Monday, May 31, 2010


Day 2 and up bright and early (not yet adjusted to the 13-hour ahead time difference)! I started the day off with a morning walk around Cheongdam Park in the Cheongdam-dong area of Seoul. This park is absolutely gorgeous- it's like a forest right in the middle of this concrete metropolis! This certainly helped me build up an appetite, and I was lucky enough to find a street vendor right outside of the park (I love eating street food in other countries). I ordered what everyone else was eating- something called special toast. Special toast is an omelet with scallions and carrots which is served on grilled white bread with ketchup, mustard, and sugar! Yup, sugar! Who knew it would taste so good on eggs??? It was amazing! I washed it down with coffee flavored milk- again, just like the locals were drinking. Next, into a cab and onto Rodeo Street...Rodeo Street is also known as the "Fashion and Art Street" or "Yuppie Street" since a lot of professionals who are in their 30's are mostly the ones who shop here. On Rodeo Street you can find more than 50 shops for imported foreign name brands (like Louis Vuitton and Gucci), local fashion designers' shops, and 30 art galleries. Just be aware that you will find high prices for clothes and coffee which can be 3 or 4 times much as in other places! I found a little handbag that wasn't terribly expensive at a little boutique called Boy + Supermarket (it's inside the black shopping bag). After a morning of walking and shopping, it was time to head to the Noryangjin Fish Market for some really fresh fish. Noryangjin Fish Market is Seoul's largest and oldest fish market, with more than 700 shops inside. You can find every kind of fish you could imagine- all pretty much caught just a few short hours before. The place is very cool to see! We went to a stand that Danny and Lilac know about, and they ordered a huge flounder and a small octopus. We walked downstairs to a small little restaurant where we sat on the floor and were served our fresh fish. The octopus is still moving when it's served to you ( a testament to how fresh it really is)...very weird! I have to say, other than the squirming sensation which is a bit bizarre, it was quite good. I felt like Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel! This was also my first sashimi experience- it was AMAZING! What have I been missing out on for all of these years? I would never have thought to order the flounder, but it was so fresh- like butter! Our lunch lasted for two hours and included all the sashimi and a fish soup (made with the bones and the fish head)- it was very spicy, but very good! After lunch, we walked through some of the stands outside of the fish market, and of course had to try one of the popular things you will see for sale on the street everywhere here, a pastry filled with sweet bean paste...yummy! From there, on to the 63 Building or 63 City- one of Seoul's tallest buildings. It's pretty cool to see. When you go, you get into a glass elevator and you can look out on to the entire city on your ride up. The view at the top is incredible! Seoul is huge- 10 million people, but it is such a wide, spread out city- it seems like the city never ends when you look out from here! On the first floor of the 63 Building is a coffee/dessert place called Beans & Berries. We stopped in here for a Korean specialty- a bowl of shaved ice that has milk in it, and comes topped with ice cream and fresh fruit- delicious! After the 63 Building, we went to the Hyundai Department Store. I know, you are probably thinking, "department store," why would you fly half way around the world to go see a department store??? But, if you are anywhere in Asia, it's something you must do! That's because the department stores in Asia are nothing like the department stores back in the U.S. The stores in Asia are large , multilevel stores, with the bottom floor being a grocery store and a food court!
The first floor is where you can find cosmetics and jewelry, the middle floors clothing, furniture and home goods, and the top floor is reserved for restaurants. If you want to see where Seoul's fashions will be heading, then check out the Hyundai Department Store. Dinner that night was at Phil Kyung Jae-a fancy traditional Korean restaurant where we were served a dinner fit for a king! This restaurant is located in the south part of Seoul. You wouldn't really notice it from the street, but once inside, the place is gorgeous! The grounds of the restaurant are these beautiful gardens with trees and flowers. The restaurant used to be someones home, so there are different rooms, each decorated in stunning Korean decor.

It's good to go with a large party because you get your own room. We got a room where we sat on the floor- the traditional way! Dishes just kept on coming out- everything from beef to fish to pork to soup to raw crab and even steak tar tar- every kind of traditional Korean dish you could imagine!

Our dinner was an experience that lasted almost three hours! It was incredible!!! What a great day in Seoul! Stay tuned for Seoul, Korea- Day 3 for more on Danny & Lilac's wedding!

Sunday, May 30, 2010


After the crazy flight experience leaving the U.S., I wound up losing a day of my time in Seoul, Korea. Instead, Continental put all of us up at the Nikko Narita Hotel at the airport in Japan for one night, and put me on the first flight out to Seoul the next morning. It was so nice to finally get to my destination and check-in to the hotel which would be the place where I could rest my head for the next few days...ahhhhhhh! :) The hotel was the Grand Intercontinental Seoul- an elegant, very nice and extremely clean hotel. (Don't judge it by the outside, the inside is much nicer than you would expect looking at the bland exterior). The Grand Intercontinental Seoul is located in the Gangnam District- Gangnam means "south of the river". This area is modern and affluent and has wider streets than you'll find elsewhere in Seoul, and it also has a lot of high-end restaurants. Underneath the Grand Intercontinental Seoul is the COEX Mall...The COEX is an enormous underground shopping mall (a.k.a.- a megamall) that has more than 250 stores, places to eat, movie theaters and even a club! I stayed at the Grand Intercontinental Seoul for two reasons: 1) It is right across the street from where Danny & Lilac's wedding was going to be, and 2) It was going to be one of the few western-style rooms I would get to experience on my two week trip to Asia. The rooms are remodeled in a contemporary style using dark wood. The beds are firm and SO comfortable! The bathrooms are very spacious- a rarity in Korea. Believe you me, after sitting around at Newark for 12 and 1/2 hours before finally taking off, sitting on a flight to Japan for 14 hours, sitting on a flight from Japan to Korea for 2 and 1/2 hours, and sitting on a bus from the airport in Incheon to the hotel in Seoul for 80 minutes...all I wanted to do was dive into the bed and not get out for an entire day, but I knew there was so much I wanted to see and do in Seoul, that I headed right out the door, jumped into a cab, and went to Nam Dae Mun Market. Nam Dae Mun Market is the oldest and largest traditional market in all of Korea. Here there are vendors that sell clothing, local products, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink.It's a good idea to bring cash if you want to buy stuff because you can definitely bargain here! I didn't shop much, but instead found a great little spot to have a quick bite to eat. This place was filled with locals all pretty much eating the same thing; ramen noodles in broth...kimchi and vegetables wrapped in rice and seaweed...and sweet sugar balls for dessert..they taste like zeppoles, but are much more dense...quite good!The eating didn't stop after this...that night we all met up to go out to one of the best Korean Barbecue restaurants in all of Seoul (I'm not making that up, it's a fact according to Danny & Lilac). I wish I knew the name because it was amazing! We took off our shoes, sat on the floor, and ate steak cooked in the pit in front of us, liver, soup, salad and drank plenty of Hite- a Korean beer. After dinner, the coffee/cafe culture is huge here! We headed to a really cute street called Shinsa street in the Sinsa-dong neighborhood where we had the best vanilla lattes and a chocolate waffle with ice cream for dessert. Lilac and I checked out the stores on Shinsa street- it's lined with great boutiques for clothing, jewelery and accessories (very reminiscent of areas in Soho in NYC). Stay tuned for Seoul, Korea- Day 2 and my first sashimi experience at the Noryangjin Fish Market!