What a place! I don't even know where to begin, from the dark wet alleyways to the sparkling lights of an incredible city. Seoul is the biggest city I have ever seen, with roads and bridges travelling in all directions, and in-a-hurry traffic to match. It is very very cold, with the temperature ranging from below 0 to just above, yet with a sunny bright sky.
I was lucky with my flight from Brisbane, having the window side, two seats to myself and plenty of pillows (why would you want to fly business or first class?!). Despite my sore tired eyes from lack of sleep leading to the trip (that break in the day before Ran's departure sure didn't help!) I did not manage to sleep, but I did relax and watched three movies!
After landing, I skipped through customs and security swiftly, and was hit by the blast of an icy wind and a temperature of 2 degrees. I located the airport limousines and deciphered my way to a ticket in the general direction of my hotel, first learning that no one seemed to have heard of Hyundai Residences.
The shuttle trip was a mixture of fascination and fear, with never ending lights shining everywhere in the darkness on a 90 minute rollercoaster journey where I was sure we were about to crash at any moment! The driving here is scary! I must not remember just how insane it was in Thailand and Rome, or perhaps I've just become 'more aware' in my old age... none-the-less, I was certainly not giving in to the waves of exhaustion trying to pull me to sleep, as shot after shot of adrenalin pumped through my veins.
I got off the bus at the Grand Ambassador, as I understood this was the stop closest to my hotel. The freezing night air hit me once again, and I was sure it had dropped a number of degrees since boarding the shuttle. I half expected it to start snowing. I went to the hotel and a lovely Korean man in the concierge helped me find a taxi to my hotel. I am fortunate I found him, as he spoke English excellently and gave directions the taxi driver, who was not at all happy to take me for the short drive. He did not speak a word to me during the journey but couldn't wait to tell me to 'get out' and pay.
I have met some very friendly Koreans who are very warm and eager to help. In general though, walking through the streets, people just seem to stop and stare at me without expression. At first it felt isolating, but in a way I feel safer knowing people aren't going to bother me.
Yesterday I walked till my legs wanted to drop off. I walked through most of the top of the city, mostly trying to understand the map and gain perspective on the scale of it!
I saw (and smelt!) bustling markets, wooden gates and temples, and the last of autumn falling in parks with all those incredible colours. I ate delicious vegetarian noodles and salad for lunch (I was scared of ordering anything with seafood, but that's another story...), but most importantly, I starred in the Changing of the Guards ceremony! Clothed in the dress of Royalty, I was asked to open there ceremony by banging on the drum three times. I have some photos so will upload them when I can.
I also went on a Seoul City night bus tour and saw myriad lights across many of the bridges. Each lighting arrangement symbolises something significant to the Korean people. The highlight was the view from Mt Namsan. The photos just do not capture the incredible view, the breadth of the city nor the depth of the lights. Amazing.