Wednesday 29 May 2019

Seoul, Day One - A long way to the loo

With thanks to Air New Zealand for this famil
It feels very weird to have dinner as usual and afterwards sit down on the sofa to start watching our habitual programmes - and then, at 7.30pm, to get into the car and drive to the ferry to begin a journey to South Korea. Bizarre, even. With an overlay of anxiety because the pre-dinner news featured an item about the increasing unreliability of Waiheke ferries, and I really didn't want to fall at the first fence.

The ferry chugged up on time, though, and all was well - until the second fence, the SkyBus to the airport, which simply didn't turn up. The printed timetable promised one at 9pm, but it didn't come, and then I noticed that the electronic sign said the next one would be at 10pm. Phoning for clarification was no good: the help number took me to Melbourne, and the local number I eventually found hidden away simply stated, when rung: "This number cannot respond to calls from mobile phones". Er, what? 

So I stomped off to take a taxi, which was the extortionate rip-off I expected: $94. That's three times the SkyBus return fare, and almost three times what a pre-booked Cheap Cap would cost. Painful. Trust me, complaints are in process.

[UPDATE: Full refund promptly actioned, with apology. Consider me mollified.]

But then it all got better: I met my Air NZ host and Newshub companions, we checked in Premium, and breezed through to the fancy new Koru lounge to wait for our 11.55pm flight to Singapore. Sadly, not in Business class, but Premium Economy which, since my last flight was in Qatar Airways' Business, felt rather more economy than premium. But the seats are wider and more spread out, there's a nice pillow, and though the seat doesn't recline as far as an Eziboy, which is my personal measure of such things,  it does have a footrest and it was still possible to get comfortable enough to sleep adequately. I skipped the dinner that some people opted for - breakfast was nice.
We arrived at Singapore a bit late because of headwinds, and were officially escorted to a buggy to be whisked what seemed miles past endless fancy shops and people looking vacant in massage chairs, to our gate for the Singapore Airlines leg to Seoul. This was, disappointingly, economy class (I KNOW!) and it did feel like it too: an A350,-900, 3:3:3 configuration and very snug seats. Truly, I had no-one next to me, and am neither wide nor tall, but even I felt cramped. The TV screen was so close I had to put my reading glasses on and even then it wasn't comfortable to watch. And, they took half the 7-hour flight to get around to serving dinner, which was an inordinately long delay. Good thing it was worth waiting for - delicious Korean chicken rice. A great omen, I hope.

We landed mid-afternoon, breezed through their big, airy airport and were met by Sue, our local guide, who took us to a minibus with flowered curtains and fringed pelmets above the windows, in which we drove the unexpectedly long way into the city. Like 62km! And Sue was hoping, since we were ahead of the rush-hour, that it would take "Only 90 minutes".

And, in fact, it did: away off the island of Incheon, past many green hills, over the bridge to the mainland, and along the Han River, spanned by a variety of bridges, all impressively engineered and busy with traffic. We passed the Lotte World Tower, looking Shard-like, the stadium built for the 1988 Olympics, which still looms large in the local consciousness, uncountable numbers of tall apartment buildings, lots of trees, and, finally, the vast COEX convention centre which includes our Intercontinental hotel.
It's five-star but, spoilt by my hotel history, my room seemed pretty standard to me - until I went into the bathroom. Well! There it was, my first electric toilet. The first shock was that the seat was heated, but I soon, er, warmed to that idea. I studied the options for washing, and drying, and can report that the process is pleasant, accurate and effective. I shall return; and not just because nature requires it.

For dinner we kind of piked it, going to a recommended US Gastropub in the vast mall beneath the hotel - Devil's Door. It's built like a brick warehouse with a huge screen above the bar, showing a Korean baseball game - it's one of the biggest sports here, who knew? - and served food in battered enamel buckets, that kind of place. We startled the waiter by each of us ordering something, and understood his astonishment when the food arrived (very fast). The portions were huge! But it was all very tasty and we did a valiant job of eating most of it.

Then we popped upstairs to the 30th floor to look at the night view of the city - pretty good - and to have yet another drink, before finally retiring to bed and the day's final unexpected result. You know how there's always one light in a new hotel room that you can't find the switch for to turn off? Always. Sometimes I've had to ring down to reception for help, the switch was so cunningly hidden. Well, tonight, I couldn't find it to turn the ceiling lights above the bed ON. That was novel. And no doubt tomorrow will bring more surprises.

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