Saturday, June 18, 2016

Adventures in Seoul

Sorry, I am writing this from an IPAD...will fix formatting and label pictures whe I get a computer.

     We have been itching for an adventure and this past week in Seoul has been incredible. Completely out of our comfort zone, it has been an amazing experience. The city is incredibly safe, extremely chaotic with 10+ million people and it just gets under your skin. Dear Daughter and I found the locals very helpful and nice, proud of their heritage and culture and usually eager to practice English. We became adept at pointing to menu item pictures..."We will have one of those.."

     I am happy to say that I did not over schedule us. It is very warm and muggy and after a couple of hours outside each day, we needed the coolness of our apartment. Out building was situated over the subway station which made it so convenient. Each day, we would head to the basement and within a minute or so, we were on the subway. We went all over the city and it was unbelievably easy. More than one time, a local would offer to change seats with me if I wasn't seated just next to DD.  So each day, we had at least one adventure. Here are some of the highlights!

Saturday: Food tour with Dan Gray of Delectable Travels. Dan introduced us to Korean BBQ, Korean Fried Chicken and Beer, Korean mung bean pancakes and a local market. He has an interesting story. He was born here in the 70's, a time when South Korea was not prosperous. His parents could not care for him so they gave him up for adoption. He grew up in the United States but after college, wanted to return. He has been here for the past eleven years and is incredibly knowledgeable.

Sunday:  Seoul City Tour by bus. This is a bit touristy but a great way to get the lay of the land. While Dear Husband worked in the morning, we headed to the Lotte Department Store and their incredible gourmet food hall. We came home with pork and kimchi dumplings and sushi. It made for a great Sunday lunch.

Monday: DD and I have a great time visiting Gyeonbokgung Palace. Completely destroyed by fire in the 1500's, it sat destroyed for over 200 years. It has been wonderfully rebuilt and is a fantastic heritage landmark. DD was in awe most of the time and the changing of the guards was really cool.

Tuesday:  We were back with Dan for a tour of the Mapo Fish Market. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Dan picks out a selection of fish and we head upstairs to the restaurant above the market. Our abolone is baked and the giant crab is steamed. While this is occurring, we are dining on fermented fish eggs, sea squirt, fresh baby squid which is evidently in season and octopus...still squirming!  Dan tells us to chew the octopus well, lest the suckers will latch onto our windpipe!  Yikes!  We wrap the crabmeat in lettuce leaves and the cooks make an incredible rice dish with the inside of the crab. Definitely a memory maker.

Wednesday:  This is another memory maker...a tour of the DMZ. We are able to visit the Joint Security Area, step into North Korea, see over the border into their Propaganda Village, which are hollow buildings added to look like a working village. On the South side, Freedom Village is a working farm village, where the inhabitants live within the demilitarised zone and work the fields. For their courage, they are exempt from military service and taxes. While women can marry into the village, men must be direct descendants of current villagers. We all walked through one of the four tunnels discovered in the late 1970's coming from the North into the South. The whole day was a very sobering experience. DH was able to join us after his conference and we visited another one of Seoul's palaces and dined on delicious Vietnamese Pho for dinner.

Thursday:  DD and I toured the Gangnam section of Seoul, known for its expensive stores. Firsthand, we realized we were over our league and were giddy when we found an H & M. For lunch, we dined at Jungsik, the 23rd Best Restaurant in Asia and we laughed as we walked in with our H & M bag. Nobody treated us any differently and it was a wonderful meal. I have found numerous times that the best way to experience an expensive restaurant is to dine at lunch. The menu was quite reasonable and the food was amazing. Later that evening, we ventured as a family to a Korean BBQ joint and had a fantastic time. Culture dictates that the youngest has to cook...and that is exactly what DD did.

Friday:  This was a special treat. DD and a friend from Belgium who lives here now, spent the afternoon shopping in the Myeongdong area. First, we had a wonderful and free walking tour of the historic Bukchon Village, a collection of old style homes directly in the downtown section between two of the ancient palaces. Years ago, these homes housed the elite. Today, they have been magnificently restored and serve as an artist community and neighborhood. In the Myeongdong, the teenagers visited Dr. Fish, where they had fish nibble at their toes, drank peach tea at the Dog Cafe
while petting actual dogs and shopped for wacky of the things to buy while in Seoul.  That evening, we headed to the conference hotel for a reception with DH. Following the reception, we  stopped in the hotel bar located on the 37th floor, where we took in spectacular views of Seoul.

Saturday: Our closing day and we kept it simple. We found a very old restaurant in Myeongdong and had an early lunch of Kalguksu Noodles and fabulous dumplings. A bit more sock shopping and the purchase of sesame oil and ramen, recommended to bring home and we spent the rest of the afternoon packing for the next adventure.  Tonigh, we will see if we can have one last bbq dinner and then early to bed.

Travel is a part of us and I think to some completes us. We can get so caught up in our own little worlds...become so wrapped around things that are not important. While we were in Berlin last summer for a week, this is the first major overseas trip since we have returned to the States. I wondered if DD would be bored...missing her friends. She relished the experiences-- texting her friends..."You should see this...." She is a great travel partner and while she likes her "downtime", she is also ready to see and experience something new.

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