FALLing in Love with Korea in Autumn

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I can feel it.

There's a crispness in the air that whispers fall is close.  So close, in fact, that the first hints of autumn colors can be seen streaking the mostly verdant leaves that canopy the green spaces of Seoul. The aroma of roasting chestnuts permeates the busy streets downtown.  Sweaters take over the storefronts of Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, and Sinsa, the shopping havens of the city.

Yes, I can feel it.  And I'm giddy.

You see, there's something about autumn that makes my heart beat a little faster.  There always has been.  When I lived in America, it was tailgating and trick-or-treating that did it for me.  But here, in Korea, there are a number of things that instill a sense of infatuation deep within me that keep me waiting for this beautiful season every year.

For one, the country is painted with a palette of autumn hues: burning crimsons, vibrant oranges, and rich browns.  It's the perfect time of year to enjoy the outdoors of Korea, whether it's taking a walk at the park or hiking one of the nation's famous mountains.  One of the most well known places to see the foliage is Seoraksan National Park in the city of Sokcho, situated on the east coast of the peninsula.  Bukhansan Mountain in Seoul is also another popular spot.

Hikers enjoy the fall foliage at Seoraksan National Park in Sokcho.

Beautiful autumn hues paint Shinheungsa Temple in Seoraksan.

Scenes from Seoraksan

The palaces of Seoul are also great destinations to witness the colorful transformation of Korea during its most aesthetic season.  The images of traditional buildings and reflecting ponds draped in the colors of fall lure photographers, artists, and romantics from all around the country.  When visiting the palaces, one can almost make out the kings and queens of past dynasties reflectively sipping tea under the vivid maple trees, enjoying the crisp chill in the air.

The entrance of Deoksugung Palace is majestic in the fall.

The bright colors of the palace buildings blend nicely with the yellows of the leaves.

Leaves blanket the reflecting pool at Deoksugung Palace.

Fall is also a time of harvest in Korea and the new crops are rich and delicious.  Grains are used for making alcohol and special rice cakes called songpyeon are prepared for Chuseok, but my favorite fall food is the persimmon.  Persimmons, which are a symbol of autumn in Korea, add even more color to the foliage and add a welcomed sweetness to the otherwise savory spread of seasonal cuisine.  They are particularly tasty when hardened, resembling crispy apples.  Persimmons are dried to make sujeonggwa, a punch-like drink.  The dried persimmon is mixed with ginger and cinnamon to create the perfect fall beverage.  Although it is traditionally served cold, I think its best hot, just like apple cider.

Persimmons are a symbol of fall in Korea and are a tasty seasonal snack.

Street food vendors serve up seasonal favorites like chestnuts and hodduck, a sweet brown sugar-filled pancake.  The smells that radiate from the food stalls are enticing to say the least, as are the bright orange colors of the pojangmacha, Korean street food tents.  Although these tents are open for business throughout the year, they are best enjoyed in the fall, when temperatures are ideal to load up on street snacks and swig shots of soju in the open air settings that the tents provide.

The sights and smells of pojangmacha, street food tents, lure passerby.

Finally, people are just happier during the fall.  I'm not sure what it is.  The end of the rainy season, the time spent with family, the simple beauty that can only be created by Mother Nature.  Whatever the reason, smiles are contagious and folks are generous.

Autumn is one of the few seasons that is capable of provoking all the senses, particularly in Korea.  It's a short season, lasting only about a month and a half, but is a wonderful time to experience the splendor of the country before the cold winter sets in.

Let the countdown to the colors begin.

Seoul Searching

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