Finally finishing my blog posts about my New Years trip. Thank you to the magic of WordPress for allowing me to pretend I posted this in January and not almost three months later!
I had always thought it would be romantic living on an out-of-the-way island where life isn’t as affected by the outside world. But it turns out there is a massive drawback: trying to get off that island. I guess I’ve been spoiled living so close to DFW where there are tonnes of regular flights that go all over the world. A fairly remote airport in the Far East of Russia, however, is not so blessed. Apart from flights to Moscow which are subsidised by the government, flights in and out of Sakhalin are few and on the pricey side. Because of the high population of ethnic Koreans, there are multiple flights to Seoul each week but not every day. Since I wanted to maximise my time in Okinawa, I couldn’t get a direct flight back from Seoul on the day I wanted. This meant that I was going to have to take a long journey back.
Flying out of Okinawa, I booked on Peach airline to go to Seoul. Peach is a budget airline, and being a young millennial who likes to travel but hasn’t got much income, I’m no stranger to the likes of Ryanair or JetBlue or Spirit or Frontier, etc. So I figured this would be no problem; the deal was extraordinary too. When I got to the airport (having printed out my boarding pass early because I know they’d try to charge me), I couldn’t figure out where to go, so I asked at Information. They told me I had to take a bus to another area, which confused me since Okinawa only has one international terminal. I got on the bus and was surprised as we pulled into the cargo terminal. It turns out Peach is so budget that you don’t even fly out of the main terminal. After an interminable wait in the cargo area without shops or anything to amuse, we finally boarded and left. All in all, would still do it again for the price.
I arrived in Incheon late Sunday afternoon and took the train into Seoul’s Yongsan-gu neighbourhood where I had a guesthouse booked for the night. I checked in and got a little settled and then went out to meet my friend A, who unbeknownst to me rather serendipitously lived in the same neighbourhood. We had Indian food since I can easily get Korean food on Sakhalin.
The next day I had all morning to kill before I had to get back to the airport so I got up bright and early to go on a light hike (I only had archless trainers with me). I swung by a convenience store to pick up some gimbap (the Korean version of onigiri) to carry with me for lunch, and then by a café for a coffee and a kimchi croquette for breakfast. Then I made my way to Inwangsan mountain on the outskirts of Seoul. I walked up through some neighbourhoods to the beginning of the mountain. There was a locked gate there, so I looked at the map to see where I was supposed to go when a guard came over and told me that the mountain was closed today. I didn’t know that mountains could close, but I decided to walk around the outskirts of the park which was also along the old Seoul city wall.
iPhone photos of the Seoul wall
I walked to a nearby point overlooking part of the city to take some pictures, but then another guard stopped me and told me that there was a secret government building there and I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of it. He did let me take pictures of the other parts except the building and watched me carefully to see where I was taking pictures.
Not pictured: secret government buildings
Then I walked through a little park and ate my gimbap on a bench. It was still pretty early and I hadn’t done the amount of hiking that I had wanted so I went back to the Metro and headed to Namsan, a small mountain in the middle of Seoul where the famous Namsan Tower is that overlooks the rest of the city.
Namsan Tower from below
You do gain some elevation but it’s all on paved roads so it wasn’t much of a hike. I enjoyed the exercise, however. At the top it was quite foggy so unfortunately I didn’t get much of a view.
Foggy iPhone views from Namsan
Then I returned down the mountain via some wooded paths that were really beautiful. I got a little bit lost in there but I finally made my way to the metro and returned to the guesthouse to grab my duffel bag. I swung by another convenience store (I really love those) and got some more food and a milk tea and got on the train back to the airport.
I checked in and passed through security and then did some shopping to buy some souvenirs and a book for the flight. I had a one and a half hour flight to Vladivostok, the largest city in the Russian Far East. I arrived at 8pm, after sunset. Since I was only in the city for 12 hours while it was dark, I elected not to leave the airport at all. Instead I bought some pizza and curled up on a bench with my bags strapped to me to spend the night. Before bright and early, I checked in and got my two hour flight and finally returned home to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
It was a long journey home, but all in all, my day in Seoul was a perfect nightcap on the end of my New Years trip.