It’s been a while, but I’m finally back – this time with some much-needed Korea-related content. After more than two and a half years of not being able to go to Korea for reasons everyone probably is aware of I finally managed to book a trip to Seoul for this July. I was beyond excited to go back but I also harbored a certain amount of anxiety since it had been such a long time since I went traveling on my own. I hadn’t needed to worry (one rarely needs to, but still) – everything went smoothly and I’m chronicling my experiences in Korea from the comfort of my home office back in Denmark.
I departed for Seoul on July 6th fully equipped with a negative covid test and multiple printouts of the mandatory Q-code needed to enter Korea. Since there are still no direct flights from Denmark to Korea, I had to transfer in Helsinki. Normally this is a shortcut to Asia from Europe but due to the antics of the mad czar of Russia, the Russian airspace is closed and we had to take the much longer (and probably also much safer) southern route to Seoul.
On the bright side, I spotted a familiar face in Helsinki while I was waiting at the gate. I know this brilliant person as my friend but to the rest of the world he is the renowned bestselling literary translator Anton Hur, known for The Court Dancer, Love in the Big City, Violets and Cursed Bunny among other titles.
Meeting a friend from Korea when I was only still on my way there felt so comforting and almost like I had already arrived. Of course, we still had a long flight ahead of us but 12 hours later we arrived at Incheon, and I was finally back on Korean soil. The airport was almost completely empty and from the moment we touched down at Incheon until I was on the airport shuttle train – after going through Q-code and passport control, picking up my bag, and submitting to a covid test – less than an hour had passed. Impressive.
Well arrived in central Seoul I checked into my hotel and started letting everyone know that I was back in Korea. I had prepurchased a Korean sim card from Trazy, a site specializing in Korea travel, so my local friends could call me while I was in Seoul. I highly recommend any foreigners traveling to Korea to either a buy Korean sim card or rent a portable wifi egg, so they can stay connected. Geonha’s mother and brother were the first ones to call and welcome me back and set up times for when we should meet. I told them that the first thing I would do when I woke up the next day was to go to Geonha’s resting place. The last time I went there was Christmas 2019 and it had been breaking my already broken heart that the covid crisis kept me away from him for so long.
The next morning I woke up rested after a full night’s sleep and headed straight to Seohyun Memorial Park in Paju. I was staying in a hotel near Gongdeok station from where you can take the Gyeunggui Jungang Line, which stops in Geumchon (downtown Paju). From Geumchon I took a taxi to the memorial park and arrived around 10:30.
It was a strange feeling to be back here after such a long time. I used to come here as often as I could right after I lost Geonha in a horrible accident. The last time I was here was just a year after he died – and now it had been more than twice that time since I was last here. Yet it still seems like I just met him. The passing of time is such a strange concept.
After staying at the memorial park for a while, feeling equally happy and sad to be back here, I took a taxi back to Geumchon. There I had my first proper Korean meal during this trip – delicious bibimbap – before taking the train back to Seoul.
The next day I spent the morning walking around my old neighborhood around Sogang and Ewha women’s university. I was happy to find that most places seemed familiar, but the streets around Ewha were almost unrecognizable. They used to be home to the hustling and bustling of cheap clothing stores, small shoe shops, and their busy customers, but now the streets were bare, and “for rent” signs were hung in almost all of the windows. I realize that many of the customers were foreigners – particularly students at Ehwa – but it was still depressing to see one of my favorite neighborhoods being hit so hard by the pandemic.
In the afternoon, I had made plans to meet Geonha’s brother and his fiancee for coffee and dinner. We met at Gwanghwamun and spent about an hour in a nearby Starbucks catching up. It was my first time meeting his fiancee and she was just so sweet and easy to talk to. We chatted about Denmark and Korea and obviously a lot about their upcoming wedding. Then we strolled along the Cheonggyecheon stream before eating dinner at Cafe Mama’s.
We also went to the Kyobo bookstore at Gwanghwamun where Geonha’s brother insisted on buying me some books so I could continue to improve my Korean 😅 We had a really good time and I was glad to see them looking so happy together.
The next day was a Sunday and I had no engagements, so I went for a stroll through Jongno and Insadong and had lunch at the wonderful Osegyehyang restaurant. It’s a fully vegan Korean restaurant located at the end of a narrow alley and in my opinion one of Insadong’s best-kept secrets. Here I ordered their signature doenjjang bibimbap with lots of yummy sides before I continued my self-guided walking tour around the city.
I spent a total of 18 days in Seoul and will be sharing all about my trip with you in the coming days. I hope you enjoyed this account of my first three days in Seoul. Stay tuned for the next vol. of Korea diaries.
Happy weekend everyone!
여러분 주말을 잘 보내세요!!