Day Six. It seems as though all these stories have been in preparation for this post. As looking back on all of our memories of this trip have been qualified by this day. It’s one of those moments you make plans for, the just in case that you hope will never actually happen.
This being said, though what happened affected our trip, it’s not my story to tell and, as I’m not going to use what happened as a cliffhanger, we’re going to start by saying our friend and fellow traveler, Alix, received a call that there was a family emergency and she needed to get back home. Unfortunately, in a blow of even more terrible timing, the US was about to be hit by a series of terrible storms, wreaking havoc with travel plans, so it was advised she wait it out. Which meant, on the upside, we were able to keep her a bit longer and began cramming our days with as many things from her wishlist as possible.
Alix gave us the okay to say it happened, everything is okay now, and now we say whew, and move on.
Also: Buy travel insurance. SERIOUSLY.
So let’s get back to our story. It’s our last moments in Busan, but we weren’t done with the tourism yet! Nope, we still had a trip to the Seaside temple another trek to Haeundae Beach, and finally, a certain bakery that had been taunting Alix and Leila our entire stay needed to be dominated.
We made arrangements with our continually delightful Airbnb host to leave our luggage past the checkout time, packed all of our important goods…
And checked again the checklist that had become a chant or mantra during our time there. Egg. Wallet. Phone. Passport.
Check. Check. Check. Check.
After one last breakfast of kimbap and a pop off at the convenience store for more milk, looking like I had finally settled in with my capri sweatpants and house shoes:
They were playing Mino’s Fiance, my then-current JAM, BISHES and I found this Inkygayo sandwich replica. Hilarious. Now I wish I’d tried it.
We hopped a taxi (Alix communicating with the driver, Naver map in hand) and headed off to Haedong Yonggungsa, Busan’s seaside temple that had found its way onto both Alix and my wishlist. I can’t say I remember much about the trip except to say I found this sticker I saw on the door of the taxi weirdly funny. What can I say? At this time, we were all pretty tired and, frankly, happy to be off our feet.
The taxi driver dropped us off at the entryway, which was a long string of booths on either side of a long street/pathway. As we were there so early (no lazing around in bed as we 1) had things to do and 2) these beds were not the sort you’d lie back think, “I’m going to just get cozy and hang here all comfy like,” no they were more the “Ouch, Ouch! Stop hurting me!” sort.) I don’t think we got to experience the welcoming act as, well, they were all still home pretending to be comfy in their beds.
Which reminds me, let me tell you something we realized while we were there. Unless you’re looking for a convenience store or possibly a coffee shop, Korea isn’t really an early to bed, early to rise sort of place… it’s quite the opposite.
Once we passed all the booths that would eventually sell food and trinkets, there was a long line of zodiac figure statues which heralded the beginning of the real pathway towards the temple as, little did we know, the temple was only part of the experience of this extensive property.
From the Zodiac statues, we walked further and further into the woods, through pathways, and down staircases, each level giving way to some shrine or statue.
As it was so early, there weren’t many other people there, so the morning was sunny, bright and very quiet.
Soon we emerged from the woods, and there it was, the sea, surrounded by rocky outcroppings, beautiful even without the religious iconography.
But with it? The whole place seemed unreal, almost like we stepped right into a movie. Here we mostly split up, scattering again, off in separate directions, meeting up at different points, asking “Did you see this?”, “Did you get to that?”, before pinballing off again.
It was another one of those temples were everywhere you looked, every nook and cranny filled with something new and interesting.
Carvings in doorways, statues at fountains, these giant pigs…whatever they are.
When I was done my investigating, I was determined to get to those bell-shaped rock formations in the back, figuring, if I looked hard enough, I’d find the corner, the hidden doorway that would lead there, unfortunately, even with the assistance of SaraG who also wanted to leave no stone unturned, no site unvisited., we were unsuccessful. Stepping backward, we saw what looked like a hiking trail from above the temple site, leading down to them. Hmmm… more feet work? Did we have it in us to go off-roading, exploring parts unknown?
Heck yeah, we did!
Sadly though? We hiked up the side of a mountain, down through another side, through the bushes, found the trail, and learned it had been intentionally blocked off ages ago. Though my sneakers no longer squeaked, so we’d be able to get through completely undetected (or as undetected as tall foreigners, one with very pink hair could possibly be) we decided trespassing wasn’t our crime of choice.
Nah, I’ll save that for the possible shoplifting I did later.
Admitting defeat, we climbed back down and met up with Leila, who had smartly said “Stairs to nowhere? Hard pass on that, homies.”
Checking the time we made our way back to the entryway, checking out more of the penned vendor, and this giant mailbox.
While I’d been worried about how we were going to get back, turns out with the morning getting later, and the site becoming more populated, there was a line of taxis waiting to pick up. Easy!
Arriving back to our original drop off stop, we immediately hit the bakery that was one of those things that you saw, walked by and said, “Later! We’re totally doing that later!” and for once we actually did. (Sorry to the Pizza School that was in our very own building with its crazy-looking Korean pizzas that we never actually got to. You looked crazy Pizza School. Maybe next time.) My favorite thing about this bakery was this big piece of bread that I bought that was a dark brown and was called Okinawa Bread. It was savory and sweet, reminding me of Brown Bread? (Brown Bread might be a New England thing. It comes in a can, with or without raisins, you slice and warm, usually eating on nights where you make baked beans. Do you know it?) Anyway. I loved it and no lie, unfortunately, ate the whole thing right there. Unfortunately, not because of the calories as I’m on vacation, who cares about calories, no, I to this day regret I didn’t get more of that bread as, despite my hunting, I never found it again.
We decided to sit outside in the sun, eating our pastries. This is where we got the aforementioned news, and suddenly, pastries? Not as fun. I only mention this as I HAVE to tell you this story. We’re there sitting, caught up in what’s going on, inhaling Okinawa Bread (I EAT FEELINGS, IT’S A THING.) and this old guy just kept circling our table. At any other time, we would have been delighted that he found us so fascinating, but now we’re like, ummm read a room, sir. He kept trying to talk to us, asking us if we were from Russia (we got this a lot), and when we told him we were Miguk-saram, (American person), he got really excited, circling telling us he’d been to the US. Twice. (That was his emphasis.) To LA. It was so-freaking-cute. Eventually, his kids came out of the bakery and herded him away, giving us the universal ‘parents’ eye-roll.
Again. So cute.
Not sure what to do from there, we just walked, retracing our steps from the first day — seeing the beach, passing the aquarium, the street where we’d eaten — just wandering until it got closer to the time to leave. We’d originally planned on taking public transit back towards the station in Busan but just didn’t have it in us. A quick call to our Airbnb hostess and she was more than happy to get us one of the big taxis to take us back to the station. Seriously, this woman was so kind and just wanted to do for us while we were there. I think at the end of the series I’m going to put links as to the places we stayed and the tours we took. If you go to Haeundae, you totally should stay here for the hospitality alone.
Our ride back to the station was fast and quiet. I got to sit up front, which was, an experience. All the things you hear about Korean traffic and driving is pretty accurate. I didn’t even tell you about the bus I was on that TOOK A U-TURN. Yes. A bus!
With time to kill before our train away from Busan, we circled the station, figuring out we had plenty of time for some sit-down food. In Kdramas if anything bad happens? You’re sick? (Which both of which were true for our trip.) What do you do? Eat porridge, of course! We found a porridge restaurant and ate our weight. Mine was spicy seafood, and it was carby and delicious.
With one last Busan Americano for Lelia and I, we were on our way back to Seoul!
Bye Busan, it was nice to have known you.
In the blink of an eye, (probably because I napped) we were back in Seoul.
Hello Seoul, I’m looking forward to officially meeting you.
For our second leg of the trip, we decided to stay in Hongdae. Yes, Hongdae! It was something we could all agree on (not that you had to twist anyone’s arms) was close to the subway, and, as it was close to the universities and a very young popular neighborhood, we’d always be able to get there via public transport or taxi — a very important detail for the active traveler.
As we were now four women with a large number of suitcases during rush hour, we didn’t want to work our way through the subway system; we decided to take a taxi. Unfortunately, that meant two taxis due to said amount of women and said amount of luggage. Alix made sure we all had the address to the new Airbnb and got in the taxi line. Unfortunately? No one wanted to pick us up! After a few tries, we were able to get SaraG and Leila off on a taxi, leaving Alix and me in our attempt. They’d gesture that they couldn’t take the luggage and take the next person in line. It happened a few times before there was a businessman behind us. When the next taxi refused to take us, he turned to us and asked, “Are you not going?” When we explained, he shook his head and bent over into the taxi’s window and said, “Ahjussi!” sternly, before gesturing for us to get into the cab. Turns out? They are not supposed to do that! Thanks, Business Man!
We were speeding off towards Hongdae, when Alix and I realized we made a mistake, putting Sara and Leila, our two most directionally challenged companions, Sara without an egg and Leila who only turned hers on when she wanted to use it, together in a cab. Realizing I was going to have to take over leading the group to where we wanted to go once Alix left, I finally gave up on Google and downloaded Naver maps. Which, yes, is very handy. It gives the same sort of directions that I do, “Hey, you’re going to walk until you see a 7-11 on the left, turn there and walk until you see a red house.” Makes sense to me!
Our next Airbnb host was meeting us at the house, and the taxi weaved its way up hills through a maze of streets we realized we were going to have to learn in order not to be hopelessly lost every time we left the house. Jason, our host, was nice, he made a point to tell us that he actually lived in Gangnam, but he worked here in Hongdae. (I wonder if he knew we knew he was flexing.) The house was a good size, this time we broke up with Alix and Sara in a room, Leila and I each in our own.
What does one do when they first arrive in Hongdae? Go out and see buskers of course! Or. Stop for meat? And my obligatory stop at the tourist center to collect my week’s worth of maps? (They had life-sized cut-outs of BTS next to the door. Did I take a picture with them? Come on; I have more pride than that! … LAUGH, no, I don’t. But you’ll have to wait for my last day to see that pic!)
As this was part of the trip where SaraG and Alix had already been to the area on their previous trip, they wanted to take us to a BBQ place they’d been to before with cute waiters and hot meat. We found it. They had both. Also? Corn cheese. Hot meat dipped in hot melted cheese? Sure, why not?
This is where I’m going to step in to give you two bits of very important information.
Seoul was cold. I thought I had been cold in Busan? Nope. Seoul was puffy coat and hat weather. I had a hat. I had a denim jacket and an overcoat that had no padding to it. I was cold. So I was also determined for the next part of our trip to 1) buy a cheap puffy coat or 2) buy as many hot packs as would fit in my bra….more on that later.
Second? I’m not much of a drinker. There’s a lot I just don’t like the taste of and just didn’t feel the need to cultivate the habit. Back in New Hampshire, I drank zero, much to the consternation to my friends, The McFeeley’s, who tried to lure me into drinking by making me martinis in tiny, tiny glasses.. Now in Colorado, I drink a little more frequently and if a giggling, leaning slightly to the side Stephanie was going to make a friend who needs it laugh?
The streets of Hongdae are pretty intense, packed with people, with shops, both corporate and smaller stalls. As it was right by several universities, the area skews young. We wandered the streets and alleys, someone always on Tipsy Stephanie duty. We looked at jewelry booths, drooled over the food booths, popped into a few of the makeup shops. Feeling bold, I stopped by a puffy coat stall, I looked through the offerings, hoping they had something in my size, hoping I’d find it before the ahjumma who ran the stall noticed me.
Not so lucky.
She spotted Tipsy Stephanie, and Tipsy Stephanie’s laughing friends allowed her to be hauled closer to the doorway where the lady eyeballed me before searching her stock. I tried on one, looking at myself in the mirror. Sure. It zipped — because it was HUGE, and the quilted puff went almost down to my feet. Sorry. I might be cold. I might be tipsy. But I also worked very hard before Korea to lose 20 pounds and I wasn’t going to cover that up with a jacket that made me look like I was walking around in a sleeping bag. Shaking my head, I struggled to take it off; Tipsy Stephanie is not the most coordinated version of Stephanie out there.
That’s when it happened. Thank goodness Tipsy Stephanie was in charge because if Sober Stephanie had had to live through this, she would have died. What happened? The ahjumma stripped off the coat and then PATTED DOWN MY BELLY — like a full-on pat-down. I’d been flagged by security for something in my bra area and didn’t receive as through a pat-down as I did here.
“Maybe you don’t wear coat.” She said, gesturing to the hoody I wore under my jacket.
Hello Sober Stephanie, welcome back. Maybe you shouldn’t let Tipsy Stephanie make any more decisions for you.
We all escaped, deciding, as one does, something like this requires desert to sooth those rough edges. Wandering the streets, we found an upstairs dessert/coffee place and settled in. By settling in, I mean we ate patbingsu and chocolate ice cream toast-uh. It was all sorts of sugary-yum.
I can’t say it was the best day, but I can say the levels of what people can process and still move forward? Is astounding. I’m still sad to see Busan go, it was a really special experience, one I would definitely not only recommend as there is more to South Korean than Seoul, but if given a chance, I’d go again in an instant…and not just to find that lady who made us what I now know are the best hotteok in all the land. As I mentioned before, I had been hesitant to do Busan first, thinking it would be anti-climactic after all these years of wanting to go. When you think South Korea, you think Seoul, but there’s so much more, my friend!
Plus! I didn’t even get to talk about hearing the Busan accent in person! It was everything you want it to be.
If I’m light on details…or pics, apparently Tipsy Stephanie doesn’t take pictures. She does, however, send texts, much to the delight of one Jami McFeeley. Since it’s been a long day, since if you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably read the other posts, and that, my friend, deserves a reward.
Now you, my friend, sleep well and dream of soju. Or you can check out the newest photo gallery from today’s post.