I’m celebrating a milestone birthday this year together with my friends from school. Several, I still keep in close and constant contact with, despite it having been close to three decades since we graduated from the school we all attended together. Over one of our regular dinner meetups last year, someone (it might have been me!) suggested that we should take a trip together to celebrate this milestone.
Apprehension doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. It has been years, even decades since I travelled with three out of four of them. And in recent years, I almost only exclusively travel with the mister, who puts up with quite a bit of my nonsense (including my infamous escalation from hungry, to famished, then to starving in matter of minutes), to be honest. Despite my reservations, I forged ahead and supported the idea. And immediately got down to do the planning proper.
The planning phase was smooth enough since I was travelling with very easy-going personalities; the two of us with stronger preferences were deeply involved in the planning anyway. To be exact the hardest part was agreeing on our travel dates because all five of us have different commitment dates at work we absolutely cannot travel within. Once that was sealed, destinations and activities quickly fell into place.
Our initial destination of NZ couldn’t work out because work commitment didn’t allow one in the party to be away for over two weeks so we cut it down to five days to Jeju and Seoul. I was disappointed initially, but hey, I’ll never say no to Korea. 😆
While watching the sunrise over the horizon on my favourite national carrier, breakfast was served. I didn’t have much of an appetite, and couldn’t offer my bread to my usual travel partner aka the mister because he wasn’t on this trip with me. Boohoo… I was already missing him.
And of course, I cannot miss the opportunity to take my signature flight photography – our national carrier’s colours on the wingtip juxtaposed against the blue sky and a layer of marshmallow cumulus clouds below. Since my first flight at a tender age, I’ve always wondered what it feels like to walk with clouds beneath my feet. Is it like walking on pillows, or a soft bed? Now, despite being armed with knowledge of how clouds are formed, I sometimes still daydream a little.
We left for Seoul in two parties and met up at Incheon Airport. What was strange was, the three of us in my party are such seasoned travellers we booked our own air tickets, sat in our own preferred seats and felt no necessity to sit together at all. Someone who doesn’t know us may find it funny or even weird but we were all very comfortable with the arrangement.
While E went to pick up J and S from a cafe where they camped at after arriving in Incheon an hour ahead of us, I went ahead to buy five bus limousine tickets that would bring us to Gimpo Airport, where we were supposed to catch our flight to Jeju. A was tasked to watch over our luggage while I did that. At that instance, I suddenly realised that group travel has it merits: it was actually quite efficient since we could all be disseminated to perform different tasks before reconvening. I was starting to get positive vibes about group travel. 🙂
After a short, uneventful ride, we landed in Jeju. Jeju Air is after all a budget airline, hence I wasn’t too surprised when we alighted at a remote bay without an aerobridge. But we definitely got to experience first hand how windy Jeju was the moment we stepped out of the aircraft. I was happy; some in the party who are not so tolerant of the cold got a little worried.
The first thing we did upon landing at Jeju Airport slightly after noon was to collect our rental car. A simple task turned out to be the most time-consuming and tedious activity of the day. First, two awful families cut right in front of me in the queue to get to recently vacated booths. To make matters worse, the person who was collecting his car in front of me had some issues with his booking so he took a real long time. We waited close to an hour to pick up our car, which, in my opinion, is a hideous amount of time wasted. A and I, the two designated drivers of this trip learnt a lesson. We concluded that we should not pay for excesses and additional insurance in the future when we put in our car rental reservations online. It complicates things, especially in a country that don’t speak good enough technical English. Alright, I’m also guilty. I couldn’t speak technical Korean either to correspond intelligibly with the staff.
After finally collecting our white KIA (which was, by the way, a very battered and tired looking car with bazillion scratches and dents all over), we headed straight for The Mysterious Road 신비의 도로 [GP: 712-6988, then follow roadsigns] where everything seems to defy gravity and move uphill, even cars and buses. I didn’t manage to take any pictures there since I was driving the car to demonstrate the strange phenomenon i.e. car in neutral gear was seemingly going uphill out of its own accord. In any case, it really isn’t such a mystery. The uphill slope is in actuality an optical illusion of a downhill slope, rendered by the seemingly high surroundings. So there you go, mystery solved. 🙂
We were famished by then. After exploring the road, we made a pitstop at the convenient store just located beside the road and bought instant noodles for a quick lunch within the store itself. Talk about embracing the local culture. 😆
Our next stop – Cafe de Seoyeun 카페 서연의 집 [GPS: 764-7894] located in South where our accommodation was situated too. If you watch Korean movies, you might have watched 건축학개론 Architecture 101 starring Han Gain, Uhm Taewoong with Suzy and Lee Jehoon as their younger selves respectively. Architecture 101 was one of my first Korean movies ever (maybe the third – Hearty Paws and The Way Home came earlier) and it left a deep impression as a movie dealing with romantic first love in the most logical way – reminiscing it as a fond memory. First loves don’t always have to end up as regrets.
We ordered some drinks and seated ourselves downstairs. I ordered a Matcha Frappuccino. I’m boring like that heh. Was it nice? I think it wasn’t too bad; refreshing since I was thirsty.
We explored other parts of the cafe which was also Han Gain’s house in the movie. Pretty sure it would have been picturesque sitting on the second level enjoying the warm sea breeze while sipping on the beverages if the sky weren’t overcast. The day we went, everything just looked rather grey and gloomy. If it doesn’t look it in the pictures, it’s because the colours were quite heavily edited heh.
And being a fan of the movie, it was imperative that I take a picture of the footprint that young Seoyeun left in the little pond when she accidentally stepped into it when it hadn’t dry. Mission accomplished!
E is particular about accommodation so she took it upon herself to shortlist a few apartments for our stay. This was done several months back so I have very little collection of our final choice (which was surprisingly, quickly done over our WA chat group), but when I saw the lobby cum cafe of Nine Boutique Hotel 나인 부티크 호텔, I was bowled over.
Nothing prepared me for this. Our apartment was essentially the penthouse of the building. And we had the whole floor to ourselves, with an impossibly spacious living and dining room, and 4 bedrooms. I don’t remember picking such a pleasant place!
But there were five of us, and only four rooms. So we drew lots. E and J ended up having to share a room so naturally the largest room went to them. I got the smallest room that was right in front of the entrance. It also didn’t have windows but had sliding doors leading to a small outdoor corridor bringing me to this open air space. Suits me fine. I like the cold anyway, and left with the windows open both nights. That’s the way I like to sleep in winter. 🙂
After settling the sleeping arrangement, we lined up the five suitcases in a row, and later on opened them up to compare our vastly different styles of packing. It was a rather interesting exercise which kind of allowed us to get to know one another better. Unfortunately, S and I seemed to be the only ones really interested in it. The rest were busy settling into their rooms, charging their mobile phones etc.
Some unpacking was in order. We each got busy in our own rooms and was a good half hours later before we decided to head out for dinner, without the car. We asked the hotel reception for some recommendations of eateries selling a plethora of Korean Cuisine nearby, and they ended up recommending one that was closed for renovations.
I was famished by then, by the way haha. We walked around aimlessly for a while trying to locate another eatery/restaurant to patronise before deciding to randomly walk into a Korean BBQ place to have some of Jeju’s famous black pork 제주흑돼지, the de rigueur activity when in Jeju. It was a great decision on our part. The restaurant was quiet save for our table of five so we had all the attention we needed when required. Although Jeju natives speak in their own dialect, the waitstaff could understand my Korean hence ordering the food was a breeze. I even enjoyed a cup or two of makgeolli, something I don’t usually do.
It may not be the first time I ate Jeju black pork since this isn’t my first visit to Jeju, but I honestly cannot remember if I did the first time round since it was more than a decade ago. I am very particular about pork and have almost completely stopped taking pork in Singapore because I noticed a smell about the same time we banned slaughtering here. To my surprise, Jeju black pork had no discernible smell and I actually found it very pleasing to my palate! The kimchi jjigae 김치찌개 too, was so awesome.
We had a great time chatting, but decided to return to the apartment a while later since we had to wake up as early in order to catch the sunrise at the sunrise peak 성산일출붕 and it doesn’t help that the peak is about a 2-hour drive away.