My trip to South Korea in June/July 2013 was, honestly, the best trip I have ever made, the best time I have ever had. I made some life-long friends and connections that distance will never break. It has made me rethink my future plans and even six months on I still get the tingly, chest-tightening feeling when I think about the people, places, foods, drinks and activities that I miss.
Over a series of blog posts I will be documenting my time spent in this awesome country.
My journey began in Birmingham International Airport, West Midlands, England. I was flying mid-morning to Schipol Amsterdam Airport in The Netherlands by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. The flight took around 1.5hrs on a small plane with two seats on each side of the aircraft and no centre seats.
When I got to Amsterdam it was around 12 noon and I had a long six hours ahead of me until my next flight. I spent the time using the airport WiFi, getting McDonalds, wandering around the duty-free shops (I bought some iPod speakers) and playing some ukulele – I took a cheap ukulele in my hand luggage. 🙂 A couple of hours before my flight departed I wandered, very slowly, over to the departure gate and then I went to the KLM help desk to get my luggage relabelled to go straight to Incheon International Airport instead of stopping at Tokyo Narita Airport, which, believe me, was the best decision ever. The last two hours I spent on my iPad and soon enough the time had come around for my longest ever flight.
I was flying with KLM from Amsterdam to Tokyo, a journey which takes about 11-11.5 hours in total. When I boarded the plane it was pretty interesting – I had never flown in such a large aircraft before and the longest flight I had ever taken was 2.5 hours, so it was bound to be an experience for me. I was sat in the centre seat of three by the window, but the plane doors closed and we took off and neither of my neighbours had arrived so I got the three seats (and consequent three pillows and blankets) all to myself! The in-flight entertainment wasn’t all that bad, though I tried to watch a couple of films and TV shows but I just couldn’t get into them. The food wasn’t all that bad either! But I wasn’t feeling well (I blame the nerves of my first long-haul flight ever, and alone at that) and couldn’t eat too much of it. Trying to sleep was quite easy as I had the three seats to myself! I managed about five or six hours, but I have always found it a challenge to sleep while travelling, regardless of the mode of transport. One thing I get very nervous about while flying is turbulence, but we were very lucky and there was barely any for the whole flight! Landing in Tokyo felt awesome – for the last two and a half hours of the flight I spent my time switching between looking out the window and watching the flight tracker!
While in Amsterdam, after getting my luggage relabelled, I thought that my turnaround in Japan would be a doddle. I thought I would have loads of time to get from my plane to my gate!
I was wrong! After getting off the plane I went the wrong way and almost through immigration! So I had to turn around and sprint back the other way to find international connecting flights. I went through security, and got into the departures lounge, but by this time I had 40 minutes until my plane to Korea took off! It turned out that I was at the complete opposite end of the departures area of the airport and I had to run along travelators, huge corridors and escalators to make it to my gate. As I was running I could hear my name being called over the announcement tanoy, something that meant I was reaaaally late! I eventually found my gate and found the Korean Air desk where I confirmed that I was on the flight, sat down in the waiting area…and waited for another 20 minutes.
I was flying with Korean Air from Tokyo to Incheon, an airline which I had heard praised as one of the best in the world, so I was really looking forward to my experience. The flight took around 1.5-2 hours so I didn’t expect any food to be served, but we were served lunch and a choice of drinks, which was awesome. I had only eaten a little while before with KLM so I didn’t eat much of the food, but I devoured a pouch of ume jelly (that stuff was DI-VINE) (ume – also known as Chinese plum or Japanese apricot, whose latin name is prunus mume, latin for delicious) and all my juice. The flight went by very quickly and before I knew it I was landing at Incheon International Airport!! I was finally in Korea, and I grinned like the Cheshire cat as I walked off the plane!
But what was the next step? Getting myself to Cheongnyangni Station in the capital, Seoul, all by myself with no help whatsoever, in a country where I do not know the langauge, the currency, the landscape. Heck, I didn’t even know what Cheongnyangni Station looked like!
The journey will continue in my next post on my trip to Korea.