Morning Skies…

I am sitting on the terrace of my Riad watching the sky streak in magnificent oranges purples and deep blues as the sun rises over Morocco. It’s absolutely gorgeous, John Legend is crooning in my ears as I type this. The emotion that I am embodied by is I am Blessed. Blessed beyond measure. The calm in the morning allows ones thoughts to flow freely, the wonders of this world to touch us. The moment before all the hustle and bustle of our days ensue…

Have a great day Flirts XOXOXO

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Blowing in the Wind

Days such as today, remind me that escaping is a necessity. Vacations are a must! After a 16 hour day, the pressure for constant creative ingenuity leaves a craving to just SHUT DOWN, curl up into a ball and sleep. However, life isn’t like that! Not for me at least…. This leaves me lusting for an exotic adventure… A fling with a country that allows you let let go of your inhibitions and just be! No pressure to create, conform, maximize or any of the other synonyms that insinuate productivity for a Fortune 500 company. At this very moment all I want to do is sit still on a slice of gorgeous heaven on earth and let the universe whisper sweet nothing’s to me.. This is why I Flirt With Travel. Soothes my soul.

What do you do for a momentary relaxation?

Love, MistyPooh

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Excitement.. Translate in French

I love flirting with travel… I’m especially in love with the courting process of finding that special place.. Love at first sight, the butterflies you get from hearing all the amazing things… Imaging the sights you will experience together, the dinners you will enjoy. Creating those magnificent experiences that you will continually tell your grand kids about! I’m in love with that feeling of getting lost in the cultural and experiencing something different!

I have booked all the major necessities to make a trip happen: Flight and Hotel. I looked into purchasing my trains, however Morocco hasn’t decided to come completely into the new century and allow online booking and most importantly put their site in a language besides French- I DON’T SPEAK OR READ FRENCH! Lol who in this day and age only offers 1 language on a international website. Morocco, that’s who!!!! But that is ok, I will just learn how to coo to my new crush in their native tongue. Oi Oi.. See Learning already! 🙂

I will be landing in Casablanca. Having just watched Mr.Bogart perform in what placed this beautiful abounding city on the map I was psyched. However, after some light reading I learned that its extremely westernized and very modern. Kinda bummed but ill manage! After a day or so I will be heading to Marrakech by train and exploring. My accommodations seem amazing and have received glowing reviews! Definitely excited.

Stay tuned flirts…. Our next talks will be on Riads, a staple in the hotel industry when visiting Morocco.

Morocco Dolls in my grasp?

That is the question!!!!

As I sift through all the history of the North African country, I’m bombarded with a sense of heritage that dates back to when Moors were a prevalent force… Still may be. But I’m not to sure, which is precisely why I need to go!!!

For any vacation people tend to look and read and look at pictures upon more pictures upon yet some another batch of images. Creating this sense of need and urgency to discover this new and enticing realm…. Well I began looking at Moroccan food and although many culinary zealots rave about the diversity and history within. I’m at a lost, similar to being punched in the stomach; completely deflating the wind out of my sails. I am a food person, I love eating! So a vacation can be made or broken on the countries cuisine lol and Moroccan food, well it leaves a lot to be desired visually. Sheeps head is a commonality when eating street fair, also snail soup (supposedly it’s a great antidote for a fever) yuck! The bread looks promising lol so much for my low carb diet!

I need advice and feed back… Who enjoys their food???

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Travel Quote of the Day: a new you

What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.

William Least Heat Moon

So true. Next time I travel I’m reinventing myself. Now I just have to figure out how.

Travel Quote of the Day

Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.

Pat Conroy

My Can-Miss Experience in Vietnam’s Cultural Center

Hue was the last capital of Imperial Vietnam before it became communist Vietnam. It is a staple on the very well-trodden backpacker trail.  I can see why it is included, but it really isn’t a place I would have been torn up about missing.  

The main attractions are the Imperial Citadel (fortress or castle) and Imperial tombs.  The Citadel is fashioned after the forbidden city in Beijing.  Personally, I felt it lacked the grandeur and intimidating magnitude of the Forbidden City. Part of what made it feel like a cheap knock off is that it had been bombed to hell during the war.  There are entire areas reduced to their foundations.  Yet, for the areas still in tact, you get the notion that if Vietnam’s Imperial Citadel were placed next to China’s Forbidden city, you’d easily know which one is the genuine article.  

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That may sound harsh, but that is the risk you take when you imitate another countries architecture.  

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The tombs are much better. I did a half day tour where I visited three tombs.  Each tomb is designed and built by the individual emperors antemortem. For Emperor Tu Doc, he even built half as his summer palace before his death, while the other half acted as his tomb. 

The first tomb I visited belonged to Minh Mang. it was nice, but not incredibly memorable.  This imperial tomb is a reflection of the Chinese architectural concepts. The grave of Emperor Minh Mang was built by his successor and son Thieu Tri during the years 1840 to 1843, although Minh Mang designed the imperial tomb complex, he died in 1841. 

The Minh Mang tomb has an area of 18 hectares, surrounded by a wall enclosing 40 monuments, including palaces, temples and pavilions.The structure of the tomb is a symmetrical central axis by way of road, where the different monuments line up. This axis runs through a Lake of lotus flowers.

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The main entrance to the tomb is the Dai Hong Mon gate, from there we walked half a kilometer to reach the central courtyard. Once in the central courtyard, we climb a staircase of granite that lead us to the Pavilion of steles. From there, we crossed a bridge over a Lake of lotus flowers, the new Moon Lake, until reaching the temple where the sarcophagus of Emperor Minh Mang sits. 

After writing all that, I suddenly feel ridiculous for calling the place unimpressive, but it just didn’t leave me in awe. 

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The task of awe-inspiration was left to the second tomb I visited.  This tomb housed Khai Dinh. The scale was impressive.  When royals build monuments to themselves, I imagine they want to inspire the awe I felt at this particular tomb.  Ascending those massive steps only to be confronted with even greater, intimidating stone walls is an experience.

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The attention paid to every stone, carving, stele (an upright stone monument with inscriptions) and statue is a testament that Vietnamese architecture can amount to more than second-rate copies of Chinese buildings.  However, this tomb has a lot of western influences. 

 

The tomb took 11 years to build and is so elaborate with so many details that Khai Dinh  had to go to the French to buy steel, iron, cement and tiles. During a time of French occupation, this did not endear him to the Vietnamese people. The emperor also sent ships to China and Japan to obtain the ceramics and stained glass needed for the Tomb. Sadly, the cost of construction of the Imperial Khai Dinh tomb was such that the Emperor raised taxes to the Vietnamese village by 30%.

Upon crossing the gateway to the imperial Tomb, there are 37 steps whose railings have been carved in the shape of dragons, these dragons are the largest of all Vietnam. 

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At the top of the steps there is a small courtyard with mandarins on both sides. Then we have to climb another 29 steps to see the courtyard of ceremonies, with stone statues, which unlike the rest of the Hue imperial tombs, has 2 rows of statues where the second row are the bodyguards to the emperor.

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The last part of the complex of Khai Dinh, at the top of the Imperial Tomb, is the Thien Dinh Palace, there we can see the sarcophagus of the Emperor. The main hall contains a statue of the seated Emperor Khai Dinh upon his throne and at his feet, his sarcophagus. The decoration is made with stained glass and ceramic based mosaics broken into pieces.

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In the room next to the sarcophagus, there is a statue of Emperor Khai Dinh, scale, made of bronze. It is hard to tell from the photo but he was a tiny, little man. 

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Maybe it was his small stature that lead him to think so large when building his tomb.  Though, in comparison with the rest of imperial tombs, this imperial tomb is small, little more than 5600 square meters. Nevertheless, it is still the one to beat in my mind and as this is the final imperial tomb constructed in Hue, no one will ever get a chance to beat it. 

The third tomb, belonging to Tu Duc, was beautiful, but I had been so entranced by the gray stone walls of Khai Dinh’s tomb that I was a bit let down by Tu Duc. The tomb is an architectural complex which covers 12 hectares of surface and in its interior there are 50 buildings including palaces and pavilions. The Tomb took 3 years to build. Emperor Tu Duc designed the imperial tomb and, once finished, used in life for years as a Summer Palace and retreat. 

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Next to the stele Pavilion, there is the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. While this tomb was not as impressive, this tomb had the most interesting story to tell. The body of Emperor Tu Duc is not actually in the tomb and no one knows where he was truly laid to rest. For fear of his enemies desecrating his body or simple looting, he was buried in a secret location. The unfortunate 200 souls that buried him were then beheaded when they returned from the secret route just to make sure no one would ever really know where he was buried. To this day, the location of Tu Duc’s body is still unknown. 

 

(the place that doesn’t actually hold the emperor’s body)Image

 

 

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(the dragons symbolize the emperor’s power, but they always rest below to sun which has ultimate power)

 

 

 

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(at the time of his living there, this was filled with rain water, and was the bathtub for the Emperor, he believed it was important to bathe in water from heaven)

Altogether, these are the major sites to see in Hue. There is a cave that is a day trip away, which I did not make it to visit.  However, should you be in Vietnam and find yourself with a real time shortage, you can cover the tombs and citadel within a day easily. Hue was not a can’t miss considering that the architecture is derivative of either China or western Europe.  If you’ve spent time in either of those places, you’ll probably just find yourself wishing you could see what traditional Vietnamese architecture looks like instead of a best of tour. In my most humble opinion, Hue is worth a stop, just make it a short stop.

Trains, Scammers and Murderous Thoughts

The night on the train, one of my worst in existence.  I moved from Hanoi down to Hue. While Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, some people call Hue the cultural center. Hue was the capital before 1945, when the communist government took over the country. Hue houses the Imperial Palace, a lot of imperial tombs and quite a few pagodas. 

There are several ways to get to Hue from Hanoi, chief among those, by rail or bus. Having taken an overnight bus in Thailand, I wanted to check out the train experience. It is a 12 hour train ride, so I figured would get really ritzy and pay $50 for the soft berth, a cushioned mat that acts as a bed for me to pass the hours comfortably.

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That’s what I paid for, and that is what I got, with a bitter, bitter twist.  Coming to the station, a man at the ticket gate asked me to see my ticket, he looked at it, handed it to someone who punched a whole through it, then the first man grabbed my rolling suitcase and navigated me to the correct car and berth. Once inside, he held out his hand. Then it hit me, I had heard about this scam, I had read about this scam. I thought I was prepared for it, but he moved so fast and efficiently that I didn’t quite process what was going on. 

 

I rationalized, it would have taken me a few minutes to figure out how to read my ticket and find the right place, so I’d tip him.  I pull out a 20,000 dong bill. I assumed the equivalent of $1 was enough.  He tells me no, it costs 50,000 dong. I laugh at him and say no. He goes into his wallet and pulls out a 50,000 bill to give me an example and  continues standing there. Then he starts speaking loudly and I’ll admit it, I felt uncomfortable enough that I wanted him out of my face. I buckled and pulled out a larger bill.  Then he gives me the wrong change back, to which I exclaim, “Are you kidding me!” While this sounds innocent enough, I have recently noticed that I use this phrase when I am about to lose my shit and raise hell.

 

He quickly gave me the correct change and then clears out, but not before grabbing one of my braids to examine it. To start my hellish night on the train dealing with that dreadful crook left me in the worst of moods.

 

In my berth already was one other woman.  We quickly established that she only spoke Vietnamese and I only spoke English.  We also established that I was going to Hue and she was going to Da Nang.  

 

Next, her husband came in and they proceeded to have a very loud conversation which lasted six hours, intermittently, of the twelve hour train ride. Finally, another man wandered into the room, pulled out an iPad, tossed his bag under my bed and proceeded to sit down on my bed and surf the net. 

 

I passive aggressively gave him a death stare for a few minutes.  When he glanced around and saw me glaring back at him he stood up and moved to the top bed. I would have happily taken the top bunk, but I did not want to be sleeping near three strangers and far away from my belongings too. As it was, I used my handbag as my pillow. 

 

Momentarily after he climbed up to the top bunk, I noticed dirty feet dangling over the edge, invading my space.  The grimace on my face deepened. 

 

I slept entirely uncomfortably through the night, I woke up at least hourly in paranoid fits. Finally, at 5:30 I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to stay awake.  I used the time to write, draw and stare at the wall intently. 

 

While all of this was more than a little unpleasant, the low point of this train ride came when I realized first that my room was right next to speakers that blasted Vietnamese folk music.  Even more amazingly, the speakers lowered to a whisper when they announced what stations were coming up next. Nevertheless, bad turned into I-might-throw-myself-from-this-train worse when one of the men got instant ramen to eat. 

 

My issue with loud eating goes beyond a slight neurosis.  It ranges from thinking I’d like to take chopsticks and jam them into my ears to deafen myself to full-blown, I’d rather take those chopsticks and jam them into obnoxious eater’s aorta. The vividness and frequency with which I have imagined this is alarming. 

 

I put in my headphones and blasted my loudest rock music.  Still, knowing that world class slurping was happening less than three feet away from me, had me on edge.  When he finished, I was able to release the tightness in my muscles.  The man stood up and walked out, I breathed a sigh of relief.  

 

Ten minutes later he walked back in carrying another steaming Styrofoam bowl of instant ramen. I audibly gasped and roughly stuffed my earbuds back into my ears.  I thought I was livid as he hoovered that second bowl of ramen, but when he finished and his wife walked in with ramen for herself, I started seeing red.  On top of her slurping, she had this lip smack that permeated through my music.  I couldn’t even sketch to distract myself. I just stared at the wall wishing I was not so attached to my stuff that I couldn’t leave it unattended, just so that I could be away from these wretched people. 

 

Finally, after 11 hours and 45 minutes, the train ride ended.  The moment the door opened, I leapt from the car like I was taking a leap into freedom. Looking back at that atrocious form of transportation, I vowed that would be my last Vietnamese train experience. 

 

Side note: while my train experience was awful due to my own idiosyncrasies, I have since heard several horror stories about the train involving rats, roaches, and people propping their bare, dirty feet and your armrest. I am unbelievably perturbed that I had not heard about what a nightmare Vietnamese train travel is online. 

 

On the other hand, buses are cleaner, more comfortable and not nearly as noisy.  Busses over trains is my most solid travel advice for any trip you may take to Vietnam.

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My trip around the Unesco World Heritage site, Halong Bay