So much time has passed since our time in Seoul. We had but a few days there before heading back to New York and, for me, one of those was spent entirely in our hotel room, running between the bed and bathroom with food poisoning. I was relieved that we'd decided to skip the love motels and had opted instead to stay in 126 Mansion, a family-owned bed-and-breakfast that was a little more expensive than we'd hoped but cozy and quiet. There comes a time at two or three weeks of travel when I get restless and start to crave both the comfort and shock of returning home, when I need to get some space between the things I've seen in order to actually see and think about them. That feeling, coupled with being sick, made me really appreciate the B&B—from the hearty breakfast served by a woman still in her pajamas to the messy flowing bookshelves to the melee of eclectic artwork and personal keepsakes lining every shelf and surface, it felt unpretentious and easygoing, very much like home.
Once I recovered, we were able to venture out and explore our neighborhood, Insadong. Beyond Insadong's boutique shops, modern cafes, old teahouses, and restaurants, we found Bukchon, a maze of cobblestone alleyways jaunting up and down the mountain filled with traditional hanoks (traditional Korean homes). This is where Paul's father had lived for a little while when he was a baby. Soon after he was born, around the Korean War, his family had to sell all of their belongings and move to the country; Bukchon became a large marketplace for trading antiques. Decades later, the merchants migrated down to the main streets of Insadong and the village became empty and serene again. Now only homes and a few old teahouses remain. The neighborhood felt like an elegant ode to nature, the homes constructed entirely of clay, wood and stone, and pathways prettily cluttered with potted plants and brick stilts. When the streets began to fill with tourists, we had to move on, spending the rest of our time strolling along the Han river and rushing around the city to shop for gifts.
Our nights were most memorable. Paul's cousins toured us around their favorite places in Cheongdam, Gangnam, and Itaewon, and we visited the Gwangjang night market, packed with drunk businessmen and 20-somethings, where we sampled soondae (blood sausage), Mayak kimbap (rolls) and bindaeduk (pancakes). On our final night, we got to see a friend perform with his band, Genius, in an intimate bar in Hongdae, which felt more like someone's cool basement than a venue, and listened to live music late into the night. Early the next morning we left Korea, delirious from lack of sleep and physically exhausted, but full and happy from the perfect send-off. Some small details and savored moments during our brief time in Seoul, the last leg of our trip, below.