Many,many steps leading to Suwon FortressOne of the many buildings making up Suwon FortressSuwon
Beautiful Hanbok uses in Jewel of the Palace
Japanese themed lanterns for Seoul lantern festival 2012Shopping!

I had made very careful plans for each of my days in Korea, but with the expectation that they most likely would fall through,  as I only had so much time, and I had not accounted for travel times in my plan. Indeed, I ended up spending an unfortunate amount of time just on the train!

The first day in Seoul I kind of ended up doing what I felt like, and for my second day it ended up that I simply did not have enough time to do what I wanted to do! It did not help that I felt so comfortable in my hotel room that I ended up oversleeping, of course. I had planned an early start to give myself time to get to Suwon and even though I knew it would most likely mess up the rest of my time, I decided to head off to Suwon anyway. How far could it really be? Turns out, very. The train journey had a number of confusing changes and when I was finally on the right train it was a long, uncomfortable and cramped journey. There seems to be a certain code for how to stand on busy trains in Seoul and I am not sure I was following the unspoken rules which made me feel a little awkward, along with all the other things starting with the fact that I was an obvious tourist and ending with how self conscious dressed as randomly and inappropriate for winter as I was. Despite my new hoodie, it was still too cold. As I headed out of the center of Seoul I felt it getting even colder, if that were possible. Outside, the scenery changed too, losing some of the glamour of central Seoul. From what I have seen of Asia that has been a trait- the glossy malls and such of the central city, so different from the outskirts and the towns that lie outside…It’s very different from the UK.

I am not sure what I expected Suwon to be like but nothing could have prepared me for how different it was to Seoul. It was…hectic. I think that is the most appropriate word. I stepped out of the station and there were people everywhere. I had no clue where I was going or what to do and so was very thankful to see a tourist center close by. I asked one of the ladies there where to find the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress and she handed me a slip of paper with the list of bus numbers I could take and the name of my stop in hangul and roman alphabet. Well, feeling a bit more confident I walked down to the bus stop and meandered my way up and down, trying to figure out from the mess of people and buses what on earth I was supposed to do. I eventually got myself on a bus and sat down, playing with my little slip of paper anxiously.

Of course I had gotten on the wrong bus.

And I had no idea what to do.

I mentioned that the Seoul subway is ridiculously tourist friendly right? Well, the buses aren’t.

I quickly got off the bus and spent an unfortunate amount of time staring at the map, trying to find out which bus to take. It seemed that somehow I gone in the totally wrong direction for the fortress. After a bit of wondering around I found another bus stop and the right bus, and got on it, then got off at my stop. Alas, there was still the problem of – where the hell was the fortress? And this was the center of Suwon and it was packed with people. I wondered around some more until I found a side street with an interesting looking building on the end. Thinking I had little to lose I walked towards it and then, to my right, was the fortress. I was pretty amazed at this stroke of luck and quickly bought my ticket, then started the long, long walk up the many, many stairs. By this point I was beginning to wonder what was going on. In the research I did I had though suwon fortress was a palace, and where did these stairs fit into it? And just where was the palace? I had found myself walking on a dirt path, woodland to one side, a stone wall to the other and more woodland on the other side of the wall. I looked at the map and made the first discovery of things I should have known earlier- suwon hwaseong fortress is very large, compromising of the central palace section (which was what I had originally planned to visit only!) and several other buildings scattered all over the place. Well, what else could I do? Even though I was not wearing my walking boots or anything as sensible I continued to walk on.

I saw many different buildings, a bell tower, a giant bronze statue, I walked along some walls, I saw some impressive views of Suwon. I made the second discoveries of things I should have known earlier- that Suwon is almost a fortress town. The fortress is scattered through the city, and it is poorly sign posted. I made this discovery when I decided I really did want to see the central palace section. I stepped off the walls and headed inwards, where I discovered some other tourists who looked like they knew where they were and quietly followed them until they stopped and decided they were lost and headed off somewhere else. Well, it wasn’t like I could turn round and follow them back- then it would make it obvious I had been following them! So I carried on, searching for a street that would take me back to the main road. I felt nervous, walking along the quiet backstreets, so obviously a tourist with no clue where the hell she was. Finally, I got back to the main road and I continued to walk forwards- what more could I do? That seemed to be the theme of the day. For all my plans, I was forced to realize I was very unprepared for the reality of this holiday (although, I do have a notoriously bad sense of direction!) But my meanderings eventually paid off and finally, I spotted the main palace. By this point it was getting pretty late but I thought that seeing so I had gone to so much effort to find it I might as well look. It was interesting but I quickly grew bored and getting lost had put my in a bad mood so I actually left pretty quickly, probably a bit of a waste of ticket really, then I had to find a bus back to the station and finally, get the train back into Seoul. (Which was even busier than the first. Fun! Although nothing can quite beat the Malaysian sky train at most hours. At the very least I wasn’t physically cramming myself into the train and against a wall of people at any point during this holiday!)

I wanted quite badly to go to the Gwacheon science museum, after seeing it on running man, however it was closed by the time I got into Seoul. So in the end, I had to forgo it. If there is one thing I wished I did differently on this holiday it would be going to Gwacheon Science Museum on day 1 instead of the Korea national museum! There wasn’t anything I could do though so I cut my losses and headed to my next destination- lotte department store for some high end shopping. Gosh, it is somewhat liberating and slightly addictive just to splurge with no restraints. I don’t want to think about much I spent on cosmetics on this holiday- although I reassure myself I saw a lot of tourists with a hell of a lot more! This day, I bought the HERA bb cushion I had been lusting over, although for some crazy reason I decided to buy it for my mom instead. I also bought a full size of my favourite facial sunscreen, the HERA sun mate daily. The girl at the HERA counter barely spoke English but she was very helpful despite the fact that I clearly looked too young and broke and shabby to be shopping there, which was something I appreciated. She went out of her way to try to understand what I wanted, even letting me right down my question so she could confer with someone else. Usually in the UK assistants at counters take one look at me and dismiss me and are never quite so nice. Next, I bought my favourite whoo cleanser. I have gotten through 100 samples of this stuff, and now halfway through my first bottle of it- which was a luxurious 20th birthday present! I adore this stuff, even though for the price the packaging is awful and not at all at the level the price indicates. oh well, the product is marvelous! I then went to the laneige counter and the girl was so sweet, asking where I was from, how long I had been in Korea etc. I mean, it was obviously fake/put on but I again appreciated being treated like this. I had gone there to buy a certain product only to find it was discontinued, but I asked the girl for something similar and even when she recommended me what was obviously the latest and what she had been asked to promote, I let myself be suckered in. Nearly walked away with more but managed to restrain myself!

It was kinda late and I was hungry so I headed up to one of the higher floors to go to an Italian restaurant, wondering if Korean Italian food would be as interesting as Japanese…but it turned out to be disappointing. very expensive not very tasty food, unfortunately. :( After that I left lotte and made plans to head to insadong, but instead found myself at Cheonggyecheon stream. Once more, this really was turning out to be a random holiday!

Well, Cheonggyecheon was very, very, very crowded. There was some kind of lantern festival on though so it was very pretty! I just walked along, let myself be carried along with the crowds without really bothering to take many pictures. Sometimes I prefer to do that. In fact a lot of the time on this holiday I was content just to ‘sit back’ and experience it, without worrying about taking zillion of pictures to remember it. I’m not a photographer and although I enjoy taking quick snaps to record my holidays  sometimes its just so nice to view things from outside of the viewfinder. It was too crowded to take pictures anyway. I want to say it was a relaxing stroll but I could not quite relax in such large crowds.

It was late so I went back to the hotel- making a quick stop at the convenience store on the way to pick up supplies for the next day where I was going to go hiking in Bukhansan- of course I needed something for  when I reached the summit of the peak I was planning to go up, and a little snack before bed. :P I spent some time before bed flicking through the channels trying to find a drama to watch or music program but sadly, if I remember correctly, there were only bad soaps on!