Seoul – Day 1 – Gangnam & Myeong-Dong

RO: Adevarul e ca e aproape imposibil ca cineva sa nu stie macar un singur lucru despre Coreea. Si nu ne referim la conflictele actuale din zona, ca daca e s-o spunem pe cea dreapta, conflicte intre Coreea de Nord si de Sud au existat de cand lumea si Pamantul – de cand cu cel de-al doilea razboi mondial mai exact, de cand cu paralela 38 trasata pe harta de americani si sovietici de parca si-ar fi impartit frateste bucata de prajitura la mic dejun sau de cand cu razboiul corean si incaierarea dintre cele doua tari, care vrand nevrand luptau pentru asimilarea celeilalte. Lasam insa confruntarile politice pe mai incolo, pentru moment ne focusam pe lucrurile care au cam adus Coreea de Sud in lumina reflectoarele la nivel mondial, si n-ar fi lucru putin sa mentionam rapid de viteza grozava a internetului, cosmeticele inovatoare, de eterna pasiune pentru Starcraft, de si mai accentuata obsesie pentru perfectiunea fizica si operatiile estetice, de disperarea cu Gangnam Style-ul lui Psy care-a innebunit mapamondul si Youtube-ul, de smartphone-urile de la Samsung, televizoarele de la LG ori masinile Hyundai, de mancarea picanta si delicioasa si fara doar si poate, de muncitul pana la extenuare – nici nu e de mirare c-au preluat din apucaturile vecinilor niponi, dupa atatia ani de ocupatie japoneza.

EN: Truth is that it is almost impossible to find someone that doesn’t know at least one single thing about Korea. And we’re not referring to the current conflicts in this area, because in the end, let’s face it, conflicts between North and South Korea exist since… forever – to be more precise since the second world war, since 38th parallel north has been traced on the map by the Americans and Soviets as if they would brotherly share a piece of cake at breakfast. Or since the Korean civil war and the problems between the two countries, which were both fighting to assimilate the other one. But we’ll leave the political encounters for later on and we’ll now focus on what has brought South Korea to the worldwide spotlight. And we’ll mention about the great speed of internet, the innovative cosmetics, the eternal Starcraft passion, the even more pronounced obsession for the physical perfection and all those plastic surgeries, we’ll talk about the Psy’s Gangnam style madness that simply made the whole world (and the entire Youtube) insane, about Samsung’s smartphone, the LG cars or Hyundai cars, the spicy and delicious food and of course about working until exhaustion – no wonder they have taken some not so cool habits from the Nippon neighbors, after all those years of Japanese supremacy.
South Korea
RO: Bun, noua zile mari si late si trei locatii in care vrem musai sa ajungem: vreo trei zile in Seul, Orasul Viitorului, cu toate districtele faimoase, si templele, si strazile de cumparaturi, si satele traditionale pline de hanok-uri autentice, o zi rapid pana in sudul tarii in Busan, si-apoi vreo trei zile de relaxare in Jeju, rasfatul coreenilor. O fi Coreea de Sud mica pe Google Maps, insa distantele sunt mari, asa ca e nevoie de putina pregatire inainte de plecare. Cat despre Google Maaaaaaps, ei bine, da, are o groaza de restrictii in Coreea. Transportul public (autobuze si metrou) este reprezentat corect, cu toate informatiile de care ai nevoie, insa instructiuni de mers sau de condus – deloc. Si oricat de enervant ar fi sa traiesti the old fashion way, cu harta fizica si nu cu aplicatia intre ochi, intelegem de ce sunt coreenii atat de  precauti. In plus, se lauda ca Naver, o aplicatie locala de navigatie, are de toate pentru toti. Mai putin limba engleza si alfabet latin 🙂 Dar care-i baiul, e rost de invatat un pic de hangul, alfabetul corean in forma de… tetris 😀 Gluma-i gluma dar chiar am dat de o aplicatie cu harta offline (Seoul – Ulmon) decenta. Si chiar daca nu suntem noi neaparat fanii aplicatiilor pe telefon, pentru Coreea chiar sunt cateva aplicatii utile: noi am folosit Subway Korea (cu toate hartile metrourilor din toate orasele) si Visit Korea insa sunt multe altele.

EN: Ok, nine days and three locations where we really really want to go: a couple of days in Seoul (three), The City of Future, with all its famous districts and the temples and those shopping streets and the traditional houses full of authentic hanoks, one day trip to the southern part of the country in Busan, and then three relaxation days in Jeju, the Korean indulgence. South Korea might look small on the map but the distances are quite big so we need some beforehand documentation. As for Google Maaaaaps, oh well, yup, it has a lot of restrictions in South Korea. The public transport (buses and subway) are correctly represented, with all the information needed, but driving or walking instructions – not at all. And no matter how annoying it would be to live the old fashion way, with a physical map in your hand and not the app in the eyes, we do understand why the Koreans are so cautious. Moreover, they say that Naver, a local navigation app, has it all. Except the English language and the latin alphabet 🙂 But what’s the problem, in the end we should definitely start learning some hangui, the Korean aphabet that looks like… tetris 😀 We’re joking now, but we actually found a really good ffline map (Seoul Ulmon) which seems to be quite decent. And even though we’re not the biggest app fans, there a few helpful apps for South Korea – we used Subway Korea (with all the maps of the subways from all the cities) and Visit Korea but there are plenty of others.
South Korea_Apps
RO: Si-acum c-am lamurit care-i arsenalul de aplicatii de instalat, sa spunem doua vorbe si despre transportul in comun si transferurile de la aeroport. Orice cautare pe internet iti spune ca cel mai eficient, rapid si ieftin e sa iti cumperi asa numitul T Money Card. Platesti cardul (banii sunt pastrati garantie si se primesc inapoi – cam 4000 won), iar costul fiecarei calatorii cu metroul este cu 100 won mai ieftina decat normal. Adica cu foarte putini centi mai ieftina. Nu pretul ceva mai mic e tentant ci faptul ca nu mai stai sa iti cumperi de fiecare data bilet (cardul se incarca cu suma dorita) si nici nu mai platesti depozit pentru fiecare bilet cumparat. Apoi, pentru transferul de la aeroport catre oras sunt o multime de variante, insa cele care ne-au atras noua atentia ar fi limousine bus-ul (aproximativ 15.000 won de persoana) – pentru comoditatea de a nu mai schimba niciun mijloc de transport si pentru “rapiditatea” celor 50 minute pana in Gangnam 🙂 Apoi combinatia de tren Airport Railway si metrou (cam 4500 won de persoana), la o treime din pret insa cu un milion de opriri pe parcurs si un traseu de aproape doua ore (acum intelegem de ce limousine bus e considerat super fast). A, si pentru deplasarile in tara, nici vorba de inchiriat masini (aviz amatorilor cu astfel de obiceiuri ca ale noastre). Drumurile nu sunt grozave, indicatoarele sunt deseori doar in limba locala, traficul e infernal in orasele mari, e musai sa ai permis international de conducere (da, da, cel de 900 lei sau cat o fi care este emis de ACR) si no offense, sud-coreeni, dar nu le-aveti cu condusu’ 😀 Insa avem noroc, Coreea e extrem de bine conectata feroviar, iar trenurile KTX sunt un soi de Maglev-uri chinezesti care ajung la peste 300 km/h viteza. Iupi, doar doua ore si jumatate pana in Busan (pentru un drum de 450 km). Iar pentru situatii critice, vor fi intotdeauna taxiurile. Ieftine si multe, la fel ca-n Bucuresti. Atata doar sa ai noroc de sofer care sa vorbeasca doua boabe de engleza, altfel… cam trist 🙂

EN: And now that we’ve clarified what’s the entire app arsenal to install, let’s say a few words about the public transport and the transfers from the airport. Every search on the internet will tell you that the most efficient, fast and cheap option is to buy the so called T Money Card. You pay for the card (the money is kept as warranty and can be recovered at the end – approximately 4000 won),  and the cost of each subway trip is 100 won cheaper than normal. So with very few cents cheaper. But not the price is tempting in this case, but the fact that you no longer loose time buying the tickets (the card can be charged with the desired amount) and you no longer pay for deposit for each ticket bought. And then, for the airport transfer to the city there are quite a few options, but the ones that caught our eyes would be the limousine bus (approximately 15.000 won per person)- for the comfort of not changing any other public transport and for the reduced time to the city (“only” 50 minutes to Gangnam). And then the combo with the Airport Railway train and metro (around 4500 won per person), a third of the price but with a million stops on the way and a two hours trip (now we do understand why limousine bus is considered super-fast). Aaah, and for travelling around the country, renting a car is not a good idea at all. The roads are not great at all, the signs are often written just in the local language, the traffic is awful in the big cities, it absolutely necessary to have an international driving license and no offense Korean people, you don’t know how to drive 😀 But we’re lucky as Korea is extremely well connected by train, and the KTX trains are a kind of Chinese Maglev that reach 300 km/h speed. Yoohoo, two hours and a half to Busan (for a 450 km). And for critical situation, there will always be taxis. Cheap and plenty, as well as in Bucharest. Just to be lucky enough to find a driver that speaks two words in English otherwise it will be quite… sad 🙂
Gangnam District Seoul South Korea_4
Taxis South Korea
Gangnam District Seoul South Korea_1
Gangnam District Seoul South Korea_2
Gangnam District Seoul South Korea_3
Gangnam District Seoul South Korea_6
Gangnam District Seoul South Korea_5
Gangnam District Seoul South Korea_9
Gangnam District Seoul South Korea_7
RO: Cat despre Seul, Orasul Viitorului (ca doar despre Seoul am fi vrut sa vorbim, daca nu faceam introducerea aceasta interminabila), este un mix tare reusit de cladiri inalte, zgarie-nori sticlosi, bulevarde largi, trafic, masini care mai de care mai fitoase – pe de-o parte, si strazi inguste, case traditionale (asa numitele hanok-uri), restaurante in orice colt de cladire, mancare delicioasa, castele impunatoare si multe traditii – pe de cealalta parte. Am zice noi un mix perfect de China si Japonia 🙂 Si doar pentru ca am ales sa stam cazari in Gangnam (Hotel The Designers – pe alocuri kitchos, dar ieftin si foarte decent), ne-am inceput si noi vizita prin zona, macar cat sa intelegem ce a fost anii trecuti cu toata isteria “stilului gangnam”. Ei bine da, intregul district e un fel de Beverly Hills-ul Coreei, plin de blocuri frumoase si scumpe, bunastare si cat se poate de mult show off 🙂 Apgujeong Rodeo e poate cea mai renumita strada din cartier, plina de magazine scumpe si luxoase, insa cea mai draguta zona ni s-a parut de departe Garosu-gil, din Sinsa. Mai hipstereasca, mai agitata, mai interesanta, chiar daca pe alocuri poate prea obositoare. Aleea strajuita de copaci ginkgo, cum s-ar traduce numele zonei, e plina de cafenele imbietoare, restaurante de tot felul (desi recunoastem ca ne-a fost cam greu sa gasim un bibimbap traditional printre toate bucatariile internationale), magazine, buticuri de haine si evident, produse cosmetice cat vezi cu ochii – traiasca Olive Young-ul si BB cream-urile folosite chiar si de barbati 🙂

EN: As for Seoul, the City of Future (we actually wanted to talk only about Seoul but we managed to write this never ending introduction), this is an extremely successful mix of tall buildings, glassy sky scrapers, large boulevards, traffic, fancy cars – all of these on on side, and on the other side – narrow alleys, traditional houses (the so called hanoks), restaurants at every corner of the street, delicious food, imposing castles and lots of traditions. We would say that this looks like a perfect mix between China and Japan J And just because we have chosen to stay in Gangnam (The Designers Hotel – here and there a bit kitschy but cheap and very decent), we have started our visit in this area, at least to finally understand what was all the fuss with “Gangnam Style” a couple of years ago. Oh well, yup, the entire district is a kind of Korean Beverly Hills, full of beautiful and expensive blocks of buildings, wealth and a lot of show off 🙂 Apgujeong Rodeo is probably the most renowned street in the neighborhood, full of expensive and luxurious shops, but the nicest area in this district was by far Garosu-gil, from Sinsa. More hipsterish, more interesting and fun, even though sometimes it might have seemed a bit too weary. The street with the gingko trees, as the name of the area would translate in English, is full of tempting cafes, all kind of restaurants (even though we have to admit that it was quite hard to find a traditional bibimbap among all the international cuisines), shops, clothes boutiques and of course, cosmetics as far as the eyes can see – long live Olive Young and BB cream used even by men 🙂
Garosu-gil Seoul South Korea_1
Garosu-gil Seoul South Korea_2
Garosu-gil Seoul South Korea_12
Garosu-gil Seoul South Korea_3
Garosu-gil Seoul South Korea_4
Garosu-gil Seoul South Korea_5
Myeong-dong Street Food Seoul South Korea_8
Garosu-gil Seoul South Korea_11
Garosu-gil Seoul South Korea_8
Garosu-gil Seoul South Korea_7
Garosu-gil Seoul South Korea_6
Garosu-gil Seoul South Korea_9
Garosu-gil Seoul South Korea_10
RO: Cu gandul la un bibimbap, am dat rapid o fuga si in Myeong-dong, un alt district renumit pentru shopping si piata de noapte, cu tinta precisa catre restaurantul Gogung, laudat pentru cel mai bun bibimbap din oras. O fi fost el mixul de orez cu legume, kimchi, picanterii si supa sarata gustos si apetisant, insa la cei 70.000 woni pentru o portie de doua persoane, nici c-am avut curiozitatea sa il incercam. Noroc ca optiunile de restaurante in Myeong dong sunt cu nemiluita, asa ca fix vizavi de Gogung am dat de o grozavie de restaurant dosit, care pe langa preturile bune si varietatea meniului, ne-a convins ca n-avem cum sa dam gres dintr-un singur motiv: era coada la intrare. Si cam stiam deja lectia aceasta din Japonia 😀 Ce bibimbap sa iti mai trebuiasca cand ai toata masa plina de garnituri in recipiente mici si dragalase, care sa te sature pentru o saptamana? 😀 Si fara doar si poate, o masa traditionala coreana nu e completa fara un pahar de soju ori un makgeolli dulce, dulce tare. Si daca soju e o bautura spirtoasa clara si puternic alcoolizata, makgeolli e un soi de bere de orez cu aspect laptos, mai slaba si mai interesanta am spune noi (ar merge incercat si un mak-bar in Seul, baruri traditionale care servesc diverse tipuri de makgeolli, simple sau cu arome). Totusi, coreeni par sa fie mai interesati si mai incantati de clasica bere decat de makgeolli, care isi cam pierde din popularitate. Apropo, tot festinul acesta a fost 40.000 woni 🙂

EN: Thinking about some bibimbap, we went to Myeong-dong district, an area renowned for shopping and the night markets, heading directly to the famous Gogung restaurant, acclaimed as the best one in town for bibimbap. Maybe this mix of rice and vegetables, kimchi, all kind of spicy stuff and salty soup looks tasty and tempting, but those 70.000 wons per 2 persons portion does not sound good at all. Luckily, there are plenty of restaurants in Myeong-dong so right in front of Gogung we found one with better prices and a huge variety in the menu. And there was one good reason that convinced us that we cannot fail this time: there was a line at the entrance with people waiting to enter the restaurant. And we’re learned this lesson already from Japan 😀 What bibimbap should we actually need when we have the table full of side dishes in cute and tiny bowls, enough to fill us for a week? 😀 And by all means, a traditional Korean meal is not complete without a glass of soju or an extremely sweet makgeolli. And if soju is a clear spirituous drink, rich in alcohol, makgeolli is a kind of rice beer with milky aspect, with less alcohol and more interesting we would say (we should definitely try a mak-bar in Soul, some traditional bars that serve all kind of types of makgeolli, simple of with different flavors). Anyway, the Koreans seem to be more interested in classic beer rather than makgeolli, which is starting to loose popularity. And by the way, all this feast was 40.000 wons 🙂 
Restaurant vizavi de Gogung Myeong Dong Seoul South Korea_1
Restaurant vizavi de Gogung Myeong Dong Seoul South Korea_2
Restaurant vizavi de Gogung Myeong Dong Seoul South Korea_3RO: A, si-o fi fost oare predestinat numele camerei noastre de hotel, dupa asemenea imbuibare – camera 1101 – A good meal?!

EN: Ah and by the way, was our hotel room name predestined after such an overindulgence – room 1101 – A good meal?!
Hotel The Designers Seoul South Korea
RO: Bibimbap-ul ca bibimbap-ul, dar cin’ se pune cu mancarea stradala coreeana?! De la briose cu ou (da, pur si simplu aluat de briosa cu un ou prajit deasupra – asa zisele gyeranppang), clatite cu arpagic si fructe de mare (haemul pajeon), gogosi mandu semi-dubioase, prajite in tone de ulei, carnati sundae din Dumnezeu stie ce or fi facuti ori frigarui de branza si delicioasele rice cakes, toate se gasesc din plin pe strazile aglomerate ale Myeong-dong-ului.

EN: Bibimbap as bibimbap, but who dares to challenge the Korean street food?! From egg muffins (yup, just a simple muffin dough with a fried egg on top – the so called gyeranppang), pancakes with chives and see food (haemul pajeon), kinda weird mandu donuts, fried in tons of oil, sundae sausages made from who-knows-what or delicious rice and cheese skewers, one can find them all on the crowded streets of Myeong dong.
Myeong-dong Street Food Seoul South Korea_4
Myeong-dong Street Food Seoul South Korea_1
Myeong-dong Street Food Seoul South Korea_2
Myeong-dong Street Food Seoul South Korea_3
Myeong-dong Street Food Seoul South Korea_9
Myeong-dong Street Food Seoul South Korea_6
Myeong-dong Street Food Seoul South Korea_5
RO: Si-acum, intre noi fie vorba, credem ca Myeong-dong este de departe cel mai ofertant cartier din Seul cand vine vorba de cazari, restaurante, piete de noapte si orice 🙂 Recunoastem ca am crezut ca in Gangnam e sufletul orasului, insa simplul fapt ca se afla la sud de raul Han te obliga sa stai pe drum cel putin doua ore pe zi. Pentru ca daaaaa, distantele sunt uriase in Seul. Orasul este absolut fascinant de mare, metroul e o increngatura de magistrale care concureaza usor usor cu cel din Tokyo, iar orice distanta care pe harta iti pare ca decenta, se transforma subit intr-o sumedenie de statii care par ca nu se mai termina vreodata. “Douazeci si sapte de statii” a fost laitmotivul vacantei de altfel 🙂 Asadar da, Myeong Dong e nirvana cartierelor seulistice, am zis! Pai la cate mancatorii traditionale sunt peste tot prin jurul statiei de metrou Euljiro, in frunte cu faimoasele localuri de gratare si bibimbap-uri. Pai nu e renumita bucataria coreana pentru carnea fripta pe gratar si pentru mixul de orez si legume si kimchi? 🙂

EN: And now, between you and me, we honestly believe that Myeong-dong is by far the best neighborhood when it comes to hotels, restaurants, night markets and everything 🙂 We admit that Gangnam is the heart of the city but the simple fact that it is situated south of Han river it implies at least two hours per day spend on transportation. Because yuuuuup, the distances are huge in Seoul. The city is fascinatingly big, the subway is a never ending loop of lines which easily compete with the one from Tokyo and every distance from the map that might seem decent, suddenly transforms in tons of subway stop that seem to never end. “Twenty seven stops” was our leit-motif this trip 🙂 So yes, Myeong-dong is the Nirvana of the Seoulistic neighborhoods, we’ve said it! There are so many traditional places to eat around Euljiro station, so many famous locals that serve the Korean barbecue and the typical bibimbap. Well isn’t the Korean cuisine renowned all over the world for its barbecue and for the mix of rice and vegetables and kimchi? 🙂
Myeong Dong District - Seoul South Korea_1
Restaurant around Euljiro Station Seoul South Korea

 

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