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Well, well!  I have been so busy getting exciting about being home, and my (not-really-so) new purpose, that I sort of forgot that I’m…still in Korea.  Yes, that’s right, for anyone reading this who’s new to Maggie’s Nest, I’ve been traveling for work quite a bit since mid-2009, and my blog really got cooking last year as a travelogue.  But with Korea as my last trip for the foreseeable future, and the fact that I want nothing more than to be home, you could say Maggie’s Nest is in a bit of a transition.  Today is an edition of Wandernest, my continuing journal of international adventures.

Today, a taste of Gwanghwamun, one of the popular neighborhoods of Seoul.  I spent the day there with five co-workers, and it sure was nice to have some travel buddies even though I am not shy about hitting the treads solo.

Gwanghwamun is Seoul’s historic downtown, and includes the popular Bukchon, Samcheong-dong and Insadong neighborhoods.  We covered a lot of ground, and did a marathon of window-shopping, as none of us has been paid yet.  Although I do enjoy being paid on time, I am actually welcoming this paycheck snafu as a chance to practice my new goal of loving what I have and not needing more – I am amazed at the ease with which I can look at perfectly beautiful, useful things and appreciate them, and also say to myself, “No, I don’t need or want that.  I just like it.”  What a gift and blessing!  (As a longtime compulsive shopper, this truly feels like a miracle to me.)

We started the day at two palaces, Changgyeonggung and Changdeokgung.  Winter snow is melting as the temperatures creep into the 40’s, so the usually beautiful palace gardens are reduced to dry brown grass and bare branches.  Still, the architecture of the buildings is beautiful and I especially love the bright colors painted on the wooden structures.  It seems that every temple and palace building is painted with the same green, red and blue, but I don’t get tired of taking pictures of the details.  Changyeonggung also boasts a lovely greenhouse perched over a frozen lake; walking through a warm, bright sunhouse with camellias blooming while everything outside is dead and dormant, was quite a sensory experience.

Outside the greenhouse, a flock of ducks had drawn a camera-clad crowd.  The Mandarin duck is indeed the most stunningly beautiful duck I had ever seen; this link will give you a better look.

After visiting the palaces, we walked into Samcheong-Dong for lunch at Goshen.  The menu had us all underwhelmed, but the food was wonderful and just what we needed to fuel up and warm up.  After lunch we walked the rest of Samcheong-Dong, then headed down into the mad throngs of shoppers on the main thoroughfare of Insadong.

Insadong is home to many beautiful artisan shops, antique stores and trendy art galleries.  For the most part I could enjoy without wanting, but there was one store with such beautiful handmade ceramics that I could easily have spent a day’s pay there.  If I decide to bring home a souvenir for myself, it will likely come from that shop.

The highlight of the day was not really Seoul, but the opportunity to share my day with others.  When I’m on the road, I am almost always a happy solo traveler, and there are some great advantages to learning the skill of solo travel, especially if personal growth is a goal.  The major downside that I’ve discovered over time is that I don’t really get to share my travel experiences with others (except via blog).  Today I got to do what I so often don’t: share my moments in real time.  Point at an endearing mis-use of English on a Korean cafe sign, or laugh about the DMZ brand bottled water (seriously!), or share bites of street food.  An quick intimacy forms among people who all share the experience of being away from home; I remember how, when I was acting professionally, each cast bonded into a tight-knit family after just a few rehearsals, and that bond faded just as quickly after the last curtain went down.  I may not stay in touch with all of these people after I leave this assignment, but for now we are enjoying our shared unique experiences.  And I’m grateful for the company.

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