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. ❤

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 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.