Sunday, June 27, 2010

Urban Getaway

I headed up to Seoul for the weekend for my friend Leandra's birthday. She lives in Gunsan but wanted to celebrates in the big city, so we got a group together and trickled up there separately. I always want to do a million things in Seoul, but the weekends are short and the city is large, and even on a comprehensive subway it takes a long time to get anywhere. No matter what I end up doing, it's nice to have a change of scenery and step into such a pulsing urban setting. Equally though, it is crowded and hectic and more expensive and I'm probably happier visiting than residing there. I did make it to Changdeokgung 창덕궁 Palace with a few friends and saw the Secret Garden. These royal gardens are a 70 acre oasis in the city, that you can only visit by guided tour.

Afterward we went to Itaewon, an international district, to do some shopping for English books and groceries. I brought my big backpack to Seoul specifically to fill with groceries I can't find in Gunsan. At the foreign market I got polenta, lentils, black tea, nuts, curry powder, coconut, and sharp cheddar. Glorious, glorious cheese. I am a big believer in "When in Rome"... and I like Korean food a lot... but I do miss all the variety of food that is available at home. It's much harder for me to cook here, between having a microscopic kitchen and not having familiar ingredients and spices available. So I stocked up on foreign foods, but my trade-off is to try to learn to cook more Korean food. This week I will get a lesson in going to the butcher and preparing Korean pork, and I also ordered a Korean cookbook.

That evening, our group rendezvoused at our guesthouse in Hongdae. We stayed in this sweet little room that fits 8 people right by the Hongik subway stop, with a loft, kitchen, and view of the city.

We wound through the pedestrian streets of Hongdae to an Italian restaurant where Leandra wanted to go for her birthday. They had a nice outdoor deck, and we sat down in the warm air in the dim light, opened our menus... then it started raining. Pouring. Luckily, they had an open side room with a large table just big enough for our group. It was a nice meal of pastas, salads, and wine, complete with Korean-influenced appetizers, such as apples, smoked ham, cheese, and... gummi bears. Or peppers with sweet pickles. Why must Italian restaurants in Korea always serve sweet pickles? Anyway, with a tiramisu birthday cake it was a great meal.

We finished just before 11pm when the first Round of 16 World Cup game was on- Korea versus Uruguay. We were hoping to find a bar to watch in, but we needed to find a place much earlier. Every public spot was already packed. We went back to the room to watch the game, which was good and Korea played well, though they ended up losing 1-2. Then we headed out to a club for some live music.

On Sunday I met up with my friend Juli from my college study abroad trip in Mexico. We haven't seen each other since going to school in Morelia in 2005! She has been in Seoul for the last 3 years, and we finally got a chance to catch up. She asked what I wanted to eat for lunch- I said "Anything I can't get in Gunsan!" So she took me to her favorite sandwich spot, an adorable European-inspired cafe with fresh pastries, bright walls, rustic wood furniture, and tomatoes growing in pots on window decks. We shared a salmon sandwich and a vegetarian one with roasted veggies on fresh fresh sourdough, both served with a nicely dressed salad of baby greens. We had a great conversation about Korea, slow food, and Italy. She is applying for a Food Science Masters program in Italy, and my dream (for both of us) is to be able to visit her there next year.

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