Note: As with all my posts, click the pictures to see them larger.
This weekend we rode with a Lieutenant (one of the few people on base who has a car) and one of Jesse's coworkers, Sgt. Kim, up to Seoul, a three or four hour drive. Kim is Korean, so he acted as guide for our weekend adventures.
We started our day at Lee Sung Dang, a locally famous bakery in Gunsan with some amazing Korean pastries. Jesse and I must have bought a dozen delicious baked goods, even though we'd already eaten breakfast.
Our first stop was Osan Air Base, which is about an hour east of Seoul. By the time we got there, it was time for lunch, so Kim brought us to a little (and I do mean little) mom-and-pop restaurant for some cold noodle soup.
A few pictures from around the area:
Once we got to Seoul, we met a friend of the Lieutenant's, who let us all sleep in his room that night at the Hotel Star, an expensive place with a weird combination of the really posh and the really not-so-posh. The bathroom was almost comically enormous and mostly empty, but the sleeping / living are was barely big enough for the two beds. A huge flatscreen TV was mounted to the wall, but the air conditioner barely worked (the Koreans don't seem overly reliant on A/C; most of the city was only marginally climate controlled, if at all). The beds were hard, but that's keeping with Korean style, so I can't really fault the hotel for that.
Despite sharing a tiny room with four guys, three of which I'd only just met, I slept like a log. The original plan was for Jesse and I to find our own room, but most places in the area were booked up. After the day's adventures, I was so tired that the thought of hotel hunting was completely out of the question as far as I was concerned, and I found that I didn't care who else was in the room as long as Jesse was with me. We got the smaller bed, two guys got the larger one, and one guy slept on the floor.
We spent a lot of time in the subway, which is huge and goes just about everywhere in the city.
I even experienced the rush hour crush, actually getting bodily pushed in.
I almost got trapped going to the next station when someone cut me off and the door closed as our group was exiting. It opened again, so someone with the ability to control it must have seen them all gesturing to me through the glass. Strangely, I think they were more freaked out by it than I was; I was already planning to make my way to the cars going the opposite direction at the next stop and ride back. That being said, it would still have been very uncomfortable to be alone in a country where I don't even know the bare minimums of the language, especially since in enclosed spaces my sense of direction is almost nonexistent, and I get horribly confused very quickly.
We visited some shopping districts, including two open air markets and the enormous Coex mall, but since I was with four guys and we were trying to see a lot in a short amount of time, I didn't get to do more than the most cursory bit of speed shopping (in fact, I didn't shop at Coex at all). Mostly, I just took pictures and enjoyed being in such vibrant places.
Here is Insadong, an outdoor shopping area:
That night we walked along a river running through the middle of the city. It apparently used to be part of the sewer system way back when, but it's been revamped into a kind of long, sunken park, and retains no vestiges of its former life. The stretch was comfortably busy with both tourists locals just out for a stroll or eating their dinners in the evening air.
COEX Mall was our first stop the next day, a behemoth of a place in the basement of the Korea World Trade Center. It's truly a huge place, covering over 390,000 square feet. Along with hundreds of shops and restaurants, it also houses a museum and an aquarium. If I ever go back to South Korea, I'm spending like a week in there.
On the walk to the subway, we found more cool things:
Seoul Tower was a pretty awesome stop. We rode a suspended cable car up the hill to the tower, a ride which was a lot less scary than it looked from the ground. Once there, we saw ancient stone signal towers overlooking the city, and of course visited the tower itself. It was quite a view!
It's traditional for lovers to write messages to each other and lock them to the fence and sculptures around the base of the tower.
Jesse wasn't impressed, so we decided to go for option two, which was to write on a little magnetic tile, which we took with us as a souvenir instead of leaving it on a wall full of them.
Amazingly, we weren't even done yet! Our last stop was another outdoor market.
I don't think I've ever walked so much (or sweated so much!) in my entire life as I did those two days. We left the car parked at the hotel the entire time. I'm glad we did, though, because it meant we got to experience a lot more. If we'd been driving, I don't think we would have stopped by the monument to the 2011 multi-national summit or the Trade Tower, and we wouldn't have experienced the subway.
It was an absolutely killer trip, with much thanks to Sgt. Kim for being our guide!