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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Honeymoon Part 1 - Korea!

Week 1 - Korea: Kimchi, Dr. Fish, Soju, Makgoli, Jeju hunting, palaces, & the DMZ!

We're back from our long-planned, long-overdue, totally wonderful 5 week Honeymoon in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, and I'm finally going to start posting a few of our many (2800!) photos, & some of our many extraordinary memories! The FIRST thing I want to do is to thank the three people who truly made this honeymoon possible: Miguel, Sandy, & Marty! This trip was truly a Group Effort! As some of you know, we originally planned this trip back in Nov. 2005, for Nov 2006, so as to be able to use our hundreds of thousands of accrued hotel points & airline miles! I wound up having an e-coli septicemia-caused heart attack on Oct 24, 2006 instead... & the whole trip went on Hold while Dr. Chu Nguyen saved my life, I came off of life support, learned to breathe & walk again, got sent to Duke U Heart Center as a heart transplant candidate, & then found out I had made a rather miraculous 100% recovery & would "live to swing dance again", as the doctors so joyously put it. And I did! Miguel, who was to be our Inn-&-Puppy Sitter, flew in that Oct. 31, but spent the month picking the mats out of my hair in CCU, cheering me up, & helping me recover... The airlines & hotels were kind enough to put all the points back in our accounts, but having a honeymoon hinged on Miguel- or "Saint Miguel" as we call him @the Elkhorn Inn- being able to come back to WV. So when M said he could come back this March, I pulled out the Ol' Honeymoon File & re-booked the entire trip- even better than before! Marriott's Jo Lynn Wheeler, also a Saint @the Elkhorn Inn, helped me re-book the Seoul & Saigon portions of our trip, & the wonderful people at both Marriotts knocked themselves out to set up all the crazy things I'd been dreaming about for 3 years! The best thing about this trip- our first real vacation since we bought the Inn in 2002- was that it was long enough to ensure both that we Really relaxed, & actually lost track of the days! The Other best thing was how much I learned about the amazing military man I married! What was so wonderful for me was how much we got to Talk- driving, in hotels over cocktails, at museums, walking the streets, over dinner- about life & politics & people & military & world history, & the things he'd done & seen & experienced in Korea & Vietnam, & throughout his 21 years in the Army, & the things I'd experienced throughout my checkered past. A part of me needed to see Dan “in context”, and in Korea & Vietnam I got to do that, & so understand a little more about the man I love… And then we got to make our own, new memories of all sorts of things he'd never done in these places! Having Way too much time to plan this trip, I had done a LOT of internet research, and several websites, such as Travelfish.com, JapaneseGuestHouses.com, and Korean Tourism, provided us with contact to great people, places, & things to do, that we never would have otherwise found- such our amazing time in Vietnam's Central Highlands, Hanoi clubs & Saigon restaurants, our fabulous Kyoto Ryokkan, and Korea's Royal Cuisine, & Dr. Fish! Amazingly, my husband actually became a Shopaholic in Vietnam! (Trust me, Vietnam will make a Shopaholic out of anyone!) We took cooking classes & happily ate (and drank) ourselves into hideous new clothing sizes- Dan's new nickname is "Happy Buddah"! We played dress-up in Kyoto, & Geisha Goldstein got her photo op with Samurai Dan! We took cars & planes & trains & dugout canoes; junks, riverboats, cyclos & motorcycles- I think we tried nearly every form of transportation available, & drank every kind of booze we were offered! I actually found myself feeling 17 again, on a train with my backpack, & Dan got to feel 20 again, too... (Note that my 17 & his 20 were Very different!) Best of all, we both got our Adventurous Travel Mojo back!

M drove us to C’ton at midnight, & early on March 3 Dan & I flew from C’ton to Atlanta w/Delta, & then w/Korean Air from Atlanta to Seoul, arriving in Korea on the afternoon of March 4. Korean Air was Wonderful! Excellent, spicy Korean food (kimchi!), real stainless flatware like we haven’t seen on a US carrier in 20 years, amenity kits w/eyeshades, headsets, earplugs, & toothbrushes, truly Nice stewards, & (joy of joys), because the in-seat audio & video was on the fritz, they comped us $50+ in booze! Dan put his Korean Air eyeshades on, stretched out across 3 seats, & zonked out; I did too, following several Mojitos... We hardly felt the 14 hour flight ‘tal! Arrived in Seoul, changed money, picked up our (banged up) little AVIS rental car, Dan jumped into the driver's seat & the crazy Seoul swing of things, & we took off for the JW Marriott Hotel, Seoul ! Where we were happily greeted (in our Amazingly gorgeous penthouse suite overlooking Seoul from two directions!) with a bottle of champagne- THE perfect start to a Honeymoon if ever there was one!

Got in late, & so had an incredibly elegant sushi dinner in the one open hotel restaurant, & then- thanks to GREAT Executive Floor Concierges who pointed us in the right direction & armed us with cards in Korean stating that our Residence in Seoul was the Marriott- grabbed a cab & went out exploring- to the all-night, neon-lit Dongdaemun Market (which has its own webiste & map!)
, where we gawked at 2,000,000 pieces of (really excellent) fake Louis Vuitton, topped by 5 mil. pieces of (excellent) fake Gucci, augmented with 300,000 (fake?) embroidered Ralph Lauren polo shirts- AND meat-on-a-stick!
Every night in Korea we returned to the Marriott to Utterly Delectable Executive Floor appetizers & an open bar worth coming back to the hotel for! The hors d’ouvres were So scrumptious- tiny little tea cups of sushi, carpaccio, delicate little dumplings & 100 other luscious, gourmet things- that we often made a dinner of them! The breakfasts (w/a view of the city) were so good I smile just thinking about them: Yes, they had all the usual western suspects, but they also had a different kind of kimchi every day! Miso soup w/all the toppings! Smoked salmon! & THE most gorgeous fruit in the universe! Tiny, fingerling bananas as sweet as candy! Dragon Fruit! Litchees & lingons! A wonderful, round green thing w/sweet white flesh & big, black seeds! & 40 other tropical fruits I'd never even seen before! Kimmy Kim loaned us her boss’ atlas AND wrote out driving directions- in short, everyone at the JW Marriott knocked themselves out to give us THE best week imaginable: recommendations & suggestions, driving & subway directions, reservations for a “Royal” dinner, & a card (in Korean for the cab driver) to send us to the Makgoli Bar student hangout that made our last night in Korea totally perfect.

(The only downer was Delta- whose baggage handlers apparently decided to pour water into all four of out suitcases. The top & bottom clothes were dry, but everything in the middle was soaked, stained, & in several cases ruined- a REAL bummer to discover on the first day of a honeymoon! My prized Moschino jacket was an unwearable rag- even the Marriott refused to try to clean it- & 4 of Dan’s good shirts were stained and ruined. Delta in Korea was apologetic, but refused to do anything to make it possible for us to replace the ruined clothing or cover our expenses, & it took a week of calls and faxes from the Marriott to even get contact info for their USA office. To date, Delta has Still not made it right... but hope springs eternal...)
The first day we hopped into our car & drove to Oijambu- & spent 5 hours hunting (in vain) for the Army bases of yore. We got a Grand tour of Oijambu in the process, however! Every base we found was closed & deserted- all the troops having been sent to Iraq & Afghanistan we were repeatedly told. We did have a wonderful lunch in downtown Oijambu- a totally new experience for Dan, as there was no “downtown Oijambu” when he was last there! We stumbled into a small restaurant, & Dan pointed @photos of things that looked good, & we wound up with THE best lunch- with lots of kimchi, of course! Had coffee in one of the many Korean basement or upstairs coffee and tea houses we ventured into, where one Never saw any tourists- tourists being scared, I guess, to go up or downstairs into the unknown! But I was w/Fearless Dan, & we were welcomed warmly everywhere we went- & I thus got to experience the "traditional" Korean toilets, but decided I much preferred the Modern Korean ones- which I took to calling "fun toilets", as in "Dan- check this out, they have Fun Toilet!" Korea's Fun Toilets come complete w/two different sprays- bidet & bum-washer- as well as a warm-air dryer, a heated seat, & a variety of seat-side controls to make things Strong or Light! (While Japan has similar toilets, THE best were in Korea- by far! Even their subway stations have these toilets! We both Badly want one of these for the Elkhorn Inn!) Driving back from Oijambu, we stopped @a place filled w/cool carved statuary- dragons, animals, memorial steeles- & took photos of all the things we'd Love to have in front of the Elkhorn Inn, & I snapped pix out the window of the Korean landscapes- farm fields and villages of pagoda-topped houses...
The next day we drove to Tondushon, & this time Did find the Army base- & the “GI Bar Row” Dan knew well! It was like stepping right into M.A.S.H.- or Ft. Campbell! Bars with signs stating they are only for “foreigners” staffed by English-proficient barmaids & a Mama-san at the till counting the dosh... The same exact bars Dan drank in decades ago, down to the unit flags on the walls, only with new names! We made a pub crawl thru “GI world”, wherein I drank an epic amount of Soju Gold & Soju White, & we snacked on fried rice & watched the GI "kids" shoot pool & flirt...
Our one regret was not buying at least one “mink" blanket when we first arrived & the shops were still open... Sold everywhere back when Dan was stationed in Korea, we saw them only in the shops surrounding the GI bars in Tondushon. The two that we have are old, & we were hoping to replace them- they are the warmest blankets I've Ever experienced, & have kept us toasty thru 6 frosty WV winters!

Having found the USO, the next day we took the DMZ Tour, which was fascinating, as the DMZ has been largely demilitarized- a Kindler Gentler DMZ, as it were…. Our guide's English was truly Not good, but he wouldn’t shut up... so we spent 10 hours listening to him repeat himself endlessly & not say much of anything that was comprehensible. Stopped at Imgingak Park & several memorials, and at the Bridge of Freedom...
Went to Dora Station, bought our requisite DMZ tee-shirts, and had for a fun, Bulgogi “hot pot” cook-it-yourself lunch with lots of little dishes (kimchi!)... Took lots of photos at the JSA and Camp Bonifas (where we got our Briefing), and the Bridge of No Return... Once on Post, our US Army Guide, a young soldier with a great sense of humor who regaled us with a hilarious selection of Chuck Norris jokes, spent some time talking w/Dan & I, and made it that much more interesting.
Most of the US military Has gone to Iraq & Afghanistan, leaving only some 32 US soldiers stationed at the DMZ- not doing much more than guiding tours, apparently. We were repeatedly admonished not to wave or make any stupid gestures towards the North, & our guide kept telling us when not to take photos, which, of course, went largely ignored... At Dora Station, we got to see the Reunification Train that Dan remembered,
(which now has a restaurant that we both wished we’d had time to go to), & the outdoor museum of military aircraft & vehicles, augmented by a Kiddie Train & an amusement park...

At the conclusion of the tour we stopped at the Post Gift Shop; no longer MWR, it’s now a Korean concession. Dan & I duly went in & bought Korean brandy & wine- later discovering the wine was made in Pyongyang, North Korea! (Hyundai had just contracted to build some 60 factories in North Korea (assuming N. Korea stops its nuclear program), & got a lock on Tourism in return; that week South Koreans were finally allowed to drive their POVs to a point in the North to see family… Hey- Achieving Peace By Writing Really A Large Check sounds okay to me! NK is the last place I believe is still successfully jamming western TV, radio, & internet, but their people are starving & I’m not sure how long they’ll be able to keep that nonsense up. It will be hard (actually impossible…) to keep ‘em down on the collective farm after they’ve seen MTV...) We stopped at a S. Korean Unification Village on the border, a beautifully landscaped town where one can have a gorgeous home for a fraction of what it'd cost elsewhere, with a few caveats- like a curfew…
Got back to Seoul & wandered around the neon-lit city as it got dark, stopping for excellent meat-on-a-stick...
The next day we braved the subway (which was as easy as pie to navigate, thanx to English signage), and went first to the Electronics Market (thanks, again, to the Marriott's suburb concierges), to get 2 1 GIG cards for our camera- for $8 each! (Hence the portrait of the salesman- had to check to make sure it worked!)
Stunned by the plethora of inexpensive electronics & computers we came This Close to blowing every dime we had... Our next stop was The War Memorial of Korea and Military Museum. Truly an extraordinary place, this "Sanctuary of National Defense" has an amazing outdoor exhibition area, too, and we got to “play” on the tanks, vehicles, planes, & with the anti-aircraft guns (along w/scads of S. Korean youngsters), & "Hot Lips Goldstein" got to perch her little butt in really cool military vehicles, & we talked about Korean-US military history, & the things Dan did & saw in Korea… Got to see the famous "Turtle-Shapped Battleship", as well...
Then we went to the “artsy” neighborhood, Insa-Dong, Jongno-Gu, filled with craft shops, boutiques, & cute restaurants, & ran into a fascinating traditional Korean procession...

Had a Great lunch of spicy grilled octopus (and assorted kimchi!)...

Bought some beautiful good-luck Korean calligraphy by Kim Tae Wan at the JEON-GAK GALLERY, for us & for Cindy ("Gathering of Luck" & "Joyful House") , & a gorgeous, handmade sable watercolor brush & ink for Miguel (& a brush for me) from the man who turned out to be The Brush Master of Seoul!
Only regret is that we didn’t buy one of the magnificent ceramic horses, or the classic Korean soldier-on-horseback statue, or incense… or some fake designer duds! Gotta go back!
The next day we hopped back in our car, & armed w/Kimmy’s excellent directions, found our way to Dr. Fish! (To understand why I HAD to get to Dr. Fish, you first have to know that in 1968 Dan had a fish pedicure at a, uh, 'massage parlor' next to the Playboy Club in Nha Trang, Vietnam. Yes, the fish nibble the callouses off your feet! Upon learning of this, I did a Google search for "Vietnamese Fish Pedicure" as this was something I just HAD to experience on our honeymoon! I discovered that "Dr. Fish" is now All The Rage, not only for pedicures, but for Psoriasis! I found Dr. Fish Spas & Cafes in both Korea & Japan, and the Termeden Waterpark in Icheon, only an hour from Seoul, seemed ideal... hence our pilgrimage to Dr. Fish!
We fed the koi, then left our shoes in our lockers, & found the Dr. Fish pool high above the many swimming pools. I spent about 5 hours getting nibbled on by hundreds of tiny Dr. Fishes (until they finally got full & went away!)
Dan eventually tired of his ictheo-pedicure and went for a massage, but a glutton for being nibbled on, I kept swiping my card to buy more time w/Dr. Fish! Had lunch (noodles, kimchi & beer- & it don't get a helluvalot better than that...), & then sweat it all out in a traditional Korean sauna hut, sitting on matts on the floor...
Bathed in one of the 3 scented pools (strawberry), & then hung out in the grotto behind a waterfall in the outdoor pool, where young lovers (us!) could find a secluded place to neck! The whole facility was spotless and delightful- full of happy families swimming, soaking, & giggling while getting nibbled on by Dr. Fish! I had to then spend time in some of the many indoor pools with their amazing water-pressure jets, before we started our drive back to Seoul off-the-beaten path thru some of the traditional villages... taking pictures of the beautiful glazed tile roofs, cows, & farm fields along the way...
Stopped at a traditional Korean restaurant, doffed our shoes, and seated on tatami mats at low tables, had a fun, if rather odd meal, eating what the waitress chose for us! (The kimchi was great, as usual!) Our one major frustration in Korea was from not being able to decipher Korean, which made us both feel like idiots much of the time! Fortunately, the road signs were also in English (whatever wasn't in English we assumed was Not Meant For Us...), but restaurant menus largely weren’t, and as I kept forgetting to bring our phrasebook with us, we were largely reduced to pointing, smiling & hoping for the best!

The next day we flew to Jeju Island at 6:30 a.m. & took the bus & a cab to the Daeyooland Hunting Grounds. Kimmy @the JW Marriott helped me set this up, after Dan had told me
how he had hunted in Jeju years ago. Jeju was truly wild then, & he'd flown in w/an Army helicopter; now Jeju is an island paradise of first-class resorts & a World Cup Soccer Stadium! But it still has a hunting preserve where even foreigners can hunt, & this was the first time Dan & I got to hunt together! We got our shotguns & tried them out skeet shooting, & then went on our first Serious Hike of this trip (what I referred to as a "forced march" after falling into a couple of pits in the middle of a corn field...) thru the ‘wilderness’ with our guide & his dog. His trusty pointer did rustle us up a few pheasants, but we were so close that I was afraid to shoot, & gave Dan all the good shots! All I got to shoot (& hit, thank you very much) was skeet plates! Hunter Dan, however, shot us a pheasant (Yay!), which they
prepared for us @their Pheasant Restaurant! We had a pretty darn fabulous lunch of Dan's Pheasant Sashimi, along w/grilled pheasant, & several other pheasant dishes, delightfully washed down w/wine, but I was too stuffed to order the pheasant dumplings, which I sorely regret! (Gotta go back!) We had coffee & wandered around the beautiful gardens, & then the charming Manager drove us to the bus stop & we caught to bus back to downtown Jeju. Got a map & strolled through the Jeju Heritage Museum, taking pix of Jeju Man & the shrines & traditional buidlings & pig sty...
& then walked to one of Jeju's 22 Tradional Markets to look & smell a million different fabulous things we had No Clue about! Ate the famous Jeju oranges & raw abalone, & then meandered through the old part of town, holding hands, until it got dark...
Caught our flight back to Seoul (drinking that famous bottled Jeju Water!), and, Truly pooped, dined in our beds on Marriott's delightful room service dim sum.…

The next day- our last in Korea- I asked the Marriott front desk clerk which of the many splendid palaces she liked best, as we only really had time to see one, & the one she (reluctantly) suggested - Deoksugung Palace - had the Changing of the Guard ceremony starting right when we arrived! Took wonderful pix of the extraordinary ceremony & the fabulously costumed guards at Daehanmun, the Main Gate, who even posed for photos with us :-) Deoksugung was originally the home of King Seongjong's elder brother, but from 1592 was used as a temporary palace...
Strolled about the palace grounds & thru the National Museum of Art, & had coffee in the garden by the Buddhist Bell from Heungcheons Temple, the water clock, & artillery…
Then we wandered around Seoul holding hands, & found another palace to explore…
Came back to the M at dusk for one last round of drinks & delectable hors d’ouvres... & then went off for our fabulous “Royal Dinner” at Yi Gung ("The Palace Beyond") in Samcheonggak! This was truly our finest meal in Korea- comprised of many small, elegant & delicious dishes, it is Korean cuisine taken to it’s finest, most rarified level, created by some of Korea's finest chefs. Served with rice wine in lovely surroundings, in a traditional, palatial "Hanok" building on gorgeously landscaped grounds, Samcheonggak is the place that also offers the opportunity to experience the Korean tea ceremony wearing the traditional Hambok- something we have GOT to come back for!

After dinner we gave the cab driver Kimmy’s directions to the Makgoli bar, & found ourselves is a great little rabbit warren of alleyways filled w/traditional student hangouts, where we finally got to drink our wooden bowls of Magkoli- something I'd dreamed about since Dan began regaling me w/stories of the Makgoli drinking parties he'd attended in Korean villages!


Staggered back to the Marriott & flew to Japan the next morning...
Stay tuned!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Chapter one was delightful.I hope the people at Marriott read it.
mimi

tongmul said...

As many times as I have been to Jeju I never know there was a hunting preserve there.

The next time I will know. Very nice site, good job.

colleen said...

I found your blog while researching my trip this weekend to Seoul. You guys look like you had a wonderful visit. I live in the south eastern part of s.korea (army girl for now)and am traveling this weekend north to seoul. any sightseeing recommendations? let me know if you want me to mail you a mink blanket :-) Colleen

Analise said...

Great work.

Anonymous said...

Hey - I am really happy to discover this. great job!

Anonymous said...

Hey - I am certainly happy to discover this. Good job!