Today, I decided to get out of the apartment and make my first attempt at going somewhere that required me to actually talk to non-English speakers! So, where could we go that was relatively easy to get to by Taxi and that the kids would have a great time? COEX Aquarium, which is in the COEX Mall, a pretty big and well-known mall in Seoul. Pretty much every taxi driver in Seoul knows COEX Mall, so I was able to get a taxi and just say, "COEX", and the driver knew just where to go. The trick though was to communicate that I had to put the folded up stroller in the trunk, which wasn't a problem. I just pointed to the folded up stroller on the sidewalk and then pointed to the trunk and the driver nodded and then popped the trunk for me. And we were on our way! It cost about $4 to get from our apartment to COEX. The driver was very nice, as they usually are when they see the kids, and dropped me off in a relatively non-busy place so that I could take my time getting out of the taxi. He even said to me, "slowly", so that I would not stress too much to get out of his taxi. Guess the stressful look on my face crosses many cultures!
Once we got out of the cab, I had to figure out where we were exactly and how to get to the Aquarium. Thankfully, there was a huge information sign and map right where we got dropped off. And it was in English! Bless that taxi driver!! So, once I found the "You are here" sign and devised a path to follow, I popped Nadia into the stroller, the backpack into the basket underneath and off we went. We went into the main entrance and found ourselves in the COEX Convention hall. We had to go down one floor to the underground mall level. Then we were on familiar territory.
COEX Mall is HUGE. But it is only one part of the whole COEX system, which includes a convention hall, an airport terminal (where you can check in your baggage and take a shuttle to the Inchon airport, which is about an hour away), and a couple of large hotels. The mall itself is a maze of shops and restaurants - so far I've been there 3 or 4 times and each time we seem to see the same set of shops without even getting to the next section! So of course, we had to walk through the mall to get to the aquarium, which was on the far side of the mall. That was fine, because I had no time constaints, I had snacks, I had money for lunch and, most importantly, I had the stroller! Seriously, this is a big deal, but Seoul is not usually a stroller-friendly city. But today, we went into whatever shops we were interested in. Almost in every store, Maya wanted something, but I was able to talk her either into waiting to see what was in the next shop or to put the item back and if she really wanted it, we would get it on the way out. She was very good at listening, especially at the thought of what could be at the next store! So we made our way through the mall until we got to the aquarium.
That's when Nadia decided that it was time for a snack! It was 11am, so she was due, so went to the bathroom, did our business and washed up and then sat down for a good snack of strawberries. That hit the spot for all of us. Finally, it was time for the aquarium!
So, I chose COEX Aquarium because, 1. I could get there easily, 2. I've been to COEX Mall before, 3. I figured the Aquarium would keep the kids entertained. I was right on all three points. Check out the website, if you're interested:
What I liked about the aquarium was that all the exhibits were relatively low to the ground, so even Nadia could walk right up to the tanks and see the fish and sea animals. She got so excited when she saw all the "ish" and literally squealed with delight when we walked into the first exhibit. Actually, the very first tank we saw was filled with frogs, which totally thrilled Maya, but just seemed to whet Nadia's appetite for the next tank that had fish.
We went through the whole aquarium with Maya asking at EVERY tank or exhibit, "And what is that called, Mom?" I read a lot of signs and was extremely thankful that the signs were in Korean AND in English. The aquarium is set up as a "water journey". You follow the path marine life takes from the high mountains to the deep sea. So, you go from freshwater fish to the waters of the Inca Empire of Machu Pichu to the dark caves of the Andes Mountains, to the Amazon Rain Forest (the rain forest set up was VERY cool!) to where the rivers meet the seas, to the Seven Seas to the deep, deep seas. I'm not sure why they chose to make exhibits that follow the Incas and the Andes Mountains, but there you go.
The whole "tour" took almost 2 hours. Once we were done, we were, of course, deposited into the gift shop, where Maya looked around and looked around until she spotted what she NEEDED to have - a beanie baby eel! LOL Last night she was eating eel, and today she wanted a stuffed one. I gave in and got it for her, mainly cause I am stil so proud of her for wanting to try grilled eel. So, we got it and headed out to get lunch at, where else, McDonald's! Yup, there is a McD's in COEX Mall. Big surprise. Anyway, that was perfectly fine with me - I knew the kids would eat there and I could get something too. We had a very nice leisurely lunch. Afterwards, we headed back to catch a cab home. It was 1:30pm and just passing Nadia's usual time for her nap. I successfully got us a cab, and directed the cabby back to our apartment.
YAY! I managed to get us out and about without getting lost or myself hopelessly stressed out. Will wonders never cease??