Dinner tonight is a little different. I’ve got some of the finest Korean cuisine spread out before me and I’m just ordering my starter: grilled octopus legs.
The chef turns them over on hot coals a few times before dishing them up – in a paper bag. This isn’t silver service, but the food is fresh and unbelievably tasty.
I’m on the street market in downtown Seoul and as I munch my way through the octopus legs, I contemplate the choice of mains. Stalls stretch out over hundreds of yards. Some dishes look a bit too exotic for me so I settle for spicy rice cakes, sweet potato sticks with some fired chicken thrown in. The taste is amazing and the ambience is pretty special, too.>/br>
I stop to eat and take in the scene before me. Neon flashing, food sizzling, beautiful aromas and everywhere people like me enjoying the nightlife in this so vibrant city – it’s just a wonderful experience. If this is what South Korea has to offer, I like it.
After my culinary, and cultural, night out on the town, jet-lag kicks in and it’s time for bed. I’ve got a big day tomorrow and I don’t want to waste a minute of my Korean holiday.
I had planned an early start but am just running a bit behind schedule. The treat for today is that sitting in the hotel car park is a brand-new Kia Optima for me to drive up to the demilitarised zone with North Korea.
This is a posh hotel and the car park is full of limos and top-of-the-range models, but this beauty in pearlescent white looks as good as anything on the lot.
Firing up, it’s time to take on the morning rush hour in Seoul. The early start was planned to try to beat the traffic but running that bit late means I’m in the thick of it. I had been warned that local drivers could be aggressive and didn’t take prisoners, but I actually find it okay.
A truck driver left a little gap and gave me the nod so I slid the Optima in front of him. The traffic is heavy but
manageable: just keep your eyes open and watch out for the curve-ball. Mine came in the shape of a local on his moped.
Stacked high with fruit trays, his load would have been unstable in a truck – on the back of a moped it was positively lethal. He saw the smallest of gaps, switched on tunnel vision and went for it – a sharp tap on the brakes from me and the truck driver and he lived to cause mayhem on another day.
The traffic eased as, after some miles, I reached the outskirts. Seoul is a very big city (more than ten million population) and it takes some time to get out of town. Finally I slid the Optima into sixth gear and cruised north. Here, the traffic police come in the shape of speed cameras, but at least they give you a countdown in the metres before you arrive at the camera. And, with the soft tones of the satnav giving you dire warnings of the approaching camera, it’s almost impossible to get caught out.
This car is loaded with gadgets. Switching on the cruise control, I tested out the sound system; I found a music station that sounded just like Radio 2 and settled in for the drive north. Driving was easy, Dolly Parton tapping it out through the Optima’s sound system. The Hangang River on my left, flowing out to the Yellow Sea – this was a drive to remember.
All too soon I reached Imjingak – as far as I could take my new friend, the Optima. From here, if I want to enter the demilitarised zone between South and North Korea, I have to take the official tour bus.