You know how sometimes you go somewhere multiple times and don’t actually get to see it?
When you live in Jeju, that can be Seoul.
When living in Jeju, Seoul becomes the place where you go catch international flights. International flights are extremely limited in Jeju (pretty much Japan and China and that’s it), so going almost anywhere (especially returning home) involved what we’ve baptized as the Seoul Shuffle:
Step 1: Catch flight in Jeju. There is a flight to Seoul every 15 minutes or so between 6AM and 9PM. You do the math.
Step 2: Fly for an hour. So basically take off, reach cruise altitude, get a soft drink or glass of water from the flight attendants, land.
Step 3: Land at Gimpo International Airport. I think of it as Seoul’s La Guardia. And yes, it’s about that dumpy (#sorrynotsorry) but probably more organized and with a really nice mall across the street to kill time if you have to.
Step 4: Catch a bus (about 20 minutes) or a train (about 40 minutes) to Incheon, which is where you will actually catch an international flight. Incheon is one of the best airports in the world. It has a movie theater. Last summer we watched Wonder Woman (again) there while waiting for our flight to Seattle.
Now, after that tangent…
The thing about Seoul is that if you live in Jeju, you’ve either been a couple of times (thanks to cheap weekend tickets) or may have not been at all. After a year of airport transfers, we decided it was time to go and actually check out Seoul. A city fix never hurt nobody 🙂
Chuseok is the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving and involves a lot of family time and offerings to one’s ancestors. It doesn’t really mean that the country stops or anything. Since lots of people leave Seoul to go to their hometowns, it’s actually a great time to visit Seoul. In addition, the main tourist attractions (like museums and palaces) were free for the public holiday, so we got to see a couple of things for free. Not too bad.
The downside of going to Seoul during a public holiday was that the DMZ was closed. The DMZ, should you not know, is the closest you can get to North Korea from the South. It is, of course, one of those things that you do once and probably never again, but something we’ll have to go back to Seoul to visit.
And, in case you’re wondering: South Koreans are, for the most part, completely oblivious to threats from the North and people don’t really talk about it. So, you’re hearing way more about it on CNN than we are on the ground.
Seoul has a lot more hills than I thought. It makes for some interesting neighborhoods. Like in many other parts of Asia, some historic sites have been restored or rebuilt due to damage from war, fires, etc. In a way, it kind of dilutes the old character of some places. This is the case with some of the main historical sites in Seoul.
To be honest, though, the reason why we went to Seoul for this holiday was to EAT. You see, in our neck of the woods, we only have about 5 or 6 takeout options. 3-4 of those involve fried chicken, which is delicious, yes, but sometimes you want/need something that isn’t fried chicken.
For a first-time Seoul explorer, Itaewon seems to be a popular recommendation to stay and be out and about. After being there for five days, we can see why. I would say it’s possibly the most diverse area of Seoul and packs quite a punch in eateries, bars, shops, and people watching. We were pleasantly surprised to find tons of Middle Eastern food, shops, people, and specialty items. I was good and didn’t buy anything I didn’t need…but I really wanted to. We did eat kebab for breakfast twice, because giant cones of roasted meat are hard to resist at any hour of the day. We did ensure our hot sauce supply stays healthy (this household moves through a lot of hot sauce – priorities!) and okay, fine, treated ourselves to a few items during the sales (Cam got a new jacket, I got a dress, a top, and a whole bunch of sheet masks).
We will have to let you know when we do make it to the DMZ – hopefully not on a day when someone decides to defect – SCARY!
In any event, Seoul is a nice respite of modernity when you live in a small island. I wish it wouldn’t have been so dreary out, but that’s the Korean fall for you.
More to come of our fall/winter travels.