Monday, June 28, 2010

Forty Hours in Seoul

Leaving straight from work the Friday evening before last, we boarded the KTX bullet train to Seoul.  It covers the approximate two hundred miles between the two cities in just under three hours, making minimal stops along the way.

Four of us: Ryan, two co-workers and I got discount tickets for booking our seats around a table, where we played cribbage and chatted with anticipation about the weekend.

After beginning our Saturday with an early tour of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) which deserves its own post, we were happy to see the weather had cleared.  After dissecting the sixteen line subway, we were off to Myeongdong.  Famous for its local and international shopping, it didn’t disappoint.

Forever 21 in Myeongdong is four floors.  It was hard to scour each square inch in less than two hours, even for a professional shopper like myself.

Ryan found a shirt he liked at NIKE, with Hangul (Korean) written on the inside of a printed shoe.  I approved of the shirt so much I decided to purchase the same one three sizes smaller.  Matching shirt photo coming soon.

Next we headed to H&M, which proved to be a challenge.  There was a boy band making an appearance at one of the nearby stores.  K-pop and its fans are a phenomenon not to be messed with.  We fought the crowd and with minimal pushing we made it, realizing when we left the store we were more than ready for dinner.

We met a friend we had known from Oregon who is now living in Seoul in one of the larger university areas.  He took us to Dos Tacos for a wonderful dinner.  The avocado and veggie burrito I had was delicious, as was Ryan’s meat and avocado version.  

The best part was the choice of lemon, strawberry, and LIME margaritas!  I was in heaven.

After dinner we walked through the busy university area, filled endless shops, restaurants and bars. 

We even stopped to watch a street show band perform.

Some bars we passed were less than classy, like these.

A chain of bars called “Ho” seemed to be everywhere.
And finally....

Someone had fun here for sure.

We also spotted a windowed noraebong (karaoke bar).  Here you rent private rooms where you can sing your little heart out while sipping soju.

At one point Ryan’s friend suggested we get “alcohol in a bag.”  Intrigued, we agreed.  When we arrived to wait in line for the goods we were handed a small book containing the hand written drink menu.  There were basics like cranberry vodka and rum and coke, but also more specialty cocktails such as Midori Sour, Peach Buzz and Blue Hawaiian.  Ryan and I settled for Greyhounds, receiving them in sturdy zip loc bags with a straw.  Brilliant.

After walking through the busy streets we decided on The Red Door, a brewery, restaurant and bar as our destination for the night.   

We sat at a long table, and ordered a ten-beer tray selection, transitioning from lightest to darkest in color and flavor.

The décor in the building was interesting to say the least, with three floors, high ceilings, and thrones for toilets.   

I almost screamed when I noticed this behind me on the way out of the bathroom.

After a World Cup game and all ten beers were done, we headed back to our hotel.  Our location was amazing, right in the midst of one of Seoul's most popular and well known neighborhoods, Itaewon.

Sunday came too quickly and Ryan and I took advantage of the sunny morning by taking in the area on our own.  Itaewon is the main foreigner district in Seoul, and felt more like an enormous international city (which it is) than Korea.  The population of Seoul and its surrounding areas is over 20 million.  The mass numbers of foreigners in Itaewon originating from everywhere in the world was astounding.  There seemed to be more foreigners than locals.  Large and small restaurants and outdoor cafes with every type of food imaginable lined the streets, as did countless shops and vendors pushing their goods.

People were speaking English all around us, with British, Australian and North American accents.  It was quite a change from what we’ve grown used to as the minority in Busan.

We bargained for some souvenirs, and met the rest of our companions for lunch.

Flying Pan (get it?), a restaurant located just through the parking lot of our hotel was rumored to have a wonderful brunch, so we decided to check it out.

It was clear by the Vegemite on the table that we weren’t technically in Korea(n food) anymore.  Run by two Australian sisters, the restaurant has become a popular hangout for foreigners and locals alike.

Since they were quite busy, our group of six had to split into three groups of two, and Ryan and I got an adorable table behind this curtain.

I started off with a maple latte, Ryan with a caramel macchiato.   

To get some variety, we shared two dishes for brunch.  We had smoked salmon eggs benedict served with sautéed spinach, as well as grilled mushrooms over toast with pesto and hummus.  

Ryan had to have that side of bacon he's been yearning for.   

The food was comparable to cafes in Europe or restaurants in the US.  We’d love to go back to try their salads and sandwiches at some point.  Their desserts are also said to be delicious.

After our meal settled, we headed to What the Book, an English bookstore we’d heard great things about, and have previously ordered from online.

Down some stairs and we were there.  Yay, magazines!   

We found slightly outdated but still fairly recent magazines packaged and sold at a discount: three for about $8.00.  Not that the $10.00 spent on US Weekly wasn’t worth it, but savings are good too.  Ryan also did a reading of a used romance novel for our co-workers while we were there.  I think they enjoyed it.

We hit a foreign food store after paying for our books, which was somewhat disappointing.  In the past our co-worker had found Campbell’s Tomato Soup (my favorite) and Kraft Mac and Cheese there.  I don’t remember the last time I ate the blue-boxed dinner but it sounds pretty good to us at the moment.  We’re surrounded by kimchi and bibimbap, and wouldn’t mind some mild comforts of home.  Sadly we found neither one at the store.  However we did find some signs of Oregon.

There was a large selection of Indian and Middle Eastern staples, as well as other foods that we have access to here in Busan.  The best find was dry garbonzo beans (hello hummus)! Previously we have only found them canned and quite expensive.  We also got lime juice for making margaritas at home.  Yes I am obsessed with margaritas.

On the way to the train station we picked up Subway sandwiches, just like home.  

When will they open a Subway in Busan?!

Exhausted, we slept on the train and vowed to visit Seoul again soon.