Emperors & Empires Cruise on the Oceania Nautica
– Seoul, South Korea
We had been very excited that Seoul was on our itinerary. I had heard so much about it and was looking forward to experiencing it myself. We were very disappointed that we would only be in port from 1:00 PM until 10:00 PM, since it didn’t give us much daylight time for touring. It did however give us time to attend two very good enrichment lectures about Korea in the morning. When I came out of the second one and walked out to the promenade deck at around 11:45 AM, I was surprised to see the Incheon Grand Bridge. The 7.6 mile bridge is one of the longest in the world and is very close to the port area. I couldn’t believe that we were going to dock almost an hour early.
The ship had slowed down considerably as though we were coming up to a dock. On our port side was an amusement park with a large Ferris wheel.
That sure didn’t look like a cruise terminal. I wasn’t sure what was going on. When I went up to deck 10 to get a better view, I saw what was happening. We were entering what looked like a canal lock. I had never heard that there was a lock going into the port for Seoul. It is apparently there to maintain the water level in the port area, so ships don’t bottom out with the tides.
Since the Nautica almost filled up the lock, I would have to assume that larger cruise ships would have to dock further away or tender into Seoul.
Since we had just been through the Panama Canal four months earlier, I was pleased to see that this lock had the same type of gates as those being installed at the new Panama Canal site. Rather than folding open like the old canal, these gates slid into position.
While waiting for the lock to close and fill up, we got to look at the massive car lots with thousands of new Kia’s and/or Hyundai’s. There were so many cars.
The whole process took about 40 minutes and then we were on our way to the dock. We actually ended up arriving late after thinking we would be early. I had booked a tour with a company called This is Korea (https://thisiskoreatours.com). Our guide for the day was Luke. He was a very upbeat energetic young man that in addition to being the guide was also the van driver and tour photographer. It was kind of nice to have him take photos during the tour, since he was able to take photos of us without having to give him our cameras. At the end of the tour he uploaded his photos to my iPhone through an app I installed in the van. It worked great.
The drive to Seoul took a lot longer than I expected. The Seoul traffic was pretty heavy. Our first destination was the Gyeongbok Palace. The original palace was built in 1395, but it had been destroyed and rebuilt several times. When we arrived the entrance looked quite impressive. The original complex had 330 separate buildings; but most were destroyed.
Passing through the entrance we came to a very large courtyard with lovely structures all around. The main gate had three arched openings. The king would pass through the center opening while the princes and government officials used the side entrances. It was quite an ornate structure, like many on the property.
It was quite a contrast to see the unusual modern architecture just outside one of the palace walls.
The large gate and hall on the other side of the courtyard led deeper into the palace grounds.
We arrived just before a ceremony of the royal guards was about to take place. Areas of the courtyard were cordoned off where the visitors could stand to observe and take photo of the event. All at once brightly colored guards with flags and weapons entered the courtyard from three entrances. They were quite a site.
They played music and the large drum was beaten during much of the ceremony. It lasted for ten minutes and was quite a crowd pleaser.
After the ceremony ended, we moved through the gate to the next courtyard that had a bridge over a small waterway. It was guarded by a statue of an imaginary creature.
The next gate looked similar to the one we had just passed through. We had become accustomed to having to pass through numerous gates and halls to get to the main buildings in the various palaces and temples we had visited.
In this temple we didn’t have that many gates to go through, since the Throne Hall was in the next courtyard.
This was quite a lovely building and set up above the others on a raised foundation. The decorations under the roof line were just gorgeous.
Once again we were not able to enter the building; but we could take photos from the openings. The throne itself was quite different from others we had seen.
The most beautiful part of the building was the incredible ceiling with its many colors, patterns and angles. Just gorgeous.
There were many other buildings on the grounds; but the one on the water, to me, was the most special of them. The setting was lovely with the trees and mountains in the background.
A couple of girls in traditional clothes must have agreed with me, since they were taking a selfie with it.
The roof decorations were quite different from what we had seen in China. They were much less ornate and made of concrete rather than golden looking.
While walking through the grounds, we saw a strange looking squirrel. It had very large ears and almost made it look like a cross between a squirrel and a rabbit.
We passed by a lovely pavilion and could also see a large pagoda in the background. Luke told us that it was fairly new and that it was part of the museum that was on the grounds.
Close to the museum was a grouping of small statues in a circle. Luke asked me what year I was born in and pointed at the statue of the pig. He said that was the sign for the year I was born in. With all the weight I was putting on during the cruise, it seemed most appropriate. Each statue represented one of the 12 years.
I finally got around to the front of the pagoda and was able to get a better photo of it.
We had been at the palace for an hour and a half; but it had been a most interesting place to visit. Luke told us to stand just outside the palace where he would get the van and pick us up. The spot was right next to a most unusual statue. We didn’t know what to think of it.
Driving through town we saw some interesting things. Seoul looked like a nice modern city.
Our next stop would be to see the statue of Sejong the Great. He was the king during 1418 – 1450. We drove by it in the van; but we needed to park to be able to get good photos of the magnificent statue.
The area around the statue was very popular for the locals. There was one very strange character walking around.
There were also many police in the area to monitor a protest of some Kia workers that was supposed to take place. There weren’t a lot of historical attractions to see other than the palace we had visited and the statue. The most popular tourist activity seemed to be shopping based on the Oceania excursions that they had available. The six of us did want to see some of the shopping areas; but Luke told us that they were on the other side of town. With it being Friday afternoon, the traffic would be very bad and that if we did go there, it could end up taking a long time to get back to the ship. Since we hadn’t planned on staying in Seoul for dinner, we asked him to just take us somewhere where we could look for a few specific things. He took us to a store in a downtown mall not far from the statue. Since we only had about a half hour before we had to head to the ship, it was kind of a waste of time. It was a shame that the ship hadn’t arrived in the morning, where we could have had more time on the tour. Luke did the best he could with the short time we had.
As we started to drive out of town, the traffic built up quickly. Rush hour had started and we didn’t know how long it would take. Luke took an indirect route to get back to the port at Incheon; but it ended up only taking about an hour and a half. We heard from others that left town not long after we did with Oceania excursions, that it took almost three hours for them. Some people that stayed in town late, with independent guides, barely made it back to the ship on time. Seoul is a nice place to visit, but you need a longer port stay than we had.
After touring for seven days straight, we were ready for our first sea day. We needed the rest and looked forward to our next port.
More reviews from Mike and Carol http://www.thepreismans.com/china_japan_page4.htm