Another Seoul trip

On Saturday (a week ago) I went to the dentist to get another little old filling replaced and when I came back Rob suggested we should spontaneously head to Seoul! I was very excited and of course I immediately agreed. We packed our little backpacks and headed to USquare on a hot rainy day. We bought tickets and were on our way 10 minutes later. It was a relaxing uneventful trip up to Seoul. We arrived around 5 and headed straight for the new Dongdaemun Design Plaza designed by Zaha Hadid. I wanted to see the new plaza, but I mostly wanted to see the exhibition of sets from my favourite K-Drama! It was a bit tacky and a bit too full of brand sponsorship but I’m glad I got to see all the sets in real life :) Very exciting. PS. the design plaza is amazing! Such an impressive structure.

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Dongdaemun design plaza – parts of the panels light up at night

Do Min Joon courtyard exhibition man from the stars

Do Min Joon’s courtyard from “Man from the Stars”

 

 

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Me on Do Min Joon’s bed!

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The Secret Library

Afterwards we got the subway to Hongdae and tried to check into our little hostel/motel which we booked on the bus. Unfortunately booking online a few hours before checking in was not the best idea. The hostel was double-booked but the Brazilian owner kindly led us down the road to a little B&B which he paid the difference for. It was quite awkward accommodation because it was 4 tiny rooms downstairs, with the owner living upstairs! We all had to share a bathroom but it turned out to be fine. We weren’t there for very long after all. I wish I had some photos because it was quite a cute little space with some nice looking breakfast on the table.

After checking in we got ready to go out to meet Pete and Jess. By this time it was about 8.30 and we hadn’t eaten, so luckily we stumbled across a cute little Japanese place in Hongdae. It was quick and had good simple meals. We met Pete and Jess and friends in Itaewon and spent the night drinking and dancing in gay bars (!) We were really tired to begin with but after (quite) a few drinks we had a lot of fun. We headed back to Hongdae quite early (1.30 ish) and walked around taking in the atmosphere. There were some interesting buskers and also a big square full of foreigners and Koreans in separate parts. We sat on the Korean side and watched a cool breakdancing/bboy/rap battle going on for about an hour.

hongdae bboy rap battle breakdancing artists

B-boy/rap battle

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Subway sleeping

The next morning we ate waffles for breakfast, went shopping in Hondgae for a few hours, walked down all the cute quirky side streets, and ate amazing swiss cheese burgers for lunch. We planned to meet Pete and Jess in the afternoon to go for a bike ride along the Han river, but it started pouring with rain so we met in beautiful Sinsa (Garuso-gil) and hung out in a cafe for a few hours.

handmade polymer gem earrings Hongdae Seoul Jubiler

Cute handmade miss-matched gems from a design stall in a big mall in Hondgae

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Hongdae has the cutest side streets :) Those bags are only $15 too

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Beautiful 3 story boutique with it’s own cosmetics line – not even expensive!

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Miss Burger restaurant interior

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Delicious burgers – mine had swiss cheese and rocket!

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Beautiful courtyard with the cutest staircase

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Awesome menswear store (a bit too feminine though)

Hongdae Seoul side street busy shopping

Another quirky sidestreet

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Beautiful mural

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Accessories store

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Beautiful balcony cafe in Garosu-gil, Sinsa

 

We didn’t end up leaving Seoul til about 7.30 and as we left we were caught in a storm with fork lightning! It was a very exciting and relaxing trip and we really hope Hong Kong will have the same vibes (less than 4 weeks to go!)

 

Buddhas Birthday and Busan

Work has been pretty stressful during April. I’m still dealing with a completely new set of classes and we had to do phone teaching on top if that. It wasn’t meant to take long but I think it took me over 5 hours because I had to call many of the kids about 5 times on different days to get hold of them. They are cute on the phone, but no one likes doing extra work :s I’m not really enjoying my younger classes but at least my older classes aren’t too bad.

We were recently asked to re-sign for another year, but we said no. They were willing to give us a month off and a raise, but really the job isn’t worth it. I think about 6 out of 7 of the foreign teachers are all leaving at roughly the same time, so that’s going to be interesting for the company! Our current (vague) plans are to go home for 4 or 5 months and work on creative projects, then head back to Seoul.

Anyway, we were definitely looking forward to a little break. We planned to go to Busan for our long weekend with Pete and Jess (fellow NZers) from Seoul and we had a great time! We were lucky to have both Buddha’s Birthday and Children’s day off, so we had a 4 day weekend.

On Friday we walked through the 5:18 park (near our work and apartment) so we could look at all the Buddha’s Birthday lanterns. So pretty!

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Buddha’s Birthday lanterns in Gwangju

Buddha's Birthday lanterns in Gwangju

Buddha’s Birthday lanterns in Gwangju

 

On Saturday we packed and got to the bus terminal around midday. We arrived in Busan in the afternoon and headed straight to Gwangalli beach which was really beautiful. We walked around then bought some drinks and sat enjoying the sunset while we waited for Pete and Jess. I really fell in love with the relaxed beach-y vibe. It started to get darker and colder so we ventured inland and explored a little more. We found an unused amusement park and a great Gelato place. We were also keeping an eye out for places to stay. It started getting quite late so we ended up looking for motels more urgently. We kept being told everything in the area was booked so we were getting quite afraid! Eventually we met up with Pete and Jess who were on a very delayed bus! We’re lucky there was no traffic coming from Gwangju. We took a subway far up into the city and eventually found a motel with the help of a nice Korean man who took us around. Whew!!

 

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We found cute little dogs in a cafe

Gwangalli Beach Busan Korea

Gwangalli

Gwangalli beach busan korea

Gwangalli panorama

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We took a taxi back down to Gwangalli and looked for somewhere to eat (around 11pm). The only places serving food were bars, so we ended up at Fuzzy Navel; a bar serving Mexican food with a great view of the beach. We also had far too many pitchers of Long Island Iced Teas. Long story short I ended up remembering nothing of the rest of the night, and was extremely sick that night and all the next day. The others had a great time having soju shots with some random Koreans in a food tent near our motel!

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Drinks and mexican food at Gwangalli

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The next day was a bit of a disaster because Rob and I couldn’t get out of bed until 6pm! We headed out to Gwangalli again for dinner – yummy burgers and wedges (with aioli!) at Thursday Party. Afterwards we walked along the beach, let off some fireworks and sparklers and ate gelato.

 

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Mmm burgers, wedges and aioli!

Gwangalli beach busan south korea teach english esl

Diamond bridge

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Fireworks fun

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On Monday we all headed to Haeundae beach for some sun, sand and food. Haeundae was very busy and had a great vibe; very summery. After a bit of sun we went searching for something to eat, but there were queues and long waits everywhere, so we had to cancel our orders of burgers and chips so Pete and Jess could catch their bus! Rob and I went to an Indian place after walking around for a bit. It was delicious! Much better than the places in Gwangju :( We will definitely be going back for that curry (and the beach). We took a subway a few stops up and checked out the art museum and the biggest department store in the world. It was just a massive Shinsegae so we had seen all the shops before, but it was still fun seeing how big it was. I bought some essentials from M.A.C and Uniqlo, and then we headed to the boutique food section on the ground floor. So many amazing cakes! I got a massive 3 layered red velvet cake and bought some brie and crackers. So good.

Haeundae beach busan south korea teach english esl

Haeundae beach

Haeundae beach busan south korea teach english esl

Haeundae beach

Busan art gallery museum teach english esl

Art Museum

Busan shinsegae food cake lotte macarons chocolate bakery boutique teach english esl brie salami french

Many food stands like this at Shinsegae – so tempting!

 

We headed back to the motel to nap and relax, and then had galbi (korean bbq beef ribs). We watched The Lorax on the massive TV in our motel, then we managed to download Game of Thrones which we watched before bed.

Tuesday we decided just to head straight to the terminal instead of doing any more sightseeing. I’m glad we did because the buses were getting quite booked out. We got back to Gwangju and relaxed for the evening :) It definitely felt nice being home after 4 days, especially because Busan was a little smelly and noisy. It’s nice being in quiet little Gwangju sometimes.

 

 

New things and holiday plans

I realised I haven’t posted anything since kindy ended. I’m now working the ‘normal’ schedule (1.30-10pm) and it’s definitely better overall. I love having mornings free to sleep in, cook, draw, watch shows, browse, walk to work etc… I finished watching The Man From the Stars k-drama (which I fell in love with!) and I’m currently downloading The Heirs to watch on my iPad. Also my schedule lines up more with Rob’s now, so we get to see each other more.

March was a great month because we were all working under our contracted hours. I had 7 new classes to get used to but everything went quite well, mostly because I had two sanity breaks a day. Now that Sonia had gone back to America, I’ve picked up an extra tutor and an extra middle school class so I don’t have many breaks. We also have to start doing phone teaching which means calling our first couple of classes to teach them once a month. This is going to be very painful for me because some of my kids are so young they can barely sound out new words with their mouths. Their vocabulary is limited to ‘pencil’, ‘circle’, ‘book’ and ‘purple’, and I’m expected to have entire conversations with them about how their day has been.

These young classes are really stressful because they’re younger than the kindy kids and I can’t communicate with them at all. I go in and some of them just run around and scream at me in korean to give them money or candy the whole lesson. Luckily after 4 young classes in a row, I teach upper elementary and middle school. I like my older kids a lot more! We’ve both been very tired this first week of April, so we’re expecting more of the same until our contract ends in just under 5 months.

Anyway, we were planning on staying with our company if they wanted us, but now we’re thinking it will be much better to go home for a month or two to rest, and then come back to a new job in Seoul. Nothing is set in stone but this seems like a sensible idea, especially considering I haven’t had a holiday longer than a week since I started working 2 and a half years ago.

Also if we leave our company we get extra money: we get our bond back, flights back home and a whole months severance pay (which is around $2,200). We’re going to use this, along with our final months paycheck, to go on a 2-3 week holiday across Japan! (Hopefully).

We’ve also just booked flights to Hong Kong for 5 days in July! We’re very excited to see the super tall buildings and interesting crumbling old apartments, as well as shopping, eating and relaxing on beaches. Counting down, just 3.5 months to go :s

When we get back we’ll be heading straight into intensive month, and then our contract will be over.

We’re going to be in super savings mode for the next 4-5 months. The only Korea trip we have planned is to go to Busan with Pete and Jess (from Seoul), over the Buddha’s birthday holiday. Only a month away – will be a lot of fun!

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Spring time

So winter is finally over in Korea. We’ve had nice spring temperatures for over a month now and haven’t had to use the heating for over 2 months. Our bills are finally starting to get very cheap again. We had a week at the end of march with very hot temperatures – around 20-24 degrees – but it’s settled back down to normal spring weather now. It should start heading into summer in May.

I love the cherry blossoms and the yellow sansayu blossoms which bloomed for a few weeks. The cherry blossoms are all starting to die now, but everything is turning green again which makes me happy. I was starting to get very sick of the gloomy grayness. We walk to work through the 518 park about once a week, so we get to see all the changes in the trees.

Seasonal food and drinks have been in cafés since spring started. I love the look of the thick strawberry smoothies. My favourite drinks are the (real) green grape ade from Holly’s and the cherry blossom white hot chocolate from Starbucks. Yum

We had planned on visiting a lot of blossom festival sites, but after visiting one we decided that was enough!
We went to the yellow sansayu blossom festival near Gurye, in a rural village about 1.5 hours from us. The bus from Gurye was fine, but the small rural bus we took was painful because we had to stand in the hot sweaty bus, while it sped around sharp corners. After a while we got stuck in the longest traffic jam I’ve ever seen, so we got out and walked for an hour to get to he festival site. At this point we realised that half of Korea was probably coming because this was the first spring festival on the calendar.

When we got to the site it was nothing like the tourism photos! We were promised tranquil scenes and traditional costumed performances, but instead there was a giant stage with b-grade Koop blaring, and far too many people gathered around a small paddock of trees, pushing and shoving to get the best selfies. We walked around for about half an hour, took some photos and then got out of there! Unfortunately we had to wait over an hour for the next bus to Gurye town, but luckily it was a lot quicker heading back.

It was a good experience but I don’t think we’ll be going to many more festivals in Korea!

The last few weekends we’ve decided to relax in Gwangju. We had BBQ and went to see the new 300 movie one weekend. The next weekend we saw Romeo + Juliet at the movies, hung out at Big Apple cafe, went shopping and ate pretzels and waffles downtown for 8 hours. In the evening we had Mexican, all you can drink cocktails and a bit of clubbing for Sonia’s farewell. This weekend we had BBQ again, saw The Grand Budapest hotel at Gwangjus independent cinema, and had Indian. Mmm lamb. It’s been quite a poor month because I bought an iPad just after we got paid, but we’ve still had heaps of fun!

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The 6 month post

So we’ve been in Korea for 6 months now! It feels longer but it also feels about right.

Kindy is officially over at the end of Feb (next week!) so I’m quite happy! I will miss the little Rabbit class but overall kindy has been really draining – I just have no energy for my afternoon classes. The two older classes are graduating into the afternoon classes so I probably will still teach them. I really like half the kids (mostly the girls) but a lot of the boys are just really violent and disrespectful so it’s going to be very interesting to see how they deal with the much more strict afternoon classes, and going to elementary school.

Our Korean skills are still embarrassingly bad, but we’re not too worried about that. We’re both currently working on creative projects/just relaxing after every challenging day of work, so neither of us have much extra energy or motivation to properly learn Korean. I’m learning new vocab words and still getting the hang of the 2 different number systems but not much beyond that.

We’re still loving our time in Korea! We are noticing that slightly annoying things become more annoying when it’s normal everyday life (like the horrible driving), and you realise just how much time you spend at work, or stressing about work. Originally we had thought maybe we could do the whole teaching thing for many years, but the longer we’re here, the more we realise it’s not what we’re looking for long-term. We really love that it has changed us for the better (we’re more patient and more understanding with kids, we can be silly and laugh at ourselves a lot, we’re more understanding of a different culture and their attitudes towards education and life, we’re more confident with our speaking/teaching skills, we’re more flexible when things change suddenly, we’re more understanding of communication difficulties etc… etc…) but we also realise that this is a very stressful and challenging job for a pair of introverts who don’t absolutely adore being around kids all day. It’s also especially difficult to be around energetic kids when you’re not feeling very well. I’ve been sick a lot in my 6 months here (I’ve had flu 7 times, tonsillitis 3 times and laryngitis 3 times, as well as many colds), so it pretty much feels like I’ve been sick over half the time I’ve been here. It’s really hard knowing you have to teach 11 classes in a day when your body is aching, you can barely stand up and your tonsils are on fire!! Somehow we get through it but its not always fun and we have no sick days. I’m very curious to see if I get less sick once I finish kindy classes, and start teaching only elementary and middle school.

So basically we are doing a lot of thinking about our options for the next few years. Currently we’re thinking of doing another year in Seoul (or Gwangju) mostly for the money and then heading back home to work on creative projects (and be very poor for a while!). I also want to work in Europe for a few months, or live in Tokyo for a year, but we’ll see! We also want to have a holiday in Japan and a longish holiday in Europe and America. Absolutely nothing is set in stone though and we really have no idea what the future holds, but that can be quite fun :)

Weekend at the Jeonju hanok village

We planned a relaxing trip at the Jeonju hanok village for Valentine’s weekend.

We headed out quite late in the afternoon and had to wait at USquare for an hour after booking our ticket. We only arrived in Jeonju at about 5pm, which was quite good timing because we got to see the beautiful sunset and walk around looking at all the pretty lights at night. We didn’t know what to expect but Jeonju had a really trendy vibe. It was packed full of trendy young Korean couples, and cute quirky cafes located in old (and new) hanok buildings. We were really loving the vibe and just walked around exploring all the little alleyways with interesting art and craft stores. We ate delicious meaty kebabs, found some sweet sesame Korean treats and eventually queud up for dinner at a Ddeok Galbi restaurant, where we ate outside on a raised platform with heated mats to sit on :)

Sunset

Sunset

Main road in the village, lots of people

Main road in the village, lots of people

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Pretty alley ways

Pretty alley ways

Cool craft shops

Cool craft shops

Trendy cafes and restaurants - traditional and Italian etc...

Trendy cafes and restaurants – traditional and Italian etc…

Traditional Ddeok Galbi (mix of beef and pork) restaurant with lots of sides

Traditional Ddeok Galbi (mix of beef and pork) restaurant with lots of sides

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We stayed at Daddle Hanok, which I booked on Agoda a few weeks before. The hanok was small but nicely decorated and very cosy with the continuous ondol (underfloor heating). I loved the beautiful hanji paper doors, especially with the morning light coming through. It’s also surprisingly good at insulating. We didn’t sleep very well because we were a bit too hot and dry (no humidifier!) and the traditional sleeping pads and pillows were quite uncomfortable for us skinny bony people!

 

Laneway entrance to our hanok

Laneway entrance to our hanok

Outside the lane way

Outside the lane way

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Inside: traditional plus all the mod cons, including super-fast wifi

Inside: traditional plus all the mod cons, including super-fast wifi

Pretty details

Pretty details

 

Morning light coming through the hanji paper doors

Morning light coming through the hanji paper doors

 

We woke up at 8 the next morning and walked around the village for another few hours. It was a little less busy and had a nice calm vibe. I became obsessed with buying a hanji paper lamp and went to various stores to check prices, but eventually decided not to buy one because the bases seemed a bit tacky (they’re made completely from the traditional paper, but the lacquer makes them look a bit too plastic-y). We attempted to find something for breakfast but there were too many options! We eventually stopped when we saw a cute cafe with a sign for churros! (very traditional haha).

 

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View of some of the hanoks

View of some of the hanoks

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Hanji fan workshop

Hanji fan workshop

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We regretfully left the village and got on a bus for Jinan and the Red Ginseng Spa. The spa started out quite awkwardly (korean assistants waiting for us in the changing rooms – the very naked changing rooms – making sure we weren’t putting the wrong things in the multiple lockers, or exiting out the wrong doors). Eventually we made it out and into the “therapy” area. The big indoor area had several large therapy rooms surrounding a main hot pool with nice big massage jets. All the pools/therapies etc… were faintly infused with Ginseng, which is meant to be very healthy. We tried the floating therapy, wind therapy (hot air), sauna, harmony therapy (ginseng face mud and peppermint oils in a hot room, with hot water coming from the ceiling after 10 mins), bubble therapy (the softest, nicest smelling bubbles, coming up to your chin), aroma therapy (single “bath” filled with ginseng water) and hot stone therapy (lying on a bed of massaging hot stones – my favourite along with the bubble therapy). Probably my favourite spa was outdoors, in the cool winter air, overlooking the strange Maisan “horse ear” mountain. It was very relaxing until some heavily tattooed mafia members came along, and the girl with them stole my towel! It was quite awkward asking for it back, and we kept bumping into them inside!

 

Maisan "horse ear" mountain

Maisan “horse ear” mountain

 

Overall it was a very relaxing weekend and we will definitely go back to Jeonju to try more trendy cafes, traditional food and buy some traditional souvenirs.

 

Travel details for anyone interested in visiting Jeonju:

Bus tickets from USquare in Gwangju: 9600 won (about $10).
Bus duration: about 1.5 hours. Frequency – approx 40 mins to 1 hour
Take bus number 79, from the stop down the street from the terminal. Cost: 1200 won? Get off at the Jeondong Cathedral Stop. Cross the road, walk past the cathedral and you will see the entrance to the hanok village.
Stay: book online, through the tourist information centre, or find a place when you arrive (best to arrive early). There are a lot of hanok-stays but you will probably find the best prices online (though not many choices).
If you want to go the Ginseng spa, head back to the Jeonju intercity terminal (most of the buses go to the intercity terminal, down the road from the terminal you will arrive at), and book a ticket to Jinan. (approx 4500 won).
From Jinan terminal, cross the road and take a taxi to the Ginseng Spa (Heungsam Spa). This is a big tourist spot so the driver will know where to go even if you just say spa :)
Getting back: wait for a taxi on the main road, or get the spa to call a taxi for you. Ask for the bus terminal.
From the bus terminal buy a ticket back to Jeonju.
Once at the Jeonju Intercity Terminal, you will need to go around the corner and down the road 5 mins to get back to the Express Bus terminal.
Book a ticket back to Gwangju. Be prepared to wait a while, especially if its a weekend.

Google maps helps infinitely!

Lunar New Year in Seoul…again

January was a difficult month because Rob was teaching intensives (torturous 12 hour days) and I was taking a few extra classes too (including an extra afternoon kindy trial class which is really hard work!)

We wanted to go on a spa trip or something relaxing for our 4 day Seollal (Lunar New Year) break, but we were offered free accommodation at our friends’ apartment in Seoul, while they were on holiday. It turned out well because we had no money by the end of the month anyway! We planned to do a few things that we hadn’t done yet in Seoul, but it ended up being a pretty stressful holiday because I got really sick :(

Anyway here’s a quick run-down.

We arrived Thursday afternoon and spent over an hour walking around Gangnam trying to remember where our friends’ apartment was, but eventually found it! Then we headed out on the subway to Lotte World Amusement Park. It was a fun night but there were long queues and a lot of the rides were closed. I really wanted to go on the hot air balloons which circle around the ceiling and give you a view of the indoor rides (sounds boring but the balloons were pretty), but the ride was closed by the time we made it there. We ended up doing: log flume, bumper cars, drunken teacup, watching the parade, haunted house movie and comet express. Rob also did a gravity drop ride. Rob was really looking forward to a roller coaster but the outdoors one was closed.

 

Gangnam

Wet and grey Gangnam

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We spent Friday morning wandering around the Bukchon hanok village taking photos and going into the little shops. There were lots of cute souvenir/indie jewellery shops that were open despite the public holiday. Then we headed down to Insadong to get some street food, browse more souvenir shops and enjoy the sun. We had the best hotteok (fried caramel pancake) with bits of peanut inside. We also watched a demonstration with 3 men making “16000 string” traditional honey nut sweets – so amazing!

You can see the process here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zg28Kx6__88
They’re very tasty too.

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After Insadong we took the subway to Itaewon and looked around trying to find somewhere to have lunch. We also popped into the foreign food marts looking for Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, but couldn’t find any :( We ended up having a late lunch at a really popular South African restaurant called Braii Republic. So glad we made it! We had gourmet Boerewors rolls and I had Amarula cream and bought some Biltong to take home. At that point I was feeling very flu-ish – I was hot, dizzy, faint and had very sore lungs, so I didn’t even really know where I was!

 

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For some reason we decided to walk from Itaewon to Yongsan to go to the National Museum. It was a long walk which I really struggled with, and I ended up just curling up and sleeping at the benches at the museum because I felt so terrible. After I fell down the stairs on the way out I realised it was probably time to give up and go home haha. We had Vietnamese food (pho and phat thai) in Gangnam and then I fell asleep at 9. I had a terrible feverish sleep and we decided to go home on the Saturday after eating some delicious gourmet waffles and visiting the Art Centre.

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So all-in-all it wasn’t the best holiday but at least we got away and did a few different things!