Winter Vacation in Korea Recap – PART THREE

We’re halfway through the holiday recap already! Writing that makes me feel so sad but considering we’re only 22 days(!) away from moving back, the feeling thakfully doesn’t last too long. Christmas Eve was such a fun day, starting with a trip to the Paris Baguette near our Airbnb. This is a chain of French-style bakeries that have outlets EVERYWHERE in Seoul, serving up every carby-fatty-sweet-savoury-delicious snack your heart could desire. We just had to try the most decadent sounding breakfast sandwich; made up of a hashbrown, bacon and cheese served in between two scotch pancakes *insert homer simpson drooling noise here*. We ate this then headed to Gangnam on the subway.

We stayed in Gangnam during our first two trips to Korea so the area is one of our favourites. There are tons of great shops, cafes and restaurants, but it turns out the main street has got even better… Shake Shack has arrived! This burger joint originated in New York and there are still only a handful in the UK, all in London, so when I heard there were a few in Seoul I knew we had to go. I first read about Shake Shack on one of the first blogs I ever discovered way back in 2009 (The Girl Who Ate Everything!) and only ever managed to try one once years ago when I was in London for a meeting. I’ve been telling Jod for years that they’re the best burgers ever and he was really excited to try them too, even if it meant waiting in line in the rain for half an hour…

We ordered way too much food – since when do we not? – including a shack burger (me), double shack burger (Jod), chicken sandwich and cheese fries (to share), plus a beer and an iced tea/lemonade combo. It basically devastated me that Jod wasn’t super enamoured with the food but it was exactly as I remembered and I still reckon it’s the best fast-food style burger out there. We both loved the chicken sandwich, especially the buttermilk-herb mayo and super crispy coating – it would be a sin to bring a chicken burger to Korea and have it end up soggy.

The cheese fries were decent but we definitely didn’t need them and pretty much ignored them after a few token bites in favour of dessert – the Gangnam concrete. Shake shack describes this is a “frozen vanilla custard with marshmallow sauce, local strawberry jam and crumbled shortbread cookies”, I would describe it as “jam-and-creme-biscuit-mcflurry-on-steroids”. So. Freaking. Good.

We definitely needed to do some walking to burn off all that food so went over to Jamsil and got our tickets for Lotte World. We had ordered them online at a discount so had to queue up at the Group Bookings Office inside. The weather was still pretty drizzly and misty and didn’t look like it was going to improve but we still wanted to have a look at the “Adventure Island” section of the park which is located outdoors, and get some photos of the castle. In the middle photo below you can see Lotte World Tower (the 5th tallest building in the world!) in the mist behind the castle – spooky! None of the outdoor rides were open because of the weather but we grabbed a royal milk bubble tea from Gong Cha and wandered around for a while anyway.

Back indoors the park was crazy busy with a 110 minute wait for the pirate ship! Rather than spending our Christmas Eve queueing we just enjoyed walking around, watching people Ice Skating (there was a lesson going on and the little kids were so cute and talented!) and then found the arcade where we had a few games of Ice Hockey. We watched a Christmas themed performance on the main stage and generally felt pretty festive and super happy.

Once we’d had our fill at Lotte World we headed back to Hongdae for dinner. There were loads of street performers out including guitarists, singers, bands and dance crews and we spent ages just slowly meandering along the main street watching different acts. Eventually the freezing cold temperatures got the better of us and we headed into a place serving traditional Korean food to get something to eat. We ordered beer and soju and while we waited for our food the waiter brought over all the extra little bits you get automatically with Korean meals. Without fail there will always be a jug of water with glasses, tissues for messy hands and faces and either free side dishes or little bar snacks to munch on while you wait. This place served little sweet-n-salty hula hoop type snacks, yum.

This meal was honestly one of the best we had all holiday, but I don’t know authentic the pancake truly was… It was an egg and flour based pancake absolutely packed with potato, bacon, spring onions and the most gooey and delicious cheese. It tasted criminally good. Alongside that we had a bubbling hot stone bowl of kimchi jjigae which is a spicy broth with all sorts of vegetables, tofu and kimchi. It’s the kind of super warming chunky stew you need on an icy-cold night, but vegetarians beware because there will always usually be a couple of pork bones floating around in there to flavour the broth. After dinner we watched some more street performances then headed back through the windy streets of Hongdae back to our apartment.

Before we knew it, we woke up on Christmas day! Although it was strange not to have the traditional festive experience seeing our families, it was actually a brilliant day and I would definitely recommend that everyone try to get away for Christmas at least once. There was zero stress, we did  whatever we wanted all day and because Christmas isn’t celebrated in quite the same way in Korea, everything was still open and the streets were bustling.

We started the day by opening a couple of presents (thanks mum!) and then got the subway over to Myeongdong. From there we got the bus up to the top of Namsan tower which is up a mountain right in the middle of northern Seoul. We were originally planning to walk up to the top but in the end got the bus to save time as we wanted to be some of the first people there after how busy Lotte World had been the day before. We took some obligatory cute shots in the many photo spots dotted around the base of the tower and then picked up some hot drinks to help keep our hands warm – more delicious citron tea.

We bought our tickets for the top of the tower and went up in the elevator. There’s a lot to do here including dozens of souviner shops, cafes and food spots so if views aren’t your thing I’m sure you’ll find something else to occupy you.

As for us we were pretty absored in the breathtaking scenery all around us. Luckily the poor weather from the day before had mostly cleared up and it was a beautiful sunny day with blue skies and hardly any pollution. It was so fun trying to spot landmarks we could recognise and figure out where our apartment was.

I can’t believe it took us three trips to get up here because it was definitely one of our favourite parts of the holiday and I would highly recommend it to anyone planning to visit Seoul. One of the most surreal/hilarious aspects was that the toilets have huge windows so you can look out across the city while you have a wee. They have toilets like this in the Shard too and honestly it never gets old!

Once we had spent a good hour just staring slack jawed out of the windows it started to get really busy so we headed back downstairs to get a little something to eat. We spotted Jod’s favourite grilled-steak-served-on-top-of-beer (<< super official name) and enjoyed it sitting in the sun looking out onto the city, a pretty brilliant start to Christmas day.

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Once we were finished, we walked down the mountain and back into Meyeongdong. The trail was gorgeous and I bet it would be even more beautiful in Spring. I did pretty well, only slipping on my bum once on the way down which for a klutz like me is a result!

Back in the city we made our way to the famous restaurant Myeongdong Kyoja for some late lunch. This place has been open for over 40 years – practically unheard of in Seoul – and it’s easy to see why. As expected there was a line out the door but they are seriously efficient at getting people in and out. For starters as you approach the door they split you into two lines, one for couples and one for larger parties. You’re then given a menu as you queue up the stairs and with only four dishes to choose from it’s pretty easy to decide. As you reach the top of the stairs they take your order and then seat you as soon as a table becomes available, bringing over some kimchi, your bill and even after dinner mints as soon as you’ve sat down. Less than five minutes after that your food arrives and you pay, then you leave as soon as you’re finished. It sounds hectic but it really wasn’t, just super efficient!

We went with an order of dumplings which were thin skinned and deliciously savoury, stuffed with minced pork and spring onions, alongside a huge steaming bowl of handmade Kalguksu. This soup is a fragrant broth filled with more minced pork, some dumplings and tons of the silkiest, slipperiest hand cut noodles we’ve ever tried. Both of the dishes were SO good and the kimchi was also fantastic, and refilled numerous times throughout the meal by ladies walking around with great buckets of the stuff.

It’s easy to see why the restaurant has such a great reputation and at around £10.50 for the whole meal it was some of the most affordable restaurant food we ate during the whole trip. Next time I would definitely like to try the other two noodle dishes which I believe are served cold so would be perfect to enjoy in the summer heat.

Stuffed to the gills, we headed back to the apartment and did some video calls to family and friends back home in the UK and then watched some Christmas movies to help us get into the festive spirit. At around 9pm we bundled up against the cold and went to watch some more street performances. I seriously have no idea how people were playing musical instruments, I had gloves on and my fingers were still numb with my hands in my pockets!

We went to Yoogane for dinner which is one of our favourite fast-casual chains in Korea. Spicy chicken stirfry with noodles, rice cakes and vegetables plus plenty of stringy cheese was exactly what we needed to help us warm up and although not a traditional Christmas dinner it was still bloody good!

Walking back down the main street watching more street performers (plus the two or three bottles of soju we shared over dinner) had really put us in the mood to do some warbling of our own, so off we went to norebang! Norebang literally translates to singing room and although usually people do karaoke in groups in Korea, there was obviously only two of us so we weren’t sure if we would be able to rent a whole room. We needn’t have worried though, we were directed up some stairs and found corridors lined with mini rooms just perfect for 2-3 people. There were two little mini couches, a standing microphone, a couple of hand-held mics and an absolutely massive telly with an equally massive controller… all in Korean. It took us a good ten minutes to get anything on we knew but by the end of the night we were like pros blasting out an eleclectic mix of Elton John, Linken Park, Taylor Swift and Neil Diamond (we dedicated Sweet Caroline to Doreen!). It was the perfect end to a perfect day, but I’ll spare you the video evidence…

On Boxing Day we  woke up late morning and spent ages cracking up over the videos from the night before. At least, I cracked up, Jod seemed pretty mortified…

After about a million glasses of water and some strong black coffee we were ready to take on the day and got the subway over to Insadong. We explored the many winding alleyways looking for something tasty for lunch and eventually settled on a traditional restaurant with super friendly staff. They were blasting out old fashioned Christmas tunes and it was pretty surreal to be listening to Bing Crosby while we presused the menu.

The meal started with traditional banchan including acorn jelly, kimchi, sesame beansprouts, macaroni salad and (we think) radish water kimchi. These were all yummy and were refilled throughout the meal. Served alongside them we were each presented with a steaming pot of doenjang jiggae which is a tofu and vegetable stew seasoned with fermented soybean paste – sounds funky, tastes fab.

I opted for the bimimbap with vegetables, raw beef and a raw egg yolk. Mixed together with rice and spicy red pepper paste this was amazing and felt (reasonably) healthy after all the heavy stuff we had been indulging in on the holiday so far. Jod chose the bulgogi which was served sizzling on a cast iron griddle covered in a sticky and sweet glaze alongside some sliced mushrooms and, of course, more rice.

We agreed afterwards that this was one of our favourite meals and the atmosphere in the restaurant was fantastic too. Insadong is such a lovely place to visit and there are loads of these traditional places dotted about to explore and enjoy.

Our next destination was Ssamzigil which is an outdoor shopping centre filled with quirky independent boutiques and a charming sky garden. It’s also home of the famous poop-bread – we got one stuffed with chocolate for dessert. These are so yummy and never fail to make me laugh because I’m five years old.

We spent some time wandering around, especially in the many adorable stationary shops where we picked up some gifts and were given a free world map poster with stickers like the one pictured below – I can’t wait to get this up on the wall in our apartment as soon as we move in!

We made our way over to Gyeongbukgong palace only to discover that it’s closed on Tuesdays. Nevermind, we were only planning to go there so that we could say we had done something cultural, as the rest of our plans for the day were decidedly relaxed…

We were going to a cat cafe! I’ve wanted to visit one of these for years and we were really missing Samson at this point in the trip and jonesing for some kitty affection. We went to one near our apartment where we paid around £6 each for a drink. This might seem steep but it’s the only cost and you can stay and play with the kitties as long as you like, way after you’ve finished your drink, so it’s really not too bad. I had an iced americano and Jod went for a homemade lemonade. I loved the cupholders in the table so that we didn’t have to worry about our drinks being knocked over by boistrous paws.

We took our shoes off, locked our coats and bags in the locker provided, sat paitiently and waited. And waited. And waited.

You have to wait for the cats to come to you rather than picking them up or interrupting them in their space and while Jod managed to tempt a couple of adorable little munchkins to sit on his lap and happily fall asleep, nobody wanted to be my friend!

Instead I occupied myself snapping a million photos of the many cuties – how sweet are this pair snuggled up? The mini one looked like Sam! I’ll be honest, once we hit the two hour mark I was feeling like there must be something seriously wrong with me as every other person in the cafe had a sleeping cat on their lap…

Finally, as I was just about to give up, a sweet little cat crept on over and made himself comfy on my knee. I was so happy I nearly cried and Jod started endlessly making fun of me for being pathetic, which I definitely was.

I don’t seem to have any photos of dinner this night, but I’m pretty sure we did some cooking in our apartment and watched movies until late. Kind of an anticlimactic end to this post, but an end nonetheless.

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