Alex en Europa 2012 travel blog

Before I started the trip, since it was so open-ended I made a conscious decision to choose a random place in Asia and just go. It's the craziest, least cost effective thing I've ever done in my life, but there's no chance to do it again. I juggled with visiting hong long, shanghai, Taiwan, phillipines. But after some talking to some Canadians earlier in the trip, I couldn't shake going to one place. I had to go to Korea. Hey, their hoards of tourists are always taking pictures elsewhere, thought id return the favor! But seriously, what sold me is the similarity between Japan, which I wanted to do again but in my 20s. The cuisine, culture, nightlife, and sheer things to do captivated me. Not to mention you have the DMZ you can visit, and the Asian Games (=to the Pan Ams) occurring at the same time. As well as numerous friends teaching there. So off we go for a week in Korea. Never been more groggy and tired than after the 6 hr flight. Not long enough to have a decent nights sleep. The first step out of the airport...immediate weight lifted off my shoulders. No humidity, really noticed the difference. The journey into town, so so similar to Japan, with the elaborate space-like rail stations, cleaner subways and similar landscape. I was suprised near Incheon it was a huge marsh. No buildings at all, kind of like Holland Landing but x10. Getting off near Hongdae, I can't remember being so lost. The Subway station by Seoul's standard was average, however it's bigger than union station. And all underground. It reminded me of being in one of those glass-encased ant colonies from kindergarten. Just a hive of activity and people. Same thing when I reached the ground level. After getting lost numerous times, finally made it to the hostel..which was more of a guesthouse than a huge hostel. Even though I was a walking zombie, I forced myself to get out and see the city. First walked around the Hongdae area which I was in, it's a university region with a tonne of students. The pedestrian friendly streets were buzzing with student street performers, council rallies and food stalls. Apparently it was the yearly university festival..which has no theme except to serve food and beer/Soju to students. Should make for some interesting days. The other thing you notice is the restaurants and coffee shops lining the streets..every food place has the gas-burners where patrons cook their own meat and food. A novelty like this in Canada, is in EVERY restaurant in Korea, really cool. Next I took on the Seoul subway again and visited the Korean War museum..really well done. Outside the museum were examples of tanks, missiles, even a boat. Inside was an entire history of Korean conflict, especially the recent incidents. Love this stuff, korea has a very interesting history of being stuck between china and Japan. Actually for a lot of time Koreans were not on the peninsula at all, but in Manchuria. In kind of a funny way, you could sum up a lot of Korean time periods/buildings/etc: 'We built this giant temple, and ruled this land...then the Japanese came and destroyed it *repeat*. Not too far off from the truth. Great visit, but wish I still wasn't so groggy from the plane. As I got back to the guesthouse, still had met zero travellers, it got so bad I booked a traditional hostel the next night. As usual I ate my words, as soon as I pressed 'booked', I start talking to some cool French Canadian girls and a German guy. I found with many travellers i met in Korea, they were there to have fun but also to experience the culture, the opposite of the type you meet in Thailand. At night a few of us checked out the student festival at the university. It was a gigantic concert of 10,000 students, wild to navigate through the masses of Korean youth..all bolting from one place to the other. I just wanted to say 'slow down!!!'. As if the day wasn't long enough, a few of us got so excited by the energy of the city, we decided to check out the nightlife. Now, I had heard of the differences between Korea at night compared to home or even Thailand. Curfew is essentially when work starts the next day. This is comparable to a Spain or Germany, where people to go out at night until 1am. Well, what an experience this was. We ended up meeting a good few dozen Korean locals over the night, and headed home at sunrise; ears still ringing from the noise and bass of the music. The social culture is just a sight to see in itself, with everyone in a good mood, lots of energy. If you talk to someone it's not like downtown Toronto where you get 'what do you want?'. People are really receptive, good to experience this with locals, after the lack of it in Thailand. What a day; and we couldn't wait to do more for the week.

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