We made the four hour trek to Seoul, primarily, for the Lotus Lantern Festival. It's an annual event held in honor of Buddha's birth. In the weeks leading up to the event, lotus-shaped lanterns are hung throughout the city.
Still, our plan for Seoul involved more than simply attending the festivities. After dropping off our luggage, we took the subway to Itaewon, a unique place in Seoul where one can meet people from every corner of the world. Unique flavors, exotic interiors, and diverse nationalities help to make Itaewon ‘the global village in Seoul.’
After getting reacquainted with the neighborhood, we made our way toward some lunch. But, first, we always have time for a couple photos in front of this mass of kimchi pots. The family that owns the little shop is extremely friendly. They have a wide assortment of functional and decorative pottery. We're sure that they move some product, but they've got so much inventory it's impossible to notice.
We heard tale of one of the best burger joints in Seoul; 'Jacoby's Burger.' It's located just outside Itaewon, and is home to some awesome burgers! We couldn't resist...
The beast of the bunch is the 'Double Gut Buster.' We were eager to see what this thing was made of... Looking at the menu, we see that the burger is priced at ₩45,000, which is almost $40. That's a bit pricy, and a lot to eat, for the two of us. But, we agreed that we may not get another chance, so we elected to get it. I called the waiter over, and told him what we wanted. He replied, "No." He told me that the 'Double' is typically consumed by four to five people, that what we wanted was the original 'Gut Buster.' He let us talk it over, while he attended to other guests. Well, we had already set our minds on it, so we called him back over and re-ordered it. He said, "Okay," and walked away leaving us to game-plan.... Then it came!
There are two sides to every story. In this case they are very different accounts. If you ask me, you might hear that someone wasn't pulling their weight. Maybe this person filled up on water, before and after dinner, 'cause "I was thirsty." I may tell you that my wife wasn't fully committed to the challenge at hand... On the flip side, you may hear Alexis tell you that I was acting like an "embarrassing, spaz-tastic, lunatic that had never seen food before."
Regardless of whose story you hear, or believe, Alexis and I will both tell you that we crushed the 'Double Gut Buster!' We devoured that skewered tower of a burger that included: a rosemary & garlic beef patty, a red bean patty, a grilled chicken breast, a fried fish fillet, three sausages, a fried egg, bacon, hash browns, pineapple, salami, chili, four cheeses, lettuce/tomato/onion, honey mustard, tarter sauce, & Jacoby's sauce, with cheese fries & cheese sticks on the side.
...And, to be honest, I didn't feel as disgusted as I thought I would.
After lunch we took a long walk, and a short subway ride, toward the Seoul Tower. It was our intention to see Seoul from the observation deck located at top of the tower. However, after paying the ₩17,000 (almost $15) for the round-trip cable car to the base of the tower, we opted to save the ₩40,000 ($34) it would have cost to reach the observatory. Our research had led us to believe that it was more affordable, but, for whatever reason, tickets were ₩20,000 a piece. So, we were content with the view from the base of the tower.
They sell "locks of love" on site. But, like us, many bring their own. We hung our lock - with our names & wedding date, took some pictures, and started to make our way to the parade.
We posted up near the Jongno Tower, not too far from our hostel. It's a great landmark, and helps us keep our bearing. Below are a just a few pictures from the parade. *Later on, the lantern floats were on display, and made for better pictures.
"Hey, I want in on the action!"
The lanterns are meticulously crafted using hanji, traditional handmade Korean paper. Each lantern tells its own story with its warm, cheerful light. The most significant of all is the Jangeumdang, this large pagoda lantern, that symbolizes Buddhism and Buddha's birth, stationed at the Seoul Plaza.
Now, here are our favorite lantern floats from the parade.
Another great location to view the lanterns is along Cheonggyecheon stream, which runs through downtown. There are several displays set up along both sides of the stream, making it ideal for a late-night, hand-holding stroll. And, that's exactly how we wrapped up our Saturday night. Or, more accurately, early Sunday morning.
We started Sunday with a walk around downtown. It gave me time to take some photos of a few of my favorite things; urban art & manhole covers!
I also like funny shirts involving English. I don't know if this girl is an artist, or the manufacturers simply spelled 'college' wrong. Either way, it made me smile.
We enjoyed some sightseeing prior to Sunday's closing ceremonies. We spent a good portion of the afternoon at Gyeongbokgung, the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. The palace was built in the 14th century. It was almost fully destroyed by fire in the following centuries, most recently during the Japanese occupation. As of today, a fraction of the original palace has been rebuilt, and the restoration continues. Below are our favorite photos of the day.
We made our way back toward Jogyesa, the most famous temple inside the city of Seoul. The festival was to conclude here, and it's right around the corner from our place. We took some pictures with the 500 year old Locust tree and the lotus lanterns strung around.
As it got dark, we photographed a few more decorations and lanterns.
Yeondeungnori, the grand finale of the festival, features a mini lantern parade around Insa-dong, accompanied by the Lotus Lantern Performance Groups. A joyful conclusion to a festival full of energy and harmony. *Insa-dong is an old neighborhood consisting of a network of alleyways. Within its maze are art galleries, traditional restaurants, traditional teahouses, and cafes.
Hoehyang Hanmadang, or the Post-Parade Celebration, was scheduled to happen Saturday, following the main parade. However, resulting in a lot of confusion, it was rescheduled for Sunday night. Immediately after the mini lantern parade, Buddhist entertainers put on a show and the audience got into the act, dancing hand in hand. Typically called the ‘Flower Party’ by foreigners, it's a joyful scene with confetti flower petals raining from the sky.
- **Incidentally, since you've made it to the end of this blog entry, if you want to know the truth... I absolutely acted like a fiend, while feasting on the 'Double Gut Buster!' Nevertheless, I did what had to be done. I didn't want the waiter to give me an I-told-you-so look.