We’re now feeling like we’ve really explored Catalonia. Along with finding many of the nooks and crannies in Barcelona, we’ve ventured up the coast to Girona and Figueres, westward and inland to Montserrat, and now it’s time for us to drive South down the coast. Our destination is Tarragona, a city founded in the 5th century BC, and now designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its extensive Roman ruins.
But along the way, we find a surprise and beautiful stop. The inspiration for the stop is part because the car is low on gas, part because Lindsey needs to use the bathroom again, part because I’ve found a cute little coffee shop, and part because it’s halfway between Barcelona and Tarragona. Sitges, a small touristy beach town full of nice hotels, has a quaint old city and a pristine cathedral right on the ocean. Tarragona is spectacular as is expected, but Sitges turned out to be the real treat today.
On the return trip, we take the Catalonian equivalent of California’s Pacific Coast Highway and enjoy the colorful sky created by the sunset as we return to Barcelona.
Visiting Campeche’s old quarters is like stepping back into the past.This might be because as a UNESCO world heritage site, the area needs to look and feel like it did back in the mid 16th century soon after the Spanish began the conquest of the Yucatan Peninsula.The best part of UNESCO sites are that they seem beautifully authentic, even if they are anything but.And even if they are just facades, they do transport us.Sometimes a little imagination and some turning off of skepticism can make the world seem brighter, and in fact, in Campeche, by allowing ourselves to be transported back in time, the walls that line the streets do seem more colorful.On top of all this, although a bit Disneyland-esque, when the clock strikes 8pm, there is an entertaining light show accompanied by playful music in the main plaza of the old quarters.Both locals and tourists come to the square to partake.
One of the highlights in Campeche happens just before sunset while we enjoy a ceviche cooking class.We learn to make several varieties of ceviche, and throughout, we get to taste many other dishes of the region – panuchos, salbutes, sopa de lima, and more.The scene romantic, the food fresh, the drinks smooth, and the evening warm, we wonder the typical question leaving any cooking class: They made that seem so easy, so what are the chances we can reproduce this back home?The answer is maybe, but taste is only one part of an experience and reproducing all in its entirety will be nearly impossible.Thus, we make sure to cherish and love the moment while here.
Luang Probang is vibrant and calm. The land is lush and the brown Mekong River is dotted with brightly painted boats. Monks walk quietly, yesterday’s bright orange robes drying on the line. The tuk tuks are orange, blue, red, and white. Golden temples are everywhere. There is one main street in Old Town. It’s just a mile long and extends a few blocks in either direction making the area feel manageable. It’s tropical and only recently discovered by tourists, giving us the benefit of a tourist economy in a place where authenticity reigns.
At the morning market you can find chicken, dead or alive, rats roasted on a stick, vegetables picked fresh at dawn, and noodles served atop a banana leaf. At the night market you can find jewelry, key chains and spoons made from bombs and unexploded ordinances from the civil war. We were asked not to allow anyone other than registered guests into our hotel, to keep up “public morale”. English is the language of tourists, and tourists are the source of income, so everyone from monks to guides to shop owners are eager to learn. Most only know “shop talk” though, meaning they know the script of their field, but nothing outside of it.Our favorite restaurant is called Khaiphaen, both for its food and its mission to help street children and youth in Laos. The cuisine in Laos is simple, as most people cook over a fire, using only what can be found in nature. You can still find croissants and baguettes, a relic of ownership by the French.
Luang Prabang is a Southeast Asian oasis. The UNESCO World Heritage site served as a retreat for us, far from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. Laos is in the midst of change. It’s easy to look past the poverty and struggle in the sparkle of Western comfort and the highest level of service. We’re so grateful to get to experience a more complete Luang Prabang.
After a wonderful weekend in Princeton, meeting my newest nephew for the first time and celebrating a milestone birthday for my pops, we continue eastward to France. We arrive just after noon, rent a cherry red Fiat 500, somehow figure out how to escape Charles De Gaulle airport, and start heading towards Annecy in Southeastern France.
With some French tunes playing through Spotify’s French Café Lounge playlist, we are getting ourselves in the spirit.Along the way, we have planned to enjoy the French country, the terroir of some of the most valuable and delicious wine in the world.Driving through Burgundy, we find ourselves in Vezelay. Vezelay is a small hilltop town around since ancient times, and its famous Romanesque Basilica of St. Magdelene has made it a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We wander through town, step into the main church to warm choir music, and sit down to enjoy a meal outside of an enchanting green-painted restaurant.We quickly learn that the menu isn’t too helpful without an English speaking waiter, thus we wait a bit for someone to come by.Although the meal is complete with some salad, well-prepared fish, and wine, we are easily most thrilled by the cheese plate.