Get ready for the motherload. Of puns. Seoul is a city that lends itself almost too easily to abundant pun making (let me just grab this low hanging fruit over here) and I don't think it's a coincidence that at the start of the trip I had 8 friends with me and at the end I was alone. Also a forewarning this post is very long (sorry) so before diving in get a snack or go to the bathroom, if you like.
I went to Seoul to celebrate my friend's 30th birthday (Happy Birthday, Dan!) with a big group for a weekend. A conveniently timed day off from work allowed me to stay for an extra two days by myself and do some seoul-o exploring. I can admit that before going to Korea I didn't know that much about the country or Seoul as a city. Some background facts: Seoul is the capital of South Korea and a city of 10 million people (1/3 the population of Canada!). It has a population density twice that of New York City! The city is bisected by the Han River (...Han, Seoul-o) which previously served as a major shipping route that helped the city grow. Fun fact: from Goto, Seoul is closer and cheaper to get to than Tokyo!
The fall colours were beautiful in Seoul, which is a nice change coming from a climate that stays green pretty much all year round. Pops of orange and red were bursting everywhere and even though the temperature was much colder than Goto, it was beautiful to walk around.
Even on the very first day I was already seoul-d on my love for Korea and my desire to live there (having been there for less than 24 hours, I was reminded). But after 5 days there I can still say that Seoul is one of the top cities I have visited. It has an efficient (and intelligent!) public transit system, the food is incredible, the culture is rich and the "vibe" (however cliche that may sound) is relaxed and welcoming. Seoul feels much more Western than Japan, even compared to big cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Maybe this is why I felt so comfortable there, because it felt closer to home than I have been used to for the last 15 months.
The weekend spent with friends was a whirlwind of sightseeing (mostly food markets), eating, beer drinking, and laughing. Friday night we went out on the town to Itaewon, known as the international area of town and for their clubs. I went back a couple days later to visit a veggie restaurant for brunch and it took me a good 45 minutes walking around to realize I had already been there. So suffice it to say, the Friday night was memorable.
I'm amazed at all we managed to cram into less than two days together. The time after the others left was spent recovering and exploring Seoul on foot. Having got all the partying out of the way at the beginning of the weekend, I'd end up back in my hostel around 9 ready to pass out. My phone calculated I walked around 20km a day. It still counts even if it is from one one food venue to the next.
Korean food is known as being spicy. This is no joke. I was told that Korean food doesn't cater well to a vegetarian diet but was pleasantly surprised to find some delicious veggie-friendly options. At the airport upon arrival a friend and I dove right in to Korean food and I enjoyed "Toppogi". The dish is like a mochi in a spicy sauce and caused profuse sweating and nose dripping. I made eye contact with a Korean man at one point across the restaurant and he physically pointed and laughed how much we were struggling. It was, however, delicious. During my solo travel time I also found a vegan Korean restaurant and a veggie restaurant that served western style food, both of which were delicious.
Another super bonus about Seoul is that everything is ridiculously cheap. We had two big group meals with all the food and beer you could drink (we struggled to finish) and the bill came to around $20 per person. Having converted yen to won and not wanting to convert it back, it was genuinely a struggle to spend all the money we had. Taxis around town were an extremely affordable way to travel which is fun because it was chilly and also traveling in a taxi always makes me feel kind of fancy.
I was getting out of Seoul just as a certain cheeto-in-chief was arriving. In fact, I accidentally saw him. And it was the worst. I was already late for the train to the airport and was running full tilt past hundreds of police officers lining the streets awaiting his imminent arrival (strange and suspicious looks ensued). As I was directly across from the train station with 5 minutes to spare I was stopped by a police line and proceeded to wait for 10 minutes in front of an empty street as the train I wanted came and went. All I could think was that if I missed my plane in Korea because of Donald FREAKING Chump I was going to lose my goddamn mind. His motorcade drove by, I saw his toupee-d head and men with very large guns and was finally allowed to cross the street. I took the next train and caught my plane, but was much grumpier because of the whole experience.
Even though this is one of my longest posts I still feel like it doesn't do justice to Seoul. There is just so much to see and talk about that there is no way it could be accurately described in a blog post. I will definitely be back to this great city and I would love to explore Korea outside of just Seoul. Also there weren't actually that many puns in this so here's some more that I didn't fit in but deserve a mention: Quantum of Seoul-ace, Beyonce and Seoul-ange, Seoul-tans of Swing. Any more?