I don’t want to come home!

BOOO! Holidays are THE WORST. They always have to end >:(. The last two days have been a little less eventful than the rest of our holiday, largely due to us getting to the tail end (and also my exhaustion). Sean and Keith went to the ‘tech district’ part of Seoul yesterday, but I stayed home, trying to catch up on the rest I was missing. When they got home, we were allowed two hours with Keith and another supervisor in the Black Hawk simulator on base! That was without a doubt one of the weirdest but coolest things I’ve done. The whole thing tilts and shifts and moves, and more than once we took over the controls ourselves and ‘flew’ the chopper, as well as take-off, landing, and hovering. It was utterly bizarre, being in an exact replica, but knowing that we were just in a big moving box. LOVED IT. Then, for dinner on our last night in Seoul, we went to another ‘beef and leaf’ place, this one right near the base. It was so delicious – the meat was, I think, better than the night before, and we ate far more than we needed to. Sean and Keith went out again, and I went to sleep, but woke up when they got back to the apartment for a chat.

This morning, Keith drove us to the Airport Shuttle stop, then we took the bus to Seoul Incheon International, and flew to Narita! We’re in a nice, if very 70’s hotel, and our flight for Melbourne leaves at noon tomorrow. Thus, this will very probably be my last blog for this trip! I have loved every minute, yes, even with the weather being so like an underwater oven, and relished the opportunity to see Japan once more, and experience Seoul as a brand new travel encounter. Meeting friends, old and new, has been, as usual, the main highlight, and I think having the language barrier makes it even more interesting (the other night on a train in Seoul, I watched an adolescent genius solve a Rubix cube about twenty times over half an hour. He kept looking up to check I was watching, and smiling when he saw I was!) Next time, I will definitely come back at a different time of year, but I enjoyed Daimonji and the Miyajima Summer Festival fireworks, two events that we could not have experienced at any other time (as well as almost-war with North Korea). When we are back in Melbourne, our first priority will be planning the next trip….

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Insa-dong

We didn’t get out of the house until late again today and it is 100% Keith and Sean’s fault for keeping us up late again (though it will probably happen again tonight). We headed for Insa-dong, a trendy, touristy suburb with a long main street full of little handicraft stores and street food. It was really pleasant to wander and shop, though I have well exceeded the budget I gave myself for this trip so far. YOLO. After a couple of hours of killing time wandering (including finding Seoul’s version of the Parisian ‘love locks’ bridge and adding our own), we went and found dinner at a traditional sort of ‘beef and leaf’ restaurant, where you cook the meat over little charcoal braziers and wrap it in lettuce leaves with vegetables and bean sauce and kimchi and all sorts of little treats. My stomach was happy.

Cookin’ Nanta!!

After staying up talking and watching Youtube videos for far too long last night, we didn’t leave the house until midday today, and even then, it was only because we had pre-purchased tickets to a show. It was called Cookin Nanta, and all I really knew about it was that it involved percussion and cooking and was supposed to be amazing. And that’s pretty much all you need to know – if you ever have the opportunity to see it, TAKE IT. It was brilliant. We weren’t allowed to take photos which sucked because Sean (of course!) got pulled up on stage for some of the audience participation stuff, which was HILARIOUS and he got a commemorative pic of his bows! Yay! I’m going to try and embed a trailer for the show from Youtube, so bear with me…

Hopefully that works. Basically it’s a comedy that follows a very loose plot – a kitchen full of chefs trying to get a wedding banquet ready in time – and involves some truly unbelievable tricks with knives, food, physical comedy, and an absolutely huge amount of drumming. The audience was loving every second, and the unrelenting energy of the performers was so infectious. I would definitely see this again.
Afterwards we walked through Myeong-dong, which is a really popular shopping district, and sampled lots of the street food that is out and about – I had a chicken kebab and some pork dumplings which did not disappoint. There were hundreds of stalls though, and had I a bigger stomach, I would have tried a lot more! We stopped to sit down at a random coffee shop and I also had a DELICIOUS yuzu chamomile ice thing, which uses the same yuzu fruit as the restaurant in Kyoto! We made our way over to a traditional district, known as Bukchon Hanok Village, where we were able to walk through the little streets, admire the old houses, and stickybeak in the shops. I bought a cute little ring with an ‘E’ on it – not expensive, just as a memento – and by this time, I was feeling pretty tired! Sean and Keith wanted to kick on, so I left them to it and came back to the apartment. I’ve definitely reached that point in my travels where I need a solid day of rest, but we have such a limited time in Seoul and such a small part of the holiday left that I don’t want to miss out! I think another sleep in is in order tomorrow.

Gangnam Style

First order of business today was to go to a larger army base in Seoul and get our pass/ID things, so poor Keith didn’t have to sign us in and out all the time. It was relatively easy and uneventful, and was right around the corner from the War Memorial of Korea so we headed down there afterwards! This memorial, and the enormous museum it houses, is without a doubt one of the best museums I have ever been to. First of all, it’s free. Second of all, it’s enormous (we spent two and a half hours there and still have not seen the whole thing). And thirdly, it’s such a well produced, beautiful, and impressive place. They have lots of artefacts, weapons, artworks, documentary films, replicas and models, and most things have English explanations. I would love to go back here if we have time to see more of it. We also stopped for lunch and had enormous servings of chicken bibimbap for about 8AUD, so we were well fuelled for our sightseeing.

We went to sit and down and find wifi/drink coffee before meeting up with Keith for dinner. We went to a brewery called Devil’s Door, and had good dinners, even if they weren’t exactly Korean dishes, and then took the subway to Gangnam, just to see what it was like! Sean and Keith wanted to stay out, and I am a nana of the most snoozy variety, so I decided to head home. I held the door of the elevator open for three little old Korean ladies and they pretty much tried to adopt me. They had zero English and I had zero Korean, but they kept talking to me and laughing, and made me sit down on the train and gave me sweets and a newsletter from their church. They also kept asking me things, and giggling when I couldn’t respond and waved me off like I was their favourite offspring when I left the train. High on life after that encounter, I searched cheerfully for the bus that would take me home, but eventually lost patience when I realised I probably wouldn’t be able to identify the correct bus stop anyway, so I hopped in a taxi with a nice driver, and got back to base! Oh, and I meant to have an early night. Bugger.

In Seoul, via Osaka!

So I haven’t blogged for a couple of days, but it’s because we haven’t done anything too exciting – we have been on the move. We left Kyoto and our lovely hostel yesterday and took the bus to Kyoto Station. Sadly, I had decided not to attempt Harry Potter Wizarding World in Osaka. I KNOW. I regret it too. But it was going to be too hot, too crowded, too expensive, and too much of a time risk for this trip. So next time! For sure.

The train to Osaka is real short, and we planned to find coin lockers for our luggage and see a bit of the city before heading to our hostel. This would have been the perfect plan had there been any available coin lockers large enough for my suitcase, or any space at the luggage desk. The luggage gods were not smiling on us. It was actually totally okay though, because I elected to sit and drink a green tea latte and read this amazing book (It’s called ‘The Sunne in Splendour’ and it’s by Sharon Penman, and I borrowed it from my dear friend Alfie and it’s about the life of Richard III and it’s completely amazing…okay, I’ll get back to the travels) while Sean went exploring. When he got back, we went for yummy ramen and then trekked across Osaka (and by trekked I mean, sat comfortably on a train) to our AirBnb right near the airport. It was a really comfy, compact little flat, and we went for a walk later on to find some dinner (Italian FTW, including creative dessert), and were home relatively early.

‘Foccacia’ with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon. AMAZING.
Truffle ice cream! Mmmmm.

This morning we upped and left the flat, hopped on a very short train to the airport, and had a BREAKFAST PANCAKE! It was actually amazing, despite consisting of pancake, bacon, egg, prosciutto, tomato sauce, mayonnaise, avocado, and mashed potato. I bought some really disappointing peach rice cakes (peach momiji manju is MUCH nicer) and they even fed us lunch on the 90 minute flight to Seoul (thanks Korean Air!)

At the airport, Sean’s lovely mate Keith was there to collect us, which meant we got to his apartment a lot quicker than we would have via public transport. He is with the US army, so we are staying on the base with him. Tonight we planned to go out for dinner and see Seoul Tower, but North Korea totally threw a spanner in our plans (well, actually, they threw a shell at South Korea), so the base is on alert, Keith is at work, and Sean and I are hanging at his apartment. Sean planned to do a tour of the DMZ tomorrow (the border between North and South), but I highly doubt that will go ahead given that parts of the border are being evacuated. We shall see!

Arashiyama

I said yesterday that today we would probably get up to something tiring and BY THE BEARD OF ZEUS DID WE EVER. I’m very tired. And very impressed with myself to be writing this blog post right now. So we got up and went to Arashiyama, a beautiful district of western Kyoto that feels a little more rural than the more central area. It is situated beside the Hozu river, and we had beautiful weather for it today, with bright sunshine and the horrific humidity we have become somewhat accustomed to. We went walking through the Bamboo Forest, down through Arashiyama Park, across the Togetsukyo Bridge, and up to the Arashiyama Monkey Park. Honestly, I thought the climb up to the Monkey Park could be my last. I was wearing shorts to try and keep my legs cool, but the sneakers I was wearing made my feet hot, and then the rest of me felt like lying down and dying, just so I wouldn’t have to walk anymore. I decided against it however, as I have a few things to live for. Up the top, you get a fabulous view of Kyoto, and a fabulous view of the bright red monkey butts of the Japanese macaques that live on the mountain. You can feed them, and take photos if you are respectful and stay away from them and don’t touch them – they are lovely and cuddly-looking, but they are wild animals. I am extremely glad I went up to the top.

We stopped to refuel with a coffee, iced chocolate, and complimentary origami supplies, then caught the bus back to Kyoto for an early dinner at Ippudo (aka our second home). We joined a huge crowd at 5.45pm in Gion for a show at Gion Corner which demonstrated seven types of Japanese performing arts – tea ceremony, flower arrangement, Kyo-mai dance performed by maiko, Koto Zither (a harp type instrument), Gagaku court music, Kyogen theatre (a comic play), and Bunraku puppetry. It was a beautiful display, but I feel it was too crammed – the whole performance was less than an hour. Also, get there EARLY to get a seat at the front. Otherwise you will spend the whole show trying to see over the sea of camera phones held aloft.

THEN we came home for showers and onsen. I am attempting to pack for Osaka tomorrow, and also to get an early night. Time will tell!

Kiyomizu-dera

It would not stop raining today! Luckily, that didn’t stop us enjoying Gion and it’s little shopping streets, through Maruyama Park, eating YUZU FLAVOURED ICE-CREAM! and then heading up to Kiyomizu-dera. I had been here in 2013, but the view from the top today with the rain showering over the hills was incomparable. Unfortunately it also meant that we were incredibly sticky and humid, so we ended up sticking to shopping centres in the afternoon before heading back to the hostel for a much-needed shower.

Luckily we were able to meet up with Theo and Jamie once more for CRAZY AWESOME yuzu ramen and pork dumplings, and then go walking around the streets of Kyoto. It’s been a relatively early night thank goodness…we’re not sure what we’ll get up to for our last day in Kyoto, but I’m sure it will be something tiring!