Palaces and Baseball: a weekend in Seoul

Well, we spent another weekend away, this time up in Seoul. We left the dog at our local vet’s, a very sweet man with a very nice shop, and headed north Friday night with the hopes of eating some western food and catching a couple of baseball games. We weren’t sure we’d be able to since Akasha had attempted to buy tickets on-line and discovered they were sold out. But, trusting to fate, we went on up anyway.

Deoksangong palace grounds

Our first night we stayed in a nice little motel near the train station, a sweet little find that only cost us around 30,000 won (25 USD). Rested up, we set out in the morning to find some lunch and visit temples. We walked through the Nangdaemun market and into the Deoksungong Palace, one of the five main palaces of old Seoul. This is a nicely wooded site with the typical low, one-story palaces with elaborately painted pagoda roofs.

Embassy street.

Also on the palace grounds is the National Museum of Contemproary Art, which was showing paintings of Lee In-sung, who was an important artist of the 1930’s. He was important for helping Korean artists transition from the old traditional forms of painting to the modern, western style, though under circumstances – the Japanese colonial period – that were no doubt very difficult, if not tragic.

Outside the palace grounds, we took a unique walking tour through the Jeong-dong area, a nice old neighborhood that was one of the first places opened up to the west in the late 1800’s. Here the first missionaries built churches, and the Russians and other foreign countries opened their first legations to what had been known as the Hermit kingdom. It’s still home to a few foreign embassies, and it’s a beautiful, hilly, almost meditative walk.

Mokdong Stadium

Then, we went to the ballpark! We’ve been trying to visit all 7 stadiums in Korea.  As of this trip we have 4/7!  Mokdong stadium is the smaller of the two stadiums in Seoul, where three teams host ball games. Mokdong is the home to the Nexen Heroes, and seats only around 18,000 people. Despite there being no tickets available on-line, we were able to get a couple of nice seats at the box office for 16,000w ($13)! We settled into the first base side only to discover that we’d picked the cheering section of the Hanwha Eagles, the visiting team. We decided to cheer for them anyway, and were rewarded with a win when, in the late innings, a pinch hitter stepped to the plate and drove a liner over the right field wall for a go-ahead home run. The crowd, unusually heavy with fans for the visiting team, went crazy.

Jamsil Stadium

The next night our friend Alice took us to a delicious Thai restaurant that made us homesick for Sen Yai Sen Lek and Joe. We went out to Jamsil stadium, which is the home stadium of Seoul’s other two teams, the LG Twins and the Doosan Bears. It is nearly twice the size of Mokdong at 30,000 seats, and is quite a bit louder. Tonight was the Bears turn to be home team, and the opponent was the club from Busan, the Lotte Giants. Despite Busan being on the other end of Korea, once again the visitors had a large, rowdy contingent on hand. For much of the first five innings, while Lotte belted out four early runs and Doosan remained hitless, the visitor’s crowd was in a frenzy while the home crowd seemed to have given up all hope. The final score was 7-1 Lotte. Once again, we’d brought in lousy luck for the home squad.

N Seoul Tower

That night we went to the Seoul Tower, the highest structure in the city. There’s a cable-car that takes you up to the base, but the line was long and we needed a hike, so up the stairs we went. It’s quite romantic, with a great view of the city spreading out below. There’s a tradition that couples in love bring a padlock and lock it to the fence, so over the years quite a few thousand padlock have built up. It’s kind of romantic, but also kind of heavy metal-looking, but mostly it’s a sweet tradition.

Mmm.. Pale Ale

From there, tired though we were, there was one more destination: Craftworks Tap House in Itaweon. This bar is one of the few brew-pubs in Korea, and one of the only places to find a good Pale Ale, which is one of my (Mike’s) favorite beers. So, we settled in, found a nice spot at the bar, and had a drink. Akasha ordered a Weiss beer, and we chatted with the bartender and waitress, in English. It felt for a while like we were home. They also poured some beer into growlers for us, and we carried them home to enjoy in Mokpo.

Well, that’s a brief summary of our trip up north. We’re back now and enjoying the more bucolic pleasures of Mokpo, but we’re looking forward to August, when we get to hop the Pacific and hang out in Minnesota for a few days. See you soon!

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