Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Little Seoul Time

 A couple weeks ago, my family FINALLY made it to Seoul! Honestly -- and I don't mean for this to sound bad -- it wasn't my first choice for a getaway.  I had figured we could go any time we all had a long weekend or something, and at first I was disappointed because I'd set my sights further.  I'd asked Matt, "Couldn't we at least go to Japan?!" Then again, we'd lived here five months almost to the day and hadn't yet made the trip.

Then I got to thinking: one of the perks of being somewhere so utterly different from what I'd "planned" last year meant that 365 days ago, I would not have imagined a trip to Seoul -- for any amount of time -- as being possible.  When I looked at it that way, and also realized that what we needed most right now was just something a little different, but not too stressful, Seoul looked like the perfect destination.

And, it was!  We drove, which meant a six-hour roadtrip Korean style!  Roadtrips are a treat we didn't really get when we lived in Hawaii, and you probably know by now we love them!!  We stayed at Dragon Hill Lodge  which I know isn't particularly helpful information if you're not affiliated with the military.  But if you are, and you're reading this while pondering a trip to Seoul, we were very happy with it. 

I'm not going to lie and try to claim that this post is "the best family-friendly guide to Seoul" ever.  We definitely didn't even try to see everything the city has to offer because I believe more than ever that it won't be our only trip there, and also, a huge part of going for us was to get away and have "chill time".  Happy-memory-making time.  Eating-out time. Sleeping-in time.  

After traveling with kids for seventeen years, I'd definitely say we've learned a few things.  So here's what we did, and I think we did well:

-- Go to Gyeonbokgung Palace.  
Wow.  So beautiful.  I loved all the patterns and vivid colors... 
And patterns....
  Did I already say that? 

 It was admittedly a little hard to look at the surrounding gardens without thinking, This will be so pretty in the summer! (Though the Lilly pictured here is beautiful no matter the time of year, ;-) )
 But it also wasn't completely overrun with tourists.

  And perhaps all the brown, leafless trees made us pay more attention to all the vibrant details of the palace.  We watched the changing of the guard which Wyatt, to my surprise, enjoyed the most.  It was our first official destination in Seoul, and I think it's safe to say that if you see nothing else, you should see the palace.

-- Ride the subway everywhere.  
We left our car on base.  The Seoul subway system is easy to understand and get around on, even with a crowd of seven.  I honestly can't imagine why anyone would choose to drive.  It did mean that we walked miles and miles, and I think the highest temperature while we were there was just above freezing.  But we wore warm clothes and good walking shoes, and it was great.

On a side note: by total accident, I ended up there with only the shoes I was wearing when I got in the car.  They were these Merrill Captiva boots -- you can see me wearing them in literally all the pictures of me.  If you are going to be somewhere that requires a lot of walking in the dead of cold, cold winter with only one pair of shoes, these are the ones I would recommend.  

-- Split up.  This might sound weird, but I do believe it made the trip more enjoyable.  Matt took our three middles to Lotte World one day, while Jayna, Annalee and I went to Bukchon, 
a beautifullly quaint area near the palace with traditional-style architecture, and Insadong Market.  Matt's group loves amusement parks, and Jayna and I could take them or leave them.  I'm not exactly sure he would do it again, at least not when Koreans are out of school, because he said it was insanely crowded.  They waited an hour to get into a line for a ride that was two hours' wait from there!  So most of the day was spent waiting (which is why I'm so ambivalent toward such activities).  

Meanwhile, I had a lovely (though frigid) day with the other two.  We didn't buy anything in Insadong, though I know exactly what I will get next time I go back, but we had a nice day of sight-seeing, window-shopping, 

and people-watching.  And eating Indian food. 
  And finding a lovely tea cafe. 
 I would prefer if everyone stuck together and loved the same things, but I also think it's okay to have a day where you split up and do your own thing.  There's less deep, exasperated sighing and eye-rolling, and it's easier for everyone to do what they wanted.

-- Gave ourselves breathing room.  I think one of the keys to maintaining sanity when you're traveling with kids, especially the five-and-under set, is to not overschedule.  Just like in my home life, this has been a tough lesson for me to learn.  I grew up traveling with my dad who did not like to leave a single stone unturned when we traveled  no trail unexplored, no hill unclimbed.  I sure complained about his exuberance as a kid, but when I was an adult, and I knew how much effort and money it took to get to a place, it was very difficult to not create a frantic pace and check off all the boxes in the visitors' guide.  

But... kids.  Also, Matt and I simply don't have the energy level of my dad.  (For the record, few people do!) We realized early-on that it was just better to go a little slower.  Planning one big destination per day, we've found, is usually enough.  Dragging our kids around half the planet Having our kids with us on our travels has made us schedule plenty of time to play in the parks and playgrounds, and get ice-cream or pastries and hot chocolates in cafes.  And in turn, I think, that's helped us to absorb our surroundings and destinations more, and interact with the locals.  On this particular trip, it snowed on our last full day there.  Since it was our first time in four years seeing snow, we stopped.  We played.  And honestly, I think our kids enjoyed the trip more because of it. 


 I know Matt and I did.  

One funny story: In the afternoon that last day, we went to Namdaemun Market.  The man at the tour desk had told us this was the best place to go to "buy anything" (which is why I didn't buy the artwork I wanted at Insadong... which is why I need to go back at least once because Namdaemun is NOT, in fact, the best place to buy art).  Matt was Mr. Popularity with our kids; both Wyatt and Annalee didn't want to be any more than a couple inches from him.  Both wore sufficiently warm clothing, but neither wanted to put the hood on his/ her jacket up.  Wyatt even (*gasp!*) left the zipper on his jacket down a couple inches because he is always worried about getting pinched on the chin by the zipper.

Well.  That would simply NOT do with the older Korean women we encountered.  Poor Matt, holding Annalee, kept getting a tongue-lashing -- which, fortunately, we couldn't understand but, unfortunately, definitely got the gist of -- and a stout slap on the arm because of the kids' lack of mittens (I've bought them, but my kids never wear them!), and lack of covered heads.  And to his utter perturbation, they kept zipping Wyatt's zipper up to his chin.  Every few feet, we encountered one of these women, monumentally determined to save our children from their lackluster parents.  

It didn't take long for us to stop and buy hats and mittens for both.  
The hats were soon tossed aside in disgust  and the string broke on both sets of mittens so that by the time we were back at the hotel, at least one was lost.  And Matt kept getting beat on because no sooner would one of these women zip up Wyatt's jacket and huff away, then Wyatt, whose scowls had no effect on his assailants, would promptly unzip it to a safe distance from his chin.

Oh well, Matt's tough, right?  

We headed back to Busan the next day after a leisurely breakfast at the buffet, MUCH-enjoyed by my son who made sure to get our money's worth. 

 He was pretty pumped by the almost-endless stack of pancakes and eggs.  
Everyone headed to school a few days later, and I've been so grateful for those happy, low-key days away, even if we didn't see or do everything yet.  We went to Seoul.  Seoul!!! We saw beautiful things, and played in the snow.  We went swimming in the hotel pool and rested and ate well.  We walked.  A LOT!!!  
I guess you could say, it was good for the heart... and Seoul.

(Sorry. I couldn't help it.)

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