Changdeokgung Palace and the Secret Garden

Changdeokgung Palace was the second royal villa built following the B-P1010339construction of Gyeongbukgung Palace in 1405. It was the principal palace for many of the Joseon kings and is the most well-preserved of the five remaining royal Joseon palaces. The palace grounds are comprised of a public palace area, a royal family residence building, and the rear garden. Known as a place of rest for the kings, the rear garden boasts a gigantic tree that is over 300 years old, a small pond, and a pavilion.

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I can honestly say it is a beauty of nature. The palace is magnificent, beautiful and grand for ancient standard. No words can describe the character and history of the palace. The architecture is amazing. When you look in, make sure you look toward the ceilings as well. The beauty doesn’t stop at the walls. FYI it is also a World Cultural Heritage (UNESCO). 983705_10152495870954836_3072140134499237617_n

At this palace I met 3 amazing girls from Sweden. Lelia, Natasha and Elin. They were struggling to take a picture with them all on it. I offered my help and I am so happy that I did so. Really have the feeling I made some friends for life 🙂 Hope to see them soon in Scandinavia.

We decided to see the rest of the palace area together. They told me that they are fond of watching Korean series and can relive some of the historical series they have watched in here.

Then I went for the secret garden tour (Huwon). It was beautiful but I bet it will be even more amazing when you go in spring or autumn. It is definitely a highlight of Changdeokgung Palace. Hence, most of these beauties are hidden from sight, if you are not following the tour. On the other hand, the route may be difficult as there is some hiking involved (for elderly) and the tour would be almost impossible for those bound on wheelchair as maneuvering around it gets really tricky. Be prepared, with a good pair of walking shoes.

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B-P1010523 B-P1010429For more info, check these websites:
http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264348
http://eng.cdg.go.kr/main/main.htm

Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain & Floating Island

I had class till late. Afterwards I wanted to go to Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain – It is the world’s longest bridge fountain (1140m). I was really excited to see the show after all the positive reviews I had read. First, I decided to hang in the park. It was sunny and people were biking, picnicking, running etc. I missed my family.

The floating island on the Han River looked beautiful and I was curious to see what kind of restaurants where on it. A girl gave me a discount coupon for a new pizzeria on the third floor. I thought JUMMY normal food… I quickly realized that I entered a really expensive restaurant. Every waiter was wearing security headphones. However I decided to stay, it couldn’t be that expensive, right?
B-P1010119My eyes popped out when seeing the prices on the menu. For the most basic pizza; A pizza Margarita – you needed to pay 35.000 won! Which is around 25,50 euros. All the other pizzas were even more expensive. Therefore I decided to order a dessert; New York Cheesecake; 15.000 won. I quickly received water and a plate with a nice piece of Cheesecake and vanilla ice cream. Eventually I was very happy that I sat there. I was totally relaxed. It was beautiful with a breath taking view over the Han River. B-P1010152 B-P1010161

15 minutes before the show started I left the restaurant. Secretly I walked to a new floating island which was forbidden to enter. Two Brazilian young men did the same. We all wanted to have some great shots of the Rainbow Bridge Fountain and this was the perfect spot. We all thought YOLO – if security came we simply just played the stupid tourist. Then the water light show started on the other side of the bridge. Seriously…

The next show was planned in 30 minutes. Meanwhile football was broadcasted on a huge screen in the park. It was funny to see Korean people. One was playing with fireworks, others were having dinner.

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I walked to the right spot for the show. A lot of people were already waiting. The show started with a traditional Korean song. Later on the bridge broadcasted many songs like Mama Mia from Abba. The fountain changed the water sprays and colors in time with the music.
However, I expected more to see. I saw the show during daylight and the latest show but both times were not spectacular. The water fountain show in Lima- Peru is way more spectacular.

I went there with great hope for a great photo opportunity but the color wasn’t intense enough. The floating island lighting is much better than the bridge.

If you are in Seoul and you have many things planned, don’t go especially to this Moonlight Rainbow Fountain. It is not special.

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For more info:

Floating island: http://www.somesevit.com/en/index.do 
Banpo Bridge:  http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=1011983 

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/south-korea/seoul/sights/architecture/banpo-bridge-floating-island 

Arrival South-Korea

Normally I do a bunch of research before going on a trip. This time I just wanted to escape my old life and forget everything what happened the year before.

Three years ago I studied and lived in Spain for five months. In my Spanish class I met a super sweet girl. Her name is Gabriela a.k.a. Gaby. She is from South-Korea.

So let’s go crazy! – Let’s go to South Korea. I wanted to go as far as possible.
Hanyang University was a partner university of the University of Applied Sciences Amsterdam (Where I study). Students that wanted to participate in Hanyangs Summer School Programme received a discount when they were studying at a partner university.

After a flight of more than 10 hours I finally arrived at Seoul Incheon International Airport. It was huge! I got lost… I was so nervous. What if Gaby wasn’t able to pick me up? What if she wouldn’t be there?
What is the name of the hostel she booked? How do I need to go to the city center?I was so happy to see her at the arriving hall.

The moment we walked out the airport I got a panic attack. Why did I choose Korea? Why the hell didn’t I do any research!?!? I was not able to read any sign!

Everything was written in Korean, Chinese and Japanese signs. The bus driver spoke no English.. Nothing…
I WAS SO HAPPY THAT MY FRIEND TOOK THE TIME TO PICK ME UP.

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After a bus ride of an hour we arrived at my hostel;
Backpacker Mr. Sea. “It became my home away from home” The people that work at Mr. Sea are very warm-hearted and will help you 24/7.
I shared my room with two other girls; Elle (UK) and Margot (New- Zealand). Both had lived there for over six months.
The room was actually for seven persons. Occasionally another person stayed with us in our room but it was fun.

But…Back to the story…

I unpacked my bags and Gaby brought me to my first Korean BBQ. It was really cool to do and delicious! It became one of my favorite foods.
Almost all menus have pictures on it of the food which is really helpful when you are a tourist. I saw a picture of big, delicious king-size pawns.
I asked Gabriela to order them for me. YUMMIE! The moment I wanted to put the shrimp on the BBQ my friend stopped me. “What are you doing?”
Apparently you suppose to eat them raw… I never ate raw fish in my life. She convinced me to try it; so I did…
Well, I can tell you, it was not a success. So my second shrimp landed on the BBQ. The waitress looked so weird to me, and then she told Gaby that the shrimps shouldn’t be placed on the BBQ.
She probably thought; “Crazy Foreigner”. Another Korean specialty is cold noodles in ice water (Bibim-naengmyeon or  Mulnaengmyeon). Again, not really my thing…

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After dinner I wanted to go to the restroom. I was waiting until the other person got of the toilet. Next to the occupied restroom there was another strange thing  – a hole in the floor –

I thought that must be the men’s toilet. A young couple got upstairs and saw me waiting. They spoke no English and pointed to me to the hole in the floor. Then the girl tried to tell me that, that was the ladies toilet. NO WAY!
I thought they were making a joke. I was a bit pissed – No way, I will never do that. I will go to a normal toilet at Mr. Sea. I tried to explain what happened to Gabriela but she didn’t understand. I saw the girl and let her speak to Gaby. Both started laughing and later almost the whole restaurant. Apparently it is indeed the women’s toilet but then the traditional one…

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Later, we met up with her Spanish boyfriend. We went for some good cerveza and Korean snacks.
The fries were served with some thingies to eat them with… I simply called them finger condoms.

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Then there was some sort of flat cookie which was also made out of fish.
A day with a lot of new experiences but after being awake for more than 24 hours, I was really happy to see a bed.

Seoul Grand Park – A great escape from the city to nature.

Seoul Zoo consists of three different areas of Education, Natural Culture and Amusement. It is Korea’s largest comprehensive theme park, containing within its site of over 9 million sq. meters. Believe me, it’s huge, you can easily spend there two full days and not even see the entire park! Be prepared to walk a lot but there are so many creatures to see. Therefore, comfortable shoes are a must. Opening hours are from 09.00 till 19.00 (during summer).

Prices:
Adults: 3000 won (€2,20 or $ 2.78)
Youth: 2000 won
Children: 1000 won

A trip to Seoul Zoo is almost free compared to the zoos in the Netherlands! The entrance fee for Artis Zoo in Amsterdam is €19,95 which is 26909,36 South-Korean Won! It is ridiculous!
In addition, the animals are better treated, have much more space and really look happier.

I advise you to go with the ski lift which provides you with amazing views and go back with the elephant train.
You can buy a guide map in English because very few staff members spoke English. Another option were colored lines along paths if you wanted to do a particular track with each taking about two hours to complete. I didn’t use these, but it was a nice option.

The surrounding area is fabulous. Lots of gorgeous views of the forest.
It is a great place to escape from the crowded city. I only saw the zoo but there is also Seoul Land an amusement park, a science museum for kids, a contemporary art museum and much more.

This is not to stimulate others… But I was able to feed some fruits to a kangaroo and an orangutan. This is definitely not possible in Europe.
I had a great my time at Seoul Zoo and will recommend it especially to readers from Europe because of the small Zoos on our continent.

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Amazing views from the ski lift on the lake and mountains.B-P1010086 B-P1000873 (1)The ski lift is very long and takes you in about 10 to 15 minutes to the zoo. However, it is so much fun – it feels like a 3 minute ride.  🙂b-P1000942 (2)

A real Korean chipmunk in wildlife!
b-P1000926 (1)The friendly looking orangutan that I secretly had fed.

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Bongeunsa Temple – Temple Life Program

Bongeunsa Temple… Hidden in one of the most popular districts of Seoul- Gangnam; 

I don’t believe; I am not a Christian, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Jew or Buddhist. If I have to choose a belief today, it will be Buddhism.
If you ask me the question“why” a few months ago, I wouldn’t be able to tell you why. Now I can 😀

Due to my daily school program at Hanyang University I was not able to do a Temple Stay. Therefore I felt blessed to do the Temple Life Program.

I was surprised by the ease of the location. A great, peaceful atmosphere in such a big, busy metropolitan area.
It was not “just” a regular visit to a temple; it was a great way to experience the traditional Korean Buddhist culture.P1030614

The monks have taught me the great teachings of Buddha. I feel blessed with such a once in a lifetime experience.
My day started with the history of the temple and Buddhism. Additionally, we spoke about Korean traditions and cultural aspects. People that know me well know that I am fascinated by cultural differences.
After these interesting hours of history we did a traditional tea ceremony. I was fascinated how those women took the time to pour the tea into a cup. Everything in full silence! It took so long that I received my tea cold but it was worth it.

IMG_0744It’s not only about drinking tea but also appreciate the aroma, color and beauty. We took the time to hear the sound of the boiling water, smell the aroma of the tea, see the colors of the tea, taste the tea, and feel the warmth of the tea with our hands around the teacup.
The green tea helps to make us calm and to search for the truth. Some believe it is a great way to find pure enlightenment. I will never find the patience to do such a ceremony myself. Respect!IMG_0753

Then we went to another room to create a lantern. It took a lot of dedication and sincerity to make a lantern, which is equal to lighten a lantern for Buddha. Therefore making lanterns is also regarded as planting the seeds of wisdom.
After a difficult year, I decided to create the lantern for myself. I still have the lantern; I brought it to the Netherlands.

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Finally we did Seon Meditation together with a monk.
Seon is a meditation practice which concentrates on your own mind and dismisses the verbal thoughts from your own mind and return to your true self. This type of meditation helps you to get to know the real truth of life and find out your own self with your concentration and observation.

Oefff… I went crazy!!!!!!!!!!! After 3 minutes I had so many thoughts! I was totally done with it! Unfortunately I had 27 more minutes to go…I was so happy when it was over. This type of meditation is not for me.
When you visit Seoul, this is definitely a must see! I will recommend it to everyone!

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