On Christmas morning, Steve and I took the KTX from Ulsan to Seoul at 9:22 with less than a minute to spare. After we purchased our tickets, we had to run as fast as we could to the platform, up a massive flight of stairs, where the train was boarding. When we got there, another foreign man let us board first because “we were panting.”
The journey took about two hours and we arrived in Seoul a little before noon. Steve and I took the subway to Insadong, where my hostel was. (Steve hadn’t booked anything because he decided to come with me last minute.) I was able to check in early, and Steve found a place to stay literally right across the street.
Then, we went to Changdeokgung Palace, which was within a five minute walk from the hostels. What an incredible sight. The palace was constructed in 1405 as part of the Joseon Dynasty. The grounds were sprawling and there were so many beautiful, colorful buildings and halls.
It was cold out, but sunny. After walking around the palace, we found Bukchon Hanok Village, a traditional craft village. It was very busy since it was Christmas, but we walked around for a while before making our way towards the heart of Insadong.
I was so excited! In Insadong, the streets overflow with traditional crafts: pottery, jewelry, masks, abalone boxes, stamps. I wanted to look at everything. While we were exploring some side streets, I mentioned how nice it would be to have a cup of tea. Then, magically, we walked by a place called Teastory, a tea museum and cafe. We decided to stop. There was a small but lovely exhibit on the history of tea in Korea, a gift shop, and a cafe. We shared a pot of mistletoe tea (so festive!), and a sweet potato rice cake. At one point, the only other people who were there sent over a piece of chocolate cake for us. I think they were celebrating a birthday. Regardless, it was very sweet.
Eventually, Steve and I reached Ssamziegil: a shopping center and art complex comprised of over 70 stores, all connected through a spiral ramp system. It was decorated for Christmas, which was absolutely lovely.
We had to fight the masses, but we reached the top floor and went to visit the Wall of Love. Here, couples can purchase a small plastic tag, write a message on it, and hang it among all the other tags. It’s a really fun date idea!
After Ssamziegil, we went back to our hostels to relax and charge our phones for about an hour. Then, we headed to Hongdae, another neighborhood in Seoul known for its restaurants, bars, and underground culture.
We decided we wanted western food for Christmas dinner and set out for Beale Street, an American-style BBQ restaurant that I had heard really good things about. Too bad when we got there, it was closed. Instead, we went to a place called Burger B right downstairs. Steve and I were so impressed. Definitely the closest we’ve gotten to a real western meal since we’ve been here. We both got the burger specials, soup of the day, and cocktails. The burgers were actually medium rare (burgers here are ALWAYS well done) and they had caramelized onions and gruyere on them.
After dinner, we were going to meet Hannah and her boyfriend for coffee at the You Are Here Cafe. However, Steve pointed out the Hello Kitty Cafe, which was right across the street from where we ate dinner. Excited, I called her up to see if we could change plans. She said yes. So, Steve and I grabbed a beer while we waited for them to get there.
The cafe was amazingly adorable! Hannah and I both got hot chocolate, Steve got an Americano, and Hannah’s boyfriend got a sweet potato latte. Our drinks came with a little package of Hello Kitty cookies, too!
Following coffee, we said goodnight and Steve and I explored Hongdae some more. It was so alive. Lights everywhere, music playing, crowds moving through the streets. South Korea doesn’t have much in the way of alternative subcultures, but Hongdae was the closest I’ve seen to some. It was a lot of fun.
After a while, we decided we were tired and figured we’d call it a night. We took a subway back to where we were staying. On the walk home, it started snowing! It was actually a really nice way to end an excellent Christmas day.