I got Seoul but i'm not a soilder

Trip Start Aug 09, 2010
Trip End Feb 01, 2012

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Good evening readers!

 '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. 
I was quite nervous as we waited for Sunny and Yoon (our hosts) to meet us at the train station. They soon arrived full of smiles and the minute we said hello I knew we had nothing to worry about. It takes a special kind of person to invite strangers in their house and Sunny and Yoon certainly proved that. They treated us like old friends and quickly took us out to the local restaurant. Yoon explained that when hungry in Korea it's easy to find a good restaurant - just look at where the 'giza' or taxi drivers go. These restaurants are guaranteed to have great food and even better value and are locally referred to as 'Giza' restaurant. Sure enough our meal of 'Samp' was absolutely delicious and cost us a fiver for the both of us!  We also got talking to two old guys that were in London a year ago to see Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall. They were so cool, both in their 70’s raving about London. 
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. 
 Our following day put our faith back into humanity after our Chinese tea incident.  We woke up to the lovely Joon cooking us breakfast. Bless her, she didn’t need to that but she insisted. Sunny then showed us how to get to the metro station. We had only been in Seoul a night and already it felt like we knew Sunny & Yoon all our lives. So we jumped on the brilliant  Seoul metro and went out to discover the city. Our first stop was one of the old palaces that are scattered all around Seoul. On the way there we got talking to this old man in the street. He was so lovely! He spoke perfect English and had been to Europe many times. It was he who approached us and it proved to be the first of many occasions where locals came up to us and started chatting. The palace was lovely but unfortunately we could not go into its famous gardens without a guide and we were way too hungry to wait so we headed off to our next destination, Insadong. An area that has loads of cool galleries and boutiques. It reminded us a lot of Covent Garden. We ambled along for a while  trying to find a restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet. Well we could not find it anywhere . As we were trying to decipher the map for the umpteenth time a Korean girl came up to me to ask if I needed help. She was not sure where it was so she called her man over who is German but lives in Seoul. He was not sure either .  We then asked if they knew a place . Sure enough they did and they kindly walked with us to the restaurant. As we were walking we told them about our trip and they decided to join us  to hear more. Well it turned that Nils and Youngsook are two wonderful human beings! As we chatted over the fantastic food they invited us to their place for dinner  that night! How amazing is that? We had only met them 2 hours before  and on the street no less! So that evening we went to their place  and they cooked us a feast. We were both overwhelmed by their generosity. It was really, really lovely of them. We had a brilliant night and we had more great news to come! As we got back to Sunny and Joon’s they invited us to stay with them for another 2 nights! Which was  a very generous of fer and one we accepted straight away. 
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.
 One free sight we went to was Namsangol Hanok village,  a typical old style village that depicts how life was like a few centuries ago. The buldings there were all original and has been transported from various parts of Korea. It was great to meander round the houses, peeking into traditional rooms, trying out some of the games they used to play and watching men weaving various products out of rope - a sight that was pretty common in the olden days.

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 ! 
It took us a while to get to the top of the mountain but the views were well worth it. The city was spread out on all sides of the mountain. It was quite strange to be on a mountain with a city spread  as far as the eye could see. Right at the very top there’s also Seoul Tower which looks amazing when it’s lit up. Right next to it we found a little corner that was full of padlocks. Similar to what we had seen in Russia, lovers hang these padlocks as a sign of their eternal love. Bless! 
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.
The following day we got the Korean bullet train to the port town of Pusan. We quickly had sashimi in the local fish market and chatted with a lovely woman about our trip. She also gave us some of her lunch which gives her a gold star!  We noticed that the benches where we could fill in our forms even had spectacles on them for people to use! It was a sight that truly represented the considerate and thoughtful  culture we’d experienced in our short stay here. As our trip here had turned out to be quite cheap we  decided to upgrade our cabin to first class which was easy and straight forward. Very different from our experience in Yantai! The boat was better too and the staff were great. We quickly settled in our cabin and watched a film.  It was hard to sleep though with all the excitement inside me because tomorrow I would finally get to my number 1 destination. Japan! Woooooo hooooo, can’t wait!
Until then, we love you and miss you
Karen & Paul xxxx 
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auntyp on

WOW!! guys super amazing. I think this was my favourite blog...You seemed to have had such a terrific time and wow what a country!!! I love the specs bit near the forms, can you imagine that here at the passport office......Those specs would last a minute!!!!!!!! Truly amazing!!!!...Shame there's so much trouble brewing between the Koreas, spoiling such a perfect country for tourists!!!!
Well take care and Look forward to the next blog. Keep safe, God Bless and Love you heaps xxxxxxxxxxxx

Tukkie on

Seoul sounds like a wonderful place to visit! or live! Truly awesome people and culture... the rest of the world could surely learn a thing or two from Seoul by the sound of it!!

Awesome reading AGAIN, loving this blog :) Thanks for sharing, take care you guys XXXXXXX

mom on

Amazing you both seem so happy there and such nice people keep on writing love you xxx

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