Tours en l'air organizes ballet-themed escorted holidays to see the best companies perform great ballets in beautiful places. You can join a trip from anywhere. A highly knowledgeable balletomane who has enjoyed 100s of performances in over 20 cities around the world,I speak English, French, and German, and am a Travel Industry Council of Ontario certified Travel Counsellor. I also teach ballet appreciation courses.
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Tours en l'air Ballet Holidays are offered in partnership with CWT Victor Travel, 101 - 8800 Dufferin Street, Concord, ON L4K 0C5, 416-736-6010, TICO # 1892647


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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Travel tips for ballet lovers: Korea

If you are going to a ballet performance at the Seoul Arts Centre in the south of Seoul (where ABT recently performed and the National Ballet of Korea and Universal Ballet Korea often perform), a good place to stay is the Provista Hotel, 1677-8 Seocho Dong, Seocho Gu. Although the rack rate listed on its site for a double or twin room is 190,000 won, I was able to book it through and expedia for considerably less than that (about $120 a night, but this may have been the low season). The rooms are very spacious (our twin also had a loft with an extra bed, so you could easily fit three people in a room). They also include a little kitchenette with a fridge, two gas burners, bowls, plates, cups, spoons, forks, and chopsticks, a saucepan and frying pan, an electric kettle, and a washer-dryer. You can rent a microwave for an extra 5,000 won a day. This means you can easily have breakfast in your room, although a buffet is provided in the downstairs restaurant, Felice, for an extra 15,000 won (a little less than $15). Wifi is free. The front desk staff don't speak English very well. Airport bus 6020 from Incheon airport (15,000 won) will drop you off at a stop ("Jinheung Apartments") just past the hotel (about 2 minutes walk) after about a 60 minute ride in from the airport. Just after the Seoul University of Education stop, let the driver know you will be getting off next. The stops are announced in English.
There are many restaurants, bakeries, and a supermarket nearby.
Although this is not a part of Seoul with lots of tourist sites, the hotel is only 3 minutes walk from the Seoul National University of Education subway stop. Two major lines go through here: Line 3 will take you in about 25 minutes to the major palaces, the Insadong street full of craft shops, the Namsangol Hanok Village  open air museum, the Cheonggyechoeon stream, and the Sejong Centre for the Performing Arts (where Stuttgart Ballet recently performed). Line 2 will take you in about 10 minutes east to the Samseong station, close to the Coex shopping mall, and only 15 minutes walk from Bongeunsa temple. Going west on line 2 three stops to Sadang station, you can transfer to Line 1  three more stops to Ichon station for the National Museum of Korea, which is well worth a visit. Subway fare is incredibly cheap in Seoul, only about $1 a ride. You might be advised to practise stair climbing ahead of your visit, though, as the subways are very deep and the stairs out of them are very steep (this is true of the Tokyo subway system as well)!
From the hotel, it is also easy to get to the Korean Folk Village in Suwon. This is an open air museum where several traditional dwellings from around Korea have been relocated and you can learn about traditional Korean crafts. The Korean farmers' folk dances (at 11 am) are really entertaining. From the hotel, walk about 10 minutes east to Gangnam subway station. Turn right and you will see a centre median in the street which is reserved for southbound buses. Catch the red express 5001-1 bus (runs about every 15 minutes), which for 2100 won will take you directly in 40 minutes to the Korean Folk Village (Miksochon in Korean, but the bus will announce this stop in English).
The Seoul Arts Centre is about 25 minutes walk away from the hotel, or you can take line 3 south one stop to Nambu bus terminal where you can connect to a shuttle bus that takes you right to the theatre (or you can walk from there). But you might as well just take a taxi, as it is only about 4000 won (less than $4!) straight from the hotel. BUT make sure you have the name and address of the Seoul Arts Centre in Korean written down on a piece of paper for the taxi driver. Do not ask the front desk just to translate "Seoul Arts Centre" for you as they will get it wrong.
Although getting to Korea will probably be expensive, once you get there, it's a pretty inexpensive place to visit, as you can get great Korean food for less than $10, subway and taxi fare is cheap, and many of the sights are either free or very inexpensive ($1 or $3 admission for the palaces, for instance, and free admission to the National Museum of Korea). Tipping is not practised in Korea.
A word to the wise for tea drinkers: You can get many exotic types of tea in Korea (Job's tears, Solomon's seal, mugwort, quince, papaya...) but it is surprisingly difficult to find "ordinary" black tea in grocery stores. If you are unhappy without your morning cuppa, bring a stash of teabags with you.
Try to avoid going to Seoul in July, when there are two choices of weather on offer: incredibly hot and humid, or pouring with rain.
A final tip: If you are departing from Incheon Airports international gates 100+, make sure to find some time for the Korea Culture Museum up one floor from the gates (there is also a nice tranquil public lounge up there). It has some beautiful replicas of artifacts and a great interactive music display. You can have the attendant write your name out for you in the Korean alphabet, Hangeul.  On the same level as the departure gates there is also a Korean "Cultural experience" where you can try your hand at various Korean arts and crafts.

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