Thursday, August 15, 2013

Last Day in Korea

Today was the last full day of our Asian Adventure and we spent the day in Seoul.  Throughout the morning, we went for a couple of walks around the neighbourhood in Seongnam where Jonathan and HJ live.  We thought it would be a good idea to take pictures of some of the things that we did & saw repeatedly.

This is the building where Jonathan & HJ live.  It's in the Haeundae Apartments complex which is comprised of many building that look the same on the outside.  While we were initially worried about how to find the correct building when we were coming and going, our well trodden paths brought us to and from the correct place each time and it really was a non-issue...

This waterway runs through the Haeundae Aparments development and we were quite impressed with the many green spaces that have been preserved (created, actually) that give a sense of calmness and serenity even in the middle of a bustling city.

One of the unique aspects of this neighbourhood is the market that's set up in the middle of a parking lot within the complex.  Interesting little fish market that appears and disappears in no time at all!  And I say little as it's nothing like the Jagalchi Fish Market that we saw in Pusan last weekend...

This was the scene that played out every day for us.  Walking from Jonathan and HJ's building over to the main corner where we'd stock up on candy, refill our bus/subway cards and catch said modes of transportation. The only thing that changed were the outfits, my gals weren't always sporting such stunning primary colours ;-)

This was the inside of a little shop that the girls discovered and it quickly became one of their favourites.  Candy galore.  We were initially attracted to this store because of the much needed 'cold treats' that filled their coolers, but their candy selection won the girl's hearts!

Even more important than the little candy store was this location of the GS25 chain of convenience stores.  GS25 stores could be found everywhere and we visited many in our travels, mainly to buy huge jugs of water to refill our water bottles and stay hydrated in the intense heat and humidity.  But this was also the GS25 location where we would reload funds onto our transit cards.  And we might have picked up a couple of cold treats here as well ;-)

This was the main bus stop we used and it was located just around the corner from the GS25.  At this bus stop, we could catch a number of buses that would take us right down to the heart of downtown Seoul.  Our favourite was the 9401 as it was a more luxurious bus and blew even colder cold air than the other buses we could take to get into Seoul.  If traffic was good, we could get from this stop in Seongnam to downtown Seoul in about 45 minutes.

We caught the number 3 bus many, many times just around the corner from the main bus stop.  This local bus would whisk us a couple kilometers up the road to AK Plaza, where we could hop on the subway at Seohyeon Station.  From here, the world was our oyster - we could get anywhere in Seoul from the network of subway routes that span the city proper and all of the outlying cities like Seongnam.

These cicadas have left a deep impression on us (for better or for worse).  Their incredibly loud buzzing noise would wake us in the middle of the night and then their incessant whirring noise would fill the skies throughout the morning.  However, we were able to turn this negative into a positive by buying a cheap net and bug box so that we could go cicada hunting a few times.  Rachel and Abby are both accomplished cicada hunters now (although I'm pretty sure that I still hold the record...) and they just might miss this pastime!

Another thing the girls really liked about the area where Jonathan and HJ live are all of the many parks.  Not only do they have play structures, but many of them also have exercise equipment that Rachel and Abby would take advantage of any chance they got...

This path served as a great place to catch cicadas, walk down to the water, play badminton or even just wander around.  It runs right behind their apartment and was another lush green space that helped us feel at home.  Reminiscent of the elm canopies over our River Heights neighbourhood in Winnipeg...

Tomorrow morning will be our last few hours in Seoul.  After we pack, we'll be hopping on a bus to the airport to start the long journey home.  A lengthy flight will spit us out in Vancouver where we'll have a six hour layover to decompress and re-acclimatize to the Canadian culture (can that be done sitting in an airport departure lounge?).  The second leg of our journey will see us landing safely in Winnipeg a mere three hours after leaving Seoul once the time change has been factored into the equation.  Mind-boggling.

All in all, this has been a fantastic adventure and we're so glad that we committed to making this trip a reality for our family.  Thanks again to HJ and Jonathan for putting us up (and putting up with us) and for planning such great side trips to add to our Asian experience.  And thanks to you, the many people who were following along on this journey with us through this blog and on our Instagram feeds.

Truly an experience that all of us will remember forever.

Andy, Jennifer, Rachel & Abby

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Relaxing on our holidays!

The morning started quite slowly as last night was a late one. We encouraged the kids to sleep in and they did (till 8:00am).  Yah!  We enjoyed spending the morning with Jonathan. He's got a cold and is feeling lousy but he went out to buy bagels for the girls for breakfast!  Rachel and Abby have also been enjoying the self created fruit smoothies in the blender. 

We got a little silly on the subway taking selfies... but we aren't sharing those photos today! A series of buses and subways took us to Gangnam Station to meet Auntie HJ for our manicure appointment at 4:00pm. HJ has spoiled us girls with fresh nails! Thank you for the indulgent treat HJ! 

We took advantage of the break HJ has between classes and stopped for dinner at a fried chicken restaurant. The meal is ordered for the table and we shared. Yummy salad, buffalo chips (like Mr. Greenjeans used to serve!), and chicken tenders. We enjoyed the meal but more than that the girls LOVED the bathroom. It was a very small space with a spinning disco ball and blasting music that makes you want to dance... so the three of us did! 

From there, we headed home for an early night. We caught up with Jonathan who spent the day resting and trying to feel better.  Sometimes a simple day is good too... especially when you're on holidays!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lotte World & the Giants

The majority of our day today was spent at Lotte World.  Lotte is a company that has a huge presence in Korea (they're no Samsung or Hyundai, but they're huge).  One of their many sources of income is Lotte World, Seoul's closest thing to Disneyland.  This massive indoor & outdoor amusement park opened in the late 80's and is still incredibly popular, judging by the masses of people that we encountered there today.

Lotte World has many thrill rides and also a number of rides and attractions for the whole family. While today was all about the kids, Jennifer and I just might have enjoyed ourselves more than the girls did.  From the complaints to how long the lines were to the concern over how 'scary' some of the rides might be, both of our kids took turns taking away from our enjoyment of the rides and attractions.  As a result, we decided that Lotte World just might be the closest the girls ever come to visiting a real Disney theme park!

Oh, and the T-shirts here... we've shared a few laughs over some of the slogans & sayings on some of the clothes that we've seen, like the girl at the Lotte World ticket booth seen below.  Jonathan's theory is that they may not even know what their clothing means sometimes, it just came at the right price...

While Rachel found many gift shops that caught her eye and burnt a hole in her pocket, Abby found some other things that she wanted to do like rock climbing... which Rachel ended up doing as well!

From Lotte World, we made our way to Jamsil Stadium to see a baseball game in Seoul.  This proved to be a fascinating way to spend an evening, as there are many, many things that compete with baseball for your attention.  We bought Rachel and Abby a little Doosan Bears swag (the home team) so that they'd fit in.  But, as it turns out, we were seated firmly in the Pusan Giants section!

Baseball games in Seoul are insanely popular, with the entire crowd cheering their team on vehemently .  Between the loud music, the chanting, the cheerleaders and the accessories, baseball takes a backseat to all of the other commotion within the stadium!  Yes, those are grocery bags on everyone's heads in the Pusan Giants section where we were sitting.  Guess buying Rachel and Abby swag for the home team wasn't a great move when we were sitting in the visiting team's section!

All in all, it was another fascinating day in Seoul and we're now in the process of prioritizing must-see sites for our few remaining days in Asia...

Thanks for reading,

Monday, August 12, 2013

Investigating Insadong

We spent a few hours today poking around Insadong, an area within downtown Seoul that's celebrated for it's arts and cultural history.  That, and having a mecca of souvenir and antiques shops that draw foreigners out of the woodwork.  We really enjoyed popping in and out of shops to see what they had to offer but we didn't have to buy a new suitcase to lug all of our new purchases around in...

One of the things that the girls were most curious about were some long, twisted 'cakes' that you can purchase stuffed with ice cream.  I was almost tempted to succumb to their requests of buying one until I heard another passing foreigner describing the taste & texture to his mate: "It tastes like Honeycombs cereal.  No, wait, Corn Pops.  It tastes just like Corn Pops!".  Thanks, but no thanks ;-)

Toward the end of our stroll through Insadong, we were becoming overwhelmed by the heat.  The girls and I popped into a convenience store for another jug of water and when we came back outside we caught Jennifer mid-interview.  A couple of students had stopped her to ask some questions about her experiences thus far in Korea.  One girl was the assigned facilitator and the other was the videographer.  I got a kick out of one of Jennifer's responses to what kinds of food have we tried while in Korea.  When thinking of 'bibimbap', Jennifer replied that we really enjoyed the 'bimbapbop'.  The interviewer just had a puzzled expression to this response but neither girl burst out laughing.  

Once we left Insadong, we had to do something to try and beat the heat.  We walked and walked and walked until we finally found the fountains where we'd seen a number of kids splashing around on our first day in Seoul.  Once we found it, Rachel and Abby wasted no time getting soaked and loving every second of it.  

Late afternoon, we wanted to make our way back to Gangnam as we had our hearts set on a unique experience that (we think) can really only be found in one location throughout this great city.  I led us on a bit of a roundabout hike to catch a specific bus to Gangnam and our route took us up and down more streets than were necessary.  And, after all that, once we arrived in Gangnam we couldn't even find what we were looking for...

We've heard about these 'fish pedicures' that are popular in some Asian countries.  We'd found one online called "Dr. Fish Cafe" that many people have positively reviewed on their blogs.  After enjoying a coffee and a pastry, you can spend about 2000 KRW (about a toonie in Canadian funds) to dunk your feet in an aquarium for 15 minutes.  Dozens of fish start nibbling on the dead skin and leave your feet feeling silky smooth.  Even the girls said they were up for trying it out.  Well, everything but the coffee.  But, unfortunately, we weren't able to find it.  

All the blogs talked about how poorly it was marked and how challenging it was to find.  We found the building where Dr. Fish Cafe was supposed to be, it just wasn't there!  After arriving back at Jonathan and HJ's place and finally having access to the Internet, we discovered that they moved to a new location in late May.  If time permits over the next couple of days, we'll try to track down the new digs as this is an experience that we've all been looking forward to...

All in all, it was a good day.  Lots of walking and too much heat but an interesting and very worthwhile experience just the same.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Moving on to Pusan

We've just returned back to Seoul after spending a couple of days in Pusan, South Korea.  Pusan is the second largest city in this country and it's a very popular vacation area for Koreans because of their many beautiful, sandy beaches.

The drive to and from Pusan was fairly smooth (about five hours each direction) and Haeyoung (HJ's brother) did a fantastic job of getting us there & back safely and chauffeuring us around.  We arrived in Pusan after 11:00pm on Friday and checked into our room at the Riviera Hotel Haeundae, located just a couple of blocks from Haeundae Beach.  

I was up with the sun on Saturday morning so I decided to take a short walk around the district where our hotel was situated before meeting the others for breakfast.  In no time flat, I was standing at the edge of Haeundae Beach before the beach was even open for the day.  The vast expanse of umbrellas stretched on a far as the eye could see (although the fog rolling in prevented my eyes from seeing that far in the first place)!  Doubling back to the hotel, I stumbled upon the Haeundae Market, which was really just beginning to come to life this early in the morning.  When the girls and I walked through here in the afternoon, we were treated to an interesting sight - an elderly Korean woman skinning live eels...

After breakfast, we visited Hae Dong Yong Gung Temple in another region of Pusan.  This coastal temple offers spectacular views - it's no wonder Buddha's sporting such a big smile!

Just before lunch, we stopped by the Tsushima Island Viewpoint for some panoramic views of the city.    While we couldn't really make out Tsushima Island through the fog (which is typical), the short trip up a couple hundred steps to see some of Pusan's beaches and buildings was well worth it.

After lunch, we headed to Haeundae Beach for a much needed ocean swim.  The cold water and crashing waves helped us to completely forget about the oppressive heat and humidity for a few hours.  This was the first time Rachel and Abby have ever swam in an ocean and they loved the sticky saltiness of the water!

After dark, we drove across town to the Gwangalli Hoe District for a sushi dinner.  This is the world's largest hoe district.  In a hoe district, the main floor of some of the large warehouses are filled with tanks filled with a wide variety of fresh fish.  Hungry patrons explore the contents of the these tanks and when they purchase their fresh fish, they're told which floor to visit to have their catch prepared for eating.  Fascinating.  The restaurant we dined in served three types of fish but we have no idea what they were as HJ didn't know the English names for any of the species.

After dinner, we walked along the beach for a few minutes and found a coffee shop for a sweet treat.  The big, new bridge in Pusan looked spectacular all lit up at night and the beach was bustling with activity, including a live band... 

We had an early start today so that we could explore the Jagalchi Fish Market before heading back to Seoul.  I'm so glad we had the opportunity to see Jagalchi first hand as it's an impressive glimpse of how many people in this city make their living.  Cleaning fish, drying fish and preserving fish are full time jobs and these folks can barely afford the time to sell their catch to patrons in the market.  From baby octopus to unrecognizable crustaceans, Jagalchi has it all.

Now that we're back from Pusan, we're down to our last few days in Seoul and our Asian Adventure is drawing to a close.  But, don't worry, we'll still pack a lot in to the dwindling days of our holiday and you'll find out all about it here!

Thanks for reading,