North America, Asia · 21 Days · 88 Moments · July 2016

Sarah's trip to South Korea

10 August 2016

I love Incheon airport! There's so much to do. Rollerblading, watching performances, making traditional crafts - all free! How cute is this little vehicle (a tug according to Simon). It was so tempting to take one for a joy ride! The mother/ daughter toilets were also cute in a weird sort of way. The downer is that you can't take kimchi through security but on the bright side there is plenty on sale in the duty free shop on the other side. Well our plane is here and we should be boarding in 10 minutes. It's been an amazing trip- thanks for coming along for the ride. - Sarah, Jamie, Simon and Alice
Sitting here at the airport gave me a chance to admire my new penguin socks :) I don't know why Korean socks are so cute or why they only cost $1-$2 but Alice took full advantage and is now the proud owner of twenty pairs. (Really!) It's possible that we got a bit carried away with the souvenir shopping...
The silver lining to having a delayed departure is that we got to visit a PC bang (Internet cafe) which was high on Simon's to do list. We've seen them on the dramas but it was fun to actually experience one. It was cool, dark and peaceful inside and at just $4 for the three of us for an hour it was a much more economical place for us to take a break than a cafe! I love how you can heat up some instant ramen if you get peckish.
Early morning news is rarely good. I woke up at 5am to find out that our 10:30 am flight has been delayed by over seven hours. Apparently Delta had a world wide melt down yesterday. Jamie swung into action and got us switched to a direct flight on Korean air but it doesn't leave until 7:30pm. At least we don't have to worry about a connection. In the meantime, with our thoughts already on home, we figured we couldn't face another onigiri breakfast from GS 25. There are so few breakfast options here so we were really excited to find an American style breakfast place quite near the apartment. The Obama breakfast tasted great in an 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' kind of way :)

9 August 2016

Since it's our last night and there are still so many sweet things to try I declared it dessert for dinner night. We wandered around Hongdae sharing whatever looked delicious. First stop: Mochi Iyaki for a frozen strawberry on a bed of red bean paste and wrapped in a chewy rice wrapper. Presentation 10/10, taste 6/10 (because we don't like red bean paste!) Second stop: Sobok for 'healthy' balls of ice cream with chewy stuff inside and honey and pumpkin seeds. Presentation 8/10 Taste 7/10 Third Stop: Penguin Macaron for a strawberry ice cream macaron sandwich. Discovered that Simon can open his mouth way wider than me. Difficult to eat: 8/10 taste 8/10 Fourth Stop: Haitai for honey butter chips. Wow! Weirdness 10/10, taste 10/10 Fifth Stop: Lava Chee Chee. I don't know what you would call what we ate but it was a sort of enormous brioche stuffed with cream and blueberries. Difficult to eat: 9.5/10, taste 10/10 Final Stop: street vendor for 32 cm ice cream. A perfect finale!
I'd heard a lot about DongDaemon Design Plaza so I was excited that we had time to visit it today. The buildings are gorgeous and it was fun to take in an exhibit (emerging Asian artists) and browse around the store. I'm not going to lie, it was shopping heaven ;) Outside one of the buildings were these fantastic chairs that you could roll all the way round in. If I had a chair like that I don't think I would get much work done!
Here we are at Mabongnim, the restaurant on Tteokboki Alley where the dish originated. Tteokboki is the most popular snack in Korea and the basic rice cakes in red pepper sauce can be bought from stands on most street corners. At this restaurant though, it comes with all kinds of add-ons such as eggs, noodles and dumplings. And, you get to cook it yourself at the table. Spotting a trend here? I love that they give you aprons to wear because that red gochjang really stains and I'm wearing a new dress that I got in Hongdae yesterday :) Check out these before and after photos.

8 August 2016

Tomorrow is our last day here and we got to talking about how much we will miss the convenience stores. They are everywhere, open all the time and you could realistically survive for many weeks on the food they sell. Of course, king of the convenience store food is the onigiri/triangle kimbap, beloved by Jamie since our days in Japan and eaten by at least one of us every day. Here's some other stuff you can buy to stave off the munchies.
I really wanted this but do I really need another tote bag?
We found a place for dinner where we could get Andong chicken (jjimdak). It occurred to me that I had been in Korea for two and a half weeks and I hadn't drunk any soju. I ordered some grapefruit soju to quickly rectify the situation and it was so much better than regular soju! The chicken was excellent and so were Alice's noodles which we got to cook table side over a burner. I love how some of the restaurants here have a little buzzer you can press when you need the server. In this place it sounded like a cock crowing!
Lotte had to be done. The largest indoor amusement park in the world (plus an outdoor bit) had been calling to Simon and Alice since we got here so we hopped on the subway this morning and arrived there when it opened. It was just us and half the teenage population of Seoul (the little kids, mums and dads arrived much later for some reason). To be honest it's no Disney World (although the one hour wait for rides was similar). Still, we had a good time overall and lunch was excellent :) I finished reading A Man Called Ove in the queue for the flume ride which was terrible timing because I really wanted to sob!

7 August 2016

We met up with Susan for dinner. She mentors Simon and Alice through Also Known As in New York. We made an attempt to find a particular restaurant I was interested in but we had already had some failures today (most notably the puppy cafe which said that Alice was a year too young) so we decided just to pick something that looked good. We ended up in a sort of Japanese- Korean hybrid that Susan happened to know and it really was good. We had udon in several kinds of cream sauce. Cocktails were delicious too :)
Yes, that's me in the second photo, making my professional stage debut! We went to a Nanta performance this afternoon, a show about chefs preparing a wedding feast featuring tons of drumming, juggling and slapstick. Anyway my usual trick of not making eye contact failed me so there I was on stage, tasting their soup and getting married! It was tons of fun actually and the kids thought it was hysterical.
We've eaten so much great food here in Korea that it takes a lot to impress me now but the lunch we just finished blew me away! We ate at Simpson Tang which is owned by the singer Hwangbo. (There are celebrity signatures on the wall.) We had budae jjigae, also known as Korean army stew. It's a mixture of American army base staples such as spam and hotdogs, in a kimchi stew. It sounds terrible but it tasted delicious. We ordered a set menu so our stew was kept warm fondue-style and all kinds of goodies, such as melted mozzarella, potato croquettes and spicy beef and rice cakes were placed around it. I know I will be absolutely craving this stew on a cold NYC night. Right now though I think I may never need to eat again!

6 August 2016

We've been wanting to try Nuclear Steak ever since we got to Korea. Time to see if it lives up to the hype (okay, we created the hype but we're excited anyway!)
How brilliant are these fountains?
We passed a fun couple of hours in Kyobo bookstore. It was hidden away in the basement of an office building and was really hard to find. Despite being the largest bookstore in Korea, there was barely room to move!
It's 92 degrees and this is how hot Simon is!
Had fun shopping at Artbox, a big stationary store. After Alice bought some things they gave her a blank notebook to decorate with stamps on her way out. We also checked out an alleyway of murals by Hongik University.
Jamie left for New York early this morning so now it's just the three of us. Our friend Da Hye suggested we visit the Trick Eye Museum which is right here in Hongdae. Seemed like the perfect way to start our Saturday.
I went out for a run at 8am this morning which is a bit late for me as I like to go before the neighborhood wakes up. I thought that since Hongdae is a big nightlife area and nothing was open everyone would be in bed so I was I initially confused to see groups of people roaming around until I realized that they hadn't gone to bed yet. But of course! Honestly the place was a bit of a mess though. Time to call in the clean up crew:)

5 August 2016

Mango beer, fried bulgogi and fried cheese with sugar on top- you would never guess that we are now staying in a university hot spot! (Hongdae)
The KTX platform has an air conditioned waiting room and a huge t.v. so it was a great place for us to hang out until our train arrived. We decided to try first class for a treat so now we are kicking back, sampling new snacks and watching the Korean countryside slip by as we travel at top speed.
Train station food is nothing to sneeze at. This is a meal for one. Tried water kimchi for the first time and it's a lot better than it sounds- very fresh tasting and full of ginger.
The kids both loved Geongju so it was a bittersweet moment when we said goodbye to Matthew who took such good care of us at Polaris.
Afterwards we took a hike up to Tohamsan Peak and had the trail to ourselves (aside from the chipmunks and locusts). Here's a picture of what we should have seen from the top, followed by what we actually did see :(
It's Jamie's last day in Korea so we got up a little before 6am to squeeze in a visit to Seokguram Grotto before our trip back to Seoul. The grotto is a small building that houses a very large granite Buddha and some other statues. It's very famous and is highly prized as a work of art as well as a sacred object. Only a few people can view it at a time so it's a good job we got there before the crowds.

4 August 2016

The village was packed with houses that are over 500 years old. Most are still occupied but there are four that once belonged to the most important people that you can look around. There was food growing everywhere and the scenery was stunning. The lotus field was like nothing I've ever seen before. Those plants were huge! See if you can spot the insect in the last picture :)
At the folk village we went to ask at the tourist info desk about restaurants and who should be there but In Sul, our guide from Bukguksa Temple! She was excited to see us and she introduced us to a man who bundled us into his car and drove us to his wife's restaurant. We were shown to a private room in a courtyard and I was handed a menu but when I went to order I was told that we could only choose fish soup or soy bean soup and we all had to have the same thing! Soy bean soup it was and with the side dishes it turned out to be a pretty great meal.
We are feeling quite proud today because we took two buses across town (for about an hour) to visit Yangdong folk village, almost without mishap (Simon left his new wallet on the bus.) Stopped at Gyeongju market on the way for donuts. Here are some of the more interesting foods that were on sale. Noticed that bus drivers in Gyeongju tend to be a bit grumpy.

3 August 2016

Finally got around to seeing the mounds where the Silla Kings are buried. It's like the pyramids...only grass :)
We got the backpack back!!! All thanks to Matthew, the owner of the place where we are staying. All is well.
We are at a comic book cafe right now. We had them a bit flustered when we arrived. We had figured out that you have to change into slippers and put your shoes in lockers but we didn't realize that you have to pay an hourly fee to be here. When they found out we don't understand Korean well they tried to turn us away but we told them we would just look at the pictures. A guy who has been living in New Zealand stepped in to help and now we are happily eating bingsoo and browsing manhwa (the Koran version of manga). It would be so fun to open up a place like this in NYC!
Having one of those days. There's one on every vacation!Didn't know when to get off the bus so we had to go back on another bus in order to find millennium park. It was closed. Took a look around the National Museum (speed walking as the kids aren't exactly history fans). Took a taxi to a restaurant - Simon left our backpack in the back of the cab :( Trying to locate it...

2 August 2016

By the time it got to 7:30 pm I thought it was about time I reminded Jamie that it is our wedding anniversary today! He claims that he is not in the doghouse as he still has a 95% success rate for remembering. Can't believe it has been twenty-two years! We picked a random restaurant and did it right by getting ice creams from the local GS 25 convenience store for dessert :)
The place where we are staying is surrounded by rice fields. Even in the rain the scenery is beautiful. So nice to get a break from the heat!
Decided to head out to Bulguksa Temple since our kids love temples so much ;) We got a quick English language tour where we learned about the role of Geongju during the days of the Shilla kingdom and about the various Buddha statues at the temple. It houses seven national treasures and dates back to 751.
We arrived in Gyeongju during a massive thunderstorm so we decided to have some food delivered to our villa at the Polaris pension. The fried chicken place was closed for lunch! We managed to get a pizza delivered and apart from the somewhat purple colored dough it wasn't too bad. Never seen a pizza box like this one!
Next stop is Gyeongju, capital of the ancient Silla kingdom.

1 August 2016

Alice was more than happy to lounge around the spa with me for the afternoon (once she got over the fact that all the women have to be naked!) We tried every pool and every sauna and I got scrubbed to within an inch of my life. Nobody is softer than me right now. When it came time to pay I found that I had lost my wallet so I got a behind the scenes chance to sort through the laundry looking for it. Not many people get to experience that. Got it back though :)
Simon had one request for our Busan itinerary - a trip to Shinsegae, the largest department store in the world. Well you don't have to ask me twice. There's a cinema, an ice rink, a spa, wait a spa...

31 July 2016

Currently in line at Baskin Robbins. Since it's the 31st you can get a huge tub of ice cream for the price of a small tub. Half the neighborhood seems to be in here! Check out this dessert - you don't see that in the NYC branches.
I've been wanting to try milmyeon, a type of wheat noodle that has been a Busan specialty since the Korean War. It is served icy cold, bathed in a hot pepper sauce. As luck would have it the original milmyeon restaurant turned out to be right in our neighborhood. It is located up an alleyway so we had a problem finding it but a customer in the coffee shop we stopped by walked us over there. Since we are foreigners they served the spicy sauce on the side, figuring we couldn't handle it :)
Even though we know that our cats, Charlie and Lola, are in good hands with Nancy and Deirdre we still miss them, so we were excited to stumble upon the cat cafe! Alice, especially, had a blast petting all the cats but it was the three month-old kittens who stole the show.
We are spending this afternoon strolling, snacking, shopping and sweating our way through Nampo, the old quarter. A young guy came over and asked to have his photo taken with Jamie and me. Celebrity or what?! Loved the 'potato chips' on a stick and the hotteok. (Sort of a pancake stuffed with seeds.) Not too convinced about the glutinous mochi dessert- looked better than it tasted.
Our first stop today was Haedong Yongkung temple.The father at the house where we are staying drove us there and then took us back to the city via a scenic route by the sea. The temple consisted of a whole complex of beautiful buildings and statues, all located in a stunning spot overlooking the sea.
While I was waiting for everyone else to get ready I hung out with Yun, her mother and grandson in the living room. She was trying to get her grandson to eat some breakfast. I couldn't make out what the food was but I caught the word pumpkin. He wasn't too interested - not quite as appealing as Coco Pops!

30 July 2016

A first look at Busan. We are down at Gwangalli Beach for the evening. The Diamond Bridge is stunning and the whole place is hopping. Sort of like Times Square meets Miami Beach. There's a night race about to start. Right now we are in a coffee shop with what seems like a couple of hundred twenty somethings, which makes us both the oldest and youngest people here.
These grapes taste like bubble gum and you can pop them right out of their skin. Simon is crazy about them.
Nice to receive a warm welcome at our AirBnb place after lugging out stuff up 60 steps from the subway in the searing heat.
Just landed at Busan airport on the south coast of mainland Korea, where the garbage cans are shaped like suitcases :)

29 July 2016

It seemed that someone should try the outdoor bathtub before we leave tomorrow so I gave myself that arduous task. Sadly once you actually get in the tub you can't see the sea any longer. The water changed color though which made me very happy.
Mmm 치맥 AKA Korean fried chicken and beer. I've been waiting for this. The owner took our proclamation that we love spicy food a little too seriously - I had tears running down my cheeks. On the way home we caught a nice sunset.
It turns out I was the only one who would even contemplate hiking to the top of Seongsan Ilchulbong peak but at 90 degrees and 94% humidity I can't really blame the others :) Instead we watched some Haeneyo do a dive in the waters below (after singing their ritual song to stay safe). It was all put on for the tourists to be honest but it was pretty interesting even so. Came back to the house to chill and watch Hillary's speech. We needed a rest!
Of course we have to eat lots of seafood while we are here in Jeju. For lunch today we had grilled mackerel at a place right next to the sea. There was a table of sixteen behind us but you could have heard a pin drop. I guess they were too focused on the delicious food to talk!
Koreans have to be the best people at parking ever- the parking spaces here are so tiny even this tiny Kia can barely fit between the lines! It's pretty tough for Jamie who is doing all the driving but so far no crashes :)
Our first stop today was a museum dedicated to the culture of the Heyneyo. These are women who dive for abalone, octopus, seaweed and more without any breathing apparatus. Apparently men used to do the work but stopped doing it some time during the Joseon dynasty because it was too hard. Some Haenyo even headed up a resistance movement against Japanese colonists. Sadly their numbers are dwindling now but they are truly an inspiration.
We are already a long way towards meeting our goal of trying every drink at the convenience stores. Sadly we have been unable to find Aquarius, our old favorite from when we lived in Japan.
Jamie and I went out for an early morning walk. Jocheon is pretty sleepy but there are a few places to eat. I love how the fried chicken place right next to the exercise studio! Today is going to be a scorcher.

28 July 2016

Picked up some breakfast food for tomorrow at Emart and then drove across the island to our next home. The Blind Whale is absolutely gorgeous. We have two little houses with a courtyard in between. They have polished concrete floors with ondal (underfloor heat). Also, an outdoor bathtub. The ocean is a couple of paces away! So many design ideas... We were too tired to go out for dinner so we ended up eating blueberry and peanut butter sandwiches. Pretty good :)
One of many Spam gift baskets at EMart. Too big to bring home?
Next up was the Teddy Bear museum. Alice has wanted to go there ever since we watched the K drama Goong. Perhaps unsurprisingly Simon and Jamie bailed. It was a little surreal to see teddy bears reenacting the Titanic and impersonating Marilyn Monroe and Elvis.
We spent a few hours at Play K Pop, mostly posing for ridiculous photos with interactive k pop stars on screens. That was more fun than it sounds! Also fun was the hologram concert. My picture was projected on stage as one of the final four to be up there with Big Bang but ultimately someone else was picked. Gutted.
We started our day at Jeongbang falls. The falls empty directly into the sea. It was pretty spectacular!
This morning we said goodbye to Sylvia after another terrific breakfast at the inn. She took a bunch of family photos that she is going to send to us. Possibly the best innkeeper ever!

27 July 2016

So the other highlight of our day was having Halla San fried rice at a famous restaurant near the port. First we had spicy squid, cooked at our table. We were told to leave a little squid and sauce at the end and then our server added rice and egg and told us a story about how Mt. Halla (on Jeju, the tallest peak in S. Korea) and the surrounding islands were formed. The other servers were laughing at his attempts to tell the story in English (they seemed to like teasing him because he appeared to be the youngest) but actually he did really well and he even threw in a little rice tossing!
The highlight of our day was leaving the other tourists behind while taking a speed boat tour around the island. The scenery (and the ride) was breathtaking!
Although we just arrived on Jeju island we thought it would be fun to go to an even smaller island so we set out yesterday for Udo island for some R&R. Actually it turns out that Udo is a madhouse of Korean tourists, a very hot and windy but gorgeous madhouse! Of course we enjoyed some local specialities - peanut ice cream and tangerine juice. The tangerines they grow here are incredible!

26 July 2016

Yesterday we took a one hour flight from Seoul to Jeju island, the 'Hawaii of Korea'. We had a very sweet and chatty cab driver and in a mixture of Korean and English we were able to talk about all kinds of things including Donald Trump! When we got to the airport he gave the kids huge hugs!
We drove for about an hour to the Tae Gon Gak guesthouse in Seogwipo on the south side of the island, where we were given an incredibly warm welcome by Sylvia. We decided to have some of Jeju's famous black pork for dinner. In hindsight, siting at a hot barbecue table outside on a day when there was a heat advisory in effect was probably not the best idea but the food was delicious. During the meal Sylvia tracked us down to give us more advice (we hadn't even told her where we were going!) This has truly been a day when everyone has been incredibly warm and generous to us. Naturally we cooled off after the barbecue at a cafe with a bowl of bingsoo - brownie flavor this time!
In the night Simon had experienced another terrible coughing/wheezing fit despite having taken antibiotics, so the first thing we needed to do in Jeju was find an English speaking doctor. Hyo Eun put us in touch with her aunt Cathy who lives in Jeju and despite never having met us before she was amazing! Cathy picked us up at the airport, took us to the car rental place, had lunch with us and then took us to a clinic. Dr. Yang turned out to be the perfect Doctor - a fluent English speaker who specializes in pulmonary issues and who graduated top of his class at Seoul National University! Including doing a chest X-ray we were in and out of there in about twenty five minutes and Dr. Yang generously refused to take any payment.

25 July 2016

Just started our second load of laundry in the hotel room. Found that all the washing powder from last time was still in the washer/dryer. Turns out we had only dried the clothes last time. Explains a lot...
Just got back from an amazing dinner with Rocky, Hyo Eun, her parents and the boys. They took us to a restaurant that is well known for its Han Woo beef. After eating a ton of steak cooked at the table with scallion salad, they made us a soybean stew and stir fried kimchi. One of the best meals ever! Alice had fun chasing the boys down the Cheonggyecheon after as we attempted to digest it all :)
Back to Gangnam today for lunch with Youn Jung, our former teacher at Korean school. The spaghetti salad was a surprise:) Since we were in the neighborhood we checked out the Coex MalI. Time for another bingsoo- brownie flavor with milk flakes this time.
Jamie left for a run before I woke up so I went by myself for a run down Jong-ro. Was careful not to jaywalk as I heard that's not okay here. Here's some of the stuff I saw along the way (Clarks!)

24 July 2016

Simon wanted to get some K Pop stuff so we went to Young Plaza in Lotte World where they have a SM entertainment section. For dinner we grabbed some food from the street carts we have been eyeing over the past few days. Lost Alice for a couple of minutes. Simon told us that if we ever lose him we are not allowed to call out his name because it would be too embarrassing. Not sure we can agree to that.
We decided we needed to check out the neighborhood that the NY Times described as a 'hipster haven' last week. Did our fair share of shopping and ended up at a Chinese restaurant for lunch. I love eating Chinese in different countries. This place served the sweet and sour sauce on the side of the pork so no soggy meat...brilliant!
Met up with Rocky Lee, a classmate of Jamie's from college, and his family for a traditional breakfast of gomtang in Myeongdong. Gomtang is bone marrow soup with rice and scallions and lots of kimchi on the side. I'm definitely used to having kimchi for breakfast now. We got inside information on Seoul and Jeju and enjoyed being around the cute little boys! At the subway station after I couldn't resist taking a pic of these bookcase stairs.

23 July 2016

Used the last of our energy to visit the Secret Garden at Changdeokgung Palace. Huge, wild and gorgeous - those kings really had a good thing going. The last stop on the tour was a 750 year old Chinese ginkgo tree. Totally exhausted now!
Took a break after lunch at Cheonggyecheon Stream, which runs through the heart of downtown Seoul. Got told off for wading but it was worth it. Hot, hot, hot!
"I'm in heaven over here," Alice eating dumpling soup at Gwangjang market. I had spicy cold noodles for the first time - amazing! At one of the market stalls a woman started combing Alice's hair while she was browsing!
I was the last person to get up at 6am today. Jet lag does strange things to family dynamics :) I've never been to a city with so many coffee shops but finding one open at 7am was quite the challenge. 'Angel in Us Coffee Shop' came through. Mango bingsoo for breakfast? Oh yes.

22 July 2016

We were able to visit the newborn babies at the Social Welfare Society's reception center where Simon and Alice both stayed. It felt surprisingly peaceful and of course the babies were adorable. Followed this up with a quick trip to Garosu-gil which is a bit like the Madison Avenue of Seoul. I had as long as it took the others to have a snack in a cafe which, from a budget standpoint, was probably just as well!
We are in Gangnam so that Simon can visit his foster mother. Alice didn't want to go in and was, by her own admission, getting a bit cranky. Patbingsoo saved the day! A huge bowl of shaved ice doused in coconut milk and topped with frozen berries and chunks of cheesecake. How has this dessert not taken the U.S. by storm?
Found a hole in the wall for breakfast and randomly ordered some food. It ended up not being remotely like breakfast food but it was all delicious. The pancake was absolutely brimming with octopus, shrimp and mussels. The kimchi was definitely made in-house because we had to edge our way past a big vat of cabbage on the floor. On the way back to the hotel I ran into Song Joong- Ki, well, his cardboard cut out anyway, and I couldn't resist the photo op. Fans of Descendants of the Sun will relate :)
Woke up a little after 5am to a perfectly grey sky. Knowing that the kids would still be asleep for hours, Jamie and I went out for a run. When the receptionist gave us directions to a couple of local parks, he neglected to tell us that they were palace parks and would be locked for several more hours! Still we had fun running around the neighborhood (Insadong) and we even found a little area with exercise equipment. The hula hoops had bobbles on them that hurt!

21 July 2016

Nothing huge to report about the second flight except that it took forever and we got to eat bibimbap for dinner and fried rice for breakfast. Simon and I had to laugh at ourselves for getting pretty excited about this given that we will be eating Korean food for the next three weeks. The taxi to the hotel took over an hour and we were so exhausted I don't think anyone said a word! Got to the hotel at 9pm Thursday. Our suite is bigger than our apartment in New York and has a washing machine! Had a quick meal of dumplings and noodle soup and now we are going to crash.
Left home seven hours ago and we are still in Detroit! Taking off for Seoul in a few minutes...