Wednesday, August 20, 2014

All Around Seoul

Most of Kristine’s and my days were spent relaxing at home and just chatting with each other. I saw a lot of things, but I think you could spend 2-3 months in Seoul going to a museum a day and not run out of things to do. I highly recommend going, but you might want to go with a guide, as it was extremely difficult to figure my way around (mostly when I wanted to eat) without someone who spoke/understood Korean. As my first time in Asia, (check that off bucket list!) it was a good introduction. I, of course, still want to explore more!
a view from the top of a hill.

IPark Mall

Ginormous mall, complete with cinema. We spent our first day out here exploring and going to a movie. And trying not to drown in the down pour. We ate at California Pizza kitchen and starbucks (they are as prevalent here are they are in America). It was fun to wander around and try to figure out how to get to places, the movie theater opens before the rest of the mall, but here not every shop has their own door, so we kept wandering in different stores to be kicked out trying to find the movie theater. We watched Magic in the Moonlight, it was cute and fun.

National War Museum (Aug 24th)

This place was amazing. It is three floors of exhibits and free to go to. There are also outside planes and tanks and things to go in/climb on.

Inside it had royal history/time of fighting between the different dynasties, the Korean War, UN peacekeeping missions, and futuristic war.

My Pap-Paw fought in the Korean War, so it was special to see the way they represented the war. What came across the most was how thankful they were for the UN’s support against the North/Communists. I didn’t know a lot about the war, but it was tastefully done. However, someone was happy to play with the special effects and they had a lot of different video/animated things to watch. They had a whole room dedicated to uniforms and information about the UN countries that helped.
The Drop- dogtags of everyone who died in the war.

However, they did like to proselytize/propagandize the history and make the North out to be devils that had no consciousness. An example: the north tried to unscrupulously gain a better position for negotiations, while the UN troops honorably held unto their positions.” We were supposed to be able to go to two museums this day, but I was so entranced that kept us to just visiting this one!
In case you wanted to know what would happen if a nuke was dropped on Seoul (as big as the one that hit Hiroshima. Hint: it's not pretty. 

Gyeongbokgung (August 26th)
 This was the 1st palace to be built in the Joseon Period (one of the ruling families). It is almost entirely rebuilt since the Japanese and the North Koreans destroyed it during their occupations, but it has been beautifully rebuilt as a tourist destination. To call it a palace requires a re-thinking of our western ideas. It is one one building, but rather a series of smaller building spread throughout. They also had the Korean Folk Museum here (I think you can get to it without going through the palace, but I’m not sure). It was interesting to see the stuff they had, and free to get into. According to Lonely Planet “It has three main exhibition halls covering the history of the Korean people, the agricultural way of life and the life of yangban (upper class) during the Joseon era.”

 They had a “pantry” of sauces that was outside, and back in the day, they had special servants whose sole job was to make sauce. That was it. We also got to see the changing of the guards, which was interesting. I feel sorry for them though, they wear period dress, and it was HOT!

National Museum of Korea (August 27th)

Shows of Korea’s national treasures from ancient prehistory to ceramics to donated goods. It took me almost 2 hours to walk it all, including a snack break at one of the not overpriced cafes! It was interesting, and some of the things were beautiful, but not knowing the history of Korea, it was a little difficult to follow. About ½ way through I figured out you could get an audio guide…

Itaewon (almost every day we went out)

Shopping and food district. They had lots of American food places as well as other ethnic food. We just wandered around here a few times/on our way home.

Namsang Tower (August 28th)

This is a great place to get panoramas of Seoul, if you can see past the smog from China. (thanks environmental externatilities!) There is a Coldstone and a few not over priced restaurants. If you spend $20 to go up to the observatory deck, it rotates as do three overpriced restaurants.

We saw a “flash mob” proposal to that “I’m bored so lets get married” song. It was cute, the girl was crying when she figured it out. He gave her a bunch of shoes, which none of us understood. But if you find a random Korean youtube video (cuz they were taping it) where the girl is in a blue dress with a white top, I’ll be in the background!

Shopping Street (unknown name)

Kristine and I went to a shopping street once to just go shopping and ended up finding a Cat Café. Where there are about 20 cats just wandering around the place and you drink coffee. It was interesting and I got my cat fill (hopefully enough to last until I get my kitty in December). All of us also went here on 8/20 for dinner (street food) and wandering.

Eating and Drinking

After the war museum Kristine and I met up with Hyun and a few of his friends from work to drink magkoli, or Korean Rice Wine. It was yummy! We only had the flavored ones there, I had a wine flavored one! It was in a gigantic goblet, totally full.

A few times we went to Mister Pizza, a pizza chain, that has REAL pizza!

Once we went to a Korean drinking place, where you mostly drink and eat anju or side dishes for drinking. I’m not sure what exactly they ate, because Korean food is not conducive to being a vegetarian. But I had a yummy salad and soju cocktail. I know this might be sacrilegious, but soju tasted like quality vodka to me. Loved the cocktail though- it was kiwi flavored.  

Another time, we ate street food and I had bimbop (sp?) which was fried veggies and egg and rice. It was yummy! I’m not exactly sure what I was eating, but the waitress assured Hyun it was vegetarian so I ate it. Trust I say. Trust. (Aug 20th)

I even got to go to the 4th best restaurant in Seoul- Gusto’s Tacos (but I went to the one on base). They had tofu tacos and are run by a couple from NY. They are a bit spicy. (I say a bit because my mouth was on fire, but normal people have a better spice tolerance than I do.)

Hyun hosted 2 North Korean high school students as part of an Embassy program for the night, and we went and got Baskin Robbins. Pretty sure they didn’t have 31 flavors there, but they had a lot!

Amigos Tacos- they made mushrooms taste yummy! Hard to believe. This was the 2nd day I was in town- and needed Mexican food after dropping my passport off at the Visa Center for Russia.

I even got falafels one day! And they spoiled me with American food that they can get on base. J J

See you around the globe!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Getting to South Korea from Siberia

Getting to the airport in Irkutsk gets special mention, because I was able to arrange it myself, because the lady who works at the uni was on vacation w/o notification. But I did it!!

Also, they tell you to arrive 2 hours early, but the desks didn’t open until under 2 hours. However, the airport has free wifi! Just so you know, you check in on the first floor, go up to the second, enter a door, behind what looks like a desk, go through security (where as long as you drink from the water you forgot to dump, you can pass with your own bottle full), and wait for the bus to take you to your plane.

The 3 hour flight to Kharborvosk was fine, they even fed us! I got a salad, cabbage rolls, and bread. Because you know, vegan is apparently easier than vegetarian food for Aeroflot. It was yummy, and I got some sleep, but not much.

Now, Kharborvosk, that was …interesting. I was able to exit and get my luggage just fine (because apparently checking your bags through to your final destination when you only have one ticket is a foreign concept). But then to find the departure hall?

Oh you want to go from a domestic to foreign flight? That’s a half a mile walk around construction pulling your bags and then when you get there it is basically closed. But the nice security people let you in. (Oh I forgot to mention- you now have to scan all of your bags to get into the airport, assuming it is because of the airport bombing in Moscow a few years back).

Then they opened the door up, you went through a mini customs/where they scanned your bag and passport, then got to check in and get your tickets, then through customs, then through the traditional airport security. But then there was wifi and seating while you waited for your plane. Or in this case went into duty free to buy your hosts in SoKo a gift.

The plane ride to Seoul was uneventful, in its 3 hour glory or continued little sleep. I actually feel asleep just waiting for the food to come. But the flight attendant was nice enough to wake me up to get the food (the EXACT same thing as earlier in the day).

Seoul’s airport is MASSIVE. There is a train connecting the two parts of it. And customs was fun. Beucae they wanted a bunch of info (like where are you staying) that I didn’t have memorized…but they did have wifi! Note to readers…get a buggy cart to walk to the metro. It is a long walk.

But after asking a bunch of people I was able to find the metro/buy a ticket/find the train (thanks old woman who knew I looked lost!).

Kristine even met me at the transfer station so that I didn’t get totally lost trying to find their house/get on to base. We just relaxed and chatted until Hyun got home and ate dinner. Since SoKo doesn’t follow daylight savings time, we were on the same time zone as Irkutsk. Made “adjusting” easier, although it does get dark sooner there than in Irkutsk.

See you around the globe!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Excursions in Irkutsk

Kazan Catherdral

Hayley and I decided to go find this beautiful Orthodox Church that we had seen a picture of and drove by on our way to Olkhon Island. It was worth the walk, and if you like looking at beautiful paintings of a church motif, I recommend you to go here. Plus, you get your exercise.

Art Museum

This surprisingly well done museum (it looks run down from the outside/first entry), hosts two floors of art. I didn’t recognize any of the names, but it was beautifully done. They had a lot of portraits of Tsars and Tsarinas, more than I was expecting of Siberia. Also some far eastern art and a few (very few) modern art pieces. I essentially had the museum to myself, which made it nice to walk around and just enjoy.
Random statue garden had these little monkeys

See you around the globe!