Travelling from South Korea to get stranded in a Buffalo blizzard

Alexander Campagna and his wife, Andrea, hosting 10 stranded South Korean visitors who were in a tour group headed to Niagara Falls. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK - Mr Alexander Campagna and his wife Andrea, lifelong residents of Buffalo, New York, were ready to wait the blizzard out. They had stocked the fridge and planned for a quiet holiday weekend indoors at their home in suburban Williamsville, as long as the power stayed on.

Then, on Friday at 2pm, with the storm already swirling and snow rapidly piling up, making roads impassable, there was a knock at the door. Two men, part of a group of nine tourists from South Korea that was travelling to Niagara Falls, asked for shovels to dig their passenger van out of a ditch.

And so an unlikely holiday weekend began, with the Campagnas welcoming the travellers, along with their driver, as house guests. They became “accidental innkeepers”, said Mr Campagna, a 40-year-old dentist.

Before leaving on Friday morning from Washington, the tour participants, most of them from Seoul, seemed unaware of the worrisome forecast, said Mr Choi Yoseb, 27, who is from Pyeongtaek. He was travelling with his wife Claire on the tour, which they had booked for their honeymoon.

A day earlier, he had grown concerned after receiving messages from friends alerting him to the coming storm. On Friday, the van ride was slippery and windy, and the passengers had become anxious, he said.

Then, after hours of watching the weather deteriorate outside the van’s windows, they ended up stranded near the Campagna house, Mr Choi said.

The Campagnas, well aware of the dangers the storm presented, immediately invited the travellers in, “knowing, as a Buffalonian, this is on another level, the Darth Vader of storms”, Mr Campagna said.

The visitors – seven women and three men – filled the three-bedroom house, sleeping on couches, in sleeping bags, on an air mattress and in the home’s guest bedroom. The other travellers included parents with their daughter, an Indiana college student, and two college-age friends from Seoul. Three of them spoke English proficiently.

They spent the weekend swopping stories, watching the Buffalo Bills defeat the Chicago Bears on Christmas Eve and sharing delicious Korean home-cooked meals prepared by the guests, like jeyuk bokkeum, a spicy stir-fried pork dish, and dakdori tang, a chicken stew laced with fiery red pepper.

To the surprise and glee of the Korean guests, Mr Campagna and his wife, who are both fans of Korean food, had all the necessary condiments on hand: mirin, soya sauce, Korean red pepper paste, sesame oil and chilli flakes. There was also kimchi and a rice cooker.

“It was kind of like fate,” Mr Choi said, remarking on the luck of arriving at the Campagnas’ doorstep with their fully stocked kitchen and unhesitating hospitality. He said the hosts were “the kindest people I have ever met”.

One of the guests, the mother of the Indiana college student, was a fabulous cook, he said.

“We destroyed so much food,” he added.

Mr Campagna said the unexpected guests had been a delight.

“We have enjoyed this so much,” he said, calling it a “unique blessing”, and adding that the experience has inspired the couple to plan a visit to South Korea. “We will never forget this.”

Mr Choi said he had spent some of his high school years learning English in Michigan and Kansas, but his wife had never been to the United States, so the tour was a chance to travel to several cities she was eager to see. The plan had been to visit New York City, Washington, Niagara Falls and Montreal.

After landing in New York City on Dec 21 for the tour, which was operated by a South Korean company called Yellow Balloon, they visited the Empire State Building and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, browsed the Museum of Modern Art and checked out the Oculus at the World Trade Center, all in one day. In Washington, they visited the White House, the Lincoln Memorial and one of the Smithsonian museums.

A South Korean tour group’s van buried in the snow outside the house of Alexander Campagna and his wife, Andrea. PHOTO: NYTIMES

“We were tired, but it was exciting,” Mr Choi said. Even the unexpected snow disaster contributed to the experience, he said, allowing the couple to experience a “warm welcome from real Americans”.

“We are happy and luckily and gracefully having a great Christmas with Andrea and Alex,” Mr Choi said.

A group of stranded South Korean visitors spent Christmas eve with Alexander Campagna and his wife, Andrea. PHOTO: NYTIMES

On Sunday, the snow was winding down and the road was ploughed, but the van remained stuck. Drivers arrived to pick up the tourists, who were returning to New York City, from where most of them will fly back to South Korea in the middle of the week. Mr Choi said he and his wife will stay a bit longer to celebrate New Year’s Day in Times Square.

Had they been stranded for another night, they had been thinking of bulgogi – Korean grilled beef – for Christmas dinner. NYTIMES

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