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.
The title has said it all. The minute we arrived in this amazingly beautiful “resort” on Sao Miquel – the biggest island in the Azores, all the sickness and hustles of the past few days were immediately forgotten. The owners, Jorge from Sao Miquel and Eleni from Australia/Greece, renovated their property and turned it into a wedding locatin just last year. They added the Greek chapel and a “glass house”, in which the newlywed couple could spend the night in the “honeymoon suite” in the back. We call it the glass house because the front (living) room is made entirely of glasses. It is one huge open space with the bedroom/honeymoon suite and the bathroom are “hidden” behind the open kitchen. We loved the view in here so much that we chose to sleep on the bed-couch in the middle of the glass house just to take it all in.
Wanting to escape the busy city life, we headed to the National Park of Sintra-Cascais right after landing the first time in Portugal, saving its capital for later. After reading too many reviews about the cheating behavior of Portugese taxi-drivers (which is really a shame cause this country could really do better), we decided to book our pick-up in advance to save us all the troubles. After about 45 minute drive, we arrived in the little town of Colares where we rented a small cottage on the beautiful property of a Portugese family. Taking on their advise, we booked the sunset dinner at Bar do Fundo, nicely located on Praia Grande beach which is just a short walk away. Our timing couldn’t have been any better as it was late in the afternoon and the sun was casting its shade on the horizon. The descending walk to the beach we took happened to be the Dinosaur route with supposedly some Dinosaur footprints to be seen. Honestly, we didn’t see any cause we weren’t aware of of their existence, hence we weren’t looking. But we saw something else we liked maybe even better: our dream home. It was a spacious wooden villa on the cliff overlooking the Atlantics, totally secluded from the village life, something we had always imagined our home would look like…. (sigh)…. No, we didn’t take pictures of it, only in our minds.
Dinner was great. Our host even offered to pick us up from the beach to save us the hike back home so everything was exactly how it’s supposed to be: lovely place, beach, sunset, seafoods, good wines, and the two of us. We were very content till the next morning when I suddenly got reeaallly really sick in the stomach (it turned out to be some virus infection). I won’t bother you with all the ugly details, just saying it was a truly horrifying experience being in a secluded Portugese coastal town on a Friday afternoon (which also meant no chance to find any doctor at that hour) where people spoke very little English… Fortunately, our host has a Doctor friend whom they could call at the house and had him come to see me. So all is well that ends well, isn’t it. Only that it took me a couple of days to recover and it kind of ruined the first part of our trip, and my mood to say the least :-(.
Needless to say, with me in bed for 2 whole days we couldn’t spend much time outside. On our last day in the area, we decided to make the most of it and start our vacation all over again so we rented a bike and drive around. We were very glad we did.
Sintra is a very lovely coastal town about 30km away from Lisbon but since we’re not the tourist kind, the only attraction we chose to visit is Quinta da Regaleira with its magnificently designed and well-kept garden. It is truly a magical place that could have come directly from a fairly tale.