We started off the second day in Seoul with what I think most first time travelers do: Realizing that we made a mistake in using cash-only metro cards for the subway and that we didn’t put enough money on them to get through the day. This would be a recurring theme.
The next part of the adventure was figuring out what our breakfast options were. A few of us on the trip were doggedly determined to “go native” and Eat As The Koreans Eat, which we took to mean eating subway sushi (gimbop). Now, I know many will think subway sushi is the American equivalent of a gas station burrito and I’ll quell your argument right there. This was simply a street vendor selling her food near the entrance of the subway. And while Korea didn’t have any visible public health inspector grade cards displayed, generally it looked clean. And by “clean” I mean we were blinded by hunger and didn’t care.
Others in our group were steadfast in clinging to the American lifestyle and opted for good ol’ McDonalds. Being big parental softies, we relented just this one time.
Gyeongbokgung (경복궁), also known as Gyeongbokgung Palace or Gyeongbok Palace, was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. Built in 1395, it is located in northern Seoul, South Korea. The largest of the Five
Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty, Gyeongbokgung served as the home of Kings of the Joseon dynasty, the Kings’ households, as well as the government of Joseon.
Gyeongbokgung continued to serve as the main palace of the Joseon dynasty until the premises were destroyed by fire during the Imjin War and abandoned for two centuries. However, in the 19th century, all of the palace’s 7,700 rooms were later restored under the leadership of Prince Regent Heungseon during the reign of King Gojong. Some 500 buildings were restored on a site of over 40 hectares. The architectural principles of ancient Korea were incorporated into the tradition and appearance of the Joseon royal court.
In the early 20th century, much of the palace was systematically destroyed by Imperial Japan. Since then, the walled palace complex is gradually being reconstructed to its original form. Today, the palace is arguably regarded as being the most beautiful and grandest of all five palaces. It also houses the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum within the premises of the complex.
Gwanghwamun (The Main and South Gate)
As in the States, museums and areas of historical significance are magnets for school tours; this day wasn’t any different. Loads of elementary-aged kids were running around doing anything except actually taking a tour (which is to be expected, they had probably already been here a dozen times with their parents). Perhaps the cutest thing watching the guard changing ceremony was getting fly-bys of kids wanting to practice their English or illicit a response.
From the corner of my eye, one of the braver (or dared) souls would walk up behind our group and say “Hello!” or “Hi!”, giggle and fall back to the relative safety of their squad and chat excitedly about coming “this close!” to the foreigners. We decided to change the game and answered back, “Hello!” with a wave. More laughter and louder chittering about getting a bigger reaction.
Finally, the bravest among them held up a camera, “Picture?” Uh, yeah, of course! Why did it take so long for my many fans to ask? The dam had broken and a succession of others seeing it was ok to ask the White Shrek for a picture followed suit. I even photobombed other’s group photos, making them erupt in nervous laughter.
Heungnyemun (The Second Inner Gate)
Gangnyeongjeon (강녕전), also called Gangnyeongjeon Hall, is a building used as the king’s main residing quarters. First constructed in 1395, the fourth year of King Taejo, the building contains the king’s bed chamber. Destroyed during the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592, the building was rebuilt when Gyeongbokgung was reconstructed in 1867, but it was again burned down by a major fire in November 1876 and had to be restored in 1888 following the orders of King Gojong.
However, when Huijeongdang of Changdeokgung Palace was burned down by a fire in 1917, the Japanese government dismembered the building and used its construction materials to restore Huijeongdang in 1920. Current Gangnyeongjeon was built in 1994, meticulously restoring the building to its original specifications and design.
Gangnyeongjeon consists of corridors and fourteen rectangular chambers, each seven chambers located to the left and right side of the building in a layout out like a checkerboard. The king used the central chamber while the court attendants occupied the remaining side chambers to protect, assist, and to receive orders. The building rests on top of a tall stone foundation, and a stone deck or veranda is located in front of the building.
The noted feature of the building is an absence of a top white roof ridge called yongmaru (용마루) in Korean. Many theories exist to explain the absence, of which a prominent one states that, since the king was symbolized as the dragon during the Joseon dynasty, the yongmaru, which contains the letter dragon or yong (龍), cannot rest on top of the king when he is asleep.
Geunjeongjeon (근정전), also known as Geunjeongjeon Hall, is the throne hall where the king formally granted audiences to his officials, gave declarations of national importance, and greeted foreign envoys and ambassadors during the Joseon dynasty. The building was designated as Korea’s National Treasure No. 223 on January 8, 1985.
Geunjeongjeon was originally constructed in 1395 during the reign of King Taejo, but was burned down in 1592 when the Japanese invaded Korea. The present building was built in 1867 when Gyeongbokgung was being reconstructed. The name Geunjeongjeon, created by the minister Jeong Do-jeon, means “diligence helps governance”.
Constructed mainly of wood, Geunjeongjeon sits on the center of a large rectangular courtyard, on top of a two-tiered stone platform. This two-tiered platform is lined with detailed balustrades and is decorated with numerous sculptures depicting imaginary and real animals, such as dragons and phoenixes. The stone-paved courtyard is lined with two rows of rank stones, called pumgyeseoks (품계석), indicating where the court officials are to stand according to their ranks. The whole courtyard is fully enclosed by wooden cloisters.
Geunjeongmun (근정문), aligned and located directly to the south of Geunjeongjeon, is the main gate to the courtyard and to Geunjeongjeon. The gate is divided into three separate aisles, and only the king was allowed to walk through the center.
Gyeonghoeru (경회루), also known as Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, is a hall used to hold important and special state banquets during the Joseon Dynasty. It is registered as Korea’s National Treasure No. 224 on January 8, 1985.
The first Gyeonghoeru was constructed in 1412, the 12th year of the reign of King Taejong, but was burned down during the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592. The present building was constructed in 1867 (the 4th year of the reign of King Gojong) on an island of an artificial, rectangular lake that is 128 m wide and 113 m across.
Constructed mainly of wood and stone, Gyeonghoeru has a form where the wooden structure of the building sits on top of 48 massive stone pillars, with wooden stairs connecting the second floor to the first floor. The outer perimeters of Gyeonghoeru are supported by square pillars while the inner columns are cylindrical; they were placed thus to represent the idea of Yin & Yang. When Gyeonghoeru was originally built in 1412, these stone pillars were decorated with sculptures depicting dragons rising to the sky, but these details were not reproduced when the building was rebuilt in the 19th century. Three stone bridges connect the building to the palace grounds, and corners of the balustrades around the island are decorated with sculptures depicting twelve Zodiac animals.
(Obviously, much of this is lifted from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyeongbokgung)