We’re finally done! Classes have finished and so have exams. It was a long, hard week of studying and assignments for Calum and I, but we made it through.
Many things have happened since we last posted to the blog!
Perhaps most importantly, my best friend/Russian sister came to visit us for a week here in Seoul. We probably set the record for most activities done in Seoul in a short period of time!
Many of the places that we visited are places that Calum and I have visited before, but we didn’t mind at all. It was fun playing tour guide and hearing a different perspective on familiar places.
After picking up Mariia from the airport, we stopped by a BBQ restaurant near our university for some lunch. And of course, in true Mariia and Madeline style, we followed up lunch with iced coffee from one of my favorite nearby cafes. Next we did a little shopping and exploring around Sungshin Women’s University, which is within walking distance from Korea University. From there, we took the subway straight to Hongdae and enjoyed some of the sights and sounds there. We had dinner in nearby Sinchon, and dessert was, of course, Starbucks frappicinos. Lastly, we did a little shopping at Ewha Women’s University, one of the best shopping districts for ladies in Seoul (cheap clothes and accessories everywhere!).
Side Note: Did you know that Starbucks caters its drinks to the local population in the places where it sells? The South Korean Starbucks recently featured 3 summer-y frappicinos; mango with coconut jelly, strawberries and cream, and a dark chocolate mocha frap. All three of us really enjoyed the chocolate one.
We checked into our accommodation late that night. I used Airbnb to book us a room that is located two subway stops away from Korea University. The neighborhood looks a little rough, but the room was clean, quiet and safe. We talked for a while but I was particularly exhausted and slept like a rock.
On Sunday we ate a little breakfast from a local café and explored Dongdaemun market. We walked for some time on the Cheongecheon stream, making our way to the famous Korean palaces. Unfortunately, my heart condition started acting up and we had to rest for a while. Although my heart was still racing, I was determined that we would make it to our destination, so I convinced Calum and Mariia that we should keep walking, just taking it slow.
I wanted to include this part of the day because it shows what a truly amazing friend Mariia is and what a fantastic boyfriend Calum is. When we got to the palace my heart was still racing at the speed of light and I didn’t feel well. We went into the free museum/café/gift shop and took another rest. Suddenly, I remembered a tip that my doctor at home told me about my heart condition…the only problem is, it involves immersing my face in a sink full of ice water.
Mariia kindly asked the café for a cup of ice and we went into the bathroom. Since there was no way we could fill the sink up (and that would be kind of gross), we just added water to the cup and decided I would splash it on my face. Mariia offered me moral support by counting “1, 2, 3!” for me every time I splashed my face. As funny as it may sound, her counting and just her presence gave me so much courage. Hey, its not easy splashing your face in a public restroom in a foreign country! After a few tries we had to give up because the splashing was only succeeding in ruining my makeup.
We returned to Calum and he had me lie in his lap and try to relax (very concerned boyfriend). At this point we were contemplating whether or not to grab a taxi and go to the nearest hospital…it had been over 2 hours since the episode started. But then, as suddenly as it started, the episode stopped and my heart returned to a normal rate. So, we were able to continue our day and enjoy the beautiful palace! It was a different experience seeing this palace in the spring, filled with blooming flowers. The weather was lovely as well.
We had dinner on Sunday at Myeongdong, the most popular place for foreigners who want to go shopping in Seoul. After dinner and some treats from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (an Asian chain café), we walked to the Namsan cable car station. We waited in line for an hour to ride the cable car up the mountain, but the view was totally worth it. Namsan at night is really magical. Mariia and I put our own lock of friendship on the mountain to celebrate our sisterhood. (Now I can say that I have two locks on Namsan…ha!) We walked down the mountain and took the subway back to Anam for some honey beer, a popular Korean trend and then made our way back “home”.
Thankfully, Monday was a holiday, so I didn’t have any class to attend!
Our first stop on Monday was Youido Gospel Church, the church with the biggest congregation in the world, but unfortunately its giant sanctuary was closed. So we walked a short distance to the Han river, where we had some snacks by the water and rented bikes for an hour. I have to say that riding bikes at the river is one of my favorite things to do here in Seoul. Its cheap, clean fun and good exercise too. It was wonderful to be able to share it with Mariia, and it wasn’t too crowded that day so we were able to ride side by side and talk for much of the time.
Afterwards, Mariia and I went back to Ewha for some more shopping, since we hadn’t had much time to spend there before. We visited clothing stores and we shopped at Korea’s famous cosmetic stores. We ate some yummy street food as well!
After shopping we met Calum again in Gangnam, and we walked to the Bongeunsa temple. A huge celebration was going on for Buddha’s birthday. There was lanterns, candles, and hundreds of devoted people. I will let Calum’s pictures do most of the talking here, they are stunning.
On Wednesday, Mariia and I went on a tour of the DMZ that divides North and South Korea. We even had the chance to tour one of the tunnels that North Korea built to try and invade the South. There’s a lot we could say about it, but I think I will leave it for another post. A one word description: surreal.
The rest of the week was not as busy as the first few days…Mariia graciously went with me to a few of my classes, and during my other classes she was able to spend some time with her Korean friends that she met while studying in China. I had the joy of meeting some of her Korean friends too! On Thursday we met a couple of them at a food market and they had us try some unusual Korean food. These foods included chicken feet, ham-hock, and cow intestines stuffed with noodles. Though it was great to try new things, we both agreed that we would prefer to stick to kimchi and fried bean pancakes. 😉
On Friday we went to another of her friend’s home for dinner. We enjoyed an assortment of lovely food, and her friends were such sweet hosts. Most of the time Mariia and her friends communicated in Chinese, and Mariia translated to English for me. However, I did get some opportunities to practice my Korean, which was great!
Saturday came too quickly, and we had to take Mariia to the airport. It is really bittersweet—I’m so happy and thankful that she was able to visit, but sad because I don’t know when we can ever see each other again.
I think meeting someone from across the world whom you connect with in the way that Mariia and I connect is a rare and precious opportunity. I will never give up on my dream to visit her in Russia (and possibly China?? hehe). It may be hard, but we have already shown that with determination we can make it work. Mariia especially worked hard and made some sacrifices to make her visit happen. Even with the distance between us, sisters are never that far from each other in spirit.
I’m not lazy in writing btw…I was going to write this one but when I told Maddie that I would do it the next day she said “I already wrote one!”. Sooo I guess I will just be the picture man again! Which I like. Not too much to add. It was a busy week for me so I was kind of doing my own studying while she was here. Also, I will go to the DMZ with my parents so I’ll see what that is like on my own.
Time is really running very short here in Seoul. Every day now is moving blazing fast and I don’t know how to make it stop. We’ll have to enjoy what we can.