Sunday, March 28, 2021

the end of winter in Pyeongchang

Before moving to Korea we heard from a lot of fellow army families that they loved everything about their experience in Korea except for the air quality (this was pre-covid). Coming from the states where I have never once questioned or really even wondered if the air quality was healthy for myself or my kids to be out in, this was hard to understand and appreciate before we moved here. My attitude was well, the entire population of Korea deals with it so I'm sure it can't be all that bad. We have now spent two winters here and I can tell you that it is that bad. The winter months here tend to see the worse levels of air pollution and this winter was especially hard because, thanks to covid, we were restricted from seeking relief from the bad air at our usual indoor escapes like cafes, kids’ play places, the mall.  Walking outside for fresh air, spending time outdoors without first checking the AQI monitor... this is a privilege I will never ever take for granted again and the thing I am most excited about for our return to America.  

Thankfully Spring is blooming and I am so ready to greet it with open arms. Cherry blossoms on every corner, warmer temperatures and cleaner air! It is hands down my favorite season in Korea and it almost makes up for the long dreary months before it.  But before we said a fond farewell to winter we squeezed in one last cold weather hurrah at the end of February in Pyeongchang. 

Pyeongchang is a 3 hour drive north east from where we live and was the host of the 2018 winter Olympics. T.J.'s unit had planned a little overnight retreat at a ski resort there and we decided to extend our stay an extra night since that's a bit further than I like to drive with the kids for just one day. We booked two nights in a "korean/western apartment" type condo at the Yongpyong Resort and set off after lunchtime, always foolishly optimistic that the kids will just nap in the car.... they didn't. 

After checking in to our room we bundled up and headed out to explore the resort. The second his feet touched the snow Tommy demanded skis and poles and a gondola ride like he didn't just learn all those words five minutes earlier.  We compromised and got him a snowball scooper before meeting up with friends for dinner- yummy Korean fried chicken, pizza and beer. 
We headed back to our room where we tucked the boys into the bedroom, Tommy in the bed and Will in the pack n play. Then T.J and I unfolded our ondol beds out on the floor of the living room. We always try to book a hotel room with a separate space from the kids so we're not sneaking around or going to bed at 7pm. Normally we get two beds but that’s not always common in Korean hotels, in fact some rooms we looked at had zero western style beds, but this was our first experience with the korean futons. They're basically a suuuper thin mattress or a really thick comforter, which is a fancy way of saying we slept on the floor.... but the boys slept great and that's what counts.  

The next morning we bundled up again and walked over to a cafe for breakfast then headed over to the sledding hill so Tommy and T.J. could tube. We weren’t sure if Tommy would like this so we just bought a pass for a couple runs so he could feel it out. After his first ride down he came bounding off the tube with a huge smile and immediately hopped back on the lift so we grabbed more tickets. I wrangled Will while dad and big brother went again and again. He did agree to go down once with mom, and apparently I was too slow, but I loved watching his little eyes squeeze tight and his mouth break into the biggest cheese. I’m so glad he’s brave. It took me years to be as brave as he is, as confident as he is in new unfamiliar settings. 

After tubing we hopped on the gondola and rode to the summit. It was a leisurely ride and we got a better look at the many slopes and admired the view. Mostly we spent the ride listening to Will say “woOow” and point as we passed other gondola cars, and convincing both boys to sit on their bottoms. 
At the top we made our way out onto a windy sky walk with panoramic views of the (snow-less) peaks. Then headed inside to warm up and indulge in a yummy lunch of bulgogi, ramen, and katsu pork. Back at the bottom we settled Will down for a nap and the rest of us snuggled together on the floor/bed to watch a movie.  

After a rest we headed to one of our favorite Korea fixtures, the kids cafe. I mentioned it above but these "cafes" are like a cleaner, prettier, more awesome Discovery Zone- remember those?- and a lifesaver on bad air days, rainy days, or just an average Tuesday when you've run out of ways to say no to screen time. They are everywhere,  all over the country, all different styles, and themes, all fun! You pay an entrance fee per child and a smaller fee for the guardians, pop your shoes in the little lockers and let your wild child loose. Inside there is typically a place for the parents to get a coffee and a little snack, some even have massage chairs for you to enjoy while your toddler literally climbs the walls or plays in the ball pit. (Side note: are there any ball pits left in America? They are everywhere here!) And though we haven't taken advantage of this feature, you can also choose to drop-off your children, which I think is an excellent service to have especially at a ski resort.  Anyway... I could go on and on about my love for kids cafes and how much I'm going to miss them when we return to the states... but all that's to say is we hit up the Champion Black Belt kids cafe at the Yongpyong Resort so the boys could burn some energy before heading to dinner. It only backfired a bit when T.J. had to forcibly drag a certain three year old kicking and screaming out of there... but yeah... he slept well that night! 

We woke up to actual snow flurries but didn't linger too long before packing up and getting on the road home. This was like many of our other adventures in Korea where we left feeling like we wish we could come back again knowing we saw only a small fraction of Pyeongchang. But since we only have a limited number of months remaining in Korea we're trying to cross of new places on each excursion we're able to take. As much as we wish we could have gotten to explore and travel off the peninsula and around Asia, I will say that even with two years just in Korea we've barely scratched the surface on all there is to see and do in this beautiful and unexpected country.