As one of my Oxalis guides, Tang, was recommending me to take the sleeper bus from Dong Hoi to Hoi An, I was trying to recall why exactly I had booked a day train ticket (that required us to leave Phong Nha at 6:20AM). After some checking of the train schedule I remembered it was because of Seat 61's recommendation to see the route from Hue to Danang during the day, saying that it was one of the most scenic train routes in all of Vietnam (admittedly I thought the same when we cruised through one of the stops prior to Dong Hoi a few hours south of Ninh Binh). Unbelievably clear blue water and pristine beaches....
The only odd thing about the journey was as we approached Hue, loud blaring music came on, and I was thinking, "Wow, so Vietnamese trains blast music like how folks say Myanmar buses do?" But then it turned into a really pleasant announcement in English about the historical capital of Hue and how it was a UNESCO site. Some folks we met actually recommended Hue and said that it was less touristy than Hoi An. Next time, I suppose, I'll have to come back for a seafood-themed trip. (Apparently Danang itself has a lot of great seafood places.)
Ok, so maybe I won't eat the steamed corn because the lady de husks it with her hands and doesn't clean them between handling money and touching the corn. And maybe I didn't try the rice porridge (they tend to ignore folks who are obviously not Vietnamese-- and I was too slow every time I saw the porridge pass by). However, on the way south there was a nice lunch cart that pulled through. Handy tip: If you want food, there is actually a lady who passes by and sells lunch/meal tickets, but don't freak out if you don't buy one-- the helpful cart people will gladly tell you the price (30,000 Dong) and won't deny you lunch just because the meal ticket lady ignored you. It wasn't bad-- soy chicken with cooked veggies, rice, and soup. My point is, there are good and cheap options, and the folks who serve those who ride the train surprisingly don't jack up the prices for foreigners (seriously even the stalls at the Danang train station were selling lots of food and drinks for cheap).
My mom came back from Cancun a few years ago, describing how beautifully blue the water was. My dad took pictures, and I just didn't believe that it was that blue, but that the camera was over-saturating the colors. Now that I've been here, I can tell you that there are certain spots that are absolutely amazing. Now if only it wasn't so humid....
I came to Isla Mujeres for a family friend's wedding. It's an interesting place that's a vacation spot for both locals and foreigners alike. We stayed near the ferry stop at Hotel Playa de La Media Luna. There was a great beach, though it seemed that the nearby Mia hotel had an even better cove to snorkel and swim in. Nearby was Playa Norte, which had some amazing sand and deep blue oceans. For the most part, there are lots of restaurants that cater to the American tourists, but if you look carefully as you walk a block or two off the main roads, you'll find some interesting places.
Places of note:
Chichen Itza is a fair distance from Cancun (~3.5 hr car ride). It's one of the oldest ancient pyramid sites in the Yucatan Peninsula and consisted of two ancient peoples, the Mayans and the Toltec. There is some shade, but for the most part, it gets really really hot. Just as a side note, we stayed at one of the local hotels that was connected to the entrance so we could go in at 8 am (there is also an option on some days to go in at sunset). If you take the tour from Cancun (as in join a group bus tour) the buses arrive around 11am, which means that you're in some pretty sweltering heat.
I've been to a bunch of major cities in Europe. I made my first trip when I was 8 (9-day trafalgar bus tour around France). I've been constantly trying to find those beautiful sights folks always talk about, or those quaint little towns. And I definitely loved places like Mont St. Michel, Paris, London, or Edinburgh. But something was missing....
Genoa, Italy feels like an authentic city. A UNESCO site, the old city/port area is full of little shops and narrow streets, reminding me of the feel of side streets in Hong Kong. There are buildings from the 11th century mixed with Renaissance palaces and grand fountains. Unlike so many towns I've been to, this just feels more raw and unpolished. This is the Europe I've been looking for.
Totally by chance that I got to discover this place. Thanks to generous support of the project I've been working on with Ocean Alliance and Olin College's Intelligent Vehicles Lab, I got to tag along as we went to present our work at the IEEE OCEANS/MTS conference in Genoa, Italy. We scored a great airbnb apartment for the six of us, and discovered that food is really cheap in comparison to Boston. (Though apparently it's not as cheap as food in southern Italy.) It certainly doesn't suck to be an ocean engineer, and everyone perks up when you tell them you build SnotBots (flying robots that collect whale breath).
I won't bore you with the details, but here are some facts I found intriguing:
The fishing village called Bocadasse was all we had time to see of the Ligurian coastline!
We ate a lot of octopus. It was pretty amazing food in general.
Example of food at the conference. The pasta was amazing (you could buy it fresh from the bakeries, too) though I wasn't such a big fan of the fava bean.
Tips for traveling here:
Sights to see:
Piazza de Ferrari at night.
Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato. It was just as impressive as the cathedral that was close by. These folks sure had a lot of money back in the day (this church dates back to 17th century).
Links to my albums on Flickr:
Traveling the world since 1994. Taking notes about the places I've been so that friends and family can go there too!