Happy New Year, everyone!

The last few weeks of 2014 have been crazy, and I couldn't help but get swept up in the excitement for the festivities. It's been quite a while since I spent Christmas in the Philippines, you see. Even more than that, I got too excited about going to Seoul once again!

Needless to say, a huge chunk of that excitement was because I really, really wanted to experience snow! The first few days in Seoul had me stopping at whatever soft enough pile of snow I could find– not minding the fact that I most probably looked like an overgrown child. On our fourth day, I woke up early enough to catch a snow flurry. It was surreal: seeing tiny bits of ice fall and gently blanketing everything in soft, fluffy, powdery snow. It felt like magic. Despite it being quite an ungodly hour (four in the morning!), I felt that enduring the biting, frigid weather was all worth it.

Of course, I didn't go to Seoul just to see snow (or did I?). It is a must, must, must to go sight-seeing! Seoul has many sights to offer and it really is impressive how much of their history and culture they managed to preserve. In fact, my favorite thing about Seoul is how in the midst of all the modern high-rise buildings, palaces, gardens, and shrines are nestled peacefully.

During our family vacation in Seoul last June, we visited a couple of palaces, but there was so much more that we haven't been to. This time, we managed to visit all five of the Grand Palaces but my favorite has to be the Changdeok Palace.

Despite the freezing, below zero weather we had to brave through during our visit, there was something truly magical about strolling through the courtyards and feeling the ice crunch underneath my shoes. That and the cool crisp air with the too-gentle winter sun made the visit relaxing, yet invigorating. Truly conducive for an artistic soul! I can only imagine what it would be like to spend a day there and just write, write, write.

Located East of the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the Changdeokgung Palace houses what many have dubbed as the "Secret Garden." Also known as the "Rear Garden", sits behind the main buildings of the Changdeokgung Palace and takes up two-thirds of the palace grounds! There's an extra fee to get in, but thanks to the voucher that came along with the Combo tickets we got for all the five palaces, we got in no problem! Everyone has to join a fixed tour, which I personally found enjoyable. The guides gave explanations as to what the smaller buildings inside the garden were for, and why the layout and architecture were the way the were.

There were five different "sites" within the garden itself, and getting from one site to another was a bit of a walk. There was plenty of going uphill and downhill because the garden itself was designed to be one with the natural configuration of the environment. They did give us time to just appreciate the surroundings and take photos.

And appreciate my surroundings I did. Even in the middle of winter when nearly all the trees have shed their leaves and plants are pretty much dead, the Secret Garden was nothing short of breath-taking. If I had the chance, I would like to go back during the spring just to see it with all its greenery!

We also went to visit N Tower. I'm quite happy that this time, we took the cable car up. It was a bit unnerving for me considering I have somewhat of a fear of heights but it was still way better than my last visit wherein my dad insisted that we take the stairs all the way up. 

Locks of love! To anyone who has watched a Korean Drama before, going to Namsan Tower and seeing all the locks of love is a non-negotiable part of the itinerary. I am no different. 

I left a lock of my own back in June, and I'm happy that I managed to find it again! (YOU SEE THAT, SEOUL? I TOLD YOU I'LL BE BACK!)  The lock itself has gotten a bit rusty, but it's still there, holding on. I can only hope that these won't collapse like the bridge in Paris.

I travelled with my younger cousins, so it's pretty much a no-brainer to go to Lotte World! That and the temperature was around -11 degrees centigrade. What better way to spend a freezing cold day than in an indoor amusement park? 

The indoor part of Lotte World would suit younger kids better, but it was still really enjoyable! All the rides, characters, colors, and energy really brings out the kid in me! It wasn't really as crowded as I thought it would be, but the lines were still pretty darn long. It's a good thing they had a Magic Pass system (similar to Tokyo DisneySea's Fast Pass) or else my younger brother and I wouldn't have been able to ride anything without queuing up for an hour. 

What would an amusement park be without the amusement park food? In Lotte World, I had my first ever funnel cake! Dios mio. Why have I never tried it before? It was really delicious, especially with the chocolate glaze. And it was really fun to watch it being made!

Shopping in Seoul in really fun, too! It's quite fun walking around and trying to pick out souvenirs and pasalubong. It's even more fun when shopkeepers give you discounts. :D 

We went to Namdaemun although I feel like I did more eating there than actual shopping. Street food is really hard to resist! Then again, what better way to immerse yourself in a culture than to partake in their food? Hotteok has to be my favorite Korean street food. It's like a pancake with a sweet, sticky filling. During winter, it's best to eat it when it's still hot off the griddle.

I did most (if not all) of my pasalubong shopping in Insadong. Though the weather was really chilly, there was still quite a number of people and tourists milling about! There were so many shops and stalls that it's hard to keep your head from turning! Though some of the stores had similar wares, it was still worth it to try and go into each and every one of them for the best bargain! We also went back to Insadong on our last day in Seoul for some last-minute shopping because it was a walking distance from the hostel we stayed at! So convenient!

It was really fun to end 2014 and begin 2015 in Seoul. My only regret is that I didn't get to try that famous Honey Butter Chips thing because it was always sold out. Then again, it does give me a reason to go back to Seoul!

Looking forward to 2015! Happy New Year, everyone!