Monday, October 20, 2014

First visit to Seoul!

Hello everyone!

Can you believe it’s the middle of October already? We can’t! It seems just yesterday we were in the middle of summer preparing for our wedding! Time has flown by, and we are already 2 months into our 1-year contract!  You can definitely tell how time has passed here in Korea. When we arrived it was hot humid, and didn’t get dark till later in the evening. We went everywhere in shorts and slept with the AC and fan!  We are really excited for Fall now! The weather is much cooler, we wear jackets or sweaters to schools all day, and we don’t need the AC anymore! Back home in Gladstone, the main street called Portland Avenue, had rows of beautiful trees that always changed colors during the fall. It was always gorgeous and our favorite time of the year. 
Beautiful Gladstone trees! 

Here in Korea we haven’t noticed as many trees changing colors (yet) but we hear it happens. We are just enjoying the cool crisp mornings and sunshine afternoons! We even have some rain every now and then which reminds us of home. :) 

We have had 2 weeks of weird schedules (schedule changes, days off, traveling) and have really enjoyed the time off and the opportunity to explore the country! But now we are ready to get back into our normal routine and have a weekend off to just rest!

We made our very first trip to Seoul, Korea last week! We were really excited to finally visit the largest city in Korea! We’d heard many great things and couldn’t wait to get there! We decided it would be great to go during our 4 day weekend because after that, we weren’t sure when the next opportunity would be to get there! So the plans were made and we set off on that Thursday! I’ll let Tyler explain! :)

Day 1


We departed for Seoul by bus Thursday afternoon after enjoying lunch at Burger King. (We weren’t big on fast food back in the U.S., but it’s the only place to get a decent burger for a reasonable price around here.) Anyways, the buses to Seoul are very nice. They are similar to what you might think of flying first class on a normal flight (not international). Val and I both enjoyed kicking back and taking a relaxing nap. About halfway through the three and a half hour ride, buses pull over at a rest stop. The rest stops in Korea are awesome! They have a bunch of stores and shops where you can buy all sorts of food and snacks. They also have huge bathrooms to accommodate all the tour buses, which are usually pretty nice looking.

After arriving in Seoul, we headed out to the subway, which is located just a couple floors below the bus terminal. The subway system in Seoul is amazing! The subway trains come by very frequently so we never had to wait too long, they have English postings and translations of all the stops everywhere, they make very quick stops, and the cost is very cheap! Also, usually one floor above the subway platform, they have more shops, which sometimes include places to buy clothes, shoes, phones, and most importantly, FOOD!

We took the subway to Itaewon, a popular foreigner destination. After finding the hostel we stayed at over the weekend, we set out for dinner. We had a craving for some Mexican food, so we ate at this nice little restaurant near our hostel. Then we set out to explore Itaewon! 

So to give you a little bit of a mental picture, Itaewon has a main strip with big stores with brand names, and big restaurants. On one side of the strip is all the bars and clubs (some of them look like really cool places), which is where the all night partying happens. Then on the other side is a bunch of narrow streets with restaurants selling just about any food you could want, and all kinds of clothes including tailor made suits. Our hostel was located on a street famous for it’s antiques (which may or may not really be antiques). So it was close to the fun, but nice and quite at night. After we finished exploring the area, we stopped for some dessert before turning in for the night. We ate at a place that serves real waffle and ice-cream sandwiches. So basically, they make a waffle, put a flavoring spread of your choice (i.e., chocolate, strawberry, cream cheese, peanut butter, ect…), then they give you three scoops of ice-cream, which you can choose chocolate, vanilla, or both, and finally they top it off with chocolate syrup, chocolate chips, or sprinkles. It was awesome!

Day 2

Seoul Tower

After sleeping in and grabbing lunch at taco bell, we were headed to the N Seoul Tower! This famous landmark is similar to the Space Needle in Seattle and sits atop a hill in the middle of Seoul. After asking someone at our hostel, we decided to set out by foot and walk to the tower, (which we were told was about a 45 minute walk). Our walk took us up a series of hills, which ended up being the neighborhood where all the foreign ambassadors live. We had fun looking at all the homes and seeing which countries they belonged too. Most of those homes must be million dollar homes at least. After about 45 minutes of walking and still nowhere close to the tower, which was taunting us in the distance, we made the most miraculous discovery. Within a small foreign food store, we found root beer and ranch dressing! If you didn’t know, it is no easy task getting your hands on either of those goods here in Korea. To celebrate our victory and save us from walking for the next hour and a half, we caught a taxi to take us the rest of the way.

The taxi dropped us off right in front of the gondola, which takes people up to the tower. We bought our tickets and waited in line. We have heard horror stories about how busy it can be, but we didn’t have to wait too long. Once we got up to the tower, you almost forget you’re in the middle of a giant city. At one of the lookout points, they have metal fencing, which people attach locks to. Val and I purchased a little blue lock, which we wrote on and attached it to a spot on the fence. We have keys and maybe someday in the future we can try to go back and find our lock. In another area right next to the tower, there was some sort of cultural performance going on displaying different old weapons. While walking toward the tower, we got asked 5 times to be in pictures with complete strangers. Not all of the people were Korean either. The last time was a group of several students, so after they got their picture, we asked for one of our own with them! Now it’s time to go see the tower, which I will let Val tell you more about!

Once we got to the top, we stepped off the gondola and immediately saw the fences filled with little locks! We had to put a lock on ourselves, so we bought a little blue lock and drew on it with a permanent pen. Then we found the perfect spot and locked it on forever! We headed up a little further, closer to the entrance of the tower and saw there was a cultural show going on. As we were watching the performance a lady came up to us with her camera, gestured to take a photo, and handed the camera to Tyler. Tyler had to take a photo of me and this lady on her camera. The lady pulled me close and was super happy to be taking this photo. It was hilarious. But that only started a chain of multiple other people who wanted photos with us. I think once they saw 1 person do it and that it was ok, they all wanted too! After taking at least  different photos we asked the last group of high school kids to take a photo with us! Haha!

We finally got to the entrance of the tower and bought our tickets to go to the top. We got a great deal! It was $20 for both of us to go to the top and it included a large popcorn and 2 drinks! We were happy with that! We proceeded inside, got our food, and took the really cool elevator (that has a TV on the ceiling) to the top. Once we got up there we were pleasantly surprised with the fact that it wasn't super crowded. We had space to move around and take as many photos as we pleased. Around the windows were labels with the different cities or countries in the world and how far away they were. There was a great little booth set up where you could purchase post cards, write on them, and mail them from the top of the tower. Obviously, it was just another way to get people to buy their postcards, but it worked! We totally bought postcards and sent them to our parents! And we had fun doing it, so that's what counts, right?
After hanging out at the top for a bit and soaking in the view, we went down one floor to use the restroom. The restrooms were amazing! The sinks were situated in the middle of the room and the windows were floor length so you had a great view! It was a very fancy bathroom! 
We got back into the elevator and went down again. As we left we took some more photos and went to find the bus stops. We successfully found the bus that would take us back to Itaewon near our hostel, but we decided to get off at the stop before that at a open air market instead! This was a great choice! 

Namdaemun Market

On our way back from the Seoul Tower we stopped at the Namdaemun Market. This market is like a huge labyrinth of shops. You can literally find anything in this market IF you know where to look. It was times like these that we really feel like we are in another country! You can buy anything from clothes, toys, and souvenirs, to things like live octopus, gardening supplies, and custom bedding. Val and I got some fun things for ourselves and we were given a discount a couple of times because the person liked us.

After spending a couple hours in the Market, it was time to head back to Itaewon for dinner! We decided to go to a Greek restaurant because we were craving gyros. Dinner was great and then we decided to drop our bags off at the hostel before going for a stroll. We went of a walk up and down the main strip in Itaewon and had fun just hanging out. Of course we stopped for some more dessert along the way, Val tried a doughnut, and I got an ice-cream cone! Korea has SO many different sweets everywhere and we decided it is our responsibility to try them all! Just kidding, but we have done quite well so far! Val can explain day 3!

Day 3

Hanok Village- The  3rd day (Saturday) was a very busy day! We first decided to go visit Bukchon Hanok Village, a historic village that has over 900 traditional houses that are occupied with residents. It was a quick subway ride to the neighborhood. Once we got off, we found a nice little information booth. Right as we walked up to it the ladies inside quickly grabbed us a English map and we were on our way again. We could tell when we arrived because all of the houses started turning into the very traditional type of housing and there were funny signs on fences reminding people to be respectful of the people who actually live there.

Though this place is a popular “tourist attraction” it isn’t officially one, so there are no real signs or postings about it. Apparently you can get some sort of tour guide to walk around with you, but we decided just to take a quick walk through by our selves. It was cool to see so many traditional houses still there and being lived in. Many of them have been restored in some way (a new door with a automatic lock, or new windows) but overall they were just as they were built. The houses are interesting is because not only are they the traditional architecture, but they were so close to each other. There is very little space between one house and the next, but that is a very Korean thing, as Koreans are happy with being near one another.  We took some photos and decided we were satisfied with what we saw, so we walked back to the subway and headed back to Itaewon.

Itaewon International Food Festival- Before we left for Hanok Village, we noticed that there were lots of booths and a giant stage being set up on the main street. We found out a International Food Festival was occurring that day!  Once we arrived back in Itaewon, we met up with our friends, Brad and Maranda, and set off to find some international food to try! It was very crazy on the main street. There were tons of people, loud music, and lots of booths! We ate “bangers and mash” (a great UK dish) and a lamb kabob (not so good ). Then we found an English bookstore called “What the Book” with lots of new and used English books! We bought the book “The Maze Runner” since we saw the movie and want to read the rest of the series (ya, it’s a series, who knew?!). After that we walked around and found this amazing cookie place! They sell fresh, warm, SOFT homemade cookies! That’s the first real cookie we’ve had since coming here and they were amazing! We tried white chocolate macadamia nut and milk chocolate chunk. Both were delicious!

Gangnam- After dessert, we headed out across town to find the one and only Gangnam neighborhood! As many of you know, the song Gangnam Style, made famous by Psy, was based off of the Gangnam neighborhood in Seoul. Gangnam is known to be more of the “modern/hip/high class” area, and apparently the song is making fun of that. We ended up dancing to Gangnam Style with out bridal party at our wedding and think it’s a funny song, so we had to go to Gangnam just to say we’ve been there! It happened to be on the way to our final stop of the day so we made the effort to go. Turns out it’s not very exciting. The subway station is actually very different there. Instead of having just a few various shopping shops down in the subway this particular subway was packed full of different shops selling expensive cloths, jewelry, watches, cell phones, shoes, and all sorts of things. It was also the most confusing of the subway stations because we could not figure out how to get out! ;)  Overall, it was not a super fun trip but worth going to at least once!

Picture in Gangnam...not so exciting....

One of the only things that said "Gangnam" 

Lotte World-Our final stop of the day was Lotte World If you haven’t heard, Lotte World is the worlds largest indoor theme park. But that’s not all! Lotte World has a inside theme park which includes a giant ice skating rink as well as an outdoor park called “Magic Island.” This is all attached to the giant super store Lotte Mart, which is one of those giant department/grocery stores we’ve talked about before. I think there is a hotel attached as well. It’s honestly big and overwhelming and it’s impossible to see everything. We got there pretty late, about 6pm by the time we entered. We were lucky because after 4pm you get a discount, but we got and even better discount because Tyler used his Korean Visa card. We have no idea why that gave us a “Special Discount” but it did and we were thrilled! It only cost $13 each which is awesome compared to the normal ~$40 range. We began by just walking around on the inside and observing everything. There were lots of little food restaurants/carts as well as gift shops selling all sorts of souvenirs, but mostly stuffed animals! Spread around were certain rides, but there weren’t too many of those. Most were children’s rides. We saw a roller coaster (but we couldn’t figure out where to get on) and we saw “hot air balloons” that circle around the ceiling above. Mostly it was just a lot families running around. It was loud, colorful, and crowded, so we decided to go check out the Magic Island. Walking out to Magic Island is sort of like walking into Main Street in Disneyland. As you walk, you go towards a giant castle in the middle. Lots of people broke out their selfie sticks and took many photos with the castle in the background. It was a pretty view, so of course, we did too!

We proceeded to go find some rides, and we saw a few familiar ones. The ride that lifts you high in the air and then drops you, the ship ride that sways back and forth, and one of those  high spinning rides that looks terrible! We found this one roller coaster ride called “Atlantis” that actually looked really fun! It was fast, had some turns, and went in and out of a mountain/castle structure. This looked great to us, but to our dismay it was an 80 minute wait with no “Magic pass” (fast pass) available. So we looked around at other rides and found out they all had about the same wait time. This was disappointing as it was almost 7pm and we were already tired from the day, waiting that long would take up most of the night! So we decided to go search inside again and along the way played a few arcade games. After a while of trying to decide what to do next, we decided to choose one ride and stick it out during the long wait. Of course the ride we chose was the “Atlantis” roller coaster. We found the back of the line, like halfway to the other side of the island, and waited a whole 80 minutes to get on. The wait wasn’t terrible, and we were completely entertained by this high school couple who were hilariously stereotypical. They both were wearing the Lotte World cat ears and showing a lot of PDA and flirting. It was great. What was even better was having them sit in front of us during the ride. Too bad we don’t have video of that! ;) When we finally got on, the ride was totally worth it (for what it was)! It was fast, had some surprises, and went in and out of the dark. It was kind of a mix of Indiana Jones and space mountain. Very interesting, but really fun! We were satisfied with our one ride of the day and decided to take our last look around before heading out.

When we went back inside a parade was going on around the ice rink. It was a light parade so it was dark inside with many parade floats of all different colors. We watched for a bit, but got bored and decided to try to exit while the crowds were entertained. That proved to be harder than we thought! As it was mostly dark inside, we got disoriented and forgot where we even came in. We were pretty convinced this place was built that way, so they could keep you in! Once we finally did find the exit, we headed back through the Lotte Mart where all the restaurants were. We found this AMAZING crepe shop! We had a giant crepe filled with strawberries, ice cream, and whipped cream. I’m pretty sure that was my favorite dessert thus far. :)  We headed back to the subway station (which happens to be attached to Lotte World, of course, and went on our way back to Itaewon. When we arrived, the festival was still in full force. People were everywhere, and the streets were a mess, filled with garbage! We made our way back to the hostel, packed, and went to bed! Overall, Lotte World was an interesting experience. The best way to sum it up is to say they really tried hard, but it will never live up to Disneyland. We couldn’t quite figure out a theme, even our ride Atlantis made no sense as far as a theme goes. It was also one of the most over stimulating places we’ve ever been! If the ride lines were shorter we would have liked to try more of them out, but it was just too crowded. I think we are a little too faithful to our favorite place ever, Disneyland. We were happy to have visited, but will probably never go back. ;)

Going Home: The next day (Sunday) we had bus tickets that departed Seoul at 10am, so we needed to get to the bus station kind of early. Once we got to the bus station we had breakfast (at Dunkin Donut’s of course!) and had amazing English muffin breakfast sandwiches! They really were just regular old breakfast sandwiches, but I love ridiculously un-healthy breakfast foods like such. J On our bus ride home we slept mostly the entire way. Once we got back to Gwangju we were hungry, but not starving. So we opted to try the TGIF restaurant, which was located in the bus terminal. We decided to share a grilled chicken Caesar salad. This turned out to be a very interesting salad! When they brought it out the plate had large pieces of lettuce laid on top of each other. Each leaf had the Caesar dressing spread on it, so it technically was a Caesar salad. The croutons were huge, basically like balls of baked break. It took a while to cut up the lettuce because it was so thick and there was no easy way to eat it. We found this to be a hilarious lunch and laughed the whole way through. It actually tasted great though, so it was a good choice nonetheless! J

After that really fun long weekend we were a little sad to get back to the real world. But of course, that is life! ;) We had a wonderful time and can’t wait to go back again to see what else we can explore! :)

We have so many more photos of our trip on our Shutterfly Share site! You can view them at this link:

~Tyler and Valerie 

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