On stepping off the plane at Incheon International Airport, I realised that perhaps I had made a mistake. It was freezing. It seemed far colder than in Beijing, and all I had on was a thin jacket (luckily I had packed my hat and gloves). I arrived early evening, and had booked a hotel in the centre of the city, close to Seoul Station. I had looked it up on Google maps but, frustratingly, there was a lorry parked on the road when the Google Street View van was going along taking its pictures, so the road was obscured. However, I had a reckoning that I could find it pretty easily.
I got the express train from the airport to Seoul Station. Then I could walk – in the cold – or take the subway one stop down. I opted for the latter. I found the subway somewhat overwhelming – it seemed vast – but getting on the right line seemed easy enough. There is a long walk between different lines, however, and up some stairs and down others. Eventually I arrived at the right subway stop and stepped out into the cold city air.
I followed roughly where I thought the road went from what I could remember from Google, and did find the hotel without too much difficulty. On entering, the guy behind the counter had some trouble finding my reservation but he eventually did find it (with a bit of help from me), and I settled in for the night.
I have a Korean student who had suggested some places to visit. I was really only in the city for two full days, so my sightseeing time was limited. I also had a few things I wanted to see.
My first full day in Seoul, Saturday morning, I woke early and had breakfast. My hotel was very close to Namsen Hill, a hill which overlooks the city and has a cable car going to the top of it. I decided to walk for part the way. The top of the hill also has Seoul Tower. The path was partly covered in snow and I climbed up part way, taking in the nice, clear views. I then headed back down and took the subway to Gyeongbokgung Palace. This is a major palace in Seoul which reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
I walked around the palace, and went in the Museum of Culture next door. In the main palace area there was a short exhibition on an Empress who was murdered by the Japanese in the 1890s. As with most things that prick an interest, it only gave an overview, rather than specific details. I thought I should read up more about her death and as the circumstances surrounding it sounded interesting.
Then I had lunch and went on a heritage tour. In Beijing, you can get a feel (even an artificial one) of the old city in the hutongs. In Seoul, my student had recommended I wander around part of the old town. It was a circular walking tour which had several old buildings on this route. It was full of tourists.
Following this, I went to Seoul City Museum. This was actually quite interesting. There was an exhibition on a Canadian guy who lived in Korea for the early part of the twentieth century, and then left Korea during the Japanese occupation. Returning after the Second World War, he died in Seoul and received a civilian honour of South Korean citizens, recognising his work in promoting the plight of Koreans under Japanese rule. There was also a huge model of the city on the floor, which gave an idea of how big it was.
After this I left the museum – it was getting close to tea time – and when I was walking back to the subway station I passed a protest march. Now, all afternoon I’d seen lots of police. In fact, when I came out of the subway at the heritage trail there were a row of police officers on the subway steps with riot shields, just stood there. Many more were on street corners. I asked a tourist information assistant a little later and they told me there was going to a demonstration – evidently, this was it. I managed to get the subway back to near my hotel, and walked down a snack street, looking for food. I ended up having some delicious street food and then headed back to the hotel for the evening.