Sunday, February 6, 2011

Trip Day 3

To recap:

Jan 1: drove 3 hours to the airport.
Jan 2: On a plane for 12 hours. Lost the rest of the day due to time change.
Jan 3: Dropped off in the middle of Korea with no idea where to go. And that's where I'll start back up.

We were told we were supposed to take the bus that went to the Renaissance hotel. And we knew the guest house was close, but we didn't know where it was. We had an address, and that's it. So we just started walking, hoping we might see a street name or something that would tell us where to go. We walked only a block or two before I declared the plan absolutely ridiculous. Not only was it FREEZING cold, we were a wreck after traveling an entire day. And we were schlepping three bags each (2 large suitcases, 2 carry on bags, a purse and a laptop bag) through the sidewalks of downtown Seoul.

Right in front of us was a Starbucks. I reasoned they'd likely have internet. Maybe we could find something online about where to go? So we went in, set down our bags, and Mr. RBR went to the counter to get us a snack and something warm to drink (neither of us are coffee drinkers. I know. We're weird). Mr. RBR asked about internet access, and the barista said they didn't have it.

Crud.

Mr. RBR gave them the address of the guesthouse and asked if they knew where it was. They didn't.

Double crud.

So we had our little snack and rested a bit. The Starbucks was on the first floor of a tall building, and the window was at sidewalk level. It was interesting people watching, because I could see everyone's shoes. And what fantastic freaking shoes they were! Most women wore gorgeous high heels or high heeled boots. Everyone was dressed fantastically. Really sharp. I felt pretty self conscious in my somewhat sloppy airport gear, that I had basically slept in on the plane.

As we were sitting there, I could see out of the corner of my eye a woman on the sidewalk had stopped and was peering in. It lasted several moments, so finally I turned to look at her (to see what she was looking at) and met her eyes. The woman was probably in her 50s, impeccably dressed and was bent over at the waist looking in the window and staring right at me, right in the middle of a busy sidewalk. It cracked me up. They must not have 6 foot tall, sloppy, blond haired, white women at Starbucks very often.

Just then the barista came to our table. They must have internet in the back office, because she had a map printed out with directions to the guest house.

Oh Saint Starbucks Barista! We'll never forget you!

We ventured out into the streets of Seoul again and found the SWS guesthouse before too long. It was about 9 am by now and it had been 23 hours in actual time since we left our home.

The guesthouse was a narrow gray building, maybe 5 or 6 stories high. We went inside. There wasn't really a lobby, just a staircase, an elevator, and a small desk for the doorman. It surprised me the doorman didn't really speak English. He had us point to our name on a sheet of paper, then showed us to our room.

I knew the room would be small, but it was smaller than I expected. We had booked a regular room, which was two twin beds, 1 nightstand, a small table and two chairs, and a bathroom. There was no dresser, no TV, no closet. The bathroom had a shower, sink and, thankfully, a Western style toilet. It was so cramped the door didn't open all the way. Mr. RBR suggested upgrading our room (they have family rooms which are larger), but I wanted to give it a chance ($$). It took us some time to figure out how to turn on the heat and get the shower hot enough, but once we were warm and clean the world seemed to be a better place. And the teeny, tiny room was just fine.

We laid down for awhile and tried to nap. It didn't really work. I had no clue if it was supposed to be day or night, although it was approaching lunch time in Seoul.

Mr. RBR has been taking Tae Kwon Do and wanted to see Kukkiwon, which is the head of the World Tae Kwon Do Federation. Mr. RBR's instructors had to be certified by Kukkiwon. Kukkiwon is responsible for making Tae Kwon Do a world sport. So it's a big deal for those involved with it. Mr. RBR was even more excited to learn it was within walking distance of where we were staying.

After cleaning up a bit, we went for a walk to find Kukkiwon. There were signs, and we had a map so it was easy to find. It was a steep climb. I wondered if this is why all the Koreans we saw seemed so fit and slim. Seoul is so mountainous!

We walked around the grounds a bit, but didn't see anyone around. So we just walked inside. I think we may have arrived during lunch hour, but they were very accommodating. They showed us the competition "area" and the museum.

Oh look, here we are on the Kukkiwon website! (scroll down)

I don't really know much about Tae Kwon Do, but the history was interesting. And the excitement on Mr. RBR's face was priceless. He was like a little kid.

We checked out a tae kwon do store where Mr. RBR got a Korean flag and Kukkiwon pins, then headed back down hill. We stopped at a coffee shop (they were all over!) for a bite to eat. Mr. RBR had his laptop, and we emailed everyone back home. Then back outside to check out the surroundings close to the guest house.

There was a subway entrance near the guesthouse, and we had heard there was shopping and restaurants below ground. It was a good excuse to get out of the cold, anyway.

I feel a little silly admitting this, but I have never been on a subway before. Come to think of it, the only big city I've ever been to is Chicago. And I had taken the El in Chicago, but I had never been on a subway. Never been to New York. It's weird because I don't think of myself as small town girl, but maybe I am a little.

The subway was so wild to me. We didn't get on the train, but we did look at a number of stores and eventually found AN UNDERGROUND MALL. An underground mall, isn't that bizarre? You big city folks are probably used to all that, but to me it was nuts. And cool.

Once we found the mall we had access to a number of restaurants that were English friendly, which was not the case above ground. We could have wandered for hours above ground in f-f-f-freezing temperatures looking for a restaurant. So it was nice to have one place to go that was out of the cold. We went to a restaurant called Tomatillo. Yes, it was Mexican. :) Fantastic food. It was now dinner time, and we thoroughly enjoyed our first "real" meal since leaving home (unless you count the airplane food, but who really counts that). Also had a Cass beer, which is a common Korean brew. It was TASTY.

Because of jet lag, I was fading fast. It was probably 6 or 7 in the evening. We headed back above ground, and just like back at home, it was already dark. And freezing. Did I mention it was really cold in Seoul? Luckily it was only a short walk back to the guesthouse. I was so tired I went right to bed.

Day 4 to be continued.

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