A Weekend Getaway to Seoul

Mark has a long weekend thanks to Monday’s Independence Day/Fourth of July holiday. The travel agent on base advertises weekend getaways, so we decided to try one out and head to Seoul for the weekend. 

The expectation: It’s a 2.5 hour flight, we figured. Easy! 

The reality: 10 hours door to door, from home to hotel. 

We live much closer to Haneda airport, but using that airport doubled the cost of the trip. So shortly after 7:30 AM we headed for Narita (1.5 hours), added time for traffic, parked the car at a remote lot, took the shuttle, arrived more than two hours early, grabbed a bite, flew, cleared customs and immigration, caught the bus to the hotel, sat through traffic, then finally arrived shortly before 6 PM. Ten. Hours. 

We are staying at the Dragon Hill Lodge, a hotel for Department of Defense personnel located on a joint U.S. military base called Yongsan Garrison. It’s slightly fancier than a standard American hotel, but totally, colossally bigger than anything we have ever staying in during our Japan travels. We love this! 

After checking in we set out for dinner in what can only be described as pissing rain. We headed for Itaewon, a nearby district popular with expats and packed with restaurants and shopping. We ate dinner at the improbably named Maple Tree, a delicious Korean barbecue restaurant. 

Mark ordered several meats for us to grill at our table, and a small ceramic grill filled with glowing red coals quickly appeared.

 A waiter delivered our banchan, an assortment of appetizers. My favorites were the thin marinated mushroom slices and tofu with pepper paste and soy-based sauce. The best part of banchan? They keep coming! Once you finish your favorite a waiter delivers complimentary refills. 

One interesting difference of dining in Korea is the chopsticks. In Japan we see either single-use or lacquered wooden chopsticks, but here heavy, stainless steel chopsticks are the norm. We hold them the same way, but the extra weight and slickness of stick-on-stick action make them tricky. After a few minutes I got used to them, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the kids manage just fine without asking for forks. 

After dinner we caught a cab back toward the hotel. The cab couldn’t drive onto the base itself, so the driver dropped us off as near as he could. We found ourselves standing before the War Memorial of Korea, a series of buildings, statues, and monuments to commemorate the Korean War. The rain and darkness made for a very dramatic setting, and I would have loved to spend more time there. But alas, the needs of the family sent us back through the rain and to our beds. 

Tomorrow’s outing: a trip to the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ. 

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