Layover in Korea

Seoul Travel Blog

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Sun 25 January 2009

I was home for 2 ½ days and then back at O’Hare airport. Another long flight was ahead of me, but I was glad. I was really tired and cranky from running around and looked forward to a long sleep on the plane. Tim dropped my off and a couple hours later I boarded Asiana. I was so tired that I slept through the 1am takeoff and intermittently woke up, but didn’t fully awake until 9 ½ hours later. There was a sticker on the back of the seat in front of me. “I hope you enjoyed your rest. If you would like a meal or a drink, ask a flight attendant.” Wow, I could still get my meal! I wondered when breakfast was due, but decided I’d get my money’s worth and ask for dinner.  The flight attendant said, “ I’m sorry, we only have steak available.” Steak, I thought, why be sorry about that? Breakfast was in another hour, but I couldn’t wait. A few minutes later, I was hand delivered the most divine airplane meal ever. “This is not fresh,” the flight attendant said, pointing to the meat. “It’s okay,” I responded. It looked so much better than the bus/airplane food I had been previously served.  The meal was absolutely amazing. Steak with potatoes, raw salmon on a bed of lettuce, a side salad, crossiant, and chocolate brownie cake. I passed the rest of the hours playing with the interactive elements on the TV, watching movies and eating breakfast.  The second meal wasn’t as good, but still high class. We were served pancakes stuffed with fruit, sausages, and bread. 14 hours after departure, we touched ground again.


Only while I was home did I realize that I had a 12 hour layover in Korea. “What am I supposed to do for 12 hours in the Korean airport,” I thought to myself. I’m quite the world traveler, I thought. I could walk around the city of Seoul for a few hours. I wondered how far the airport was from the city.  I planned to do some mini research before I left home, but I didn’t have time. In the plane I realized that the temperature in Seoul was -3 degrees Celsius. That’s as cold as Chicago!  Of course, I didn’t have appropriate clothing since I was planning on spending my time at a warmer climate. Also, there was snow on the ground, which is very uncommon in Korea. I contemplated whether or not I should brave the cold without proper clothing.


Mon 26 January 2009

Off the plane, I spotted a flyer for city tours that left and arrived back at the airport for $50US.  Perfect! I navigated through customs and found the tourist booth. In my spare time, which I had plenty of, I checked out the amazing airport – which was 1st class. At 9:30am, almost 4 hours later, we began our tour.


The tour group consisted of about a dozen Americans – also poorly dressed for the weather and between flights.  Our guide, Cindy, spoke broken English, and I really had to concentrate on her words when she spoke.


Cindy was an informative tour guide. Incheon, the home of the airport, is a city on a man-made island. We had to drive 1 hour to get to the capital of Seoul – there goes 2/5 hours of the tour.  I knew we were getting slightly ripped off – being that the average meal goes for less than $1USD here and everything else is incredibly cheap, but the tour was much more convenient than figuring out how to get everywhere myself and I was assured to get back in time for my flight.  Plus, it included a Korean meal.


We drove down Long Bridge, which connected us to the mainland.  The tide was low, and changes every 6 hours. Our guide explained how many skyscrapers and aprartment buildings were being built. The city is running out of space.  Also, traffic usually gets really bad – this morning was traffic-free due to the public holiday. Public transportation is in place, including a very complex subway system, but most people prefer to travel by car.


In terms of education, 95% of Koreans go on to 2 or 4  years of college/university after graduating from high school. Men, however, are required to served in the military and usually do so between high school and college. For women, the military is optional.


Seoul is an incredibly large city with a large population and I knew 3 hours in the city would in no way do it justice. But at least I was taking the opportunity that I had.  It is definitely much different than South America.


On the way to the palace, we passed a few landmarks including the President’s house. When we arrived at Gyeongbokgung Palace, we found out, to our displeasure, that we’d be walking around outside in the cold.  We bundled up as much as we could and forged on.


Korea hasn’t had a king since before 1910, but the palace is still intact and heavily guarded.  Like in London, they have palace guards who are stiff as a brick wall and come to life ever hour when they switch positions.


We walked around from one building to the next, then came around an area where free activities were taking place for the holiday.  We tried a hand at the traditional game of throwing sticks in long tubes, juggling koosh-like balls of ribbon, and throwing down sticks to move game pieces around a board.  Also, there was an area where kids were being pulled on wooden sleds and both children and adults were using long whips to spin large wooden tops.  The last one was the most interesting and entertaining of them all.


Then, we walked quickly through the National Korean Folk Museum and learned a bit more history.  We boarded the bus and passed by the Cheoggyechoen Stream, but since it was cold, no one got out. The stream is man-made and runs through downtown Seoul. The water gets pumped back throughout the year.


Our final stop was lunch.  We had a choice of two dishes. I picked the Korean BBQ beef.  We took our shoes off before sitting down and let our legs dangle underneath the table while we sat on cushions.  I shared a table with a couple from the Seattle/Vancouver area. We chatted about travel, Belize (Wish Willies) and the Olympics. Before I had a chance to finish my meal, we were departing.


Traffic was worse coming back, but were were given a view of the multitude of bridges – all different in design – that crossed the river.  Back at the airport, I had 3 hours to kill so I found the free internet area and relaxed.

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3,822 km (2,375 miles) traveled
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photo by: chiyeh