Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Korea Diary | Seoul Adventure Begins (Day 1)

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After gathering our luggages, we had to wait 3 hours at the airport so Bestie C could pick up the SIM card she pre-ordered at "K Books" bookstore. Nothing too exciting but we were both ecstatic to just be there.

South Korea ICN airport bus South Korea ICN airport bus to Hongdae
Once everything was sorted out, we were ready to finally leave the airport. The both of us discussed our airport departure plan a few days prior. Although the normal all-stop train at ICN would have been the cheaper option, we ended up deciding to take the bus due to the big suitcase factor (mainly my ginormous luggage). The airport bus ticket was ~ ₩10,000. I'm glad with our choice now! After experiencing the subway all summer, it would have been a pain to drag just the number of suitcases we had 'round and 'bout the public transport.

Our destination was to Hongdae since the AirBnB place we booked was closest to that area. Once we got off the bus the next big challenge was finding our way to the provided address. Our host, Euna, had sent us lovely picture directions and suggestions, one of which was to take a taxi from Hongdae to her studio/apartment.

It wasn't hard to find a taxi in Hongdae. It was difficult trying to tell the driver where we wanted to be. We had the address in Korean and English, but he still had a hard time finding the place. When the taxi driver got frustrated with us, in part because we were foreigners. He got even more agitated when he told us to call Euna but we couldn't.

Our host did say her building was really new and not all the GPS had it in their systems. But the driver insisted we didn't even show him the Korean address. We were ultimately able to find the place after he called Euna for us, but...it was not a pretty conversation. I don't remember the exact words, nor did I understand most of the conversation at the time, but judging by his tonality and the few words I could make out things were getting heated.

When we finally met Euna in person, I was so afraid that she would have a bad impression of us due to the "argument" with the taxi driver. She was everything but! Euna was so nice and even said that he was completely not understanding. She thought we were overcharged and even said she would call the taxi company later on.

We were guided into her building and shown our room for the next 3 days and 2 nights. Even though she wasn't finished with cleaning the room from the previous guest, she allowed us to "check-in" early and leave our things there in order to explore a bit. (I had asked beforehand for an earlier check-in and she was very accommodating!) But oh her poor husband had to lug our suitcases up to the 3rd floor since they did not have an elevator - forever grateful! (I had a difficult time trying to get everything down the stairs when we left, forget about up!)

Seoul South Korea T Money Card Seoul South Korea Paris Baguette Caramel Macchiato Seoul South Korea Paris Baguette Red Bean Streusal Bread
T Money Card - Paris Baguette Iced Caramel Macchiato - Paris Baguette Red Bean Streusel Bread

Euna even showed us around her area a bit and helped us purchase & load our T Money card for using public transportation. (Our card was ₩3,000 but according to Bestie C, typical T Money cards cost about ~₩2,500. The card we got came with a coupon book to various things in Seoul/Korea.) Euna asked us where we were interested in visiting and even pointed us in the direction for transportation.

We were suggested to take a nearby bus route to Hongdae, but neither of us felt confident enough then to take on that adventure. Since we already passed through Hongdae earlier and saw the route the taxi driver took to the studio/apartment, the two of us walked back to the main Hongdae streets for our first mini-adventure. Along the way we stopped by one of the many Paris Baguettes to grab breakfast and tried our best to figure out the SIM card situation, which we still couldn't resolve then.

Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum Entrance Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum
First major tourist stop ~ Trick Eye Museum in Hongdae
I don't remember if we had directions or not before hand, but we did ultimately have to ask the person at the Tourist Information booth for help because the museum was actually located on a small side street.
Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum
Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum Ticket Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum Souvenir
The Trick Eye Museum ticket was ₩15,000 . It was really fun trying to get the pictures just right in order to capture the optical illusions and seeing how the optical illusions worked. But be forewarned, the museum is a tourist (especially group tourists) hotspot! Prepare to "fight" to get your shot amongst all the others. May not be everyone's cup-a-tea, probably applies more for the perfectionists out there.

An unlikely 1st souvenir from a little boutique shop at the museum but how could I resist?
The things there didn't have much (if anything) to do with the Trick Eye museum, but there were tons of just cute bits and bobs & the typical souvenir-fare items.

Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum Ice Museum Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum Ice Museum
The Trick Eye Museum ticket that we purchased also allowed admittance into the Ice Museum. It felt great to go in given how hot and stuffy it felt in the Trick Eye portion of the building (hot day + tons of people = no bueno.) This section in comparison was much smaller but given that it is really just a walk-in freezer, it probably isn't wise to spend too much time in the ice box anyways. The little cold-protectant pull-over did help a little, but it was still a "run in, snap photo, and get out" kind of situation. Nonetheless, there was a really cool ice slide for those who aren't afraid of getting their tushies a bit nippy ^^

Playground Park
Seoul South Korea Hongdae Playground Park
Maybe around noon-ish we were finished with the museum and wandered Hongdae a bit. Familiarized ourselves with the streets, stores, and came across the Hongdae Playground Park. Since it was the middle of the day there wasn't much going on when we were there.

Seoul South Korea Hongdae ABC Mart promoting
Promoters/Performers for the grand-opening of ABC Mart (shoe shop) in Hongdae
Nice to see marketing stuff in a foreign country!
All decked out in their store uniform (I am assuming) cheering and dancing all coordinated.

Seoul South Korea Hongdae AirBnB Sweet Seoul Residence 303 Seoul South Korea Hongdae AirBnB Sweet Seoul Residence 303
Seoul South Korea Hongdae AirBnB Sweet Seoul Residence 303 Seoul South Korea Hongdae AirBnB Sweet Seoul Residence 303
Around 2-3PM we headed back to our home for the time being, hoping to cool off from the heat and most of all to drop off our bags full of electronics and such. Luckily Euna was able to finish tidying up while we were gone and we were able to finally relax a bit. There was a little trouble trying to figure out the Wi-Fi password for the room. When we got some sort of service we were able to resolve the situation with a quick message to Euna.

Euna calls her building the "Sweet Seoul Residence" and our room in particular was ~USD$55 per night. She has other rooms available as well that are in the same figure range. For the price, the place was nicer than you'd think! It was like a pretty typical Korean studio one would expect after seeing dramas. Of course it isn't as big but the amenities were all relatively the same: washing machine only, a small stove-top (ours electric though, not gas), low-height furniture, and shower stall-less/tub-less bathroom. The bed was more than enough for the two of us and having a TV with cable channels was the icing on the cake.

We tried and was finally successful at figuring out the whole SIM card scenario. Otherwise we would have had to plan a trip to their store/office location. Despite the lengthy instructions that came with the SIM and on the website, it apparently seemed to have automatically started after either the card was placed in or the first run-through of the manual.

Seoul South Korea Cheonggyecheon Seoul South Korea Cheonggyecheon
Once those little things were settled we devised our route to Namdaemun Market. Along the way we passed by the City Hall - Cheonggyecheon area. There was a memorial site of sorts for the Sewol victims, as well as an international student/foreigners type of gathering event. Unfortunately we weren't able to go down to the stream itself but it was pretty nonetheless.

My only goal the first day in Korea was to get prescription sunglasses to use for the rest of my trip in sunny Asia. I read that Namdaemun Market was apparently THE hub for glasses wholesalers in Seoul and prices are pretty much cheapest there.

Seoul South Korea Namdaemun Sungnyemun Seoul South Korea Namdaemun Sungnyemun
Seoul South Korea Namdaemun Sungnyemun Seoul South Korea Namdaemun Sungnyemun
While on the look-out for the market, we came across the Namedaemun/Sungnyemun (Great South Gate). One of the multiple fortress walls that use to enclose Seoul. The one we saw was sadly not the original though because (if I remember correctly) the gate was recently burned due to arson. I love that another one was built to at least symbolically represent the past history of the gate. I also really like the juxtaposition of "old" and new. The gate is literally in the middle of a bunch of tall buildings and seemingly very out of place.

When we finally found an entrance into the market, dark clouds were rolling in and vendors all seemed to be covering up for the day and/or due to the impending weather condition. Even though I was really set on getting my sunglasses, it wouldn't have been nice to get rained on. Plus there really was an overwhelming number of optical stores in every corner of the market. I was honestly a little intimidated to walk into any one store to just browse and gauge prices on my first very day in Korea.
Seoul South Korea Namdaemun Market Wang Hot Bar Odeng Eomok Seoul South Korea Namdaemun Market Wang Hot Bar Modeum Odeng Eomok
Bestie C and I were both pretty hungry when we got to the market so we grabbed some Odeng 오뎅 or Eomok 어묵 (fish cake) for ₩3,000 before heading back home. Luckily they had a Modeum 모든 (everything) version that had a piece of all the flavors available on one skewer.

Seoul South Korea Hongdae Byulchonji Seollontang Mool Naengmyun Seoul South Korea Hongdae Byulchonji Seollontang Mandoo
Our night ended with eating take-out Mool Naengmyun 물 냉면 and Mandu 만두 (from Byulcheonji Seollongtang 별천지설농탕) while enjoying the cable TV service at our "home" ~ a familar activity in a foreign place.

Exploring Namdaemun Market was destined to be for another day...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Korea Diary | Leaving & Arriving

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Let the journey begin! (Cheesy, I know ^^ Bear with me here)

This series will probably be a whole lot more detailed than anyone will be ever interested in reading, but hey I want to remember every little bit of it.

I'll be primarily writing everything in time order. Sometimes things may seem oddly organized, however, it was really just how the day played out.

Our flight to Korea was on 6/21/2014 at 12:50AM, New York time.
We were arriving a few days before our Jeju-trip day to get adjusted.

I did very very last-minute packing the entire day prior to our departure. Since our flight was at midnight and would arrive in Korea early morning on the 22nd, I took advantage to shower and put on a fresh set of clothes before flying off. Luckily for me, I was able to eat one last home-cooked meal before I left for my 50 days away.

Funny story~
My mom told me to reminded my dad a day or so before our flight that we would need a ride to the airport.
I didn't think he would forget such a big day.
You know...his "little" girl/only daughter going away from home practically all by herself for the first time...
But lo 'n behold, his response was "What? You need to go to the airport?"
Oh dad...

After eating, my parents and I went to collect Bestie C and her dad. Then off we went to JFK International Airport. While waiting on line to retrieve our boarding passes, I was really paranoid about whether I would be charged extra for my suitcases being overweight and/or oversized. (I measured my suitcases only AFTER buying it to find out the dimensions were indeed over the said allowance for Korean Air. Plus, I was not confident with my suitcase weight measuring method.)

By the time we got to the counter and I put my check-in bag onto the weight/conveyor belt, I didn't ask the guy helping us about my worries nor did he say anything to me about the topic. Either I was nervous for nothing or he was nice enough to turn a blind-eye! ;)

Entering JFK New York
Even though we had a midnight flight, there were a TON of other flyers at the airport as well (but we were there a couple hours early).

Just as we got on the TSA check-in line, we already had to say our good-byes. My mom was surprisingly rather cool about the whole thing, said "bye" and continued to WeChat away with her friends. I think I did get a bit teary-eyed (knowing me...I most likely did). Since my dad had to mind the car after dropping us off, I don't remember getting to see him before we got further into the security line.

Landed ICN South Korea
Thankfully our flight was on time and it took more or less a total of 14 hours to reach Incheon International Airport.

I really wanted to keep the jet lag to a minimum since we were landing in the early morning. (I've had jet lag from just going to California before!) I made sure to keep myself awake at the beginning of the flight, watched most of "Secretly, Greatly", and had a long sleep at the end. Even though I was really exhausted in the beginning, the schedule was definitely worth it when we arrived.

Despite having a middle seat, it didn't feel too bad considering I only got up 2-3 times the whole flight. It was a bummer that there was no pretty view to see out the window. A majority of the time we were asked to keep our blinds down. But even if we were allowed, it wouldn't have made that much of a difference. The path the plane flew had us mostly in darkness anyways.

I was a bit flattered when the flight attendants thought I was Korean the whole flight. When all the non-Korean passengers received a Customs/Immigration slip to pre-fill, I received none. Ultiamately had to ask for it when we were close to landing. Not really sure how the misunderstanding happened as I answered most of their questions in English. I did make out some of their basic questions but they also asked it in English most of it time...Eh who knows?

Arrival ICN South Korea
At ~4AM, Korean time, we were finally able to leave the plane! Good thing Bestie C has been out of the country pretty recently. I would have been a paranoid mess and take me a while to figure out the exiting procedures required to officially enter a foreign country.