Getting There: Seoul to Hamburg

I love traveling. But sometimes the getting from one place to another is not so great. My January journey from Korea to Germany was no exception. Three flights, two layovers, and four countries were involved. I guess I often gloss over the unpleasant and annoying sides of travel in my blog. This is a post entirely about how annoying travel is. So read and commiserate, prepare yourself for a similar long-haul, or skip it entirely if you don’t want anything to bring down your travel high.

I started in Gimpo airport, Seoul around 11 am. Gimpo is much smaller and easier to navigate than the awesome, but imposingly sized, Incheon. I was seen off my some of the loveliest people I know and waited as long as possible to go through the security gate– passing final hugs and kisses across the barrier before I ducked in for my check. Somehow before boarding my flight, I managed to lose my black knit hat. The first casualty of my Europe trip.

The first stop was Beijing. I am fairly well traveled. I have been in many airports throughout the world. Never have I been more frustrated than in Beijing. The signage was very sparse and unclear. They staff gave me contradictory instructions. I relied on the technique, “I guess  wil just go where other people go and hope for the best.”

My layover was about 8 hours long with my flight being after midnight. Since my flight was technically the next day, the airport offered some accomodation. That was a big relief. The idea of trying to find a niche to spend 8 hours wasn’t particulary appealing. Especially considering that once off your flight, you must go back to the big dparture hall and start the check in process all over again if you are taking another flight. And of course, no flight lets you check in 8 hours early.

A China Southern Air representative told me to go get my bag– it would need to be rechecked, then come back to find her. She was the ticket to my slightly more comfortable layover. I went to the carousel that had my flight number and waited. I waited for nearly a half an hour. Then suddenly, the flight number in the carousel screen changed and we were all herded down to a different carousel. Finally, after a few minutes, the correct bags came out.

I grabbed my bag and went looking for the China Southern employee, but of course she was gone. I ran to the international connection desk to ask them for advise. They scolded me for taking my bag and told me to put it back on the carousel. I heaved it back up and bid it farewell– starting to doubt the likelihood of seeing it again at this point. I went through customs and ended up back out in the main area of the airport with a 24 hour pass into China, but nowhere to go. I went to the China Southern desk and was told that (of course) it was too early to check in. So I hazarded to ask about the mysterious accomodations again.

She said that yes, they do indeed exist, but that I have to take a shuttle bus to the hotel. It’s not that close. She said that the next shuttle was in 10-15 minutes. That I should stay nearby and she would call me when it arrived. I sat by the desk and waited for about 20 minutes. Then I realized that I had been forgotten about and awkwardly crept back over to the desk to ask if it was arriving soon. Oops. She had forgotten, so she called them again and sent a staff member to escort me to the next bus. It was the original lady I had met before baggage claim. She and a male staff member very helpfully got me on my way (the male staff member even personally escorting me to the bus outside, inspite of the cold windy weather).

The hotel was very far from the airport. At least compared to what I was imagining. It was also on a weird back road by some train tracks, quite far from anything else. My plans to walk around a bit were immedieately squashed as my atempts to look for any sort of public trnsportation nearby didn’t turn up anything promising. So instead, I was able to rest for about 5 hours at the hotel. I napped for about an hour.nI washed up a bit and changed my clothes into something a litle more comfortable for the longest leg of my flight coming next. I Skyped a friend in Korea and browsed the offerings of Chinese television. Finaly, the shuttle to take me back to the airport came. The shuttle driver kept answering his phone on the way and seemed quite angry with the person on the other end. Whenever he started yelling into the phone, his driving became much slower. A problem when we were in the middle of the highway. I couldn’t help but think that I might die on a highway outside of Beijing. Inspite of the three phone calls that stood between us and our destination, we managed to make it relatively unscathed back to the airport.

Back at the airport, I was about two hours early fro my flight and feeling quite hungry. I swung by an open snack stand where I was told it was cash only (maybe due to the late hour). The lady told me that they took US currency, so I whipped out an old, crinkled twenty left from the last time I was stateside. Then she told me that my orderwas only $6 but she couldn’t make change, so if I wanted it, I would be paying the entire twenty for a sandwich and juice. I walked away. Who needs fod after 8 hours? I sat by my gate waiting. The flight was delayed almost an hour. Fortunately, my next layover was three hours long, so I easily made my conection in Amsterdam.

I slept about five hours on the flight from Beijing to Amsterdam and arrived pre-dawn in Europe. My brief stop in Amsterdam was blissfully uneventful. We were taking off as the sun was coming up so I was able to enjoy watching the orange-pink rays pierce through the deep, cool layers of cloud. It was a welcome change from the gray skies I had been watching since Seoul.

And then, I was there. Safely tucked into the arms of my old Oxford buddy, Cat. I had amde it to Germany. Even my bag had somehow managed to arrive safely in my arms. Which was lucky, since it was loaded with presents for everyone I’m seeing along the way.

I am in France now and have a lot to catch up on! I wil post soon about my time in Germany.