A trip to the opposite side of the world

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February 27th 2015
Published: March 23rd 2015
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The flight is booked (Jan 19th 2015)

I had the idea to go to South Korea in December when my Korean friend told me she would be going back over our semester break in March to see her family and I thought: "Hey, why not visit her while she's there?". My wanderlust had been growing for a while and I was in need of a big trip to a country far far away. So why not Asia? I've never been to the biggest continent (I don't really count Turkey as Asia) and since I knew a local there it was the perfect opportunity to go there. Then Minjeong (my Korean friend) told me about this other girl, Astrid, who was also interested in going, so we got together and decided to travel together.

At first there were some problems with the realization of our plans because we couldn't find a time span that would work for both of us and time was running. I had kind of given up that it would work out, but then in January Astrid said she postponed her due date for her Master's thesis and we could book our trip. Just a week later we sat at the travel agency and booked our flights between February 27th and March 19th. The plans became reality and I only had to get through some exams before the next adventure could begin!

Ready for takeoff! (Feb 27th 2015)

The adventure starts today! The first part of the trip was to get to the airport in Frankfurt, but thankfully there is a train that goes there directly from Göttingen (my hometown). I thought I had packed a lot with a backpack and an extra bag, but Astrid turned out to be much worse. She had a bigger and heavier bag and two extra bags and was barely able to carry it all. She learned the first rule of backpacking pretty quickly: only pack what you can carry. The train was pretty full, but after a while we found some seats and after a two hour ride we made it to Frankfurt. Since the airport is huge, it took us a bit to find the right check-in counter and as I had less to carry I would always run ahead and look around and Astrid followed me. At the check-in the lady asked us whether we had a visa for South Korea. We replied that we didn't need one, but she wouldn't believe us and checked again herself. Dear lady! Do you really think that when planning such a big trip I wouldn't check whether I needed a visa for the country? What the heck, do I look that naive?! After probably googling for a while she confirmed that we indeed don't need a visa and let us check-in.

At the security counter we spent more time than I thought, because they X-rayed Astrid's things very accurately as she had stuff with her that she didn't even know about. Somewhere deep in her bags they found a camera she forgot to unpack from her last trip and couldn't even use on this trip, because the battery was dead. She learned the second rule of travelling (or backpacking): pack clearly arranged and know yourself what you're taking with you. Just on time for boarding we arrived at the gate and got on the plane quickly. I spent the flight exploring the entertainment offer of Qatar Airways and one thing that I thought was pretty cool was that they had the Holy Quran as an audiobook (well, part of it). A stewardess came by and asked us if we wanted to drink something, so I asked for a water and only took one sip before putting it down on my table. Guess what happened next? I knocked it over and spilled the entire glass on my pants. Great way to start a trip! I was on the plane for less than an hour and looked like I had peed my pants... Fortunately it was a 5 hour flight, so my pants had enough time to dry before I had to get up. I used the time to watch some Friends episodes and listened to music. Also the food was really good and I got to collect some candy bars, cause they passed them out so often.

Besides all the the stuff inside the plane, the flight itself was really interesting. We flew over Turkey, Iran and Iraq, all these countries with such a tense political situation. From up here everything looked so peaceful, but the thought that there were millions of Syrian refugees living under inhumane conditions in Turkey, IS troops hiding in the mountains in Iran and completely destroyed cities by the war in Iraq made me shiver. You could see all these concentrations of light from the cities that looked so pretty despite of what was going on there and around 11pm local time we landed in Doha, Qatar.

We had to go through another security check and walked to our next gate. Close to it we found a "Men's Quiet Area" which was a room with glass walls around it, so you could see who was inside, and a bunch of deck-chairs where men were taking a rest. Just a couple meters away was the "Women's Quiet Area" which looked the same from the inside, but the walls around it where made of frosted glass, so you couldn't see anything from the outside. We took a rest there as our next flight was an hour later and boarded the next flight after midnight.

Arrival in far east Asia (Feb 28th 2015)

Our plane from Doha took off and after around 30 minutes I looked outside my window and knew exactly where I was: Dubai! It was so strange to me that even though I have never been there nor even close to it, I knew exactly which city it was just by seeing it from above. I saw the artificial palm tree in the water and all the lights and after checking on the screen I was assured my assumption was right and thought about how crazy it is to kind of know a place you've never been to. After dinner I fell right asleep and woke up around 4 hours later, because the guy sitting behind me was whining in his sleep and it was so loud it woke up almost everyone in a three meter radius from him. The rest of the flight was rather uneventful, I was hoping to see a little bit more of China, but it was quite cloudy. Arriving in Incheon at the airport I was looking forward to brushing my teeth and apparently I wasn't the only one. The whole bathroom was filled with women from around the world using the Qatar Airways tooth brush and paste we got on the plane to freshen up.

We got our luggage quite quickly and found out pretty fast how to get to the train and buy a T-money card (great invention by the way). The T-money card is a card you can charge with money and use on all public transport in many cities in South Korea. It can also be used in taxis and to pay in convenience stores. You just hold it up to a card reader when getting in or out of the metro or bus and is a very convenient way to get around. If you ever fo to Korea I recommend you to get one (they are being sold in convenience stores) as it eases the process of paying, especially if you don't speak any Korean like myself and don't understand how much you have to pay for a ride. Also it is cheaper than paying for each ride seperately, but I bet you can find out the details on their website (http://eng.t-money.co.kr/). What was a little surprising to us was the fact that Astrid and I seemed to be the only foreigners on the train to Seoul and all others had seemed to chose to go by bus or taxi.

Arriving in our hostel we were put in a 8 person mixed room with all other beds occupied and there were three guys and three girls there. The room was pretty small and not too comfy, but sufficient for the night and having paid only around 8€ I didn't expect more. We freshened up a little and decided to go on a little walk around the city as it was only around 6pm and we wanted to go to sleep at a normal time to get over our jetlag as quickly as possible. The part of the city is called Hongdae and is known to be a party district as a few of the big universities are located in this area, so it's all student friendly. We went out there on a Saturday night, so naturally the streets were packed with people enjoying a night out and there were more and more people coming the later it got. Also the streets are filled with cafés, it's like there is one on top of another and we found two cafés and bars we liked in particular: "Nein Danke" and "Oktoberfest" (Nein Danke means no thank you in German and I don't need to explain what Oktoberfest is). After our little walk we went back to the hostel and went to bed at 9pm. Around 1am we were woken up by our roommates who entered the room one after another as they had probably also had been out at the bars. At 3am was my absolute highlight, a snorer! This is a hostellife fact: when sleeping in a room with more than 6 people, there will always be someone who snores and it wil most likely be a girl.

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