Monday, June 15, 2015

Day 16, Denpasar to Chicago: Lunch in Seoul and the long trip home

Our room at the Vira Bali Hotel came in handy for showers and a short nap. The complimentary shuttle ride to the airport took less than 10 minutes, and we arrived at the check-in counter right about midnight. On the heels of a full day, we were turning right around and beginning what would be an exceptionally long day: roughly 21 hours of flying, plus connection time at Incheon and San Francisco (for me)/Vancouver (for Chris and Allie).

Exit formalities were fairly quick and uneventful, aside from a strange sequence of questions from the passport control officer. After examining my passport and boarding pass, he asked me my first name and then my middle name. He asked if I’d been to Yogyakarta. “Yes.” Then, he asked if I’d seen the Sultan. “Well, no. But I did see the president of your country.” You don't run into immigration offers who try to make jokes (even bad ones) very often, and I wasn't quite sure how to react.

The Premier lounge at Denpasar is open well into the wee hours of the morning and has a pretty decent selection of food for an airport lounge, even at that hour. Let's call that meal #1 (yes, I'm counting).

Flight one—on Asiana, from Denpasar to Incheon—went smoothly and arrived right on time at about 10:30 am. We all managed at least a little sleep, along with meal #2 (albeit a light one).

Four years ago, we had a 12-hour connection at Incheon and used that time for a quick trip into Seoul to see the Gyeongbokgung palace and the Insadong area. With only half as many hours this time around, a trip into the city was a little more questionable. But after determining that the weather was good and our ongoing flights were operating as scheduled, we decided to go for it. Relying on memory—including where to store our carryon bags and how to catch the airport express train—we set out with the general intent to explore the area around Seoul Station. More specifically, our plan was to find something interesting for lunch. After all, you can only eat so many meals in airports or on planes in one day.

With a map from the tourist information center at the airport, we targeted the Namdaemun market, and specifically the “eating” area of the market. Namdaemun market is about a 10-minute walk (at our brisk pace, anyway) from the terminus of the airport train and near the old (now restored) city gate. There were a few missteps, but we eventually found it—and more importantly, found two uniformed information agents stationed at a prominent intersection in the market. Not only did they have a detailed map of the market, itself, they pointed out several possible areas to get lunch, including Food Alley, Fish & Stew Alley, and Chopped Noodles Street.

Food Alley was the closest. We found many small restaurants with storefront displays of menu items wrapped in cellophane and labeled with prices—some (but not all) with English translations. It was basically a matter of “pick a place,” so we did. We pointed to a couple of dishes that looked good (bibimbap a pork dumpling soup) and then were ushered to seats inside to wait for our food, meal #3, which we quite enjoyed!

Food Alley 
We picked our lunch from some of these 
And the finished product looked like these...bibimbap above, dumpling soup below

Time was starting to run short, and we had to make the 2 pm train back to Incheon, so we did the rapid-fire tour of different parts of the market: up Fashion Street, right on Military Uniform Street, down Bedding Street, and then back to our starting point via Food Materials Street. 

Items for sale on Military Uniform Street 
And on Bedding Street 
And on Food Materials Street

After one last stop for some very fresh donuts, we headed back to the train.

Piping hot donuts--the ones above filled with bean curd

Sure, it was a rushed trip in, and it cost us about $80 in all between the bag storage, train tickets, and food. But who knows when we might get back there.

We then retraced our steps and were feeling pretty good about getting out and accomplishing something in that time—until we hit the security line, that is. When we picked up our bags from the storage center, I had about 45 minutes until boarding time. I had planned for a quick shower at the Asiana lounge, but the sight of a long, snaking security line quickly dashed those hopes. As it was, I had about five minutes in the lounge, and then it was off across the Pacific.

To conclude...

I flew back on United to San Francisco. Completely uneventful flight (I slept a good part of the way and had meal #4). We arrived an hour early--so early that I was through US Customs & Immigration (w/ Global Entry), baggage claim/re-check and SFO security and in the domestic terminal United Club well before my flight's scheduled arrival time. Since I had declined the pre-arrival meal, I was hungry, so here I had meal #5, snacking on hummus and pita chips, couscous, and olives. I also took this opportunity to change into my Chicago Blackhawks swag, hopefully as a good luck offering for game 6 of the Stanley Cup championship, which would start toward the tail end of my next flight.

Chris and Allie flew from Seoul to Vancouver on the Air Canada Dreamliner and declared that the best business class experience overall on the trip--with rave reviews for the seat in particular. Their flight arrived in Vancouver a little late, making it a somewhat tight connection.

Business class suite on the Air Canada Dreamliner
Their ongoing flight to Chicago was right on time, despite worsening weather in Chicago that afternoon/evening. Apparently, there had been tornado warnings in the area at some point that day.

I was supposed to have arrived in Chicago 10 minutes after them. My flight (which included meal #6, lobster mac 'n cheese) departed the gate in San Francisco on time but then drew an Air Traffic Control delay that ultimately put us into Chicago 40 minutes late. 

By the time we arrived, O'Hare was declining into a state of chaos, and we spent an additional 30 minutes in the penalty box waiting for a gate. Game six of the Stanley Cup championship was now in progress, and this was not the type of penalty box I wanted to hear about tonight. And of all the flights on which I've had DIRECTV at times of day when there was nothing to I was on a flight with NO DIRECTV during the Stanley Cup championship. I could only listen to the game via the Blackhawks app while we waited in the penalty box, waited at baggage claim, and waited for our ride home.  

View from the penalty box at ORD

The game ended during our ride home with a win and a Stanley Cup championship--thus putting an exclamation point on a great trip!

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