Despite only deciding a month before, Mum and Dad were on a flight and coming to visit me. I couldn’t believe it! Whilst I had mentioned that it would be lovely to see them, I didn’t ever really think they would decide to spend their summer holiday in Korea; especially with all the news about North Korea and their nuclear tests at the moment. Nevertheless, I found myself waiting in arrivals at Incheon airport early on Friday morning waiting for them to arrive! I was feeling such a mixture of emotions; excited of course, but also nervous about how they would fare on their own, the massive language barrier they would face for the first time and whether Mum would fine anything she wanted to eat!
Soon we were hugging and making our way to take the bus into the city, all of us still amazed they were actually here. Dad bought a SIM card in the airport that would provide him with unlimited data for the entire holiday; something that came in incredibly useful when navigating the buses, subway and streets. We made it to the hotel, which turned out to be literally two minutes away from where I work and the effects of the 12hour flight soon took their toll on Mum. After a coffee, I tentatively had to leave and head to work and left them to settle in at the hotel, feeling quite guilty at the thought of them heading out on their own to explore. However, I needn’t have worried. When I met them in the evening they had already found a park I never even knew existed and watched a taekwondo performance! After work, we met up and headed to Gangnam to find something to eat. We found a nice bar to introduce Mum and Dad to the joys of Makgeolli, Korean rice wine, which Mum took quite a liking too, not realising it was alcoholic. We headed back to the hotel and sat on the rooftop, looking out over Gangnam, as we sipped on the plum wine I had brought back from Osaka and spoke about what they wanted to do over the next two weeks. They also gave us the best surprise ever by hiding our (very early!) Christmas presents in their room in the two Santa sacks- talk about being the Best Parents Ever! It will be difficult to resist not opening those presents over the next 5 months!
Mum and Dad had also booked me a hotel room next to them during their stay in Seoul and soon enough I felt like I, too, was on holiday. Ramsey stayed in the room too, save him going home and then meeting us again in the morning. From day 1 it was clear that we were going to become regulars in the local Paris Baguette. No-one wants to mess around with breakfast, especially when the locals eat the same as they do for lunch and dinner. As much as I like to get into the local culture, rice and kimchi and 8a.m. is certainly not how I roll. The eggs and bread at “PB” were certainly more our style and were to set us up wonderfully every morning to spend the rest of the day embracing everything Korean.
|Lotte World Tower|
The beautiful blue skies beckoned us to seize the moment and head towards the recently opened Lotte World Tower. With 123 floors, it is the 5th tallest building in the world, standing out proudly on the Seoul skyline. Naturally you feel rather small standing in its shadow about to go through the revolving doors on the ground floor. We were heading right to the top and with our “Seoul Sky” tickets in hand, headed towards the lifts. We zipped up the floors so quickly my ears popped and Ramsey was anxiously watching as the numbers increased so quickly you could barely read them. Needless to say we were soon looking out across the entire city, speechless. I knew Seoul was big. But I’m not sure I knew it was quite that big. All the buildings below us looked tiny, even those that normally towered 40 floors above you as you walked along the street. Helicopter pads were dotted across the rooves and the vast Han River was dwarfed by the scale of the city from above. Mountains bordered the city and in a way seemed to contain it, preventing it from sprawling further. Beautiful? I’m not sure the view was. Impressive? Undoubtedly.
|An intro into Korean BBQ|
In the afternoon we headed to a theatre to watch a magic show. Slightly random you might think. But with one of my students, Hyun Woo Choi, being a magician who is a fairly big deal in Korea, he had given us complimentary tickets to his show. I can’t say we understood anything, but magic is magic and it was fun to watch! We introduced Mum and Dad to the wonders of Korean BBQ in the evening and washed it down in true British fashion with tea and cake in a nice little teahouse.
|Bukchon Hanok Village|
Sunday morning found us again at Paris Baguette; the waiter desperate to avoid us, our indecisiveness and lack of Korean. We headed to the north of the city, to the downtown area, where most of the palaces lie. We headed for the streets of Bukchon Hanok village, unexplored by Ramsey and me and thus a new experience for all of us! A maze of quaint streets and alleys opened up ahead of us and we got lost wandering the cobbled streets, in and out of small shops and houses that served as workshops, open to the public. With time not quite on our side, we soon had to leave and head towards Changdeokgung palace where we had booked a tour of the Secret Garden, which is otherwise inaccessible to the general public. As the sun blazed down and humidity was at an almost unbearable high, we trudged along, sticking to the shade of the trees as much as possible. I’m not sure why, but I felt slightly underwhelmed by the end; possibly because the group had been very large, absolving the place of any sort of secrecy.
|Changdeokgung Secret Garden|
We soon found ourselves retracing our steps towards the Hanok village, and one particular house that had offered crafts with traditional Hanji paper. We sat for around an hour, making traditional mirrors, while Ramsey made a lamp. It was calming and satisfying to say the least. We stopped at a quaint traditional teahouse that sat on a humble corner in the village and I had one of the best teas I have yet to enjoy in Korea. In seeming contrast, I introduced Mum and Dad to Korea’s infamous ‘Fried Chicken and Beer’ that evening, mainly due to the fact that there seemed to be a lack of restaurants in the area we were in at the time. Tired from a day of walking, we were soon at the hotel once more, plum wine in hand, planning Mum and Dad’s day of solo adventuring the next day, as Monday meant I had to return to work.
Bright and early on Monday morning we headed to Bongeunsa temple, and after getting a bit lost we managed to find it and wandered around for a while. As Mum and Dad headed to Gyeongbokgung I headed off to teach my afternoon of classes. The evening soon came and we met up again, before Ramsey and I headed off to Itaewon. Of course, it wasn’t exactly usual for us to do this on a Monday night, especially not with my parents here, but Tuxedo were in town DJ-ing in Contra and Tuesday was a public holiday. After quickly falling in love with Mayer Hawthorne’s music since Ramsey introduced me to it not too long ago, we had both agreed we would love to watch them. It turned out the chances of that happening were higher than we thought! We even got to meet the man himself and have a cheeky picture with him, although not before Ramsey nearly tripped and spilt his drink on the guy just before he was about to perform. Needless to say poor Ramsey was rather embarrassed. But we got our photo and danced the night away; well aware that we had to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for Mum and Dad the next day!
The rain came down on Tuesday morning, and it didn’t stop, all day. Just as well we had planned something indoors. We headed to Myeong-dong to watch the performance ‘Cookin’ Nanta’, a comical play about the going’s-on in a Korean kitchen, incorporating a twist on traditional Korean nanta drumming. It was incredibly fun, entertaining and didn’t require us to understand a single word of Korean! The area of Myeong-dong was also really cool to walk around and it seems incredible Ramsey and I hadn’t already been there. Sometimes I wonder what on earth we have been doing with our time here so far! With no sign of the rain easing, our second indoor activity was a wander around a new temporary exhibition of some of Banksy’s work. It’s difficult not to appreciate his intelligence, talent and wit. Before making our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Jogyesa temple, which happened to be just over the road from the exhibition. With Mum and Dad heading to Gyeongju early on Wednesday morning, we finished off the plum wine and had a fairly early night.
We were woken in the morning by knocking on the door. It turned out our alarm hadn’t gone off and Mum and Dad were waiting to go to the bus station. A frantic ten minutes of getting ready and we were rushing out the door to check out. We still had plenty of time when we made it to the bus station and stopped for breakfast together before we saw Mum and Dad onto their bus and waved them off. It was hard to believe that ‘Part 1’ of their holiday had already flown by!