Seoul: Hadongkwan Gomtang

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Hadongkwan’s gomtang (traditional Korean beef soup with rice) is famous in Seoul.  It is very simple food – beef broth poured over a bowl of rice topped with slices of boiled beef slices and spring onions.

The restaurant has been around for more than 70 years, and it has been highly recommended in a number of travel websites. Since the restaurant is located right smack in Myeongdong, a short walk away from our hotel, we popped by for breakfast one morning.

We were not impressed by the gomtang. Unlike the other milky versions that I have tried before, I found Hadongkwan’s broth to be very bland and lacking in flavour (despite sprinkling alot of salt over the broth).

It was so unsatisfactory, we had to go look for something else to eat afterwards.

Seoul: Myeongdong Cathedral

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I think this may just be my last post for the April 2012 trip to Seoul. Then I am going to do some housekeeping on this blog, starting with indexing all my travel posts on a separate page. 🙂 I have no clue how long this is going to take. I will probably be an old woman by the time this is all done.

I am not a Catholic but I spent a part of my childhood in a Catholic church – two years in a Catholic kindergarten and I followed my Catholic neighbours to mass on Saturdays.  Growing up, I have always liked visiting cathedrals on my trips to look at the architecture – the dramatic curved ceilings, the mesmerizing patterns on the ceiling and the gorgeous stained glass paintings.

I visited numerous cathedrals on my trip aroud England more than 10 years ago. People ask me – “Don’t you ever get sick of looking at drafty cathedrals? See one, and you see them all ‘cos they all look the same.” Nope.

Whenever I step into a cathedral, a huge sense of peace and calmness washes over me almost immediately. I feel that I am in a different world the minute I push open the doors and step into the worship hall. It’s a lovely feeling, really, which makes me wonder why I don’t visit a cathedral more often at home.

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When we were in Seoul over Easter, we attended Easter Sunday morning mass at Myeongdong Cathedral. This is the second time I am attending mass in the cathedral. As the mass was conducted in Korean, I had no idea what was going on. But it was fine with me. I liked the experience of attending mass. There is something comforting in the Catholic ritual, watching the ceremony taking place at the altar, listening to the organ play and choir sing, hearing the priest and worshippers reciting the epistles, knowing that Catholics around the world will all go through the same ritual on Easter Sunday.

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There was a fair held at the grounds of the cathedral, with stalls selling beautifully designed Easter eggs creatively wrapped in wrapping, cloth pouches, porcelain bowls and cute cages. I couldn’t resist buying one for a friend even though I wasn’t sure I could transport it back home in one piece.

Seoul: Floating Island on Hangang

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On one very cold evening, we visited the nearly completed Floating Island complex on Hangang River. It is located on the southern end of the Banpo Bridge, that is, the side that is closer to Gangnam.

The Floating Island complex is huge.  It has three separate structures, housing a cultural centre housing a convention hall, restaurants and facilities for water and sporting events.

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At night, the exterior of the complex is brightly lit up with multi-coloured light shows powered by solar panels. The view of the illuminated complex is very stunning against the night sky.

We were frozen stiff walking around the complex. Every part of my body hurt from the whipping cold wind. We tried to shield ourselves from the cold by hiding behind the pillars but it was impossible to do so because the complex is so open.

I would have liked to take photos of this complex from the Hangang River Park located directly opposite the complex.  But it was way too cold to do so and we were not dressed warm enough.

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During warmer temperatures, it will be lovely to chill out on the bank of the Hangang with a can of beer, some chips, and admire the lightshows of the Floating River.

Peekture: Fullerton Hotel’s Angbao Box

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^ Very nice angbao box placed at the reception area of one of the ballrooms in Fullerton Hotel. Courtesy of the hotel. It is very useful!

Long time ago, when my friends were tying the knot one by one, I seemed to almost always be the unofficial angbao box maker. This meant looking for a box large enough to hold at least 200 angbaos, wrapping up the box in pretty wrapping paper and lastly, making a slit in the centre.

If only hotels had one of these snazzy looking boxes then…

Seoul: Haneul Sky Park

Since reading about and seeing photos of the Haneul Sky Park in Korean travel blogs some time back, I have always wanted to visit the park.  The first time I tried to visit the park was a couple of years ago.  I took the subway to the World Cup Stadium, spent a couple of hours trying to find the park and failed to do so.

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This time, we made our way to the park successfully because we took a taxi.  That day was probably the warmest day in our entire trip and the temperature was just about right for a day in the park.  We spent the entire afternoon wandering around the park.  It was soooo good to be amongst nature.  Too bad it was still a winter scenery with bare trees and brown grass.  The park must be stunning in spring and autumn.

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DSC_0606-001^ Shame that it was a foggy day. Otherwise, we would have seen great views of the city from the park.

DSC_0488^ And their wonderful public toilets. This one came in a wood exterior and had piped-in classical music.

Brunch At Canopy Garden Dining@Bishan Park

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A good friend of ours is getting married next Saturday and we have been roped in to assist on the wedding day. I cannot remember when was the last time I helped out at a wedding – waking up early in the morning, going to the bride’s house, helping the bride get ready, teasing the groom and his entourage at the gate. The last time I did this was probably 10 years ago.

DSC_0036^ The mang-chang groom grinning away.

This time, TBH and I are helping the groom. I am soooooo looking forward to seeing my husband and his guy friends take on the challenges given by the bridesmaid. 🙂 A bunch of middle-aged men dancing to the Wondergirls’ Nobody is gonna be absolutely spectacular.  I have to help him practise the moves at home. 🙂

The couple and us helpers met up today at Canopy Garden Dining, a restaurant tucked away in  Bishan Park, for brunch and a pre-wedding briefing.  Gosh, was the wedding day such a complicated affair?  There are so many tasks for us to carry out.   And I have been tasked to be the Chinese MC.  I think my friend has got serious issues with judgement. Or he is probably very desperate to find someone.  *sigh* I just hope I don’t mis-pronounce his name, or the bride’s name, or worse, their parents’ names, on stage.

While the guys were chattering away about what food to order, I got a bit restless, so I walked around the compound and snapped some random photos of Canopy and its surroundings.

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We were supposed to be eating at Canopy but there was a problem with the reservations and there was no table reserved for our group. They sat us in their vegetarian cafe located in the same compound, but we could order from the non-vegetarian menu.

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I have been to Canopy three times now. The food is not great and prices are not that cheap but  it is a relaxing place to hang out at.  I like that it is quiet, a bit rustic, has lots of foliage and customers are free to bring their pets into the compound.

Savour 2012

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The weekend before I left for Seoul, we went to the gourmet carnival, Savour, held at the F1 Pit. You buy a ticket and it comes with a bunch of Savour dollars that can be used to pay for food at stalls helmed by the participating restaurants, which includes a number of high-end ones like Gunther and Garibaldi. On top of the Savour dollars that came with your entry ticket, more Savour dollars could be purchased at the ticket booth.

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This sort of gourmet carnival is not something that we would typically pay money to attend, but since we were given free tickets by a friend, there wasn’t any harm in checking it out. But the carnival turned out to be an EPIC FAIL.

DSC_0543 ^ Alain Passard’s signature L’Arpege eggs.  These poached egg yolks topped with creme fraiche are raved about in the gourmet food space but I didn’t like the taste at all.  They were probably overcooked in the heat.

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DSC_0569-001 ^ I cannot recall which famous restaurants the above plates of food came from ‘cos they were fairly mediocre.

DSC_0555 ^ Gunther’s cold angel hair pasta topped with osteria caviar was the only REALLY good thing that we ate at the carnival. We spoke to him and he thought the outdoor concept was an insane one as well.

DSC_0564-001 ^ Cocktails in a paper cup. 🙂 Very refreshing and tasty but still…in a paper cup. The drink wasn’t even served in a plastic cocktail cup.

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It was a very silly idea to hold a gourmet carnival outdoors, because the weather was incredibly hot and humid. I don’t know what was going on in the minds of the organisers when they decided on an outdoor concept. It is absolute stupidity. How can anyone have fun tasting gourmet food sweating copiously, with the sun burning a hole in your backs. Basically, this entire event could be summed up as ‘Eat-atas-food-on-paper-plates-while-sweating-like-a-pig’.

I would have expected the organisers to hold this event indoors with air-conditioning. Afterall, the prices charged for a plate of food at each stall are close to what you pay in the restaurants. But one gets service, ambience and comfort in the restaurants.

I am definitely not going to Savour 2013.  Airconditioning, or not.

Seoul: Haemul Jeongol

It has been a busy, busy three weeks for me. When I reach home from work, I head for the shower and then my bed! I kinda miss blogging 🙂

I managed to flee from the office at 5.30pm, went for a beer with a colleague at The Exchange, before meeting the husband for dinner. I haven’t eaten weekday dinners with him in ages! The Exchange is our new favourite hangout for an after-work beer because the place is retro-cool and comes with good service.

Before I head for the bed, I want to post this photo of a mega spicy (and sinful) seafood hotpot (known as haemul jeongol) that I ate in Seoul.

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It was super good.

Brunch at Group Therapy Cafe

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Whenever TBH and I have had a tough week at work, we tend to avoid doing anything during the weekends. I just want to hide at home, hug my pillow and do nothing apart from surfing the Internet, watching dramas online, and sleeping. I feel like I have to do absolutely nothing in order to regain all the personal time that has been “lost” to work. Nothing wrong with chilling out at home, except that I find myself repeating this non-activity lifestyle weekend after weekend, for one or two months.

I always have to remind myself that weekends are precious given that we only have 52 of them every year, and they should be spent with family, friends and doing things that we enjoy. Some weekends, I simply force myself to leave the house.

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Today is one of those ‘kick-my-ass-out-of-the-door’ weekend. We went out for brunch with a friend today, at Group Therapy Cafe, located on the second floor of a shophouse in Duxton Hill.

Interesting name to call a cafe. Sounds like a place run by shrinks. 🙂 Quite a nice place to hang out at, though food isn’t that great.

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My friend’s order or banana walnut buckwheat pancakes, topped with strawberries, granola (I think) and maple syrup.

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Creamy scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toast, and a flat white for me!

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TBH’s crab tart with the initials of the cafe imprinted on the pastry. The crab and pastry combination didn’t go down very well with all three of us. We thought it tasted a little odd.

I don’t think I will go back for brunch again, but wouldn’t mind dropping by for coffee if I am in the vicinity.

Seoul: Bukchon Walk With Robert Koehler (Part II)

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I liked the second half of the walk best because we visited a gorgeous hanok in the neighbourhood, saw some paranomic views of the hanok rooftops and walked around a very school called the Joongang High School which was used as a film site in Winter Sonata (not that I can recognize the place since I could not bring myself to watch the weepy drama).

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We were told that this is the vantage point (in Gahoe-dong) where one gets one of the best views of the rooftops in Bukchon. We had to keep very quiet as this was the porch of someone’s home. We all took turns standing on the steps, straining our necks trying to get our best shot of the rooftops.

I thought to myself then: we were standing right in the middle of a cosmopolitan city, looking at these houses that have been around since Joseon times. I just stood there, drinking in the sight of the rooftops before me, wishing that I had the time to linger and slowly savour the view.

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Our next stop was a visit to this hanok. It is a private property belonging to a wealthy Korean lady who opened it to tourists. The premises of the hanok are not huge, and everything about it looked so delicate.  I could feel the floor boards creak at having to carry the weight of all 12 of us.

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The first thought that struck me after I crossed the main doorway of the hanok, standing in the small, tidy and well-manicured garden was this: the Koreans in those old days must have been very petite to live in such small, albeit elegant, rooms.  The rooms had fairly low ceilings, and were separated by sliding doors made of wood and mulberry paper. Aside from the main hall in the hanok, I thought the rest of the rooms could accommodate at most one or two people comfortably.

I felt like an awkward elephant standing in the rooms!

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This is the view of the garden from one of the rooms. The Koreans believe that each room should look out into nature, to be in harmony with heaven, earth and nature.  It is a view that I agree with, but that is hard to achieve in an urban landscape in a city.  We can only make do with what we have, and be contented with our little pots of plants and flowers kept in the balcony and bathroom.

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Some girls in my group photographing the garden.

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To round off the visit, we were offered tea, freshly prepared in the hanok‘s kitchen, which we drank while seating on floral-patterned cushions on the wood-panelled floor. Clumsy me had to be extra careful that I didn’t accidentally knock into and overturn the small serving tables.

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Leaving the serenity of the hanok, we stepped back into the streets of Bukchon, jostling with the thronging crowds and made our way to the next stop, the Joongang Middle School.

I am going to do a Part 3 of this Bukchon walk ‘cos I am not sure my delicate blog can withstand the onslaught of having to load so many photographs in one post. 🙂

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