A friend and I were discussing vacations the other day and she told me that her entire life she’s been a big city girl. She was looking for an active city. When it comes to vacations, New York and Chicago call out to me. The constant buzz of an active metropolis is what draws her; She loves the idea that you can find something to see, do, eat, or make at any time of day or night. If there’s a city that never sleeps, well, it’s for her. In hearing that I convinced her to try Seoul and she admitted that in preparing for her trip to South Korea, she knew that she was in for an entirely new experience. She had never seen a big city quite like this one before.
Seoul is officially called “Seoul the Special City,” but you might want to call it “Seoul the City on Steroids.” Panoramic photos of the cityscape reveal massive, towering skyscrapers set against a brilliant azure sky. With a population of over 10 million people, Seoul is one of the world’s largest cities. It is a major influence in business international trade, politics, technology, education and entertainment. In 2008, it was named the world’s 6th most economically powerful city by Forbes.com, and it is one of the world’s top ten financial and commercial centers. Phew! How’s that for a list of credentials?
One thing that I make certain to pack when visiting Seoul are my most comfortable walking shoes. There is so much to see and do that I am pretty sure I will constantly be on the move. One of the things that I love to visit are the city’s 5 palaces. Can you imagine? Historical palaces right within the borders of this bustling city. They were previously and historically areas of authoritarian rule, but now remain in the metropolitan area as vestiges of classic Korean architecture. Each of the 5 palaces are located within walking distance of each other and can be explored in one day.
Now, I never expect to grow weary of the supersonic speed of city life during my vacation. But if I do, it’s refreshing to know that I have a respite, and it’s right there within Seoul! I don’t even have to leave the city to find the beauty of South Korea’s mountains. One in particular that is well-loved by tourists as well as the residents of Seoul is Namsan. It is known as “the mountain that wakes the mornings of Seoul.” It is located near the Hangang River, and is a popular sport for bikers and joggers. The city of Seoul is also home to several beautifully maintained public parks. Seoulites are particularly proud of the fact that their city beholds more than “just” gray cement towers and bumper-to-bumper traffic. A favorite is Olympic Park, which was built in 1988 when Seoul hosted the Olympics.
Despite its absolutely enormous population and its never-ending list of wonderful attractions, Seoul does not have a synagogue. It does have a Jewish population, however, that is primarily comprised of U.S. military personnel and their families. Previously traveling business people and tourists were able to visit the U.S. Army base in Seoul in order to celebrate Shabbat and holiday. Beefed up security in recent years has changed that, however. I plan to celebrate Shabbat at the city’s Chabad House, which is the first in the nation, and was just recently established in 2008.