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[Memories of Seoul] Autumn trips to Remember

By Lucky Llanes 2016-05-21
Seoul is my second home, my favorite place in Korea, and I’ve fallen in love with it long before I was able to visit it. This love story started while I was growing up, watching Korean dramas and listening to Kpop music. Naturally, I developed great interest in Korea and have since dreamt of visiting Seoul to see my favorite Korean actors and Kpop stars in person, experience Korean culture and visit the filming locations of my favorite dramas. That’s why in 2013, I was determined to turn that dream into a reality and saved as much as I can. Eventually, I was able to set foot in Korea in November of that same year. It was autumn when I first came to Seoul, South Korea, and for the first time in my life, I felt right at home in a foreign land and found the warmth of Korean people very welcoming even if we don't speak the same language. I was glad my friend and I chose to visit during this season because the cold weather was perfect, and the fall foliage was so much better in person than on TV screens. I was ecstatic too, to see the warm hues of red, orange, and yellow all over the streets, and almost everywhere around the city. I was also fascinated at how Seoul was able to preserve the beauty of its cultural heritage sites so well, and found it really cool that you can find them at the heart of a modern city. I fell in love with that fusion and harmony of modern and traditional architecture, and it’s something that I will always admire about Korea. At that time I even thought to myself, the name Seoul must be very apt for this city because it is a place that warms my soul. On that trip, we went on a self-guided tour of the Royal Palaces, Namsan Tower, Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, Namdaemun, Gangnam, Kondae, and even went as far as Yongin, Gyeonggido to visit MBC Dramia, a famous filming location of Sageuk dramas. My favorite places was Gyeongbokgung Palace, where the picturesque autumn landscape just took my breath away; and of course, Namsan Tower, the most romantic place in Seoul for me, where the night view was simply amazing and the Bear Museum a very cute place to learn about Korean history and culture. I also had a grand time shopping in Myeongdong, and ended up with an overweight baggage filled with Korean cosmetics and Kpop merchandise. I watched a Kpop concert too, and in between all these, visited some of my favorite cafes, which I only used to only see in pictures. I liked how convenient travelling was using Seoul Subway, and how I can always stay connected with family and friends, as well as post lots of pictures on my SNS accounts, through Seoul’s free and super-fast public Wi-Fi. I even enjoyed the getting lost here and there, because it gave us more opportunities to see the nooks and crannies of the city. I spent six days in Seoul on my first trip to Korea and somehow, it felt like I left a part of my heart there. Hence, when I got back to my home country, I was determined to return and became more interested with Korean Culture, and even started blogging about Korea. Eventually, I became a staunch supporter of Korean Tourism. In 2015, I applied and was accepted as Wow Korea Supporter and Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) Global Super Connector, and my main task in these 2 roles was to promote Korean tourism in social networking sites. Being an active SNS ambassador, my friends would often ask me about Seoul, and some even thought I have already moved there. They would ask me for travel tips, exciting activities, and must-go places. I also gained a lot of new friends who share the same interest, and eventually, my penchant for Korean tourism paved the way for an opportunity to go back to my second home. My second trip to Seoul was by far, the best, unplanned trip I have ever experienced. It was also my first solo trip abroad, and I call it ‘my miracle trip’ because I kind of felt like all the odds was against it at the beginning. It was October last year when Korea Tourism Organization held the Visit Korea VIP Members Invitation Tour online event, calling on avid supporters of their website and of Korea tourism to apply as participants for the tour. Of course, I wouldn’t miss that chance for anything so I submitted my application. Unfortunately, my name was not on the winners’ list when they made the announcement. To my great surprise though, KTO contacted me 5 days later to inform me that one participant couldn’t make it so they had another round of selection and chose me. I was so happy I even hugged my boss when I learned that. For the second time, I was able to visit Seoul in autumn of 2015. I was so ecstatic to be back and see the familiar shades of fall. I was also excited to meet the 13 other winners from other countries like Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. I was part of the English team, and was the only one from the Philippines. Coming from different countries with different languages, it was amazing how we all easily got along so well. We visited a lot of tourist attractions in Seoul like the Trick Eye Museum, Kondae Common Ground, Deoksugung Palace, Samcheongdong, Yeouido Park and Grevin Museum Seoul, where I ‘met’ a lot of famous people and handsome oppa. We also dropped by some famous cafes like the Hello Kitty Café in Hongdae, Dore Dore Café in Kondae, and Wiki Café, which is owned by Super Junior member, Lee Sung Min (Being a Super Junior fan, that is one item off my bucketlist!). We even met his brother, Lee Sung Jin, and we took a lot of photos with him. Ironically, my second visit to Seoul is a trip of many ‘firsts’ for me. For one, it allowed me to visit Myeongdong Cathedral for the first time. I regretted not being able to visit it before especially when I learned it’s the birthplace for the Roman Catholic Church community in Korea. That’s why I was happy to finally be able to see it on this 2nd trip. I really loved its unique architecture, serene ambience and the grotto of Mother Mary at the back. We said a short prayer and lighted a candle too. Other first time experiences for me include learning how to make candles at Holly Go Studio, as well as playing the Janggu drum at Jeongdong Theater. Being a newbie in playing a Korean musical instrument, I was surprised at how easy it was. At the end of the workshop, each of us were given certificates and our guide even teased us that now we can teach others how to play the Janggu drum at our respective countries. After that, I was able to watch a Korean traditional musical performance for the first time too. It was titled ‘Miso’ ('The Story of Secretary Bae' 배비장전), a traditional performance showcasing Korean dance and music like Pansori (traditional vocal performance with drum), and Samulnori (traditional percussion quartet). I really like the dance routines, colorful costumes, and interesting plot. We even had the chance to take pictures with the main cast after the performance. Lastly, this trip also allowed me to try out a lot of Hansik (traditional Korean food) like Dakgalbi (Grilled Chicken) and Makguksu (Korean buckwheat noodle dish), Bingsu, Ramyeon, Hameul Pajeon, and Grilled Mackerel. I was also able to drink Makgeolli for the first time in Seoul. The food is really great, and I like that they’re also healthy. With good food, life-changing experiences, and captivating tourist attractions, a guest just couldn’t ask for anything more. I really appreciate the hospitality and generosity shown to us by our host, Korea Tourism Organization during this 2nd trip, and for all that I’ve experienced, I will forever be grateful to them, and the city of Seoul. Seoul is my happy place, and every time I think of it, I am only reminded of wonderful memories that never fail to inspire me. Of course, there’s a lot more to explore so I will definitely keep on coming back to my home away from home.