So that was an, um, interesting weekend. We got a whole lot of very little accomplished aside from getting lost and eating – but heck, what’s travelling for if not those things? I’d woken up sick again the day before, which was not a great start, but I had determined to sleep and shake it off, and was somewhat successful. Only a nagging cough had stuck around by Friday morn.
A couple of girls who live in Daegu wanted the chance for a seaside weekend in Busan, so they brought their pup and house sat ours for the weekend while we took off to Seoul. The dogs seemed to get along pretty well right off the hop, which was a relief, because they both get limited socialization here in Korea-land. So after throwing a gazillion instructions, directions, and “helpful hints” at them (I am a crazy dog mother, sigh), we set off to catch the KTX.
The lines were bad because it was a long weekend, but with trains every 10 minutes, we managed to catch one within the hour. We settled in and arrived just under three hours later. At which point I realized that neither of us had thought to print out (or heck, even find) directions to the hotel. Well. That’s ok, we thought, I know the name of the neighbourhood it’s located in – how hard could this be?? If you’re thinking “famous last words” well, you’d be right. We DID take the subway to the general area (there were three stops, however, that comprised said ‘general area’) and we did have a lovely young man try to help us. He even tried to get us a taxi, however as soon as he was out of ear shot the taxi succinctly told us that he did not, actually, know where our hotel was and shoo’ed us back on out. Ok, no big deal. So we tried again. And a third time.
Then we started walking. It couldn’t be far. The road signs were making it clear we were close at the very least. I had pulled out the trusty map on my “smartphone” – that’s right, quotations – but the stupid thing (the phone) would back out of the internet every time I tried to enlarge the map enough to see the street names. It was about this time, roughly an hour since exiting the subway station, carrying around our backpacks (ok, they were just little, but it was hot out!), that I started to swear. In earnest. If you know me, you know I do NOT like to be lost when I know whatever I am trying to find is SO freaking close. And I especially get mad when I know that a teensy little act of forethought on my own part would have prevented alllllll this. You see, I hate forgetting things. I drive myself crazy when I do. Anyways, back to the swearing. In the midst of my frustrated string of profanity, after having two more taxis tell us ‘no go’, a Korean man, clearly now sensing my level of frustration, offered his assistance. He used his smartphone, got a clearer idea of the direction we were to head and sent us on our way.
So off we headed. Again. This time, at least, we ended up wandering into the busy area of Insa-dong, which I also knew was supposed to be a stone’s throw from our hotel. I had booked it for that very reason. A little more pushing and meandering through the crowds and we saw the blessed i icon of the information booth. Cue singing angels. It took the very patient lady there some time on the internet and flipping between two maps, but she figured it out and sent us on our way. With a finger point, a big map, and explicit directions repeated three times. She was a blessing. Scant minutes later we had finally arrived at our hotel (*scroll to bottom for details on location), the Cutee Hotel. And what a huge relief at that stage to find that it was indeed quite cute. And clean. And just enough away from the action to be quiet, but close enough to be convenient. We couldn’t have picked a better spot. We just might have better sorted out where that exact spot WAS. Next time…next time…
Once we settled in and felt refreshed enough to proceed, we headed over to Itaewon, or Texas Street – home to the foreigners. It’s made out to be this amazing shopping destination with big sizes galore and it was, frankly, kind of a let down. I wanted shoes in my size! Perhaps I had dreamed a little big on that one. Anyways, we did meander and Jon found a nice shirt in his size (it’s harder for him here, than me, so that was a success) and then we found a pub with decent food and beer and a patio. It was starting to get a little dark at this point, sadly, though we hadn’t done quite what we had set out to do. No matter – we didn’t want to end up in Itaewon after dark as I have heard that sometimes certain soldiers head out looking for fights. True or not, that is not my scene (or Jon’s), so we headed back to the hotel for an early night in and big plans for the next day.
On the way there these two old guys, 82 and 85 years old we later found out, came up to us in the subway station to offer their assistance with the maze that is Seoul’s train system. One spoke perfect English, and the other spoke none. Between them they figured out how to get us to Itaewon and then, since the one man was heading in our direction, he offered to ride the subway with us all the way to make sure we got off at the right stop. Awwww. We let him escort us only as far as our transfer because I saw no need to make the sweet old man get off and have to transfer back to his train. It was kind enough for him to show us that far. Turns out he is Chinese born, Korean raised, and splits his time now between LA and Alaska but visits Korea every spring. Also, the non-English speaking man mentioned that this man (the one who escorted us) is a world-famous trombone player. He mimed it but in such a way that I feel no doubt this is what he was saying. I wish we had gotten the nice old man’s name! Anyone know of any famous trombone players that might fit that bill? Anyways, suffice to say it was adorable slowly shuffling behind our self-appointed escort through the station and hanging with him on the train. Koreans in Seoul are SO much friendlier and more likely to stop and lend a hand. It was so different from Busan!
Saturday morning dawned clear and bright so we set off in search of breakfast and then to the Hanok area. The Hanok are the old, traditional-style Korean homes, tucked into a hilly part of the city, not far from where we were staying. It turns out that they are quite the tourist draw, so there were mass crowds throughout most of the “course” and it was lined with shops and restaurants. That being said, it wasn’t bad. The houses and other buildings were themselves quite cool, and people still lived in them so certain parts of the “course” contained signs asking people to be quiet. Those areas were a little more relaxed and afforded a better view up close of the hanok. And even the crowded area was a cool crowded area, though we didn’t spend much time there. Of course this entire excursion ate up a good portion of our day because it was kind of long, it was slow-moving (hoards of Koreans up ahead), and because we got turned around/lost on more than one occasion. Ahem. Our track record for getting lost on this trip was steadily mounting. We headed back to Insa-dong for some way-below-par Indian food and landed back at our hotel for a rest and re-org.
After a rest and a shower, we determined where the Cheonggyeong Stream was (also very near our hotel) and made out in that direction. It’s supposed to be wonderful at night – all romantic and quiet, nestled below the city, and this particular weekend, replete with lovely Buddha lanterns. Buuut as we were walking, it started to rain. And rain some more. We determined that ‘soggy’ wasn’t really part of the intended romantic walk, so we headed back toward the train station and made our way for Hongdae, where we wanted to check out an old Castle that was now a brewhouse.
And we got lost. Again. Well, kinda. I got us out at the wrong stop. (I know it seems like all of these things are MY fault, but I maintain that it is because the navigation falls to me. HARUMPH!). We meandered a bit, hailed a taxi, and were deposited in Hongdae in no time. Bless those taxis. No clue what to do with an address, but give them a big ol’ neighbourhood and they’ll drop you right in the heart of it. By this time it was full on, Korea raining. You know what I mean. The drops here are huge and they come down steady for hours at a time. No light showers ’round these parts. We grabbed a couple cheap umbrellas and proceeded to ask around for directions to the castle. To no avail. For at least a half an hour. In the rain. Did I mention yet that my feet were soaked through?
If you can’t hear my exasperation, you are not listening closely. Because what had we forgotten back at the hotel? Why, directions to the castle from the subway station, of course! I mean, REALLY, did we leave our brains in Busan? It should have been a comedy of errors. We should have been giggling about it. But we were wet and both getting quite cranky if I’m going to be honest with you. I know, I know – it’s hard to picture me cranky when things are not going my way, right!? ;-D
We finally spotted that illustrious icon of the tourist information, and made our way another 10 minute walk in the rain to the Castle Praha. And it was cool. Big and a bit looming from the outside. And then just a little too bright on the inside. They were so close. IT was so close. But it kinda missed the mark. Was the chamomile-infused weizen delicious? Yes. Would I have preferred a glass of red wine that was NOT 9,000 won for a non-varietal glass. ALSO YES. YES. And would Jon have preferred music that was not JT interspersed with Beyonce and Rihanna, EXCLUSIVELY!? I think you know where I am going with this. They missed the mark. So we drank our way over-priced beers and headed back out into the worsening weather. We walked a ways and then gave up and grabbed a cab back to the hotel. It turns out we were in no mood to continue to wander aimlessly in the rain. I can’t imagine why. Sigh.
We grabbed some street food, some makali, and some beer and hung out in the hotel room watching Modern Family. Then I woke up in the middle of the night with some food poisoning (damn you, street food!) and Jon spent the night in agony with a pinched nerve. Quite. The. Pair.
The next day we slept in as best we could, wandered aimlessly trying to find a brunch spot that I had googled and that purported to be tantalizingly close to our hotel (turns out it WAS, only the directions were off (I swear), which we determined AFTER having a less-than-satisfactory brekkie at the Dunkin Donuts), attempted to find the City Bus Tour, finally found the City Bus Tour and realized it seemed kinda lame, and grabbed a cab instead to head back to Itaewon to find Jon some sandals. Which we did not. So then we headed back to Hongdae to check out the area we had missed out on the night before, found an AWESOME taco joint (the redeeming quality of the entire weekend) and then had to head for the train station.
At least getting home was easy?
You got the best of us this time, Seoul! But we will be back!
* The Cutee Hotel is actually super easy to get to. Take the blue subway line 5 directly from Seoul Station a couple of stops to Jongno3(sahm)-ga stop. Come out exit 5 and take your first left down an alley littered with love motels. The Cutee is not immediately visible from the street but will be on the right side after a few steps. The staff are all friendly and speak varying degrees of English and are much more helpful in terms of directions than many other love motels. However, the hotel’s rooms are not so soundproof as regular love motels and they are smaller as well. Nothing overly disturbed our stay, but if you’re a particularly light sleeper, the possibility exists.