It was quite a spontaneous trip and I had only a few days to explore each. Both Seoul and Tokyo were very nice experiences. When I boarded my flight back, I was thinking “but… but… I’m not done yet!” I’m sure I will go back for more adventures, in the near future.

Seoul

Autumn 2015. My bestie had recently moved to Seoul for studies. I always find it interesting to hear the story of an expat, sometimes it’s totally different from a traveler’s. We had a great time catching up. Here I tried Korean BBQ for the first time, and it’s one of my favorite dishes. Basically, you have miniature BBQ on your table and you cook bits of meat on it while chatting with friends.

Korean BBQ place

Korean BBQ place

I did a few touristy things. There is a nice area with palaces and old style houses. Touristy speaking, I would say 2-3 days are enough for Seoul.

Seoul Gyeongbokgung Palace

At Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul gate

What it makes it special are the people. They try their best to promote their country as unique, and they truly believe they have some of the best stuff. And if you think you’ve experienced superficiality, Korea brings it to the next level. Think about a hometown for beauty products, clothes, and plastic surgery.

Gangnam

Side street in Gangnam

The local experience

Now, this was fun. Seoul has many tourists, but locals are still not that used to them.

I had a local friend, whom I met in Thailand. He offered to come with me to Namsan tower while telling me a bit more about the place. Apparently, it’s famous for dating. And usually, the guy says it’s the first time he’s bringing a girl there (although he maybe takes all dates there). I found it hilarious. My friend (seriously) explained to me that even if the girl knows it’s not true, she still wants to hear it and acts surprised *facepalm*.

Namsan Tower

Lockers at Namsan Tower

I’m sure not all locals think like that, but there were lots of examples. It made me think of how much impact culture has on how we see and understand social interactions.

Another local I’ve met in Seoul is Jamin. If you are a Romanian living in Seoul, I’m sure he found you already. So I’ve been traveling to a few countries, and when I tell where I’m from, people sometimes say they have no idea where that is. And I come to South Korea, to meet a local who is in love with Romania and knows all about it! That’s impressive.

Seoul selfie

In Seoul, anytime can be selfie time.

Tokyo

With Tokyo, I don’t even know where to begin. It’s a big city, with different neighborhoods for all tastes. I find it a bit like London, in terms of diversity of things to do and to see. I had fun exploring a bit, though I hadn’t done a lot of research in advance.

Akihabara is very close to what I thought Tokyo would be like. It’s all about electronics, animes and mangas. I found Harajuku a bit disappointing. I would have expected lots of crazy-fashion outfits, as pictured in the media. A pleasant surprise was Meiji Shrine, makes you feel inside a forest, while you are in the heart of busy Tokyo.

Akihabara

Akihabara, the “Electric Town”

Meiji Shrine Garden

Meiji Shrine Garden. Yep, still in Tokyo.

I know some asked me if I had difficulties because of the language. No, I found it the same as in any other country where I don’t speak the language. And I found locals very nice and willing to help. For food, I was usually going to small places where the menu had pictures (quite common), and I ordered pointing at the picture. I didn’t go to any place where they advertised English menu. No regrets there.

At the market

Street food

One night, I went out with other travelers. We took the metro after 11 pm, it was during the week. Many of the people on the train were wearing office clothes. A lady fell asleep with her fingers on the smartphone’s screen. I was surprised, I believe nobody should work overtime like that. It was the only moment that made me feel sad.

I went one day trip to Kamakura, a place with the ocean on one side and Buddhist temples on the other. It’s lovely and so close to Tokyo.

Kotoku-in Temple’s Great Buddha

Great Buddha at Kotoku-in Temple

Japanese kimono

Ladies in traditional dresses.

Bottom line

I loved the experience of exploring both Seoul and Tokyo. I could talk a lot about them. Those places where you feel like staring at people, where you enter a supermarket to buy a bottle of water and you spend half an hour looking at rice decorations. Where “normal” as you know it, doesn’t apply. For me, it’s fascinating and I could hardly get bored there.

Decorations for rice

Decorations for rice