The morning had arrived for the start of another Asian adventure and I felt very excited as I boarded my Virgin East Coast train to London King’s Cross Station. Our flight was from London Gatwick airport which is easily accessible from St. Pancras as it is located next door to King’s Cross station. I travelled on a Thameslink service which takes just under an hour to the airport and is considerably cheaper than using the Gatwick Express from Victoria. Each time I have used this service the trains have been quiet with plenty of luggage storage resulting in a comfortable journey.
We had booked a morning flight departure so had arranged overnight accommodation at the Premier Inn Gatwick Airport which is conveniently located just across the road from the north terminal. The hotel is always busy but the rooms are very quiet and we both enjoyed a good night’s sleep leaving us refreshed for the journey ahead.
We woke at 6.30 a.m. to clear blue skies and after taking the airport shuttle across to the south terminal we checked in for our Turkish Airlines flight to Seoul via Istanbul. Checking in was quick and efficient and we were soon enjoying a light breakfast in Pret-a-Manger before our flight.
Soon it was time to board our A321 Airbus for our four hour flight to Istanbul. Our chosen seats of 10a and 10b were in a good position and offered ample leg room and good sized seat back TV screens. Unlike the majority of short haul European flights, Turkish Airlines provide a full meal and drinks service which was served one hour after departure. The airline is noted for its high standard of in-flight catering and our meal comprising a cheese and olive starter, omelette with mushroom and tomato, apple pie, warm roll with butter and jam was very tasty. I accompanied my brunch with a small bottle of Turkish red wine and a coffee.
The in-flight entertainment had a reasonable selection of recently released films in addition to TV programmes, games and live news. After my meal, I watched The Darkest Hour which is an account of Winston Churchill’s early days as U.K. prime minister. I found the film to be very enjoyable and after a short rest it was not long before we had views of the Turkish coastline on our approach into Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.
A new airport is scheduled to open in October 2018 to replace the existing overcrowded terminal. We were fortunate to arrive at an airbridge and not have to be ferried to the terminal by bus as is the case with many flights. Facilities are limited but we found a pleasant cafe on the upper floor which was light and airy, so we settled down there for awhile with cool drinks. We would have lingered longer except for the fact that the airport free wi-fi didn’t work in this area, so we returned to the hot and stuffy ground floor to glance at our iPads before our next flight.
After having the luxury of an airbridge arrival on our earlier flight, boarding for our A330 Airbus to Seoul was by bus. This was handled efficiently and we were soon settling into our window seats near the front of the economy cabin. Our seats for the 10 hour 55 minute flight felt comfortable and had larger seat back screens than on the previous shorter flight. As well as blankets and pillows, a good quality amenity kit is provided with refreshing hot towels handed out shortly after take off.
Glancing through the in-flight film catalogue, I selected Goodbye Christopher Robin. This story of Winnie the Pooh was delightful which I viewed whilst dinner was served. The food was plentiful and of a good standard accompanied by a glass of wine. I was then feeling drowsy and after reclining my seat I soon fell asleep for several hours waking shortly before the breakfast service began. Breakfast comprised soft and fluffy scrambled eggs, toast, yogurt, cheese and coffee bringing me back to life prior to landing in Seoul.
We found Incheon airport to be modern and well organised with short queues at immigration and quick baggage reclaim and were soon in the arrivals hall obtaining some cash from an ATM. The first machine we tried would not accept our card but trying another one nearby was successful.
Our next task was to purchase T Money travel cards which are available from the CU convenience store in the terminal building. The cards cost a non refundable 4,000 Won each (£2.78) and we loaded 30,000 Won (£20.81) onto each card so that we could take the train into the city centre. Debit and credit cards cannot be used to top up the cards with only cash being accepted. As well as being more convenient than buying individual tickets, T Money cards offer a 10% discount on regular fares and free transfers between trains and buses within 30 minutes.
We then took the lift down to the basement level railway station for our train into Seoul. There are two options into the city centre, the Express train costing 8,000 Won (£5.56) and the stopping train taking just ten minutes longer and costing 4,000 Won (£2.78). We chose the latter with a journey time of 53 minutes. There was ample luggage space and we enjoyed a comfortable journey to Seoul Station. From there, we needed to transfer to the metro which was easy to navigate with either step free access or luggage conveyor belts on short flights of steps. After changing trains at City Hall we soon arrived at Euljiro-3-ga station and our hotel the Holiday Inn Express Seoul Euljiro which was conveniently situated just around the corner.
We were welcomed by the front desk staff and our room on the 17th floor was very comfortable with views over the rooftops of Myeongdong. Our bathroom had opaque glass walls with a large shower and Japanese style toilet.
After freshening up and unpacking, we were eager to go out and start exploring Seoul in the warm afternoon sunshine. Our hotel was situated on the edge of the Myeongdong district which looked beautiful with azaleas in bloom along the roadside.
Our first stop was the Myeongdong catholic cathedral where a Saturday afternoon mass was taking place.
Wandering along the narrow lanes, we passed dozens of fashion and cosmetic shops, restaurants and bars all bustling with activity. Street vendors offered tasty treats and we were tempted to sample Korean egg bread 2,000 Won (£1.39) which tasted delicious with its warm batter base and lightly cooked egg on top.
Continuing our stroll we called in the Myeongdong tourist information centre for some additional leaflets and maps before having dinner in a small restaurant. Our starters of fried dumplings were crispy with a good flavoursome filling but our main course of Bukchon mixed noodles was a big disappointment as it was served cold. Apparently, this dish is often served cold during the summer months but we would have preferred it hot. After our meal we felt very tired after our long day of travelling and we were soon tucked up in our comfortable beds fast asleep.
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