Last year this time I was traveling through Spain and Portugal with my family after having celebrated a big birthday in Tuscany. I can hardly believe a whole year has gone by but when I think back to all the places I’ve visited and the wonderful people I met along the way, it feels enough for a lifetime’s worth of experiences.
I have a lot to be thankful for for the past 12 months as I continued my adventure in India (holy moly panchakarma!), Tasmania (amazing X-Mas and hike in Cradle Mountain with a great family), Sydney & Melbourne (good friends, good coffee, good beaches, fantastic wedding), South Island, New Zealand (unbelievable hike through Milford & Routeburn tracks, dreamy day at Minaret Station), long awaited return to Tokyo after so many years (T & J’s beautiful Shinto wedding, reconnecting with old friends, remembering how much I love Japan), summer in Korea (discovering real Korean food, real Korea, and H & D’s traditional Korean wedding), and last but not least, climbing Mt. Fuji…
I thought about taking a solo trip somewhere in Korea for my birthday this year but in the end I decided it would be best to just have a quiet contemplative day. But as I have found numerous times in my life, Universe had other ideas (the pun will make more sense later) and all I had to do was simply go with the flow.
A day or two before my birthday I got a call from my Mom’s old friend, suggesting that we meet. She’s someone who knew me as a baby (she told me recently that my “baby blanket” was my Dad’s old sweater and that I used to suck on the tattered hems as I slept), saw me go through elementary school, and even took me on holidays with her and her husband. We lost touch with each other for over two decades but seeing her at my parents’ last summer brought back a lot of fond memories for the both of us. Thinking that she was busy (she’s now retired from her job as a high school music teacher but still), I casually throw a few future dates out but she insisted that it should be sooner. She suggested meeting two days later (which happened to be my birthday) so I obliged and said yes. She didn’t tell me where we were going, just that I should meet her in the morning.
Well, as soon as I arrived she told me to get in her car and we took off for the highway. Her husband doesn’t drive (and never has) but she loves to (and is a good driver), and it looked like they often just head out and see where the road takes them. I could tell that they enjoy exploring hidden restaurants and cafes in the countryside and that they love sharing it with others. Once again, how lucky am I that I get to do things like this!? To be driven outside of Seoul for a mystery day trip? Yes, please!
To be perfectly honest, I only had a vague idea which direction we were headed. Almost an hour later I saw that we were no longer on a highway but somewhere in the mountains driving on narrow country roads. Up and down, around the corner and back, we went. And then suddenly out of nowhere, there was a sign. I think it said something like, “A place where birds sing.” and underneath it was the name of the place “A Really Good Idea.”
We walked down the hill to find a beautiful garden and a restaurant.
Saying that it was her treat, she didn’t even let me look at the menu. Our lunch started with these appetizers.
Hiding under the greens were 도토리묵, acorn jelly.
부추전 garlic chives pancakes and 콩나물잡채 sauteed soybean sprout & glass noodles. A Korean liquor I never heard of before, SanSaChun.
Main course: roasted pork and duck.
Korean miso soup served with banchan and rice to end our meal.
Isn’t this place precious?!
After our delicious lunch we walked around the property for a while. They had set up a table and some chairs right ON the stream next to the restaurant so that the customers could cool their feet in the water. What an interesting idea?
We found a trail going up the mountain so I followed the steps up to see what else was up there.
Chestnuts and some quiet space…
Towards the end of our meal she told me that it was her husband’s birthday. Oh my, Happy Birthday Mr. Kim! Surprised at the coincidence I told them that it was in fact my birthday as well. You see, I was meant to share a lovely birthday with wonderful people after all.
They suggested that we should have coffee somewhere else (they kept wanting to show me more places…) but first, we stopped to buy some organic tomatoes growing along the Han River.
Where they took me was a place called 남한산성, I think it’s a Chosun era fort and palace (it’s a historically significant place that I will need to look up). Nowadays the mountain range and the winding roads are lined with cafes and restaurants. We had our coffee break at “Coffee House Arabica.” Even though it was a weekday, the place was quite full.
We went up to the “attic” and had the whole area to ourselves…
As if the gift of this wonderful day wasn’t enough, she sent me home with more yummy fruits and veggies. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your kindness and generosity. It was a great birthday!
Coffee House 아라비카 (Coffee House Arabica): 경기도 광주시 중부면 검복리 49; 49 Geombok-ri, Jungbu-myeon (536-27 Namhansanseong-ro) Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi-do (map) Tel: 031-746-5956