Thursday, June 9, 2011

Korea's got Seoul! Ba-dum-ch! (drum crash)

It may be true that other countries have some "one-ups" on Korea like public trash cans or avocadoes, but one thing that Korea has that no other country has is Seoul... Ba-Dum-Ch!  Seoul, the capital of Korea, is definitely an interesting place, and has a lot to see.  Danny and I have been there a few times, and we haven't even made a dent in seeing all there is to see!  This last time we were in Seoul, I don't know if it was the great weather or the great friends or the great food or the great sites that we saw, but I fell in love with the city even more.

We started our long weekend exploring a nearby night market.  Walking past steaming pots of food and tons of people crowded on little stools waiting for their meal just gets you in the mood to eat.  If you want to get a taste of the Korean culture (ba-dum-ch... man I am full of one-liners today ; ) walk through a market and you will see some fascinating things.

There are some great things to eat and then some not so great things.  The kimbap and chopchae looked awesome, but I could easily walk past the intestines and pig knuckles without a second glance.  Also, I will say that I will be sad the day that I can't buy fruit off the back of a cart.  It may not be the suave and "clean" Whole Foods kinds of scene, but you get the feeling that they just litterally picked the fruit, threw it on a cart and you get to enjoy it for a reasonable price!  Seriously, Korean fruit just tastes better for some reason, so if you come to Seoul don't be scared to try the bananas (yum), grapes (oh goodness), or the strawberries (my favorite!).

We passed all of the temptations up, however, to get what we were really after...bin dae ddeok.  I have mentioned it before, but this is a fantastic snack that you have to try.  If you are watching your weight, avoid these fried meat pancakes at all cost, but if you want to try something unforgettable, don't pass these up!  Everyone tells you to try pajeon (Korean green onion pancake) but I say forget that and have bin dae ddeok!  There are awesome little restuarants all along the market (I think it is the Daerim Market, but just go near the Dongdaemun area) and all you have to do is choose one, order some Makoli and make friends with all of the after work partying Koreans who are usually eager to practice their English after a few beers : )

Seoul, in general, is just a cool city at night.  You can see plenty in the day, but I feel like "real Korea" comes out at night.  There are lit-up signs and flashing lights everywhere and you can tell that tons of Koreans who just got off work are looking to blow off some steam.  I heard about it, but didn't really know what it meant, but a big part of Korea's culture is drinking.  Drinking with your friends, drinking with your family, drinking with your coworkers, and basically drinking with anybody you can find. About every few feet you can find a beer and soju "Hof" or bar where there are probably plenty of well dressed, shiny suited, businessmen taking some time to relax before they go home.  Maybe that's why I never feel unsafe walking around this huge city at night, everybody is too busy relaxing to bother you ; )

Another especially great way that Korean's love to blow off steam is singing No Rae Bang.  I gotta tell you I wasn't so sure about it at first, but as you can tell by my excitement to sing "Everybody" by the Backstreet Boys, I am all for it now!  Our great South African friends, Greg and Gabi, are fantastic No Rae Bang-ers (better than me for SURE!) so there is always sure to be an epic list of hits.  I mean how could you go wrong (besides blowing out your voice on the first song) by singing "We Built this City on Rock n' Roll" as Danny and Greg are doing?  YOU CAN'T!  That's the answer you were looking for!

The weekend just kept getting better and better.  We went to Taco Bell in Itaewon (which should basically be called "Foreigner Town" seeing that you see non-Koreans all over the place) and ate a Nachos Bell Grande, a bean burrito, a Crunchwrap Supreme, and other delicious treats.  Danny vowed to never eat at Taco Bell after he "supposedly" found an eyeball in a taco, but even he was happy after he filled his belly with Mexican food!
Jumping for joy... it's Taco Bell time, baby!

While we were in Seoul, it also happened to be the lantern festival so Cheonggyecheon Creek, which flows through the middle of downtown, was glowing with lanterns.

An amazing tiger latern.
We also got to catch the Lantern Parade and we again got to see some truly impressive lanterns.  Some shaped like tigers, elephants, flowers, fish, and my favorite, owls.  I thought that the Festival of Light's Parade in Colorado Springs was impressive, but people walking with thousands of lanterns glowing in the night is pretty hard to beat.

Greg, Gabi, Danny, and I catching the Latern Parade.
The weekend in Seoul was awesome so far, but my favorite part was for sure our time at Hangang Park.  Right by the river, there is a huge park that basically follows most of the river.  If you get off at Yeouinaru exit you will come right to Hangang Park full of places to ride bikes, picnic, play in foutains, and you can even learn how to water ski!

We decided to first rent bikes to ride along the river which only cost about $5 for 2 hours!  You got to choose from some awesome cruiser bikes, and seeing that it was the first day I didn't have to wear a jacket, I was in heaven.  

It's always great to see Korean people out and about doing outdoorsy activities with their families.  Koreans work long hours and go to school for long hours so it almost seems like they don't get much family time, so I was happy to see lots of people taking advantage of the great day.

There are all kinds of little stores and stalls along the river, so as we were riding we saw a stand that sold cream puffs that were about the size of your face.  It was irresistable so we screeched to a halt a bought a few.  A guy took your puff, stuck it on a nozzle, and let a machine fill it up with delicious "shoo cream".  Danny and I have made it a tradition to buy anything we can find filled with this magic custard-like cream and these puffs seemed to top them all.

Oh yes... you are mine, Cream Puff!
Now back track, we road for a few miles along the river.  The Hangang river is pretty cool, and seeing it from a bike is, in my opinion, the best way to see it.  You get to ride under all different kinds of cool bridges, and just enjoy the large and beautiful Seoul skyline.

After we had gotten our fill of riding our cruisers we parked ourselves right by a huge fountain full of kids.  This fountain is probably the best place I've found in Korea to satisfy my love for Korean kids.  Yes, Danny calls it creepy, but I just think that Korean kids are the cutest thing ever and I found if you throw in a pool, the cuteness factor goes through the roof!  (And, NO, it's not creepy!... I hope) 

Water + kids = cute.

We spend the rest of our hours lounging in the sun and cherishing the fact that it was a Monday and we weren't at work.  The simple things in life are definitely the best, so if you are looking for a great, and cheap, day in Seoul, go to the river!

So much is possible in Seoul, and this post is already getting to a ridiculous length, so I will end on a full stomach, courtesy of On the Border... 

Our South African friends come from a tradgic background... one empty of Mexican food.  Apparently people don't really eat many tacos or burritos in S.A., so funnily enough, coming to Korea for Greg and Gabi has meant gaining an obsession for Mexican food, as well as many other things.  Because we love Mexican food and will eat it whenever we get the chance, we knew that the best way to end a top notch weekend in Seoul would be to stuff ourselves at On the Border.  On the Border is so far the ONLY Mexican place in Korea that gives you free chips and salsa so once I knew they did, that sealed the deal.  I personally rate a Mexican restuarant on how good the FREE chips and salsa are, so when Korean people charge you $7 for a small plate of store bought chips and salsa and have the nerve to call them "nachos" my heart breaks a little.  Needless to say, we had about 10 baskets of free chips and salsa, and I'm pretty sure that our Korean server was about to cut us off if we didn't stop.  We ate guacamole, enchiladas, burritos, beans and rice till we were about to pop.  I did consider the sopapillas even though I thought I might puke but I thought that might be pushing it. 

Danny and I finally loaded the train after a truly fantastic weekend.  We may have been a few pounds heavier but I choose to believe we were full of good memories instead of chips and salsa.  Seoul may not be the first place you think of when coming to Asia, but if you take the time to stop over, I bet you won't be disappointed... just as long as you stay away from the pig intestines... ba-dum-ch!

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