What a crazy (and wonderful!) first day we’ve had!
On Tuesday we took a bus straight from Tatebayashi to Narita airport. The flight time from Narita to Incheon is only about two hours, and this was the shortest flight I’ve ever had from one country to another! I’m used to the long haul, the longest being 15+ hours from KC to Chicago to Narita to Bangkok (to visit my mom’s family), so this was amazing! And Asiana Airlines had some pretty roomy seating, so we were all happy!
We traveled with Jansen, the high school ALT in our town who taught English in Korea a few years ago.
The theme of our trip has been:
We took a late flight and arrived in Incheon around 10pm. We took a bus to our Airbnb in Eunpyeong-gu where our wonderful host, Emma, met us!
The apartment is fantastic – I wish our apartment in Japan were like this! Well-insulated, warm, spacious…and with heated floors! Heated floors! Our apartments in Japan are terribly insulated and the floors are ice-cold (I regularly see my breath in the morning), so it was a welcome change! It’s so cold here – about -2C/28F.
We started out Wednesday morning walking to Paris Baguette for breakfast. On our bus ride from the airport I counted 8 alone – they’re everywhere! I loved seeing the neighbourhood in the light for the first time. There are a lot of cool brick houses around here!
In Seoul, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a coffee shop! I absolutely love it. There are sleek, modern-looking store chains like Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Holly’s Coffee, and smaller, cozy and chic coffee houses that look to be one-of-a-kind. In Tokyo (and Tatebayashi) the coffee shops are smaller and more fast-paced; it’s a challenge to find a seat, let alone to just sit and chat with friends for an hour or two. In Seoul most coffee shops have anywhere from one to three floors, and it seems the norm to just spend an afternoon sipping coffee and tea with friends.
Also, shops actually open up before 10am. It’s impossible to find a cafe open in the morning in Tokyo!
After Paris Baguette, we took a taxi to Insa-dong. (Taxis are SO cheap, especially when split between a group! We took a 30-minute taxi ride that cost roughly $16 total, which ended up being $5 per person!)
We found a lovely shopping centre with a lot of neat little shops. I ended up buying several small items at a cute cat-themed shop. While most of the cats were a little gross in their cuteness, I could not resist the banana-cat.
We also found a poop cafe. I remember seeing a video about it on Facebook…curry served in a toilet bowl. Needless to say…we did not go in.
Next we went in search of a restaurant. We found some very interesting signs and ads on the way!
Plastic surgery clinics are EVERYWHERE! Like, they’re just tucked in nondescript amongst all the other shops. Paul noticed that most of the women we passed were very beautiful – and very similar. According to Jansen, a lot of his students got plastic surgery for their birthdays.
We stopped at a crowded restaurant. Jansen and I split a pot of pork neck bone soup, called gamjatang. It was really good – it had pork, enoki mushrooms, noodles, potatoes, various greens, and some strange chewy yellow bits.
The spiciness of Korean food is very different from Thailand; I still prefer Thai spice, but the food here is definitely amazing!
Paul got bulgogi. It was really good – it had an interesting sweetness to it, which I think Paul really liked.
Afterwards we went to Myeong-dong, a big shopping district. There was a really cool building with a front made entirely of plants! We settled in a beautiful cafe for an hour to chill.
Afterwards we headed to Sinsa for a cooking class! We got there early, so we went across the street to another awesome coffee shop.
And they danced.
Next, we went to the cooking class! It’s called “Homestyle Seoul Cooking 101,” and it was SO much fun! If you ever visit Seoul, you should definitely consider trying this experience!
It was Paul, Jansen, and me with five other foreigners (two Americans, two Brazilians living in the U.S., and a Taiwanese woman). The staff was awesome – one chef acted as the translator, but everyone seemed to understand a little bit of English; the mood was upbeat, everyone was in a good mood, and the food was great. The restaurant owner, Yang Chul, didn’t speak a lot of English, but she’d studied in Tokyo, so she spoke Japanese with us a bit! (It’s an interesting experience, being able to communicate with only second languages.)
It was a perfect first night in Seoul!
We started out making kimchi. Actual kimchi takes at least a month to make, but this was a quick kimchi salad. I got to cut the napa cabbage, and Paul cut the leeks. Of course we forgot to take pictures until it was Jansen’s turn, so here’s Jansen mixing the salad!
Mr. Song was the main chef, and he wowed us plebs with his amazing chopping skills.
Next we made dumplings! Korean tradition says that if you make beautiful dumplings, you’ll have beautiful children (I think our future children will turn out okay? Maybe?)
Also, you get a year older if you eat a dumpling. We all kinda just eyed the dumplings after that, haha.
The full spread, when finished! Kimchi salad, dumpling soup, japchae (a sweet potato noodle dish), Korean-style sushi, and several shots of soju, a popular Korean liquor (it’s got a very sweet aftertaste – I really like it!)
Though the food was amazing, it was really the company that made the night so memorable. I’ve found that food, while delicious on its own, pales in comparison to a good meal shared with friends. It was so interesting listening to everyone’s experiences in Korea and around the world. We weren’t just eating the food; we were truly experiencing it!
We’re definitely going to go back for lunch before we go back to Japan!
Whew, long post – and that was just the first day! Here’s to a great start to the trip!