Despite having lived in a climate of perpetual summer all my life, I find the rays of the Korean sun shockingly brutal. I go from cream to brown within a few days of setting foot in the country. Even if it's winter.
The sun beat down upon us as we climbed a slope with zero tree cover. I was ready to give up on locating the dumb tree when Charlotte pointed out that the tree in front (on the left in the first picture below) looked plenty like it.
We turned to head downhill towards the viewing point, and stopped along the way to help repopulate some dandelions.
A sunburn and two million mosquito bites later, I think I have accomplished what I came here to do. I smiled proudly at my picture of the Tree of Solitude, which looks exactly like any other picture of the tree you'll see if you Google it.
We sat on a bench under one of the less lonely trees, gazing out at the Tree of Solitude. Come to think of it, it's a pretty cruel concept to plant a tree by itself surrounded in the distance by other trees in clusters. Guess a tree doesn't need friends.
Because the midday sun was searing we had the whole place to ourselves, save for a bunch of archaeologists at a worksite nearby excavating stuff.
Got a little too comfortable so for a long time we were reluctant to move from where we were seated.
From the tree of solitude we headed in the direction of Mongchontoseong station. Passed what were supposed to be flower gardens along the way but most of the spring blooms had already withered from the gradual transition into summer.
Here's when we realised that all the good stuff is located near the Mongchontoseong station exit.
By a stroke of luck I recalled reading about Sandulhae somewhere and it happened to be in the vicinity, so we decided to have our lunch there.
Sandulhae specializes in well-being hanjungshik sets, which basically just means a huge spread of mostly healthy Korean dishes with rice. I love variety. Plus all the side dishes are refillable. I suppose if you want to get your money's worth you can eat fish after fish after fish, but don't be gross.
Even the serving process is fascinating. The individual plates are arranged on a huge block of wood shaped like an inverted "U", following which your waiter slides the ENTIRE slab of wood onto your table.
We were seated next to three friendly Korean guys who helpfully taught us to make the nurungji-tang - scoop out the rice from the stone bowl, pour hot water in and put the lid on the bowl. Nurungji-tang is burnt rice soup and tastes exactly like it sounds. Very acquired.
The rest of the dishes were delicious though. I especially liked the soy marinated crabs (though they got nothin' on Jin Mi Shik Dang :( ), and the braised eggplants. Very good deal for the W14,000 we paid per person.
After lunch we went to the satellite town of Pangyo, located on the outskirts of Seoul. It's a new neighborhood accessible via the new Bundang line, which is an offshoot subway line originating at Gangnam station. A 20 minute train ride from Gangnam is all it takes to get here.
The demographic of Pangyo consists mostly of couples with young children, and it's adorable that most of the facilities have been designed with that in mind. Miniature traffic lights!
Each time I'm in Pangyo it's to visit I'm Home cafe, which I first came to know about when I watched I Need Romance 2012. They probably have my favorite interior AND exterior of all the cafes I've been to. Also helps that they serve a mean french toast. That's a tiramisu in the picture below because I've taken too many pictures of the french toast.
Our afternoon here was spent watching two skinny girls eat a huge bingsu and swiping people on Tinder for fun.
All traces of the sun having been scorching earlier on in the day disappeared when we stepped out of the cafe. I really should've learnt my lesson by now about not bringing a sweater out.
It was a 20 minute stroll back to the station but we took it slowly, pausing for photographs at certain places. Pangyo cafe alley has a European-influenced style, and can really be quite charming. We also saw Superman taking his car out for a spin.
On Charlotte's colleague's recommendation we decided to have galbijjim (stewed beef ribs) at Gangnam Myeon Ok for dinner. They have outlets all over central Seoul. We went to the one at Apgujeong.
The thing about being at Apgujeong is that you'll see plenty of good lookers, probably because it's (i) a mecca for plastic surgery; and (ii) where most of the entertainment companies are located. Lee spied a B-list actor leaving the restaurant just as we were arriving.
On to the food - it was my first time having beef galbijjim and I was super excited. It's certainly not going to be my last. The ribs here were excellent, as was the sauce it was served in, which I drizzled all over my rice. As it was a cold night I was thankful for the complimentary beef broth.
I was very pleased that today had been a day of amazing food. It didn't end here. After dinner Lee went off on her own and Charlotte and I went back to Hongdae, where I bought instant ramyun with the intent of saving it for tomorrow. I cooked it four hours later at 3 a.m., which technically speaking is in line with my original plan.