Spring in South Korea- Day 12

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!

20160406_141410

I could live here

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 ^^

20160406_144230

Nothing like flowers to remind you it’s Spring

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 :)

20160406_160109

Time to pose!

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.

20160406_162438

Just another day in Gangnam

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 ^^

20160406_162402

Tour of Gangnam anyone?

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.

20160406_185656a

Saying goodbye to the National Assembly building from the bus

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.

 

 

Spring in South Korea- Day 11

Day 11- Also known as “The Strawberry Icing On Our Cherry Blossom Cake Day” ^^

It’s safe to say that the most time spent during planning was on picking out reliable tour guides in Korea for the two tours we wanted to do – one in Jeju and the other one a tour of Nami Island. We were lucky that my friend helped me get in touch with Mr. Song in Jeju who turned out to be an incredible guide (let me know if you need his details ^^ ), so all that was left was scouring the internet for reasonably priced, reliable and highly rated tours of Nami Island. We were looking to do a combination of Nami Island, Petite France and to squeeze in a visit to a strawberry farm just because it’s strawberry season, so finding a ready-made package proved insanely difficult. Tour operators who offered custom day tours proved incredibly expensive and since I’d figured that by Day 11 we’d be too tired to do everything by ourselves we were in a fix.

Luckily though, I somehow came across Andy Kim Tour – a reasonably priced, highly rated, seemingly reliable (from all the pictures they posted from their almost daily tours) tour operator on Facebook (hold the skepticism) who would even do custom tours! I didn’t hesitate, got in touch and before we knew it we were booked for Day 11 and all set to meet Andy at 10am ^^

We had gone to Angel In Us the night before so I could catch a glimpse of the KBS building. The temperature had dropped suddenly, so much so that we actually need the hoodies on our jackets too. The coffee shop had been nice and cozy so we woke up early on Day 11 for breakfast at Angel In Us and a walk around the park right across the street and a morning view of KBS (no I’m not a celebrity stalker).

20160405_094341

Early morning walks laced in pink blossoms

By 10 o’clock we were all set to go. Andy had messaged earlier on saying he’d been held up in traffic, but he reached soon afterwards. ^^ Since Mr. Song had been a middle-aged man, I was for some reason expecting more of the same so we were pleasantly surprised when Andy turned out to be not much older than my brother and I ^___^

We settled in for the long ride to our first stop- the strawberry farm. I’m a long drive kind of person provided I manage to escape my motion-sickness. Thankfully, I did on this trip (not so lucky for Z who had to close his eyes most of the ride) and ended up enjoying a beautiful drive through mountains filled with trees, getting ready to green. Throughout the trip, I began to truly appreciate what a different experience spring is from summer. For a person like me, who craves the green that only summer can provide, spring was like watching the birth of the season I love best- leaves sprouting on branches just awakening from their winter slumber, and brilliant flowers blooming with the promise of more life.

When we finally reached the strawberry farm, the thing I remember most is the silence. I would have been happy just to spend an hour enjoying the sound of absolutely nothing. But even the delicious silence can’t beat the thought of delicious strawberries so we headed straight in. Now the farm isn’t a farm per se, it’s more of a greenhouse, which is another thing that we noticed since Jeju. Greenhouses are big here… so popular in fact that the Jeju landscape was positively pockmarked with them. I can’t help but wonder if that’s just done to protect the plants in winter moving through to spring. In any case, we walked in with our empty boxes, and our simple instructions – to put in what you pick and make sure you can close the lid ㅎㅎㅎ

20160405_125839

And that… is what strawberry plants look like!

Never once in 27 years did it occur to me to imagine what kind of plants strawberries come from so this was a fun experience and I was surprised how easy strawberries are to pick! (I need to visit a farm at some point in my life). We picked and picked, the luscious red hanging below the green leaves and finally had our packed goodies ready to take away.

20160405_130724

완성!

My dad likes strawberries so we decided to pick up a bottle of freshly made strawberry jam for him before heading off to Nami Island. When we reached the parking lot for the ferry to the island, we could see scores of buses lined up and lots of people opting to take the zipline to the island instead of the ferry. Very adventurous! The ferry shuttles back and forth every few minutes or so. We got on to the waiting ferry which was jam-packed and in a minute or so we were getting off at Nami Island!

20160405_140549

Welcome to Nami Island!

Nami Island in spring was a paradise of tall trees coming to life. There are so many different paths under the trees, it’s hard to pick out a favourite. We walked past bridges and train tracks, lakes and flowers, church groups on outings, squirrels and ostriches until we finally reached  the Asian Family Restaurant which serves halal food and even has a prayer room. ^^ Andy was awesome enough to take pictures of us at every scenic spot and if it weren’t for him, I’d probably have no family pictures on the island because we were so busy taking everything in.

 

20160405_161946

Bridge to another walk of life

Lunch was yummy vegetable spring rolls and some chicken dish that Z will probably remember and for the second (third for Z) and last time in Korea, we used chopsticks. My rusty skills clearly indicated we’d been away from Japan for far too long ^^ We had fun chatting with Andy about UAE and travelling and a million random things- a great complement to the already yummy lunch.

We headed out after lunch and first stopped at some souvenir shops to take back some memento from Nami Island. The most popular ones are snowmen, thanks to Winter Sonata but mum opted for a picture frame showing all four seasons in Nami instead.

20160405_141729

Walking down another tree lined path. Say hi to Andy!

If I ever get a chance to visit Nami Island again, I’d like for it to be in autumn, another season I’ve yet to experience. The pictures of the island covered in red and gold are enough to entice anyone back. In fact as we walked, Andy showed us to a hotel on the island, which has just a few rooms, typically booked way in advance, for people who truly want to get away from it all – there’s no Wifi either! Now that’s something I’d definitely like to do.

20160405_155814

Yet another go-to spot for couples

After a while my throat starting hurting and it was the uh-oh am I about to lose my voice kind of hurt. I grabbed a hot tea, but it didn’t help much so I decided I’d just enjoy the experience of my voice growing hoarser and hoarser until it was gone. ㅋㅋㅋ We walked past upside down cows (I really don’t get this kind of art), handwritten signs and water shimmering in the sun until we finally got on the ferry back. Andy was awesome enough to go on ahead and get the car so my mum wouldn’t have to climb any more slopes (that quota was exhausted a long time ago).

We headed next to Petite France which was not too far away. The weather had been nice and comfortable all day, a light sweater was all we needed, but as we entered Petite France, it started to get really nippy.

20160405_174939

Welcome to France… in Korea!

I don’t know who came up with the idea of Petite France or its Swiss counterpart Eidelweiss, but all I know is I like the concept a lot! From the multi-coloured houses, to the outdoor puppet shows, from the art gallery to the typical French interior decor, I liked it all. It’s a quaint place which makes you feel you’ve been transported somewhere new.

20160405_174838

I think all houses should be painted pretty colours

There were nice places where you could sit outside and enjoy a cup of coffee, weather permitting, and I feel like it’s a nice place to go if you’re looking for some inspiration. There was a souvenir shop too, but like most tourist sites, the shops are usually overpriced.

20160405_174511

I finally found “Beyond” ㅋㅋㅋ

My favourite place in Petite France, though, was not inside any of the houses, nor in the square, nor surrounded by Pinocchio, nor down the many stairs. It was high up, with an incredible view of the rolling hills in the distance. This view reminded me of my favourite awe-inspiring view in Japan at Lake Kawaguchi. I realized I’m pretty consistent in the things I love. <3

20160405_171546

Some views are best seen firsthand ^^

I could have stayed up there for hours surrounded by the butterfly sculptures with a view to  kill, but it was getting late and we had to head back to the hotel. We followed Andy out and began the long ride home.

20160405_174641

Time to head home

We were all pretty exhausted, Z drifted off and I had fun chatting with Andy about everything from Hello Talk to  버스커버스커 to 김광석 (he was nice enough to play some of my favourite songs for me too ^^) to ordering things from G-Market. After a while though my throat decided it was ready to go on vacation too, so I decided to give it some rest so it would reconsider. The traffic heading back to Yeouido was a killer, and after a while even Andy was in danger of drifting off- nothing a KitKat couldn’t solve ^^

When we finally reached the hotel (completely nausea-free 아싸!), we had exchanged contact details and I realized the best part of travelling has to be making new friends.

I can’t remember what we had for dinner, all I remember is we finalized most of our packing for the trip home on Day 12, my throat killing me, feeling terribly terrible and then my stomach going and dying on me in the middle of the night. -____- Way to steal the show but I’m grateful that it happened back and the hotel and not when we were stuck in traffic. Day 11 was kind of like that.. a day to be grateful for all the things we take for granted…

 

If you’d like to get in touch with Andy:
Whatsapp: 0082-10-7225-6248
Kakao Talk / Line: rookiek1
Email: andykim1118@gmail.com

Spring in South Korea- Day 10

Day 10 was the day we headed out from the heart of Seoul to our next hotel in Yeouido where we were going to enjoy the Cherry Blossom Festival. We woke up early enough and decided to have breakfast somewhere new… namely Paul Bassett which was just next to our hotel. The cafe is much bigger than it looks from outside- in fact, it’s positively huge! We got some goodies to eat and a tea to share (tea is way too big in Korea) and that’s when my brother came across… wait for it… a cricket through the years book in their bookshelf. Did not see that coming… cricket in Korea? Maybe one day. We pored over the pages and watched as businessmen popped in for some coffee on the go while others tapped away at their laptops in the middle of business breakfasts.

After a while we headed to our last stop in central Seoul and one so important that no one should ever miss- Kyobo Bookstore! The bookstore is huge and for a book lover like me, you’ll probably want to pitch your tent there for forever and a day.

20160404_095036

On the way to Kyobo

The main reason I wanted to stop by Kyobo was to pick some TTMIK books. I wouldn’t have a chance to visit the You Are Here Cafe so the next best thing was to pick up some of their books, sans shipping fees. ^^ I had no idea how to change the keyboard from Korean to English to search for the English title so I gave up and went to the information counter instead. Think of Kyobo as a big library- they give you a slip that lets you know exactly where to find your books ^^

We left Kyobo and headed back to the hotel, ready to check out and move on to Yeouido- the Manhattan-like business area of Seoul.

20160404_104311

In remembrance

We had a crazy amount of luggage that was not packed in our luggage so the hotel tried to get us a bigger taxi but they weren’t accepting bookings so we had to catch a regular cab instead. The hotel staff who caught us the cab looked like he’d walked out of a Korean drama but all illusions were shattered when he kept asking if we were heading to Yeo…i…do? as though he’d heard of Yeouido for the first time. ㅋㅋㅋ He hadn’t heard of the hotel either but luckily there’s nothing that isn’t on Naver maps so that problem was sorted out in a jiffy.

We had booked rooms in Glad Hotel at the last minute since Koreana had been fully booked, and by the time we got there, we were really happy about our last minute choice. The hotel is, in a word, chic. The interior is black, the rooms’ black and white going really well with their whole minimalist theme. The hotel was very different from the other ‘classic’ hotels that we had stayed at which makes me think it’s high time hotels revisit their standards (sorry, that’s the engineer in me talking).

20160404_142518

Definitely glad I booked rooms here ^^

We decided to have lunch first and since there’s no halal place nearby we decided to do another online delivery, this time from Subway. The delivery fee was more than the food sigh but there was nothing else to be done. Z decided to roam around outside after we ordered lunch, my tummy decided to be naughty and the result was a baffled deliveryman waiting for someone to pick up the delivery ㅎㅎㅎ

After lunch, we figured we’d first sort out our luggage problem and headed straight to the closest E-Mart. The taxi driver was nice enough to take the scenic route, but I’m beginning to think that all of Yeouido constitutes a scenic route. We roamed around all of E-mart, found no sign of a suitcase so I asked one of the staff, who said that this particular E-Mart didn’t stock any suitcases. -___- So much for that trip. We ended up spending a long time looking for other options, and I ultimately messaged another friend to see if he could help out. He suggested either Homeplus or Lotte Mart, but after several failed attempts to catch a cab because no one was willing to go in the other direction towards Homeplus, we ended up deciding to play it safe and go to Lotte Mart at Seoul Station. Before we left for Lotte Mart though, we took a stroll along the cherry-blossom lined roads to de-stress.

20160404_150605

Strolling under the blossoms

It turned out that we were at the Yeouido Ecology Park and what a beautiful place it was. As we walked, we came across more cotton candy (how could we say no) and the oddest 아저씨 who kept asking me if I had heard of the old song that was blaring in the background. I’m a big fan of golden oldies but the fact that I hadn’t heard the song didn’t deter him from asking me to dance along to the song. Umm… no? ㅋㅋㅋㅋ

20160404_151842

When we got to Lotte Mart, we finally found two stores selling suitcases- never has the sight of suitcases been so welcome than on that day. I must admit though, when I say everything in Korea is expensive, I mean even the suitcases. It took us forever to decide because everything was so expensive (and here I was complaining about getting a good deal back home… even the normal deal is cheaper than a good deal in Korea =O ) but we finally settled on one, had it covered and wandered around Lotte Mart for a while before heading back to Yeouido. There was an outdoor sale going on just outside the mall, mostly hiking clothes and shoes, so we roamed around for a bit, got water from the vending machine, caught a cab and went back… home ^^

The rush on the way back was just massive. I felt like we were crawling through Sheikh Zayed Road all over again so as soon as we reached Yeouido and started seeing the signs for the Cherry Blossom Festival, we took the opportunity and asked the driver to drop us off there to save us both the trouble. He willingly obliged- so there we were, suitcase in hand wandering through Yeouido’s famous cherry blossom festival, roads packed with food stalls, couples, families and their selfie-sticks. ^^

20160404_180700

Welcome to the cherry blossom festival!

As we walked through the tree-lined roads, I noticed that there were a lot of physically disabled people in Yeoudio and as I later learnt, a lot of protests for the rights of people with disabilities take place in Yeouido in front of the National Assembly building, which is also where the festival is held.

We ended up walking all the way back to our hotel and on the way back passed a stall where they were asking for people to sign a petition against the killing and eating of dogs. I gladly signed the petition and sadly noticed that most signatories were foreigners, not locals.

We were pretty tired by the time we got back to the hotel so after another Ankara Palace dinner, we decided to skip the night cruise we’d planned and instead take some much-needed rest before our day-long tour the next day to Nami Island, Petite France and a strawberry farm. ^^

Spring in South Korea- Day 9

Day 9 was our “Meet Friends and Buy Souvenirs” kind of day. After a long Day 8, we were scheduled to go Bukchon Hanok Village in the morning, so we headed to Starbucks for breakfast. On the way back it started raining so we stopped at a grocery store, picked up nice clear umbrellas..oh and Z’s red one…and continued on our way. (PS. I absolutely loved that umbrella! It was so unlike the flimsy umbrella that got turned inside out in NZ ^^) Armed with umbrellas, we took a short taxi ride to Bukchon where we ended up enjoying the cool rain more than the beautiful architecture.

20160403_111809

Rain!

Bukchon is not just about walking through a neighbourhood of traditional houses to feel like you’ve stepped back in time, there are also lots of “museums” where you can get hand-on and do some actual traditional handicrafts. If you live in Seoul, you can also take classes on a regular basis here which is just plain lucky! We had opted for the Donglim Knot Museum where you can opt to make bracelets or necklaces, which make for great souvenirs. Photography is not allowed inside, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you it’s a great place to go to  learn how to make knots and a really good place to take away souvenirs even if you’re not the craft-making type yourself. My brother decided to sit it out and enjoy the weather outside, while my mum and I ventured inside. There were already two Japanese ladies who were busy learning how to make bracelets, so we look around inside first, before it was our turn. I ended up having a nice conversation in Korean with our teacher who’s mum is a real master. He told me that often it was easier for him to teach foreigners than locals because foreigners, not knowing the language well, would focus on his hands and how to make the knots as opposed to the locals who would just listen and not watch and learn. I ended up asking my mum to make most of my bracelet because I felt I had somehow unwittingly fallen into the second category of learners. ㅋㅋㅋ

20160403_102539

Stepping into the Donglim Knot Museum

We left the museum with our pretty bracelets, my poor memory and our umbrellas to wander down the streets in the rain. There were lots of young Koreans who had come down all dressed up in their hanboks and sneakers conveniently hidden to take pictures. Looking at deeply ingrained couple culture, I think it must be hard being single in Korea. ㅎㅎㅎ

20160403_112435

Looking inside a traditional Hanok

I was supposed to meet my friend for lunch in Insadong, so we took a cab there for some souvenir shopping before lunch. Our first stop was a shop selling name stamps, also known as dojang 도장. We all decided to have our stamps made on the spot, which took longer than we expected. 역시 we had the hardest time picking out which name to put on the stamp for my brother whose names are just not Hangul-friendly. ^^

20160403_114853

Heading to Insadong

From the stamp store we headed straight to Ssamziegil for 5 floors of sheer awesome. I loved how the floors are sloped, one leading to the next so there’s no need to use stairs. The shops are designed to make you go bankrupt thanks to the cuteness overload, much like Loft in Japan. My favourite stores were 마음화분/Emotipot and 오르골 뮤직박스/Moony Orgel where you can get mini plants and music boxes (coincidentally both are on the second floor, right opposite each other). These are some really unique souvenirs to take back and you could tell by the rush that it wasn’t just tourists who were in love with these two stores. Moony Orgel was so packed that we had to make our design, pick out our tune and leave the details at the store so we could come back and collect it after half an hour.

20160403_122806

Cutest place to go shopping

We made our way all the way to the top, where you’ll find the famous, Poop Cafe. Yes, you read right. Everything on the menu is the shape of poo because it’s somehow really cute. The cafe was packed so we didn’t stay long and decided to do another round of window shopping on the way down.

20160403_130515

Can you see the poop cafe?

There’s also a place here for couples to leave notes, much like the love lock area at Namsan Tower…sorry single people… ㅎㅎㅎ It would be find to leave a note here and come back to look for it ^^

20160403_132206

Wall of Love

Once we were done with our adventure on a slope (read, once we escaped going bankrupt) we met up with my friend for lunch at 오세계향 (Osegyehyang) – a great place for vegetarians and Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist tourists since they serve traditional Korean vegetarian food only! This was probably one of my favourite restaurants on the entire trip, after Ankara Palace. The food was really good  (I mean seriously…how can vegetarian food taste that good) and I had a heavy lunch after a long time, consequences be… put off till later :P I think the awesome company made the food taste even better, as we spent the whole lunch catching up and making plans. Mum and Z wanted to visit Gangnam which I had left off the itinerary thinking we’d be too exhausted, but my friend gave us details on how we could get there by subway from our next hotel so we were set to meet her again in Gangnam on our last day ^^

From Insadong, we caught a cab and headed straight back to our hotel so we could walk to Deoksu Palace where I’d be meeting my pen-pal and her daughter. By this time it had gotten pretty chilly and we were glad to have both our warm jackets and umbrellas on hand. We met up at the entrance (we meet at laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaast! ) and strolled through the palace grounds. My pen-pal had only come once before with her daughter when she was younger, so it was as much a tour for them as it was for me.

20160403_164854

Deoksu Palace

The grounds were beautiful, filled with blossoming trees and buildings in red, green and blue. I can’t imagine how lovely the place would look in autumn and even summer… this is definitely a place to visit any time of the year. While the grounds are much smaller than Gyeongbok Palace or Cheongdeok Palace, it’s still worth a visit especially if you’re short on time.

20160403_165259

Scattered petals and beautiful entrances

There are even guided tours in English where they explain the historical significance of each building, but we skipped the tour, instead choosing to focus on the architectural beauty and to appreciate the landscaping. ^^

20160403_170129

Everything seems more alive in the rain

We left the palace, and by this time we were officially freezing. The temperature had dropped suddenly and it was as if we were back in Jeju. We thought of going for a cup of coffee first, but then decided we’d first take a walk along the palace wall, which apparently is a great dating spot (You see what I mean… everything in Korea is a couple activity).

20160403_174026

Hello beautiful!

Unfortunately, being a Sunday, my friend had to say goodbye after our palace tour thanks to work and school :( so we said goodbye near the hotel, exchanged gifts (Korean snacks FTW!) and headed off. We set off to the nearest Holly’s to warm up our freezing hands first and after a nice long rest for our weary legs we decided to go skip Seoul City Hall and headed to Donghwa Duty Free to see if we could find a suitcase since our luggage had just happened to fill itself :P The duty free is great for anyone looking for branded cosmetics, watches and the like, but there was only one store with suitcases which turned out to be wayyyy too expensive. My friend had advised me to try E-Mart, Lotte Mart or Homeplus if the Duty Free idea didn’t work out so we decided we’d skip Lotte Mart near Seoul Station because we were too tired and go to the E-Mart near our next hotel instead. This was going to prove to be a clear case of “Don’t put off what you can do today…”

20160403_185905

Pink hues of sunset

By the time we reached the hotel, the sun was setting, the skies streaked with pink and tummies rumbling with hunger. We decided to try something new for dinner so we picked Kervan, a halal Turkish restaurant, in Insadong and ordered online from Ynot Takeout. The food wasn’t bad but it was no Ankara Palace… we ate up, packed up and got ready to check-out the next morning when we’d be headed to Yeouido on Day 10.

20160403_201657

Dinner Time

 

 

Spring in South Korea- Day 8

Day 8… the busy busy day after the trip to Seoul on Day 7. In order to keep things light, I had decided to remove I Park Mall from our itinerary, despite the allure of the Gundam store and all things crafty. So we woke up on Day 8, ready to take the Seoul City Tour Bus straight to Itaewon. But then, our love of all things waiting to be built decided that I Park Mall deserved a place back in the itinerary. ^^ The ticket booth is just next to Koreana Hotel, so we decided to get tickets after breakfast at Holly’s Coffee. Breakfast was a safe sweet honey bun and coffee. My brother was feeling a little unwell after last night’s spicy dinner so we waited for him to settle down before taking off to get the tickets. I chatted with the lady at the ticket counter making sure we got down the times for the buses at each stop and after she explained everything she was so surprised that I had understood it all. ^^ Yayyyy! The bus was, surprisingly, filled with mostly local tourists and the odd foreigner, like ourselves. The bus has headphones at every seat so you can listen to the description of each stop as you go. The first stop was Deoksu Palace, but being right behind our hotel, we had decided to put this off for the next day. We went straight to Yongsan, and the stop was right in front of the mall.

The mall, though, was closed! The good news was, there were people waiting for it to open, so we knew it couldn’t be long before the shutters opened. After about 5 minutes, all the doors were open and we headed straight up to the hobby floor. My brother headed straight to the Gundam store, while I explored the wooden craft kits outside. Going there had been a great decision, since I managed to find myself paper nano, a wooden craft kit and a Gundam model for my friend. ^^ There was even a Studio Ghibli store on the same floor! It was like walking into Japan in the middle of Korea which meant I was in danger of going bankrupt again. =O Too many models, too little money :P

20160402_102708

I Park Mall.. home of hobby items

As we were leaving, we realized that the mall was tax-free and we should learn how the whole tax-free thing is done, having decided to skip over it in Japan. We came all the way downstairs, only to find no information booth so went back to the fourth floor where the lady at the counter told us that we had to head to another information  booth… on the ground floor, to get to which we had to go through H&M and countless other stores. There was plenty of time, so my brother went on ahead while we roamed around H&M and Charles and Keith. Receipts in hand, we then headed back out to the bus stop. There’s a list of timings at the bus stop which tells you when the buses are scheduled to come and the bus wasn’t too far off the timing given. As we waited, we were given a little flavour of how election season works in Korea. There was a truck parked around the corner, blaring slogans in support of the candidate 박태광 who was running for Yongsan, and at one point there was a speech broadcast by the candidate’s son who assured everyone that his dad was an upstanding citizen. This was followed by a lot of enthusiastic cheering by supporters in front of the mall and a lot of dancing to the candidate’s… campaign song? I must admit it was a rather catchy beat which my brother kept randomly bringing up throughout the rest of the trip. ㅋㅋㅋ

We eventually climbed on board a packed bus and realized that we had to stand till our next destination unless the seats freed up, which luckily enough they did- at the next stop. We got off at Itaewon, in front of Hamilton Hotel and it was as if we had entered Halal food heaven. Every second shop was advertising halal food and I wished I had more than one stomach so I could refuel for the rest of the trip. ^^ We were spoilt for choice and eventually a lady handing out flyers made our choice for us, by inviting us up to Ankara Palace. It was the best decision we never made. There was elevator up so mum was happy… and the food… the food was so0o0o0o0o good! Real Turkish food in the middle of Itaewon. I felt like I was back in Dubai.

20160402_131557

Yummy yummy!

We were so full and consequently so happy that I wished they’d have a bumper day filled with loads of customers. My wish came true pretty much instantaneously when a large Muslim tour group arrived and took up pretty much ALL the tables! We decided it was time to head out and give them another empty table to fill up. Our next stop was Seoul Central Mosque in Itaewon. We asked the Turkish ice-cream maker, who was busy teasing his customers, for directions.

20160402_133922

When you’re done teasing the ice-cream out of the cone from your baffled customer, can you tell me how to get.. how to get to Seoul Mosque? ^^

It was already past Zuhr, but we went ahead through narrow roads lined with shops, halal restaurants, clubs, laundries, bakeries, business associations, bookshops until we finally came to the mosque… which is on a rather steep climb.

20160402_142536

Walking through Itaewon

We managed to get my mum to make the short climb and my brother went on to offer prayers at the mosque. There were lots of Malaysian tourists who had also come to visit and as we roamed around the area, we got to meet people who work at the mosque and make brochures introducing Islam to non-Muslims. I was happy to find that there were brochures available right outside the mosque and even the Friday sermon was available to everyone.

20160402_135517

Seoul Mosque

As we left, my brother decided he was hungry again, so this time we stopped at Eid – a halal restaurant run by Korean Muslim reverts. The restaurant is small and cozy, an iPad for a menu with three main dishes on offer – 삼계탕, 불고기 and 찜닭 .The best part of the restaurant is that it’s authentic Korean food that’s halal ^^ My brother opted for the Bulgogi which was really good, while my mum and I settled for… the best cold tea we’ve ever had… ever! Mum’s not a big fan of iced tea so when she says she loved this, you had better believe it was good ^^

20160402_150314

We left Eid and went back to catch our bus so we could head on to Myeongdong where mum wanted to do her cosmetic shopping. The ride was not too long, but we weren’t sure where to head from the bus stop, so we did the best… follow the general flow of people. Sure enough, we entered the bustling streets of Myeongdong, filled with enough make-up products to make over an entire nation.. twice. Most of the people in Myeongdong, though, are foreigners, primarily tourists and I later learnt that most Koreans have moved on to other shopping areas where there are fewer foreigners.

The first store we stepped into was Innisfree. The lady waiting on my mum turned out to be a Korean who had worked in Qatar, met her Pakistani husband in UK, got married in Lahore and was now in the process of finalizing the papers to bring her husband to Korea. Globalization FTW! She was awesome enough to help my mum and brother pick out things and we left our bhabi (sister-in-law) of sorts with lots of smiles ^^

20160402_164126

Vibrant colours of Myeongdong

It turned out that most of the employees speak multiple languages, to cater to the many tourists who come here… Korean, Chinese, Japanese, English… you name it, they speak it. It’s an awesome way to polish your language skills if you ask me. We wandered down the whole street, got ourselves pomegranate juice while my brother went into his favourite ABC Mart to pick up the new Converse 2.0. After that we picked up the compulsory 천원 양말 (dollar socks) and decided to go back to the bus-stop. By this time, the streets had become packed and crowded with vendors selling all kinds of yummy food – from the seasonal strawberries which my mum couldn’t say no to, to steaming 계란빵 (egg-bread)… We had somehow managed to lose ourselves…again.. but with the help of Naver and some landmarks we managed to navigate out of the street and onto the main road where we were supposed to catch the bus. We thought we saw the bus and made a mad dash to try and catch it but it turned out to be another bus altogether ㅋㅋㅋ and we went back to the bus stop. We looked at the sign at the bus stop to check when the bus was supposed to come and we were surprised to find two signs plastered on, both of which were different from the one we had picked up from the ticket booth back at Gwanghwamun. The bus came eventually (phew) and we settled in for the ride to Namsan Tower.

20160402_181724

First glimpse of Namsan Tower

The bus wound its way up Mt.  Namsan and dropped us off at the crowded bus parking. The drive up is beautiful and I can only imagine how much more beautiful it is in summer when the leaves are all back in their green glory. From the bus parking, we had…wait for it… yet another steep climb. I’m “inclined” to think this trip had the most inclines I’ve ever climbed in my life. ^^ We took it slow but by the time we reached the tower mum was pretty exhausted so we decided to skip going to the top and instead decided to roam around in Alive Museum. The museum is loads of fun, especially for kids, and you end up with pretty hilarious pictures of yourself (none of which will ever be posted online :P )

By the time we were done it was past sunset, so we got to see the tower lit up as well. The colour of the lighting depends on the condition of air pollution at the time and the brilliant blue meant it was a great day to be spending outdoors. I’d be inclined to agree. The weather was beautiful and we could see the city for miles.

20160402_191616

A good day for a walk

What we couldn’t see though, as we made our way down, was the Seoul City Tour Bus. alarm bells. When we reached the stop, we looked up the bus timings only to find yet another poster with timings that didn’t match the timings we’d picked up from the ticket office. Uh-oh. We thought we’d wait for a while and see if the bus shows us but there was no sign of the bus anywhere and most people had cued up for the green inner-city buses. Now, there’s no option of taking a taxi from there… you have to take a bus down or walk down and it is… a looooong way down. So we decided to be adventurous, look up the routes for the different buses and pick the one with a drop-off closest to our hotel. We hadn’t bothered get a T-money card so we had to pay by cash and we were lucky enough to have exact change on us for the tickets. When we got on to the bus, we were in for another surprise- the fact that there were hardly any seats on the bus. It was mostly just standing room only. We managed to get seats, but I can’t tell if that was a good thing or not considering that that meant we’d have to negotiate our way through the packed bus when we’d have to get off. In any case, we got comfy, listened to the stops being announced over all the conversations and watched couples walking down the mountain. I feel like they have a much healthier lifestyle in countries where you can actually walk outdoors without boiling to death -____-

We finally got off at the familiar Seoul Station, the only place where we had seen drunk people on the street during our entire trip.  We caught a cab easily enough and headed back to the hotel. We’d decided that we’d use an online food delivery website to have our halal dinner delivered. Now there are a couple of websites you can use such as Bird Riders or Y Not Takeout but the delivery fees is INSANELY high… in some cases even more expensive than the meal you’re ordering. It’s definitely not something to use everyday, but definitely something you’ll have to use if you’re running short on halal food options. We had a good dinner and got ready for the relatively relaxing Day 9 when I was going to meet up with some friends in Korea… including my pen-pal of many years who I’d never seen before!

Spring in South Korea- Day 7

Also known as 서울로 올라가는 날 after a busy yet beautiful Day 6 ^^ We had breakfast at the hotel, packed our bags, took a taxi and headed to Busan Station where we were going to catch the KTX to Seoul. We weren’t sure what the traffic situation would be like but it took 20 minutes at most.

20160401_102714

Busan Station

We had already booked our tickets online, so we just had to show our passport at the ticket counter and collect our tickets. Tickets, and lots of luggage in hand, we decided to roam around the station first before figuring out where to catch the train from. There were lots of stores from the staple Face Shop and Paris Baguette, which you’d probably find if you looked under a rock in Korea, to the more rare coffee shops with yummy goodies like the rice cake gift sets. We didn’t have enough time to decipher if everything was halal so we passed on them, sadly, and after my brother got himself a sweet potato latte in the cutest Hello Kitty tumbler, we set off to find the platform.

20160401_102230

Looking at this makes me hungry

We managed to get to the right platform, found our car, the train number was also a match, only it was there too early- which confused us a great deal, being used to just seeing trains pull in and out continuously. We waited for a while and then I just asked a uniformed gentleman if this was the right train and he said we could just hop on. Oddly enough, no one checked our tickets… throughout the entire train ride. We got on with our heavy luggage and were at a loss as to how to store it. I was under the impression that there would be a separate luggage compartment but we looked around and couldn’t see a thing. I went to another compartment, asked a lady working there who said we could just stow our luggage behind the last row of seats in the compartment. Luggage safely stowed away, we then settled in for the long ride. The seats were comfy with lots of leg room, probably because it was the first class compartment, and there was always someone passing through selling snacks.

20160401_103444

Boarding Time!

Having taken the Shinkansen before on our trip to Japan, I wanted to see how the KTX fared when stacked up against the Shinkansen. Personally, I prefer the Shinkansen- despite having travelled in a standard car on the Shinkansen, and the first class car on the KTX. The Shinkansen was cleaner, shinier and all in all a classier feeling product- oh and more organized since someone actually checked our tickets. The main difference for me, though, was the view. While you can get a great view of the countryside from the Shinkansen, the KTX, on this leg at least, passes through an infinite number of tunnels which means you’re in the dark most of the time, until you pull up at a station.

We got to Seoul exactly on time (I love punctuality ^^) and spent an hour or so wandering around Seoul Station, getting our money exchanged for the last leg of the trip and shopping for souvenirs. My favourite store there was dtracks from where I bought a couple of wooden and metal models. Mum bought herself some jewellery from another store and it turned out all the things my mum liked,were exactly what the saleslady was modelling. ^^ There was another store selling more cultural and more expensive souvenirs like mother of pearl inlaid decorative pieces, but we decided it was time to head to Koreana Hotel and grab some much-needed lunch. What that was, I can’t for the life of me remember!

I cannot emphasize enough what an epic location this hotel is situated in. It’s not only within walking distance of Gyeongbok Palace, Deoksu Palace, Gwanghwamun, Cheonggyecheon, Seoul City Hall, Donghwa Duty Free and Kyobo, but the Seoul City Tour starts right next to the hotel and the Airport Limousine pulls up right in front of the hotel. This hotel was like a dream come true… until it came time to book and it turned out that the hotel was fully booked from the 5th of April to the end of May. =O That was a real shame, and we ended up having to hastily change plans and book another hotel to cover the last 2 days of our trip.

20160401_163342

Busy Decorating the Trolley Bus

We stepped out of the hotel to and decided to head towards Gyeongbok Palace before heading to dinner somewhere along the Cheonggyecheon. Being election season (we were there about a week before the voting started), Gwanghwmun was filled with police officers stationed at every corner. Gwanghwamun appeared to be a place where lots of political events take place- even next to the hotel there was a memorial set up to victims of various terrorist attacks that had taken place all over the world. At the entrance to Gwanghwamun was also the memorial set up for the victims of the tragic Sewol ferry disaster, with pictures posted of the passengers still not found. Two years since the tragic accident and the scars still visibly linger, questions still unanswered.

Just ahead of the memorial you’ll find the iconic statues of Admiral Lee Sun Shin and King Sejong the Great. I have great respect for King Sejong, because there are not too many people in positions of power who  bother themselves about the literacy rates in the country and even fewer who step up to actively do something about. Right behind the statue is the entrance to a museum “The Story of King Sejong” where you can learn all about him and his many accomplishments. It’s rather large and connects to a souvenir shop and some restaurants as well. We ended up spending a rather long time underground before we headed back up and out towards the palace.

20160401_165200

Unfortunately for us, we were just shy of the ticket deadline which meant we weren’t able to enter the palace grounds, which are actually stunning in Spring. Undaunted, we roamed around near the entrance, then left for Cheonggyecheon.

20160401_173723

Gateway to Gyeongbok Palace

It was getting really chilly by this time, nothing on Jeju of course, but chilly nonetheless. Right opposite our hotel is the start of the stream marked by the colourful “Spring”. We had hardly walked to the next bridge, when we came across a university student who was doing caricatures. I decided to have one made with my mum, but little did we know it would take about an hour to have it completed.

20160401_184651

The Spring

The caricature artist was really sweet, really meticulous and really adept at shooing off lingering 아저씨s. She was a design student about to graduate, but felt that design wasn’t really the thing for her. Having gone through the same phase at my own graduation, I’m beginning to wonder if the way we go about higher education is at fault- we rush to enter university without a clear idea of what we want to do and once we’re on the verge of graduation, begin to feel that this isn’t what we’d like to spend our lives doing…only by that time it’s too late. The time, the money and the effort that have gone in to graduation oftentimes mean that people cannot turn back and pursue their passions. I wonder if that isn’t one of the main reasons for job dissatisfaction… it’s not the job itself that’s displeasing, only that it’s not the right fit.

20160401_185142

Cheonggyecheon before sundown

The caricature was finally completed when the sun went down, the stream was lit up and our stomachs were audibly craving food. My maps decided not to work properly again, Google Maps led us down the wrong path again, but we eventually made it to Potala.

20160401_212037

Halal Nepali Cuisine

My brother enthusiastically ordered a lot of food, but being a Nepali restaurant, it wasn’t a taste that we were really used to. Nevertheless, the food wasn’t too bad, the decor was nice and cozy and the best part was getting to meet the owner. It turned out that he was a Nepali who had studied in India, married a Korean, moved to Korea and started a family there. He was a lovely guy and it was nice to speak to someone in Urdu after so long. ^^ He told us how the restaurant had not started out serving halal food, but had only started later on to cater to the large Muslim tourist population. He was nice enough to recommend a restaurant in Myeongdong as well which is where we were planning to go the next day. Tummy’s full, we decided we were officially too exhausted to walk back to the hotel (which isn’t really that far away), and took the first taxi we could find. Day 8 was going to be packed- Itaewon, Myeongdong, Namsan Tower…

Spring in South Korea- Day 6

Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival Day! ^______^

Since we had changed our plan the night before and had decided to go to Jinhae later on in the day, we woke up late (-r than usual, but still early) and decided to order room service and enjoy the view of the mountains from our window. Now, we’d gone the room service for breakfast route in Ramada where I had discovered that boiled eggs are 삶은 계란, but I was surprised when this time they asked my how many minutes I’d like to have the eggs boiled. Umm… I don’t really know because I don’t eat boiled eggs? Luckily my mum was there to give me the right answer and we navigated that phone conversation well enough.

After a filling breakfast we walked to the Busan Seobu Bus Terminal (부산서부버스터미날) right opposite our hotel at around 11am, got confused from where exactly to enter the building (it turns out it was from the exit because we were on the back side) but managed to get our tickets to Jinhae easily enough. The tickets are good to use all day on any bus, so you don’t have to worry about missing your bus because you can always take the next one. The bus terminal connects directly to a shopping area, again filled with clothes. After six days, I have realized that fashion and make-up are way up on the shopper’s priority list in Korea.

We hopped on to the 11 o’clock bus and set off on a long but comfy ride to Jinhae. I can’t even name all the places we passed through, but the view from the bus was great.

Once we reached Jinhae, we weren’t quite sure which direction Yeojwacheon 여좌천 was and my maps were behaving oddly, so we stopped at a 7/11, got directions and headed off. As we walked, we came across a large tent-filled area, full of food and random shopping. My mum was only interested in getting a typical 아줌마 hat (she didn’t in the end) and my brother was busy photographing Jinhae’s famous roasting pigs. Not much was halal though, and things that were, were being sold alongside things that weren’t so we decided to play it safe and skip on the food. Instead we wound our ways through the stalls of 번데기, 옥수수, 왈꼬지 and 돼지 towards the stream.

20160331_123027

Cable car up to the observatory

After a while we realized we weren’t sure which direction we were headed in so we decided a lady at one of the stalls. It turned out she had just explained the directions to a Korean couple so she quickly called them and asked if they could lead us there. It was really sweet of her and probably really awkward for them. ㅋㅋㅋ In any case, we’re more of the strolling type than the power walker (which seems to be the norm in Japan and Korea) and after a few times of  turning to check if we were still behind them, they went on ahead and we eventually made our way to the stream, armed with some yummy cotton candy.

20160331_130715

First glimpse of Yeojwacheon

There were crowds of people at the stream, all armed with that mandatory selfie-stick, busier taking pictures of themselves than their surroundings. I didn’t take many pictures (all through the trip, I realized later, because I was too busy soaking it all in. My favourite moment at the stream was when we sat on a bench by the stream to eat our packed lunch. We were sitting next to a group of 아줌마s dressed in their colourful hiking jackets and desperately waiting for someone to offer to take their picture by the stream. A lovely lady obliged and the next 5 minutes were spent posing adorably for pictures amid reassurances from their photographer that she’d make sure they came out looking pretty. After lunch, we decided to head to Gyeonghwa Station 경화역 but not before mum got her caricature made. ^^

20160331_133050

Red umbrella canopy under a pink cherry blossom canopy

We were hoping to head to the station by bus, but couldn’t get our bearings so we decided to take a taxi instead. The roads were jam packed, with tourists and locals pouring in to enjoy the scenery. The driver dropped us right opposite the entrance to the station and we walked through more food stalls before reaching my mum’s favourite place in the whole trip.

20160331_142408

Walking the tracks at Gyeonghwa Station

Unlike Yeojwacheon, which was teeming with tourists, Gyeonghwa Station, being more spacious, didn’t feel as crowded, so it made for a leisurely walk along the tracks all the way up to the train. The tracks, while the shot doesn’t capture it, was filled with couples and their tripods, all hoping to get the perfect shot. It was sweet, but also sad- especially when we came across one couple who despite all their best efforts just couldn’t come up with something to make them happy. My brother pointed them out and said it was going to be a do or die day for the young guy, who was apparently in charge of setting up the camera. ㅋㅋㅋ

20160331_142710

A medley of greens and pinks

What I loved most about the station was the number of families that had come out even on a weekday. Unlike Japan, the crowds were filled with toddlers, teenagers and doting parents and grandparents. Mum was willing to spend the whole day sitting there, and my brother was willing to sample all the food there. He managed to find halal shawarmas and then there was sugar cane juice which my mum and my bro had (I avoided it thanks to another crazy incident in the past). Past the food stalls came the train, and all the people clambering to get on or in front to take a shot. We walked past the train and sat down to take a breath, have some strawberries, and enjoy the great atmosphere. We took another detour, past magnolia flowers amid the blossoms and after a good couple of hours decided it was time to head back to Yeojwacheon to see if we could get some seats to watch the opening celebration for the cherry  blossom festival.

20160331_145139

Pink train in a pink flurry of blossoms

20160331_142845

Pinks turning white

We took a bathroom break before catching a cab, and at this point I was truly missing the electric toilets from the hotel. Why aren’t these the standard everywhere. sigh It took a rather long time to hail a cab from where we were standing so we decided to cross the street. We managed to get a cab eventually in all the rush and headed straight back to the stream.

 

 

20160331_152123

Photographing a photographer

It turned out to be a great time to return as there were still plenty of seats in front of the stage for the opening ceremony, so we decided to get some good seats and rest our legs for a while. My mum was the most popular member of the audience because the people giving out balloons decided we didn’t need any but mum needed 3 ^^ Armed with our balloons, we decided it was time to snack on our Click, some mixed nuts and of course our trusty KitKat which had been by far the best purchase we’d made at Dubai Duty Free. ㅋㅋㅋ Mum was feeling a bit under the weather because she hadn’t had a proper lunch and far too much walking, so it was a good thing we took some rest. As we sat, we watched the performers line in one after the other to rehearse and finally the event was underway. The event kicked off with lots of dancers representing different areas coming in and performing. The response was lukewarm and only a couple of people right in the front could be enticed to get up and dance with them. ^^ After the many performances, the on stage performances came in the form of the naval band, the children’s choir and the adult’s choir. The naval band though didn’t get much of a response surprisingly, despite being realllllly good (especially the sax), and we attributed it to the fact that they were singing really old American songs to a really old Korean crowd. I liked the adult choir’s Arirang performance best of all- the women looking elegant in their maroon and white dresses and the men in their suits.

20160331_174632

All those empty seats in front were reserved for VIPs who didn’t show up ㅜㅜ

We left after the performances and headed on down to the stream to catch the night view. It was already dark, but the lights were not on yet which made us wonder if we had the right time. We did, of course, and the scores of teenage couples waiting impatiently meant we were at the right place. There was a countdown, a release of balloons and on the lights went. It looked lovely, especially the area with the umbrella canopy, but the crowd meant it was not exactly a place to relax.

20160331_191745_1

Night view at Yeojwacheon

We lingered for a while before decided it was the right time to head back to the bus station 진해시외버스터미날. That turned out to be an adventure in itself. We made out way back to the stage area easily enough, after double checking directions from one of the policemen (who maintained that he wasn’t sure but it was probably in that general direction), but finding our way back to the station at night proved more difficult. We had completely lost our bearings and everything looked so different in the dark- even catching a taxi was proving difficult. There were plenty of police officers there, though, doing crowd control and traffic control, so we decided to ask them for directions. They all proved even less helpful than the first one, since most of them are not even residents of Jinhae- they had all been brought in from other places just for the event. -____-

20160331_194452

Tired and lost, but still with a sense of humour ^^

Naver maps had picked a great day to misbehave and Google Maps in Korea are rather useless, so we just kept heading in the same direction until we managed to flag down a lone taxi driver at the roundabout. He told us that we were really close to the station, we just had to walk thataway, but seeing that we were pretty exhausted he was awesome enough to stop and take us there anyway to make sure we didn’t miss the bus. Yayyyyyy! We were right on time and by 8pm we were on the bus back to Busan. It had been pretty warm the whole day (no jackets! Woohoo!) and had only become really chilly after 4pm, enough to get our jackets back on. The bus though was super cozy, with the heaters turned on and the windows white with condensation. By the time we got back, we were all too tired to take up the restaurant owner on his dinner invitation, so my  brother went on ahead to get our dinner  as take-out while we got changed. We called it a night and made sure we were packed and ready to head to Seoul on Day 7 via KTX.

Spring in South Korea – Day 5

On Day 5 we were scheduled to head out to Busan at midday so we woke up bright and early, had a bite to eat and waited while my brother went to get some water from the grocery store. While we were waiting for him to return, we were treated to an amazing sight. We watched from our balcony as about 10 or so 해녀, female divers, came in their wetsuits with their baskets and orange buoys, climbed over the wall of the walkway just across the hotel and swam straight out into the open sea. I never imagined just how far out they could swim, and we watched as they reduced to mere specks in the distance, noticeable only because of their orange buoys. We went down a while later for a walk along the sea and took a look at where the 해녀had climbed down.

20160330_093553

Walking into the ocean

At this point, they were still in the water miles away which says volumes about their strength, their stamina especially considering the fact that most of them are middle-aged women and their lung capacity since they dive without oxygen cylinders. They would put the fitness of most youth to shame, myself included.

20160330_094415

This statue is exactly what they looked like!

The weather was lovely- no signs of the crazy wind that blown all night- so we walked and walked, breathing in the salty air and watching flight after flight take off and land. There were lots of 아줌마s doing a brisk morning walk, 아저씨s running backwards and lots of young people cycling. I wish my daily routine could start off like that too. As we walked back, we entered the Tapdongjae Park where there were lots of exercise machines arranged in a circle for anyone to use. I absolutely love this about Korea- keeping fitness within reach of the public who may not have access to a gym. This is something that every park in the world should have. They even had a huge picture of the pressure points in your feet. Very cool…

As we were walking around, my tummy decided it wanted to throw a tantrum so we rushed back to the hotel- or rather I rushed back while my mum and brother tried to catch up. The problem though, and we had seen this now at both hotels, is that the hotel only gives you one access card- which meant while I was in fighting with my tummy, my family was locked outside. Given my colourful history of IBS, this is not exactly an ideal situation, but luckily I had my meds and was soon able to let them in.

Luckily I had enough time to recover before we checked out and headed to the airport, which is hardly 5-7 minuted from the hotel. One of the staff helped us to self-check in which saved time, but as we headed to check in our luggage, we remembered our sealed battery pack in the suitcase. The gentleman at the counter said not to worry, instead just wait there as the baggage was screened to see if we’d need to remove it. Luckily, there was no need and we got a big heart sign as an good-to-go gesture and we went smilingly towards passport control. Just in front of that area, there was a cultural show going on so we stopped to enjoy the dance first.

Our gate was at one end of the airport and by the time we reached, they were pretty much ready to board. Talk about timing! The flight was short, hardly an hour and just enough time to have a glass of water, before we found ourselves at Busan Airport. As we left the airport to catch a cab, I was slightly apprehensive because I wasn’t sure if the cabs would be segregated for Busan and Sasang-gu (which is where we would be) as they were in Jeju. It turned out there was nothing to worry about and our driver knew exactly where to go. The drive to the hotel was absolutely beautiful. Like Jeju, the trees were lined with cherry blossom trees in full bloom and the bright and warm sun made everything seem alive. Our driver noticed that my brother was trying to take a video from the window and so he wordlessly changed lanes so there would be no traffic in the video. ^^

20160330_163443

Busan at last!

Out of all the hotels I had booked, this was the one I was least sure about – Hotel Paragon. My fears though were completely unfounded, and it turned out to be a great hotel- mostly for business travellers it turned out, and in a great location. I had picked it, mainly, for its proximity to the bus station, from where we would later take the bus to Jinhae, and its proximity to a halal restaurant so we could recover all our spent energy by feeding on some meat.

After checking in, we headed straight for the halal restaurant. After much searching, we learnt from the lady at the halal supermarket that the one we had been looking (Sangam) for had closed a year back (so much for the halal guidebook from KTO) but another one had opened up, right opposite out hotel. Thank God for that. We retraced our steps and went into Bombay Spices View, located on the 3rd or was it 4th landing (my mum was not liking this) for an Indian lunch.

20160330_143016

So halal you need to spell it with a double ‘l’

Lunch was a scrumptious chiken tikka boti, malai tikka boti, dal and garlic naan. After lunch, my brother had to pose for a picture with the chef, as has become his custom in every halal restaurant abroad. Our Korean waitress laughed at the request, informed us that our chef wasn’t exactly good-looking but obliged anyway, even taking care to close the window to the kitchen to make sure we got the perfect shot. ^^

We left with our Sprites in hand, also known as 사이더 to the uninitiated, and decided to sit down on a bench, enjoy the weather, do some people-watching and listen to the songs blaring from the Samsung and LG stores.

20160330_154456

An oasis in the middle of the busy street

It turned out that there was a hospital right across our hotel and they were doing some landscaping in the area to make it a nice place for patients to come out and enjoy. They weren’t the only ones making the most of it, everyone enjoying the mini oasis under a bridge and next to a highway.

20160330_174142

Our first taste of spring strawberries

As we headed back to the hotel, we came across a street vendor selling strawberries, which are in season in spring. We decided to get some, and it turned out that some meant the whole basket, basket included, so we marched into our hotel room armed with sweet, succulent strawberries that  pretty much doubled as an air freshener since the whole room began to smell of strawberries. :)

Later on in the day, we headed out to the halal grocery store to see if we could get some goodies to take with us on our trip to Jinhae the next day. We roamed through the store, got ourselves some mum’s favourite Click biscuits flown in straight from Pakistan and a couple of other snacks. The store owner was a Pakistani gentleman with glasses that magnified his eyes. When he learnt we were also from Pakistan, he was so happy he actually invited us for dinner at his restaurant, which turned out to be the restaurant we had had lunch at, and even refused to let us pay. This is such a desi thing to do, but we insisted that we pay and told him we’d have dinner the next day if we got back early enough from Jinhae. He gave us his card and we headed next to E-Mart where we stocked up on olives, bananas and bread. P.S. I like how the E-Mart had a coin locker at the entrance where you can leave your belongings instead of them having to seal and ruin your bags when you enter.

20160330_180631

Where cultures meet

As we walked out, we saw an elderly couple on the ground. One of them was seemingly drunk and the other too exhausted to pull them along or get them to walk any more. It was one of those moments, where the world walks past, eyes wide open , yet shut to what’s happening, out of sheer politeness or shame, I can’t tell which. There was only one schoolboy, whose eyes kept going back to the couple and I could only imagine the thoughts behind the expression his face held.

We dropped off our things at the hotel, then went out for a walk in the blossom-filled neighbourhood. My brother headed towards to the crowded shopping area, while my mum and I opted for a quieter, more relaxing stroll nearby, heading back in just before sunset. We spent the night making olive and cheese sandwiches, again sans-knife, and packing our food and bags for our trip to Jinhae. We had initially planned to leave early and get back early, but had a change of heart that night and decided that we would head out later in the morning so we could catch both the day and night view of the cherry blossoms, as well as the opening ceremony of the cherry blossom festival.

Spring in South Korea – Day 4

We had originally planned to climb up the shortest trail on Mt. Halla on Day 4, but the climb up Seongsan Ilchulbong the day before had us completely spent. That and the dearth of halal food which meant we weren’t having proper meals every day. Mr. Song was nice enough to pick us up a bit late as we checked out of our hotel and decided to drive up to Mt. Halla so we could at least enjoy the view. The drive was great and by the time we reached the top of Mt. Halla we were glad that we had changed our mind and decided not to hike up. It was freezing cold with even colder winds. We looked around for a while and watched hikers form their groups, get their instructions and set off.

20160329_083748

At Mt. Halla

We drove down the mountain, past golf courses, university campuses and the mysterious road until we finally reached Jeju where the city was in full cherry blossom bloom, ready for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Every street was lined with blossoms and the city looked as though pinkish white clouds had settled over it.

20160329_091440

Clouds of blossoms

We strolled through the blossom lined paths near the Jeju Stadium and came across a lovely couple and their friend who stopped to ask us where we were from, said my mum looked very pretty and wished us a great holiday. I’ve realized that most Koreans are under the impression that everyone who lives in Dubai is a 부자. I don’t know where they get that from, probably the media, but I feel compelled to set the record straight…being the farthest thing from a 부자.

20160329_092942

Pink and yellow blossoms <3

From there, we headed for some shopping. We passed the construction site of Mr. Song’s new house before we reached our first stop-  the Shilla Duty Free. We realized duty frees are really only for branded products which isn’t exactly what you look for on holiday, especially when you live in Dubai so we left Shilla and wandered the streets instead, picking up some souvenirs, wandering around sportswear stores, of which there were plenty, which probably explains why winter wear here translates into colourful lightweight hiking jackets. We stopped at Paris Baguette for a bite to eat and a bit of people watching and mum was happy to pick out the 동네 오빠 type in the crowd.

20160329_111243

Time for some window-shopping

After a bit of light shopping, we headed to the Dragon Head Rock 용두암 where scores of high-school students had come for a class trip. The girls were loth to pass up such a great opportunity for a photo and so off came the jackets, a pose that lasted a few seconds followed by squeals of how cold it was and a rush to wear their jackets again. ^^ I miss high school. The airport is quite close to Dragon Rock which meant we were able to see planes coming in after every few minutes which gave us an insight into just how popular Jeju is as a tourist destination for both locals and foreigners.

20160329_125659

Dragon Head Rock and another plane landing at Jeju International Airport

A prerequisite souvenir later, we headed for… wait for it… a halal lunch at Bagdad, which Mr. Song was able to locate easily on his GPS. At this point I was truly beginning to love the GPS in Korea- have they missed nothing on their map? Bagdad is a halal certified Indian restaurant which meant one thing… butter chicken, dal, naan and mango lassi. How very reminiscent of our Japan trip. The food was great, possibly made even more so by the lack of a decent meal for 2 days, and we ate till we were super-full. It was interesting to note that it was an Indian restaurant with a Nepali waiter waiting on Pakistani customers… a truly international experience.

20160329_140656

Yummy yummy in my tummy

We weren’t sure where to head after lunch so Mr. Song decided it was time we do some shopping and dropped us off at Chilsungro Shopping Town and told us that if we kept going we’d come across the famous underground shopping market, Jungang Underground Shopping Mall. I loved walking around in the cold and wished there were more outdoor shopping areas back home, which is of course completely impractical given 9 months of the year is a sweltering summer. :( My brother found his favourite ABC mart, while I found one of my favourite stores in the whole trip –Artbox – with Gundams and hobby items in the basement and all things cute and cuddly on the first and second floors. This is where I found the only thing I was really looking to buy for myself this trip – Lago’s Scratch Night View.

20160329_143956-1

Discovery at ABC Mart ^^

As the wind picked up, we started to look for the underground market to escape and were glad to find that it was nice and toasty there. There were loads and loads of shops, tax-free, mostly selling clothes but we were surprised to find that even the underground market was rather expensive and prices are mostly fixed. We later learnt that the large influx of Chinese tourists has meant that prices of almost everything on the island have gone up. In any case, we walked around, surprised to find a Hang Ten in the underground, and finally surfaced at Exit 7. At this point, we had lost our bearings and decided instead to call Mr. Song with his trusty GPS to locate us rather than search for him on foot.

20160329_151347

Jungang Underground Shopping Mall – shop till you drop!

He was happy to find us and then take us to our next hotel – Ramada Plaza Jeju Ocean Front. He seemed sad that we weren’t staying out longer so he was awesome enough to recommend some great places to go that were within walking distance of our hotel- like the art gallery and of course E-Mart if we were looking to find any souvenirs or any groceries.

20160329_173019

I feel welcome already ^^

We were sad to see Mr. Song go as he had been great in taking us around everywhere, mum loved his driving and he had recommended some great places to go that hadn’t been on our itinerary. With lots of promises to meet again, we checked in and decided to enjoy the ocean view from the hotel for a while before walking to E-Mart. It was super windy as we left the hotel, so we all linked arms to make sure we didn’t fly away – or mostly I didn’t fly away -__-. When we got to E-Mart, we explored the supermarket and then decided to head upstairs where there supposedly souvenirs. The escalator wasn’t working so we walked up instead but that meant mum started to feel rather unwell, still not having recovered from her trek up Seongsan Ilchulbong. We quickly grabbed a few things and headed back to the hotel, this time being smart enough to use the elevator.

We spent the night packing for our flight to Busan the next day and realized that we still hadn’t managed to secure a knife to cut our apples, which we would end up leaving behind in Jeju.

 

Weird and Wonderful Signs in South Korea

20160327_141319

You really could be died… 

20160329_140845

Those overhead lines sure could use a decent trim 

20160331_194452

And the confusion between L and R continues. If this was in the Middle East, the confusion between B and P would make this sign even more interesting. 

20160402_142638

Guesthouse for feline backpackers 

20160402_151852

Another sign with disjointed Arabic letters… If this is the work of the translation agency at the bottom, I must say- they’re not very good. 

20160403_113459

Fox and the rabbit? I’m sorry dear, you have the wrong children’s story ^^

Spring in South Korea – Day 3

Day 3 – also known as The Day I Nearly Inadvertently Killed My Mum or more positively as The Day We Conquered Seongsan Ilchulbong.

We woke up at an unearthly early hour for a holiday to get ready for the hour long drive to Seongsan Ilchulbong where we were going to see the sunrise at 6.30am. Mr. Song arrived right on schedule and we ended up falling asleep in the car. That’s not to say we missed the entire night drive… I was awake enough to enjoy the sight of the silver moon in a pitch black sky untainted by light pollution and long enough to appreciate the comfort of a car heater on a freezing morning. We reached at about quarter to 6 and since it takes about half an hour to climb up, we decided to head out since we didn’t want to rush. We were bundled up pretty warmly but nothing could have prepared us for just how cold that morning was going to turn out to be.

We followed the many sunrise-hopefuls towards the entrance where we were expecting to pay for the tickets, but as luck would have it, there was no one manning the darkened booth and soon enough they started to let us all in free of charge to make sure we wouldn’t miss the sunrise. And so we climbed… and climbed up the steep, slippery, uneven, rocky pavement. The first part of the climb proved too much for my mum, so we decided to stop and watch from a lower area while my brother went on ahead. But after a while, my mum decided to venture up a bit higher… how much higher, we weren’t sure, so we just started to climb again and luckily we realized the rest of the way was in the form of wooden steps instead of rocks which made the climb much easier. I say ‘easier’ with much caution, because the climb is rather steep and for people who don’t get much exercise, it may prove to be a whole lot of panting and resting and looking up to see when the seemingly endless stairs will relent. There was a lot of encouragement in the form of a lot of senior citizens and even a lady with her newborn on her back who were also making their way up, which meant if they could do it, so could we! There were also lots and lots of couples making their way up to watch the sunrise together. Not only was the climb physically exerting, but the cold- the cold was biting, seeping through our gloves and freezing our fingers so much so that I ventured to take just a single photo on the way up, as the sky began to lighten into a pale blue. The rest of the way was spent wiping our noses, silently joining the chorus of 아이구s by middle aged 아줌마s and praying the next 거의 다 왔어 didn’t refer to the landing before the next staircase.

We made it eventually, and just in time to catch a seat for the sun, which was beginning to silently peek out from its blanket of morning mist and rise over the ocean’s blue.

20160328_062746

The first glimpse

It was a splendid sight and the half an hour trudge up was beginning to be worth those 3 minutes of a glorious sunrise.

20160328_063809

The sun in all its glory

It was here though that we truly came face to face with the 셀카봉phenomenon. It was a pity, to be honest, to see people more focused on themselves than enjoying the majestic sunrise, or even enjoying the company of the people they came up with. For most couples, it was just another photo op, so I can honestly say that most of them didn’t even see the sunrise, their backs having being turned so they could get a good shot of it in their selfies. And then it became about having the perfect shot, so off went the jackets in the freezing cold, because jackets just don’t look so fab. At one point, we saw one half of a couple so obsessed with taking her own picture that her boyfriend eventually had to remind her of his presence and convince her to stop so they could go back down.

We started the descent hoping it wouldn’t be as tiring as the climb up and it wasn’t. The steps on the way down are much better than the ones on the way up, which made it much easier to climb down and there were also lots of places where you could stop to admire the view, of both the city, the sea and Jeju’s famous horses (which you can ride too).

20160328_071727

The sun shining down on the sea

 

20160328_070636

Real stairs!

20160328_071214

Horses and 유채꽃 fields in the distance

The first thing we noticed when we finally made it all the way down, was a large sign on the ticket booth saying that people with blood pressure, heart disease etc were not allowed to climb up… Had this sign been lit when we arrived, we would never have made the climb up with my mum.  We headed straight for Caffebene for a cup of hot tea (I say cup, but tea sizes in Korea are as big as coffee which we found quite odd) and a seat around the heater. We were hoping to have breakfast at a Korean restaurant, but it turned out they were closed for breakfast, so we headed to Paris Baguette instead. You would think that most bread products would be halal, but they weren’t which meant a lot of label reading and cross-checking with the lady there to make sure we were picking the right things. As we headed upstairs to eat, I overheard the teller telling one of the other staff that it was about time they had more vegetarian options to cater to the large vegetarian and Muslim crowd of tourists, even it meant just serving rice cakes 떡.

After having a yummy breakfast of 마늘빵 and tea, we headed out to our next destination just as the crowds of Chinese tourist buses were pulling in. On the way to Seopjikoji, we passed a beautiful field of 유채꽃and so we stopped there first to enjoy the  sea of yellow and then Mr. Song tempted us to cross the highway to enjoy another pristine beach with a view of the peak we had just climbed. The beach was lovely- cold clear water, black sands complete with hoofprints of horses galloping across the sands.

20160328_090503

Fields of sunshine

20160328_091434

View of the peak we had conquered

 

At Seopjikoji, we were in for another long walk, and climb around the coast. The good news was that the weather was not as cold as before, with the sun making its way up the sky and the climb was not so steep either which made for a leisurely walk with beautiful views of the black rocks framing the dark blue sea on one side and grassy plains sprinkled with yellow flowers on the other.

20160328_095448

My mum and I decided those rocks would make a good place to live

20160328_095910

Up to the lighthouse

We stopped at the famous Glass House which houses a Zippo lighter museum on the ground floor and a restaurant on the first. We ventured into the museum, but on finding that it was completely devoid of staff or visitors, decide to make an early exit and enjoy the surrounding views instead.

20160328_102702

Stunning architecture with great landscaping

My brother headed on to climb upto the lighthouse while we waited below because mum couldn’t stand the thought of more stairs. (My friend was right… vacations  with lots of climbing involved are less of a vacation and more of 훈련). As we made our way back down, past hordes of oncoming tourists (our timing for the whole trip was really spot-on as we were managing to avoid all the major rush), we realized it was rather early to have lunch as we had initially planned, so decided to skip an early lunch and instead head on down to the Everyday Market near our hotel.

Being at the market reminded me of being in Japan, except there were more fish here ^^ From fruits and vegetables (we couldn’t resist getting some more 한라봉 oranges), to dried and live fish and all manner of unidentifiable seafood, the market had it all. The most rush, we found, was in front of a 떡집 but we didn’t stop to try any. Instead we wandered around, stopping occasionally in interesting stores like the one with a picture of 대한, 민국 and 만새 wearing traditional 감옷.

We took our things from the car, sent off Mr. Song who had had a long day, and decided to walk back to the hotel through the food street. Now Jeju is famous for all sorts of food, notably black pig, most of which is not halal. Nevertheless, we wandered through the food street, past murals painted on walls and past an 어린이집 where the cutest kid started waving to us much to the surprise of his teacher who was busy on her phone.

20160328_123806

Why can’t offices be this colourful?

20160328_124048

Murals on walls

We stopped at the supermarket and managed to get some bread sticks (explain to me why loaves of bread are so uncommon in Korea) which we ended up having with our duty free cheese, oranges and random assortment of other food for lunch and dinner. We still had not managed to eat our apples which we had bought the day before since, strangely enough, there were no knives to be found anywhere – not in the grocery stores, nor at the hotel. We called it a day early and even messaged Mr. Song to let him know that we had decided to scratch the short climb on Mt. Halla the next morning from our itinerary and instead rest our weary legs which had, by the estimation of our S health trackers, made it to our personal best for two consecutive days.

Spring in South Korea – Day 2

After the hectic rush of Day 1, we somehow managed to get a good night’s sleep and were up bright and early on Day 2- finally ready to start our tour of Jeju. After breakfast, that is. Breakfast was tea from Caffe Pascucci, bananas and some duty free goodies and by 10am we were meeting Mr. Song, who’d be driving us around for the day. The plan was to start of at Cheonjiyeon Falls which is hardly 5 minutes from the hotel, then make our way to Jusangjeolli Cliffs, Cheonjeyeon Falls and wrap up with a trip to the Joreunmosal Beach.

The walk from the parking lot to the Cheonjiyeon falls was simply beautiful. Having grown up in a country where deciduous trees are something of a rarity and summer all year round means the trees are always green and flowers forever in bloom, this was my first glimpse of a barren winter starting to be covered with the first colourful blossoms of spring. Evergreen boughs interlaced with barren branches and the first red, yellow and pink children of the spring.  It was breathtaking and probably even more so for those people who had weathered the long white winter.

20160327_103341

Cheonjiyeon Waterfall from afar | 천지연폭포

The sound of the falls was so soothing that if I hadn’t been on a schedule, I would have been pretty happy to spend the day sitting by the water, feeding the passing ducks. As it were, we were on a schedule, and unfortunately huge numbers of tourist buses had begun to arrive which signaled the arrival of lots of noisy tourists armed with selfie-sticks, which meant it was time for us to move on.

20160327_104643

Cheonjiyeon Waterfall up close | 천지연폭포

We headed next to the cliffs, a little over half an hour away. By the time we reached there, I was truly beginning to understand why Jeju is also known as 삼다도… being famous for having lots of wind, stones and women 바람. 돌. 여자. The wind was biting cold as we made our way to the viewing platform for a sight of the stunning hexagonal stone columns left by cooling lava from the last volcanic eruption.

20160327_120059

Cooled lava of Jusanjeolli Cliffs | 주상절리

20160327_120225

Jusangjeolli Cliffs | 주상절리

We spent some time walking in the area but as the wind picked up, we packed up and headed off for lunch.We had initially thought of stopping at Paris Baguette, but Mr. Song was nice enough to suggest a more picturesque location, past yellow canola fields with a beautiful view of the sea- Cafe 7373. We tried our luck finding something halal and the staff was nice enough to accommodate our requests so we ended up having a lunch of garlic bread, salad, fresh grape juice and a salmon baguette. The view was pretty spectacular and Mr. Song said this was the best place to come to watch the sunset. I can’t disagree.

20160327_134153

Cafe 7373

From Cafe 7373 we headed to Cheonjeyeon Falls which consists of 3 waterfalls. Unfortunately for us, the first waterfall was not in a falling mood, so we moved down to the second and third waterfall viewing areas.

20160327_141008

Silent Cheonjeyeon Waterfall | 천제연폭포

The third waterfall area was probably my favourite- the last fall before which the water flows away into the sea. Cheonjeyeon didn’t just have waterfalls to offer, but also our first taste of Jeju’s famous Hallabong oranges as we rested before climbing up the Seonimgyo Bridge for a stunning aerial view of the area.

20160327_142843

3rd Fall | 천제연폭포

20160327_150636

View from Seonimgyo Bridge | 서님교

Our last stop for the day before heading back to the hotel was Joreunmosal Beach, because one can never have enough water in a day. While this isn’t exactly one of Jeju’s most famous beaches,that is exactly what lends it its charm- peace and some much-needed silence to drink up the sound of the waves lapping the shore.  The beach is tucked away in a corner, reached only by a long spindly stone path lined with flowers and trees on either side, the last steps covered with sand – as the beach meets the forest. We spent a long time there, just breathing in the salty air, filling our shoes with sand and looking for shells.

20160327_152514

Heading down to Joreunmosal Beach

20160327_155015

And still further down

20160327_152754

Say hello to Joreunmosal Beach | 조른모살해수욕장

We were pretty spent and opted to turn in early so we would be able to wake up for the Day 3 adventure which involved going to see the sunrise at the Sunrise Peak. This posed only one major problem… what to have for dinner. Coffee shops don’t exactly have the most elaborate menus and the 7/11 has extremely limited halal  options but we had the foresight to pack the salad from our afternoon lunch and together with microwaved ready-to-eat boiled white rice from GS25 we were all set for dinner. ^^ I don’t think I ever ate as much rice as I did that day in one sitting. 잘 먹었습니다~~

20160327_145940

돌 하르방 씨도 배 불렀나 봐요 ㅎㅎ

Spring in South Korea – Day 1

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but one moment we had no vacation plans and the next we were applying for visas to South Korea during mum’s Spring Break. Needless to say our itinerary revolved primarily around chasing the cherry blossoms around the country, from Jeju to Jinhae up to Seoul, for what would be our first real Spring.

We were scheduled to take the midnight flight to Seoul with a four hour window in which to catch the 8.30pm flight to Jeju which meant that we should have slept earlier during the day to avoid jet-lag but us, being us, couldn’t sleep and ended up falling asleep shortly after boarding – in fact so soon after boarding that we didn’t realize the flight took off about half an hour late. Squeeze aforesaid window to 3.5 hours. Already the plan that took weeks to calibrate was beginning to look too tight. Strike 1.

We were optimistic though that we’d be able to make it on time. Immigration after all, at Incheon Airport, couldn’t possibly take that long. It wasn’t like there were millions of Chinese tourists like in Japan… right? Wrong! Strike 2. It took over an hour at immigration just to reach the immigration desk (Shrunken window – 2 hours) where Strike 3 took place in the form of our Pakistani passport. Now we’ve never had a problem travelling before, but it would appear that the rules in South Korea are a little unfavourable towards Pakistanis, in that Pakistanis coming from Pakistan are subjected to more rigorous questioning. That shouldn’t have mattered to us of course, since we’ve never lived in Pakistan but the ladies at the immigration counter were confused as to what to do with Pakistanis who don’t live in Pakistan and decided to play it safe and send us all for questioning too. -_- The staff was wonderfully polite which was great because my nerves were wrecked as I was beginning to come to the conclusion that we were not going to catch our next flight. They simply asked us about our itinerary which we had handy, cross-checked our hotel bookings, and gave us the sound advice that we would have to make a run for it if we were going to make it to Jeju that night. Stamp, stamp, stamp and half an hour later we were scrambling towards baggage claim, the money exchange and then down to B1F, running to catch the AREX. (Vanishing window – little over 1 hour).

Of course we needed to get a SIM card because I was supposed to contact our tour guide in Jeju to let him know that we had arrived and what time to pick us up the next morning – this meant further delays in the form of an excellent gentlemen who meticulously set up our EG SIM Cards while I ran to get the AREX tickets (Is it still a window if there’s only an hour left? When does check-in close again?) With promises of our SIM cards being activated at the latest by 9am the next morning we piled on to the AREX and began counting the stops down to Gimpo Airport.

The ride was comfortable and uneventful with the exception of the rather drunk 아저씨 who boarded at a later stop and decided to amuse himself by removing the stickers labelling each stop on the map, much to the chagrin of the many 아줌마s on board whose stares did little to dissuade him. I managed to get a hold of our guide on the train and let him know that our schedule had suddenly been thrown wide open to the possibility of change. We then ran through Plan Bs, Cs and Ds which involved all manner of rescheduling and re-bookings while a Korean Air air hostess seated opposite us continued to chat away on her phone in what may be the most silent conversation I have (n)ever heard. By the time we reached Gimpo our so-called window was narrowing quickly and as luck would have it, the AREX does not stop , as we had prayed, exactly at the departures gate. In fact, there is a lot of walking (in our case mad dashing) to be done before reaching domestic departures. For someone who’s never, and I mean never, ever, ever, been late for anything, this was turning into an absolutely unanticipated nightmare.

I ran on ahead to see if we had a sliver of a chance of boarding, while my brother and my mum hurried on behind. By the time we reached, there was half an hour left to take-off but surprisingly, thank God, we were still able to check-in (hold the applause). Of course, baggage has to be screened again, and this time we discovered that we were now required to move our battery pack to our carry-on (Please note that as of today all battery backs are required to be kept in carry-ons.) This meant tearing the film that we had our suitcases wrapped in (I knew that had been a bad idea) before we could unlock, remove said pack, relock and reseal. We reached the gate for boarding at 8.15pm. Boarding started at 8.20pm and by 8.30pm we were in the air, hopefully with all our luggage.

Within an hour we had landed at Jeju Airport and after collecting our baggage decided to see if we could find something to eat. Unfortunately, from the 7/11 to the coffee shop, everything was closed. Getting a taxi at the airport was a breeze, since the taxis are sorted based on their destinations- Jeju or Seogwipo. We were headed to Seogwipo to the Ocean Palace Hotel– an hour long drive in the dark. We were surprised by how few streetlights and how many cats eyes there are in Jeju especially on highways. On the way we passed a place called 사라마을 which made me feel right at home ^^

The check-in didn’t take long and before long we were in our surprisingly spacious…apartment? Calling it a hotel room would be doing it an injustice since it was literally an apartment. The hotel has a 7/11 in the lobby and plenty of coffee shops all around but by the time we reached only the 7/11 was open which meant dinner was going to be all the things we had wisely gotten from the Dubai Duty Free after receiving due warning that there are only three halal restaurants in Jeju (only one of which is in Seogwipo).

…And so the adventure had begun even before the adventure had begun.

Stay tuned for Day 2!