Oct 30

Journey to the East : 20 hrs in the air.

21 Oct 2019:

I never thought this day would arrive, but it has. I suffered through my last couple of night shifts on the ward and pulled through on a Friday morning.
We placed the puppy in the kennels on a Saturday and then went to Penny’s in town for the usual pre-holiday top up of clothes. I didn’t buy much, just a nice maroon scarf and some cute undies. R goes all out (as an excuse, really) and buys everything. As if he needs more socks and jocks!


My sleep schedule is always turned on its head getting off night shifts so I tend to sleep at odd hours anyway, so on Sunday I slept in until the afternoon. I woke up, cleaned up the house a bit, emptied out the fridge of any perishables left and then proceeded to pack. I was mindful to not over-do it coz I always pack way too many things. You should have seen my bag for Gran Canaria. I think we went to have brunch at Dillinger’s as well that day which is always nice coz their American-style brunch menus always hit the right notes when you are starving. Great coffees too.



Emirates Airlines allows 25kg for each passenger; I only packed 16kg (still too much?). I thought I did pretty well since I only packed a single hoodie and 2 beanie hats ~ it is autumn in Korea after all. The rest was leggings and socks. Some electronic equipment. Makeup and personal hygiene products. An extra pair of shoes in case the one I am wearing gets wet, and a pair of flip flops for good measure.  Oh, and a large knee length puffy coat as backup. (This info is all pertinent to the story. Please read on).

Monday dawned bright and sunny. Blue skies up above. It was going to be a great day to travel. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 13:50 hrs so we took the 10:30 am Airport Shuttle and got there in plenty of time. The queue at the Emirates desk was already pretty long by the time we arrived. However, Emirates being who they are, this line of people was processed in no time at all. Once the bags were securely checked in we went off to buy our customary hot chicken sandwich from the deli in Terminal 1. We have to have this every single time we fly, it’s become a thing. We didn’t have all that much time to eat it at the deli so we got it to go, walked all the way back to Terminal 2 and cleared security.

Now I was REALLY excited. I kept telling R how excited I was that we were really heading to Korea whilst unconsciously hitting him on the arm.
At the gates everything seemed nice and orderly. Did notice there was a considerable number of screaming kids running about but that’s why we travel with noise cancelling headphones these days.

We were boarded according to zones in an orderly fashion … people at the back of the plane board first (apart from parents with screaming kids, of course) followed by those closer to the front. First class and business class passengers get their own sky tunnel that don’t mix with us peasants. This flight was to be the first leg of our journey east. About 8 hrs to Dubai then we change to a bigger jet, the A380 to Seoul. I was just reading some facts about the double-decker A380 planes and it states the aircraft has a capacity to hold over 800 passengers!! Staggering!



Everything looked sleek and nice on board. Leg room was rather spacious and tv screens were generous, This was my first time on an Emirates carrier and so far I was very impressed. The crew looked gorgeous and so well put together, just like all their fancy ads on TV. On this leg of the flight passengers consisted mainly European and Indian nationals. On the second leg Dubai – Seoul the carrier was dominated by all the Koreans heading home from their holidays in Dubai. R and I were seated in a row with just 2-seats side by side … just the two of us. Yaaaay. Did not have to bother the lone third passenger whenever I needed to get something from my backpack or when I needed to restroom.


Would I say this was the longest flight I have ever been on?? No. The longest flight I have been on was ten years ago when I departed Australia for my new life in Europe. It took me about 26 hours total. That was a rough day, let’s just leave it at that. So I would say I handled this journey to Korea pretty well actually. It was with a lovely airline, comfy seats, excellent staff and only 8-hours for each leg with a 3-hour stop in between. Our pilot announced that our flight path would take us all across Turkey into Iraqi airspace, then follow the Persian Gulf until we finally arrive in Dubai. How exciting! I have never flown that route before!




Soon, as we settled in to the flight and we were done climbing to altitude cabin crews came round handing out menus on a silver tray. I must say we were well looked after by the crew of Emirates. Food was good too ~ I had the seared chicken with peppers and risotto, delicious! The cabin was full but it did not feel cramped … also, the air conditioning worked well so I was a happy camper. Total time to destination : 7hrs 40m.

R sat next to me and basically ignored me for the duration of the flight, headphones firmly on his head as he ploughed through reading some business psychology and management books. I entertained myself by taking pictures of random things and pushing buttons on my screen.




After lunch service we settled in for movie time. Outside the sky was turning a brilliant watercolour canvas of purples, pinks and oranges as we jetted our way towards the night.
By the time we got to the Turkish-Iraqi border we could not see anything outside; pitch black. Eventually we got closer to the gulf and I was keen to end the flight, to get out and stretch my legs … keen to get the first leg out of the way and to begin the next so I could finally step on Korean soil. Suddenly a glimmer of light caught my eye. I looked out the window and all I could see was this tiny orange glow, all alone out there in the vast blackness. For a moment I could not make out what it could be. There were no other sources of light around it, and the light was flickering. Then another orange glow came into view, and another and another… all dotted across the darkness in random order casting an eerie muted light everywhere. And then it hit me; they were the flames of oil refineries, so many of them. To the left of the plane lay all of Iran, to the right was Kuwait, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar … every single one of them had towers of flames burning in the night. Witnessing this gave me goosebumps coz the Lord of the Rings fan in me immediately thought of the Beacons of Gondor. If you are a LotR enthusiast or have watched the movies you will know what I mean.

       ”The beacons are lit! Gondor calls for aid!”
      ” And Rohan shall answer”



Beneath us the Persian Gulf sprawled wider than I ever imagined it would, and all along its shores sat a great convoy of ships. Oil tankers with flood lights parked up at the ports and it looked really really busy down there all of a sudden … so much activity in the dead of night. … I was transfixed to my window because I have never seen anything like it. It was amazing!


An hour later we arrived in Dubai International Airport ~ it was midnight local time but is was crazyyyy busy in there. We had to transfer from Terminal A to Terminal B and that involved a monorail ride. Not many shops were open so that was a bummer, and R was hungry again so we ended up in McDonald’s coz he refuses to eat airplane food. We had a four hour layover so we passed the time munching on burgers and me shopping around at the souvenir shop buying magnets for Mom. I would have bought more things but I had to remind myself that there was more shopping to be had once I got to Korea, so I reigned it in. A few magnets was all that I bought.



4 a.m rolled by and soon we were boarding our connecting flight en route to Seoul. We were starting to feel the exhaustion and were thankful for the bigger seats and comfortable ambiance on board. The cabin crew wasted no time in serving out the meals then promptly told everybody to pull down all the blinds and dimmed the lights so that passengers could sleep. Comfort packs were handed out … little pouches containing a sleep mask, sleep socks, ear plugs, toothbrush and toothpaste. I could barely keep my eyes open at this stage and movie dialogues were no longer making any sense to me … even when Hugh Grant was talking.



Eventually, I turned on some music, drew my sleep mask over my face and fell asleep for a few short but much needed hours. Guess what I listened to in my slumber … haha!
BTS Map of the Soul: Persona. The sound of 7 precious guys serenading me to sleep on my way to see them in their city. Like, how crazy is this?? Four months ago I couldn’t care less about who Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS) boys were. They were a Korean pop boyband, therefore not on my radar. The extent of my interest in Korea started and ended with Korean drama shows that are extremely popular in my country … but that’s about it. I have watched and loved K-dramas since high school but that never translated into a need to visit South Korea. After graduation many of my friends and work colleagues were already making regular trips over there, but not me. This was back when I lived a mere 6-hours away.

Now, I was on a plane flying across two continents, having spent thousands of euro on this trip, all to see 7 kids (the youngest is twenty-one) at a concert I don’t have tickets to. If this isn’t a *facepalm* moment, I don’t know what is.

Friends and family have expressed their shock and surprise in recent weeks as my Facebook and Twitter feeds started blowing up with K-pop news and content. My best friend sent me a text with just a single ,”Reeeeaaaaalllllyyyy?!?



By the time I woke up we were over Beijing and more food was being served to passangers. This time we were given a choice of either western or Korean meal options and I chose to have the rice, spicy beef and kimchi. For breakfast they served chicken rice porridge and kimchi. I haven’t had rice porridge in about 10 yrs and I must say for an airline quality meal it tasted pretty darn good. The chicken was not dry and the kimchi went very well to spice things up. The spicy beef was AMAZING actually  Rice was cooked to perfection and the beef was still juicy and very flavourful. I don’t remember liking kimchi in my younger days this made me have second thoughts. Now that I am finally home I think I will continue eating kimchi as part of and effort to improve my overall eating habits and for better digestive health.



I tried my best to look through all the external video cameras of the aircraft to see if I could get a hint of the Great Wall of China down below, but sadly cloud cover was too thick and video visibility was limited. Maybe I could have seen some semblance of the structure out my window had it not been for the fact that we were seated next to the wing of the place and this aircraft wing, Lord above, was HUGE!! I literally could not see a thing out my window except for this giant wing. It is my firm belief that had we been sitting further behind or front I would have been able to glimpse the Great Wall. Alas, my seating choice was not in favour of that.


Eventually, the plane started descending, my ears started popping (ouch!) and I silently cursed again that I could not look out my window for my first glimpse of Korea. I had to be content with the external cameras on the plane’s tail and nose and watched the landing strip as it came closer and closer into view. There was a thick haze in the air that turned the sun red even though it was only 5 pm. Looking through the video screen as the aircraft taxied to the terminal you got a real sense as to the sheer size of this thing … the wingspan was huge! The other thing I realized with planes this big: disembarkation took foreverrrrrrr.


My legs felt so stiff as I hoisted by backpack over my shoulders and shuffled to the front of the plane. I had hastily shoved my feet into my shoes without doing up the laces and I still had my fluffy bedroom socks on. As I passed a cabin crew member at the doors she diligently notified me to be careful as my laces were undone. I nodded in her general direction and stepped off the plane onto the sky tunnel thinking that once I get to an area where I am not blocking other passengers I will attend to my wayward laces. However, she called after me and what she said next caught me by total surprise, ”Ma’am, shall I tie them up for you?” Wow. So Emirates doesn’t just talk the talk … they really prioritize customer care. As I waved her off with a smile and an appreciative shake of my head declining her kind offer I thought, she’s a real asset to this company.



At the terminal there was a loooooong line of people filling in forms as there was a health screening taking place. It would seem there were a few outbreaks of African Swine Flu in the country hence the standard health questionnaire and temperature screening. I don’t know how long this health screening thing is going to stick around for but here’s a word of advice: fill up your health forms early, preferably while still on-board the plane. If you turn up at the desk with an unfilled or partially filled form you will be turned away and shoved at the back of the line all over again. This is why I always travel with a pen handy, for instances just like this. The cabin crew will be handing out these forms just before landing and it can be tricky trying to fill in this form then, while you fumble for documents, passport and pen, all while cabin staff come round telling you to put your tray table back up to prepare for landing.


Then came the immigration process. They take finger prints and a camera takes an image of you for their database … pfftt, no one is safe these days from facial recognition technology. After all that they don’t even stamp your passport! I was pretty miffed about that actually. I traveled all this way, put up with your long lines, filled in your health check forms and passed through infrared scanners, you took my fingerprints and took my photo … the least YOU could do was to officially acknowledge my arrival in my travel document.


Once out in the arrivals terminal it was time for me to locate the Klook (pronounced K-Look) counter to obtain our Discover Seoul Passes which I had pre-ordered. You can pick these up either at the airport or at a Tourist Office of your choice in the city. The pass functions like any other visitor pass of any big touristy city ~ it gives you free access to certain main attractions in the city and discounts to other outlets. This card comes with a leaflet inside the pack that shows you what attractions you can get for free and what comes at a discount.

Benefits of getting the DISCOVER SEOUL PASS include:

  • access to 36 attractions for FREE
  • discounted access to 64 other attractions
  • receive discounts at duty free outlets and stores even after the card expires
  • comes in 24hr, 48hr and 72hr options
  • comes as a physical card or mobile version
  • pass doubles as a transport card that you can load money on to  (**not applicable with the Limited Edition BTS pass)
  • gives you a one time FREE access to the AREX express train from Incheon International Airport to Seoul city or the other way round
  • the time limit on the card will only activate upon the first use



I purchased the Limited Edition BTS version, of course. Paid €60 for two cards and then barely used them during our visit (I’ll explain why in a later post).

I figured this would not just function as a travel card for me but a memento of my time in Korea.



Speaking of the AREX train, I did not know that the SEOUL PASS allowed me a single journey from the airport to the city so I pre-booked our AREX tickets online, also via Klook website. At the time they were having a special rate and I only paid like €5 per ticket. Now, getting to the AREX platform was not as clearly sign posted as I thought it would be. Many signs will say ‘TRAINS’ or ‘RAILWAY’. Just finding the ticket counter for the AREX was just as confusing as there are two train ticket counters, both of which are poorly sign posted.
We got to the first counter and it had this hand-written sign on a piece of A4 paper that simply said THIS IS NOT THE AREX COUNTER. Very helpful there. Finally we located the counter we had been looking for, about 150m away from the first one and she scanned our booking form and issued us our tickets.

Down on the platform you wait on the same platform as all the other trains. Just be sure to pay attention to the announcements and board the correct train. The AREX express comes every 30 mins while the other trains are more regular. Seating is designated and there are spaces for you to put your luggage near the doors or above your seats.

It takes about 40 mins to get to the city and you will arrive at Seoul Train Station. From there we were already worn out and did not feel like navigating the public transport system of Seoul just yet. We hadn’t even bought our T-money transport cards so we just hopped into a taxi even though our hotel was a mere 3 stops away. By this time is was already 7pm and I was wrecked. There was no real way of knowing how far our hotel was from the metro stop and we had all our bags with us. Taxis are very affordable in Seoul and we paid less than €6 for the ride. We rarely take normal taxis as R likes to use Uber (which is available in Seoul) but this time we made an exception. No money to pay cash in a foreign country? Nevermind, because card is the way to go here. You can swipe on almost anything, even some street vendors selling hats have contactless card readers for cashless payments.


Finally, we had arrived in one piece at our hotel which we would be staying in for the first 4-nights. We didn’t unpack, we didn’t go out to look at the nearby shops … we simply peeled off our shoes and crashed for a 2-hour nap.



… to be continued. 





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