I had an amazing opportunity today. For $7.00, I enjoyed lunch, shopping, panoramic views of Seoul, and probably the nicest bus ride I've ever experienced.
My coworker, The Canadian, and I decided we wanted to adventure Seoul together. Prior to departure, we had no idea where we were going, what we were going to do once we got there, and very little clue as to how to get back home. But what we did know made all the difference: the 1200 bus. This is a bus that picks up right near our apartments and heads into Seoul for less than $2.50.
But if you've ever taken a bus to some unknown area before, particularly an area where the working language does not use a mono-phonemic writing system, then you can probably understand the potential for utter confusion. Luckily, we stumbled into the old Seoul Station-turned-public-space-for-art and got to see some very confusing art related to life, generally. One exhibit was a bunch of receipt machines attached to a post. The idea was to write or draw something on the Wacom tablet provided and it would then be printed out on one of the machines while a previously written/drawn message would be severed from its machine for you to read and "interact" with the art. It was pretty sweet.
After exploring the exhibit, The Canadian and I struck out with her Lonely Planet guide, naively assuming we knew where we were going. "Oh, it's just across the street..." turned into us looking at a seven-way intersection perplexed, to say the least. A kind police officer pointed us in the right direction.
Luckily, the "right direction" only diverged six times. Before we knew it, we were at the Namdaemun Market, an open-air market with pretty much every knock-off ever sold, all the greasy treats you could ever hope to desire, and crowds like you wouldn't believe. The Canadian and I each bought some fruit on a (chop)stick for a dollar while eying these beignet-looking deals filled with veggies and meat and pure deliciousness. Another dollar later, we were full and high on life. As I later learned, Namdaemun is the largest market in all of Korea, which explains why the entrances off the main road were labeled very clearly.
Next, we made our way to Namsan Tower. This was a bit more of an ordeal. Once we actually saw the tower, we decided that our perfect-working legs would be more than enough to carry us to the top. While not necessarily a mistake (I mean, we're still alive), it was quite the workout. However, it was free and I am allllll about free. After a substantial amount of time, we were at the top, high on endorphins, and bewildered by the miniature city at the top (and all the ladies who did the climb in stilettos). Walking around at the top offered views of Seoul, boxed in by the mountains that surround the city. Gorgeous.
What I hadn't realized was what an utterly romantic place this was. The fences surrounding the actual tower were covered in locks, all placed there by couples in love, as both a symbol of their love and a wish sent into the universe for their future together. Very sweet stuff. It didn't feel cheesy and contrived like it could have--it felt sweet and inspiring, like I was surrounded by the love of these people, like I was actually sharing it with them. Maybe I just devolved into a romantic freakshow.
Anyways, once we got to the bottom (it took only TEN minutes, I felt like such a nerd for complaining the whole way up), we walked back to the station without any hiccups and onto our bus. Not only was it a great day for sightseeing, experiencing Korea, without breaking the bank, it was also a really great time to get to know The Canadian and myself. It was a wonderful day to be alive!