Settling In

If I’m writing a post it can only mean one thing, the weekend has arrived here in Korea! There’s a lot to recap so I’ll rewind back to last Saturday when we explored our neighbourhood, it seems like a great area with loads of little restaurants and coffee shops. We decided to eat out so took a shot of soju each at home to bolster our courage before ordering  (I still feel really stupid when I speak Korean as I know my accent is horrible). However, as it often does, one shot lead to many more and we ended up staying in making eachother laugh remembering all the funniest parts of our journey here.

Speaking of funny journeys, we had a really embarassing moment the other day when we got on the bus, scanned our transportation cards and there wasnt enough money on them for the journey. Jod scrambled around with coins trying to pay but he was obviously taking too long as the driver just mumbled something grumpily, shook his head and waved us to just hurry up and sit down without paying. I think he took pity on us as idiot foreigners and it was toe-curlingly embarassing with a big group of teenagers on the bus laughing at us… safe to say we will always make sure our cards are topped up before boarding from now on…

On Sunday we woke up in need of some serious brunch food due to the aformentioned soju so headed downtown to The First Alleyway. This is the Canadian-owned spot we visited for dinner when we came to Gwangju at Christmas so we were able to find it pretty easily in the maze of streets – always a bonus when hungover. The breakfast menu is insane and we ordered way too much food but it was exactly what we needed. Jod opted for the Breakfast Poutine (french fries topped with cheese, gravy, scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon) and I had the Southern Chicken (fried chicken on Texas toast topped with sausage gravy served with fried eggs and breakfast potatoes). We also got a side of pancakes and two Bloody Mary’s. We didn’t have a hope in hell of finishing it all and we were pretty much stuffed for the rest of the day. We loved that the servers constantly topped up our coffees over the course of the meal and that there was no rushing us to leave, it was all perfectly chilled and relaxing.

After Brunch we met up with some other expats to watch “The Shape of Water”. I absolutely loved it (probably because it reminded me of Amelie), but Jod fell asleep for the first hour! It was fab to connect with other people and hear about some of the exciting opportunities and places to visit around the city.

On Monday we headed back to school for more planning and spent the afternoon at the Immigration Office to get our Alien Registration Cards. This took about four and a half hours as the administrator who brought us was missing some paperwork and had to head back to the school to pick it up. Eventually though we paid our 30,000KRW each, had our fingerprints taken and were told our cards will be with us in around three weeks time. That means another three weeks until we can get bank accounts and phone contracts, but I’m sure the time will fly by.

When we got home I finished covering our kitchen cupboard doors and stuck some stuff up on the walls to make the place a little more colourful. It’s definitely starting to feel more like home, but I can’t wait to get some more framed prints up and some bedding for the second bedroom.

Food this week has been pretty great and we’ve tried lots of new things which is always fun. For breakfast I’ve been having fruit, yoghurt and granola while Jod has toast. Strawberries are in season in Korea at the moment and they’re so sweet! We’ve been eating a lot of vegetable stirfries with rice and eggs for dinner as it’s so quick and easy in our mini kitchen, but on Thursday Night we got a load of picky bits from the supermarket and had a kind of Korean tapas-style feast – yum!

We’ve been trying to make connections in the community and it seems to be working! We often see our landlord on our walks too and from school and he always smiles and waves, and the lady at the local convenience store gifted us some freshly cooked hardboiled eggs the other day when we topped up our transportation cards. We also went to our local family owned bakery for treats on Friday rather than Paris Baguette (the uniquitous chain here in Korea) and everything was completely scrumptious.

On Tuesday we were treated to a delectable lunch at Tokkijung by one of the very kind English teachers at our school (she also invited us to go hiking with her walking group next weekend which we’re really looking forward to!). The whole department went for lunch together and we got to taste lots of delicious items. For mains we had the curry cream udon – literally udon noodles in Japanese curry sauce topped with clouds of whipped cream. Sounds crazy, tastes great! Afterwards we all went for coffee (again another teacher paid, we are feeling very spoiled!) and it was lovely to get to chat to everyone outside work where everyone is so busy.

School lunches have been really tasty this week starting with this one; Apple wedge, chicken wings, sesame beansprouts, water kimchi, black bean noodle soup and fried rice.

 

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Next was; steamed egg, fried chicken in sweet and spicy sauce, green onions, spicy rice cakes, seaweed soup and rice with kimchi.

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Lastly on Friday we had strips of fish cake, pineapple, kimchi, seaweed and rice cake soup, rice and spicy minced pork. We’re definitely still appreciating the opportunity to try lots of different things, but Jod hasn’t come round to fish cake just yet.

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Thursday was a national holiday so we got to have a day off before the new semester started. It was lovely to be able to sleep in, pop out for a coffee, get some bits from the supermarket (slippers for school!) and just get ourselves into the right mind set for teaching. Overall we’ve had a lovely transition into teaching and I would definitely recommend to other people considering moving abroad to teach for the first time to try and give yourself as much time as possible to adjust to the new way of life before you’re dropped into the classroom. We read a lot of stories about newbies picked up from the airport after 24+ hours of travelling, driven to their city and then taken straight to school to start shadowing or teaching. We really appreciated having two weeks to get used to the time difference, sort out our apartment and get to know the other people in our department.

Friday morning soon rolled around and it was time to teach our first classes! We each have a “Morning Class” of 8-12 students that we see for 50 minutes four mornings a week. These are science lessons taught in English and  Jod has the older students (5th + 6th grade) while I have the little ones (3rd + 4th). Their ability is brilliant and we’re looking forward to getting to know them better over the coming weeks. I asked my class if they like the school and one replied “So-so… I like the school but not the uniform. It makes us look like sweet potatoes!” << heart exploded!

We got our timetable for the first month and it looks great, we have a good amount of free time to prep anything we need for the lessons and so far we’re really enjoying life being teachers at Songwon Elementary. Next week is our first full week of teaching so we’re going to pack a lot of fun stuff into this weekend. See you next Saturday!

 

Bits and Pieces From our First Week

Hello from Gwangju! It’s currently 10.12 on Saturday morning and as of right now we have officially been in our new city for a whole week. It’s been absolutely packed with moving in, starting school, hospital visits and more but sitting here now in our little apartment at a proper table with a nice cup of coffee, I feel pretty chilled out and really chuffed to be here. I’ve taken what feels like 8 thousand photos over the last few days, so rather than going through everything chronologically, I thought I would group stuff together to give a general picture of the past seven days.

Our School – Songwon Elementary

We were picked up on Wednesday morning by one of our fellow English teachers (Sujin) and an administator from the school. They were both super nice and have been invaluable in helping us figure out how everything works, taking us to hospital for our medical checks, getting us lunch, translating what happens during faculty meetings and pretty much everything else. We were both really nervous about going to school for the first time but we needen’t have worried as everyone has been really warm and welcoming, and so far we’ve been given enough space and time to get to grips with lesson planning for our morning clasess too. We each have our own classroom and although we don’t have a full schedule or all of our books yet, we don’t actually start teaching until Friday so hopefully everything will be sorted out before then!

There are a lot of differences between schools in Korea compared to the UK, which I’m sure will become even more aparent when the kids are back from winter vacation! Hospitals are different too; everything is so efficient and orderly. We visited the biggest/busiest hospital in Gwangju without a prior appointment in order to get our medical checks for our Alien Registration Cards and were in and out in less than an hour. Less than 60 minutes to have an eye test, hearing test, blood pressure, BMI, body measurements, chest X-Ray, EKG, urine test and blood test! It did come at a pretty hefty cost though, 160,000KRW/£106 for each of us, sad times. We picked up our results yesterday and to celebrate being in peak physical fitness (at least healthy enough to stay in the country) we punished our livers with copious amounts of soju and crisps.

Delicious (and not so delicious) Food

We’ve been trying to strike a balance between cooking healthy food at home and eating cheap but delicious food out.  It’s expensive to buy meat in supermarkets so we’ve been eating a lot of veggie stirfries, cereal, eggs, fruit and pasta but we did also make a really nice chicken kimchi fried rice and chicken salad one night. We’ve also found a great toasted sandwich place downtown that serves two thick slices of buttered bread surrounding an omelette, ham, cheese, cabbage and a duo of spicy sauces for 2,000KRW/£1.30. Not healthy at all but completely yummy.

We’re entitled to school lunches every day at work and have had two so far. The first had(clockwise from top left) fish cakes and tofu; vegetable pancake; a yoghurt drink; kimchi; toasted rice and squid soup and kimchi fried rice. I looooved everything in this lunch and cleared my tray but Jod wasn’t so keen on all the seafood.

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The second lunch had some kind of eel (we think) stew; tofu; rice cakes and hotdogs on a stick in a curry sauce; kimchi; pork bone and potato soup and steamed white rice. I tripped up on the bones in the eel with this one and had to delicatley remove them without drawing attention to myself in the crowded lunch room… that was fun. Jod enjoyed this lunch more but it was such a random combination of flavours that I ended up leaving quite a bit and then eating an orange back in our classroom!

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We’re definitely really lucky to be able to eat school lunches as it gives us the opportunity to try so many new foods at once, including things that we would probably never order. Sitting with the other English teachers means that we can ask them what things are and observe how to eat them, too!

After our medical checks I think Sujin felt sorry for us having to spend all that money to be prodded and poked, so she very kindly took us out for lunch. We went to a traditional Korean restaurant where you take your shoes off at the door and sit on the heated floor at low tables. We both got pins and needles but hopefully practice will make us better at sitting cross legged for extended periods of time!

The food was amazing. We started out with galbi (ribs) cooked in a bubbling both that reduced to a rich and sticky sauce. This is cooked at the table and served alongside a variety of leaves and garnishes (thinly sliced raw onions in wasabi-vinegar, garlic cloves, chilli and spicy red pepper paste) to make completely individualised parcels of deliciousness. Served alongside were tons of side dishes including rolled omelette, soybean paste and tofu soup, kimchi, radish kimchi, sesame beansprouts, quails eggs in soy sauce and probably more that I’m forgetting. The side dishes were replenished as soon as we had finished one, it was a pretty epic amount of food for three people!

Just when we were completely stuffed and wondering if it would be acceptable to take a nap on the warm, cosy floor, Sujin announced “Now it’s time for dessert!”. Rather than anything sweet,  the server brought over three portions of white rice and a whole selection of vegetables and seaweed as well as a raw egg yolk which were all fried together in the pan along with the remaining galbi to create a kind of fried bibimbap which was so good we had to eat it despite being full already.

Our Apartment

Our apartment is about 20 minutes walk from school, in a quiet neighbourhood. There is a small entryway with shoe cupboard, a traditional korean-style “wetroom” bathroom, a central dining room, kitchen/utility room, master bedroom and second bedroom. The previous teachers used the second bedroom as a living room  but we’ve decided to just stick everything in there that we don’t want for the time being (excess furniture, suitcases etc) and decide what to do with it in a couple of weeks once we’ve lived in the space for a while.

We’re really lucky to have a decent sized apartment here in Gwangju as foreign teachers often end up in tiny studios without enough room to swing a cat. The downside of a bigger place, however, means that we’re in a walk-up which is quite dark and could perhaps be described as a little bit old fashioned. We know that we want to stay here for at least two years so had decided before we arrived that we were happy to spend a little bit of money to freshen up the place. We’ve already put up some framed prints on the walls, dressed up the table and moved the furniture around, and later today I’m going to attempt to recover the kitchen cupboard doors using sticky-back plastic which is really popular over here.

It’s definitely a work in progress but hopefully as we try out more DIY projects the place will start to feel more like home. Still feels weird to have the laundry drying from the kitchen ceiling though, not going to lie.

First Day in Gwangju!

Woo hoo, We’re here! I’m not going to recap our journey here yet because honestly we’re both just so over travelling and it wasn’t the most fun 24 hours, but we made it. Due to Seollal (new year) in Korea, the trains were crazy on Friday so we ended up spending an extra night in Seoul, arriving in Gwangju at lunch time today (Saturday).

Our home for the next five days or so is this super cute Airbnb in the downtown area. It’s teeny tiny but full of light and has a fantastic view of the city.

We spent today getting here, settling in and sorting out our laundry before heading out to get some supplies. Unlike when we’ve been to Korea on vacation we’re trying to get used to cooking healthy food at home right away, so we found the closest supermarket on Kakao Maps and set off in that general direction. It was a crisp, clear day and the sunset was beautiful over the city.

We ended up going to Emart and getting hopefully enough stuff to last us a few days. The only thing we wanted that we couldn’t find was plain porridge oats for breakfast, so we’ll keep looking for those. I think I remember Rachel mentioning an organic market somewhere near our school so we might try to find that tomorrow.

So what does 40,000KRW/£27 buy you in Gwangju? For our money we picked up…

  • Eight oranges
  • A bunch of bananas
  • 3 tubs of microwavable rice
  • A bag of peeled garlic
  • Chillis
  • Mini peppers
  • Onions
  • Giant spring onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Beansprouts
  • Kimchi
  • Tea Stained Eggs (<< We totally thought these were just raw eggs but nevermind)
  • Soy sauce
  • Milk
  • Pork Loin Strips
  • Washing up Sponges
  • Laundry Detergent

Once we move into our school’s apartment we should be able to save money buy buying things like grains and tins in bulk, and visiting local markets for our fruits and veggies. Jod made a delicious dinner tonight of marinated pork and vegetable stirfry with rice, egg & kimchi, so delicious and healthy too thanks to the super lean pork loin and Frylight I brought with us.

We plan to get out and do a lot more exploring tomorrow but the rest of tonight is going to be spent chilling out watching Korean Masterchef, bliss!

P.S The bedding in this apartment is VELOUR and it is SO comfortable it’s unreal. I am a complete convert. We should all be sleeping in old Juicy Couture tracksuits circa 2004.

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 🙂

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.

Winter Vacation in Korea Recap – PART TWO

I’m back! we’re currently waiting (im)patiently for our flight information so we can start planning our return to Korea and in the meantime we’re slowly packing up our entire lives, or so it seems (<<< I started writing this post so long ago. We actually have our flight info now!). Why is it that you never realise just how much stuff you have until you move? Anyway, it’s time to take a break from filling boxes and carry on with our holiday recap before I forget everything!

On our first full day in Seoul I woke up at about 6am (stupid jetlag, a recurring theme on this trip…) and pottered about watching Netflix and playing around with Instagram Stories. I drank the most amazing Ghiradelli iced mocha for breakfast that we had picked up at the convenience store the day before and had a super long hot shower before Jod woke up around 10.30. Unfortunately he had a bit of a gunky eye so our first order of business was walking through Hongdae to find a chemist. FYI, trying to explain  “conjunctivitus” in our severely limited Korean was hilarious, but with some charades-style actions  and the help of  google images we managed to pick up some eye drops.

As we walked we saw a few interesting things including the very organised recycling centre in our apartment building, some seasonal winter drinks advertised at a coffee shop that seemed to have ice lollies stuck in them (?!) and a place called “Block Burger” that serves burgers on coloured, lego brick shaped buns…

We walked over to Edae and although we were still a bit early for any street food we managed to locate our favourite little croquette shop and have the most amazingly crispy curry-filled one for just 1500KRW/£1.00.

There are so many cute clothing stores in Edae as it’s a university area and it was great to look around knowing I could actually fit in the clothes! Sadly I didn’t buy anything because it seemed pointless to buy stuff when we’re moving soon anyway, but it was fun to see what the trends were (FYI – puffer coats).

While we waited for the streets to get a little busier we headed to Angel-in-Us coffee for our caffeiene fix. The cafe was super comforting and warm which was much appreciated on such a frosty day! Jod had a caramel latte and I opted for a chocolate nut mocha. This was seriously amazing and tasted like a melted Kinder Bueno with whipped cream on top, perfect for sipping while we chatted in the window and watched the world go by.

The street food venders were starting to come out by the time we left the cafe and we just had to try the super long spiral hot dog with sweet mustard. Definitely not the most elegant thing to eat on the street but it sure was tasty!

We did a little more window shopping and then got the subway to Insadong where we walked around for a while just taking in the sights and sounds. By this point Jod was flagging a bit because of his sore eye so we went back to the apartment to chill out for a couple of hours and bought our KTX tickets online for the next day. The tickets said they needed printing but obviously we didn’t have a printer so we headed to Yongsan station to ask at the information point. It turns out it’s fine to just have the tickets saved on your phone (useful tip for anyone else planning to take the KTX!) but it was great to figure out our route to the station as it took longer than we thought and we really didn’t want to feel stressed out in the morning.

For dinner we had our hearts set on more street food so we took the subway over to Myeongdong and were absolutely ravenous by the time we arrived. Jod clocked a stand serving marinated steak (his favourite!) with sesame beansprouts (my favourite!) straight away and the ten minute wait was totally worth it. I think it cost 7,000KRW/£4.70.

Myeongdong was pretty busy and the atmosphere was great, stores were decorated for Christmas with twinkling lights everywhere and music playing all around.

We tred a few more tasty treats including soft sell crab with a sweet teriyaki-style sauce, meat-filled dumplings with soy sauce, and spring onion, brown sugar filled rice pancakes and the most amazing warm banana-filled croissant taiyaki that was buttery, flaky and unbelievably moreish. Can you tell I had already taken a bite before we remembered to snap a photo?

After stuffing ourselves silly we had a few drinks and then headed back to the apartment by way of Homeplus. It turns out that you can buy ready-made chocolate/caramel/pecan cheesecake in Korea… if only our apartment had come with a freezer…

Another interesting thing we noticed on our way home was that our apartment building indicated the 4th floor using the letter ‘F’ in the lift. We looked it up and it turns out this is because the number 4 sounds similar to a word which means death in Chinese characters, so is often not displayed.

All in all I would say this was a pretty successful day, and we walked nearly 30,000 steps!

The next day we woke up at around 5am feeling simultaneously excited and terrified to visit our future school. There was certainly plenty of nervous laughter as we got ready and made our way back to Yongsan station to board our train to Gwangju! Interestingly our tickets weren’t checked when we boarded, disembarked or at any point during the journey – possibly because they only check for tickets when someone is sitting in a non-reserved seat? Either way it was a nice change from Northern Fail Rail to just be left to relax for the entire journey. It took under two hours to travel roughly 225 miles on the KTX train. It’s Korea’s version of the “bullet train” and although we got up to speeds of 175mph it felt super smooth and comfortable.

We passed the time by drinking coffee, eating delicious kimbap, watching The Office and staring out of the window. I think the Seoul to Gwangju journey would be lovely in spring and summer when the trees are green and hillsides are in bloom. It turns out mid-December isn’t terribly scenic in the Korean countryside when there isn’t any snow!

This kimbap was so good! Full of different veggies like pepper, carrots, radish and greens as well as ham, egg, gooey American cheese and plenty of sesame flavour. We had a couple of chilled coffee drinks too and together they made a great breakfast after our early start.

The train pulled into the station just after 10am and we hopped into a taxi. My Korean was obviously pretty horrendous as he had no idea what was saying but between lots of smiling and the fact that we had the address of the school written down (thanks, Rachel!), we set off about 70% confident we would get where we needed to be.

After a short journey we were greeted at the entrance to the school by our amazing hosts Rachel and James. They’re the current English teachers at Songwon Elementary and are nearing the end of their second year of teaching and preparing to move back home to America. They also interviewed us, so it’s thanks to them that we have jobs waiting for us in Korea!

We started out by dropping our stuff off in what will soon be our office (!) and had a whistle stop tour of the English department before meeting the Principal. She was pretty  intimidating and spoke no English but came across as very warm and caring towards Rachel and James, and really seemed to appreciate our gift of Hotel Chocolat goodies, so I have hope! I was definitely glad that we heeded Rachel’s advice to dress professionally as she commented that we had given a good first impression – always a plus.

We each participated in a lesson with some 4th grade students were we told them about ourselves and played games before heading over to the cafeteria for lunch. The teachers eat with the students and the whole atmosphere was really lively and fun. We definitely felt like celebrities as little kids would run up to us and wave and then run away shyly or ask us ten questions at once, it was surreal and amazingly cool.

Lunch was delicious – fried rice, chicken drum stick, pickles, a couple of different types of kimchi, apple wedges and a kind of bean soup with chewy rice cakes in. We could definitely tell that school lunches in Korea are much more nutritionally balanced than those back in the UK, and everyone just eats the same thing with no complaining, it was pretty impressive!

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After lunch we headed back to the office for some citron tea -my new favourite thing ever and apparently good for warding off colds in the winter. We then headed to the auditorium to help out with a couple of rounds of an annual competition called the “Golden Bell”. It’s basically an English language quiz where the kids write their answers on white boards and hold them up. If they get it right they stay sat down and answer the next question, if they get it wrong they run and sit at the back of the hall until the contest is over. There are chances for eliminated players to win their way back into the game, which helps keep it interesting, and the overall winner gets to wear a little crown and come up on stage to ring the golden bell. It was seriously one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen and it was also hilarious to read questions out with an American accent. Seriously, next time you see Jod ask him to say “tomato” like an American, I nearly cried.

After an afternoon of lessons and Golden Bell we walked with Rachel and James from the school to their apartment through what will soon be our neighborhood. It’s a super cute little area and we were really pleased to see that the apartment has two bedrooms so there’s more space than we had anticipated. We chatted, drank delicious red wine and fresh coffee (much needed after a 5am start and then the aforementioned red wine…) and then got a taxi to downtown Gwangju. We checked into our Hostel which was lovely, very clean and had an amazing view although we did feel a bit stupid in twin beds!

Our hosts took us to a restaurant called The First Alleyway which is famous in the cities expat community for being a place where you can meet up for a taste of home. The food is western with plenty of burgers, pizzas and a great cocktail menu but we both went  for poutine since the owner is Canadian. Jod had the original (fries with gravy and cheese curds) and I went for one topped with pickles, mustard and plenty of pastrami. They were both awesome and we’ll definitely be back to try more of their whisky selection in the coming months!

We were lucky enough to meet a whole host of other expats during the meal who all made us feel really welcome and we were super disappointed to have to crash out early and head back to the hostel at around 11, we were just so tired!

The next day we both woke up with pretty killer hangovers but managed to navigate the subway back to the train station… not really difficult as Gwangju just has one line! We snoozed on the journey back and walked back to our apartment through Hongdae, stopping to get some steak and chips for lunch. I know there’s some kind of weird culinary trend right now to coat food in Cheeto dust and I’m pretty sure that’s what they’d done to these fries. They were so weirdly moreish…

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We spent the afternoon being lazy, hungover lumps chilling on the sofa watching TV and chatting endlessly about our favourite parts from the day before, eventually rising like vampires at some point after sundown to get provisions.

We went back to Homeplus and were delighted to find coffee and English breakfast tea. Now we can sleep easy until our return knowing that we’ll be adequately caffeinated when we arrive. For reference the jar of coffee below is £5 but the box of 25 tea bags is £4.50!

We were delighted to find an entire section of spam-themed meal options – after all, what’s a healthy lifestyle without a good helping of spam every now and then? We also saw another fun example of service (free stuff) – buy a lint roller and get a free battery operated hand fan – batteries included!

We picked up one of the aforementioned spam meal kits as well as a pan and some disposable bowls because the stuff provided in our apartment wasn’t that clean, and I honestly didn’t fancy scrubbing someone else’s crusty dishes on my holiday! The stew was so yummy with noodles, spam, rice cakes and veggies in a spicy broth. we served it alongside some kimchi, corn salad and mixed leaves with a selection of boozy treats. This was an amazing end to the day and definitely cured any lasting headaches from the night before!

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Winter Vacation in Korea Recap – PART ONE

We’re back! For a little while at least 🙂 We had the most amazing vacation and I want to remember every bit of it, so I’m trying to get these recaps written as quickly as possible before I forget everything. We took about a million photos so these posts will be pretty image heavy but I’ll try not to make them TOO long, here goes…

We started off on the 18th December when we set off from Southport on the train to Manchester Airport and checked into our hotel for the night. The Radisson was great – clean, comfortable and connected right to the train station and the terminal. I would definitely stay there overnight before a flight again as it made the morning super relaxed without having to worry about getting to the airport in time through traffic. I don’t seem to have any photos of the room for some reason but the bed was HUGE and we super comfy which definitely made up for the fact that the view out of our window was the back of a warehouse rather than the runway!

Once we had checked in and dropped our bags off we took the train back into Manchester to wander around the Christmas markets and soak up some of the festive spirit.

We shared a hot dog and some tartiflette (seriously the best market food ever but so hard to find!) followed by a brownie from Ridiculously Rich by Alana – remember her from The Apprentice last year?  We had a look around Selfridges and found it surprisingly easy to resist buying anything, probably because all of our cash was in Korean Won! After a couple of hours we headed back to the hotel and chilled out with terrible TV, I had a bath with my favourite Candy Mountain bubble bar from lush and then we ordered room service because I feel like you have to when you’re staying in a hotel, right?

I ordered the Sri Lankan chicken curry with rice and naan while Jod opted for a chicken Caeser salad. They were both pretty good but stupidly expensive for what they were. We couldn’t help but remember how cheap eating out is in Korea in comparison! We watched a few episodes of The Office and drifted off to sleep feeling super exited about the next day.

 

So excited in fact that Jod woke up at 4 and I was up by 5, even though our flight wasn’t until noon! We spent a couple of hours playing about with some video editing software, got ready for the day and then checked out of the hotel. We arrived at the check in area of the terminal at about 8.30 and were excited to see that the hall was super quiet with no big queues 🙂 We checked which desk to go to and were directed to a little mini hall around the corner… with a mega long queue full of angry, stressed out people who had already been there for hours. I’m not sure what the issue was but there were lots of people panicking that they weren’t going to make their flight and, as ours was later, we obviously had to wait a long time. We finally got to the front of the queue after about an hour and a half, received our boarding passes, put our cases on the conveyor belt and were just watching the check in assistant print out the luggage labels when a Lufthansa colleague hurried over with a panicked look on his face. “We need to evacuate the terminal now, there’s been an incident” are not the words you want to hear at the start of your holiday.

Everyone rushed out together into the car park and huddled together – it was bloody freezing! We tried to get on Twitter to figure out what was going on but the internet wasn’t working – probably because hundreds of other people had the same idea! Luckily it was just a false alarm and we were let back in after about 20 minutes. We made the executive decision not to try and queue up again and to just head straight through security, which meant I spent the following 18 hours convinced our luggage wasn’t going to follow us to Seoul (spoiler alert – it did).

 

It was definitely worth paying for fast track security as we were feeling pretty stressed at this point and wanted maximum lounge time! We got through in just a couple of minutes and then went straight to the Aspire Lounge to get some breakfast and a much needed drink. We started out with pastries, coffee, beer and Prosecco. The danishes were yummy but the coffee was rank – just a warning!

20171219_110911There were plenty of places to sit in the lounge and it was really quiet and peaceful. We got there just in time to get a couple of hot breakfast items but they switched over to the lunch menu just after we arrived.

 

Jod made himself a bacon sandwich and I opted to wait for the lunch items and have some macaroni cheese with different salads. The food was actually really nice and the unlimited alcoholic drinks were definitely much appreciated. We really enjoyed having the opportunity to relax before our flight and an hour whizzed by. Before we knew it our gate was announced and it was time to go!

 

The first leg of our journey (Manchester to Frankfurt) was just under an hour and a half so we were surprised that there was a free food service on board – just salami sandwiches on rye bread but Jod had one and said it was pretty good. There was also free beer, wine, tea and coffee and a decent amount of leg room for a short-haul flight. There weren’t any in flight entertainment screens but we busied ourselves with a few more episodes of The Office and started our descent before I’d even finished my teeny tiny coffee.

 

Transferring through Frankfurt airport was easy enough, there are plenty of signs directing you where to go, but it did take a while just due to the sheer size of the place. We walked through endless corridors, went through security again and even took a train, so if your connection is short you’ll want to get your skates on as soon as you disembark! Luckily we had a couple of hours so didn’t need to rush and had a chance to take a look around. Frankfurt has some great shops including Gucci, Burberry and D&G so if you’re looking for something special you might be able to score it there. There’s also excellent free WiFi and tons of places to sit and relax throughout the airport, as well as loads of charging ports at the gates. They even have special “nap chairs” near all of the long-haul gates which would be really useful if you had a long connection.

 

We boarded our second flight and our first impressions of Premium Economy on Lufthansa were fantastic. The seats are huge with tons of leg room, a big adjustable screen and bottles of chilled water waiting for you. There was also a footrest and two armrests each as well as a shelf under the screen to store small items like phones and headphones. There was an amenity kit on each seat which contained the usual slippers, blanket and pillow along with socks, toothpaste, tooth brush, face wipe, ear plugs and an eye-mask.

 

We settled in for the long flight ahead and enjoyed a yummy welcome drink of orange juice with fresh mint. This was really refreshing and a lovely start to the long journey. We checked out the in-flight entertainment system and were really pleased with the selection, during the flight I watched Chicago, Napoleon Dynamite and Lost in Translation. I wore the noise cancelling headphones my dad let me borrow me for the trip which made such a difference during takeoff – I think it was probably the first flight I haven’t left Jod with bruises from squeezing his hand so hard!

 

About 45 minutes after takeoff we were served little bags of salted pretzels and alcoholic drinks, and dinner was served about an hour later. Jod went for the Korean beef with rice and I had turkey spatzle with romanesco broccoli. The starter was a mozarella salad and dessert was tinned pineapple – maybe it’s just the fatty inside me but I felt a bit short-changed with fruit as a pudding! Both meals also came with kimchi, gochujang, bread and butter. The food was okay but Jod’s was clearly the superior choice, and definitely went better with the kimchi!

 

Once the meal service was cleared away the cabin lights were immediately dimmed and we both spent the next few hours watching films and not being able to sleep. We did go to the galley at one point to try and snaffle some snacks (on BA and Turkish Airlines there are usually biscuits and cup noodles available during long haul flights to Asia) but sadly they just had more pretzels. Never mind, we consoled ourselves with beer and red wine which eased the disappointment. Breakfast was served about two hours before landing and was the usual eggs/potatoes/tomatoes with yoghurt and granola. We also each had a much needed black coffee and Bloody Mary.

 

We landed on time and were some of the first off the plane – another huge advantage of premium economy because it meant we were the first to an empty immigration hall. We’ve waited hours to go through at Incheon in the past so it was fantastic to be able to walk straight through without queuing. We picked up our luggage and found our way to Darak Hyu, the “capsule” hotel next to the train station.

 

We checked in with no problems and were so delighted to see a clean, welcoming bed in a sound proof room – you would never have guessed we were in the middle of an airport once the door was shut. Be warned, the rooms do come with a shower (if you pre-book) but the toilets are shared. It was so great to be able to wash of all the grime of a solid day of travelling and get some shut eye for about five hours. We both slept so heavily and woke up feeling rested and refreshed!

 

We had stopped off at GS25 on the way to the hotel and picked up some essentials for when we woke up; coffee, soju, beer and a triangle kimbap – i had missed those so much since our last trip to Korea! We had our little mini feast and checked out of the hotel before walking out to the ticket office where we paid for our limousine bus journey, around £8 each. The journey to Hapjeong took about 45 minutes and we found our Airbnb really easily – although it wasn’t much fun dragging our cases through the snow and I realised that my shoes had absolutely zero grip after slipping on my bum twice, but at least I saw the funny side (Jod definitely did…)

 

Our apartment was fine but it definitely wasn’t as cute as in the photos so I didn’t take any photos. I will say that the location was fantastic though as it was so close to the main street in Hongdae as well as a huge Homeplus, where we went to get some supplies. There was a Lotteria buger place right in the supermarket which had some of the best Konglish we saw all week (untamed food of gold rush/roll for big check paydays/the burger is might!)

 

Homeplus is like the Korean version of Tesco and this particular one is located in the basement of a fancy outdoor mall surrounded by luxury apartment buildings, so it was super nice with an amazing wine selection and huge beauty department – I was pretty much in heaven.

 

We can’t be the only ones who love looking around foreign supermarkets on holiday? We saw tons of fun looking products including cola, yoghurt and butter caramel Pringles! Not sure I’m brave enough to try any of them to be honest…

 

We picked up some water, coffee and other bits and pieces, dropped them off at the apartment then wandered around Hongdae taking in the sights and sounds. It’s a university district so has great nightlife and we watched a ton of great street performers, everyone was so talented  but I have no idea how people were playing guitar in -4 degrees Celsius! We had decided to get fried chicken for dinner and stumbled across KyoChon which gets great reviews online.

We shared the rice chicken set which included a ton of deliciously seasoned chicken coated in rice flour which made the skin extra crispy, plus potato wedges and a selection of dipping sauces and salts. This was a perfect first meal in Seoul and went down so easily with a bottle of soju and a couple of beers. We stumbled home some point after midnight, stuffed to the gills, and collapsed into bed, super happy to finally be back in Korea.