`Some final thoughts on Seoul, and a few first impressions of Moscow…
Today was officially our longest transit day to date, but we made it – we’re in Moscow! It took 11 hours of flying, but we got all the way from Asia to Europe to day. Our flight left Seoul at 1:30pm so we had plenty of time for our usual coffee and pickle + ham + egg morning sandwich (ahhhh, breakfast pickles, how I will miss thee…NOT!). We also stopped by the Seoul Central Post Office to post our Japanese and Korean guidebooks home, along with a couple of small souvenirs we picked up. Cost us 21,000Won (about $21AUD) to post back items worth less than that, but hey I guess it’s the sentimental value right?
After a quick check-out from the luxury of our hotel we caught the bus to Incheon International Airport, 50km and 90 minutes of mind-numbing boredom later, we were at the world’s best airport (winner 8 years in a row apparently!), ready to check-in and entertain ourselves for a few hours with duty free shops and airport people watching (always entertaining). Incheon Airport is huge – so many shops, so many people shopping! They even have a “Cultural Information Centre” where you can learn about traditional Korean food, culture, the language, architecture, etc. Having just seen all that in Seoul, we passed, but did enjoy the parade of people dressed in traditional Korean costumes (sooooo daggy and touristy, but I still had to take a photo because I AM a tourist after all!).
To tell you the truth, we’re not that sad to be leaving Korea. It was OK, but just didn’t grab us – either of us. The historical sites were nice, but with so much of the old buildings and monuments destroyed by war and invasion, it was hard at times to get a true sense of what “old Korea” would have been like. We didenjoy the food, even if the pickles, chilli and garlic did get a bit much! The Korean people we met were certainly friendly, and they seem to exude an air of brash, energetic enthusiasm which was a real contrast to the restraint and politeness we experienced everywhere in Japan. So it wasn’t a bad week,not at all, just not an awe-inspiring one. I think our perspective is skewed by the fact that we only saw Seoul, and I don’t think cities are always the best way to truly experience the best of what a country has to offer. So perhaps it’s fairer to say Seoul really didn’t gel with us. The rest of Korea may be spectacular – we may just have to go back to check that out one day. For now though, we are on to Russia to start the European leg of our adventure.
The flight from Seoul to Moscow itself was dull and uneventful (as I like my flights to be) – 11 hours, 4 movies, a few games of Scrabble, some reading, a couple of meals (which were actually edible – surprise, surprise!), and we were there. We were told our pre-arranged pick-up in Moscow would only wait for us for 90 minutes, and having heard horror stories of people spending 3 hours in queues at Sheremetyevo International Airport, we were a little anxious about getting out as quickly as possible. Turns out Friday night is not a busy time at Moscow’s airport, so we were out in an hour, with waiting for our bags being the longest bit. Getting through Customs was a change to what we’re used to in Aus – no form to fill in, no sniffer dogs, no x-ray machine…, nothing. Literally. There were 2 exits: “Stuff to Declare” and “Nothing to Declare”. You just self-select your exit and walk out. Needless to say, everyone chose “Nothing to Declare”!
The airport is new and actually quite modern and clean, though it is about 40kms out of the city. It took us 90 minutes to get to our hotel, with the driver weaving in and out of 7 lanes of traffic all going 140km/hr. Moscow drivers are nuts man! They make Italian drivers look like restrained, law-abiding citizens. Shane and I had our seat belts on the whole time, trusting our driver to get us to our hotel in one piece. On the way we passed heaps of huge apartment complexes – big blocks of units, just as you expect from the hub of the old communist world. I’m sure some of the older blocks of flats still share a kitchen per floor and all that.
Some other first impressions of Moscow:
- So much traffic! There were 7 lanes of traffic bumper-to-bumper going the other way (out of the city) as we were going to our hotel, either virtually at a standstill or going 140km/h
- Cheap petrol – about 30 Russian Ruples (RR) per litre (1 AUD = 30 RR).
- So many people smoking – in their cars, on the streets, everywhere!
- So much space! They have so much flat land in this country it’s insane. And what hasn’t been developed is still so densely forested. If this wasn’t all under snow 9 months of the year, it would be so much more populated and developed. Thank goodness for Russian winters I guess.
- There’s an air of almost dignified decrepitude about the buildings and landscape – slightly shabby, but majestic too.
- It’s so light so late – it’s about 10:15pm now and it’s still very bright. Apparently sunrise is about 4:00am too. Might have to sleep with a eye-mask on I think.
- Russian people don’t smile much. So far everyone’s been friendly and polite, but I get the impressions that smiling is for simpletons.
- That’s it for now. I’m sure more will come over the next week that we’re here…
Our hotel here is HUGE – it has 2000 guest rooms, 15 restaurants/cafes (including one that accommodates 1000 people!), a gym, a pool, a beauty salon, a bowling alley, 20 function rooms, and sits next to the Izmailovo Park (Europe’s biggest city park). We’ve got tomorrow to ourselves before the tour starts on Sunday, so we’re hoping to explore the park and a bit of the area around the hotel. Anyway, it is now almost 10:30pm Moscow time (feels like 3:30am Seoul time) and I think it’s time for bed. More exciting news from Moscow tomorrow!