It is springtime in Seoul and everything is blooming.
The magnolias stand tall, bare of all leaves, displaying their large beautiful flowers.
The cherry trees bloom with such an abundance, and their clusters of flowers looks like precious stones.
We rented an apartment centrally located in the center of town, on the north side of the Han river which run through the heart of the city of Seoul.
It is a spacious apartment with beautiful hardwood floors and modern finishes.
But even though it is a cute city apartment with nice design elements, and with contemporary furnitures, the apartment does not feel luxurious.
At first I wondered why this was…. Why the apartment did not feel luxurious…
And then I realized that in general, modern design needs the support of good art and superb craftsmanship to feel luxurious.
Without it it, the apartment ends up looking spartan and a bit too utilitarian.
Near our apartment, we visited two grand palaces, the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Changdeokgung Palace.
You enter via a grand gate made of elaborately carved wood which is painted in intricate design.
The blooming cherry trees and the Asian maples around the garden, felt magical.
There were many beautifully painted wooden buildings scattered around the palace ground.
With their upwards curved roofs and hardwood floors, they felt very serene and harmonious.
I could not help but think about how some modern design architecture that is so cherished nowadays, might not stand the test of time as these glorious palaces which are hundreds of years old.
In one of the palaces we paid an extra admission fee to visit a secret garden.
It was a private garden which in old times, no one who was not invited by the king was allowed to enter.
When you hear the word “garden,” your mind might conjure up images of manicured lawns with glorious flower beds, but this garden is more like a large forest park with walking paths, a few ponds and a few charming buildings scattered around the park.
We were told that in ancient times, tigers, leopards and other wild animals used to live in this forest.
As we walked around the secret garden, we came upon a stone gate which was carved with the ancient Chinese characters that symbolize “Eternal Youth.”
Apparently this gate was only a “wishing gate,” because the ancient kings and the royal family, lived only an average of 36 years.
They were carried everywhere, even inside their own secret garden, by a group of servants, while they sat on a beautifully carved palanquin.
As a result of their pampered lives, the royals suffered from obesity and heart problems and other diseases related to over indulgence and a sedentary life.
We left the palace and walked towards the trendy streets of Insadong.
Insadong was once a part of Seoul in which poets, artists and forward thinkers of the city used to live and create.
Today it is a trendy neighborhood filled with tea houses, coffee shops, art galleries, restaurants and funky shops.
On the main street, we bought a delicate candy made from honey that is stretched to look like strings of white hair.
The white hair were wrapped around a mixture of 15 different nuts.
The end result was a candy that looked like cocoons of the silk worm and tasted very gentle, not too sweet, intriguing and a bit chewy.
One of the interesting shopping area in Insadong is the multi levels of Samziegil Shopping Square which is very artistic.
It has a lot of art and graffiti painted on the walls and a lot of interesting things to look at.
When our legs could carry us no longer, we found a relaxing refuge in a small Tea House up a narrow steps.
The place was full of books, art, low almost kid height tables with low chairs.
We had Chresentumun tea, Yuzo tea and hand made fruit sherbet ice with ripe persimmons fruit.
We ate dinner at Baru, a famous buddhist vegetarian restaurant which serves Korean “Temple food.”
Temple food is vegan in accordance with the Buddhist doctrine proclaiming that all life is sacred.
They use no artificial seasonings and no onions, scallion, garlic, are used in any of the dishes.
It is believed that onion and garlic are too strong for digestion and that their heat might distract people from effective meditation.
Temple food emphasize the simple yet rich and sophisticated flavors of the natural ingredients, creating a subtle yet mouth-watering meals.
Our dinner consisted of 15 courses.
There was a dish of pink lotus root which was served on a large lotus flower and a dish of tender ginseng among other dishes that tasted well balanced and delicious.
We made our way back to our apartment on foot.
We have been walking about eight hours and my legs are hurting, but I view it as preparations for our upcoming mountain hiking.
I plan to walk all over Seoul with a few exceptions for taking the Metro, if the places we want to visit are really far away.