Date: Tuesday 27th December 2016
Weather: Cold and cloudy but not too windy and no rain.
MP3 track of the day: Gangnam Style – PSY
Now, usually when I start a new trip the first paragraph usually explains how I got up at the crack-of-dawn to drive to somewhere or to get an early train; not this time. In fact, on this trip I didn't even set an alarm and therefore, I got up at 10 am with still time to spend. I got ready, checked my apartment one last time and headed to my local train station. The train would take me to Japan's sixth largest city – Sendai – where I would change onto a train bound for Sendai International Airport. My flight was a 4 pm and I arrived at 1:45 pm; fifteen minutes before checking-in even started.
Using the words 'International Airport', makes Sendai's airport sound quite grand however, it's a tiny little place with only six or seven gates. There is a tiny food court and just one duty-free shop, making the whole place seem quite cute though, there was still everything you could possibly need (even if it is lacking in choice). I made it through security and immigration with thirty minutes spare before boarding. Today I would be heading to Incheon Airport; South Korea's main International Airport. It would take around two and a half hours to get to Incheon, and then who knows how long it would take to get to my actual destination; the city of Seoul.
The flight was fine ... apart from the film I chose; wishing to be teleported back to my childhood, I made the error of selecting 'Independence Day 2', which was terrible and what is more horrifying is that the film ended with an incomplete storyline allowing for possible future expansions. I was also given a late lunch / early dinner meal pack which was nice, but so unexpected that I'd already eaten before boarding. Still, I'm not one to turn down free stuff, so I ate it anyway. Once eaten the pilot notified us that we were about to descended and we touched down just as Independence Day 2 finished.
Incheon International Airport could not have been more different to Sendai's airport. It was huge; so-much-so that a train had to take me from my departing terminal to immigration and baggage reclaim. After an hour or so I'd made my way through the airport's security and was now heading towards the airport's underground train station. I purchased a 'one-trip ticket' which included a transfer at Seoul's main train station and allowed me to travel all the way to my hotel.
Once I'd arrived at Seoul Station, I was almost immediately reminded that I was currently in a country still at war and that, the city I was in, was only 30kms from the front line. Within the station there were cabinets of gas masks, fire extinguishers and food supplies. Though most Koreans just walked past these cabinets, I found them extremely interesting (on later train journeys I would watch safety videos in regards to what to do if Seoul was attacked). Before changing trains I decided to buy an 'electronic rail card'. My guidebook had told me to buy one and fill it with money. This would then allow me to use Seoul's underground at will, without ever having to queue up at a ticket machine (the card also made each train journey cheaper and, once my holiday had finished, I could hand the card back and get a refund on all the money I hadn't used). Conveniently, there was a convenience store and so I went in and bought a card from a miserable looking Korean assistant before 'topping it up' with 30,000 Wong (about £20) which saw me through my trip.
Were my eyes deceiving me? On the shelf … in the convenience store … I thought I saw …. Yes! I did see it! … A TWIX!! A lovely, lovely king-sized Twix for only 1,700 Wong (£1.14). Now; I am sure a lot of you are wondering what the big deal was. I mean, it was only a Twix. The fact is, is that you cannot buy a Twix for love nor money in Japan. It has been a good two years since I had eaten a Twix and now, hope was rising inside me … maybe Korea had Maltesers too! I waited in line behind a man using his credit card to buy a 90p pack of chewing gum, before I got served by the same miserable-looking assistant. I then went and boarded the train bound for my hotel. I spend the entire trip prodding my new Twix bar … making sure that it wasn't a dream.
Five stops later and I had arrived at the closest stop to my hotel. The street was pretty quiet with only a handful of shops still open and a few small stalls selling street food. A few ominous-looking people were out walking around and I over-heard my first Korean conversations which sounded like an argument. I made it to my hotel at 9 pm; two-and-a-half hours after I'd landed. I quickly went up to my room where I unpacked and organised my stuff for the days ahead. The price of my room was a little high however, my room had three amazing features. Firstly, it was lovely and warm, secondly there was a huge bed which looked extremely comfortable but, the best bit of all, was that the bathroom had a rain shower … heaven.
I left my hotel thirty minutes after entering it. I went across the street to Seoul's biggest market which, my guidebook stated, operated twenty-four hours a day. Sadly my guidebook also stated that only parts of it were open late at night and those parts didn't look very welcoming. I was hungry, and there were food stalls with middle-aged Korean women heckling me to try their produce however, I wasn't feeling that adventurous just yet. In the end, I opted for a small restaurant close to my hotel which seemed to be open all hours. They had a handy picture menu however, just like the convenience store assistant, neither the waitress nor the cook smiled or even looked remotely happy to see me. I therefore apologised for giving them money and eat my red-hot soup as quickly as possible. Now you may be thinking that Indian or Pakistani food is spicy; seriously, it is not a patch on Korean food. As I ate mouthful after mouthful I was amazed how this concoction had not burned it's way through the bowl it was served in, through the table and through the floor. I ate as much as I could before apologising for reasons unknown and quickly left the restaurant wishing the other diners good luck. I went back to my hotel to have a lovely hot shower and climbed into my glorious bed.
So my first day had all gone well through I feel as though – due to not having any local knowledge – that I'd wasted time (the hotel's receptionist was surprised that I'd taken the airport underground train here and not the bus as the bus was quicker). With my rail card in hand and 'topped up', I felt ready to rectify the situation tomorrow.