I wish I could be famous for something important, something meaningful, something that changed the world. Instead, I'm famous for a photo of my [idiot] pug, Wallace. And worse than that - it's really the photo that is famous, not me. (Go ahead and google "pug tulips" and see how many hits you get.)
But, that photo changed my life the day I got the phone call from NYC that it had swept an online vote and won me a whirlwind trip to South Korea, courtesy of Travel & Leisure Magazine, Korean Air, and Lotte Hotels. I didn't even know people really won those contests, I had always doubted the grand prizes. All of a sudden, I needed a passport, and I needed to buy some travel and etiquette guides all about Korea.
Had you asked me to name my Top 50 destinations, I can't lie: Ethiopia and Croatia would have been on the list, but Korea may not have cracked even the bottom. I'd never really heard all that much about it, when people I knew went to Asia it was to Vietnam or Thailand, China or Japan. In kindergarten I was besties with a little boy whose family had emigrated from Korea, and they owned a Korean convenience store down the block. That was genuinely the closest I had been to Korean culture.
I'm going to take some time on the blog in the next several posts to relive my incredible trip to the country I knew so little about, but now carry in my heart. My first post will be a simple visit to the airport, and the longest flight I've ever taken.
My husband (then boyfriend) has traveled the world and even lived in other countries, so I will make another admission: I was much gladder to be traveling with him than alone for my first Big Trip. But even he had never experienced the pleasure of Korean Air and its Business Class accommodations.
We flew to LAX on a Thursday afternoon, and stayed at a hotel airport. The next morning we cabbed over to the terminal, and the first treat was that due to our business class seats, we got to skip the lines and check our bags. Our bags were also tagged and guaranteed to be the first two suitcases off of the flight, as we had been the first two to check in.
We passed through security, and then got to flash our tickets and passports at the desk of the Business Class lounge. It was suitably swanky and well-appointed, with beautiful, clean bathrooms and showers, comfy furniture, and a wonderful spread of snacks, meals, beers, wine, and more. When the boarding time came, we wandered to the gate, where we discovered we had a completely private boarding area.
We were incredibly excited as we were about to board an Airbus A380 - the famous jumbo-ist of the jumbo planes in the skies today. We were giggling that if Business Class were this wonderful, what would First Class have been like? (We can only imagine, alas.) On the Korean Air A-380, Business takes up the second floor of the plane. First Class had its own boarding area downstairs, separate from the Economy, but we had the entire floor to ourselves.
When we boarded we were greeted by name and lead to our seats, classical music was playing, and immediately we were offered fresh juice, hot towels, and were given tiny cans of Jeju Water* for misting ourselves in flight. (*Jeju-do is the magical Hawaii of Korea we got to visit later on our trip.) We had every amenity you could imagine, from English and Korean language newspapers, sleep masks, slippers, toothpaste and toothbrushes, I can hardly recall all the goodies in our little travel bags from Korean Air. We of course had chargers in our seats, plenty of storage, blankets, pillows, and lots of room to stretch out.
We were excitedly taking goofy selfies and getting situated and it didn't seem to take long at all before we were told to buckle up for the take off. We turned on our monitors to watch the live-feed of our take off from the cameras mounted on the plane. The A380 is incredibly silent despite its size, and takes a long, slow trip to cruising altitude. Our seats were lay-flat, we could watch movies and TV, and order snacks of ramen and hot cookies and drinks whenever we wished.
There was a bar in the back of Business Class, just for us, sponsored by Absolut Vodka. They had 10 signature cocktails, incredible jerky, and tasty little crust-less sandwiches, plus large bench-seat style couches where you could sit and watch out the windows as the world rolled slowly beneath you.
We were served an incredible meal of many courses, with pre-drink service, apps, soup, main course, cheese tray, dessert, and wonderful breads and teas. And that was just the lunch! Our dinner fare was lighter, with salad, a main course, fruit, and bread. The service was wonderful - though their flight attendants are slightly different in behavior from their domestic counterparts. We found we had to request that they remove things when we were finished, as opposed to the US version of flying when things are taken off your tray whether you like it or not.
I cannot imagine being cooped up in a small seat for the 14-ish hour flight. I took full advantage of the adjustable, lay flat seat and stretched out a few times for a snooze. When feeling too stir-crazy, we would wander on back to the bar. Business Class was not full, either, so it was quiet and easy to nap, unlike many other flights I have taken. Just as I was thinking I couldn't possibly be on the flight any longer, it was time to prepare for landing.
After some 14-odd hours in the sky, we landed at Incheon Airport just after dinner time, the next day. (Through the magic of air and time travel, we lost a day when we flew there, but gained a day when we returned.) Customs in Korea was a cinch, and we breezed through, with my first stamp in my proudly-held passport, and as promised our two suitcases came off the plane first.
We had researched means to get from Incheon, well outside of Seoul, into the city to our first Lotte hotel. We had considered the trains, and cabs, but discovered that with our ticket stubs from Korean Air we got a discount on their shuttle service (they call it a limo, but it's a bus), which stopped at various Lotte destinations, and departed Incheon every 30 minutes. We made our way through the terminal (well-signed for English speakers) and were able to easily acquire tickets for the ride into Seoul with Korean Won that we had gotten at a bank in Portland the week before our trip.
And so began our first night in a country neither of us had visited.
The next blog will pick up with the ride into the city, our hotel, and our first hours of exploration.