Thanks so much for some of the great responses to last week’s post! In this weeks episode we’re going to be covering the second day of #SouthKorea2019 which sees our travel-weary group packing up, venturing out on public transportation, risking what we were sure to be imminent zombie attacks on our train to Busan where we battled various sea creatures and were rewarded mightily with the best hoteok in all the land.
Day two! After a night of trying to figure out the floor and water heating situations (thank goodness for those in our group who are more technically minded than me.), we began the process of getting four ladies showered, packed up and out the door. All with one bathroom and 4 cases of lingering travel weariness. Luckily, as very high on Alix’s to do list was to drink as much banana milk as she could, she and Sara readied first and graciously went out to forage food and caffeine. Luckily, again, this is South Korea, so our Airbnb was above both a coffee shop and a convenience store. Americanos and triangle kimbap for everyone!
Or at least for Leila and I., You’ll begin to see now that Americanos are going to be a big part of our trip.
Now I’ve had triangle kimbap before, every now and then when I’d visit the HMart in New York’s Ktown, they’d have them by the cashwrap, and I’d grab some. But this triangle kimbap? Flavored with what we believed was spicy tuna? So yummy. Way yummier. Instant favorite. Of course, taking them out of the packing was a MESS, and we commented it seemed that they made it look so easy on TV.
Triangle Kimbap Notes To Future Us:
- We were just opening it wrong, and I’m happy to say, by the end of the trip we were triangle kimbap master.
- Triangle Kimbap is a great, cheap, leisurely breakfast. (We’re talking like 1800 won?)
- Spicy or ‘red’ kimbap is the best.
- If you go in and purchase a convenience store’s entire stock, the man at the counter will then look at you, bemused, every other time you go in.
- Be prepared for mystery flavors! Surprise meats! And when they say mayo…it’s gonna be a lot of mayo.
- You can not properly recreate cheap convenience store kimbap at home. Sadly, I’ve tried.
- Man. I could use some triangle kimbap. Sigh.
As our train wasn’t for a couple of hours, once we were all prepared, we decided to wander the neighborhood.
Oh! Here’s an excellent opportunity to introduce you to the other members of our trip, loud, irritating members who insisted on making their presence known no matter how much we tried to hush them.
Ugh. As I’m super sexy like this, I was having some trouble with my arches and Sara graciously took me to Boulder Running Company where they tested my feet, found out I was wearing exactly the wrong type of sneakers and fitted me for a new, correct (read more expensive) pair of shoes. Unfortunately, training my feet to use them only irritated my arches more and I frantically searched the internet for a fast fix (you know what you don’t need before a trip where you’re going to be walking literal miles a day? Problems with your feet. Only SaraG’s mom can know my pain as, before her trip to Korea, broke her ankle. Yeesh) Anyway, I found some great information online and after a trip back to the running store, purchased a pair of swanky inserts (I’m getting to the point, I promise) anyway, these things worked like a charm. Downside? I squeaked. And I’m not talking tiny little mouse squeaks, nope, my shoes almost honked like a goose with every step. Sigh. But they kept me mobile, so there we went.
Back to the story.
We honked our way through the side streets of Seoul talking to kids, getting out of the way of motorbikes, smiling at the halmonies, and wondering about all of the food we were going to be able to eat. (Answer to that? We ate all of the foods. All of them.)
The weather was cool and sunny, a perfect day for wandering and photo taking but before too long, as we still needed to gather our things from the room and buy snacks for the train, we headed back.
Hauling our giant suitcases, carry-on bags and purses up the stairs of Seoul Station was…fun, but iwe were rewarded with all of the hustle and bustle of interesting people inside. Where we then became some of them. As you can see from the pictures, Sara had bright pink hair which was eye-catching, perfect not just for spotting her in the crowd if we got separated, but for catching the eye or several older gentlemen who liked to comment upon it. It was here we had our first.
We separated in order to find whatever we would want to eat later on the train, while I was tempted by the Korean McDonalds, I managed to avoid it, instead getting sandwiches for Sara and me at another chain that delighted me every time we passed, Paris Croissant. Why did it tickle me? Possibly jetlag? But really the idea that it was a possible Paris Baguette knockoff right in its own country.
SaraG managed to grab us some Coke Zeros (again, South Korea is sadly a diet soda free country) and we were on our way to find our seats on the KTX, which is the highspeed train that was going to save us from the zombies, help us meet Gong Yoo, and get us safely to Busan, the next leg of our trip.
Guys! This train is so fast! You see the countryside go by, but it’s not until you pass another train until you realize just how fast you’re bulleting across the country. One lunch and two naps later, we were there in Busan! (Upside, no zombies, downside, no Gong Yoo.)
As soon as we’re off the train, we can really tell that one of the main differences between Busan and Seoul. In Seoul, it wasn’t uncommon to see other foreigners wandering around, even in our short time. It’s not like there were a ton, but there were enough milling about that we weren’t super out of the ordinary. In Busan? We were definite oddities. Some people found us DELIGHTFUL and couldn’t either stop looking or talking about us, trying to speak to us, or trying to help us. (I’m looking at you adorable ahjussi at the 7-11 who helped me buy my transport pass.) Others were concerned when they saw us, afraid that we were going to ask questions, or expect for them to speak in English. (There’s nothing quite like that moment in a retail workers life when someone comes up to the desk trying to communicate in another language. Been there, do not envy them that.) Then there were the others, and luckily, these were very few who gave us the eye-roll or who were irritated by us.
I loved all of it. (Okay, maybe not the super old guy who literally knocked me out of the way into a wall on the sidewalk, you sir? You, I give my own side-eye.)
Anyway, we’re getting off the train, luggage in hand, and I clocked this guy on the side, probably early thirties? Picture it: We were lead by Alix (who we spent a significant portion of our time following around like little ducklings while she navigated us around), who is very tall with blond very curly hair, then we have SaraG of the pink hair, Leila with the long blond hair and smile that had strangers literally giving her presents on the street, and me. So a sight to see. I watched this guy watch each one of them pass, more and more interested (like in a hey what’s going on here way.) He was, not kidding, delighted to see us and fell in step beside me. He asked me a question a couple of times, and it took me a bit to realize what he was asking. With a smile, he asked if we were on a trip. When I said yes, he got even more excited and asked where we were going, I told him we were staying in Hongdae and with an “Ah, Dongbaek Island!” he wished us well, and we parted.
GAH! It was so much fun literally being able to see, just by us being there, a smile on this guys face. Day? Made.
From there, it got a little more complicated as we 1) needed to figure out where the subway was and 2) needed to figure out how to actually use the subway. Luckily, again we had Alix who figured out, after some searching, where the entrance was and how much of a ticket we needed to purchase as we were actually staying in Hongdae by the beaches, not Busan itself, and we needed to make a subway change and you have to pay for the length of your trip.
Tickets in hand, we were off to find the tracks. At each entryway, there were senior citizen guides to send us along to the right door. They pointed us in the way of the elevator, which was good as we had so much luggage with us. Alix was able to get on, but when the rest of us waited for the next elevator, we were joined by older people, and we gave up our spots in line. Realizing this was going to be the way, we decided to make the sacrifice to our knees and take the stairs.
That’s when we realized the old senior citizens who had directed us at the gates were also laughing at us, but that’s cool, we were a spectacle at that moment.
Cramming ourselves and our luggage onto the subway, we had seats but then gave them up for older people. There was an older man walking the cars trying to sell…back trusses? It once again reminded me of Stars Falling From the Sky when she stands up on the subway and makes her big announcement about her life. While I wanted to support the old man trying to make a living, I don’t actually need a back truss, so I didn’t.
Finally, we arrived in Hongdae and met up with the host of our AirB&B…really, our host’s husband, who was cute as a button walking us through the streets, leading us to the apartment. I’ve never actually met the host of an Airbnb before, and this guy, this couple (as we would meet the wife later) was the CUTEST. They took their business so seriously, telling us about all of the features, their certificates, and how hot they boiled the towels.
Our place was three rooms, Alix and I had the singles and Leila, and SaraG snuggled up in the master. It was high in a complex right across the street from a Home Plus and a walkable amount of blocks from the ocean. It also hosted my first real experience of the Korean beds that felt like you were sleeping on a plank of wood. No lie. So hard. That is one thing I won’t miss. After doing some quick unpacking, we turned on some TV and, flipped through, so much fun seeing actual music shows on regular tv.
Then? Smile Dong Hae was playing on the actual TV. Korea has reruns too!
We then decided to be good travelers and leave the apartment, nodding to the old man who sat at the security desk at the lobby. Making a quick decision, which wasn’t a decision at all, we decided to head to the beach! Hongdae Beach! Which, indeed was right next to Dongbaekson.
Wandering the streets, we came across a food tent village, all striped and waiting for the night’s business.
Since it was early, we promised to go back and experience it another time (spoiler alert: We actually never made it back. Bummer.) But then it was the ocean! Hongdae!
We walked the beach, and I (and my squeaky shoes) decided to go into the tourist office.
Fun information about me? I love tourist maps! You know those pamphlets you get when you go to any tourist area showing you the local sights? Those ones that are really not reliable to figure out how to get places or how far things are from each other as they are usually hand drawn and biased on what they show? I love all of them. Spend my time pouring over them every evening of the trip.
So, I attempted to sneak my way into the silent office, hoping that by tiptoeing I could minimize the squeak (turns out: BIG FAIL. Then I’m just a tall weird woman tiptoeing AND squeaking.) But for tourist maps? I was willing to risk the humiliation. Treasures in hand, I went back out to see the ladies to plan our next big plan.
Ugh. You know that moment when you don’t know the area, you’re in a larger group, and you don’t know where to eat?
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know what do you want to do?”
“We should probably eat seafood.”
“We know, but what seafood.”
“Should we Yelp?”
“Does Yelp even work here?”
And so on as we wandered down a street. Suddenly, SaraG spotted something and convinced us all to follow her. Trust in SaraG! The alley she found was filled with tiny little restaurants run by halmonies and ahjummas in their rubber gloves, boots, and quilted vests, surrounded by tanks filled with that days catch. The signs, mostly in Korean, had some English, enough for us to know some of this stuff we had NEVER even heard of before. In front of many stalls, there were women trying to lure in passers-by to her particular restaurant. It was terrific like we had stepped right into another world.
Frankly? It was a little overwhelming. Awesome. So much fun, but in terms of choosing where to eat? Mind-boggling.
Finally, we did the equivalent of closing our eyes and choosing one, saying seafood stew? Sounds good! We moved inside, to what was one of the larger restaurants of the row, not too busy so we wouldn’t be in the way, with some English on the walls and ordered our food. We chose abalone (which the closest I’d ever gotten to eating it was watching people on Kdramas eating it), the seafood stew and, of course, soju.
Come on. Don’t you think we needed to toast our successful travels?
When the food came, it was, like Korean BBQ and cooked right at our table. The seafood stew was astounding, it was a massive pot of seafood in various states of wakefulness. We were horrified, delighted, mesmerized when some of it actually did its best to escape.
(Not going to be more specific as, yeah, I don’t need that sort of shouting at me.) What I will tell you is it was delicious. Abalone really is like butter. For the 4 of us to eat a giant pot of food overflowing with seafood, a row of fresh abalone and some soju? It was about 85000 won?
Stuffed, we now decided to walk the street again, this time without the pressure of having to choose. We poked into a sock store and bought the first round of gifts, enjoyed watching the lights as day turned into night, and took pictures of our first, real, Etude House.
Aren’t they darling?
Though I said we were stuffed to our own gills with gills, we could not help but stop at a woman who was making hoteok in a street stall and had to try it. You could get two different flavors, brown sugar or seed and honey. We, of course, got both. (How else are you going to be able to best judge what is the better option. We’re travelers, isn’t it our job, nay, OUR DUTY, to try everything and report back?) She made each pocket of dough by hand, grabbing some dough, turning them into balls, inserting the flavoring. As she’s probably done this for years, she did it all with her own fingers, the hot oil apparently not even phasing her.
Soon, the wait was over. These hot little packages of dough were bagged and put in our hands. Though we saw that they had just come out of the boiling oil, we couldn’t resist and bit in right away, scalding our mouths, but we didn’t care, we couldn’t, not with the hot desert melting in our mouths. It was AMAZING.
I feel like I’ve said that a lot this post and I’m sure I’ll use it in others, but there was just no other way to describe it, and unfortunately, it was something we were never able to recreate. While there were other street vendors who sold it, while we tried making them at home, tried buying frozen ones in the store, it just wasn’t the same as this tiny booth at the back of a tiny alley tucked away off a side street on Hongdae Beach. If I could, I’d go back just for those.
As it was early days and jet lag made us weary, we knew we needed to make our way back to the apartment. We had a big day tomorrow. I had pamphlets and maps to go through. Why? Because tomorrow was my going to be my first solo trek in Korea.
Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next week for day three, Stephanie’s Solo Adventure.