Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Seven Hours in Seoul

You know the travel piece the NY Times does, called “48 Hours in City XXXX”? Well, during our layover in South Korea on our way to the Philippines, Drew and I lived it up for “Seven Hours in Seoul.” Our flight from Narita, Japan landed at 10pm; our next flight departed at 9am. Normal people might use this short window of time to get an airport hotel, rest up, and take a shower—but not us. We dropped our bags at a nearby motel and hopped on a futuristic-looking above-ground rail headed towards downtown Seoul. A brief scan of travel articles before landing had convinced us to head towards the Hongdae district, where one of Seoul’s main universities is located. We figured that we could count on college students to provide us with a quick dose of late-night eating, drinking and local color. Hongdae did not let us down, and after walking down a very stinky smelling main thoroughfare, we soon found ourselves amidst bright lights, rows of food stands selling everything from meat skewers to fried dough and egg balls, and hordes of people. As we wandered around, looking for a place to sample various Korean delicacies, I noticed lots of funny (both funny haha and funny weird) things. A truck selling oversized stuffed animals. A stand where a man with a sad-looking enormous furry dog sitting on the asphalt let you take pictures—for a price. Heaps of garbage piled up. (Drew took a picture of me next to that for free.) Korean street buskers crooning American-style ballads. More hanging ventilators than I have ever seen (these were attached to do-it-yourself hissing barbeque grills at the dozens of Korean BBQ cafes we walked past). Drunk people crumpled on the side of the street (ok this part not so unusual for any college district). There were lots of little restaurants and cafes to choose from, and we picked one on the second floor of a building with hanging lights and a fun atmosphere. The menu was in Korean, but there were pictures, so we basically pointed at things that looked tasty (or remotely recognizable) and waited for some kind of edible treats to arrive. First came a bottle of the local rice wine, a milky-colored slightly sweet beverage not entirely dissimilar from sake. It was decanted, poured into a ceramic vase of sorts, and then left for us to fill our little porcelain cups—repeatedly. The first dish arrived, and while I don’t remember its Korean name, it was basically a rolled up Asian-flavored omelet. It was delicious—soft eggy egg, peppered with green onions, garlic and other spices as well as a small amount of cheese, and then topped with fish roe and aioli. We were given a small dish of pickled black beans (tangy and delicious) and some spicy peppers that Drew advised me to stay away from. We gobbled up the omelet, and then dug into our savory ‘pancake’—full of umami flavor and packed with some kind of greens resembling chard. By that point we were too full and tired to sample Korean BBQ at the place next door (our initial plan)—an outcome that I think Drew may regret (though not as much as the debacle our last day in Tokyo that I have termed The Great Sushi Disaster, the topic of another entry). I felt okay about it, especially since my apartment basically sits on top of Oakland’s Koreatown (yeah yeah, not the same but whatever, delicious grilled meat is delicious grilled meat). We headed back to our motel, caught about three hours of sleep before rousing ourselves to perhaps the most painful alarm wake-up call of my life. We did get our seven hours in Seoul though, and who knows when we’ll be back—so I think it was well worth it. If you’re going: Where to stay: In Incheon, the Sky Hotel is very clean, has nice big shower, an unfortunately hard bed, and is a great value ($25-30/double). There is a person at the front desk all night. Where to eat: I don’t know the name of the place we ate. But just wander around Hongdae and you’ll find a plethora of tasty spots. If I went again, I would also be sure to sample more street food as it looked amazeballs. Transport : The subway is very convenient, has signs in English, and can get you straight from Incheon to downtown Seoul. However it closes around midnight, which means if you have a late night out as we did, you have to cab it back (around $60).

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