The title of this blog post is every travel blogger’s existential crisis. Allow me to explain myself…
I began this highly profitable and informative travel blog back in August 2017 when I was embarking on a study abroad trip to South Korea. Since then, I have completed said study abroad, travelled here on two more occasions and eventually moved here permanently at the end of 2018. Now that I’m a full-blown Korean woman, it has been really hard to maintain a travel blog. The main reason for this is: I’m not really travelling anymore. I’ve been staying put for most of the time with a few road trips and getaways thrown in between weekends and public holidays. Everything that initially excited me about Korean culture is now somehow part of my daily life? What madness!
This week, I went to Hongdae to try and snap some pictures the way I did when I first came to Seoul by myself in 2017. I tried to splash on some fresh eyes to feel like it was my first time there. A lot has changed. The fresh eyes were undermined by my ‘but I’ve been living here for almost a year’ eyes. I no longer find myself taking pictures of absolutely everything. I no longer find myself taking pictures of random people and stopping in the middle of the street to do so. The moments are no longer fleeting. I know that I can always just come back next week if I miss a shot or get sick of walking around. So, for these reasons and for life just kind of happening, I began to lose direction with my blog this year. I was working full time and felt like a subway zombie most days. Blogging was the furthest thing from my mind. I need to find my trigger happy camera fingers again!
I am going to take the next few weeks to regroup my South Korean-ness and see what I can bring to this little internet oasis blog. I have also decided to open up an Etsy shop where I will sell digital prints, planners and templates to try my luck at a “side hustle”. I will do a semi-official launch when I am happy with the shop and will open up a separate page on this blog for you to see what I will be selling! So, if you have seen some of my illustrations, stick around because soon you will be able to purchase high-resolution downloads to print out for your own home! My Etsy store is called ‘Korean Picnic’ and I can’t wait for you to come and join!
I wanted to use this powerful blogging platform to share with you one of my favourite tourist attractions in South Korea: the humble highway rest stop. Perhaps it’s because of the relief from getting out of a car during a long trip to stretch your legs. Or maybe it’s the delicious offerings that they have? In Korean, these little pockets of road trip heaven are called a ‘Hyugeso’ or 휴게소 in Korean!
You can only really access these stops if you’re heading out of town. Most bus trips that are long enough will take a 15 minute rest at one of these places. My face literally lit up when I heard the announcement that we were about to pull into a Hyugeso over the weekend. We travelled from Yeosu to Seoul which is about a four hour drive so a stop for hotdogs and walnut cakes was a necessity! However, the short allotted time period will make you feel like you’re on a reality game show where you have to see how much street food you can consume in 15 minutes with a toilet break thrown in somewhere. Continue reading to see the rest stops in all of their glory.
It is widely known that when the sun starts to set in the mountains, it is time to stop at a ‘Hyugeso’ and eat until your heart’s content. It’s a very famous proverb first used during the Goreyo dynasty. That’s a ‘chicken or egg’, ‘car or rest stop’ question we don’t have time to answer here today and I am obviosly joking.
Korean Walnut Cakes
So, let me introduce you to the main reason I love Hyugeso’s: walnut cakes. In Korean they’re called ‘hodu gwaja’ which translates to walnut snacks. (The word ‘cracker’ really undersells the soft pockets of heaven that you will find in your $3 bag that you will inevitably buy after reading such an influential blog post as this). The walnut cakes are filled with sweet and silky red bean paste and are best served hot, fresh from the Ajumma selling them to you. These are tricky to find beyond the confines of a Korean highway rest area but, in my not so humble opinion, it’s worth organising a quick bus/car getaway to try them out. Or even worth an impromptu South Korea trip you didn’t know you needed. Not really. But really.
Have you tried anything at a Korean highway rest stop? Let me know what your favourite snacks are and I’ll be sure to give them a try! Leave a comment below!
Let’s do a recap of the day where I ordered enough fried chicken to feed a small family and took creepy photos on the subway in Seoul. I’ve been having a minor breakdown in Seoul and I’ve realised that six weeks of Korean lessons prior to arriving here was in fact, not enough. Seoul also appears (to me) to be a very social city and so it feels quite isolating to wander around on your lonesome, eating fried chicken by yourself and getting sauce all over your face without having anyone there to tell you. However, I’ve discovered that the cure for said lonely feelings is to sit in a cafe surrounded by other lonely people. As we speak, the people around me are all studiously tapping and writing away, reading furiously and I even saw a group of people downstairs coding in a big nerdy huddle. The future of this country is literally being developed in this very Starbucks, it feels so exciting. Here are some photos snapped on my journey of doing nothing but everything at the same time.
Streets of shops and restaurants go on for days in Myeongdong.
Phone case frenzy
It started raining lightly and everyone went into full panic mode, people were practically throwing money at umbrella vendors and taking shelter.
Cleaning supplies so colourful that it would almost make me want to clean. Almost.
Here is an entire chicken I ordered and a giant bottle of beer. I wanted to try the real deal here in Korea considering I regularly eat Korean Fried Chicken in Melbourne. I successfully ordered in broken Korean and even asked for a bag so I could take away the other three quarters of the chicken that I couldn’t eat. Hello, left over fried chicken for dinner, anyone? I think I might sit in the shower and eat it so I don’t leave sticky-handprint-chicken-crumb marks all over my apartment.
A sea of fried chicken restaurants in Myeongdong.
From one train, looking out to the other platforms.
City Hall Station.
I accidentally bought the T Money card bundle that is meant for couples. I now have an awkward matching train card for the oppa that I don’t have, so sad. I can’t imagine Myki coming out with a couples range. (Update: Shortly after I posted this, I fell in love with my now-Oppa!)
My trip to Seoul started on a high note when my camera decided to be on some kind of freaky dystopian setting (see pics below). Schlepping my bags from Hong Kong to Korea was more of a hazed nightmare than a ‘this is real life and I’m alive’ situation. Yo, cities of the world, get some escalators? Get a lift? Just one or two? By the time I’d reached the train station near my Seoul Airbnb I was about ready to just leave my suitcase on the train. I mean, I didn’t have much hope of carrying it up the stairs anyway? Surely I can just pick it up on my way home? Alas, I pushed on with a level of strength and resilience that I wasn’t aware I possessed and arrived at my adorable apartment in Dongdaemun. I’m currently in shock and have had several existential crises today. It’s always so fun to realise just how BAD your language skills are! Just look at all that room for improvement and learning! More Seoul snaps to come once I figure out how the heck to get anywhere. Peace
When I saw the queue to board the Victoria Peak tram at 10:30 this morning, I ducked and rolled for my life and got the hell out of there. Not because I don’t love waiting in the scorching heat to board an un-air-conditioned, clunky heap of metal, it’s just that I didn’t have a hat or very much sunscreen on and I’d seen a sign for the botanical gardens just minutes beforehand. It would be rude to NOT see which types of plants and birds they had. (Truth be told, I’m a huge fan of zoos and I can’t turn down a free inner city zoological experience). I quickly realised that my pale Irish skin and my weak little chicken knees were not so keen on zoological and botanical gardens, but I pushed on and found some red bin chickens and a beautifully mouldy stairwell. There were also a few instances where I wasn’t sure if I was sweating profusely or just crying a little bit (probably a cocktail of both).
… and I was hoping everyone else knew where they were going so I could pretend to fit in and just follow the crowds. I’m a huge sucker for a boat trip, I just love boats. I think it’s because I get the opposite of sea sick, I get sea-soothed. I just love the crusty taste of sea salt in my hair. If you’re planning a trip to Hong Kong, I highly recommend just jumping on a sea vessel and praying you end up on dry land and not in the middle of a seedy pacific pirate drug deal. I think I had the other boat passengers fooled, they definitely looked at me and thought ‘wow that girl really knows where she’s going in life’. They weren’t wrong.
I’m 85% sure I caught a ferry to Kowloon and I’m 15% sure that I will always make sure I know where I’m going when boarding a sea vehicle.
I have arrived in Hong Kong and I have already sweated away half of my body fat. I only have one full day here so I am going to go out and make the most of it! I just spent an hour walking around the streets in Central Hong Kong taking photographs, which will be posted soon! So far, I’m loving the colours of the city and the work ethic of old people just pushing heavy things up steep hills! Where are they going with all of those heavy boxes? Do they all hang out together at the top of the hill and celebrate their good health? So many questions. So little time to find the answers!
I drew this during some really minimal turbulence on the way here but I decided to exaggerate just how turbulent it was for the sake of a cute drawing.
Monday the 14th of August is the date I’ve been throwing into casual conversation a lot as of late. The date that I would fly to Hong Kong and begin my 6 month trip abroad in the hope that I would be challenged terribly and grow exponentially as a human being. Before I embark on this daunting experience, I wanted to write about my obsessive tendencies and introduce you to the organised chaos that is my brain. I’m not a spontaneous person, I mean, I’m writing this blog post well before I even do anything interesting… I’ve been packing for months, cleaning my clothes, editing my packing list, making sure that I have the perfect amount of clothing for each seasonal change I experience and ensuring that my skincare routine will not be disrupted throughout the trip. I will also be keeping a meticulous journal of every significant and insignificant thing that happens to me on this trip both digitally and paper-ly in an attempt to mark the exact moments that I felt I grew as a person and ultimately became the best version of myself. Don’t expect spontaneity on this blog, it will make it all the more exciting when something spontaneous does happen!!!! I hope to document my journey from Melbourne to Hong Kong to Seoul to Daejeon to Tokyo with photographs, illustrations and terrible English posts! Enjoy!