Seoul Day 1
So many firsts, eating Oyster pancakes, Bimbimbap, Chrysalis, riding the Seoul subway, going to the top of Seoul tower, while having a delightful time.
After having spent a great day in Toronto meeting up with old friends, it was time to board my flight for Seoul ,Korea . By the time we boarded I had been up for 18 hours as well as having slept very little the previous nights. Was prepared to have some wine and fall asleep for the better part of the 13 ' hour flight. It didn't quite happen that way.
This was my first experience flying long distance with a non-European or American Airline. What an experience it was, service to the nth degree, administered by gorgeous flight attendants. It brought back memories from the days of Pan Am glory. Each one of these lovely women was more exquisite than the next, and always smiling and gracious. We were served cold water and juices, the hot towels, drinks and dinner. I opted for the Korean meal of Bibimbap, which was a first, a delicious dish consisting of hot rice, ground beef, soybean sprouts, shitake mushrooms, spinach, topped with an egg, served with hot chili sauce, sesame oil and a seaweed soup. Have now found another favorite food, served on an airplane, amazing.
My seat companions were fortunately very nice, we were cramped but for once the seats reclined to a pitch which made sleeping reasonably comfortable. After more food, water, juice, etc we finally arrived in Seoul at 2.30 am.
Cleared immigration and customs and walked through this huge airport.
There was an ATM outside in the arrival hall next to the currency exchange booth. What I discovered is that there are two kinds of ATM's, global that will accept all kinds of cards and another that is card specific. Touts approached with offers of taxis for 110,000w, which I declined, having received a letter from the hotel that buses were not running at that hour, but that the black taxis were 40.000 w.
Exit the airport and there is a bus for 14,000 the driver tells me to get off at Seoul Station and take a taxi, with the aid of kind passengers that is what happened.
The hotel which has been booked is called Hamilton and despite several confirmations that I would be arriving at an awkward hour nobody has a clue. No problem, am given a room, which reminds me of budget hotels in Paris, small and dingy. I remind myself that one shouldn't judge by first impressions after a long flight. Unpack and sleep for a couple of hours. Go down speak to reception and the room is changed. What a difference, now have a view, a sitting area, two double beds and room to breathe.
Since I don't know what has been planned except a general schedule I decided to go to the Korean Folk Village about 1 ' hours away in Suwon www.koreanfolk.co.kr . The subway system is very efficient, before each stop there is a snippet of music I recognize but can not place. All the announcements are made in Korean and English. It was an easy ride despite having to change trains several times. Ticket cost 16,000.
The Korean Folk Village comprises of a large collection of thatched Korean traditional houses and buildings from all over the country. There is a bus by the tourist information center, on top of the stairs when you exit the station, which runs every half hour, you purchase the ticket 12,000w and that is your admission to the village. I had decided to do this thinking I would get a better idea of what life was like in Korea in the rural areas. Am not sure I know any more than before, however it was an interesting visit.
I believe that every school group in Korea was there, at least that is how it seemed. The 4 year olds in identical sweat suits were so adorable that I could have taken each and every one home. The older children, 8-9 years, were having a ball, photographing the houses, using either cell phones or digital cameras. They were boisterous but not obnoxious. My impressions so far are that the Koreans are very courteous, pleasant and agreeable people.
After having seen many of the houses I am getting bored and hungry so I proceed to the market place which is also a food court. They serve the same food as in the restaurants that you walk by as you enter the village, and prices are the same. The food is cooked in small houses, you eat it on platforms, at traditional low tables. After having paid in advance I go to the place where the pancakes are made, I had ordered to Oyster pancake, not knowing what I was getting. For 6,000 I got 6 smallish omelettes with fresh oysters. You help yourself to soy sauce and metal flat chops sticks. Though my knee, for those of you who missed my news I have a torn meniscus, which happened just before the trip, but thanks to modern medicine and a Cortisone injection it is quite flexible. However I was not going to climb up on one of the platforms and sit at a low table to eat. Instead I let my feet dangle and relished my lunch.
When we got back to the subway, I decided to go into the supermarket to buy water. Each subway station appears to have malls, shops and supermarkets. As you enter you are greeted by an array of food stations, many of them cook on the spot. There were dumpling being made, a sushi conveyor belt, shrimp rolls fried, cookies baked and everywhere smiling faces. I wasn't very tempted to try anything but loved the atmosphere. In the back of the locale was the supermarket, it was small, everything looked so fresh. As I left with my water I saw a shoemaker, my shoe needed fixing, and he could do it. He wanted to practice his English so the first thing he said was 'Can I buy you a welcome drink' my reply was 'Yes, that would be nice' I think he had no idea what to say or do after that. While I was waiting a young man came to order something which it took a while for me to figure out. His chop had broken and he needed a new one. It was made and cut by a computer, after all the proper identification had been produced. Then it was duly stamped in a book and intialled.
Time to go back to Seoul, wasn't quite sure what to see next, should I go to the fish market or'..One of the beauties of being on your own is that you can make your decisions as you go along. I decided to go to Seoul tower. According to my guidebook it is a walkable distance from Seoul tower, it is not.
Fortunately taxis are plentiful and cheap, so off I went, took the cable car up and landed in what must have been the Korean version of Valentines Day. First there were large staues of hearts designed by various artists. Couples were arriving with huge flower baskets in the shape of hearts, the fences around the periphery of the outlook platform were covered with padlocks, that had words of endearments written on them, bike chains in the shape of hearts and a lot of young couples. There were a few tourists, but mostly Koreans.
On my way down to the cable car I see this old man selling something hot, a little smelly and quite suspicious looking. Stop to look a woman walks by and buys a paper cup full, and tells me that it is delicious. Then a young family walks by they stop to buy some for the children, so I ask is it really delicious? The mother tells me the children like it, and that is how I got to taste puppae cooked in a soysauce. They were actually quite good, though I don't think they will become part of my regular diet.
On my way back to the hotel I walk through what is probably the equivalent to the garment district, and pass by a building that has something obviously important going on. Parking attendants looking like marionettes directing cars into a parking lot. Outside the building that is lit up, are hundreds of tall flower arrangements with long silk banners. Security is tight lots of walkie talkies. I approach a man who appears to be in charge and he explained that it is the inauguration of a wedding palace, or in my vernacular a special events place for weddings. I ask permission to go and look and surprisingly he says yes. The party is being set up, I wander around it is very impressive, meet the presumed owner and congratulate him, he tells me go upstairs it's even better. He was right, I take pictures and then this man comes up and says no pictures. He then takes me on a guided tour, it turns out he was the constructional engineer. and very proud of his work. The place can hold 3 weddings simultaneously, the p.p. cost is 50.000 excluding alcohol. My mind is reeling, how on earth can they make a profit. Unfortunately never had the chance to find out since the ribbon cutting was about to take place and it was time for me to leave. This was one party I would have loved to attend.
It is now close to 7 pm time to get back to the hotel and go and have dinner. When I arrive I see a group of Swedish women who are obviously part of the meeting. We hook up and go out for Korean food I have another Bibimbap which was still delicious.
My first impressions of Seoul are that it is a city that seems to come alive as the day progresses. It is very vital and has a good feel to it. The signage is a mixture of English and Korean. .
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Seoul Day 1