Right now I’m cozily under the blankets of my top bunk bed at the Kimchee Hongdae Guesthouse. It’s a chill 27 degrees F this morning. Not too bad except for the very limited amount of heavy clothes packed for the sake of traveling light when in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Much has happened in the early stages of this adventure.
Wednesday: Feb 18th – Goodbye America This journey has got off on a great start. PDX to LA was the first connection. Followed by our longest flight from LA to Tokyo. The sweet Japanese lady at the check in counter couldn’t locate Jessy’s seating and with the manager’s permission she had us seated together in a spot with more leg room. AKA: Business Class. As we waited at the counter, we noticed a large group of around 100 Japanese high school students. They were all in uniform and sitting in a dense circle on the floor- quite entertaining to watch. Once we finished at the counter, our stomachs started talking to us. We still needed to go through security but debated on grabbing a snack first. While deciding, the huge group of students got on their feet and began heading towards security. My goodness I didn’t want to wait in that line! Jess and I booked it and made headway halfway through the group. Making some friends along the way, I tried to remember any Japanese from my stay in Japan four years ago. Maybe not that successful, but a valiant effort. We all were on the same flight in the end.
That was the shortest 13 hr flight I’d ever experienced. Accommodations included: comfy slippers (actually fit), comfy headphones, toothbrush, eye mask, hot face towels, several tasty meals and dessert including Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and a variety of other goods including alcoholic beverages. The chairs were big and slid down to a comfy angle. There was also a long list of free movies and shows on my personal tv screen. I got through 3 or 4 movies.
The last flight from Tokyo to Seoul was a quick one of about 2 hours. I wasn’t too hungry but they served a sandwich, bento box and drinks. Finally we arrived. It was quite sometime before we made it through the long customs’ line. But once we did we were home free and set out to find our sister, Lexy, who was eagerly waiting at the exit.
What a treat it’s been to see Lexy after a long 6 months. She’s so full of life and joy. It’s addicting and contagious. Having arrived and met up round 10pm, our next destination was the Kimchee Hongdae Guesthouse. We didn’t have Wifi access and if it wasn’t already, it turned into a late night adventure. We took the Incheon International Airport Railroad to Hongik University Station. Still without WiFi nor a proper map nor working phone, we made due with what we had: a screen shot of the map without street names and an address. After walking around in circles (literally did that) we caved in to a taxi driver. We were so close to our destination that the driver chuckled. We turned in for the night and with the trains shut down for the evening, Lexy had to take a taxi back to her dorm at Hangyang University.
Thursday: Feb 19th – Awesome People and Adventures Lexy came by and we headed out to explore. Right around the corner of our guesthouse is the You Are Here Cafe. This is owned by Youtubers Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchee. There is a video recording booth all guests can use. So of course we wanted to test it out – so much pressure. I’m not sure what we did, but it was definitely awkward. Haha, oh well. Upon our exit, we met some lovely ladies who were English teachers. Of course when one visits the You Are Here Cafe, it is primarily to have a chance at meeting the creative couple. Sadly they weren’t present this day, so we continued onwards.
(Update: My persistence paid off! Ok, so maybe I only came into the cafe 3 out of 15 days we were staying in Hongdae, but one lucky Friday late morning I got to meet Simon and Martina!!!! Imagine waking up and waiting for your sibling to do the same. Being bored, you decide to venture around the block to You Are Here Cafe for a change of scenery and breakfast. Sitting alone at a stool table examining the decor and the usual routine of checking emails and social media. My peripheral vision caught a figure messing with the display besides me. I looked up and to my almost disbelief I asked, “Simon?” He turned around with a smile and raised eyebrows. I reassured he didn’t know me, but what a friendly guy. We took pictures and then Martina walks into the room and we had to include her! What an awesome couple (I rate them 5/5 stars). They were very down to earth and engaging. Totally made my day! I learned Martina does a few illustrations but they have one gal hired on the team to design most their stuff. How fun – I wish I could too!
We found our way to Gwanghwamun Square where we saw the statues of Admiral Yi Sun Shin and King Sejong. Very nearby was the Geyongbokgung Palace and National Palace Museam of Korea. Also nearby was Cheonggye Plaza with it’s tall sea shell sculpture and Moreongyo water way. Earlier on, two little women approached us. The younger spoke English and told us her mom wanted to say hello and ask where we were from. They were so darling and we took pictures and exchanged emails. The mother had in her purse a soft scarf she hand knit. She liked to make and give scarves to kind strangers on her outings. She gave one to us. Soooo sweet!
Fri-Sat: Feb 20/21 – Hanyang University Jess and I took the subway to Wangsimni Station to meet Lexy and see Hangyang University. It was great to roam her territory and get a feel of the campus life. There is a large staircase that the university students are superstitious about. From what I can remember, if you use the left side you’ll either Ace a test or more predominately fail. Use the right side and you’ll pass just fine. I only saw one or two people use the left side and many students use the right side. After exploring and a visit to her dorm, we had dinner and went to Sul Bing for Korean shaved ice cream, patbingsu!
Sunday: Feb 22 – Church and Friends Jess and I made our way to Konkuk University to meet up with Lexy for English church service. Everyone was very welcoming. One of the best surprises was a dear friend who I hadn’t seen since Japan four years ago, had come to church to see us. I’ve missed this girl so much. Jessy was able to meet her and we went out for coffee to catch up. Returning to the church, we listened to Lexy playing piano on the worship team and enjoyed the sermon. Afterwards a very kind man took us all out (20+ people) to eat Chinese black noodles. (I had seen this in K-dramas and finally got to try it. The verdict? It was good, but not my favorite dish – too much corn syrup). We parted ways and enjoyed the evening with patbingsu and meeting more friends.
Mon: Feb 23rd – A Chilling Climb We hiked Bukhansan mountain with our new French friend, Julien. That was a fun adventure leading us past beautiful temples, icy ridges, frozen waterfalls and high above the city. Pushing past sunset, we reached a large gate. We met some ajummas (spunky middle aged women) here with heavy hiking equipment (We were only in hiking boots and a light layer of clothes). They were going to spend the night at a temple further over the mountain nested in the hillside. We started off first and day light was quickly vanishing. The path had become a climb over icy bolders and frozen ground. There was a single rope leading us up (definitely used it as an aid and guide in the dark climbing down. I was very impressed as the ajummas made head way with their ice picks and spiked shoes. I hope they made.
Finally we reached the top for a gorgeous view! We could see the lights of the city and Buddhist temple. After climbing around on the rocks for good photo opportunities, my fingers and body were numb from the continuous blowing wind and the single digit temperatures. We still had to head down a hike that took 3 hours coming up. I couldn’t move my fingers to grab anything – thankfully Julien had some gloves he lent me! Coming down was a slippery experience that made the heart race. But once we past the gate, we had the protection of the trees and through the darkness, we trekked. Having been following Julien, he suddenly was out of sight. Jess was trailing behind and I picked up my pace and passed between two boulders. Completely caught off guard, I heard a terrifying ROARRR over my left shoulder! I screamed in response and maneuvered myself when I then heard the sound of laughter now taking over. I’ll admit, he scared me pretty good. The rest of the trip down went by rather quickly. We felt very accomplished and thankful when we reached the bottom. What would have felt really good was a jimjilbang (Korean bathhouse). It will happen. Stay tuned!