Christmas Abroad: Seoul, South Korea

Yay!!!! I am finally back with another post. It’s a good thing this isn’t my full time job, or else I would be fired by now.  Also, I am not a fan of proof-reading by the time I finish these posts, so sorry not sorry if there are some errors. For those of you who know me, you may already be aware that I just recently relocated to South Korea in October, where I will be stationed for a year. As someone who is a fan of travel, this is a very exciting opportunity for me and I am looking forward to sharing my experiences with you. Hopefully, if South Korea was not on your travel bucket list, it will be after reading this blog and more blogs that are to follow it.

Although, I have been in South Korea since mid-October, I have not had an opportunity to spend a significant amount of time exploring Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. I also live about three hours away so, its not like I can just pop into Seoul whenever I want to. But, I had a four day weekend for the Christmas holiday and I was meeting a friend of mine from the ClexaCon event I went to back in March.

On Thursday, I took the train to embark on the first part of my journey to Pyeongtaek. I have some friends that I was meeting up with who are stationed in that area. We hit up a really cool Vietnamese buffet which actually had a huge variety of different foods. A buffet like that is nice, because if you are not as adventurous with different cuisines you can try some different things out and if you do not like it you can always resort to your safety food choices. After we finished up dinner, we made our way to the commissary to purchase the items we needed for our Pinterest dessert project. We ended up making these shot “glasses” made out of chocolate chip cookies coated with melted chocolate chips. The original recipe calls for the shot concoction to consist of Bailey’s Irish Cream and milk. However, we could not find any Baileys, so we had to improvise with Rum Chata, Kahlua, and Butterscotch schnapps. I will put pictures and a link to the recipe below, but just know that it was delicious and I highly recommend it.

http://www.delish.com/cooking/videos/a50497/how-to-make-milk-cookies-shots-video/

On Friday morning, I had originally planned on hitting the gym before hitting the train to Seoul, but needless to say that did not happen. So I was on the train to Seoul around noon. The train system in South Korea is honestly so user friendly. Everything is in both Korean and English, so it is easy to get a ticket and find the track that your train is departing from. It is about a 45-55 minute train ride from Pyeongtaek to Seoul Station. Once I got off the Korail train, I made my way to the Subway which is also very user friendly. I recommend getting a T-Money card from a local convenience store so that you can reload it as much as you want and use it for all of the various types of public transit in Seoul. I took two different lines in order to get to the hostel we were staying at near the Itaewon station, G Guesthouse Itaewon.

I met up with my friend V, who was hitting up South Korea as the last leg of her epic trip to Oceania and Asia. Since our room was still being cleaned, we naturally decided that priority number one was getting food. I am really obsessed with Turkish kebobs, so we went to a popular Turkish restaurant which was only a few minutes away from where we were staying. We ordered a platter meant for two people to share, but honestly there was enough to feed three to four people. The name of the restaurant was Kervan Turkish Restaurant in case you ever find yourself craving some good Turkish food while visiting Seoul.

Kervan Turkish Restaurant in Itaewon

After stuffing our faces, we pow-wowed over what we wanted to do with the rest of our day. We really wanted to see Pitch Perfect 3, but unfortunately it was not playing in the Korean movie theaters. So we settled on going to see Star War: The Last Jedi. It was my second time seeing, but V’s first time. South Korean movie theaters are really nice and the main theater company I have been to is CGV. The CGV theaters play a lot of main stream American movies in English with Korean subtitles and they offer showings in IMAX and 4D if you prefer those type of movie experiences. Also, movie theater tickets and concession food is much more affordable. The CGV at Yongson Station was even nicer to the one that I have been to in Daegu. This theater had special setups for different movies that allowed for cool photography opportunities, in addition to a cool merchandise shop. After the movie, we headed back to Itaewon for something I was so excited for…tacos! A friend had recommended a place called Vatos Tacos to me and I had been really eager to go because this girl has really missed some good quality tacos. Not only did Vatos Tacos have some pretty good tacos, but they had a really cool variety of Coronarita drinks, different beers/ciders paired with a margarita. Definitely, try this place out if you are ever in Itaewon.

On Saturday, the goal was to visit the two main historical palaces in Seoul because it was going to be the warmest day of the whole trip. Before we headed to the palaces, we checked out a coffee place in Itaewon, called Marley’s Coffee. This coffee shop is part of a chain started by Bob Marley’s son, Rohan Marley, and there are several locations across the globe. Once we were properly caffeinated,  we made our way to the first palace called, Gyeongbokgung Palace. We really lucked out with the weather because it was warm enough to where you did not need to where a big jacket or a hat and gloves. The admission is really cheap, only 3,000 won which is less than $3 USD. The grounds are massive and they offer free tours in different languages throughout the day. Even though it is winter time, I can tell that the grounds must be absolutely gorgeous in the warmer months, so my goal is to go back when everything is in bloom this spring.

Once we saw everything we wanted to see at Gyeongbokgung Palace, we started to mosey our way towards the next palace with the hope of finding a tasty place to grab lunch. We were definitely successful because we stumbled upon a Japanese restaurant called, Butakatsu. The menu was not is English, but the photographs spoke for themselves. I ordered a dish that had rices topped with small pieces of deep fried chicken coated with several sauces that you typically get with sushi. I have no clue what it was called, but it was extremely tasty.  When we left, they gave us an complimentary tumbler mug. I don’t know about you, but I love getting free stuff, especially if it is something practical.

Butakatsu: Urban Japanese Dining

After lunch we made our way to the second palace of the day, Changdeokgung Palace. Just like the one before, admission was 3,000 won. Once again, the palace grounds were much larger than I imagined, especially since it is located directly in Seoul. It was very neat to see the modern city that Seoul has developed into mixed among these historical palaces from South Korea’s rich cultural past. Like I said before, I am excited to return when the gardens have blossomed.

After getting our fill of beautiful palaces, we hit the subway to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. When we exited the subway station we were immediately surrounded by cool exhibitions about the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. There was a small ice rink open to the public, you could pose with the official Olympic mascots, and look at a 3D replica of some of the venues where Olympic athletes from all over the world will be competing. When we made our way out of the exhibition, we stumbled upon what seemed like a political rally/parade, but I honestly cannot be sure because I cannot speak or read Korean. But there were a lot of people.

The main reason V and I were in Dongdaemun that evening was to meet up with a friend  for some good old Korean style BBQ. Our friend is also queer and has been teaching English in the Seoul area for the past few years, making her a veteran and somewhat local expert. The restaurant was a cozy little spot not too far from the main plaza and the meat was all you can eat. So we had plenty of grapefruit flavored soju, a Korean rice based alcohol, pork cutlet, and good conversation. Also, just a friendly tip, if you ever try soju, be aware that it can really sneak up on you if you are not careful. Especially, if you drink flavored soju, because it goes down really smooth and it does not taste like alcohol.

“I don’t know what to do with my hands.” #awkward

On Sunday, we ran out of luck with good weather. The daily temperature high was degrees lower than the day before and it was raining pretty hard. However, that did not stop us from searching for a hearty breakfast. After initially getting followed around by a creepy foreigner guy (which is something that has never happened to me while traveling before, but he eventually left us alone when we confronted him about it), we found a 24 hour diner, albeit a fancy diner that has palm trees inside and those cozy propane fire heaters. In case you ever want to check it out, it is called Richard Copycat. The food was pretty good and it was not terribly priced for the portions they served.

Due to the rainy weather, we were prepared to hit up some museums in order to stay out of the elements. Also, we had our eye on hitting up a cafe with a quirky theme, which are very common in Seoul. We made our way back to the area where we visited the palaces the day before because we wanted to check out the Arario Museum which had a neon sign with a quote that had caught our eye the day before. I think admission was only 10,000-12,000 won, which was not bad at all. Some of the pieces in the exhibition were way over my head, but it was definitely different from most museums that I typically go to.

Once we finished up at the museum, we decided to find a cafe that was a close walk from where we were located. This cafe had a poop theme, yes I did say poop. The cafe was located on the top floor of this cute outdoor shopping courtyard. At the bottom, there was a stand that sold poop shaped pancakes with different filling options. I got one with a chocolate filling, who knew poop could be so tasty? We explored some of the shops, before we finally made it into the actual cafe. The cafe is decked out with everything poop related. There were lots of decorative poop emoji shaped pillows and certain drinks were served in a huge toilet bowl mug. Unfortunately, I did not know that when I ordered, so I got a plain old mug. The coffee was really good, so know that you are getting a fun light-hearted poop themed cafe paired with delicious coffee.

“Is that poop or chocolate?” -Baby Mama

While we were hiding out from the gloomy weather in the cafe, both V and I were plotting to jump ship from our hostel. The hostel was not bad, but we were in a co-ed room and our all-male roommates were not ideal. We were definitely operating on different schedules then they were. Plus, the weather really put a damper on the adventure mentality. So we were prepared to book a hotel room so we could just jam out to some music and watch movies. But before we booked one, our friend we had dinner with the night before offered to let us stay at her place while she was away visiting some friends. So we jumped on the opportunity to leave the dorm life behind! We ordered pizza and Taylor Swift’s new album, Reputation, was the soundtrack to our Meredith Grey and Christina Yang-style dance party (for those of you who watch Grey’s Anatomy, you know exactly what I am talking about.). The moral of this part of the story is that, sometimes its not the destination that makes a trip, but the company you keep. I am a firm believer, that with the right friends, the “quiet” nights spent inside with music, movies, junk food, and wine or soju can be some of the best nights.

Moving on to Monday, we packed all of our stuff and made our way to the Hilton Seoul Millennium, which is centrally located in Seoul. My friend V was going to be in Seoul for a few more days and had a discounted rate at the Hilton. It worked out nicely for me, because it was only a five minute walk to Seoul Station, where I would be catching the KTX train for the first time. The KTX has a faster travel time than the regular Korail trains. When we walked into the Hilton, it felt like we found Christmas in Seoul. Do not get me wrong, South Korea had more decorations than I had initially expected, but the Hilton was decked out with a huge tree and for a second I forgot that I was abroad for Christmas. Once V finished checking in, we dropped off our bags and headed to the buffet lunch decked out in our Christmas themed outfits. The buffet had just about anything you could think of, both fancy Western favorites like prime rib and lobster tails, but also a variety of Asian cuisine. The dessert buffet was drool worthy and they had someone serving some specialty ice cream creation served in a waffle cone bowl. The price of the buffet was higher than I thought it would be, but luckily I felt like I had done a pretty good job of getting my money’s worth out of it.

After the buffet, we made our way to the huge Christmas tree to take an insanely unnecessary about of pictures and selfies. On the bottom floor, there was a really cool Christmas village with multiple model trains traveling on the tracks. There are also, some festive vintage looking hot air balloons. It may seem silly, but my experience at the Hilton ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip. I love everything about the holiday season and it can be hard when you are separated from your family on Christmas, but the decor at Hilton gave me an overwhelming feeling of comfort and joy that I am finding hard to explain.

Eventually, the time came for me to head over to Seoul Station to catch my KTX train back. Overall, it was an amazing trip that consisted of good friends, food, coffee, and sight seeing. I barely made a dent in the list of things I want to see and do in Seoul, so I will be returning. I am especially excited to go back when the weather is warmer. I am not sure when I will be back in Seoul for another long weekend, but I do know I will be at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February during President’s Day weekend and I could not be more excited!!! I absolutely love the Olympics, both winter and summer, so I just feel so blessed to have the opportunity to see athletes from all over the world come together and compete at the highest level. I will do my best to capture every detail and experience, although I feel like words will not be able to do it justice.

As always, I will leave you with some lyrics to one of my favorites songs at the moment and since it is almost New Year’s this seems appropriate: “Don’t read the last page, but I stay when it’s hard, or it’s wrong,or we’re making mistakes. I want your midnights, but I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day.” -Taylor Swift, New Year’s Day

 

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