Yay! Finally found free internet. Only, it had to be here, at the airport. *shrug* Oh well! At least I can finally report!
So, listed below is a recap of our first day in Seoul. I wrote it that night, so it will be from that viewpoint. Anyway, enjoy and more updates to come!
Our First Day in Seoul:
At long, long last, Simeon and I have made it to Asia! We’ve travelled pretty extensively throughout Europe and North America, but still had yet to go to Asia… until now! Our first impressions of Seoul were all of awe. Sims was surprised how modern and clean everything in Seoul is. I wasn’t so surprised about that, since right before coming, I did a little research and found out that South Korea’s economy is very strong, and they are working hard to update and modernize the country.
It was tough for us coming in, because we only had two hours of sleep the night before our flight, and I didn’t sleep well on the airplane. I tried. I bought a neck pillow, snuggled up under the blanket, put on my eye-mask, and really tried! But my feet and legs kept falling asleep, and my knees were aching… I just couldn’t sleep. So, after a two-hour flight to San Francisco, a three-hour layover, and a twelve-hour flight to Seoul, one can imagine how exhausted I was. We met one of the staff for the competition outside our gate, who led us to the bus stop where we were given our tickets and told to get off at “Olympic Park”. Another couple was on the bus with us.
We didn’t realize how far away Incheon Airport was from Seoul! Something like, 30 km! And once we were in Seoul, the bus wound through downtown. The bus ride itself was about an hour. It was during that bus ride that I finally managed to doze off. Don’t ask me why, but busses are considerably more comfortable than airplanes!
I woke up just as we were winding through Seoul. The city was incredible! Street after street after street of high rises, lights, and eight-lane roads! Don’t get me wrong, I’m no country bumpkin. I’ve been to some of the biggest cities, like London, New York, Paris, Sofia, Prague, Los Angeles, Montreal…. But Seoul dwarfs them all! So when I say “I’ve never been to a city this big”, given my track record, you’d have to imagine how big Seoul really is.
Anyway, we checked into our hotel and got into bed. We were only going to take a two-hour nap, as we hadn’t eaten in literally hours and we wanted to get some dinner to hold us over until the morning, when we planned to wake up at 7:30 and get breakfast. Well… the alarm went off two hours later, but we didn’t get up. Both of us awoke at 5:00am, just to go to bathroom, but we were immediately back in bed. We ended up sleeping straight until our second alarm at 7:30. By that time, we had slept for twelve hours, and could have kept going! But no, we got ourselves ready and headed downstairs for breakfast.
After breakfast, we stopped by the bell desk to get some tour information. After leafing through them, we decided on one we wanted to do and reserved it for Sunday. I’ll tell you the specifics of that in another post, cause that’s gonna be an awesome tour!!! Then we headed upstairs to study some maps of Seoul and get our bearings. One thing I really enjoy about coming to a new city is opening the map and starting to figure out where everything is. There’s nothing cooler than knowing, and I mean truly knowing, where you are. More than just a dot on the map; but being able to relate your location to the city in general, and knowing where to go to get where…. It’s really exciting.
So we headed out toward the subway station, but first we had to walk through Olympic Park. Our hotel is on the North side of Olympic Park, next to the actual Olympic Stadium built back in 1988 for the Olympic Games held in Seoul; but the subway station was on the South side of Olympic Park. We started out, and the walk just went on and on and on… we had walked more than a mile before we even arrived at the station! But along the way, we got an incredible view of the Olympic Stadium from across the water, and saw the Olympic Weight Lifting Hall, the Olympic Fencing Arena, the Velodrome, and the Tennis Courts. It was pretty cool.
Onto the subway and fifteen stops later, we exited at Euljiro il-ga, the closest stop off our line to the shopping district at Myeong-dong. As we were walking along the big street, we saw a little street that was bursting with small shops and signs, the most stereotypical and quintessential Asian street you can think of. I swear, our eyes were so round they were ready to pop out! Neither of us have ever seen things like this! There were signs everywhere!
Right away we found a Starbucks, but decided not to stop because we had only eaten breakfast an hour ago and were still fresh. But a couple of shops in, about a dozen people were crowded around a juice shop. The shop had cups filled with whole fruits, and all you needed to do was point at the cup. The juice would take the cup, dump the contents into a juicer, and voila! Your juice comes out a minute later, frothy and tasty! Sims had one that was a strange variety of grape (strange in the taste), while I had banana and persimmon.
We continued down Myeong-dong and exited onto a huge road, where we had to stop and get our bearings again. Location found, we decided to check out Namdaemun Market. Stall after stall of bags, suitcases, fake fur coats, and sweats! We got lost in an underground market of bags, then emerged to find ourselves next to an old woman roasting chestnuts. Truth be told, Sims and I can’t resist a bag of fresh roasted chestnuts, so we paid and plunged ourselves back into the market. Every shop-owner waved their hands at us and called, “Helloooo, ha ah yoooooo!” which was the extent of their English. That’s ok, though, because it’s more than the Korean we know!
One of my students had told me about the accessories markets in Seoul, that you could find hundreds of stalls filled with necklaces, earrings, bracelets, etc. So when I saw a sign for an accessories market, I just had to check it out. She wasn’t exaggerating. It was about 100 stalls per row, and about 20 rows across. The merchants were sitting at their benches making the jewelry right there! So when I’m in Chinatown and see the necklaces and earrings in their plastic bags with the little stickers that say “Made in Korea”, I now know exactly (literally to the spot where they sit) where they make them! Amazing! Too bad I’m allergic to metal…..
But having walked around downtown Seoul, Simeon and I are exhausted. Our feet hurt, and we have to dance tomorrow. We spotted a Starbucks and hurried inside to sit and take a break. Next we’ll find a Korean BBQ to grab some dinner, then head back to the hotel and prepare for tomorrow. You know, all the fun stuff: iron my dress, tan, etc etc. Next report will be on Sunday, after our exciting tour that I’ll tell you all about afterwards! Woo hoo!!