Gift Exchange, Bulgarian Dinner and Gyeongbokgung

It seems that this winter I’ve mostly lived for my weekends. I’ve had a lot of really great ones the past month or so, plus work has been full of the usual mind-numbing silliness (remember, I only have Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off, so I’m pretty unhappy anyway, blahblahblahwhinewhine), so I’m all about the weekend rejuice time. This past weekend was no different. It was incredibly cold! I think it got down in the mid-20s, low 30s, but a lot was going on as this was the last weekend before Christmas despite the chill. It was pretty busy. Saturday morning I woke up early to bake up a sugar cookie storm for the gift exchange party I was hosting. I was mostly feeling better from my crazy little bout of flu-Korean drugs at their best!-and the party was a success. Sample gifts, all found for less than 10,000 won ($10USD): puzzle, penguin blanket, Heineken, Soju flask, teddy bear hat, ear muffs, Korean cookbook (I got this one, woopee!!) and perhaps the best of all, a penis lamp. Yes, a man-shaped lamp, that you touch the peen to turn off and on. Very tasteful, and found at the local stationary store.

Marisa was the lucky winner of the special lamp.

Everyone left with a gift and a tummy full of cookies, and most of us reconvened later that night in Itaewon at a Bulgarian restaurant for Lydia’s birthday dinner. We had reservations for a million people (or maybe 20) at Zelen. Have you ever eaten Bulgarian food? Yeah, me neither. It was yummy and came in several courses shared amongst everyone. The first was a big ol plate that consisted of salad, a delicious kidney bean concoction, salsa and cheese-stuffed mushrooms. The second dish was squid stuffed with rice-actually pretty delicious and not icky like that sounds. The rice stuffing was amazing. And the main course was just a plate of meat. Lots of meat. Chicken stuffed with ham, little burgers, skewers of beef and chicken wrapped in bacon…lots of meat. I steered clear of that bad boy, but did take pictures. Twas a lovely dinner. With a beautiful wait staff of gorgeous Eastern European men.

Birthday girl

See the meat-fest.

Sunday Jon and I made an early venture to Seoul before picking up his parents at Incheon Airport. They weren’t arriving until 4 pm so we wanted to do some touristy wandering, and wander we did, over to Gyeonbokgung. It’s the largest palace in Korea (“gung” means palace in Korean, so really it’s Gyeongbok Palace) and was originally built in the 14th century. As has happened to pretty much every other historically significant piece of architecture in Korea, it was greatly damaged/destroyed by the Japanese at various points in history, particularly during the occupation in the early and mid 1900s.  Sad. Most everything has been rebuilt to its original state, and they are currently finishing up the final reconstructions of the entrance gate-it should be done by next year. I love how these amazing palaces are spread all throughout Seoul, acre after acre of ancient oasis that sits quietly while this huge city of 11 million people bustles around them. The palace grounds were usually built with a mountain behind them for the proper feng shui, and the effect is mesmerizing. It’s really beautiful and peaceful , and it all makes for a great scenic walk, even in the bitter cold.

Incredibly touristy shot

scrapbook worthy, oh yes

And the city is a becoming backdrop

So that’s that. Another palace checked off the list, one that I’ll probably visit again in the summertime.  Oh, and on the way to the palace we walked through Gwhanghwamun Plaza, which is the current host of a lovely public ice skating rink. Jon and I stopped to watch the skaters for a bit-lots of children and teenagers-when we noticed a gentleman dressed as Santa, listening to an ipod, wearing sunglasses and…hula hooping. Cool guy, for sure.

I want to be his friend.

Yes, and I also happened upon my embassy. I knew it was near Gwanghwamun and had my eyes peeled because I wanted to go say hello and feel close to my beloved homeland. Unfortunately my peeled eyes were then nearly seared off by the ugliness of the US Embassy. Yuck yuck yuck.

Hello, 1970. You're ugly. Stop embarassing me.

So then we headed off to the airport to pick up Jon’s parents. I snapped this photo on the way, and thought it turned out quite nice.

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