Seoul and Sydney (part 1: into the weekend)

Thursday/Friday

Unlike most flights from Chicago to Europe, which take off too early to get any real sleep, Asiana’s flight to Seoul leaves just before midnight. The fourteen-hour flight means you have plenty of time to get that sleep, and we spent most of the flight dozing. Fortunately, we had a lot of miles we could exchange for upgraded seats, so we could be horizontal for much of the trip.

Saturday

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The eerily quiet space-age train station at Incheon Airport.

Unfortunately, a midnight takeoff in Chicago resulted in a 4am arrival in Seoul. The arrival process itself was just fine. However, after clearing passport control and customs, we ran up against the extremely early morning. We waited about an hour for the first train into Seoul; an hour later, we exited and took a taxi to our hotel (the Grand Hilton, where we had stayed on our first trip).

Virginia’s “road warrior”-earned status enabled us to check in extremely early and drop off our bags. We then had breakfast and got some exercise before meeting Virginia’s father in the hotel lobby. After a brief discussion, we set off for the day.

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Art and entertainment, brought together in this sculpture and slide down to the playground.

Our first stop was the Seodaemun Museum of Natural History near Yonsei University. Virginia’s father hadn’t realized this museum was so close to his office, so it was new for all of us. We spent about 45 minutes going through most of the exhibit space and then headed out as it started to fill up with visiting families.

We got back in a taxi and went downtown to visit the Korean Anglican Cathedral next to the British Embassy. The church is built in a Romanesque style, with many arches and a Roman tiled roof. We stepped inside briefly, though didn’t linger as the church was open for its members. We then walked around to a nearby business conference center for lunch. I hadn’t considered such a place as a restaurant option, but it turns out Virginia’s father had used it often when he served on a nonprofit board and needed space. We were ushered into a small but comfortable room, and as we often found, both the food and the service were very, very good.

After lunch, we walked down to Deoksugung Palace, across from City Hall. To get it, we needed to get past a rally against the South Korean government and its current position toward North Korea. Somewhat despairingly, such a rally meant lots of American flags and references to the aggressive stance of the U.S. government. The palace was an immediately peaceful respite from what was going outside the gates.

Despite the sleep we got on the plane, we were exhausted by mid-afternoon. We begged off dinner and went back to the hotel to sleep. We thought we needed a nap, but it turned out we needed about 14 hours of sleep to get on the right time zone.

Sunday

All that sleep meant we were up early for exercise and breakfast. We also learned that the coffee in the upstairs lounge was more to our liking and added it to our morning routine. We met Virginia’s father after breakfast and headed south of the river to the Seoul Arts Center for the day. We found none of the museums were open yet so we repaired to Terarosa for coffee and a table before visiting the Seoul Calligraphy Art Museum. I found I liked the works at the extremes of classic calligraphy and almost abstract interpretation, especially as I couldn’t read any of it. With each side, I could appreciate the artistry without knowing the text.

We had lunch at Honsik Dam, a Korean restaurant inside the museum building. After that, we walked over to one of the art museums and walked through an exhibit of traditional art from the Hanok villages. After that, we perused two different art museum stores before getting into our seats for the Korean National Ballet’s performance of Giselle. I’m not much of a ballet fan, but could very much appreciate the direction, choreography, and virtuosity on the part of the performers. Virginia and her father both enjoyed the performance even more than I did. If anything, our only criticism was that there were too many ovations (at least six by my remembrance).

By the time we left the theater, it was late afternoon and time to start thinking about dinner. We stopped off at the hotel to drop off a few things and pick up a bottle of wine I’d purchased in the morning, and then on to dinner at Virginia’s father’s favorite hole-in-the-wall kalbi joint. We visited there last year and basically fell in love with the simplicity and quality of the food. We were remembered from last year by the proprietor, who immediately got us going with banchan and a first order of marinated meat. We opened the wine and had a round before Virginia and her father opted for soju, leaving me with the rest of the wine (and a slow tear down my cheek 😉 ). We had two orders of food before declaring ourselves full. We finished the very successful day with after-dinner whiskey at the hotel.

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