I usually travel solo, but I rarely turn down an opportunity for a family holiday (unless work intervenes). There are many obvious benefits, including the opportunity to bond with one’s domestic circle, the natural pleasure of companionship, the added spark of life that only group travel can inject in what would otherwise have been a quiet, lonely sojourn through unfamiliar landscapes . . .
. . . and of course, the fact that most of my travelling expenses would be paid for out of my parents’ pockets (rather than my own).
Our party was quite large: two families, my own and my cousins’, with all parents and offspring on board (except for my dad who couldn’t make it because of work). Needless to say, the two mums were game for a bit of retail therapy almost from the moment we landed, so after a long and leisurely breakfast our first destination on day 1 was the lively shopping district of Insa-dong.
The long, gently curving street of Insa-dong-gil runs for several hundred metres from Yulgok-ro in the north to Tapgol Park in the south. Lined with scores of small shops selling everything from traditional crafts and antiques to cheap tourist kitsch, this area is probably one of the best places in Seoul to seek out souvenirs of one’s visit.
The northern end of the street – not far from Anguk Station on subway line 3 – is a shady, tree-lined promenade with stone-paved sidewalks.
We paused here for some obligatory family snapshots before breaking up into small groups and spreading out. The mums sauntered off to seek out bargains, dragging my bored-looking uncle along with them. My brother went off with my cousins in search of food, fun, and mischief. I, on the other hand, went on a leisurely stroll with my sister to comb the area for interesting things to waste our money on.
After a short distance, the line of trees dissolved away into open pavements that ran flush with the street in the middle. The street is closed to traffic for several hours during weekends, but even during our time there (when cars were still allowed) it was clear that pedestrians were firmly in control.
I didn’t do a lot of shopping this time around, but our merry little posse returned to Insa-dong on a different day and I finally found the perfect souvenir – something I’d been yearning to have for a long time. (But let’s save that for a future post.)
Just one more thing before we move on. As we were making our way down the street, we passed several people carrying strange-looking yellow objects that appeared to be filled with white cream.
It wasn’t long before we tracked down the source: a shop selling little stickers or can badges (not really sure which) that was also running a very popular snack operation on the side.
As it turned out, those odd J-shaped things we saw people biting and sucking on were a form of hollow dessert cone – probably made out of puffed cornmeal – filled with soft-serve ice cream. The shop wasn’t the only one selling these, but it was the most centrally located and appeared to be the most popular. What’s more, every single person buying one of these desserts is effectively transformed into a walking advertisement, since people further up or down the street would probably scratch their heads at the sight of the oddly-shaped objects and wander off in search of their origin (just as my sister and I did).
All right, so much for Insa-dong. After lunch and a bit of rest back in our hotel, just as the sun began its long descent towards the horizon, we set out again in search of a bird’s-eye view of Seoul (and a history museum filled with teddy bears).