Monday, May 11, 2009

Trip to Seoul

Because last weekend was filled with saying good-bye to John and Glenda, we decided to celebrate our anniversary this weekend instead.  We have been wanting to take the KTX fast train to Seoul for months, so we grabbed our chance and spent a short weekend there.

On Friday evening, Keegan and I met at the ferry terminal in Gohyeon (where the shipyard is) around 6.  We caught the day's last ferry to Busan and then hopped on a shuttle bus to the train station.  We made our train with five minutes to spare and settled in to our seats, which were roomy and remarkably comfortable.  Of course, it was dark out by the time we left, so we couldn't see much on our journey, and even when the train reached its top speed of about 290 kilometers per hour, we could barely tell.  The tracks were very smooth, and we just glided along through the dark night.  The train trip took about three hours, and once in Seoul we easily navigated the clean and modern subway system two stops to our hotel.  Counting our individual trips to the ferry terminal on Geoje, we took a bus, a scooter, a ferry, another bus, a train, and the subway to make it to our final destination.  If we had just figured out how to add a hot air balloon and a unicycle, I think we'd have covered every possible method of transport!

Since we hadn't had time to do more than snack during the many legs of our journey, we were quite hungry when we got to our hotel room around midnight.  So we decided to order room service.  I've never gotten room service before - I felt like we were in the movies.  The food was  not fantastic, but it tasted that way to our hungry mouths.  Shortly after our midnight meal, we hit the sack.

Our room service feast

On Saturday morning we woke up without a plan and got off to a slow start.  At breakfast, we planned our day, which involved going to Insadong, a neighborhood near that hotel that was recommended by our friend Fred and by our guidebook as a cool place with lots of interesting shops and restaurants.  We strolled there leisurely from the hotel, stopping to take pictures along the way.  

Insadong was indeed full of interesting things.  There are lots of tourist nicknacks for sale, but also a lot of beautiful handcrafts, including paintings, needlework, pottery, and beautiful paper lanterns and lamps.  I found a new dress in this funky secondhand shop, and Keegan and I picked out a table runner with a traditional Korean patchwork design, called "Bojagi."  

Paintbrushes for sale and a cool shopping center in Insadong

We had lunch at a vegetarian Korean place with delicious food.  We tried dim sum, a huge bowl of mushroom soup with noodles (a bit spicy, especially towards the bottom), and a plate of acorn squash with a filling of millet, walnuts, and cinnamon.  Mmmm!  The restaurant was otherwise a bit weird, with all of these books by "The Supreme Master Ching Hai," whose Wikipedia article includes such one-of-a-kind phrases as "Part Buddha, Part Madonna," and "transnational cybersect."  Her television channel was also playing in the background.  We tried to focus on the food.

Keegan meditates over our vegetarian lunch.

After lunch we did more wandering, this time to a temple nearby Insadong.  It was a fairly typical Korean temple, but in celebration of Buddha's birthday, there were colorful lanterns strung high over the entire courtyard.  I was happy that we visited at the right time to see such a festive display.

Buddha's birthday lanterns at Jogyesa Temple

On our way back to the hotel, we strolled along the Cheonggye Stream, where hundreds of Seoulites were wandering, enjoying the sound of the rushing stream and dipping their feet into the cool water during the very warm afternoon.  We also saw some women playing unusual traditional Korean instruments.

We spent the afternoon relaxing a little and then headed out for dinner at the California Pizza Kitchen.  I am somewhat ashamed to admit this, as I firmly believe that one should experience new foods and new restaurants at every opportunity, and as I also scoff at Americans who rave about eating at the Outback Steakhouse or TGI Friday's in Busan.  But apparently California Pizza Kitchen is my Achilles heel.  Actually, only the pizza was tasty, the rest of the meal was pretty lousy, especially dessert, The Worst Tiramisu Ever.  But it was fun to think of all the times we ate at the CPK in Norfolk and enjoyed ourselves.

We didn't do much in the evening either, just relaxed in the hotel and watched the "Sex and the City" movie on TV, which for some reason lasted FOREVER.  We gave up at midnight after a ridiculously long commercial break.  

In the morning, we woke up pretty early and decided to take a walk to a big park not far from our hotel.  The park is on a big hill with the Seoul Tower at the top.  Once we made it into the park, we found an absolutely gorgeous trail for walking, biking, and running, along with tons of people taking advantage of it.  It was nice to be out early and have a chance to see some more of the city.  I wish we had been able to go up to the tower because we both felt like we hadn't had a chance to experience the full size of the city.  Since the Seoul metropolitan area is home to almost a third of South Korea's population, we wanted a chance to be impressed by its vastness.  Maybe next time.

After breakfast, we started our journey back to Geoje, which was pretty much the same as our trip to Seoul, in reverse, with many different modes of transportation.  We were happy to get back to the needy kittens and our cozy apartment after our weekend of adventures.  We'll have to get back to Seoul again and see more of what it has to offer.


Jamie said...

That noodle bowl dwarves Keegan! Wow! And the Happy Birthday Buddha lanterns are spectacular!

KIM! said...

sounds like a lovely weekend away - good for you!

chrissy said...

When I was in France, I have to admit that one of the best meals I had was at a Hard Rock Cafe. Nothing beat those mashed 'taters and grilled chicken. =)