Travelogue RWC 2019: Busan

BUSAN
27-29 September 2019

We very nearly really didn’t get to Busan. First we got to the subway station, where we knew that tickets are a cash-only sale and we knew we didn’t have enough cash, but we assumed there would be a cash machine there.

There was not.

No mind, we took the escalators back up to ground level and went into our trusty 7-11, but the ATM didn’t accept VISA cards (?!) so we went into the shopping mall that occupied the first few floors below the hotel we’d been staying in. No ATM machine.

So we split up, me with the suitcases at the top of the subway station escalators so that Christian could move quickly to find the nearest cash machine.

Well, I still don’t really know where it was because on his return Christian was beyond reasonable conversation, having had a frustrating experience finding an English- and Visa-friendly ATM.

But he had. And we were on our way again.

Confidently we punched in Incheon International Airport Terminal 2 – reasoning that we’d landed at Terminal 1 on our flight in from Japan, so 2 was likely to be Domestic – and again we were on our merry way.

It was only when the train pulled up at Gimpo Airport (another airport entirely, that hadn’t occurred to us at all) a few stops later that we even questioned if we were going to the right airport.

With the train doors opening at Gimpo we scrambled to find the plastic sleeve with all our booking info and there it was “Departure: Seoul (Gimpo)”. We’d spotted it in the nick of time so we hurtled toward the train door to get out at this correct station.

Thank heavens both airports are on the same subway line or we’d have found out too late and missed our flight!

Our hosts in Busan, Ji and Neo, had at least had the foresight to prepare us for what to expect and how to get to them, so it was simple to exit the Arrivals Hall and find the Limousine Bus office to get our tickets to the Bexco stop, where we’d arranged to meet them.

With 10 minutes in hand, there was just enough time to grab a quick sarmie from the 7-11 for padkos on the bus.

Pulling into Busan, we were met with terrible traffic. But it was just after 5pm on a Friday evening so it’s probably to be expected wherever you are in the world.

We had no sooner got all our selves and our bags off the bus than we heard a hooter and presto! There were our friends come to meet us!

Ji was driving but Neo jumped out and loaded our things and us into their people carrier. There were 3 juniors in the back, 2 of whom we’d only met when they were babies (and were now tweens) and a new baby (already 8 years old) that we’d never met.

There was much excitement as we shared stories of where we’d been and what we’d been doing for the almost 10 years since we’d last seen each other – but besides the physical human evidence that time had passed, it felt like no time had passed between us at all. Good friends just pick up where they’ve left off.

We were staying at a B&B around the corner from the Binedell clan, so as not to get underfoot with the existing schedules that were already being relaxed and stretched for our benefit. First stop was thus logically to drop off our bags so that the admin was done and we could relax and go with the flow for the rest of the evening.

When it had come time to book, the B&B had already been quite full with a group of athletes having block booked all the suites with Western beds so we were allocated a Korean bed room.

On check in we discovered that this meant a laminate square room with stack of thin mattresses and pillows in the corner, a washing machine fitted onto the wall of the room (genius) and leaving shoes at the door so as to only be barefoot in the living / sleeping space. We’re always all for trying the local things, so were delighted with our digs for the weekend.

Back in the car we climbed the hill with its twists and turns to get to the Binedell’s apartment block. Completely converse to our suburban living at home, their suburb is a collection of high rise blocks with spacious family living apartments. Being on the bottom floor, they have the best of the garden view and none of the admin of maintaining it.

We settled around the dining room table – having barely taken a breath between stories since the meeting at the bus stop – and enjoyed a welcome drink, Neo’s favourite Somaek which is a mix of Soju (South Korea’s speciality, a clear, colourless distilled liquor) and beer. Soju is a bit sweet so gives the beer a good edge.

We had a few of those, while Ji made some dumplings for nibbles and we chatted about anything and everything. We caught up on shared friends – now spread all over the planet – reminisced about old times, reviewed the present and guessed at the future, and learnt a lot about Korean culture and food.

For dinner we took a walk down to a local restaurant where we feasted Korean barbecue style. Platters of thinly sliced and rolled raw meat (we had beef and pork) were delivered to the table to be self-cooked on the gas skillet bedded in the middle of the table, and there was a buffet of sides to either also cook on the grill or add to the juicy meaty bits raw for crunch. And of course rice.

It’s a wonderfully social way to eat with the best of both in that the first bites are ready in minutes and the rest of the eating process can be drawn out over a couple of hours, to allow lots of conversation and laughs and more drinks and more laughs.

We’d been seated at a long table at the end of the restaurant and collapsible doors had been drawn to give us a private dining room, but there kids were out of sight as soon as they’d eaten, preferring to entertain themselves in the lounge rather than have their style cramped by us old people.

The walk home to the Binedell’s apartment was welcome, as it is always great to get some fresh air and the blood flowing to move dinner and clear the head.

And a very good tactical move too, to have a pause before we got home for nightcaps and then headed out again for Round 2.

As Neo had told us, the South Korean night out generally has a few stops, eating and drinking along the way. We had technically had 2 stops already with the welcome drinks and dinner, so were compelled by custom to have a nightcap (or 2). Ji had volunteered to be on kid-watch duty so Neo was tasked with accompanying us to our neck of the woods, where there were several night spots – mostly 24 hours – right behind our B&B.

We got ourselves a booth in a cosy little restaurant/bar where most tables were still eating even though it was well past midnight, and ordered a jug of beer.

Fortunately Neo let us off the Soju on this last episode but nonetheless, the beer was enough to end play for the day.

We walked back to our B&B and giggled as we figured out our room and made up our beds. When I initially lay down I thought the mattress was bloody uncomfortable… Until I discovered that Christian had laid them upside down so the discomfort was from the sticky little bubbles that are supposed to grip the floor and were now gripping my sweaty flesh.

More giggles and a remake later, we were asleep immediately.

Neo had said that Soju is a kind drink on the next morning and I hadn’t believed him… Until I woke up nine hours later, fresh as a daisy. Not sure if it’s the Korean bed or the Soju that should get the credit, but I was super grateful.

Christian was a bit more the worse for wear, but it didn’t last for long, thanks to a great shower, doorstop of toast and glass of Coke in the B&B’s kitchen… And Neo (with Xuri, the littlest, in tow) arriving with ‘regmaker’ beers!

We’d made the arrangements the previous night, than since Ji had to fetch and carry kids to Saturday morning school commitments, Neo was going to make his way to us and we would then head towards the beach and meet Ji and the kids somewhere there.

It took us so long to get ourselves together though, that we ended up just sitting on the deck outside the CU convenience store downstairs and waiting for Ji to pick us up.

The whole party reunited, we drove to Haeundae Beach. The traffic was again something terrible and by the time we arrived, the clouds had rolled in and it was raining. Not ideal beach weather at all.

We diverted to the food stalls market and started nibbling inside a seafood stall where I finally got to try the snack we’d seen everywhere but didn’t know what it was. It looked like a skewered wavy length of stiff dough and seemed to be served in a cup of something we’d assumed to be dipping sauce. Turned out that it’s called Eomukgok and it’s actually ground and compacted fish and the stuff in the cup is a hearty fishy broth. Really delicious. And a great accompaniment to the selection of tempura that complemented the spongy fish with battered crunchiness.

We’d hoped our snacking would see us through the rain but, alas, as we made our way down the food stall alley the rain got worse not better and by the time we circled back to the beach itself for our pictures, it was bucketing down and we got soaked!

Rationalising that we were actually more interested in each other’s company than braving the elements for the view, we retreated back to the Binedell’s apartment, stopping for a few supplies en route.

It was a great decision. The kids could get on with what they wanted to do, we could yack and yack, Neo could pour a steady stream of drinks, Ji sorted an endless flow of nibbles and by the time it came to nachos (middle child Xander’s request), I was even grabbing a session in Ji’s full body massage chair! We had had a brilliant evening, totally chilled and doing what we do best; making memories with good mates.

With intentions of an earlier start to make the most of what we hoped to be a sunny Sunday, we maintained better decorum and decided to forego the Last Rounds pub crawl of the previous night and grabbed a taxi back to the B&B at around midnight.

We awoke on Sunday morning to a patchy sky that was encouragingly blue in places and decided to back optimism, wear shorts and embark on the tourist trail we’d originally intended for the weekend.

Ji, Neo and Xuri fetched us and we started with a visit to Yonggungsa Temple.

The rain from the previous day could still be felt in the air and it was hot and humid. But it wasn’t raining, so we counted our blessings (in an appropriate location to be doing so).

The walk to the temple runs through a food market and we recognised some of the things from the day before, but discovered some all-new marvels that took some explaining too.

The temple itself is old and beautiful, set right on shoreline but on the rock cliffs so with magnificent views of the ocean below. Signage said that this was the most beautiful temple in South Korea and with limited comparisons and the spectacular setting, it was hard to argue with that.

On the way out I stopped in the food market to get a snack for us. I choose a flat octopus which the lady quickly heated up on a flat grill, like a toasted sandwich press and chopped into slices. It was delicious!

Continuing the eating tour, we drove to Songjeong Beach where Neo ordered Korokke while we admired the beach and then we had our senses delighted with deep fried crab croquettes.

We drove down the coast past Haeundae Beach that we’d visited the day before and on to Gwangalli Beach, where we parked the car and went for actual lunch.

We ticked off another new meal box with Korean Fried Chicken (KFC); mountains of crunchy chicken wings, sticky chicken pieces and tender juicy breaded chicken pieces that looked like they came from a monster bird!

We left lunch a little later than we should have and instead of being able to enjoy our drive across the Gwangan Bridge, we had already started to worry a bit about missing our bus to the airport. Our fate was sealed when we ran into more traffic and we resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d missed the 3.17 bus, and that we would catch the next one at 3.47, which would be very very tight for our 5.05 flight, especially bearing in mind the bus would have to beat the same traffic to get there.

Then the bus was late.

Arriving close to 4pm, it was a nailbiter all the way to the airport, with Ji madly researching on her phone and calling the airline to say the bus had been late, and sending us maps of the terminal so that we knew what to expect when we got there.

Our hearts sank as we watched the big red digital clock numbers at the front of the bus tick over. 4.20… 4.30… 4.40… The airline website had said gates close 20 minutes before the flight so when 4.45 ticked past, we’d all but lost hope.

But in a last little burst for freedom, the bus seemed to pop out of the confines of the city and made up incredible distance in the last few minutes.

At 4.49 the bus pulled up in front of the terminal. By the time it came to a complete stop, I was pressing against the doors, passports in hand.

I sprinted across the airport and up to the check in desk, thrusting our passports at the lady, wordlessly panting. She reviewed the passports, typed something into her terminal and asked me where my other passenger and bags were.

Miraculously, Christian caught up with me just then, with our suitcases. The lady checked us in and told us it was too late to check the baggage so we’d have to take it with us.

She escorted us as we three dashed at madman’s pace across the terminal and all the way to the boarding gate to ensure we got on the plane.

All was indeed well that ended well and we were off to Jeju.

What an excellent weekend it had been and thanks to the rainy weather on Saturday, we still had a full day’s unused itinerary to use as an excuse to come back and visit our lovely hosts again!