I am trying to stay with locals as much as it is possible and luckily I am able to find them most of the time, my host in Seoul was about 45 mins train ride from central Seoul. They are Korean-American family with a 3 year old who is so much fun, full of energy all the time. My host told me to that they will be going to the lotus lantern festival on the weekend and I can join them. I had no idea what it was until I googled it. Korean Buddhists celebrate Buddha’s birthday and they have a huge parade in Seoul which is few miles long, they close the streets and people sit on both sides to watch it. My host had another person (J) visiting from Brazil originally from Spain but teaching and studying in Brazil, another crazy added to the list, hippy looks, long braided hair and doing two PHDs. Anyways we all went to watch the lantern parade which started a little before sunset and we were checking out other places during the day. We went for lunch at one of the temple lunch places were all the dishes were vegetarian, buffet and was cheap. It was interesting vegetarian korean food, when we were done and I was placing my plate near the washing area and the lady looked at my plate and said 1000 korean won, I was confused and told her we already paid then she went to the counter and type on her phone and showed me the translation, it said fee. I paid it and then my host told me that I didn’t finish my food so that’s a kind of fine you have to pay. I liked the idea.
I had also signed up for a trip organized by local Korean university kids I saw the ad at the hostel. I went with them in the afternoon to a local food market called as Gwangjang market and joined J and my host later at the parade, market was indoor and local food with lots of food carts in a small area. It was crowded and they had all types of seafood and various meat dishes. We had lunch at one of the local shops and I tried the local rice pancake, it was little bit like Uttapam. I also enjoyed the fresh sugarcane juice. One of the sections of the market had wedding dresses shops on the first floor. Lots of shops with local traditional dresses. Towards the end of the tour we walked along a water stream and one of the kids asked me about my plan after Korea and I told him about the whole trip and he was like lot of people here will envy you then he started asking about details, planning etc. I could sense his excitement and by the end of the tour he told me he will also do a similar trip once he graduates and we hi-fived.
I went back to the parade area and was late, apologies again amigos. Parade was really nice and it reminded me of all the different procession I have watched and participated while growing up, school days republic day parades, dussehra, numerous nagar kirtans anyways they had wonderful display of various dance, music, performances and local costumes and my favorite moment was one of the exhibition which said “Welcome the Buddha that’s within you”
I asked about places to check out in Seoul to the hostel staff and he gave me a big map of the city which included information about subway stations and local attractions like museums, palaces etc.
I just hopped on the metro and got down at one of the central stations. I was surprised to see number of Samsung phones :D and every car is Hyundai. Lot of people use subway as the traffic gets really bad during the peak hours.
I was trying to find directions to Gyeongbokgung palace and stopped two people who were I think on the way back to office after the lunch break. I showed them the place I wanted to go on the map as they did not understand my pronunciation of the palace and then one of them looked up for directions on his phone and started to discuss it with his friend and after couple of minutes once they decided which will be the best way to go they gave me the directions. Korean people are really nice, they go out of their way to help you out.
Royal palace was great, a unique Korean architecture and various sections for different type of activities. such as public meetings, internal meetings, gardens, residential area etc.
I was looking for a restaurant for lunch after roaming around the palace and was bit tired. I finally went into this small tiny restaurant in a tiny street and the guy spoke little english so I asked him about any chicken dish and he pointed to one picture on the menu saying chicken and rice. When he brought the bowl with rice and chicken on top and chopsticks. I said can I have a fork or spoon? he gave me a soup spoon a big one which of course was of no use. It took me a while to finish the dish with chopsticks but I did it! probably it was fun sight for the people at the restaurant seeing me struggling with chopsticks. In Korea they say if you can’t use chopsticks properly your parents didn’t teach you well.
On the way back to the hostel in metro group of school girls and an old lady were waiting on the door to get off at the next station and one of the school girl picked up something from hair of the old lady and told her there was something in hair and old lady was thanking the girl multiple times and smiling while she was getting off.
Some hostels are amazing, with interesting designs and concepts. The current one where I am staying now has all the walls with drawings, notes from the travellers. I clicked the photo below from breakfast table, it was just in front of me and could not stop wondering about it.
I was roaming around the city center and saw this cafe and went in for coffee. I have realized that Americano is the closest thing you can get in rest of the world compared to an american starbucks brewed coffee. Anyways I placed the order and the barista asked me if I wanted it for here or take away. I thought I will not be able to finish it all at the cafe so will sit for a while and then drink the rest while roaming around so I said take away. After I got my coffee I looked around and found an empty corner, cafe was almost empty and was not very big and not very small either. I was sipping my coffee slowly and browsing on the phone for directions as they had free wifi and after few minutes one cafe worker walks up to me and she said: “Sorry, you ordered take away coffee”
“Actually, to have coffee here you have to pay extra, I am so sorry”
“ohk, sorry” I was confused and embarrassed and quickly gathered my things and left without looking back.
It was a very funny experience on day 1 in Seoul.
My childhood friend who is living in Auckland planned a weekend trip in the north island. We drove around most of the time and ate butter chicken pies. Meat pies are very popular here and different styles like thai chicken curry pie, they are cheap and tasty. One day I had butter chicken pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I definitely miss it now.
One of the amazing thing I liked about the north island trip was the hot water beach. This is a popular beach which has an active volcano in its vicinity and in some areas of the beach if you dig a bit you get hot sulpher water and people create their own private pools of hot water. It was crazy fun seeing people digging and relaxing in the pools and all ages were enjoying it equally.
My friend trying hard for his pool :)
We also went to luging and I liked the cable car ride more.
New Zealand is definitely one of the most beautiful country, all the places are amazing irrespective of which part of the country you are in.
My New Zealand adventure was almost over and it was time to check out Korea.