Sunday, April 29, 2012

뜰안 Tea House in Jongno

As I wondered around the backstreets of Jongno this week I stumbled across this lovely tea shop mixed in with all the hanok homes behind Jongno-3-ga. My fascination with anything traditional in this country drew me in the door, and I'm quite happy we stopped by.

The ambiance was lovely with the wooden rafters exposed, floor seating and bojagi (traditional Korean quilt work) hanging in the window. It was hard to choose which tea to drink because there were so many, but finally I decided to get the maeshil tea (plum tea), which is served cold, and my boyfriend decided to get the traditional fermented tea.

Here is my plum tea. I really liked the cute star shaped ice floating on the top. It is very sweet and basically tastes like fruit. If you're not a fan of sweet teas it wouldn't be the right choice for you, but if you love fruity drinks, this is really cool and delicious.

The fermented tea was more interesting though, actually. We were given a pot of hot water, a small tea pot filled with fermented tea leaves, a small bowl to pour the steeped tea into and the waitress was kind enough to give us two cups so we could share the pot of tea.

Next time you find yourself in these backstreets of Jongno, be sure to stop by here for peaceful cup of tea in a traditional Korean ambiance.

For more information, please see their website (Korean only)

서울특별시 Seoul
종로구 Jongno-gu
익성동 166-76 Ikseong-dong 166-76
Phone: 02-754-7420

View 뜰안 in a larger map

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Beer Mart" and a New Trend in Beer Drinking

Nowadays, self-service drinking establishments like this one called "Beer Mart" are becoming more and more common around Seoul. It seems to be a combination of the freedom of drinking outside of a convenience store with a climate controlled environment and a huge international beer selection (though still severely lacking in the American beer selection outside of Budweiser and Miller). Chips and popcorn are available for purchase in the store, or you can bring in whatever you like from the outside. They even provide menus from local delivery restaurants so you can call and order your own food.

Since there's not much waitstaff here since everything is self-serve, you just have to collect your bottles in a basket like this, plus keep the wrappers of any snacks you buy, and then when you have finished for the evening, you just bring your basket and snacks up to the front to pay.

While far from being a classy sort of establishment, it is certainly cheap as they can afford to charge low prices for their beers. No expectations to buy anju must also be a draw for people on a budget who want to drink good beer.

Keep your eyes out for one of these style bars in your neighborhood. You may find that this is the best place to drink since the invention of the Family Mart outdoor seating area.

Where's your favorite self-service bar?

맥주마트- Beer Mart
서울시 성북구 석관동 133-1 3층- Seoul Seongbukgu, Seokgwan-dong 133-1 3F
02-957-6225 (Korean Only)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Railroad Turned Bike Path

Me on my new "mini-sprinter"

You may not have noticed if you're not bicycler, but biking in Korea has improved dramatically in the last year or two. Bike paths are popping up around Seoul, and are now even connecting cities. Nowadays it's possible to ride from Seoul to Busan by bicycle and you would be able to stay on bike paths for about 80% of the ride. The majority of the new bike paths follow waterways, anything from small streams to Korea's 4 large rivers, which makes for some seriously peaceful and scenic bicycle riding.

Bridge connecting Namyangju and Yangsuri, crossing the North Han River

The path I've been riding lately is the one that starts in Seoul on the north side of the Han River and just keeps going. Last year, they took an old, unused train route and converted it into a bike path. It must have been really convenient, since there were already tunnels in place and it was already relatively flat.

Once railway tunnel, now a tunnel for cyclists

Inside the well-lit tunnel

Old train car under renovation

The path has been really nicely done, and they've left some reminders of the old railway that used to exist there. Above you can see an old railway car. It seems they are restoring it now, maybe later people will be able to go in and see inside as well. Below, you can see an old station that they have restored.

Old train station

Along the path as well, they have tried to leave some of the old tracks as a reminder as well.

Cafe on the tracks

Tracks along side the cycle path 

This new bicycle path (which also allows walkers as well, but no cars or motorbikes) is attracting huge crowds. Enough so to justify setting up restaurants along the bike path that cars just don't have access to. It's kind of amazing to think of a world revolving around bikes, not cars, but that's what it's like once you start riding on this path. Like existing in a car-less world. It's kind of amazing!

Restaurants for bikers and pedestrians

If you don't have your own bike, have no fear. There are many bike rental shops and there are even various locations where you can borrow a bike for free. One of those places is just outside Yangsu station on the Jungang line. The rental bikes look like quite nice mountain bikes, though I haven't tried them for myself since I have my own bike.

I hope I've inspired you to get out this spring and enjoy the weather by exploring Korea by bicycle. Bike paths now snake all around Korea. Just by getting on the north side of the Han river in Seoul, you can bike all the way to Chungju in North Chungcheon province without ever having to get off the path. Bike path maps are also conveniently posted along the path in various places, though often only in Korean. I've yet to see many foreigners along this path outside of Seoul, so we have to get the word out! Happy biking!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Janggu Class at the Seoul National Folk Museum

Impressive performance by professional janggu Players

I was fortunate enough last month to see an advertisement on for a free, two month long Janggu lesson at the National Folk Museum in Seoul. I signed up immediately. When else could I get to take a two month long music lesson for free?

For our first lesson, we were introduced to the Janggu with a performance by four professional Janggu players, our two teachers and another two performers. The blonde hair you see on the right of the stage above is actually one of our teachers, she's a Polish woman who has graduated from Hanyang University in Seoul, with a master's in Janggu. Not only is she a fantastic Janggu player, but she's also our class translator for the students who can't understand Korean.

One of the janggu players

After watching the performance, we were all feeling a little intimidated... there was no way we'd ever be able to perform something like that... but we were informed that the particular piece they had performed for us was not anything close to what we'd ever be expected to play. Then we were all given our own janggu and we started to learn the basics.


I hope to make a more detailed post about the janggu later, but basically the janggu is a traditional Korean instrument that dates back to the Goryeo dynasty and earlier. There are two ends, each made with a different animal skin and each producing a different sound. The sounds can also be changed by sliding the leather adjustments on the sides as well. The "gongchae" is the stick held in the left hand. It has a wooden ball at the top to make the "gong" sound. The stick held in the right hand is called the "yeolchae", it is long and thin and makes a "dak" sound as it hits the right side of the drum.

(Left) "gongchae" and (right) "Yeolchae"

Our teacher teaching us janggu theory

The class is more than just hitting a drum. We're learning about different rhythms, fast, medium and slow. We're learning different combinations of hitting the drums to produce certain rhythms as well. To a class of rather musically inept people, it's quite entertaining to watch. But, our teacher tries hard to keep us on beat and hitting the right side of the drum with the right stick at the right time.

Our teacher, demonstrating for us

We've just completed two weeks of the class, we've still got another 6 weeks to go. I'm really excited for our final day when we have a performance with 3 other classes from the National Folk Museum. When the official times are released for that performance, I'll be sure to post them here. All will be welcome to see!

English Website of the National Folk Museum of Korea:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Cheonggyecheon Gets a Cleaning

Spring cleaning on the Cheonggyecheon. I snapped this photo one day last week. I never knew streams had to be swept!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ankara, Turkey


My third stop in Turkey was Ankara, the capital of Turkey. A lot of tourists stop by here in transit, for a day or two, but there's not a whole lot to see here on the tourist trek, so most folks don't stay too long. I was here, basically, for 3 days. It was enough to see all the important landmarks of the city.

Here, I couch surfed with three roommates. Two Turkish girls and their German roommate. It was fun to stay with another foreigner because she was really interested in doing some sightseeing while I was in town. The first thing we did after I arrived was get on a bus and head up to the citadel, which is an old fortress on the top of a mountain in the city. It looked far away on the map, but after just a 10 or 15 minute  bus ride, we found ourselves right at the bottom.

I'm not sure what I expected to find inside, maybe a museum or a park, but instead I realized that the fortress was still inhabited by local residents. The houses up there were amazing, avid readers of my blog will know I'm obsessed with old things, and these houses sure fit the bill as to what I was looking for.

We wondered around inside the citadel for a while, then made our way out. There are some souvenir shops here, probably more than in any other place in Ankara, but it's nothing like it was in Istanbul. Which, is generally good, but I hadn't done all my Christmas shopping in Istanbul, not wanting to lug it across the country, but now in Ankara, I was it was a little more difficult to find good gifts. Note to those going to Turkey... do all your shopping in Istanbul (unless you're buying baklava!) because there's so much more selection!

We made our way down from the citadel and passed through a market. It was interesting to see an average market here, it actually felt a lot like Namdaemun Market here in Seoul in some ways... they just sold more hijabs and traditional Turkish wedding garments and fewer hanboks.

After our adventure around town, we headed back to the house to prepare a big meal with the other couchsurfers. I helped them make all sorts of traditional Turkish food... if only it were something I could make here! We had so much fun cooking this meal! Cooking was half the fun!

This is peynirli börek. It's got layers of flaky pastry bread, and in between the layers, there is yogurt, oil, eggs, baking soda and cheese. And sprinkled on top are sesame seeds. We baked this in the oven for a while until it was golden brown. Quite tasty!

Here is more Cig Kofte, like what I had in Eskisehir. Vegetarian, since they didn't eat meat. We got this at the store and we brought home to make our own wraps with vegetables and these added. So delicious!

After dinner, my hosts serenaded us with some traditional Turkish music played on their Baglama which is a three stringed traditional instrument from the region.

The next morning, I went over to the Anıtkabir, or Ataturk's Mausoleum. The mausoleum is immense and can be seen from any hill around the city. Turkey, and Ankara in particular, has a serious obsession with Ataturk. Throughout Ankara, you can see his effigy hanging from buildings (see first photo of this post) and see his name written here there and everywhere. The obsession is so intense that it is in fact illegal to insult his legacy. The mausoleum, and the adjoining museum are free admission, and probably worth checking out while in Ankara. The museum gives you a good history of modern Turkey plus you can see Ataturk's pajamas, too.

We also made a stop at Haci Bayram Mosque, a mosque dating back to the 15th century. This mosque was built in honor of Hacı Bayram-ı Veli, The founder of the Bayrami sect of Islam and a sufi poet. The style of this mosque was quite different from the grand Blue Mosque in Istanbul or the Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara. It doesn't have the grand domes and high ceilings. In fact, once we found it, we weren't even sure we were at the right place because it was a rather modest looking brick building, or at least modest in comparison to every other mosque I had visited thus far in my trip.

Here is Kocatepe, the biggest mosque in Ankara, and one of the biggest in the world. It can hold up to 100,000 worshipers. Though the style looks old, similar to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, this is actually a very new mosque, construction was completed in just 1987. The architecture style is called Neo-Ottoman for obvious reasons, but reading the history, it seems that this mosque could have been quite different. There were several different plans for this mosque, dating back to the 1940's. Previous designs were considered too modern and therefore never made it through. Finally, this design was accepted in 1967 and today tourists can enter and see this massive mosque during non-worshiping hours.

The thing I really liked about this mosque was that you could go up stairs to get a better view. This photo was clearly taken from the ground level, but it was also possible to walk up to those balcony levels you can see in the background. These areas are also worship areas as well, and you can easily imagine that 100,000 people could fit into this massive space. 

The last image I'll leave you with from Ankara is the famous İskender kebab. The idea of this kebab is that you take pieces of lamb marinated in tomato sauce, pour it over chunks of hot pita bread, then cover with butter and yogurt. It could be one of the world's most amazing food inventions, and a must try while in Turkey. While this dish is originates from the city of Bursa, I was not able to go to Bursa to try the original, so a reasonable approximation in Ankara had to do. I was quite satisfied with this meal!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dongdaemun Fabric Market

Even close to my own house, I'm always finding new things that never cease to surprise me. This time it was one of Dongdaemun's giant fabric market in Jongno-6-ga. When Vegging in Chungju asked me where to buy fabric in Seoul, I offered to go with her to find the fabric market in Dongdaemun for a new photo opportunity.

It wasn't hard to find. Along the Cheonggyechong, just past Dongdaemun in Jongno-6-ga the streets are lined with bolts of fabric.

Upon entering the complex, it was like entering another world. Vegging in Chongju was mesmerized by everything and I was seriously overwhelmed. I expected to have lots of fun photo opportunities, but actually this place was full of so much hustle and bustle that it was seriously difficult to stand in one place for a few seconds to properly snap a photo. The photos you see here were just taken at momentary lulls in the commotion.

If you're into sewing or crafting, this is seriously the place to go. Everything seemed pretty reasonably priced, and we even found some remains on sale for really cheap, like 2,000 won/ yard. And, in case you are planning on shopping here, fabric is sold by the yard, not by the meter. While I'm sure some vendors may have been selling in large quantities, all the places we stopped at were more than happy to sell us just one yard at a time.

The size of this market is seriously overwhelming. From the outside, it didn't look so big, but once inside you can easily get lost in the labyrinth of stalls. The vast majority of products here is the fabric, but there are also tailors and seamstresses working here, plus they sell tons of other clothes making materials such as buttons, studs, lace, feathers, beads and so on and so forth.

If you happen to be in the area and are looking for a cool place to check out, this could be it. And if you're actually into making your own clothes or crafts, this is seriously the place to go. This place is basically a fashion designer's dream come true!

To get to the market, go out exit 8 from Dongdaemun Station (not Dongdaemun History and Culture Park) and turn right to walk along the Cheonggyechon stream. The market is inside the building to the right. You can recognize it from the outside from all the fabric for sale. The market is called 동대문종합시장 (General Market/ Dongdaemun Shopping Complex), but you can also ask for the 원단시장 (Fabric Market), and people who work in the area may be able to direct you into the right direction.

View 동대문종합시장 in a larger map

And if any of my readers are interested in meeting for a walk around an interesting place in Seoul for some photo taking, let me know! I'm looking to take more photo walks now that it's spring!