The Great Wall… of Korea

Standard

One thing on my bucket list when we found out we were moving to Korea was The Great Wall of China. It’s not a super easy trip to take with an active toddler so we haven’t made it there yet. There is a big fortress nearby so I wanted to see if Clarissa could do that before we took the time and money to go to China.

Camp Humphreys CYS took a field trip to Suwon Fortress on Saturday, June 9. For $10, we could take the bus and not have to worry about trains, buses, or parking.

The bus dropped us off near the palace. It wasn’t a large palace and the architecture looks a lot like Gyeongbokgung in Seoul. Clarissa really enjoyed it. She thought it was interesting to see how the castle looked for the king and queen. She also liked looking at their different rooms. The entrance fee was 1,500 won for adults and Clarissa was free.

Next, we headed to the entrance of the wall. We stopped for lunch at Burger King on the way. Clarissa had plenty of energy after lunch so she was ready to climb. She did really well on all of the steps. She enjoyed looking at the different monuments and seeing the city from the wall. She was especially excited to see a big bell because Tim has a small version of this in our apartment. You can get to the wall at several different spots and it costs 1,000 won for adults. Military and students receive a discount so they can pay 700 won.

There are toilets marked along the wall so you can stop if you need to. Several places also show where you can get off to buy snacks at convenience stores. Clarissa was excited that they had an archery class. But you have to be 7 years old to participate. It costs 2,000 won for 10 arrows. The class happens multiple times per day. It seemed like most of the day it was on the hour and at the half hour.

If you don’t want to hike the wall, you can also take a trolley or bike taxi from the palace. It will take you on a tour of the wall and the different sites along the fortress. I am not sure of price and I don’t know if any of the tour guides speak English. But if you just want to see things and not walk, you can pay for that instead.

After we finished the wall, we headed back to the palace area. There is a Cultural Foundation to the left that has an artsy street which reminds me of Insadong. We found some cute handmade jewelry. You can buy a personalized stamp with your name for $20. There are wood crafts that can be personalized as well.

We had a great day together. Clarissa did very well. She walked the whole wall (3.57 miles) with some breaks. I think she is ready for a China trip now. Though she said she doesn’t want to do it again! She said the Great Wall of Korea is good enough for her.

 

One more trip to Seoul

Standard

Tim’s passport expires this month so we had to make a trip to the US Embassy in Seoul to get it renewed. We were warned that it would take forever so be prepared to wait. However, we were in and out in less than 15 minutes. If you need to go to the Embassy for a passport, I would recommend an early morning appointment. They will let you check in a cell phone but no other electronics are allowed in the building. Bring a book to read though because they keep your cell phone until you leave the embassy. They did have a corner with children’s books and tables to entertain your kids. They told us it would take two weeks for the embassy to receive our passport and so we registered for a courier to deliver it to the apartment instead of making a return trip. (This is 6,000 won if you live in Seoul, 8,000 won if you live in Gyeonggi-do, and 10,000 won for delivery anywhere else in Korea. You pay cash on delivery.) Update : Tim’s new passport was delivered in exactly one week instead of two.

With six hours left before our return train, we decided to head to some of our favorite air conditioned places in Seoul. Our first stop was Lotte World Mall. We thought about doing the tower since we haven’t before, but it was a pretty overcast day so we figured it wasn’t worth it. We started at Hard Rock Cafe for a delicious lunch. We were the only customers in the restaurant for the entire time we were there. Apparently 11 AM on a Thursday is not popular. Since we were near the top of the mall, we decided to walk through each level before we got to the aquarium on B1. We found so many fun things to look at on our journey. Clarissa chose a small Jiji in a cage from the movie Kiki’s Delivery Service. I found a lot of fun stationary.

Clarissa’s favorite was when we finally got to the aquarium on B1. We had two choices of aquariums this day, but this one is our favorite. It wasn’t very crowded since is was a Thursday after lunch and school is still in session for both Koreans and Americans. We had a great time. Clarissa was able to feed fish and sting rays.

Then, we headed to Coex Mall for Tim to check out Gundam Base. He didn’t end up buying anything, but enjoyed looking at all of the models available.

After our train ride, we went to our favorite restaurant, Sawatdee, for dinner near Osan. We had a few things to pick up at the BX as well. We had a very full day and enjoyed each other’s company. It was the second day in a row that Clarissa went on an adventure without the stroller and she did very well. Sniff. Sniff. I think she is actually becoming a big kid.

Mother’s Day Weekend

Standard

Our original Mother’s Day plan was to take the train into Seoul and explore Hongdae, but it rained all day so we had to change our plan.

Tim drove us to the new Starfield Mall in Goyang. We started with lunch at Shake Shack. The food was pretty good. They let me order my burger without a bun. Clarissa would not share her French fries with me. The ice cream was good too. The prices weren’t bad either. Clarissa was most excited about the foosball table but there wasn’t a ball for that.

There was a fun train set up near the restaurants. Clarissa was very excited about this as well.

The mall had four floors plus a basement level. There were a few kid cafes and a water park that we did not check out. The Toy Kingdom in this mall was the best I have seen so far. It had its own Lego store and each aisle was labeled in Korean and English. Clarissa really enjoyed pretending to drive the train as well.

Tim liked that the Electromart was broken into different parts so that the clothes were on a different floor and he could focus on the things he wanted to see. There were lots of fun stores like Daiso, Art Box, and Flying Tiger Copenhagen plus several that I had never heard of before. On the basement floor, they did have a really nice supermarket called PK Market that had gourmet foods and No Brand which is Shinsagae’s generic brand that has some snacks that we really enjoy. We bought some fun things.

Another fun thing happening at this mall (until June 30) is a Frozen display in the middle of the first floor. You could take a picture with an Elsa or Anna statue. They even had dresses you could buy to dress up like either Elsa or Anna. At one point in the afternoon, there was a performance where a man and a woman sing Frozen songs in Korean. Clarissa thought it was too loud, so she wasn’t really smiling in her pictures.

 

I think this Starfield Mall had the best variety of stores. They had great parking as well. Our only complaint was the temperature. It was pretty muggy from the rain and the air conditioner was not on inside the mall. It would probably be more comfortable in mid summer with the air conditioning on full blast or in the winter time.

When we arrived at the mall, Tim saw a sign that said IKEA was 5 km away so we decided that we should go there afterwards. As usual, we were not disappointed with IKEA. I think this parking lot is better than the other location. There were plenty of fun furniture items to look at and we ended up buying some new comfy towels to replace our nine year old newlywed towels. Also, they had delicious food for dinner.

On Sunday, we went to church. At the end of the service, Pastor Al called up all the mothers and mothers to be. He read us an inspirational poem, anointed us with oil, and prayed over us. It was really cool. Plus, he even thought to have someone go to the Sunday school class and relieve the teachers so that we could participate as well. I felt so blessed and appreciated.

After church Clarissa and I did our usual church lunch followed by a trip to the library on post. We went to the PX for some baby shower shopping. Then, we came home to eat pizza and watch Nim’s Island with Tim.

I had a great weekend with my family.

Mr Toilet House Field Trip

Standard

A few months ago, someone posted pictures from what they called “the poop museum.” Clarissa saw the facebook pictures from their adventure and immediately wanted to go. Tim wasn’t super interested, so when our homeschool group planned a field trip there Clarissa and I planned to attend.

Mr Toilet is in Waze. The Waze directions can be confusing because the exit numbers are incorrect sometimes so our 45 minute trip turned into closer to 90 minutes. Thankfully we were riding with friends so the ride wasn’t miserable.

Mr Toilet House has two parts. On one side of the road is a giant building that looks like a toilet. The person who brought western toilets to Korea used to live there. It is a museum to the history of toilets now. It was actually closed for renovation when we visited.

Thankfully the outdoor sculptures were still available. It was interesting to see some of the old versions of toilets. Each sculpture had a wooden sign that was written in both Korean and English so that everyone could learn.

Across the street was a Culture Center. Behind the building were a few pretty toilets and urinals.

If you go upstairs to the fourth floor, you can look out and see the big toilet and giant poop sculpture.

On the second floor of the Culture Center is a playground of sorts for the kids. Clarissa and her friends had a great time going down the toilet slide. There were also a few games like putting a ball through the digestive system and watching it come out the other end. There were many displays about poop as well. Again, most of the displays were in Korean as well as English.

We were in and out in less than two hours. The kids had a great time! I think they would enjoy going back again. Admission is free. Like many museums in Korea, Mr Toilet House is closed on Mondays. They don’t sell food there but there is a drink machine outside the giant toilet so plan accordingly.

Exploring Seoul for New Year’s Eve

Standard

We took the SRT from Jije to Suseo again on Sunday for New Year’s Eve.

We took the metro to Gyeongbokgong so that Tim could try a Korean Subway restaurant for lunch. He enjoyed the original sandwiches in Japan and thought that the Korean selection was better than on post. I enjoyed my salad and Clarissa enjoyed her Korean potato chips.

After lunch, we decided to walk to our next destination instead of taking the metro. The sidewalk was a little icy in the shade but not as cold as we thought it would be.

We passed Gyeongbokgung Palace and Clarissa said, “I have been there!” Then we arrived at Sejong Art Center to see the visiting Studio Ghibli exhibit.

We paid admission of 15,000 won each for Tim and I. Clarissa cost 10,000 won admission.

The exhibit was two floors. The first floor was movie posters, a life-size Totoro, a replica of Hayao Miyazaki‘s desk, and a room of random movie memorabilia. We were not allowed to take pictures on the first floor.

The second floor had some cool models and concept art. We were also able to enter the cat bus. There was a long line to take a picture with a shadow of Totoro but Clarissa was not interested in that. The gift shop at the end was nice. We were each able to find something we liked and most of it was different than the Studio Ghibli store we saw last week at the Lotte World Mall.

Across the street from the Sejong Art center were statues of King Sejong and Admiral Yi. There was also a small monument, but I couldn’t find a sign to see what it was for.

We decided to walk Cheonggycheon (River Walk). Next year, we need to come back at night. The display looked good in the day but would be more exciting to see at night. I expected to see Santa but was surprised that baby Jesus had a spot as well.

There were interesting murals along the wall to show the history of the different dynasties.

We also thought it was neat the way they were remodeling a Hanwha building. The bottom was the new style and they were working their way to the top.

Next we headed to the IFC Mall (still decorated for Christmas) to check out the bookstore and have dinner at On the Border. The food was great. During dinner, Tim noticed that there were firemen walking around. We were on the first floor. As we headed to the second floor, the fire alarm went off and they said “Attention. Emergency!” and a bunch of stuff in Korean. At which point, everyone ran to the escalators and stairs to get outside on the third floor. We could smell smoke but didn’t see any. There were several firetrucks and ambulances lined up outside. Thankfully, we were planning to leave anyway.

Our last event of the day was Strasbourg Christmas Market a few blocks away. I expected bigger and more European. They had some traditional meat and desserts to buy in the cabins outside. There was a big tent with vendors inside that had things ranging from scarves to air fresheners to jewelry. Most of the vendors inside were Korean. But I found some cute things. Next year, I think we will try the German Christmas Market that is earlier in the month.

We enjoyed our day riding the subway and walking the city streets.

Christmas Adventures in Seoul

Standard

Christmas is very different in Korea than it is in America. We wanted to do something fun for Christmas but still stay warm. We thought that if we went to some of the bigger malls in Seoul there would be Christmas decorations like we are used to back home.

On our anniversary, Tim and I went to the train station to buy our train tickets. Round trip tickets were about 15,000 won for adults and 7,000 won for children.

On Christmas Eve, we attended our Sunday morning service at New Creation Church. After service was a Christmas feast potluck so we had fun eating lunch with our friends and eating yummy food.

IMG_20171224_110326

On Christmas morning we drove to Jije Station to take the SRT to Suseo. While we waited in the lobby for our 9:55 train, Clarissa was greeted and given gifts. The employees gave Clarissa two lolipops and a cardboard train model to put together. One of them also took off their reindeer antlers, placed them on Clarissa and then took our picture on an instant camera. On the platform, she received another lolipop and a small bag of goldfish.

The train was very similar to the KTX trains that we are used to. Assigned seats with plenty of leg room and an above your head compartment for bags and strollers. The seats were very comfortable. The ride to Suseo was only about 20 minutes.

Our first stop was Coex Mall. We ended up at McDonald’s for lunch since it was right outside the mall. We figured we should eat before the rush. We had a great time visiting some of our favorite stores: Gundam Storefront, Asem Hobby, Butter, and Jaju. But we were very disappointed that there were hardly any Christmas decorations at all.

Next, we took the subway to Lotte World Mall. Here we were not disappointed. There were lights and Christmas trees everywhere. There was even a space in the middle of the mall for performances so there was a live bells performance, a choir, instruments, and a magician throughout the day.

We had plenty of shopping adventures in Lotte World Mall. We enjoyed the Studio Ghibli Store, Copenhagen Flying Tiger, Butter, Miniso, and Hi Mart. We also went to Ex Monster. When we went over the summer, you could go through and see all of the Marvel movie statues and models. But this time, you had to buy something first so we were disappointed.

We had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe, which Clarissa and I had never been to. The food was a little pricey, but wonderful! Clarissa kept saying, “I don’t like it, I love it!” about the music videos playing and the lights on the walls. The manager thought she was so cute that he gave her a set of four Hard Rock Cafe pins as a gift.

We caught the 640 train from Suseo back to Jije Station to go to home. There was a parking lot specifically for SRT passengers. When you leave the station, there is a kiosk to pay. You type in the last four digits of your license plate number and the computer pulls up a picture of your car and you pay with your credit card. It was reasonably priced. We were parked for about 9 hours and paid 8,400 won.

When we got home Tim and Clarissa built one of our purchases together, a mama bear and baby bear in pink.

Seoul Grand Park Zoo

Standard

Today, Clarissa and I took the monthy CYS trip to Seoul Grand Park Zoo with some friends. I had never been to this zoo before and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Seoul Grand Park is a subway stop on line 4. The zoo is exit 2. But you can also get to the Science Museum at exit 5.

The parking lot brings you to the bathrooms and a place to buy tickets for the elephant train that will take you to the zoo. You can walk if you prefer. The guy said it was a 15 minutes walk. But the train was super cheap. Adults pay 1,000 won (about $1.00) and little kids like Clarissa pay 700 won.

After our train ride, we bought tickets to the zoo. Adults pay 5,000 won (less than $5.00) and preschoolers are free. We thought we would also try the theme garden which also has farm animals which costs 2,000 won. A combination ticket for both was 5,600 won.

The zoo was great. We saw monkeys, giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinoceros, lions, tigers, and bears.

For

A lot of Korean zoos near Daegu were sad. But this zoo was actually very good. The animals had similar enclosures to what I see in the US. They had maps in English and Chinese in addition to Hangeul. There were also signs throughout the zoo in English. The names of animals were in English and several directional signs were in both English and Hangeul.

There are several restaurants for lunch. Plenty of Korean food but they also had a Lotteria and a Nazar Kebab. The Lotteria does not sell French fries but most of the normal menu was available. The vegetable bibimbap was good. The price for food was what you would see in town instead of inflated prices.

There was an insectarium that was pretty good. It was two floors and I really liked the layout because you could only flow in one direction. There was stroller parking outside. Clarissa really enjoyed the insects, spiders, and frogs.

There was a section on the map for a dolphin encounter and marine life so we walked all the way to the end to see them and apparently they had been released. I guess I should be happy for them. But the girls were pretty disappointed.

Thankfully, we found crocodiles, snakes, and lizards on the way back.

There were plenty of random animal statues for the girls to look at and take pictures with.

my Ca

We had to get back to the bus so we didn’t have time to do the theme garden or the farm animals. But we really enjoyed our time at the zoo. I am sure we’ll go again.

For my Camp Humphreys friends : CYS does a family field trip to Seoul every month. For $10, your family of four ($15 for families of 5 or more) rides the bus from post to the location of the field trip. The bus leaves the old CDC parking lot (across from the helicopter statue) at 9 AM and returns at 5pm. You can go anywhere you want from the location in Seoul, just be back in time for the bus. For example, last month the trip was to Lotte World. We rode the bus and then walked down the street and did Lotte World Mall and the aquarium instead. You are responsible for admission, but taking the bus is worth it to avoid traffic and parking.