A Travellerspoint blog

23hr in Seoul

Itaewon Was Fun!

semi-overcast 19 °C

On my way to Jakarta, Indonesia, in late October 2006, I have a 23 hour lay over in Seoul, South Korea. After 18 hours flight from Chicago, the plane landed smoothly at the Incheon International Airport, which is about an hour drive away from downtown Seoul. I was hoping that I could take the subway from the airport to downtown Seoul, then take a taxi to my hotel. Alas, there’s no indication how to get to the subway. With a 50+ lb luggage, I gave up walking around trying to find the subway. Instead, I took the airport bus that cost around 7000 won. All I had to do was just purchase the ticket ahead of time, step outside and wait for the bus that will take me to the Itaewon area. Seoul’s weather is pretty similar to Iowa, it was also the fall season.

The trip with the bus took about 90 minutes, 30 or 45 minutes to get out from Incheon. Once the bus was on the bridge to get to Seoul City, the view was amazing. From afar you could see how metropolitan Seoul is; tall buildings, more traffic, etc. As soon as we enter Seoul, I was amazed on how old and new architectures blend together in harmony. The bus dropped me off in Yongsan neighborhood not too far from the hotel I’m staying in: Hotel Rainbow. I got the hotel’s name from the web because the location is good (restaurants nearby, walking distance to a subway station, even close to an internet cafe), price was affordable (US$ 66/night) and got a lot of good reviews. It’s located kind of in an alley, just off of a main street. For me personally, the hotel wasn’t that good. After you enter the main door, you’ll arrive in a small reception area. The room key was given, then off I go to the 3rd floor using the very claustrophobic-y elevator. The only thing I like about my room was the artsy door. Other than that, I don’t think I want to spend 66 bucks a night here. The standard room was small, but it has a compact fireplace in there. One interesting feature: a condom dispenser machine on the wall right after you open the door! Spacious bathroom with an interesting system to take a shower/bath.

After I got settled in my hotel room, I took a quick shower/bath and decided to take a walk. The long haul flight wore me out, but hey… I’m in a new place in a short time, might as well getting to know it a bit. At first I was going to play it safe and take a taxi ride to the nearest place of interest. But from the map, I noticed that there are several interesting places around the hotel and it’s probably just a short subway ride. I ended up in area in Namdaemun market. Stopped at a local restaurant for supper where I use my master skill of sign language (I don’t speak Korean and they don’t speak English). Thankfully, they have photos of the dishes so all I had to do was point and nod with a smile. Don’t recall the name of the dish, but it was delicious (bulgogi-like beef with sticky rice, soup, and kimchi).

With full tummy, I continued my exploration. From my experience, Seoul was safe enough for a solo woman traveler to walk around. I ended up at the Namdaemun’s gate (also known as Deoksungung gate) or Seoul’s south city wall. Not too far from it, is the famous Namdaemun market. Shopper’s heaven, especially for clothing. Wholesalers operate from midnight to 6 am, and retailers are open from 7 am to 5 pm. Done exploring for the night, back to the hotel and sleep hard.

The next morning, I did more exploring of Seoul before my flight to Jakarta in the afternoon. Stopped at an internet cafe not too far from the hotel to email home. Grabbed breakfast at 7Eleven, then off I go to the subway station again. This one, to see the majestic Gyeongbokgung Palace. On my way there, I had to stop at the Seoul Station to transfer subway line. I was amazed by the size of this subway station. It is the biggest in the country. It’s modern looking, clean, and did I mention big? Reminds me of Paris’ Gare du Nord a little bit.
I’m a retard when it comes to direction. Can’t really tell where my North, South, West, or East very good. I got off one stop too early, ended up at the wrong side of the exit, so I had a pretty long walk before reaching the Palace. But it’s all good because I could see more and shot more pictures. Here, temples are abundant. I saw a beautiful one during my walk. Very intricate in details, with green and red color dominating. Along the street, little shops that sell stuff for monks were scattered. I peeked through the glass window to see the necessities they’re selling. It’s like an enchanting antique shops. This is what I like when visiting a different country than mine. To see and feel different culture, to understand differences, not to be narrow minded.

Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace) is really something. It was the main and largest palace of the Joseon Dynasty and one of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The major buildings on the site include Geunjeongjeon, the Imperial throne room, and Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, which stands in an artificial lotus lake and rests on 48 granite pillars. The pavilion is depicted on the Korean banknotes of 10,000 won. The palace is open for public, but you’ll have to pay for a tour guide to be able to enter. I was debating of whether or not to do it, since I also want to see the National Folk Museum of Korea which located inside. Tight schedule… yet so much to see, so nay for tour guide.
From here, I walk around aimlessly (again) and ended up in an area close to the palace with lots of government institutions. Guards were everywhere, so were tanks -related to demonstrations against North Korea’s nuclear issue.

I got to Itaewon by taxi (feet were killing me). It was a very short ride, kind of know it from the map. According to some, Itaewon is the most exotic place in Seoul representing fusion culture with a distinctive atmosphere. Well, I don’t know about ‘the most exotic part’, but it was definitely distinctive. Many little alleys with little shops, tea bar, restaurants, etc. Definitely more chic compare to Namdaemun market. Perfect choice to find souvenirs to take home. Time’s almost up, gotta catch my ride to Jakarta. Annyeonghi kyeseyo… goodbye, Seoul!

Posted by dpatt 14:23 Archived in South Korea Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Jamaica Highlights

What's Worth Visiting

sunny 28 °C

1. Whoopsie Park (Negril): the owner, Dennis Lynch, put up a number of hammocks around the trees. The ‘park’ itself oversee the ocean; but being on the hill side of Negril, there is no sandy beach. There are rock steps leading down to the ocean water, just in case you want to dip in. What’s best about this place is the circular wooden hut which functions as the open-air bar. Dennis is a great bartender, he’s so nice and always has stories to tell. He also has a restaurant with his son as the cook and his specialty is the BLT sandwich w/ French Fries. Dennis’ specialty? Orange juice and rum.

2. The Border (between Negril and Treasure Beach): There are food street vendors for about a mile long specializing in fish/seafood dish. On our way from Negril to Treasure Beach, just at the border of these two places (hence the name), we stopped for a quick lunch. Fried red snapper, seems to be the popular menu among the other stuff (try the conch soup… it’s good!)

3. Frenchman’s Cove (Port Antonio): tropical lush garden, beautiful sandy beach for sunbathing (there’s more shallow part for the little ones), also good waves for body surfing.

4. Mandeville: Combination of the road going up and down the hills, the crazy Jamaican driver, and the narrow road with deep holes here and there, make the drive a one of a kind experience.

5. Boston Bay jerk stand (Port Antonio): the jerk capital of the world. They smoke the meat right there, smell so good, and taste great too!

Posted by dpatt 13:56 Archived in Jamaica Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

From Fairy to Fairs

When Grownups Play 'Make Believe'

sunny 23 °C

Finally… family vacation! It’s been a while since we took the kids on a vacation. Our last one was a year ago in April-May when we visited Europe. Kids have been behaving pretty good lately, so this time, it will be about them. They like rides, games, knights, fairy tales, and swimming. The destination should have all of those requirements. Minnesota was chosen. It’s only 3 and a half hour away, has Valleyfair, and the Renaissance Festival is scheduled when we’re there. Kids made a list ahead of time of things they wanted to do in MN, and sure enough the list contains ‘amusement park’, ‘rides’, ‘cotton candies’, ‘fun swimming pool’, ‘festivals’, ‘horses’, ‘pizza’, ‘zoo’, ‘games’, and ‘movies’.

Finding a hotel. It’s not an easy one because we wanted to make sure the hotel has a swimming pool, not too far from the fun places, has spacey rooms, but not too expensive. Since the Renaissance Festival takes place in Shakopee, MN, we focused our search around this area. And what do you know… Shakopee has Valleyfair! Found a decent hotel in Eden Prairie (just 15 minutes drive to the Valleyfair and probably 20 minutes to the Renaissance Festival) and it has its own pool… yiipee!

Day 1, Friday Sep 18: Up and at ‘Em!

After a long drive (for the kids) last night from Ames, IA to Eden Prairie, MN, today we visited the Valleyfair. Got there a little too early *gee… I wonder why* It’s a nice size for an amusement park, not so small yet not too big. They have a good number of rides for our kids (ages 5 and 3) to participate. Unfortunately, the 80++ bucks we pay for all of us isn’t enough to ride all the rides. There are some cool rides that required extra payment inside.

Good thing is, there are free shows scheduled throughout the day for us to see, like the ‘Extreme Canines Stunt Dog Show’, ‘Movie Magic: Lights, Camera, Action and You!’ (for this one, Davi got to be on stage and volunteered as the SuperGirl), ‘Rhythms of the World’, etc. KidWorks -a special area for kids under 5 years old- has a performance every couple of hours where they play music and dance. Just check the information board or get a brochure which is available all over the park.

When it comes to rides, I’m kind of picky. I can do coasters, but spinning motion makes me dizzy. Davi’s case is similar, she was not very happy after The Wave (a water flume ride), while Dante went for a second ride with dad. A visit to an amusement park won’t be the same if you don’t try the games, right? Kids tried 4 of them and they came back with three stuffed animals. Not so bad, eh?

Left the park around 3:30-4:00 pm with painful feet and bodyache. Stopped at this horse track for a couple of hours before we head back to the hotel. Bid a little… won a little.

Day 2, Saturday Sep 19: When Grownups Play ‘Make Believe’

Renaissance Festival or Renaissance Faire or the Faire. Always wanted to go to one. What’s it like? Curious, I checked this out. It actually warns me: “If you’ve never been to a Faire, then it’s hard to convey a sense of it. Most people when they go for the first time are overcome by the sheer number of things to see”. And they’re right. After we bought the admission tickets for $8 per person and paid $10 per car to park in a woodsy area of Shakopee, we found ourselves walking towards what appear to be a castle from the front (it’s just a prop). As we entered the gate, I was overcome by the sights of people dresses in costumes: bodises, corsets, chemises, dresses, gowns, crowns, and swords. Wow… these people are really serious about their make believe game.

As we engaged with the activities, I noticed they’re calling the visitor by ‘my lady‘ or ‘my lord‘ and introduced themselves as Lady this or Sir that. They also talk to you in Elizabethan. Done with kids activities, we went exploring the place a little further. Hm… a show. Gypsy-like men with percussion, belly dancing, fire-eater, that was cool. But what’s with this Xena-like mass yelling every now and then?

Food was OK, a bit pricey, though. Loved the pickles. The Fairy Godmother and Mother Goose were fun, and the games were interesting. Make sure you bring enough small bills to pay for the rides, games, and activities, nothing is free here.

Day 3, Saturday Sep 20: Como Park Zoo & Conservatory

Obviously, the kids felt a day in Valleyfair isn’t enough. On our way home, we visited a cute little neighborhood in St. Paul to see the Como Park and Zoo. No charge for the zoo, but they’d appreciate donations. The size isn’t too big, which is perfect to us to walk around without having to kill our feet. With a very close distance, we went to the really nice park. Como Park has some neat features; although nothing compared to Valleyfair, I’m sure we’ll come to this park again when we’re visiting the Twin Cities.

Posted by dpatt 16:15 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Pufferbilly Days

Celebrating Trains

sunny 21 °C

What: Pufferbilly Days 30th Anniversary.

When: September 7-10, 2006.

Where: Boone, IA.

Whatelse: Craft Fair, Carnival, Entertainment, Food, Drink, etc.

More: A pufferbilly is a small steam engine used to tunnel deep into coalmines. And while the days of the steam engine may be in the past, Boone keeps its memory alive for a few days every year during its Pufferbilly Days event, a four-day celebration of everything trains. And it’s only fitting, considering some 70 trains pass through town on a daily basis and the railroad industry remains the city’s largest employer. The event starts on Thursday and runs through Sunday, and by its end, participants will have seen a spike-driving contest, a parade, a lip-sync contest, a 5K run, train rides and more. In addition, a variety of music will be performed, including Tami Jo Platter with country western and Bob and the Beachcombers with a Beach Boys/Jimmy Buffett tribute. And if none of these things sound appealing, there’s always the beer garden. Beer can make anything worthwhile.

Posted by dpatt 06:29 Archived in USA Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

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