Yes, that is Insa-dong in the picture with a few rooftops covered with thin snow from the night before. Looking at Insa-dong from the B&B where I stayed over the weekend was weird. From the ground, Insadong would look culturally interesting if one strolls its cobblestone alleys and just ignore the garish and tacky cosmetic shops that have invaded this artsy area recently.
(Ready for your close-up? The portraiture corner)
But there's one street in Insadong where you can still avoid the inescapable posters of Korean celebrities selling cosmetics and facial cleansers. (Sometimes, seeing this overload of celebrity posters is sickening and ruins one's day! Ha-ha-ha!).
That street is Ssamzie-gil. 'Gil' in hangeul means 'street'. So, it's Ssamzie Street. But if you're in Insadong and have to ask where it is, just ask for Ssamziegil.
This street is actually a complex, where one walks up from the ground up to the higher floors by just tracing the labyrinth path that elevates continuously floor by floor. One doesn't need stairs or an elevator, actually. Although there's a stairwell at a corner for those in a hurry going up, or going down.
(Bags made from recycled wet suits)
And last weekend which I spent around the Jongno District, I visited Ssamziegil and saw for myself the interesting shops that filled up all the floors and attracted tourists, both local and international.
(I bought one of those red Korean fans)
(Korean fans, small bags, scarves, trinkets and souvenirs)
Since it was a weekend, the whole 'street' was full, and even in this very cold weather, couples, kids and their parents, and group of friends seemed to enjoy the complex and all the interesting trinkets, bags, clothes and other unique souvenirs that filled the display windows from ground floor up to the top. There was even a corner where you can have your portrait drawn.
(Big roses are red, stairs are multi-colored)
I entered one shop which sells interesting-looking Korean fans. From their display, one caught my eye. I thought this would a good Korean souvenir and a gift; I bought it. Although I could speak survival Korean, I deliberately abandoned the idea of speaking hangeul to continue my pretense that I was a tourist that day. Ha-ha-ha! Although the husband and wife (I think) who were manning the shop could speak a little English, they were ready with a big calculator (like most vendors in Korea) to make sure there was no misunderstanding when it came to the price. After a few seconds of haggling, I got the Korean fan for KRW15,000.
I walked the whole stretch of the 'street' to see for myself all the shops. I also entered a bag shop and queried the Korean lady about her colorful bags. We conversed in English and she told me that some of her bags are made of recycled wet suits. Yes, those worn by scuba divers. No wonder they were pricey! Those suits must have reached far into the ocean depths and must have logged hundreds of diving hours.
At the top floor is a small covered restaurant and an outdoor cafe, which looks enjoyable if the weather isn't as freezing as these days. But I think it would be a good idea to just sit there during day time and chat with friends, away from the noisy chaos of the life below and away from the in-your-face posters of Korean celebrities displayed at the cosmetic shops on Insadong's main alley. Ha-ha-ha!
So, if you're in this neighborhood, you now know where to escape. On the uppermost photo, that's Ssamziegil that I encircled in red, where you can go shopping all the way up, and relax when you get to the top.