Winter Vacation in Korea Recap – PART FOUR

This is the last in my series of recaps from our Christmas holiday in Korea! With only two full days left in Seoul we basically decided to focus all our energy on travelling around and eating as much as we possibly could because we were keenly aware that healthy eating would resume as soon as we got back to the UK. At least that’s what we thought at the time – it turns out that the mixture of packing/moving stress along with having so many “goodbye” meals with friends and family results in a less than healthy diet tbh…

Anyway, we started out on the 27th with another visit to Paris Baguette for some uniquely korean breakfast pasties. Jod went for a battered hot dog wrapped in puff pastry covered in ketchup and mustard, and I had a sweet bread-bun filled with egg mayo and topped with cheese, ketchup and more mayo. The egg mayo bread was my morning dream and Jod’s idea of hell. We ate these perched on a bench outside the subway station as eating or drinking while walking/on the move is a big no-no in Korea. We got the train to Sinsa-song which is an upmarket neighborhood in northern Gangnam home to the famous Garuso-gil shopping street.

It was a gorgeous bright day but still freezing cold and when Jod suggested we stop in at McDonalds to “warm up”, how could I refuse? I know eating somewhere like McDonalds is probably the cardinal sin of travelling to other cultures, but sometimes you just can’t resist those golden arches… Plus, the grilled mushroom signature burger looked so good! We ordered based off the picture on the left and enjoyed one of the best cases of expectations v reality when we were presented with the sloppy mess on the right! Nevertheless it tasted pretty good and we were entertained by the spectacle of some teenage boys dropping two full large cokes on the floor and then trying in vain to clean it up with napkins.

Once we were suitably warmed up and filled with delicious trans fats we spent an hour or so walking around Garusogil and checking out all the cute shops. We got a birthday present for my mum (not saying what in case she reads this before we give it to her!) and spent ages picking the nicest one, then as soon as we got out of the shop Jod promptly dropped it, smashing it to bits. Nevermind, I used it as an excuse to spend some more time looking around the shop while we got another, so it wasn’t all bad!

Sinsa is packed full of beautiful cafes, all of which are an Instagrammer’s dream as they’re merchandised so beautifully. They all seem to be huge as well so its easy to find a quiet spot to sit and chat, read or get some work done. We found our way to C27 which is a cafe serving 27 different specialty cheesecakes as well as hot and cold drinks. The display case we amazing and they all sounded yummy, but the real star was each individually decorated room in the four story building. One played host to an array of metallic floating balloons, another was like a country kitchen all decked out for the festive season.

The room we settled in had a huge rotating ferris wheel lit up along one wall and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the quaint seating area below. Since Jod isn’t much of a cheesecake fan and he’d eaten most of the burger, he let me choose which flavour we tried. I went with the Earl Grey Cheesecake which was light and fluffy with a delicate tea flavour without being too sweet – definitely a winner. To drink we had a couple of lattes, matcha for me and vanilla for Jod. We sat chatting in C27 for ages, planning all of our adventures for the coming year, and then spent a couple more hours wandering around Sinsa before heading back to Hongdae.

The night before we had tried to visit an all-you-can eat sushi buffet for dinner but were told it was closing when we arrived at 8pm, although I’m about 70% sure it was because we didn’t speak Korean and the woman couldn’t be bothered explaining how it worked as it looked pretty busy and the website said it only closed at 9…

Anyway, we tried it again as a very late lunch at about 4pm (if you’re keeping track of how much we ate today, just don’t) and managed to get a table without too much faff. We started off visiting the hot bar which had crab claws, tempura prawns, chicken wings and some salads, all pretty standard asian buffet type fare and nothing outstanding, but we still had high hopes for the sushi because when is it ever really bad? I mean, even supermarket sushi will do in a pinch when you have a craving…

Turns out when you pay about £10 each for all you can eat, you definitely get what you pay for when it comes to sushi. There was plenty of choice including some bizzare items (ham and mustard nigiri, anyone?) alongside the more familiar favourites like salmon sashimi and inari pockets, but everything tasted exactly the same. It was SO bland and boring and had zero flavour, so disappointing! We definitely learnt our lesson and will try to be more discerning when it comes to Japanese food in the future.

After such a rubbish meal, we knew we had to turn things around at dinner time so decided to get korean BBQ for dinner later that night. We wandered around Hongdae and did some shopping first (I love it that beauty shops stay open until after 10pm in Seoul!) then found Loco Quan 401. This restaurant is owned by HAHA, one of the hosts of Korean variety show Running Man, and is reggae themed. Safe to say the decor is as bizzare as you might expect, but the service was excellent and the food was great. They specialize in black pork, a specialty type of meat from Jeju island in the South, and we ordered both samgyeopsal (three-layered meat of fatty dreams) and the marinated beef. The meat is cooked at your table and served alongside some side dishes, various sauces, veggies and leaves to wrap everything up into delicious little mouth-sized parcels.

We also ordered a traditional school-style lunchbox/doshirak which is white rice topped with spam, a fried egg, kimchi, veggies, spicy red pepper paste and in this case some kind of teeny tiny little fish. The way to eat this is by closing the lid and then shaking vigorously violently for about twenty seconds until everything mixes together. This was awesome and went really well with the copious amounts of soju we drank over the course of a couple of hours. I think we might actually have been hiccuping when we left the restaurant.

From then on things honestly get a bit hazy, but I seem to remember we tried to take some funny pictures in a photo booth but couldn’t get it to work, then according to my camera roll we went to Billy Angel for a slice of rainbow crepe cake. This has to be one of the prettiest cakes you can try but I only wrote four words in my notes from the evening – “Tasted like bubblegum – gross!”

At some point we must have made it home because we woke up the next day with dreadful hangovers but plenty of determination to enjoy our last full day in the city. We started out with the best hangover cure known to man – a macaroni and beef wrap sandwich from Dunkin Donuts. This looked pretty dire but when is macaroni cheese inside a grilled tortilla ever a bad idea?

We felt about 400% better after our fat-on-carb-on-carb breakfast and things only improved with coffee and a brisk walk around Hongdae. It really is such a great neighborhood packed with little winding streets and all sorts of interesting shops and cafes. We also went to Homeplus one more time to pick up some biscuits and sweets for people at work and some soju to share with everyone at our goodbye dinner in February. When we had worked up enough of an appetite we found our way to Yoogane for some lunch. We tried a different branch this time and although there wasn’t a banchan buffet in this one (boo!) they did give us giant clear draw string bags to put all our coats and bags in so that they didn’t get splattered, which was pretty cool.

This time we had garlic chicken fried rice with extra cheese and it was amazing as always, packed with spring onion, cabbage, marinated chicken and tons of spicy sauce. FYI, if you’ve never put grated mozzarella in your fried rice before, start now and thank me later. It cost less than a tenner for this huge pan and we both went into a bit of a food coma afterwards that necessitated a LOT of walking to get over!

In order to get our steps up to a respectable level (we were averaging at least 20,000 a day for the duration of the trip), we decided to get the subway over to Seoul station in the center of the city and then walk along Seoullo7017. This is a formerly disused highway overpass that’s been transformed into a “sky garden” in the style of the Highline in Manhattan. The walk is populated with raised beds featuring plants native to the Korean peninsular as well as some cafes and information points. The walk is short but very pleasant and leads almost directly to Myeongdong so it’s worth doing if you’re headed that way anyway. I think it would definitely be much more impressive in the summer or at night when everything is lit up, but we enjoyed it as it was. It was fun to see Seoul from a different perspective; it really helped remind us how vast this city is when we were above a twenty lane highway!

As part of our wander across the city we stopped at a convenience store to pick up some coffee. Korea’s obsession with caffination is one of my favourite things – every convenience store has dozens and dozens of different kinds of iced coffee in every flavour combination you could image. Not only that but I managed to find my absolute favourite coffee (Island Coconut by Finnish company Little’s) at the Boot’s flagship in Myeongdong, although it was over double the price compared to back home!

Another random thing I spotted at the convenience store was a collection of bizzare sandwiches including one filled with cream cheese, pumpkin and blueberry… We didn’t try it and I kind of regret that now.

We wanted to try a few more types of street food before we left so planned to stay around Myeongdong for a while until the carts set up at around 4pm. We passed the time shopping and I was stupidly happy to try on Korean clothes and actually fit in them so I celebrated by buying a top. Because there’s a real lack of grey, long sleeved tops in my wardrobe…

As soon as the stalls were open for business we pounced, trying all the things we had been too full to eat earlier in the week. We started with some grilled steak in a sweet and sticky sauce that Jod really enjoyed.

I only had a bite or two because I was saving room for something I had spotted earlier; a Chinese Breakfast Sandwich. This was SO good; definitely in my top five things I ate all trip. Jod only had a bite because he isn’t a big fan of mayo so I had it almost all to myself! A quick google search tells me this is usually called Jianbing and it’s an egg and wheat flour based pancake that was kind of laminated like a croissant dough, stuffed in this case with fish cake, hot dog, fried egg, lettuce, spicy sauce and mayo. It might sound like an odd combination but it was totally addictive.

Our next choice was a cabbage omelette that was also nice but not a patch on the previous dish! The girl making these was seriously efficient though, she was making twelve at once, taking payments and giving change without missing a beat.

The last thing we tried was something we had been eyeing up for ages but couldn’t decide about; roasted lobster with cheese. This seems to be the ‘it‘ street food in Seoul right now with at least five or six stalls in Myeongdong, but at around £10 it’s not cheap. In the end we decided to go for it while it was our last day, and it was rubbish! The lobster was watery and fishy at the same time and the cheese was tasteless, definitely save your money if you’re ever tempted to get one of these.

We went back to the apartment to chill and watch some TV before cracking open the soju to mark our last night in Korea (for a couple of months, anyway…). We went looking for some shops that we hadn’t been able to find yet, including Chuu where I bought a pair of the famous -5kg jeans. It’s such a pretty shop, packed full of lovely things and definitely worth a look round if you’re in the area.

For dinner we knew we had to get lamb kebabs as it’s one of our favourite meals to eat in Korea and we hadn’t had any on this trip. I’m pretty sure these are Chinese in origin and part of the fun is watching them slowly cook while rotating over hot coals in the middle of your table. We ordered a set from a cosy restaurant on the main shopping street in Hongdae and weren’t dissapointed. For about £30 we got skewers of lamb, lamb rib, chicken and shrimp. Everything was great although Jod was a bit freaked out eating the little legs on the poor shrimp and ripping their heads off! I think the best thing about these skewers is the bright red seasoning you dip them in. I can’t find any info on what makes it up but it tastes like salt, cumin, paprika, a little chilli and a whole boat load of MSG – the flavour enhancer! (Bonus points if you get that reference) . It’s mild but deliciously savory and improves anything it touches.

The set also included sweet and sour pork in a super crispy coating that was just like prawn crackers – yum! The price also covered a bottle of beer and a bottle of soju to share. Pretty good value!

When we were done we stumbled out and slowly wandered around Hongdae watching street performers and chatting about what we plan to do when we move here – so many ideas! We called in at Baskin Robbins on the way back to the apartment in the early hours of the morning and shared a scoop of Boston cream pie flavoured ice cream for dessert. I can’t remember exactly what was in it except that it was kind of chocolatey and completely yummy.

Before we knew it we woke up on our very last morning. We packed up and sorted out our recycling and headed to Paris Baguette for Coffee on the way to the limousine bus stop. It took us a while to find – it’s so much more difficult to find a specific subway exit when you’re above ground, and with our massive cases there’s no way we could have got down the stairs to find it from the inside!

When we did eventually find the stop there was a super helpful attendant to show us where to wait and watch our bags. We waited about ten minutes and in the spare time the attendant randomly started doing push ups on a bench… bear in mind he looked to be in his mid sixties!

When we got to the airport we were the first in line at the Lufthansa check in desks, which as a nervous traveler is my absolute favourite position to be in! We waited about twenty minutes for the desks to be opened and then collected our boarding passes. As usual at Incheon they asked us to wait for ten minutes in case our bags were selected for re-screening. For the first time ever we wandered off after the first couple of minutes only for them to call Jod back over the tannoy! They took him into a little room and asked him all sorts of questions about this weird foot massage thing I had bought for my mum, thinking it was some kind of gas cannister! Eventually he managed to explain what it was and they let him repack the case and be on his way.

We made it through security and 9immigration in about twenty minutes and then found the Sky Hub lounge opposite gate 11. We somehow managed to snag a 40% discount so we only paid about £25 between us for three hours access. The lounge had a great view of the runway, plenty of places to sit and loads of electrical ports as well as wireless charging pads throughout. For some reason Jod decided to pose like a catalogue model possessed by the devil, but I don’t think that should be viewed as a poor reflection on the lounge.

The buffet was pretty decent and included a salad and banchan bar as well as some fried rice, pasta, bulgogi, cheesy potato bake and more. We had a couple of plates each as well as some drinks and packed up some bottles of water for the flight. The food options at Incheon aren’t that great once you get through security and there aren’t a lot of places to sit so I definitely think it’s worth paying for the lounge so that you can relax properly before your flight.

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I had spotted a sign for a twenty minute massage for about £6 as we were walking to the lounge so while Jod watched a film I went back there to check it out. I was assuming it would be like one of those deals that you sometimes see in shopping centres where you kneel on a weird stool while someone rubs your back, but the smiling korean lady lead me instead to a very serious looking padded leather chair. I took my shoes off and climbed aboard before she adjusted it, tightening each part so that my feet, arms, legs and even head where all held in place and couldn’t move. Suddenly the chair tilted backwards just like at the dentist, she covered me up with a blanket, turned down the lights and then left. At this point I couldn’t have got out if I wanted to and what followed were the longest twenty minutes of my entire life, where I was basically beaten up by a robot chair.

All I could think was “this contraption wasn’t designed for a tall person like me” because as the weird robot fists inside the chair punched me in the lower back, going higher and higher, I was convinced they would break my shoulder blades when they reached them. I’m generally not bad with pain (having sat through about 30 hours of tattooing without much trouble at all), but this was so uncomfortable I seriously would have called Jod to come and rescue me if I could only have reached my phone. I’m pretty sure I audibly sqeaked a few times in pain, but on the plus side I did feel amazing when the ordeal was finally over and it definitely took my mind off worrying about the flight because I was just so glad to be alive. I’m only being slightly dramatic here too as It turns out that, like sushi, with massages you get what you pay for.

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Following that excitement I did my best to increase my credit card debt by finally buying the Gucci belt I had been lusting over all year but sadly they only seemed to have massive sizes in stock, so I sadly had to save my money. We made our way over to the concourse and boarded our first flight back to Frankfurt. The welcome drink this time was orange and mango and we were able to drink this before take off. Sadly the entertainment selection on the flight was exactly the same as last time, but I guess that should be expected given that it had only been ten days. I managed to watch the first five episodes of Atlanta (which is awesome!) and then it was time for the first meal. I think we both had some kind of chicken with potato wedges, potato salad and fruit. And kimchi because Korea.

The rest of the flight was spent watching stuff (Memoirs of a Geisha, Patti Cake$, Big Little Lies) and messing about on the internet. Service on this flight was excellent and we drank a stupid amount of Bailey’s for some reason. That’s probably the reason why we didn’t feel so fresh when we landed in Germany. Before we landed, however, we had our second meal. Mine was sundried tomato pasta and Jod tried the Korean chicken and rice. Both of these were pretty good but the weird gelatenous dessert served alongside was rubbish. It turns out Lufthansa doesn’t excel at desserts as we only ever had this or fruit, and fruit doesn’t count as proper dessert in my book.

One we landed at Frankfurt we made our way through security and found our gate pretty quickly. Jod went to get us some coffee then I went in Burberry where I ummed-and-ahhed over a scarf but decided against it in the end. I bought my dad a shirt instead so that my shopping urges would go away without any guilt. You’re welcome, dad!

Our flight was delayed half an hour but we finally made it back to Manchester at about 10.30pm, getting back to our flat just before 1am after waiting a while for our taxi. We had been travelling for almost a full day and were so happy to collapse onto our sweet, sweet memory foam mattress, I’m going to miss it so much when we move…

That’s it for our vacation recap! We move our stuff into storage on Monday before staying with my mum and dad for a bit, then it’s just over two weeks until our big move. Wish us luck 🙂

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