I got Seoul but i'm not a soilder
Trip Start Aug 09, 2010
124Trip End Feb 01, 2012
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'Ah' a fellow traveller we met in Russia said. 'Korean food in Asia is like French food in Europe, it's great!' And that, is how Paul and I came to decide to go to Korea. It wasn't originally on our planned route, but then again our plans are very sketchy.
I didn't know what to expect of the country. I'd never read much about it and I don't know anyone who's been but one look at the guide book we bought told me we were going to love it.
The most exciting part of all was that we were going to get there by boat. Our first REALLY long trip on a boat. We were ecstatic to find out that we had our own cabin. After weeks of sleeping in dorms this felt like the height of luxury! There was only one thing I hadn’t quite considered. In fact I’d conveniently forgotten it when we planned to get round the world without using planes. I’m actually quite scared of being on the sea. As we boarded visions of me as a 10 year old lying down on a speed boat hands clasped together praying to God Jesus and the Holy Mary to save me came to mind. Would I be spending the next 24 hours in a state of terror? Someone up there heard my prayers and we had fantastic weather all the way which meant I didn’t embarrass myself by screaming that we were all going to die!
We got off our boat in Incheon and made our way to Seoul. We were staying with a couple who had agreed to host us in their home for free. Nope, we'd never met them before, we'd found their couch 'advertised' on couchsurfing.org. For those of you unfamiliar with the website it's like a dating site for free accomodation. Paul and I had heard of the website but had not really consdidered using it until we started our travels. We met loads of people who haveboth couch surfed and hosted people in their home and they raved about it. The concept of inviting strangers in our house or staying in their house was pretty alien to us. After all we're Londoners, we don't even speak to our neighbors let alone strangers! But then every time we spoke to someone who had tried it, their face lit up and they smiled while telling us about the great experiences they'd had. We were curious and we were over budget, two perfect reasons to give it a go.
After dinner we walked round the neighborhood which seemed to be like something out of a movie depicting the perfect place to live. Lovely gardens by the han river, wide bicycle paths, a band playing on the green, a couple of photographers taking pictures of the lit up bridge, spotlessly clean pathways and even special parking spaces for women!
Hahaha I’m sure they weren’t meaning to be sexist when they put those in. We walked back home through a market selling all sorts of weird and wonderful fruit, feeling very glad thar we’d decided to visit this amazing country.
So now you see why we said that today put our faith back in humanity (to be honest it never went over the stupid tea incident). That is what is so amazing about travel. Where else would someone you’d never met invite you to stay for free in their home ? Where else can you end up in somebody’s flat for dinner after meeting them on the street a few hours before? We went to bed with huge smiles on our faces.
Sunny, Joon, Nils and Youngsook, we know you are reading this and just wanted to say a huge Thank you once again for making our stay in Seoul so amazing. It is something we will never forget. Get down to South East Asia!
Being in South Korea felt like being a very welcome guest at someone’s place. The easy visa-less entry to the country, the fantastically placed English signs that made travelling around a doddle, the friendly people, the frequent tourist information centres and the free attractions we could visit all made us feel that someone had put a lot of thought to show us that they appreciated our visit. It’s quite rare, and heart warming to feel like an appreciated tourist.
A thirty minute walk from the village brought us to Namdaemun Market - one of the biggest markets in Korea with roads dedicated to all sorts of things. There was watch street, bag street, ginseng street amongst many others.
That night, in complete contrast to the old village we walked round the Neon lit streets north of Insadong. It was brilliant just to take in the bustling atmosphere, try some local bars and feast on the amazing street food on offer.
Seoul must be the only developed city with a Mountain in the middle of it. The city planners certainly made the most of it . There’s an option to take a cable car right to the top or for the more health conscious there are walking and jogging paths where the ground is actually covered with a special kind of rubbery tarmac that is kinder on the knees. We decided to walk up and one the way passed loads of older Koreans in their tracksuits and sun visors speed walking up the hill. We even came across a few outdoor gyms that the local authority has set up. The average age of the people doing the weights was about 60! I kid you not. They made Karen & I look very unfit !
On our last night in Seoul we were quite sad to be leaving this wonderful country as we had had a truly special time here. Seoul has become our favourite city of the trip so far and we could easily live there. We went for a great meal with Sunny and Joon in the university area. We don’t think we have ever been in a place where we wanted to go in every bar or coffee shop we passed. They all looked so cool and funky. We were so impressed! It was great spending the night with Sunny and Joon too.
Until then, we love you and miss you
Karen & Paul xxxx