We flew from the attractively named Gimpa airport, the old international airport of Seoul. Straight there on line number 5.
I was obviously very out of place, being the biggest person on the train and with unbrushed and undyed hair, no make-up and constantly blowing my nose rather than sniffing politely. Virtually every Korean woman and most men are impeccably turned out. Make up is an art form as is the 7step beauty routines that many Korean beauty companies recommend. You’d be lucky if I did 2, and only if one of those was sliding my eyes past what was showing in the mirror. Not wearing make up marks you out and I certainly was stand out with the black smudges of tiredness under my eyes, looking like death warmed up and a Rudolph red nose. Also, heaven forfend, I had a tan. Not the deathly whiteness so much favoured (partnered with American tan tights though…). Frankly, I was an embarrassment. No wonder CC was sprinting ahead of me out in public, and I don’t blame her! Even my hair had rebelled by this point, to the stage where I eventually had a trim at a local hairdressers – reurning to my Sideshow Bob look of a few years back, winner!
It was a short hop to the island of Jeju, and from the airport we were picking up a car. The airport was particularly empty – all the flights from China weren’t heading that way anytime soon, so it was majority Korean. Jeju is the seaside island break for a lot of Koreans, as well as hikers heading up the highest mountain in the country, Hallasan. Wouldn’t be doing that even though I’d schlepped my walking boots all the way with me just for this trip!
This was the point where CC had to ‘fess up to not being the most confident driver, that two day driving course really hadn’t imbedded a strong driving discipline. That coupled with living in a city where public transport is so endemic and a car is unnecessary, it’s not surprising she wasn’t used to driving. She initially had a penchant for wanting to seemingly mount the right kerb but as they say ‘practice makes perfect’ and once we were out of the main town the open roads and lack of traffic allowed for CC to get up to speed both literally and metaphorically. Our sat nav was insistent on talking to us and I soon learnt the Korean for roundabout (ro-ta-ree-a, e.g rotary, although CC was confused and thought the lady was initially saying lotteria – which to be fair, with some of the driving going on, road use on Jeju often was). What was apparent was that most road users hadn’t learnt how to use a rotaree-a and thus various methods of how to deal with them were in operation, with the most favoured being to just get over it as soon as possible and hope that there’s no traffic on it at the time.
First stop was the beach, well, a beach and more precisely a windy and sandy one. It was full of other tourists with the same idea – get to the first attractive beach and start taking selfies. Unfortunately for CC, and fortunately for me, we had come without a selfie stick. How sad…and we initially had to request a fellow tourist to take some photos, until the God of Camera-Phones heard CC’s pleas and she found a discarded one in the mini-dunes. Deep joy. With the wind whipping the sand in our eyes, and me layered up in jumper, eiderdown jacket and scarves, we attempted to ‘strike a pose’, or in my case – gurning. CC has particular views on selfies and they must look good, or else there is punishment – more posing….
(Painful) interlude over we downed coffees and after a bit of Chuckle Brother maneouvering – me to you, to me to you with the car reversing out of the car parking space we headed off to the supermarket for snacks, and soju. Soju is one of Korea’s national drinks, made from rice, and can be bought in anything from smart glass bottles to cheap white plastic bottles. Container is not an indicator of quality it appears. The taste has been described as resembling that of slightly sweet, watered-down vodka – sort of like sugar dissolved in rubbing alcohol – yum. The danger comes with the flavoured versions, grapefruit (like flat Fanta), tangerine (synonymous with Jeju – the land of oranges – the government promoted tangerines as a major export item in the 60s!), and other fruit flavours, before you know it, your legs don’t work and you’re wondering why the floor is so close to your face.
We finally got to our AirBnB house, after a stop off at the market for lunch and a wander, in the traditional village of Seongeup (on the eastern side of the island) in the late afternoon. As well as staying in a traditional village we were staying in a traditional thick black lava rock walled single storey house with a straw roof, complete with underfloor heating, karaoke tv and hard bed. Outside the stone grandfather statues (Harubang) stood guard at the entrance.
I think CC got the better bet sleeping on the floor! The host meanwhile was amazing, providing recommendations for places to see, eat out at and generally giving ideas for what to do. It really did feel like a home from home, even if we weren’t going to be putting on the coloured afro wigs and give it large on a microphone to ‘Let it Go’. Exhausted by the day’s exertions it was a home stay evening with Korean evening drama, soju and strawberries – tres decadent, no?
We started the next day late, we were on holiday after all. Once the pain from the bed kind of wore off we headed up the road to what turned out to be a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant – who’d have thunk it! Yetnalpatjuk serves up red bean porridge (patjuk (팥죽) as its local fare. If you wanted it as dan patujuk then you would add sugar to it and people on the next table were doing so with gusto but I wasn’t up for that, and preferred it au naturel, even if it meant it tasted like rustic, commune porridge. The portion size could have drowned a small baby, although the reality of anything sinking into was unlikely, it was so solid. It was served in beautiful eathernware bowls, and the traditional style dining room was surrounded by random bird ornaments. If you’re not a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds you might feel uncomfortable.
We headed back out to explore some more of Jeju and Moon had suggested Sagye Beach. Right on the waterfront was a statue of two Haenyo women talking to Mrs. Gorbachev to commemorate the Gorbachevs’ visit in 1991. The Haenyo are the famed Korean women divers of Jeju, and are considered one of Jeju’s valued treasures. There were a couple of ladies left still selling their catches.
We hopped back into the car and drove past a load of nutters paying 1000won (about a quid) each to stand in a field of rapeseed flowers and take photos. Seems to be traditional fare in springtime – people paying to stand in a field and take selfies. We meanwhile stood at the end of the pier for our posing:
One of us was taking it seriously….
Our day wasn’t done – we were on a full itinerary of things to squeeeeeze in to our short stay, so after checking the scenery we headed off to the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, along with everyone else it seemed. Old ladies were hiking the 1 kilometre along the tarmac’d path wearing enough kit to head to Everest base camp to see a waterfall that is about 70ft long.
There was a queue – a frickin’ queue (!) of people to stand and have a photo taken of them ‘catching the water’ from the fall, or to just pose their arses off. Thus we quick snapped it and high tailed it out of there as we had places to be, that place being a market to buy homegrown oranges to take back to Seoul and then we were ready for dinner.
We had decided to get a bus to a nearby restaurant for bbq. Big ol’ mistake. We arrived, after 30mins, to a corner of somewhere in the pitch dark. It was 7.30pm. We walked into the restaurant. Got very excited to smell the cooking. Got very dispondent and hangry when we got told the restaurant had stopped serving and was shutting at 8pm. Bollocks.
Back out in the dark and we could not find the bus stop! Let alone know what time the bus would be coming, except at some point in the next hour or so. Sheeee-it.
Back in the 70s Nelly would have knitted the Ark and Noah out of any situation. In this one on Jeju, CC super googled us out of hicksville, back to home, to the car and out on the road to Pyeong-dae and barbeque pig – woo-hoo, with a new find Gat Kimchi. Gat Kimchi is made from Mustard Leaf, and thank god Korean restaurants do free top ups of the sides as I was prepared to o’d on it and the lettuce. Never been so happy as that evening eating peeeee-iiiiiiiig.
We left full and happy, so happy, and full, and did I mention happy?The sky was amizzin’ – probably looks shit below but it was wowzers!
But we weren’t done with that being the only fabulous meal of the stay, oh no, that was for tomorrow too en route to the airport. After a 30minute walk in the forest – because, you know, we had time and we may as well tick it off the list we headed back to Jeju town to drop off the car and then stopped off at Dragon’s Head Rock (Yongduam Rock) and had lunch, amazing fresh soup with pork, noodles – joyousness. So happy with FOOOOOOD!
We definitely were leaving Jeju on a high after that lunch. We rolled ourselves back out, had a look at the lunchtime offerings by Dragon Head’s Rock – raw seafood as fresh as possible served on the rocks, literally, as the waves hit the shoreline.
Staggering over the rocks with all our luggage and full stomachs, we to find a taxi and we were on our way back to Seoul, just for a night before we headed out to Busan, Korea’s second city.