MONDAY, MARCH 9, 2009 – 60/84 – INCHON AND SEOUL
We awake as the ship approaches the locks into the “pool” of the port of Incheon. There is a big tidal change here and the pool and lock system allow the port to function at all tidal stages. After breakfast, we change our 6,000 left over Japanese Yen and $40US for Korean Wan. 6,000¥ is roughly $60US so, in our minds, we are going to get approximately $100US in Korean Wan or approximately 150,000₩. There is a big line to change money and we are not paying as much attention as we should. The two Korean bankers are harried and, for the first time in my life, the money exchange error falls our way. Now, I can say with all honesty, the error does not register with us until after we have been to Seoul and returned to the ship at the end of the day. In fact, we have sailed. We sit down and figure up what we have in Wan, after having spent over 100,000₩ during the day. BING!! We have way more Wan than expected. If fact, we figure we were given approximately 700,000₩ when we should have received 150,000₩. It is too late to try to fix the error. If we had realized it sooner, we would have attempted to do so but now we accept our good fortune.
The port lecturer has given Carolyn some directions and places written in Korean and we feel we have a handle on our day. There are actually two subway stations in Incheon and she has suggested the East Incheon Station. We leave the ship about 9:30 and pick up a walking map to the Incheon Subway station, an Incheon map and Seoul city maps at the welcome booth on the pier. We exit the port with the intention of heading to the “end of the line Incheon Station” as directed by the map. Fortunately, we find a taxi as it is quite some distance to either of the stations. Carolyn shows him the port area map and he looks quite puzzled so Dick shows him the Korean word and off we go …to the East Incheon Station…in the opposite direction from the one on the map! We look at each other and wait. A few minutes later, we arrive at the Doug-Incheon or East station. Ok, this works ! We buy two tickets to Seoul for ₩3,200 and off we go for the one-hour/30 mile ride. There are some 18 stops and it seems to take forever as the cars become more and more crowded as we approach Seoul.
We finally get off at Seoul Station about 10:45 and immediately catch a taxi. We show the guy the map with the Gyeonbokgung Palace located and written in Korean. Traffic is horrible and after awhile he goes sailing by the Palace gates and tour buses and pulls up at a gateway behind the Palace. OK, Carolyn sees a sign for the National Folk Museum. Since this is a place we thought about going, we head to the information office at the entrance. Fortunately, there is nice young woman in there who explains we can access the palace by the back gate near the museum. She also gives us a booklet with some very detailed maps of the various areas of interest to tourists and shows us how to walk to each. The Folk Museum is much like the ones we visited in the Baltic countries where they have moved in a collection of houses and other items of historical significance to the grounds and with building housing various collections. We walk around the grounds, but skip the indoor museum as we visited a great one the last time we were in Korea. We then enter the Palace grounds though the back gate, which turns out to be a great idea as far as saving time and retracing of our steps. Gyeongbokgung is the main royal palace for the Joseon Dynasty. It was originally built in 1395 and rebuilt after the Japanese destroyed it when they invaded in 1592. The day is overcast and cool but bright and the old, colorful buildings are interesting with explainations in English. There are many Koreans and foreign tourists including the Princess tour exploring the compound. It is noon by the time we reach the front main gate where they are conducting a very colorful changing of the guard ceremony.
Next, we walk about ½ mile to Insadong-gil, a well known shopping street running north-south. There are all sorts of shops, antique stores and food establishments. From our past trips we think Korea has some of the prettiest inlayed work we have ever seen. After some window shopping, we buy two, beautiful, mother-of-pearl inlaid boxes as gifts for two dear friends. Carolyn also buys some writing paper and envelopes for which the area is well known. Now we continue our walk generally in the direction back toward Seoul Station.
We finally reach the Cheonggyecheon Stream area after walking through the equivalent of Home Depot; dozens of little shops selling everything to build, repair or remodel your house. The shops display sheet metal duct-work, electrical wire and fixtures, plumbing items, fire extinguishers, tools for rent, etc. This Stream was covered over with a highway after the Korean War, but was restored in 2005 into a park like area running through the center of the city. It is still winter here, but with all the plantings, it is probably very nice in the spring.
Now, we catch a cab to the Namdaemun Market area. This is a rabbit warren of little shops and street stalls and arcades. The market dates back over 600 years in this location; near the Namdaemun gate to the old walled city. It is a mad house of people buying and selling everything from socks to electronics with street vendor foods,beggars and money-changers thrown in for leavening.The most interesting food we see is several vendors selling, what looks like, servings of steamed cockroaches. Whatever they are, they are definitely some beetle or larvae about the size of a fingernail and brown in color. We decide to pass!
It is a little after 2:00PM and we had given ourselves until 2:45PM to be back on the subway heading out of town. Feeling good that we have plenty of time, we now head back for the subway station and promptly get on the right train, Line 1, but with the wrong final destination. We need to take Line 1 to Incheon final destination, but in our direction, Line 1 actually has two final destinations, a small detail we haven’t picked up on! The trains are packed, since we are heading out of downtown, and we have to stand. We do not realize our mistake until we pull into a station and hear a brief announcement that we should exit here to transfer to a train for Incheon? Being quick studies, it only takes us two more stops to confirm our mistake, get off, and catch a train in the opposite direction!
Now we are pushing our time to return to the ship…..all on board by 4:30PM. After a tense trip and a cab ride in late afternoon traffic, we skid up to the gangway at 4:35PM to a mild scolding from the security officer. We are probably the last passengers to board as the pilot arrives soon after us and they pull in the gangway and we are gone from the dock by 4:50PM. Fortunately, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. We do wonder what would have happened if we had been left as the ship keeps our passports and we would have needed to fly to either Shanghai or Hong Kong. Perhaps we will allow a little greater safety margin for our travel time in the future.
Even with the mishap on the subway, we have a good time in Incheon and are not discouraged about doing ports on our own. Hey, we are traveling around the world! We need to take these kinds of things in our stride. Carolyn did spend the last 20 minutes of the subway ride reviewing our options if we miss ship! She figured Princess would have to get our passports and luggage to us at some point!
Back at the ship, we watch sail-away from our verandaand order a dinner of salad, steak, fettuccine and a bottle of red wine as soon as the dining room opens. We are asleep by 8:30!