Greetings from Seoul, Korea!
If you are a faithful reader, you know this blog focuses on our adventures living and traveling in Mexico. But for the next five-plus weeks, Andy and I are in South Korea and Japan. Right now, we’re in our aLoft hotel room in the heart of Seoul (Myeong-dong), chilling out to some music while we wait for our laundry to dry. If you prefer to only read about Mexican-based activities, I take no offense. I’ll be back rapping about Mexico starting June 1, when we put our roots down in Morelia for four months.
First let me start with some good news. Last week, while in Oakland, I had some blood work and saw my U.S.-based oncologist, Dr. Liz Han, who reported that my cancer is still in remission! Words can’t possibly describe the relief Andy and I felt. We boarded the plane to Seoul two very happy campers.
Why Asia? Well, I’ve always wanted to do an epic cherry blossom journey through Japan. I really love ’em. I think they’re beautiful. But both times I previously visited Japan, it was outside of the prime cherry blossom window. Plus, Andy wasn’t with me.
Thus, this trip, which consists of six days in Seoul, one full month in Japan and then a two-week repositioning cruise from Yokahama to Vancouver. We’ll see friends in Vancouver, take a train to Seattle and drive back to Oakland, visiting friends and Andy’s sister in Astoria, Oregon, along the way. We’re set to fly back to Mexico in late May and move into our new digs in Morelia on June 1.
Being in Seoul is a bit of a fluke. We wanted to use frequent flier miles to go to Japan, but everything was booked. So we ended up in business-class to Seoul (12 hours from SFO) and on Friday (tomorrow) we’re taking a short flight from here to Osaka to begin the Japan portion of our journey.
Fate has smiled upon us, as Seoul is amazing and has become one of our favorite world-class cities.
- The subway system is fantastic. It goes everywhere and it’s cheap. An average ride seems to cost around 20 cents.
- A lot of people speak English, and most signage also uses English letters to spell out the Korean words. This is especially helpful on the subway, which also announces its stops in English.
- The shopping is inexpensive. There are tons of street markets, and alleyway after alleyway lined with shops of all kinds. And even high-end designer items are available for less than one would pay in the United States.
- The city is an amazing mix of old temples and modern architecture, ancient traditions and cosmopolitan culture, with lots of nature in the midst of it all and mountains all around.
- The food is great. Andy and I love Korean food. Ever heard of banchan?
Banchan are Korean small dishes served before the meal, and along with it. Usually they are various forms of vegetables, either steamed or pickled, but sometimes the offerings are fish cake, tofu, noodles. Last night we went to a hole-in-the-wall, all-you-can-eat banchan restaurant and loved it. All these small plates tasted great. They had brocoli with sesame oil, fish cake, tofu with a spicy red sauce, and cucumbers with a red paste. They also had tiny black beans. And whenver we finished one, another one replaced it. Yummy!
Here are some things we have done while in Seoul.
- We walked and walked and walked. One day we walked almost 10 miles. Sore feet forced us to reel it in a little the next day.
- We saw cherry blossoms. The weather has been a bit on the cold side, and while sometimes the blossoms do explode into their glory at this time of year, nature has had a different plan this season. I think the full bloom is still a few days away, but we did see some lovely early bloomers, and we’re anticipating being in many places in Japan for peak viewing.
- I got two new pairs of glasses. Koreans are eyeglass crazy. Glass stores are everywhere, especially in the many underground shopping plazas, and they cost much less than one would pay in U.S. I was soooo excited. I’ve had my current pair for more than three years and they don’t have transition lenses. It’s a hassle keeping track of my sunglasses in Mexico, so having a good pair of transition lenses wil be great.
- We drank a decent amount of coffee. We love coffeehouses and enjoy spending time in them, either reading or surfing the net on our phones (and maybe even talking a bit). Believe it or not, Seoul has more coffee cafes than San Francisco, and many of them are committed to crafting high-end, Portland-caliber coffee. On every block there are at least three or four shops, and many of them serve cold-brew or even nitro (my favorite). By the way, while we did visit at least one coffee cafe per day, it’s not as if we whiled away the hours (or even half-hours) there; there was too much to see and do!
- Went to see some traditional Korean temples. And a bunch of diverse neighborhoods, from a swanky street in Gangham (“Gangham Style”!) to a hip area around a college to a bunch of back alleys lined with pubs and restaurants. And we visited Korea’s largest market. It was filled with clothing and tons of great accessories stores. Did I mention the eyeglasses? They have some frames for as cheap as $10.00. I may pick me up a few more spare pairs and get the lenses filled at a later date.
- Went to a professional baseball game, along with a 26,000 other fans (a sellout) on Sunday afternoon. It was very loud, as the fans are a part of the game at every level. They spent most of the game singing various cheer-songs and banging together thundersticks. Andy promised to get me a pair when we attend the Hanshin Tigers vs. the Tokyo Giants next week. Sweet!
Tomorrow we’re off to Kyoto for five nights. We’re staying at an airBnb, a studio room that’s apparently tiny, but it’s in the amazing Gion district, and since good fortune has smiled upon us and it will be the peak of cherry blossom season while we’re there, we are happy to have nailed down this reservation before the forecast was made. Prices are now sky-high, and that’s even if you can find anything. The entire city is about 98 percent booked.
I’ll post from Kyoto next. We’re excited about the amazing sites there, the history, the cherry blossoms, the nature, eating tempura and tofu and green-tea noodles, and we’ll even be attending a first-night Passover seder at Chabad of Kyoto.
As for Seoul, if you ever have the opportunity to visit, jump on it. It’s clean, friendly and they have a fantastic mix of modernity (from buildings to culture to technology) with the feel and taste of old-style Asia. More soon!