*before I start the post itself, a big thank you/kamsahamnida to Anna for giving me Korean names and reminders of where we went in Seoul- it was a hectic few days and I struggled to keep track of the names of everything at times*
It was time for us to move on to the next country on our itinerary; we reached the airport in good time and had a fairly efficient flight with Air Seoul. My friend Anna, who comes from South Korea, was meeting us at the airport and spending a few days with us in Seoul. Since it had been a few months since I saw her (during our graduation ceremony), I started to feel how a little child might feel on the build up to Christmas as we circled over Incheon International airport.
We waited for a little bit and then hugs were exchanged as two became three. I knew that having another person would change the dynamic, and I guess I was slightly nervous since my travel companion and Anna did not know each other really well prior to this part of the journey. But spirits were high, and Anna and I picked up a quick cold drink before we all took the airport express to a central Seoul station, which cost 8000 won (£3-4).
The view from the airport express as we headed towards the train station
The central Seoul station
Getting to the hotel was up for discussion; in the end, we went for the metro system, assuming that it would be fairly direct and pain free. And in terms of expense, it was- a T-money card (the Korean equivalent of London’s Oyster card, Hong Kong’s Octopus card or Australia’s Myki card) cost 3000 won and was available for purchase in a nearby newsagent. We paid 10000 won, keeping an extra 7000 on the card for subsequent travel. Unfortunately my travel companion, who was recovering from a shoulder injury, ended up having to put more strain on his shoulder than any of us would have initially thought since all the stations had a lot of steps and each of us had a heavy load to carry so we couldn’t share lifting. I felt bad at this point- I had suggested a taxi but maybe should have been more assertive about my want for us to get a cab because of the worry that his injury would worsen. Nonetheless, having disembarked at Cheongryangri station (청량리역) and feeling quite tired, we did get a taxi for the final short stint to where we were staying- the Blessing Hotel in Seoul.
On the Seoul metro
Our room was simple and clean but sparse, and had a halls of residence like feel to it. However, a huge bonus of where we were staying was an incredibly advanced security system, whereby you had to swipe your key to get through to the lift, and swipe magnetically to enter your room. We met in reception (since Anna had a room two floors below ours) and headed to a Vegan restaurant nearby.
The interior of Gongjon restaurant
This Vegan restaurant was located in DongDaemun-gu- it was called Gongjon (공존), which means ‘Coexistence’ in Korean. It was a light and friendly café with wood tables and seats and very few other diners, located down a road where nearby, groups of people were drinking in bars or eating in other restaurants. You go up to the counter to order and the food received a mixed review from our group; I enjoyed the tomato and burdock pasta (though it was probably the spiciest pasta I’ve ever had and I struggled at times) but my friend wasn’t mad about his fried rice. Anna went for a gorgeous onion-y mock steak, which she really enjoyed, and we drank a Raspberry squash drink.
The tomato and burdock pasta
The fried rice
The onion-y mock steak meal
Post-dinner, we got a cab to the N-Tower. The N-Tower stands for Namsan (South Mountain) tower and is probably a good place for couples to go- if you visit the website, you will see this caption “where your love comes true, now have a happy date at N SEOUL TOWER”. So after declaring my undying love for Anna (hahaha) and being far too ambivalent about the walls/gates on which you can attach a lock- representing the romance you share with your perfect partner and reminiscent of Paris’ famous lock bridge- we headed to the tower itself. The tower was full of restaurants, some shops and a bar area. Though there is a charge to get right to the top of the tower, you get a good view of Seoul simply by climbing some stairs and standing on a viewing platform. It was lovely, but if we are adding comparison into the mix, less impressive than Tokyo Skytree or the Peak in Hong Kong, which provide a similar kind of experience.
The N-Tower from a distance The N-Tower up close
The view from the N-Tower
Finally we hopped onto the Seoul metro system to Myeong-dong; this was my godsend, because like the foolish individual I am, I had packed more in anticipation for Australia than the very cool (yet familiar) climate in South Korea, and had not brought enough jumpers with me (I had one jumper). So we weaved in between familiar high street giants (like H&M and Uniqlo, which were unfortunately shut when we got to Myeong-dong to shop) and located independently owned clothing stores which were still open. I managed to pick up two sweaters fairly cheap with the help of my fashion advisors (a.k.a my travel companion and Anna) and found a great leather-style jacket in a boutique, which was not too expensive but also sold out in my size (c’est la vie).
A little note about Seoul before I sign off of this blog entry; never, in my entire life, have I seen so many skincare/cosmetic shops and coffee shops within such a small surface area. So people who need their daily dose of caffeine, or get excited by some new tea tree/collagen/snail formula whatever skin product- you should get excited for Seoul.
We wrapped up the day exhausted but glad to have had a little taste of what Seoul has to offer. For us, this was the start of a very busy three days in the capital of South Korea.
South Korea at night