Running the city of Seoul!

Going to Japan for 6 weeks, we decided to stopover in Seoul, South Korea for a night to get a glimpse of the city. Knowing it was way too short to visit the capital, we decided to literally run it.

After a 10-hour flight, we go through high-tech customs smoothly, and hop on a comfortable air-conditioned bus linking the city centre in one hour: 6-lane highways, busy and clean streets, shops organized by areas and goods: electronics, furniture, fashion…, food stalls, markets, massive and very long bridges, modern buildings, traditional gates, fountains, skyscrapers…

Our first run in the late afternoon (37°C!) takes us from our hotel in the busy shopping district of Myeongdong to the foot of the N Seoul tower via the forest of Namsan Park. A beautiful running track runs along the pedestrian streets, surrounded by all sorts of flowers, birds and waterfalls. Older Koreans work out hiking the trails, others enjoy the nature sitting on benches, teenagers play soccer, families take a stroll, and after many stairs we arrive at the foot of the famous tower where couples take selfies. Indeed, taking in the 360° panoramic view on this 10-million-inhabitant city (not counting the 15-million in the suburbs) is baffling: the Han river running through skyscrapers bathed in the sunset light surrounded by densely forested mountains. Running back down along parts of the fortress wall of Seoul we feel it is a pity we don’t have time to do the 17-km loop along the wall, going up and down all around the city.

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The next morning, needing to burn a 4-person meal after an interesting food experience in downtown Seoul, we wake up with the sun on our faces and a spectacular view on the city.
We head North West through the Myeongdong shopping area that is really quiet at 8 in the morning contrasting greatly with the animation at night; along the crystal-clear waters of the Cheonggyecheon stream towards the main gate of the impressive Gyeongbokgung Palace, or the palace of happiness, and largest of the 5 grand palace complexes of Seoul built by the Joseon dynasty in the 14th century.
Following its very long side wall, we end up in the peaceful residential area of Bukchon Hanok village with its traditional Korean houses or Hanok dating back to the same dynasty. Running through the narrow streets among 600-year old houses, we overlook downtown Seoul and its skyscrapers. Before looping back, we take in the beautiful UNESCO Heritage Site of Changgyeonggung palace, the palace of illustrious virtue. As the other palaces, it looks beautiful today but was rebuilt after being severely damaged over the years by the Japanese invasions of Korea.

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These runs gave us a very brief overview of what the city has to offer and allowed us to discover different parts of town in the short amount of time we had. The mix of 14th century buildings and modern architecture, the peacefulness of parks and the bustling city, wide avenues and narrow alleys… There is so much to discover…

Marcella and Claire

Too hot to handle or our South Korean food experiences

Traveling is all about new experiences, also when it comes to food.

So obviously, when the Korean Air hostess prompted us for our dinner choices, we went for one of the signature Korean dishes: the bibimbap, literally meaning “mixed rice”. Concerned, she warned us to not put too much of the chili pepper paste as it may turn quite spicy. Worried, she handed us a step by step manual so that we could fix it ourselves: a bowl of vegetables and beef that we topped with steaming white rice, chili pepper paste and sesame oil, before stirring thoroughly. Our bibimbap turned out to be quite good. The next meal in the plane was less enjoyable but quite an experience. Instead of going for the traditional croissant we chose the Korean porridge. Rice-based and liquid as it was, it came with seasoned strong onions as a side and a self-contained “rice friends”. Our knowledge of the Korean language being non-existent, the pictures let us assume they were dry vegetables but instead it made the porridge taste like fish. This for breakfast made us envy the Korean guy next to us enjoying his croissant!

Landing in Seoul we felt very confident in our ability to handle spicy food, and we set off to find a kimchi, a dish consisting of fermented veggies. It can come in lots of different ways: as a cold soup, made with love and dedication by people in the countryside to steaming stews. So when we were asked if we like our kimchi stew and bulgogi with rice cake (grilled marinated beef with cannelloni-type rice having the consistency of very chewy calamaries) spicy in a traditional restaurant our natural answer was “yes”.

When the food came in we realised that both dishes would serve two people so we had a challenge. However, the real challenge started after the first few bites. The food was so spicy that it would actually hurt the whole inside of your mouth. A few Korean guys had a blast as they saw our eyes getting more watery with every bite and the sweat starting to show on our foreheads. Even though one knows it is the wrong move I started the irreversible mistake: drinking a sip of water to cool down my burning mouth. I needed the water after every bite now. Then trying the green pepper, I broke down in sweat and I needed to prevent myself from pushing away the table to run outside into the street to smash my face into a bucket of ice cream at the dairy store around the corner! Instead I drank more water and kept it in my mouth as it would hurt so much after swallowing it. Brave as we are, we almost finished our dishes (but the green peppers!!) and I couldn’t wait to get that ice-cream!

The closest ice cream parlour turned out to be very famous for their “rose” ice creams. I had the hardest time appreciating the delicate craft of slowly shaping the scoops as flower petals as I only wanted to feel the soothing ice in my still burning mouth as soon as possible!

Although it remains a painful and memorable experience, the food was actually delicious. It was very refreshing to discover completely new flavours and we are really looking forward to tasting more of the world…

The slow and dedicated making of the rose ice cream

The slow and dedicated making of the rose ice cream

Photo of the day: The Yellow Sea, South Korea from the sky

View on some of the islands of the Yellow Sea while about to land in Seoul Incheon airport for a short stopover. The high humidity of the summer months Keep reading