Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Seoulful summer



“A SEOULful Summer”
Sun.Star Davao, May 9, 2015

It has always been a running joke in the family that my husband Gary owed me another trip to South Korea.

You see, back in 2004, Gary and I went to the Land of Kimchi for almost a week, taking in the sights and indulging in the food. Eight months after our vacation, I opened the CD photo file of our trip but lo and behold, there was no trace of any of our snaps from Korea. Apparently, the files were overwritten accidentally by my dear hubby as the CD was a rewritable one. Save for four printed photos which we bought from our tour guide, these were the only memories left from that holiday.

And, so, during our trip last month to Korea, I vowed to be extra vigilant in securing our photos. Eleven years after and with much improved technology, thankfully, photo files could be shared and uploaded in real time via Google Drive, iCloud, Viber, Instagram and Facebook.

What is it with Korea that fascinates me so?

Maybe it’s because of the healthy and appetizing Korean food that I could not get tired of eating? Or is it the ubiquitous presence of Korean groceries, parlors, etc. all over the Philippines that is oh-so-familiar yet still captivating? I am not a hard core fan of Koreanovelas because of their time-consuming nature but, whenever Korea as a holiday destination is suggested, I would definitely say “yes” to the invitation in a heartbeat. Whether you are young or old, experiencing Korea is certainly fascinating to each member of the family.

Our first day in South Korea was spent in the quaint French-themed cultural village Petite France. Its claim to fame is being one of the shooting locations of the hit romantic Koreanovela, “My Love from Another Star”, which I incidentally watched in just four nights upon my return in the Philippines. (Can you imagine, the last series I watched was “Lovers in Paris”?). French-inspired houses lined up the village making one feel that you are transported to Europe with a miniature Eiffel Tower, galleries, outdoor theater, among others.

A short ferry ride brought us to our next stop --- the 400,000-square meter Nami Island of “Winter Sonata” fame. As spring was just beginning, the picturesque Ginkgo Tree Lane was devoid of its lush leaves. However, this also created a dramatic mood during our leisurely stroll. After our delightful chicken barbeque lunch, my husband and I rented a tandem bike where we cycled in unison, enjoying the breathtaking gardens and woods of Nami. Truly magical!

The following day, our tour guide, Choi, arranged for our visit at the Samsung Innovation Museum in Suwon showcasing three main exhibition halls named the Age of Inventors, Age of Industry Innovation, and Age of Creation. The kids were in awe seeing the old appliances and gadgets of yesteryears and went giddy over future inventions such as Samsung’s Smart Home.

In the afternoon, Everland Resort awakened the child in all of us as we explored the exciting themed areas like Global Fair, American Adventure, Magic Land, European Adventure and Zoo Topia. After trying the more kid-friendly rides for the sake of our little ones, I braved the T Express, a thrilling roller coaster with the steepest falling degree in the world, along with the other adventure seekers in the group.

A photo session galore awaited us all on our third day at the three-dimensional Trick Eye and Ice Museum in Hongdae. With the aid of optical illusions, visitors can act as the characters in the 3-D murals. Fancy being a part of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Starry Night’; defy gravity in outer space; or swim with the sharks? Then, drop by the Trick Eye Museum and get ready to do some wacky acting.

All that posing and smiling made our group hungry so we decided to have a quick coffee and snack break at the adorable Hello Kitty Café, within walking distance from the Trick Eye Museum. Every HK fan will surely be mesmerized with this two-storey café which highlights all things Kitty from the decors, food and drinks.

The remaining part of the day was spent learning about the traditional way of life of the ordinary people and aristocracy at the National Folk Museum; followed by a stroll around the compound of the historic Gyeongbok Palace. The palace was erected during the reign of King Taejo, founder of the Joseon Dynasty which lasted from 1392 to 1910.

Towards sunset, we went up to the 240-meter Seoul Tower considered as “Asia’s most beautiful tower”, where one can see a magnificent overview of the city from the observatory. Before leaving this famous landmark, we took photos at the Love Lock. This is where thousands of padlocks inscribed with the couples’ names were left by sweethearts at the fence symbolizing their promise of endless love.

On the final day of our tour, we learned how to make the staple Korean food which we have been eating since Day 1 --- the vitamin-enriched kimchi at the Kimchi School. According to our tour guide Choi, kimchi’s shelf life is 6 months and that the average Korean would have two refrigerators in their household; one to keep everyday essentials and another to store kimchi. Yes, Koreans love kimchi that much!

Hanbok wearing came next where my cousins and I had a blast donning the Korean traditional dresses and acting as the royal family of dynasties past. We blended perfectly well donning the costumes and could pass as true-blue Koreans with our chinky eyes!

Our guide, knowing the Filipinos’ penchant for shopping, brought us to Paju Premium Outlet for some good deals.

Since spring was in our midst, we dropped by Yeouido where the Cherry Blossom Tunnel is located. We caught a glimpse of the enchanting cherry blossoms as they started to bloom and indulged in some tasty street food as well.

Later in the night, we watched the Cookin’ Nanta, the longest running show in Korean history. It is a hilarious story about three cooks challenged to prepare a wedding banquet in only a short time. The task gets complicated when their bossy manager hires his incompetent nephew to join the kitchen crew. The must-see show effectively utilizes acrobatics, magic tricks, comedy, pantomime as well as audience participation. Through improvised instruments such as kitchen knives, cutting boards and even water canisters, the performers were able to expertly showcase the traditional Korean samul nori music.

After our tour with Choi ended, my cousins and I extended for a few more days to discover Seoul’s sights and culinary offerings on our own and at a more relaxed pace. We stayed at Sejong Hotel, conveniently situated near the Myeongdong subway station. Just a few steps away from the hotel were a plethora of shops, restaurants, cafes and even night market to satisfy our incessant food cravings.

In the next days, we visited the Coex Aquarium in Gangnam where 40,000 underwater creatures from over 650 species were on display; Itaewon district for some retail shopping with dinner/drinks; the hip Ssamzie-gil Complex in Insadong (Those into arts and crafts would totally love it there!); Lotte Department Store for some pasalubong shopping; Dongdaemun Design Plaza to view its various modern art exhibits; Namsangol Hanok Village to observe traditional Korean houses; and the trendy Garosugil, the so-called “Rodeo Drive” of Seoul, to witness how the fashionable set lives.

The very unique Cat Café in Myeongdong captured the hearts of our kids who absolutely adore animals. For just a minimal fee (inclusive of drinks), one can have snacks and beverages while interacting with the forty-five resident feline cuties of the café.  It was definitely a fitting and ‘purrfect’ way to cap our weeklong stay in Seoul.

Gamsahamnida, Korea, for our family’s priceless memories – and recaptured pictures!

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