January 6, 2017

Happy New Year (Korea)

We spent the end of the year with my sis and her family including visits with my mom and brother.  It was so much fun to be in the house with the little ones waking up to Santa.  I'm very thankful my sister and her husband had space for us and welcomed us into their home for the holidays.  It was a very special Christmas.

Happy New Year, 17 hours earlier than home!

On December 29th, we headed out for our long haul trip to Korea.  Due to Delta's flight booking shenanigans, it had been *significantly* cheaper to fly to LAX late night on the 29th, stay the night, and then fly to Seattle super early the 30th before a short layover and a flight to Seoul starting around noon pacific time and arriving around 5 PM on the 31st.  It was so much cheaper that doing the multi-day trip and paying for a hotel at LAX was a no-brainer even though we knew it would be painful to add the late night/early AM LAX madness to the beginning of the trip.  We were right.  Our flight to LAX was delayed.  We finally checked into our hotel, ate dinner, and did our best to fall asleep by midnight before waking up at 3:45 AM to get a Lyft back to LAX for our 6 AM departure (the hotel shuttle at 4 AM was full and the one after it was already booked, too, there was a waiting list!... crazy holiday travel!)

Grand Hyatt Seoul's firework NYE firework display.

We arrived at Incheon and cleared immigration, got our bags and cleared customs without any problems.  This was the first time in my life where I've arrived somewhere without a single local word.  I didn't even know how to say "thank you."  It is humbling to realize what a privilege it is to be born in a country that speaks the world's second language. Bumbling around in English, I finally learned how to say thank you by the last day and I think I can recognize the patterns of Korean to identify it now if I hear it spoken, but that's about it.

Political art in Seoul on the way to the Gyeongbokgung palace.

Proud of ourselves for pushing through to the midnight NYE celebrations after some short sleep hours on the plane, we were both very happy to fall asleep immediately after the last firework.  But, I woke at 5 AM, bright eyed and bushy-tailed thanks to jet-lag (noon at home on 12/31).  So I headed to the gym.  I'm not going to lie, I took a little pleasure in being the very first person to hit the gym on New Year's day.  Within 15 minutes of my arrival 10-15 other guests arrived, BUT I WAS FIRST! (Also, we've been maximizing our use of Hyatt points so far for this entire trip and *man* is it nice to have a fancy gym every morning!)

View of the wall and N Seoul Tower as we climbed Namsan

E & I started the new year with a vigorous early morning hike up Namsan and into the Seoul Tower to get a view of the city.  It was *cold* but we worked up quite a sweat.  By the end of the hike, I had shed almost all of my layers and I was breathing huge breaths of steam while hiking in a tank top and leggings with my jacket around my waist and my gloves and hat tucked in the pockets (E had removed all his layers and was in just a T-shirt and khaki pants, which interestingly, are apparently not a thing that Koreans wear).   The faces on the folks we encountered during this part of the hike made it clear that we were doing our part to solidify the sweaty American stereotype for the Koreans (and other Asian tourists) who were sporting big puffy jackets and furry scarves and muffs.

In front of Sungnyemun gate, after following the city wall down the mountain
The rest of our visit to Korea was super fast paced.  All told, we did 2 cities (Seoul, Busan) in 5 days, 4 nights.  It was a little faster than we like to travel, but we were glad we pushed to add Busan to the itinerary because we were able to take a bullet train across the entire small country and get a feel for just how densely populated it is (50 million people in a country smaller than Cuba).

We strolled 3 miles along the cheonggyecheong the second day.

In Seoul, we hiked along the City Wall and the Cheonggye stream as well as hitting up the textile and electronics markets.  We viewed the rockwork on the gates to the city and agreed that Peru had taught us that the Incas really did know their shit -- so much more precise than this amazing stuff.  Not to say the Korean rockwork and gates weren't impressive -- they are, and it's so cool that they are just hanging out in the middle of such a huge modern city, so well preserved.  But the Incan precision is unparalleled for its time.

Blatant trademark infringement in the Yongsan Electronics Market
Of course we had great food in Seoul: bibimbap on the plane for me, kimichi fried rice with egg and pickled radishes, izakaya treats (the traditional Korean restaurant was closed for New Year's), Chimaek (fried Chicken and Beer, a national dish), and take out convenience store food on the train to Busan: Jumak Bap (think O-nigiri but with oil and much heavier) and Gimbap (vegetables and rice rolled in a seaweed tube).

Fried spicy chicken and whelks in spicy sauce with noodles.
We walked through the most crazy food market I've ever seen in the middle of the textiles market (doesn't textiles and food just seem like a bad mix?  Greasy food and fabric? And yet...).  Unfortunately, we weren't quite hungry, so we just looked but didn't touch...

One of many aisles of fabric in Gwangjang Market.
Dumplings as far as the eye can see deep in the middle of the market.

In Busan, we enjoyed the views from the Park Hyatt and then did a quick trip to see the sights from the Busan tower before walking through the biggest consumer-oriented fish market I'd ever seen (Jagalchi).  Eventually we selected a stall and enjoyed a raw-fish dinner in the local style.

Look at all those octopus!

One of hundreds of stalls of fresh fish.

And the next morning after a quick workout and raiding the amazing breakfast buffet at the Park Hyatt Busan (points for the win again!) we caught the 8:30 AM bus to the airport and made our way to Taipei.

1 comment:

Jen said...

Looks like a jam-packed but fun time. I LOVE Korean fried chicken & beer. Thanks for sharing!