Monday, February 22, 2021

A Weekend Getaway to Busan

When I heard the COVID-19 case count improved in Korea and domestic travel was an option again, I immediately started looking at places we could safely stay for a weekend in country. Busan was already high on my travel list, but I was sold on the great weather expected for the weekend and the opportunity to do so many things outside. Plus, we picked a weekend in between two longer Korean holiday weekends when other people would be less likely to travel. We asked our friends (also N and M!) to join us, and we were off on our way.

We took the bullet train (known as the KTX) down, and it was great. South Korea has a nationwide mask mandate, social distancing was enforced, and there was hand sanitizer everywhere. We decided to stay at a hotel instead of an Airbnb because we had enough Marriott points to stay at the Westin Josun at no charge and because we were impressed with Marriott's pandemic precautions.

On Friday night, we arrived in Busan and checked into a room with a gorgeous oceanfront view so close we could hear the sound of the gently crashing waves. It was perfect. We did a little exploring that first night, walking along Haeundae Beach and discovering a delightful restaurant/lounge/bar called Cheongdam President's House (청담회장님댁). It had a fantastic ambiance and even better desserts. We had already eaten a fast food meal, so we decided to splurge on a brownie (one of the best if not the best I've ever had) and some croffles (croissant waffles, a staple of Korean street cuisine). My mouth is watering just remembering those desserts!

After that, we walked back along Haeundae Beach and a night market and then turned in and rested up for our jam-packed Saturday.

The next morning our first stop was a cafe called Waveon Coffee for breakfast. We were there right when it opened, and we got to enjoy an excellent breakfast sitting on bean bag chairs outside overlooking the ocean. It was so healing. It was a little chilly given how early it was, but the cafe even had fresh blankets for us to use.

The ample outdoor seating, aesthetically pleasing blue and white decor, and oceanfront vistas made Waveon a standout to me even before I bit into the light, airy strawberry cake slice I ordered. I also loved the little dirt and moss finishing touches on Marwan's hazelnut chocolate mousse, complete with a little meringue mushroom!

With that strong start in our souls and bellies, we made our way to Gamcheon Cultural Village, historical slums that were repainted in a rainbow of colors and revitalized with public art spaces to become a major tourist attraction. We walked around and took in the ample street art and treated ourselves to a Korean street food snack: a block of ice cream surrounded by what I think is Oreo surrounded by a layer of marshmallow that the vendor toasts before your eyes with a handheld flame. It is hard to describe how amazing the texture of this dessert is, but I'll try. The outside is perfectly caramelized and crunchy, with a perfectly thin layer of gooey marshmallow as you bite down into the firm and flavorful ice cream. (Can you tell I was a big fan?)

By that time we were so ravenous we sat down to a hearty meal of Korean barbecued pork. I was so hungry I didn't even take a photo. M was a champ and cooked all our meat, veggies, and garlic for us on our table grill. He's such a great multitasker that he made it look easy. Even though we were stuffed, I was determined to try live octopus (산낙지) and insisted we go find some. The perfect place was Jagalchi Market, the largest fish market in South Korea. I picked out my octopus and the vendor killed it right in front of us, chopped it up, and seasoned it with sesame oil. It's not really alive, but it's so fresh the tentacles are still writhing as you eat them. I read articles that some people have choked on the still-functioning suction cups and died, so you can bet I chewed furiously to make sure that wouldn't be me! It was pretty tasty, with a classic chewy octopus texture and a strong sesame oil flavor.

After that, we made our way to our final stop of the day: the Songdo Cable Car, also marketed as the Busan Air Cruise. We got to look down on beautiful views of the coast from the cable car, and they sanitized every car between passengers with impressive efficiency. On the other side of the cable car line, there was a really cute park with animatronic dinosaurs and other quirky attractions for families.

The next day, we made our way out to Haedong Yonggungsa, a Buddhist Temple some call the most beautiful temple in Korea. The architecture and location overlooking the ocean were stunning, and I was impressed at the sheer number of pagodas and devotional areas for specific categories. After walking our way around the grounds, we grabbed some famous Busan street food: ssiat hotteok (씨앗호떡), a pancake filled with a sugary seed mixture. It was an indulgent comfort food.

The last place on our list was Oryukdo Skywalk. The skywalk itself, a walkway over the ocean with a glass bottom, was closed. But the area around it was beautiful and we still enjoyed a mini-hike up the hill for some picturesque views (including the first photo of this post). Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel, grab our bags, and head for the train station.

We did have a brief moment of utter panic on the way to the train station. M looked up the train times on some semi-official website that showed there were no more trains back to Seoul for 7 hours. That website information put us arriving back home around 2am, meaning only a few hours of stressful sleep before I had to leave for work the next day! Thankfully, it turned out to be just a glicth on that site and everything was fine. It was a ridiculous way to end our whirlwind weekend, though.

I am so thankful we could take a few days to get away and experience some rejuvenation through sun, sand, sea, food, and friendship. It's just the boost I needed, and I hope we can come back to Busan when the pandemic is over and see even more.

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