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    Sunday 11 September 2011

    Day Five - Royal Palace and N Seoul Tower

    Our apartment is located around the palace district of downtown Seoul. In total there are five palaces in the city, the oldest and largest is right beside the hotel, Gyeongbokgung.

    Our Korean veggie breakfast from the hotel
    South Korea doesn't have a Royal Family anymore, but keeps the palaces open to the public along with some of the ceremonial trappings such as the changing of the guard. The changing of the guard ceremony takes place every hour. Soldiers are stationed at all gates dressed in traditional colourful clothing. Oddly all their beards are fake. The ceremony including a military band procession with multilingual commentary lasts about 15 minutes. 

    Vinnie beside a traditional guard outside the Gyeongbokgung Palace 

    It's all for show - including the fake beard!
    We had timed our visit with a free English tour that lasted 1 hour. Entrance to the palace quarter is around €2. The palace unfortunately was destroyed several times throughout history from several Japanese occupations to the Korean War. It was last used at the start of the 20th century before the final Japanese occupation. The tour provided a great insight into the history and functionality of the buildings and how the king and queen used them.
    Patrick outside the palace
    Towards the rear of the palace is the Korean Folk Museum that was free to enter. Outside in the courtyard traditional dance and music demonstrations took place. The music and dance styles are quite unique. In fact the more we learn about this country and it's history you can see how unlike other Asian countries this one is. It reminds me of home in many ways.

    It's a three-day festival weekend, tomorrow is Chuseok, Korean thanks giving, many locals were dressed up in traditional clothing starting the celebrations today.

    As the apartment was so close, we popped back for lunch before heading up towards the Market area of Dongdaemun. These markets practically run 24/7. I have mentioned before that a sunken stream runs through downtown Seoul. People cycle or walk the route. It also has performance stages; we witnessed a traditional music performance. Also located down here is the start of the underground shopping arcade. It’s a 4km underground mall following alongside the route of the green metro line 2. Alas it was closed today for the holidays. We took the metro to Lotte Town, a major department store near the City Hall. This place is a maze. It’s massive.
    The stream following through downtown Seoul. Here you can see a performance stage on it.
    We rounded off the evening with a trip up the N Seoul Tower. You take a cable car ride up a peak, Namsan, which sits in the middle of Northern Seoul. On top of the peak is an observational tower. Apart from the crazy queuing, it was great to see the city skyline at night from aprox 250 metres above sea level. It’s a sprawling mass of colour and lights in all directions.
    N Seoul Tower

    The breathtaking view from the top of the N Seoul Tower
    Before heading back to the apartment we paid a midnight visit to the massive Lotte Mart grocery store (beside Seoul Central Station) to pick up lunch items for our excursion tomorrow to the demilitarised zone and North Korea. Our tour leaves very early so it's an early night for us. 

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