Day 12, also known as The Last Day, in the nicest sense of course ^^ There’s only one flight from home to Korea- at midnight- which meant we had the whole day to kill before heading to the airport. We were supposed, of course to check out of the hotel at midday but what of all our luggage and where exactly were we supposed to go? I had been counting on the hotel extending our check-out to at least 3pm but they weren’t too big on the extended check-out concept so instead they suggested that we could pay for half a day but the rates since booking had shot up considerably so that was a no-no. We decided to check out as planned at midday, ask the hotel to hold on to our luggage and head to Gangnam to meet up with my friend for lunch and a stroll around the area.
After breakfast, we finished packing everything in our new suitcase (yayy!), except the strawberries (what on earth does one do with fresh fruit when travelling?) and after a smooth check-out we were all set to go to Gangnam by metro. (I think we used almost every imaginable form of public transport on this short trip- plane, taxi, car, van, bus, ferry, metro, train!)
The National Assembly station was right outside the hotel, so we headed down the escalator to buy our tickets at the machine. Again, we hadn’t bought transport cards so we had to use the one-time cards. My friend had told me that there was an express line to get to Gangnam, but I hadn’t the faintest idea if that would be at the same platform or another so we ended up taking the all-stop metro. As soon as we got out of the station, we realized we had to make a pit-stop before my rendez-vous… when you see Kyobo in front of you, you don’t just walk away!
There was so much to see in Kyobo and it’s hard to resist buying something, so I ended buying another Scratch Night View and gave me a discount coupon to use on my next visit. When we finally emerged from Kyobo, we ran into my friend who was coming to look for us ^^
We headed straight to lunch at the nearest Paris Baguette where there were a million and three things, out of which only three were halal sigh Self-control in the face of all those heavenly looking cakes was, I suppose, good practice since Ramadan is now right around the corner ^^ We had a nice lunch, filled with conversation and after we were nice and full, we hit the streets to explore Gangnam.
I’ve realized the pace of walking in Japan and Seoul, is really a world apart from back home- everyone is a power walker. I imagine it’s because most people walk to places or ride a bike since the weather is so nice most of the time…or else they take public transport because it’s so convenient. The killer weather most of the year back home doesn’t look too kindly upon people who’d like to walk outdoors … 9 months of the year to be exactㅋㅋㅋ
Most of the stores in Gangnam we’d come across in other places, but the great thing about this place was the fact that it was not filled with tourists so you got more of a life-in-everyday-Korea kind of feel. We walked all the way, through the subway, and back up to the popular Gangnam Style stop where of course mum and Z had to pose for pictures ^^ (Even all those stairs couldn’t stop my mum from posing) Mum had really wanted to come to Gangnam and I’d left it off my itinerary, but fate has a way of putting things in place I guess :)
From there, we went strolling along, mum looking for some nice age-appropriate clothes and a mobile phone cover. We didn’t manage to find any of those things, but what we did come across was a sign advertising a shoe that weighed as much as an egg. Mum was intrigued and it turned out the shop was just ahead. This was turning out to be mum’s lucky day- not only were the shoes practically weightless, they looked amazing and…most importantly… came in her petite size! With our last-minute shopping in hand, we finally decided to head back to Yeouido where we’d relax for a while at a coffee shop and then catch the airport limousine bus to the airport.
On the way back my friend pointed out to us the Samsung headquarters (very chic) and I noticed a Gangnam tour bus. For someone short on time, I think the tour bus would be a nice way to see all the sights and pick out favourites for the next, hopefully longer, trip ^^
My friend was awesome enough to take us all the way down to the subway, where we bought our tickets, and she showed us how to refund the money from our one-way passes and told us if we were in for some more shopping we should head to the Express Bus Terminal underground shopping area. We said our good-byes with promises of meeting again soon and headed off to find our platform. This proved to be the real challenge- probably even harder than mounting Seongsan Ilchulbong had been. We went up and down, and up and down, and somehow couldn’t find the platform going towards Yeouido, we always ended up at the platform heading onwards from Gangnam. -___- Since my voice had been pretty much MIA since the day before, I wasn’t very willing to scare people with my hoarse voice to ask for directions. A girl who was passing by probably notice how lost we were and helpfully directed us back to the same platform, but I wasn’t convinced so I decided I’d ask someone waiting at the platform instead. She finally pointed us in the right direction, saying we were on the opposite side of where we should be and let us know how to get there. At laaaast, we had reached and managed to catch the express train straight to the National Assembly Station.
When we finally reached, we realized that none of us had taken down the exit number so we weren’t sure which exit would lead to our hotel. We decided anything was better than being underground with lost bearings, so we emerged from an exit and realized we had passed the same exit when walking back to our hotel from the cherry blossom festival. ^^ We walked back and stopped for some hot tea at Cafe 7 Gram and a place to rest our weary legs. The tea was really good, or maybe that was my dead throat talking, but we’d finally found a place that didn’t serve tea the size of an upsized latte.
We were aiming for the 7pm bus to take us to the airport so collected our luggage from the hotel, walked across to the bus stop and as we waited, we watched the police clear up the scene of an accident that was holding up the traffic. It was interesting to see how they used white spray to mark the locations of the front tyres of both cars, took photos, then directed both cars to the side where they then had a discussion about the incident. We don’t do the whole white spray and photo thing back home so it was pretty informative to watch.
As the traffic cleared, our bus arrived…6030 to Incheon airport. The driver helped us with our luggage, we boarded, took a cue from the only other passengers on board, reclined our seats, closed our eyes and settled in for the night drive to the airport.
The drive was not very long and when we got off at the airport, there were three main items on our agenda… 1.Dinner 2. Tax-free refund 3. What to do with our strawberries and umbrellas. I had check-in online to save time, but since the online check-in counter wasn’t manned they told us to go ahead to the business class counter where the guy at the desk was on his phone for forever and a bit. When he was finally done, we got our luggage checked in and asked him what to do with our umbrellas and strawberries. He said we could take the strawberries in hand, but said we couldn’t check-in the umbrellas. I was a bit confused when he said the umbrellas needed to be packed, because even if I couldn’t check them in, I should still be allowed to take them as a carry-on. In any case, we ditched my favourite umbrella ever at the nearest bin. Z stopped for a sandwich while mum and I then went to discover the world of tax-free refunds. I’m kind of glad we didn’t waste time filling out all those receipts since everything at the airport was automated. We had to show our receipts, which got scanned at the machine, along with our passport, then get receipts of over a certain value stamped at the customs counter before we could go to passport control.
In order to make sure everything went smoothly, I made sure everything was in my jacket pocket so I wouldn’t waste any time at the scanner. That kind of backfired when the security officer asked if he could check my hand-baggage which was in the same basket as my jacket. He asked me if I had change in my bag, to which I said yes.. I had a some change in my bag but I wondered why that would be of any concern. In any case, I thought it would be better to tell him where else I had change just in case there was some problem. I had in my jacket pocket, my mobile phone along with a whole bunch of coins that we’d collected in the morning to spend at the duty-free so we wouldn’t be left with any coins. It turned out that there were so many coins that even the security officer laughed before waving us on ahead. Note to self: I must learn the art of spending change when I travel, instead of jingling my way to the airport -___- The lady at passport control didn’t look like she was having a good day at all, she looked positively upset at having to be there doing her job, but she did it anyway and we were finally at the duty free.
We had set a couple of goals for the duty free: 1. Find dinner 2. Spend all change 3. Find a souvenir for my best friend 4. Get tax-free refund
Our progress was as follows: We finally managed to find a snow-globe at a souvenir store for my friend who collects them- why is it so hard to find snow globes these days. :( We went on to the tax-free counter, where they proceeded to refund us some but not all the cash against the receipts saying we’d have to go to another counter for that. The other counter, it turned out, was a million miles away and after half a million miles, mum was too tired to go on, so I went on ahead. It turned out, though, that the receipt was in Zs name, so he had to be there with his passport -__- He joined in a bit, we got that sorted and retraced our steps to get my mum. As we walked towards our gate, we kept an eye out for any place where we could get a bite to eat and some water, but a la Japan everything was either closed or closing. By the time we got to our gate, me and mum were positively starving so Z went off to look for something to eat, while I quickly grabbed water from the nearest Mos Burger which was also about to close. We ended up having bread buns from Angel In Us which was pretty much the last coffee shop standing at that point.
I really liked Incheon airport, but at that point I was wondering how on earth it had been ranked number one for so many years (pushed to number 2 only in 2016), when everything including the duty free closes at night- what are late night passengers expected to do? I think Dubai has spoilt us in more ways than one, the airport being one of the things we take for granted. Remind to vote, if there is such a thing, for passenger’s choice of airport.
The flight was on time, and the only notable incident on the flight was the turbulence as I was waiting to use the restroom, it made me feel so dizzy that when it was mum’s turn to go, I wasn’t willing to accompany her ㅋㅋㅋ When it was time to eat, they brought out fruit yoghurt- a Korean brand but of course halal and I wished it had been easier to spot that brand while we were there. We finally landed at around Fajr and decided to have currency changed at an exchange near baggage claim before we got too lazy to do it later on. Not a wise decision – the exchange charged us a “service fee” for the conversion, which of course they didn’t tell us up-front -___- I only realized after I counted the change and looked at the receipt. Another note to self: change currency close to home where agencies won’t rip you off just for being there.
We got in to a taxi loaded with our luggage, the sweet smell of strawberries and sped off home. We had landed on a weekday though, so as we headed home, we watched the morning rush build and our driver’s anxiety increase since she was supposed to hand in her car at the end of the shift which was ending after just half an hour. There was no way she was going to make it back on time in all that traffic. ㅜㅜ As we got off, we gave her tips on how to get back from the fastest route and then headed… home.. at last <3 Alhamdulillah.