As my time in Korea dwindles, I'm trying to do and see as much as possible in those precious two days off each week. Good old Lonely Planet, which was sitting neglected on my bookshelf for the past couple of months, has been dusted off and filled with underlines and exclamation points.
The weather was gorgeous over the weekend -- what a contrast to the dregs of Typhoon Morakot currently beating against the window -- and it was much too nice to be cooped up inside all day. After spending the morning at the Seoul Museum of Art, I headed across the street to Deoksu Palace (Deoksugung).
Although small, Deoksugung is worth visiting for its tranquil, spread-out grounds. There are trees in abundance, a beautiful fountain and shaded benches to lounge upon. It's a stark contrast to the madness of downtown Seoul happening just outside the stone gates.
Built in the mid-15th century, the palace has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times over the years, most recently in the early 20th century. What makes Deoksugung different from Seoul's other palaces (like Chandeokgung, which I visited on my first day sightseeing in Korea) is the remarkable contrast between traditional and modern architecture:
One of the biggest downers about palaces and temples in Korea is how they are all virtually identical, with minor variations. They are always beautiful and ornate but it gets repetitive seeing the same buildings over and over again. The interiors vary but the exteriors are largely constant.
I'm always impressed by the remarkable attention to detail on every building.
Intricate designs on the ceiling
Many tourists visit Deoksugung to see the daily changing of the guards ceremony, which I'd watched before so didn't attend. It's always a good photo op of traditional Korean costumes.
Deoksugu is a great place to explore, whether you're interested in Korean architecture or just need somewhere to escape the city noise for an hour or two. With an entrance fee of only 1,000 won, it's a bargain even if you only stay 30 minutes.
I didn't make it much longer than an hour. Although the grounds are gorgeous and it was tempting to find a bench and pull out my book -- I'm glued to Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore -- the heat and humidity were oppressive. I made my way to the nearest coffee shop instead and spent a few hours enjoying the air con. Sad but true.
Pale skin is a sign of beauty. Koreans young and old tote around umbrellas to keep the sun off. I've even had students of both sexes try to stay covered with an umbrella while playing a game outside.
I have 7 weekends (14 days off) left before departing Korea. What MUST I do before leaving this country? Speak now or forever hold your peace.