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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… ^_^ )

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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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