I have lived in Korea for 10 months and have yet been up to Seoul 서울시. Well, outside my 14-day quarantine, that is. My friend Sam and I decided that we deserved to treat ourselves for New Year’s. Even with a 9pm Covid related restaurant and bar curfew, we were determined to celebrate the past year and bring in the new one in style.
Masked up and bundled up, we hopped onto the bus making our way to Gwangju 광주, where we hopped on to the KTX and were in Seoul by 8pm New Year’s Eve!
We knew we were in for a treat stepping off the subway station in Myeongdong 명동 on the way to our hotel. Maybe it was our excitement for finally getting to Seoul, or it was because recently we both felt trapped in our small-town lives, or perhaps it was the heartbeat of Seoul the made us light up with joy. Whatever it was, we knew we were in for an adventure-filled weekend.
After quickly checking our bags into our hostel, we made our way to catch the lights at Shinsague and Lotte department stores. They were truly magical, making us feel like we were back home for the holidays.
Our next stop was a convenience store where we picked up some drinks to bring in the new year in our hotel room.
The following day we rose early, ready to fill the day with as much as we could see. The first stop was breakfast and coffee, so being the Harry Potter fans that we were, we hopped on the bus and made our way to the district of Mopo 마포구, home to the famous Haeundae drinking street 해운대.
943 Kings Cross 943 킹스크로스, was a few streets over from the stop we got off from, and when we turned the corner, we were instantly transported to Hogwarts. Of course, we had to get pictures of ourselves on the broom before we headed inside to order our drinks and charcuterie board, where we sat in a room that felt like I was dining in dragon ally or Hogsmeade and filled ourselves on themed treats. 943 King Cross really brings a themed cafe experience to the next level. Their attention to detail, the costumes available to dress in for photos, the themed rooms, themed food, and a soon-to-open top level where you can pretend you are a student at Hogwarts and find hidden rooms were impeccable. I’ll have to go back to report on their basement-level bar!
Fed and caffeinated, we headed out to try and find a trick eye museum in the area, which had been closed for remodeling but looked like it may be preeminently shut because of covid since they should have reopened over a month ago.
From there, we decided to walk the streets of Insadong 인사, perusing through the streets packed with traditional arts. While meandering, we passed upon the Ssamzigil 쌈지길 complex. We wound our way past the artisan shops, murals, and a hidden park up to the top, where we found the Ddo-ong poop cafe 또옹카페! We took a break here to sip coffee from the golden throne-shaped mugs.
From Ssamzigil, we walked to Bukchon Hanok Village 북촌한옥마. Today former presidents and artists call this upper-class Jeosan dynasty village home. As we took pictures of the ancient homes around us, we happened upon an artist studio which my friend Sam insisted on going in. I’m so glad she did. The artist Ahn was incredibly friendly on top of talented. He drew did portraits of us for free! Then he highly recommended we spend our evening eating at Gwangjan Market 광장시장 before heading over to Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) for a light show. With such a high recommendation and no actual plans for the evening, how could we say no!
With our evening planned out, we decided to head back to the hotel room to recharge, drop off our purchases before heading back out.
After an hour and a half, we were well-rested but had empty bellies, we decided to find a restaurant near us for dinner. The braised beef soup did not disappoint. We ended up navigating just down the street from our hotel to what felt like a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Intruding on the owner’s family’s dinner, we served a sweet yet savory soup that was to die for. The owner is a master at this dish, so I had to pin the location to come back next time for more.
Bellies now full, we hopped on the subway to DDP, where we walked around the outdoor light exhibits while we waited for the big show.
There is something about combining sound with moving digital art that uses architecture as a canvas that creates a mesmerizing experience. The light show was something I didn’t even know I needed. It revitalized my thirst for art and my sense of wonder, leaving me hungry for more art.
Unable to fill the hunger for art with the evening upon us, we decided to stop by Gwangjan Market market in search of dessert. Although we found no sweet treats, we did get to feel a snippet of what street food in Korea was like pre-covid. Although a small portion of food stalls are still open, Gwangjang Market did not disappoint. Everywhere we turned, ladies were cooking up the best street food Korea has to offer, serving it to couples, friends, and groups of coworkers getting drunk on Soju and Cass beer. The atmosphere was filled with laughter and joy, seemingly unaware that a pandemic was going outside this moment. As people squished together dining on boiling pots of soup, Tteokbokki 떡볶이, Mandu 만두, and Kimchi Pancakes Kimchijeon 김치전. When I return to Seoul, I will come back here and eat till my heart’s content in a couple of weeks.
Amazed and filled with a day of wonder and exploring, we made our way back to our hotel, walking down the streets of Myeongdong, which are only half of their former glory. Unfortunately, this district famous for its shopping and street food has been severely hit by the pandemic. Walking past open and completely empty shops, we stopped for a Hotteok 호떡 at one of the few remaining street food carts that still open up every night.
Burning our mouths on the brown sugary goodness inside the rice flour cakes (sometimes wheat flour), we headed back to our hotel for the evening.
Although this would be a great place to end this blog, my time in Seoul is yet to be up as my train did not leave Seoul until 5pm the next day.
The following day we woke up starving from all the steps we did the previous day, so we decided to do brunch on the way to Gangnam. We stopped at the cutest American brunch spot called Maple Top 메이플탑 팬케이크 클럽. Although it was off the beaten path, it was worth the trip. Koreans really don’t eat breakfast unless it’s cold noodles or hangover soup. Mimosas feel like their unheard of in Korea. This is why after seeing some friends’ Instagram posts, we sought out this little-known spot. We enjoyed a traditional American brunch with bottomless mimosas to fill our stomachs before walking around Coex Starfield Mall 코엑. Then strolling down the rodeo drive of south Korea, also known as K-Star Road 한류스타거리, with statues painted in tribute to the K-pop groups that brought the genre into the spotlight across the globe.
Now, if you’re saying hold up, Madeline ….. You said Gangnam, as in PSY’s song “Gangnam Style,” is home to Korea’s Rodeo Drive?
Yes, it completely surprised me too. From the most Instagrammed library in the world in the Coex Starfield Mall to the name brands like Balenciaga, Chanel, Bugatti, and Fendi that line the streets, Gangnam’s style is a style for the wealthy, elite, and famous. Now having visited Gangnam, the audacious song that made K-pop a household name makes a lot more sense, although not less annoying, in my opinion.
Having rubbed elbows with the upper class on the streets of Gangnam, we made our way back to pick up my by bags and send me on my way back to Cheonggye while my friend Sam stayed one a few extra days for her vacation.
Less than 48 hours in Seoul did not allow me to do the city justice nor see 100th of what the city had to offer, which I hope to rectify in the coming month during vacation when I return to explore more and hopefully find some hidden gems.
All The Specifics
Shinsegae Department Store (신세계백화점) 서울특별시 중구 소공로 63
Lotte Department Store (롯데백화점) 서울특별시 중구 남대문로 81
943 Kings Cross Cafe (943 킹스크로스) 서울 마포구 양화로16길 24 1층~4층
Ssamzigil (쌈지길 ) 서울특별시 종로구 인사동길 44 (Home to the Poop Ddo-ong Cafe)
지우 (서울 중구) 퇴계로18길 20 (the brased beef soup place)
Gwangjang Market (광장시장) 서울특별시 종로구 창경궁로 88
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (동대문디자인플라자 ) 서울특별시 중구 을지로 281
Maple Top (메이플탑 팬케이크 클럽) 서울 성동구 성수이로14길 14
Coex Sarfield Mall (코엑스) 서울특별시 강남구 영동대로 513
K-Star Road and Gangnam Fashion Street (한류스타거리) 서울특별시 강남구 압구정로 407 일대 거리
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