This post will just be about first impressions. The second post will be my experience using the Subway and a few other things.
It is odd here.... but all of the signs are in Korean and I can't read them. I guess it was that way in Greece also, but English is an official language in the Philippines which is made up of 7000 islands and lots of very different dialects. They need one unifying language. It is not so with Korea. The Korean language works quite well here, but not English. I am surprised at how few people speak much English. Often you do find someone who can translate for you, but we have been to many shops and restaurants where there is no one to explain things.
My experience with Greece was similar. I could not read the signs, but I think that more people spoke some English. At least it seemed that way.
To start.... the food on Korean Airlines was weird. We had a choice between seafood and a Korean dish with vegetables. We chose the Korean dish, but we had to watch our neighbor sitting near us to know how to eat it.
There was a little container that the stewardess opened and poured hot water into (soup?) and then there was a dish with some assorted stuff on it that we did not recognize. There were 6 things... I think I could identify 2. There was a packet of Sesame Oil and a tube of Korean hot sauce. There was also a salad (I recognized that).
It turns out that the stuff in the middle of the bowl that they gave us was noodles and you empty the packet of Sesame Oil on it and then put in what hot paste you want on it (none in my case) and then stir it around and eat it with chopsticks. I thought it was OK. I let the stuff in my soup dissolve and then tasted it, but decided one new dish was enough for this meal.
It was amazing that we even got a meal since it was only a 4 hour flight!
From the airport we took a Taxi to our hotel. It was about an hour drive. The striking thing is that the view of the city from a distance is so different than other places I have been. As we got closer I think that the reason is that multiple high rises are built in the same style next to each other so that you get a view of a lot of parallel high rises. I could not take a picture that adequately illustrates that. This image from http://editorsitinerary.cntraveler.com/korea/ sort of illustrates it.
Anyway, after a stomach problem and so much strange food I decided something that I never do in a foreign country..... I wanted to go to McDonalds! or any place without pictures of strange food in bowls.
After unpacking, Steve and I went searching for American-style food near the hotel. He had looked online and there was a Subway. I have seen McDonalds in EVERY country I have been in, so I am pretty sure there are multiple. We saw 7-11 and Starbucks, but they aren't usually too good for a meal.
Finally we decided to forage in a 7-11 and it was not easy. A good deal of what you can find in a 7-11 here is like Ramen (instant noodle bowls), honey flavored potato chips or other stuff I did not recognize. We finally agreed on string cheese, crackers (we had bought them in the Philippines), apples, and wine. I was quite happy to dine on things I recognized and told Steve that I would be more open to South Korean food after that meal and it is true.
In the morning Steve went hunting for something to eat in the room for breakfast. It was Sunday morning and many places were closed. Almost every other shop in this area where there are two colleges is some sort of coffee shop. Finally he found coffee and some bagels. Can you tell which one is the onion bagel? The onion was pretty mild :-)
Later that day Steve went to his meeting and I went to the shop next door and got lunch. It was a lovely chicken sandwich and fries with a half corn on the cob and salad. I topped it off with Mango Ade which was delicious.
Our hotel (Ever 8) is nice. In the hallway the rooms look like bank safes. There is a really industrial feel. Inside the room is pretty nice and there is a kitchenette AND a washer/dryer (one machine that does both???-more on that after I try it out). There is a microwave, full sized refrigerator, hot plate and dishes! I think that there are many Ever 8 hotels in Seoul.