Place to visit today: Secret Garden of Changdeokgung Palace!
Both D. and I were extremely excited to visit the secret garden, though we know it would be much better when leaves decorate the trees. Since the english guided tour would start at 11:30 am, we didn’t bother doing something before. Changdeokgung is probably one of the prettiest palace in Seoul.
King Taejong ordered the construction of this palace, which is a complex of a number of official and residential buildings set in a garden adapted to the topography of the ~58 hectar site. Changdeokgung was originally built as a secondary palace to Gyeongbokgung and was placed at the foot of Ungbong Peak of Mount Baegaksan, the main guardian mountain in northern Seoul. The secret garden Biwon, formerly called Bukwon and Geumwon, served as a resting place for the royal family members and boasts a gigantic 300 years old tree, a small pond and a pavilion. The garden was landscaped with lawns, flowering tree, lotus pools, pavilions, flowers etc. All in all over 26000 specimens of various trees and plants. Actually, there were many pavillions and fountains occupying the garden, but the Juhamnu pavillion – the King’s library – is one of the prettiest, in my opinion, because it was set peacefully on a square lily pond. The garden was said to be kept as natural as possible was only touched by human hands only when absolutely necessary. My vocabulary is not rich enough to describe the beauty of this garden and the magical feeling one has when wandering around. It’s this feeling of calmness that overwhelmed you and the fusion of wood buildings and nature, the breathing of the trees, the sound of the branches moving in the wind… it is like pure mediation. I would love to return in Autumn, when all the leaves are changing colours… that should be a magnificent sight, a pleasure to the eyes.
Changdeokgung palace had a great influence on the development of Korean architecture, garden design and landscaping planning. It incorporates all key components of Korean palace architecture and conforms to Confucian principles. Unfortunately, Changdeokgung was burned down by angry citizens in 1592, when the royal family fled their abode during the Japanese invasion, but luckily were later restored by Gwanhaegun.
The most important building of Changdeokgung is probably Injeongjeon Hall, where coronations and other royal events, e.g weddings, took place. The way leading to Injeongjeon has stones on both side depicting where the official members were to stand in order of importance.
Beside all the colourful buildings, Changdeokgung has a colourless complex called Nakseonjae. It is said, that when King Heonjong was not allowed to marry Gyeongbin, the woman he loved, but had to make another woman queen. However, they were not able to bear a child so he took Gyeongbin as a concubine and allowed her to move onto the palace grounds. The king then built a residence area Nakseonjae just for her and they were able to live close to each other until he died. What a sad life for all three… but I guess that was common during the empire times :-/.
After exploring Changdeokgung and Biwon, we strolled back to Bukchon Hanok Village for yummy lunch and found on our way a superb bakery with delicious bread. They decorated their windows with dark bread, which, for Germans like us, are rare to see outside of Germany. So we had to enter :-D. As I am a coffee addict, I really need to drink at least 2 cups of coffee a day, thus I urged D. to let me spend sometime in a coffee shop. We spontaneously entered Modern Factory cafe because it has this industrial vibe with red bricks to it. While I sipped my Costa Rica brew, D. sipped her hot chocolate and we observed people passing by, checked out the next things we could see in Seoul, the next restaurants and of course the location of the Gentle Monster Bathhouse, which of course was a bath house before but now converted into a designer glass (shades) shop. VERY interesting! VERY expensive as well.
With a new Made-in-Korea shade, D. and I took the bus 02 to Jongak Station and walked our way to Cheonggyecheon Stream. It was our first time taking the bus and the experience is priceless. I felt like participating in a K-drama. From beeping our T-money card to validate the ride to sitting in the quite hard and wornout seat to looking out of the window while the sun brushed our hairs… I realised then: I am watching way too many K-dramas..hahaha… too bad I was not a drunk lady trying to find my way home while a hot-looking bad-boy-typed guy sitting next to me and fell in love with me..haha…
The 11km Cheonggyecheon Stream is a lovely stream flowing west to east through downtown Seoul, connecting to the Han River and empties into the Yellow Sea. It is a massive urban renewal project that passes close to many tourist sites, such as Deoksugung Palace, Seoul Plaza, Insa-dong Street, Changgyeonggung Palace. Originally Cheonggyecheon was covered with concrete for roads but was restored in 2003 by Seoul’s mayor Lee Myung Bak, who removed the elevated highway built on top of it and restored the stream. The restoration of Cheongyecheon was a major success in urban renewal and beautification, which provided many performing benefits to Seoul. Environmentally, it provides flood protection, increase overall biodiversity with a number of plant, fish, bird, aquatic invertebrate, insect and amphibian species. Not to mention the reduction of small-particle air pollution.
In addition, the restoration of Cheonggyecheon contributed to an increase in public transportation usage and attracts many foreign tourists hence contributing to Seoul’s economy as well. Unfortunately, my battery died when we reached Cheonggyecheon, so I could not take many pictures of this awesomeness.