Seoul was not part of our original travel plans and although we were bummed about having to cut our trip short in Japan, we were thrilled to be shooting the cover and feature of "Three Perfect Days: Seoul" written by Leslie Patrick Moore for United Airlines' in-flight magazine, Hemispheres.
Arriving in the bustling metropolis around midnight, we hopped on the metro and tried to find our way to our hotel. As we walked down the street to where Google Maps was directing us, we noticed several hotels flashing red lights, as creepy older men where smoking cigarettes under signs that read “fun found here”. As we turned the corner, we prayed that our hotel just happened to be located in close vicinity to all the other sex hotels. Phew! No red lights and no creepy men outside. We were definitely in the clear until we head to our room and find a basket of hairspray, hair ties, and a pack of condoms. Tired from the journey and finding the room to be clean enough for our standards we enjoyed a night in a 'love hotel'.
And so with Leslie’s article at hand, we began to retrace her steps all over Seoul. Our first stop was to Gyeongbokgung palace to capture the changing of the royal guards. I realize that I should be watching in awe at this old tradition happening before me, and I was, but I also couldn’t help staring at their colorful outfits and the fine detail of their hats. It was at that moment I was hoping for one of those museum gift shops inside the palace where I could pick up an overpriced magnificent royal guard hat. Unfortunately, I was out of luck. After the ceremony and without a hat in hand, we enjoyed walking around Gwanghwamun Plaza staring up at the statue of King Sejong with the palace and Bugaksan Mountain in the background.
After a pit stop for lunch at one of the many noodle shops around, we went on in search of an Olive Young store, Seoul's go to beauty store. We didn't have to walk very far because they are scattered at almost every block throughout the city. As we stepped inside the two-story beauty store and Marco's worst nightmare, I ran around like a wild horse down each aisle seeing what products I could pack into my little shopping basket. What we were really there for is to pick up a couple of face masks. Like all women around the world, Seoul women are obsessed with flawless skin and unlike our four options at our local pharmacy back home, here, there is a cornucopia of face masks available. At Olive Young, you can find an entire aisle lined with face masks from top to bottom. I didn't know which ones to choose. Literally. I could not read any descriptions since they were all in Korean, so I just stuffed as many as I could into my basket and forced myself out of the store.
Back at the hotel, I ripped open one of the many masks I had brought back and placed it on my face ready to capture some photos for the magazine. Unfortunately, none of them made the cut because instead of looking peaceful and serene relaxing in my room while my face was getting a 10-minute treatment, I looked like Michael Myers.
Looking and feeling refreshed, we were off to meet Daniel Gray, owner of Delectable Travels, for one of his infamous food tours. We started off the night at a classic Korean BBQ joint, where the grill is set in the center of the tables and a chimney sits right above sucking away the excess fumes. Once we sit Daniel serves us each a shot of soju, Korea's most popular alcoholic beverage, and as we toast, the waitress brings over a tray with several different side dishes to accompany the meat we are about to devour. Korean cuisine is known for its many side dishes, with kimchi- fermented & seasoned vegetables, being served almost always alongside every dish. It was hard to stop scarfing down the deliciously grilled meat, but we had to save some room for the next stops, which included jeon- pan-fried pancakes with an array of different fillings, chapssal- rice doughnuts, tteokbokki- soft rice cake cooked in red chili sauce, and Korean fried chicken with rice. We not only left with full stomachs, but Daniel let us in on the popular drinking games in Korea involving lots of mathematics and memory, so we also ended up walking home with a light buzz.
We had a total of seven days to retrace Leslie's steps all over Seoul, and the rest of the week went a little something like this; Wake up at 5am, grab a quick coffee, jump in a taxi and head straight to appointed location to shoot the sunrise. Hop on the metro and snap photos of other set locations. Grab a quick lunch, meet with an actress, an artist or a chef to capture their portraits, hurry to last location to capture the sunset, grab dinner, and finally head to hotel or Airbnb face planting straight into bed. Although on the job we were very happy to be in the beautiful city of Seoul, where history comes together with the modern world, all centered around the Han river. In our short stay, we managed to walk the busiest and most famous shopping district Myeong-dong, where instead of shopping I devoured towers of chips on a stick. We spend the day in Zaha Hadid's world at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, strolled up and down numerous times gazing at the houses in the Bukchon Hanok Village, walked up the many steps to the Namsan Tower Observatory, and enjoyed a picnic at the Cheonggyecheon man-made stream in the center of the city.
As the week zoomed by, we were lucky enough to capture all of Leslie's moments into photographs and show people a little taste of Seoul. If you would like to see more of the photos and read the article, you can find it on any United Airlines flight until the end of November or online here.