19 Mar Journey to Gideon – Part 2
We had so hoped to keep our blog updated in real-time, but we decided to enjoy every last second in Korea instead! I did, however, take detailed notes of where we went and what we did. So for all you families getting ready to travel to Korea, grab a cup of coffee, and here we go!
I feel like I should start out by saying, very simply, Korea is amazing! Like even outside of Gideon, Korea is wonderful. It’s clean, it’s safe, the culture is incredible. In every detail, Korea exceeded expectations, and now – 8 days after returning home – I still miss it in a very real way.
Alright, to back up a bit, you’ll remember we visited Josh, Jessica, and Hosanna IN TAIWAN (click if you missed our Taiwan adventure), and then we returned to Korea, where we spent the evening preparing the gifts we had brought for Gideon’s foster family and social workers.
We stayed in an AirBNB right outside of Jonggak station in Jongno. The listing initially said the room was located in Myeongdong, but it was not. That said, we LOVED the location! It was across one main street from Insadong (Jong-ro is the name of the street if you’re looking on a map), and it was right in the middle of a hopping area with tons of coffee shops and restaurants.
On Monday morning, we woke up bright and early. I had sent Yun a letter to be translated for Giddy’s foster mom, and I woke up to find it in my inbox. So Brian and I set out for Kinkos, about half a mile away. We didn’t speak Korean, and the sweet employees at Kinkos spoke basically no English, but we fumbled our way through it and left with a translated letter in hand!
Next we headed for actual Myeongdong – about a 25 minute walk from our AirBNB in Jongno – because I mistakenly thought that’s where we could find a big market for breakfast and exploring. Turns out, Myeongdong has lots of upscale stores and a few food vendors, but no daytime market (night is another story, so stay tuned). We grabbed some mandu from a super friendly roadside vendor, and it was every bit as amazing as I had imagined. I’m not sure if there is a difference between mandu and dumplings (I assume all mandu are dumplings, but not all dumplings are mandu), but these were filled with meat and glass noodles, and they were insanely good. Seriously, you must find mandu!
I did a little research and realized the market I was trying to find in Myeongdong was actually called Gwangjang. And it was 25 minutes in the completely opposite direction, haha! We decided to make our way to Gwangjang slowly and explore whatever we could find along the way. We decided to check out the underground shopping in Jonggak station. Lots of the subway stops have rows and rows of shops underground, and it was nice to get out of the cold for a bit.
If you’re a morning person, you might find yourself awake before most of the city while you’re in Seoul. There was a morning rush of people headed to work around 8, but most stores and restaurants didn’t open until at least 10 or 10:30! Lots of places are open quite late, but mornings are prime time for simply walking and sipping coffee. So we window-shopped underground and then continued on to Gwangjang.
You guys, you MUST go to Gwangjang! We visited several markets while in Korea, and this one was by far our very favorite! Namdaemun is another permanent (and perhaps more popular) market nearby, but we found Gwangjang to be more of a traditional market, which we loved. We walked along the rows and rows of fabric shops, souvenir shops, and seafood stands, following the delicious smell of street food leading us deeper and deeper into the market.
We stopped for a few minutes to purchase chopsticks, wedding ducks for Gideon’s future bride (okay, okay, so we’re assuming a lot, but we are full of hope for him, and this was a tangible reminder of that hope!), and a few other little trinkets. The shop owner was so absolutely precious!
We continued to follow the smell of street food, and suddenly the market opened up into a huge central area filled with food carts! We settled on wonton soup, and it was amazing! The food vendor we chose also sold bibimbap, and we cannot wait to go back in a few weeks and try that too. (Almost) everything we tried from the markets in Korea was super fresh and delicious!
We decided to head back to Jongno and explore just around our AirBNB as we waited for our friends to finish up their first visit with their little boy. We grabbed coffee from a tiny (and I do mean TINY) coffee shop called Super Coffee. It might be the best latte I’ve ever had, no joke. It was smoother than luwak coffee from Bali, which is saying something!
Krista and Jon – our adoption friends from Minnesota – let us know they were back from meeting their son, so we set out for Insadong (which, as I mentioned, was maybe a 6 or 8 minute walk away). We made a quick stop into a store selling made-in-Korea wool socks…for $2.50! And we stocked up because we were freezing!
The four of us decided to explore the biggest and most famous royal palace in Korea: Gyeongbokgung! The walk from Insadong to Gyeongbokgung was short and lovely. Admission to the palace was a few dollars per person and was so worth the visit. We arrived just as the palace staff started the changing of the guard ceremony, so we watched the whole thing, fascinated by the performance. I do wish we would have taken the free English tour of the palace, but unfortunately we came at just the wrong time (the previous tour group had just left and wouldn’t start again for 2 hours). That said, we explored the palace, which used to be the living quarters for the king and his family during the Joseon dynasty. The contrast between the super old palace – started in 1395 – and the very modern city of Seoul was amazing!
We didn’t visit the National Folk Museum – on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung – because we totally forgot to check it out. But I’ve heard it’s well worth stopping by! And it’s free, like most museums in Korea.
After the palace, we set our sights on Bukchon Hanok Village. We walked up and down the streets, lined with traditional hanoks (houses). We stopped in a few stores, and then we ended with “cheese” ice cream. Turns out “cheese” is a bit of a misnomer and just means “cheesecake.” But either way, it was delicious! We actually went back for seconds later in the week, mostly because we really wanted to see inside a hanok (and the museum is closed on Mondays).
We headed back to Insadong to explore, starting with the “circle of shops” and the Poo Café. We didn’t order anything, but we heard the poo-shaped pancakes with chocolate in the middle are insanely good. Maybe trip 2 we’ll be brave and try one, haha. And then, because I come from the Hardy family, we got ice cream for the second time in 60 minutes. This was one street food that had come highly recommended. It starts with a fish-shaped crepe-sort-of-thing, then an oreo and honeycomb are added to the inside, and then the whole thing is topped with ice cream that tastes JUST like buttercream frosting! It was a lot of sugar, but it was still really, really good.
We ended the evening at Panasia with Krista, Jon, and another adoptive couple, Melina and Shane. All four of them have been such an awesome support system for us, and it was so fun to finally meet in person! (Also, it’s fun when everyone is my height, haha.)
Tired and full, we returned to our AirBNB…and realized we had already walked 15 miles around Seoul! The subway system is super easy to use in Korea, but we really enjoyed walking whenever we could. I think we ended up walking 50+ miles in the 6 days we were there (including one day of travel and one day of being sick and mostly hanging out in bed), and it was such an amazing way to see the city. Are you tired of the word amazing yet? Because day 2 in Seoul was even more amazing. Perfect even.
Travel tip: For those of you set to travel, download the Citymapper app. You’ll hear lots of recommendations – and we tried at least 4 different apps – but Citymapper was by far our favorite. Brian and I both have a terrible sense of direction, but Citymapper allowed us to find anywhere we wanted to go quickly and confidently. Also, rent a Wifi egg from one of the vendors at the airport! We spent $30 for 8 days, and the egg gave us unlimited Wifi wherever we went. We decided on LG because they had the best deal at the time (booth #29 if you’re in Terminal 1), and we were not disappointed. It even worked underground in the subways!