Modern History

Thanks to German car marque BMW, I found myself in the fine city of Seoul, Korea. Now although most of the planned activities were going to be around the their driving centre in Incheon, for numerous reasons (flight availability, connections, event dates etc) I ended up having nigh-on a full day to play with and in turn; the perfect excuse to do some sightseeing.

Located on the Han river and with a landmass of around 605 km, Seoul has a vast and colourful history that can be traced back to 18 BC (and further still to the Paleolithic age if I want to be pedantic). Nowadays; the Capital of the Republic of Korea has a population that exceeds 10 million (making it to number four in the world’s largest cities table – by land area) and has been ranked inside the top 10 of most visited cities in the world, so I figured it wouldn’t be hard to find something to keep me entertained.

Although it has 32 bridges, the Han river seemingly splits the city in two, old and new, traditional to modernistic. The south side is newer, more contemporary, more Gangnam style, while the north has a more historic feel, somewhat more cultural. Physically the divide is easy to conquer (there are plenty of bridges after all) but it’s plain to see that both sides can offer up a totally different Seoul experience.

As this was my first visit to the country/city and with only a handful of hours up my sleeve, I headed for what I felt best spearheaded each side.

Built in 1395, the Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first Royal Palace of the Joseon Dynasty and it’s magnificent. The home of many a King the vast forty acre site is both expansive and yet intricate. The main gates are impressive double tiered structures that are gloriously presented and shield the huge inner courts and buildings from the world outside. The Gangnyeongjeon (King’s main quarters) are something quite special but I particularly liked the Gyeonghoeru, it’s a royal banquet hall that sits on an island connected to the estate by three stone bridges but the ‘upstairs’ part of the building (on top of 48 stone pillars) is the ‘quiet place’ that the king went to reflect.

Although there is a fair amount of construction going on (Since 1990 the Korean government have undertaken a forty year restoration project) I could have literally spent hours wandering around the grounds, admiring the artistry and just being Zen.

A quick (half an hour) bus ride through the maze of Seoul traffic and I got to my other tourist attraction.

The Lotte World Seoul Sky is a 123 floor, 554.5 metre behemoth of a skyscraper and the tallest building in the OECD (5th in the world). It took six years to build, has the highest glass bottomed observatory (478 Metres) the world’s tallest and fastest double decker elevator (at 10m/second it’s something Willy Wonka would be proud of). From afar it looks like a giant 2 nib pencil and from below it just seems to curve off and disappear into the sky.

I must admit to being rather nervous before setting foot inside the structure, after all; having only been opened around a week, I did get the sense of being somewhat of a guinea pig (I wasn’t even sure the concrete was dry). Anyway; a big breath and into the elevator I went.

It really is the best lift I’ve ever set foot in. Not only is it fast (you don’t feel it but watching the floor and metre count is awesome) but all the walls are screens, showing exterior views on the way up and a dramatic firework display on the way down.

Stepping out on the 117 floor was a moment filled with trepidation, you know you are up high but you don’t want to be thrown into the deep end (view wise), thankfully you are not. Edging out to the windows and the 360 degree vista takes courage but it’s not as terrifying as I thought it would be – I think the impressiveness of the view has a lot to with that, it really is ‘as far as the eye can see’.

Based on how brave you are feeling, there’s the World’s tallest glass-bottomed deck! Oh yes, on the 121st floor, you can happily and confidently wander out on the opaque glass floor before it automatically turns clear and you are staring at the tiny ants of people and cars 478 metres below – It’s a ‘floating on air’ surreal moment that makes your knees tremble.

Back on terra firma (something I was quite pleased about), there was chance for one last look up before we headed back to the bus and back out to the sanctuary of the BMW resort in Incheon.

There is of course so much more to see and do in a city the size (and expanse) of Seoul. The food, the architecture, the people and the culture, the shopping and of course the plethora of experiences. It’s a city full of history and it’s a city more progressive than many of the others I have set foot in. Final note to self – I must come back and spend more than just one day.

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