside to take a look. Admission is free and the exhibition covers the history of the bank from 1876 to the present date. Down in the basement we adored the money box gallery which contains 6,000 money boxes in all shapes and sizes collected from all over the world. It is the third largest collection of money boxes worldwide and was fun to view. I could never have imagined that there were so many objects to collect coins in, from dolls, toys, planes, houses, bottles down to the traditional ceramic piggy bank that I still have from my childhood.
Following this unexpected but enchanting detour, we continued on our way to City Hall Plaza which was re-developed from a busy traffic junction into a green space with fountains. The lawn is elliptical in shape and with plant borders features the outline of a map of Korea.
Overlooking the plaza is the old city hall, a beautiful renaissance style building which is now the home of Seoul metropolitan library. The library is closed each Monday so we planned to return later in the week to take a look around as we always enjoy visiting libraries.
Standing behind the old city hall is the ultra modern new city hall which was completed in 2012. Its unique exterior is based on the waves of traditional Korean houses. Visitors are welcome to look inside and to view its interior green wall which spans the size of a football pitch. This vertical garden climbs up the inner wall from the ground floor lobby to the 7th floor. It was named in the Guinness book of world records as the largest internal garden in the world. Over 70,000 plants of 14 different varieties were planted in the garden over an eight month period. We took the glass lift to the 8th floor which provided us with splendid views of the green wall. Located here is a pleasant cafe with large windows providing good views over the Seoul skyline.
It was approaching 5.00 p.m. so we returned to the hotel for a rest. Watching television, the weather forecast predicted clear skies and sunshine for the remainder of the week which was a good sign.
By mid-evening we were feeling refreshed and ventured out in the rain again, this time on foot to the Gwangjong Market near Jongo station.
Here we found a large indoor market which focuses mostly on food in the evenings. Despite the inclement weather the market was quite busy and there was a good atmosphere. After wandering around awhile we selected one of the stalls and, sitting on its surrounding bench, we ordered the noted Korean Bibimbap dish which comprises a selection of mixed vegetables with rice served in a spicy marinade.
What we failed to realise was, that as with the previous evening’s dinner, during the summer this dish is served cold like our salads. The dish tasted quite good but on such a damp, chilly evening we would have preferred something hot. Obviously more research into Korean food was required before our next meal! We strolled back to our hotel and planned our next day’s itinerary over a mug of tea and a KitKat.
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