Instead of searching for Easter eggs (we follow traditions very rarely anyway) we decided to spend the long weekend at Lake Garda, the place that always has a special place in our hearts. It’s because it (and Venice) was the destination of our very first vacation together, way back in 2011, the trip that changed the course of our lives and fate(s). Now I wonder why we’ve waited this long to come back here.
One thing you must know about Garda Lake is that it is immensly popular among Germans, especially those living in the South like we are. Coming down on Easter weekend we already knew we couldn’t possibly avoid the crowds, but I believe we managed to make the best out of it. We stayed in Gaino, a small village on the less popular side of the lake, rent a fast motorbike and headed uphills to the mountains, exactly the opposite of everybody else.
Italy is probably Europe’s most favourite country among tourists and they have very good reasons for it. The weather is usually nice, mild in the winter and always sunny all year around. The foods are always delicious and the scenery is more than dreamy. We’re not particularly fond of anything over popular but its charm is undeniable. Many Germans end up here after retirement, we won’t be surprised if we would, too ;-).
We always like going to Berlin. It’s one of the cities that keeps inventing itself, be a world in its own. People usually have very different opinions of Berlin based on their experiences or which part of the city they live in. Like most metropole, it has its flaws and a few darker sides but once you’ve managed to look pass them, you’d keep coming back for more, like we do.
I lived here for 3 months when I first arrived in Germany and I had the best of time. When we first started dating, J kind of had half a job in the city so I accompanied him pretty often when he came here for business. At some stage it became such a rituals for us to come here before Christmas, we don’t really know why. However we never took much fotos just like you never do of your own home, because it’s so familiar that you don’t have the need to capture it in pictures.
Fortunately for us this time, our friend Nicolas (who’s a half Berliner himself) has introduced us to such a cool place, the Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg which is most famous for its street food Thursday event. Needless to say, we needed to check it out.
For some unknown reasons Hue had never been on the top of our list, totally overshadowed by our favorite city of Hoi An. Upon receving the wedding invitation of our friends from Frankfurt (he’s American-German and she’s originally from Hue) who happened to tie the knots during the time we’re in Vietnam, we knew we couldn’t miss it.
It’s quite easy to come to Hue cause it has an airport of its own, like most cities in Vietnam. Since it’s the end of our journey, we began to feel quite tired of the noise and the crowds that occupied the streets of Saigon and pretty much every where we went. Upon arriving in Hue, we were so positively surprised that Hue turned out to be the odd one out, seemingly unaffected by mass tourism.
Hue is quiet, peoetic even. Most of the city architecture is kept pretty “old-school”, in a very good way. Everwhere you look, you see old temples, wooded houses, women in traditional dresses, men on xich-lo cycle. It is typical for what Vietnam used to look like 50 years or so ago, and we love it. There never seemed to be a rush-hour, nor polution, nor anything people dislike about huge (Asian) cities. It felt almost like a small village (though it has over 300 thousands inhabitants) where everyone knew everyone else. One day we let two xich-lo cycles riding us around. The next day, we rented a motorbike to explore the outer areas. We liked pretty much everything we saw. If there were a next time, we would definitely stay longer than 3 days to explore more.
The first thing we checked out was the Imperial City (like everyone else I guess), a walled palace within the Citadel, one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Built way back in the 14th century but it only became the royal residence and national center of power in 1802 with the founding of the Nguyen dynasty. The Citadel is surrounded by four 2-meter-thick walls, each has the length of 2.5 km, facing the Huong River to the East. It originally consisted of 160 buildings/palaces, numerous gates, courtyards, gardens and ponds. Once a political and cultural pride, the citadel was heavily destroyed in a battle in 1968 during the Vietnam war. Of the 160, only 10 buildings survived. You heard me right, only 10 of them remained, what a shame… Nowadays, numerous bullet holes can still be seen on the stone walls.
The city has made great efforts in restoring the sites and preserving what is remained, but with the typical slow Vietnamese pace (and unsufficient funding of course), there’s little hope they will be finished anytime soon. Just imagine what it used to look like in its glory days….
As mentioned above, we did not have much time to explore, but given Hue’s small size, I think we managed to see the bigger part of it, leaving out the Royal Tombs for next time.
Thien Mu Pagoda, located nicely on a little hill next to the Huong River, is built in 1601 and is the unoffical symbol of the city of Hue. It is a short and scenic drive from the Citadel long the river, luckily we had a rented bike.
And the reason we were here: the wedding. I’m glad we got to attend a Vietnamese traditional ceremony for J to see, cause we chose to forgo that part ourselves. We even found a seamtress that made our Ao Dai, traditional Vietnamese dresses, on short notice. I guess we blended in just fine.
Although this post is called downtown Saigon, it actually starts with some pictures of trip to Gò Công, a village roughly 50km south of Saigon – however more than 2 hours to drive by car. Gò Công was the hometown of P’s grand parents and it’s where they are buried. Some relatives are still living there, in a vast farming area. Actually the whole Mekong delta is a vast farming area, almost every spot is used to grow rice or fruit.