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Funnily enough, when we hear “Japan” we quite often think of geisha, samurai and blooming cherry trees.

If we hear “Tokyo”, however, the first thought will be for the megalopolis, Harajuku, Shinjuku and the high tech gadgets that will be the new hype in the West about 2 years after being born in  the East.

Well, the same approach goes for Korea.

The country in itself is steeped in its rich history, and the way of life in the countryside has not changed that much.

Seoul is not Korea.

Seoul is ever changing, ultra modern and never quiet.

But even that futuristic side is based on the past.

How so ? Because of Confucius.

You might be thinking: “Right, this time she lost it.”

I disagree.

It’s the Confucianism that has been, and still is, the base of the Korean society. It shapes the moral system, the way of life, social relations and even the legal system.

What does it have to do with the futuristic Seoul ?

Simple.

How long do you think you could leave an HD TV set in the Parisian or NYC  subway ?

I meant, a working HD TV set.

Yes, that’s what I thought.

In Seoul, not only do you have HD TV everywhere, but now the city is putting even more technology in the subway stations.

Enters the Giant Ipad.

This brand new device is a public phone, an interactive tactile map, internet connection, TV and probably a few other things that my lack of Korean didn’t allow me to understand.

It’s actually almost too much if you don’t know the language, but scrolling over Seoul with one swipe on a huge screen is… pretty cool.

Another nice thing with the subway is the T-money card.

T-money is used to pay the fare in the bus, subway, some taxi, museums, buy stuff at the Mart and to use the phone function of the Giant Ipad.

But this is Asia.

They won’t give you a dull, boring, horrendous card with the-worst-picture-of-you-ever.

Instead, they’ll sell you the cutest mobile phone decoration.

Mine is a Hello Kitty.

More examples:

Of course, if you want to get the dull original card, feel free to do so !

But cuteness is not only in accessories.

Why can’t your fridge be cute as well ?

Ok, Seung Gi does add to the cuteness, but still !

You can’t turn on the most basic Korean device without being greeted by a nice little jingle.

The air conditioning, but also the dishwasher, the washing machine and I expect the dryer to be the same.

Too bad we didn’t get to use an oven or a coffee maker, would love to hear what they would sing.

A last peak into what technology is like in Korea:

I’m pretty sure Confucius would disapprove.

While searching for better pictures of Korean ice creams, I found this.
I can’t believe I didn’t know about that Micky’s gelato store.
That’s too bad.
I guess I just have to go back to Seoul…
Life can be tough.
가자 ?

A trip to Micky's Timeout Gelato Shop XD yay! i found it! this just made my whole korea trip worth the flight ticket haha (i didnt do much else coz I was accompanying my mum on a biz trip TT___TT) but anyways! I can be of some (not much) help for those who wanna go find the shop in seoul coz i tried to find an address online and got zilch Locals probably know a better/easier way to go there but I will share the 'howtheforeignerstumbleduponthegelatoshop' way kay😄. First I took the subw … Read More

via totally fangirling

When travelling abroad, especially in a far away country with a very different “cuisine”, one of the big question is:

What on earth will I eat ?

If that doesn’t sound like fun, spice it up by having a special diet.

I, for example, do not eat meat.

Koreans do.

A lot.

Bulgogi (Korean barbecue), Galbi (grilled spicy pork ribs), Mandoo (steamed dumplings) and quite a few others, are typical Korean food that I couldn’t try.

Meat being really popular, it was always kind of a quest to find a restaurant with a vegetarian offer.

Of course, seafood is also widely available in the peninsula, and that’s what we’re going to talk about.

First thing first though.

The other big question when travelling is:

Is the food expensive ?

And the answer is NO.

In Seoul we never had a dinner that costed more than 15€ per person. And that was expensive.

Most of the times you can eat for less than 10 000₩ (less than 6,30€) and we’re talking restaurant here, not Burger King.

You may be asking: “But what did you eat ???”.

Aaah… now, that’s a good question.

But before getting into the meaty stuff (or fishy, rather), let’s get a few things out of the way.

When you order in Korea, or in a Korean restaurant, you always get a demi dozen of side dishes that you didn’t ask for.

That’s part of the traditional Korean hospitality.

Among those little dishes, there is at least one type of kimchi.

It’s a national dish, and most Koreans can’t even fathom a meal without kimchi.

Here’s a little video to show you what it’s all about.

We”ll come back to Kimchi later on.

 

So, what can you eat in Seoul ? (If you don’t feel like Starbucks ^_^)

 

First and foremost: Noodles !

Here’s a list of noodle dishes.

Really inexpensive and tasty, sometimes really spicy >_<, sometimes cold and chewy, made of rice flour, potato flour, wheat, buckwheat, green tea, served hot or icy, with or without broth, with meat or fish…. you name it !

 

My absolute favourite Korean food is also the cheapest one.

Meet the Kimbap.

A cousin of the maki sushi, it has a very different taste. It can contain almost anything, including kimchi, and can be bought in convenience stores (wrapped like a chocolate bar) or made in front of you, by a skilled ajhuma, in a matter of seconds.

Healthy, cheap, filling and tasty ! What else ?

 

Another famous dish is Bibimbap.

A bowl of rice topped with vegetables, egg, meat and spicy sauce.

It has a non meat version, but we stumbled upon a very interesting twist of this classic dish.

The rice was topped with lettuce, dressing and raw fish.  Kind of a sashimi taste. Absolutely brilliant !

It was one of our cheapest meal in Seoul, 5000₩ if I remember correctly, but also one of the most delicious.

 

It would take too long to through all the things we ate.

Let’s just review our most expensive meal in Korea.

That was in Yulpo, a small town (village ?) on the south coast of the peninsula.

Those giant mussels were absolutely HUGE !

Once cooked, they looked and tasted a lot like scallops (coquilles Saint Jacques).

The stew was nice with lots of vegetables and other shells, but most of the side dishes were just soooo spicy !

 

In Insadong, we found a lovely traditional restaurant that serves absolutely brilliant food for a very affordable price.

The waiter did ask us about 4 times if I could eat fish, eggs, seafood etc. I made his life a bit complicated that day, but he was really welcoming and nice.

When everything was on the table, it looked like this: (sorry for the darkness, but it was dark in there !)

 

But Koreans also know how to make cakes.

Here’s my birthday cake for example.

 

And their ice creams are just the best ever !!!

 

Hmm, mashiketta !

Anybody hungry yet ? ^_^

No, this is not a catchy title for a new fantasy book (could be though… I should look into that…) but a brief summary of what makes Namsan special.

According to Pungsu-jiri (Korean Feng shui or Geomancy), the ideal or propitious site (called myongdang) is a place surrounded by mountains-a high, rugged range to the north flanked by hills folded into many ranges.

The range to the east of the ideal site is called the blue dragon, while that to the west is referred to as the white tiger.

A building or tomb must face a low hill in the south; the center of the site should command a relatively wide expanse of plain to the front.

A river flowing through the plain makes it an even better location.

That’s a perfect description of Seoul, and it’s not a coincidence.

I can hear you: “What’s the whole mountain thing ?”

Well, Koreans believe that the mountains are alive.  It is said that the mountains share their vital energy with their surroundings and the people living on their slopes.

With almost 70% of its territory covered with mountains, it’s no wonder Korea has developed a strong relationship with them.

Enter the Sanshin.

The Sanshin, or spirit of the mountain, is usually an old man sitting with a fierce looking tiger.

A very important deity in the shamanistic pantheon, he embodies the power of the mountain and offers gifts and protection to his devoted believers.

Namsan, with its 262m, is the Inner-Southern Guardian Mountain of  Seoul. Its Sanshin was actually “married” to the woman Sanshin of Bugaksan.

Both of them were said to protect Seoul.

Back to 2010.

Today, Namsan is a symbol of Seoul, with the Namsan N Tower (236m) being visible from most part of the city.

A very popular spot at night, for its great view of the city, it’s a really nice place by day as well.

First of all, the road stops before the top. The last meters of the climb, in the middle of the forest, are quite steep, but it’s well worth the effort.

We even saw a squirrel !

Once you reach the top, having completely forgotten that you’re at the very heart of a huge megalopolis, the two things that catch your eyes immediately are the Tower and the Pavilion.

The highlight of the whole trip, however, is the romantic side of Namsan.

First of all, and I’ve been told that’s a Korean thing, every surface that you can write on is… well, written on ^_^.

Friends and lovers from everywhere write little messages, with permanent markers sold at the mart on the car park.

The Tower sits on the edge of a cliff, so there is a big fence for safety.

But not only.

The picture on top of this blog is actually a snapshot of that fence.

Here’s a better look.

Meet the Locks of Love.

That “Big Wall” is a regular fence covered with locks that lovers attached there, as a token of their everlasting love.

Here’s a close up.

Some are engraved, some written on, some have hearts and pictures, some are old and rusty.

But all tell the story of people loving each other.

It’s not just for lovers, mind you.

Friends do it as well.

Now, this is still Korea.

Lovers are not supposed to display their feelings too openly, and that’s really cute when put in context.

Those 2, for example, sat down together and started writing on their locks (yes, they had one each).

But, after  a few minutes, it became somewhat awkward, and the boy left the bench to finish writing on his own.

When he returned it was even more awkward, as she really wanted to see what he wrote.

They kinda fought a little to read each other’s message before putting the locks up.

They discussed the best place to put them, locked one lock into the other, took a picture of it… what am i saying ?

Took many pictures of it, had their picture taken together, and left with a knowing smile on their face.

Adorable.

The whole place is filled to the brim with positive thoughts and feeling of love.

It mind sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

Standing with someone dear to your heart, on top of Namsan, overlooking Seoul and surrounded by thousands of Locks of Love…

It feels like nothing is impossible.

Fly high !

If you’ve watched this video, you’ve seen almost all of the most beautiful places in Seoul.

While that’s a great thing for attracting visitors, it does not help in making them stay.

Granted, as a French, I have some pretty high standards when it comes to architecture and urbanism.

I guess the most disturbing part of the Korean urbanism is its absolute lack of consistency (from a European perspective).

The most beautiful futuristic glass towers are surrounded by tiny old worn out buildings, the palaces are stuck in the middle of condominium and 6 lines road, and so on…

My first impression was: “Gosh, it’s far from beautiful”.

My second impression was: “Good Gosh! How did I fall in love with Korea again ?” (Yeah, when you watch those dramas you tend to see something a tad different from what’s really there.)

My third impression was: “Right. Maybe I shouldn’t have come…”

Let me explain.

The day before I left France, one of my colleague heard that I was going to Seoul and came by my desk to tell me what I was going to get myself into.

The conversation went like this:

Colleague: So you’re going to Seoul ? On holiday ? For how long ?

Me: Yes. That’s my 2 weeks vacations.

Colleague: Tell you what. Seoul is ugly. You don’t want to stay there.

Me (in my head): Yeah, right ! (Aloud): Really ?

Colleague: You should go to Jiju, that’s beautiful.

Me (in my head again): I guess you mean Jeju Island… (Aloud): I’m afraid we won’t have enough time for Jeju. And it’s the peak season as well…

Colleague: Ok. Well, Seoul is ugly. It’s big and dirty and sad. There is no castle, no church, no temple,  nothing to visit.

Me (in my head): Err… that’s strange…   I thought the 5 Grand Palaces were in Seoul… as for the temples…

Colleague: There’s nothing to do, no place to go shopping, not a single traditional shop and they don’t even have a traditional market where I could buy some little things to bring home.

Me (In my head. Yes, I didn’t speak a lot): Ok… now that’s strange.

Colleague: All I could find was a stupid old market where all I could buy was some plastic buckets and stuff.

Me (laughing inside with all that nonsense): Really ? Well, that’s too bad. But how long did you stay in Korea ?

Colleague: Me ? Oh, just a day between two planes. But you know, I walked a lot !

Me (in my head, still laughing): Yes. I’m sure.”

After that, I was more than determined to prove her wrong.

So it was killing me to be unable to love what I was seeing.

I tried.

Hard.

I fell in love with some places… deeply in love.

But those places were in the middle of a city I couldn’t like.

Kind of a schizophrenic experience…

However, after 10 days in Korea, as I was burning under a scorching sun, while in deep conversation in the middle of a tea field on the south coast of the peninsula….

…it hit me.

I was missing Seoul.

I wanted to go shopping in Myeongdong, have tea in Insadong and study in Yonsei.

I was dying to go back to Namsan, see Cheonggyecheon at night and play with fireworks on the bank of the Han river with my samurai friend…

It took 10 days.

It wasn’t love at first sight.

But Korea won me over, heart and soul.

And I’ll show you why…

(No, it has nothing to do with them… ^_^ )

Day Two: Meet the boys

Seoul, Incheon Airport,  August 28th around 8am.

Of course.

The airport was bright, spotless, welcoming, design, high-tech… Quite a few Samsung HD wide screens here and there (broadcasting Star King and others hugely popular talk shows) as well as computers with free internet access, and more.

Going through custom was a breeze and the luggages were delivered in no time.

My guide was (eagerly) waiting for me on the other side, we changed some hard earned Euro into Won (it feels awesome to give 600€ and get back almost 1 Million Won by the way !) and stepped out of the airport.

Wow.

That was a thermal shock.

It probably was 30 degrees Celsius outside, but the humidity was so intense it was like breathing water. If you’ve ever been to the hammam, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The body gets used to it quite quickly though, and in 24h you don’t even notice the humidity anymore.

Now, what about the boys ?

Yes.

I’m coming to that.

You see, I did my homework.

It’s enough going to Korea without any language, I wasn’t going to get there without watching a few dramas and downloading a couple of albums.

(Yes. That’s the understatement of the year.)

I knew about the Idols, those singers, dancers, actors, models, MC whom you can see everywhere in Asia.

Well, what I didn’t know is that they do mean EVERYWHERE.

So, stepping out of the airport to catch a bus to Seoul, I was met by that nice, big poster for Lotte Duty Free on most buses.

On this add: Big Bang, DBSK, Pi and a few others.

Sure, that’s not unusual.

When you land in Dublin, you must be blind to not see Westlife everywhere.

They don’t put themselves on coffee cups though…

And you wouldn’t see them in every single station of the subway, nor every wagon of every train, giving infos and advice on security. (Yes, I am fully aware that there is no subway in Dublin. Make that the Dart or the Luas and we’re even ).

And the list goes on…

But it’s not only about pictures.

Seoul is full of noise, music and huge screens with lots of adds and MV.

Guess what ?

Idols again.

But when it comes to music Taeyang ruled over Seoul.

He had just released his new album “Solar” and you couldn’t step in the street without hearing one of his songs.

I’ll come back to Kmusic later on, but just to give you an idea…

Funnily enough, it’s actually comforting to see so many well known faces in a foreign and far away country…

I didn’t take that many pictures of those Idols things but they really are everywhere, promoting everything you can think of, from make up, to travels,  cars, watches, clothes, food, drinks, fridges (yes, at some stage you actually want to be a fridge !), phones and above all… Korea !

Last video of the day. Super Junior and SNSD 2009 campaign for Seoul tourism.

Enjoy !

Day One: Escape

Paris, aeroport Charles de Gaulle, August 27th 2010 around 11am.

Well,

I was more than on time.

When you live in Paris, and need to catch a plane to the other side of the earth, you learn fast not to trust the subway…*sweet memories of an Eurostar that I caught just on time, thank to a really helpful British custom officer, and nearly missed thank to the subway’s delay and a grumpy French custom officer*

I had planned ahead and arrived at the airport before 10am for my 1.30pm flight.

So far so good.

But after more than an hour, waiting for my flight to appear on the departure board, I became suspicious. Something was up.

I caught a nice airport lady and asked her what she thought about it. Very kindly she directed me to the appropriate check-in area.

The place was packed and the check-in had been opened for the past hour. Right.

Turned out this was a “self service check-in”.

Basically, you had to queue for about 7-8 minutes to access one of the 2 machines (yes, the 3rd was broken. That’s France you know.), enter you flight details, scan your passport, swipe your credit card and wait for the machine to tell you that you were not registered and needed to queue 15 more minutes to check-in with a real human being. Right.

Good thing I was on time to begin with !

I was more amused than annoyed, but some of my Korean fellow passengers were obviously really confused by such a bad organization.

The check-in went smoothly. My suitcase was rather light… 6kg.

My flight was Korean Air but operated by Air France. I didn’t think that would have an impact on quality… I was wrong.

The plane and the crew were Air France. There only was 1 Korean Air Hostess, but so pretty in her hanbok that I forgot that the plane was dirty and cold for a while.

I won’t go over every single bad details of that flight. It’s enough to say that after about 1h30 my body was aching like when you sit on a stone for too long. I’ve been on a few flights those past 3 years, this one had to be the most uncomfortable ! Yes. Ryanair is better.

The inflight video was ridiculous. Most movies were more than 5 years old, and some far more than that. And about quality… forget it.

Not a single asian movie, and of course, only european subtitles.

Anyway.

We landed safely in Seoul, which is the most important ^_^ .

That’s when the real journey began…

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