Days 1-4 of a Hastily-Planned Trip to Seoul!

27 Feb

James had to go to Seoul for a work trip so he took some leave and we burned some frequent flyer points to get me there and make a mini holiday out of it. It was all at the last minute, which goes against my need to over-plan our holidays, but somehow we managed to make it work!

Day 1 – Travel Day

We got to the airport and through security waaay faster than we thought we would (thanks TSA Pre-Check!) so started off with a boozy breakfast in the United lounge. I had some Moet and James had coffee spiked with Bailey’s, a Bloody Mary and a glass of scotch. A morning glass of scotch. =/ (When we went to our gate there was a 30 minute boarding delay and James said in the most disgruntled voice you can imagine, “we’re going to be sober by the time we get on the plane.”)

Overall it was a pretty uneventful trip (we got ramen on the flight! That was pretty exciting) and we basically slept as soon as we got to our hotel.

Day 2 – Culture Day

This day we pretty much knocked out all of the big cultural attractions of Seoul. We’re not temple/palace people so we decided just to see the main two, which I think was a good choice.

We started off with Gyeungbokgung Palace, where we saw the changing of the guard and did a tour of the grounds.
IMG_20180217_102439Afterwards we wandered over to the Korean Cultural Museum area, which had a lot of Seollal (Lunar New Year) activities and crafts. There were lots of families and people in costumes wandering around which was fun. We made these woodblock prints:
IMG_20180217_112404But had great regrets that we didn’t stop at the “Crafting Dog-Shaped Humidifier” stand (initial ironic-regret turned to actual-regret later in the trip as James’ knuckles started cracking and bleeding from the dry air!)

We really liked these statues of all the Chinese Zodiac animals (a luckily-timed shot, because the place was packed):
IMG_20180217_110948We then walked to Bukchon Hanok Village, which has hundreds of traditional Korean houses, preserved to show a 600 year old urban environment. The alleyways were quite narrow and steep, and I liked the contrast with modern Seoul in the background. =)
IMG_20180217_120303We tried a couple of places for lunch but they were closed because of Seollal. Eventually we found a street dumpling place in Insadong that seemed to be doing a brisk business and ate there.

Then we walked to Jongmyo Shrine, which is the shrine for kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty. Like I said earlier though, we’re not really shrine people and I think we could have skipped this to shorten the day. Though on the walk there we did find a little exercise park with this fun workout machine:

giphy

Also at the shrine there was a raised path with a sign that said “Please do not walk on this pathway. This is for the spirits.” So now whenever James sees a bike path or something like that he tells me it’s for the spirits.

Then we headed to Namsangol Hanok Village, which had some reconstructions of what I assume were upper class Korean houses. There were some Seollal celebrations going on there too, and we made a wish that, in a few days, would be burned with thousands of other wishes.
IMG_20180217_155112Then we walked to N Seoul Tower, climbed a billion stairs, and saw some amazing views of Seoul.
IMG_20180217_164146The tower reminded us of the Space Needle in Seattle.
IMG_20180217_170254While we waited for sunset we explored the stores inside. There were a bunch of people waiting in line for a VR experience, so we figured we might as well join them to kill time.

Here we are, uncertain about what we’re even waiting for – the San Franciscan way:
IMG_20180217_171424I chose the (most popular) harness one which looked pretty impressive:Burst_Cover_GIF_Action_20180217174300But was actually quite shit because the harness didn’t even try to match the movement of the video. The disconnect actually made me feel super sick and I had to close my eyes while I got randomly jostled around. =(

This is James on his bike, which he said was also crappy.
IMG_20180217_174731And here he is looking at a 3D video in the tower:
IMG_20180217_175138By the time we got around to buying our tickets for the observation deck, they had a sign saying that the wait to get to the top was >70 minutes, which was way too long, so we decided to head back.

We spent a frustrating amount of time trying to find a restaurant that wasn’t closed, and in the end had some mediocre seafood fried rice. We were utterly wrecked by this time, cos we’d walked 9.5 hours and I had discovered my new boots weren’t completely broken in. =( Just in time for …

Day 3 – Hike Day

We actually ended up walking far less than we did on our first day! We spent the morning hiking (a tiny) part of the fortress wall that used to surround part of Seoul.

Here we are at the Changuimun Gate before our hike:
IMG_20180218_095843We had to sign up for a pass that allowed us access, because in the 1960s North Korean soldiers had used this portion of the wall, which is quite high-up so apparently tactically advantageous, as part of an assassination attempt on the South Korean president.

It was definitely high up. Living in San Francisco we’re pretty used to stairs, but this hike had a shit ton of stairs.
IMG_20180218_103054The military was everywhere, but they were basically all kids in their early 20s, and when we said hello (one of the few words we know in Korean) they would smile and bow at us.

Our passes!
IMG_20180218_103930 (The soldiers were definitely looking for these, because at one point I’d put my jacket back on, which hid my pass, and one of them gestured to me to pull it back out so he could see.)

This is James hamming it up next to a tree with bullet-holes from the assassination attempt: IMG_20180218_104517You can see how long the wall stretches!
IMG_20180218_112254We ended the hike at the Sukjeongmun Gate at the north. You can keep going around the whole wall but we were happy to stop since we’d done the most interesting part. =)
IMG_20180218_114158We returned our passes, then caught an Uber (which is 2-3x the cost of a cab in Seoul, so that was the only time we Ubered) to grab some lunch.

I wanted to try some stuff that we don’t normally get in the US, so had jjajangmyun, which is a Korean/Chinese fusion dish of noodles in black bean sauce.
IMG_20180218_125404It wasn’t really much to write home about. The noodle texture was really good but the dish wasn’t as flavoursome at it looked (the deep brown colour fooled me!).

James also got an Oreo churro for dessert, which he said was average and also not as exciting as it looked. =(
IMG_20180218_133121We were still knackered from the other day, so we went back to our hotel, had a nap, and then dinner and a ton of drinks in the hotel lounge (all freeeee! Thanks to James’ Marriott Gold status) and had an early night because we had another big day coming up.

Day 4 – Fun Day

Fun Day lived up to its name! We started off at the Trick-Eye Museum near Hongik. It was super tacky, but really quite fun! There were lots of photo ops with various trompe l’oeil exhibits, and you could download an app that made the exhibits interactive.
giphy-downsized-large

Cheesy but cool, right? Right??

giphy-downsized-large (1)
We kept holding our phones up to all the exhibits to see how they’d change.

Magic!

IMG_20180219_104955Enormous James and Tiny Kaye – how do they make their marriage work?
IMG_20180219_104642Because James is such a cool dude, that’s how! Cowabunga!
ArtCam_2018219103951Then we exited via a mirror maze (surprisingly disorienting!) to the main area, where we entered their small ice museum. It was really cold inside and I’m pretty sure everything was some sort of plastic, not ice, but it was entertaining enough for 5-10 minutes.

Third wheel!
IMG_20180219_113708There was a cool little slide:
giphy-downsized-large (2)
Back in the lobby there was a little cafe where you could get a latte with a custom picture on top! You had to take a photo of yourself on a phone that had some special app installed (I assume) and then they printed it on your foam. Behold!
IMG_20180219_115512Afterwards we headed to a meerkat cafe which was insanely adorable. The meerkats were so curious and sweet! A couple of them took naps on James:
IMG_20180219_130836Apparently a group of meerkats is called a “mob”, “gang” or “clan”. But it should be “abundance”. Look at that abundance of meerkats.
IMG_20180219_130917
They loooved standing on our shoulders and peering around.
IMG_20180219_131202 They also stuck their paws down our butt-cracks and fished around a bit. =O One of them grabbed James’ braces which he did not like, a couple of them scurried down my shirt, and one of them kept sniffing around my nose and mouth and eventually stuck his nose right up my nostril.

Me: Did you get a shot of the meerkat sticking its nose up my nose?
James: Yeah I think so.IMG_20180219_131103
(That’s the handler’s hand as she tried to dislodge my meerkat).

They also had some friendly raccoons:
00005IMG_00005_BURST20180219123819_COVERAnd wallabies.
IMG_20180219_132414
And if you know James you know that of course he couldn’t leave without annoying a couple of the resident cats with his friendship:
IMG_20180219_134927Afterwards we walked to Kyochon Chicken to grab some chicken and beer. It was really, really good.
IMG_20180219_145257Then we took a train to the Gangnam business district to have a peek at Google Seoul and for James to grab a coffee from the microkitchen. James said this was his favourite room:
IMG_20180219_170006 And I thought this one was pretty cool too: IMG_20180219_170202
It was less exciting than all the other Googles I’ve been to – the views were amazing, but we’d seen fantastic views our previous two days already. At least the coffee helped perk James up. =)

To finish off our sightseeing we headed to Samsung D’Light just down the road. It’s a big Samsung store on the ground floor with more conceptual stuff on the top two floors.

James tried some VR, which he said was much better than the one at N Seoul Tower (James: and we didn’t have to wait in line!!).
IMG_20180219_174342In his virtual reality he is riding a racing pig but in actual reality he is sitting in a chair.

Upstairs they had this surprisingly fun quiz thing, where you went to multiple stations and answered questions about yourself and it would ostensibly tell you about your personality, but really it was just an excuse to show off cool visuals on their awesome screens.
IMG_20180219_180003Here is James designing his ideal planet:
IMG_20180219_175817He was very proud of this picture, which had captured his movement to make an artsy composite picture (like he’s seriously proud of it – it’s now his Facebook and Google profile pic):
senseUs on the big screen!
IMG_20180219_182932There was a car racing game with a swish curved monitor, car controls and chair.IMG_20180219_180859This was some interactive display about … I want to say a composite chip maybe?
IMG_20180219_181139On the top floor there was this really awesome “house of the future”. You can see from the photo that the house was blank, but if you lifted up the tablet everything would be coloured-in on the screen with a bunch of actors and CGI showing the technology and how the house occupants used it in their everyday lives. As you moved the tablet around it would show you the section you were pointing at – on the same angle and everything!
IMG_20180219_182122(We initially didn’t realise how to use it – it was on a stand angled downwards and when we pressed start we were like “WTF it’s just a shot of people’s feet”)

We finished off our Samsung experience with even more VR (an abundance of VR!). This one was a rollercoaster. =D
IMG_20180219_183438Seriously it was so much cooler than the one at N Seoul Tower and we just walked straight on – we were the only ones there!

For dinner we had bibimbap. It was okay but very rice-heavy (I didn’t realise they didn’t come with meat because all the ones we’d had in the US did) and there was so much of it I couldn’t finish. =(
IMG_20180219_195111 James mid-bite with it all mixed together: IMG_20180219_195612It turned out James had more room – just not for rice – and he ordered some fried meat on a stick at the Myeongdong street market.
IMG_20180219_210656Then we went back to our hotel and had an early night because we were going to the Olympics the next day!

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