A Seoul Return

The final day is usually my least favourite part of a trip. I’m anxious about the flight, eager just to get home and don’t want to do too much in-between. Exhausted, we get out of the hotel late, leaving our luggage in the company of the robots, dinosaurs and humans hidden away behind them. Then we catch four separate trains to the Starhill COEX shopping mall, because B found out lots of people thought it great for photos.

The reason is the giant public library under a glass roof at the centre of it. There are books and magazines in both Korean and foreign languages, available for visitors to browse and read. It’s magnificent, not just great for photos, but a place to relax and read.

But breakfast was skipped (except for a tiny bread roll I ate) and the others ware hungry for lunch. I have no appetite. I just want to get to the airport and be done.

I had booked a room in the transit hotel for six hours. This requires us to check in our luggage and pass through immigration. I’m not certain this is possible, but I want to find out. We have already checked in online.

There is another complication. Our flight is running over four hours late. What was to be a 9pm flight will now be departing after midnight due to the late arrival of the inbound flight from Australia.

You can catch an airport “limousine” bus directly from COEX to the airport, but our luggage is back in Myeongdong. I arrange with B and Alex that I’ll head back to Myeongdong and take the luggage to Incheon airport on the train, while they make their way from COEX.

In the morning’s rush I hadn’t realised that there was an easier route back to Myeongdong from Samseung station. I get the luggage, then struggle to drag the two rolled bags, my daypack and a small red carry bag down to the subway, then through the maze of corridors, stairs and lifts to the A’Rex train at Seoul Station. Some Seoul Station stairs have a luggage conveyor belt, but one was not working.

It was a relief to be on that train to the airport. The scenery was pretty amazing, especially near Incheon itself where the receding tide has exposed huge mudflats with bulbous ridges and pine forested island emerging directly out of the mud.

At the airport I discovered there was no way to check in the bags early. I let B and Alex know they could stay later and got the transit lounge to move my booking until a later slot, a six hour one at double the price.

I should explore the airport, get some lunch, engine the bright blue skies. But I’m tired and sick of dragging the luggage around. The luggage storage desk tells me to go away, they’re full.

So I head back out and downstairs toward the railway and pay for a room at the Darakhyu “capsule” (it isn’t a Japanese capsule) hotel land side at Terminal 1 for three hours.

The clean little rooms have a bed and a shower, plus shared toilets. It’s almost perfect. I shower, change and lie down in the bed, setup my phone to play music out loud and drift off to sleep.

This is the first me time I’ve had all trip and by the end of it I’m feeling a lot better about the flights.

I return to the airline check-in desks and discover that I can now drop off the bags. But there’s a problem. B has bought more goods that need to be checked in and their bus is running late, stuck in traffic. But at least they had a chance to explore COEX properly and rave about the aquarium there.

By the time they arrive, we check in and pass through security, our time in the transit hotel has been cut severely. It’s almost ten pm and when I go down to buy us dinner, my first meal since that small bun in the morning, the only place open and nearby enough is Dunkin Donuts. I use the vouchers we were given by the check-in desk attendant (she initially forgot, distracted by dipping her ID pass in a cup of coffee) to buy us some sandwiches and drinks.

Which is scarier? Giant spiders…
Or Pink Fong?

The transit hotel is also quite pleasant, and the other two have showers while I try to get some sleep. We are interrupted by the noise of construction nearby and stumble out at 12.30 pm still feeling exhausted. I’m almost wishing that the flights have been delayed by another 3 hours.

It’s a quick turnaround for the flight, although they admit to being short staffed in the cabin. I take my seat in the Qantas Airbus A330-300 next to a sweet elderly Korean lady who speaks no English and seems inexperienced at flying. She is always asking for help from me throughout the flight, be it in using the seat functions or filling out her immigration form. I don’t speak Korean, so I struggle!

There’s no flight map again. Where is it Qantas?!?!?

We take off behind a Korean cargo 747, up into the dark night, above the glittering jewel cities.

As soon as the seatbelt signs are switched off we are asked to lower the window shades as we will be crossing quickly towards the sunlit east. The crew come through with bottles of water, soy and nut crisps, and later hot meals. I choose the Western chicken option, which is quite flavoursome, though the roast chicken breast is a bit too much to get through. I prefer thigh. Dessert is a yummy melon ice block.

Now and then I sneak peeks behind the window shade. It’s a fairly smooth flight without being perfectly so. Many of the storm systems seem to have dissipated, while typhoon Koinu is far to the east.

I watch three movies on the flight. The garish Wes Anderson Asteroid City, which I still don’t understand the point of, the fun-gore Cocaine Bear and the previously watched Guardians of the Galaxy, mainly to remind myself of what happened in that first movie before watching the sequels. I didn’t think I could cope with John Wick by that time.

Although there is no map, I again have a fair idea of where we ae based upon the time and the cloud below. At one stage the seatbelt lights are switched on, but it only got rough when they are off again. But I cope pretty well.

With an hour and a half to go, breakfast is served. There’s egg and bacon, which is too much for me, or Korean chicken porridge. Both are accompanied by yoghurt and muffins, the latter which is all I choose. I manage to work out that my seat companion wants the porridge because chicken and porridge are two Korean words I know (porridge is related to the Chinese word).

The descent into Sydney is the only bit of the flight I don’t like. The cloud layer is thicker that it first seems and the wind is gusty, meaning quite a few rises and drops. Down, down, down. Landed.

It’s good to be back. We pass through too many layers of immigration and customs, collect our luggage and catch the train and bus home.

Then it’s quickly off to pick up a car from service, the call coming in just as we were taxiing. Our body clocks are all messed up so when we stop by McDonalds at 4.45pm we don’t know whether it’s a late lunch or dinner. I’m exhausted and just want to go home and sleep.

We have very much enjoyed our trip to South Korea. The people were friendly, it was reasonably easy to get around and there were many sights to see. It does remind us a lot of Japan, but with a different language and foods. I think we’ll be back.

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