Seoul Part 2 – Food!

I can not eat spicy things, which made eating in Seoul rather difficult for me. We did eat many Korean meals of course and they all came with red spicy sauce,  kim chee as well as pickled vegetables. However, there was no shortage of French bakeries in Gangnam, along with European, American, Japanese, Chinese and Malaysian restaurants. There was a huge coffee culture, so my Viking husband was happy that he could obtain his expensive but available coffee anywhere. Admittedly I have not had so much fatty pork on a daily basis for dinner in my life along with cabbage, but when in Korea, do as the Koreans do…for a while anyways and then pizza started looking really good!

Breakfast

For breakfast we usually had tea or coffee with French pastries. We went out a few times and had a pretty god omelette at a French bakery restaurant. Prices were about $5-9 per coffee, lattes or tea, pastries about $2-5 and big breakfast (omelette, eggs benedict) about $15.

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Lunch

We had many lunches of noodles and sometimes had sandwiches, generally it was whatever we could find as we were travelling all over the place.

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Dinner

Lots and lots of Korean BBQ for dinner along with kim chee, pickled vegetables, tofu and spicy soups. We had pizza and chicken wings delivered one night as well, came in 20 min! Pizza in a fancy New York Pizza place was surprisingly pricey at $40-50 for a medium but it was full of people on dates.

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Snacks

Lots of vending machines in the subway, convenient stores on every street corner and my favorite are the French bakeries!

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Toilets

Yes, I am obsessed with toilets. The Korean toilets were similar to sit-up ones in North America, but they had a few heated ones like in Japan with bum washes. There was also squatting ones as well.

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Seoul Part 1 – Surviving!

The reason for our visit to Korea was for my brother-in-law’s wedding. The latest addition to the Garrard clan at this point was a new sister-in-law who is Korean. Prior to leaving, I asked my Korean friends what to expect at this wedding and they didn’t really know how to answer my questions. “Oh, we are just like any other culture!” they told me. I had been to Seoul once for a few days with a Hong Kong tour group and the tour guide told us to not be offended if people slam into us in the street as this is what happens if it is crowded.

I find Korean people very tall and they generally remind me of Northern Chinese people. So I was surprised when everyone started speaking Korean to me. Even the Garrard clan I was with half expected me to suddenly speak Korean on their behalf. Having never taken an Korean lessons, I started to learn a few words…which made the situation worse because people thought I was joking that I didn’t know any Korean.

We did similar things on this trip compared to our Tokyo trip, such as renting a wi-fi hotspot to guide us. With my brother-in-law’s help, we also rented cell phones as this trip consisted of a large group that would split up occasionally.

Instead of staying in a hotel, we rented a house from the AirBNB website in Gangnam (yes, like the song). Gangnam is the richest neighborhood in Seoul and there are tons of young people, a thriving night market along with lots of foreign restaurants (Starbucks, TGI Friday, Baskin Robbins, McDonalds, French bakeries, etc). The house had four bedrooms, kitchen, living room and washer/dryer combo machine. The floors were heated which felt strange and the entire bathroom was a shower! Pictures at end of blog post (scroll down).

1) Wi Fi hotspot, Google Maps & Cell phones

We made arrangements as soon as we landed to rent a wi-fi hot spot. You can rent and return at any airport, which made this very handy. As well, the stand next to the wi-fi hot spot had cell phone rentals & returns. We weren’t smart enough to rent the cell phone in the beginning so we visited a store instead and then returned it at the airport prior to leaving. Again, Google Maps helped us navigate the areas as we walked through them.

Cost of Wif Fi hotspot – about $7/day
Cost of cell phone rental – about $5/day

2) Cash

We used a lot more cash in Korea than Tokyo. There are certain banks that have ATMs with “Global” on them – these are the only ones that allow international bank cards to be used. When we travelled there, it was about $1 US to 1000 Won. Although it sounds like a lot to have 10,000 Won, it’s actually just $100

3) Plugs

You will need adaptors when you travel, their plugs are different from North American ones.

4) Buy a subway card

The subway cards in Korea are similar to Japan, you “beep” as you enter and then “beep” as you leave. So you pay by distance. Putting money onto card was amazing as they have some wireless no touch technology going on. You put the card in the large slot in the machine and money “beams” into the card. The subway line will announce stops in English and the maps have English/Korean.

5) Prepare for price shock

I found that the prices of things in Seoul were the same price as visiting a large North American city (NY) or Europe (London) which surprised me. Things were cheaper in Tokyo! Also, street market vendors don’t like to bargain, especially with foreigners. I usually hate bargaining too, but if I’m buying 10 souvenirs, getting a bit of a break would be nice!

6) Basic Manners – These are some of the things I picked up:

  • Walk around people – Unlike Japan, even if there are arrows in the subways, people don’t follow them. So you just walk around people.
  • Subway exits & gas masks – Perhaps due to continuous threats from the North, every subway has maps in English and Korean detailing exits. As well, there are cabinets of gas masks and other emergency supplies.
  • No eating in subways – the subways are quite clean due to lack of food. People do talk or they are watching tv on their tablets.
  • Being pushed – In crowded places, there is less “private space”. So don’t be surprised if you are pushed/shoved around as people just need to get past you. Or alternatively, if they don’t like you and the subway is empty, they will push you anyways as it seems to be a form of communication (they saw me as a Korean girl with a foreigner spouse).
  • No tipping – restaurants do not require tipping.
  • Daiso – Daiso is a 100 yen store in Japan (dollar store) and they are also in Korea. If you need to pick up a few things, this is a great place to go.

8) What else to expect:

  • Beer, lots of it! – Seoul has a more robust drinking culture than any other Asian city I’ve visited. We even visited a self-serve bar in which you grab your bottles from the fridge and then the cashier counts the empties. There was beer ranging from Korea to New Zealand to Estonia!
  • Steep hills – We stayed in a house on a hill at a 45 degree incline. I think I lost a few inches from gravity pressing down on me!
  • Cold/Snow in Dec – yes, it was -10 degrees Celsius and snowing.
  • Coffee everywhere – if you need a daily jolt of caffeine, no fear – there were tons of cafes all over the place with delicious French pastries. However, European (Nescafe), Korean/European (Paris Croissant) and American cafes (Starbucks) have higher priced drinks at about $5/6 and pastries $3-5. The local coffee is about $2. My Viking husband observed that the $2 coffee places tend to be street stands and the foreign coffee places have tables, so the drinks are more expensive as you are almost “renting space.”
  • Amazingly cute things – Like everywhere in Asia, cute sells. So pastries will have little animal icing decorations, anything and everything will have teddy bears or other cute looking creatures on them. If you are not immune to cute things, it may be sensory overload! The best cute thing I saw was a baby seal ice cream cake at the Korean Baskin Robbins!
  • Limited English – we didn’t stay at a hotel this time, but in a AirBNB house rental. The owner left us some guidebooks which was nice. You will see that the street signs, subway maps and stores will have English…but not many people speak English. I was told that people learn English in high school, like how we learn French in Canada…then people just forget it as they don’t use it!
  • Vending machines – less than in Tokyo, but they are common in subways
  • Interactive subway displays – for people waiting for the train, they can play games or look up places where to eat next. Great if you know Korean…
  • Selfie pics – in Gangnam there is a large interactive display for you to take pictures of yourself. I’m not sure if you can email it out or not, but there was some voting contest of which selfie was the best. Lots of drunk pics of people have a good time!

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