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Entries about tourist sites

Hoi An

We have spent a few days in this charming, though commercial city. For hundreds of years it was a major port, but eventually the river leading to the nearby sea filled with silt, and so the boat traffic moved up to Danang. Perhaps this was a good thing, as many of Hoi An's old buildings were spared modernization. Most likely, things will stay as they are, because now it is a World Heritage Site. Hoi An is chock full of tourists, restaurants, lanterns, and above all, silk tailor shops. Nevertheless the streets set aside for walking are blissfully free of motorbikes, at least at times, and the riverside setting is quite pleasant.

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Hoi An has a vibrant food market in the center of town.

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It is next to the river.

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At night, the French colonial buildings are quite atmospheric.

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As well as the boats along the quay.



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Once again we had our own personal tour guide. Han, who had previously showed us around Danang, met us in Hoi An yesterday. We walked most of the city streets with her, and ate tiny snails, a local delicacy, as well as excellent ice cream. We also met her parents who live in town, and got to see her twin 14 month old nephews, who are as cute as can be.



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It was a lovely day, as she got to practice her English, and we got to spend time with a local person who could show us the interesting Chinese meeting halls and other sites.




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They also treated us just like family in the Hai Au Hotel, learning our first names immediately, and anticipating our every need.



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Posted by jonshapiro 12:20 Archived in Vietnam Tagged buildings people tourist_sites cities_postcards Comments (3)

Hue

When we arrived in Hue it was pouring, and our taxi driver tried to cheat us. Everyone, especially taxi drivers it seems, can't be nice. Hue, much smaller than Hanoi is more manageable. While there are motorbikes, and you still have to be careful crossing the street, it is more relaxed and far less polluted.

Today it is still raining, but lightly, and so we were able to walk around the Citadel and the old imperial city. Much of it was destroyed by very heavy American bombing. So pointless. It is hard to understand how it would be possible to bomb such a beautiful and historic place, but I guess that has never stopped others in the past. They are now in the process of reconstructing it, but there is still a lot to see. Old brick walls, dragon and phoenix paintings on the walls, dramatic archways etc. Despite the chilly and clammy weather we spent a few hours wandering around.

Entrance to the Imperial City
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Arch Details in the Imperial City
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The Vietnamese flag, once again, flies over the highest point in the Citadel. As Huyen says, it is very beautiful, but also very sad because of all of the destruction. The Vietnamese must be a resilient people, after all they have been through. One thousand years of Chinese domination, then approximately 100 years of French rule followed by a war of independence, and then the partitioning of north and south, followed by 10 years or more of war with the Americans. And yet here they are, proud of their ancient culture.




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On the following day, it was still overcast for our boat ride on the Perfume River, but the rain held off. The attraction here, are the late 19th century tombs of the emperors, which line the banks of the river, each trying to out due the others in pomp and circumstance. Unfortunately, the whole trip has become quite commercial, and each of the tombs has a separate admission charge. Nonetheless, it is worth doing.




Looking out toward Perfume River from tomb
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Tomb ceiling detail
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Stone warriors in tomb courtyard
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Yours truely
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A splash of color along the river
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Posted by jonshapiro 12:15 Archived in Vietnam Tagged buildings tourist_sites cities_postcards Comments (2)

Halong Bay

We went out to Halong Bay for two days and a night, after booking with a small travel agency in old town, Hanoi. I would guess they all sell the same tours on various boats with slightly different prices. Unfortunately, we didn't really get as far as Bai Tu Long Bay, as they said we would. This bay is much less crowded than Halong, which is full of tourist boats out to see the karst mountains jutting straight out of the water. As a result of all the traffic, it is far from pristine. We saw a considerable amount of floating garbage, and I'm sure that many boats just dump their waste in the water. Despite that, and the less then ideal weather, it was still quite beautiful. The fog added atmosphere to the limestone crags looming in the azure and tranquil sea.

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We made the typical stops to a few of the islands, including one with a sizable cave, another with a small beach, and one with a tower on top of a mountain with a commanding view of the bay.




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I couldn't resist
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While walking around, and even on board, various passing boats were eager to sell us food and souvenirs. People actually live out on the bay, and there is even a floating school.

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On our small junk, we had a fun, international group of people ranging from a Mexican psychology professor to a young couple from Corsica, a Finnish couple, and a Quebecois from the city of the same name. William, in his mid 30's, was enough to change my mind about professional soldiers. They are not all mindless killers. He had been to Afghanistan a number of times, and was going back there for another six weeks to finish his tour of duty. He clearly cares a great deal about the Afghani's, and is there because he thinks that he can do some good for the country. He is hopeful that when he and the Americans leave, the people will be better off, and there will be peace. We shall see. In any event, he was a delight to talk to, and had a great sense of humor to boot. We drank snake wine together, which is as awful as it sounds, and we went garbage fishing in the bay at night. What is that, you might ask? Well, the crew gave us fishing rods to catch fish, but all we managed to do was to snag pieces of floating debris. Others, including William also sang Karaoke. I abstained, given my inability to carry a tune.




Our group, inside the cave. William in shorts/white shirt, center left
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It was a great experience spending the night on the boat, with occasional views of the moon behind the clouds and mountains. The food was also exceptional, and though this was far from a luxurious boat, they treated us well.



Not ours, but it was similar
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The bus ride back to Hanoi was long, and then our cab driver in Hanoi got lost in the insane rush hour traffic. Luckily we were able to call Thuy, our hostess, and she was able to speak to and direct him. At a certain point, we had to get out of the taxi because we couldn't move. We had to walk several blocks on a main street, which was jammed with motorbikes, cars, regular bikes and people, so much so, that it was difficult to maneuver around without getting hit by someone. It was a relief to find our way through the maze of side alleys to Chez Linhlinh.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:39 Archived in Vietnam Tagged landscapes people boats tourist_sites Comments (3)

Efes (Ephesus)

We took the bus from Bergama to Efes, as it is called here, and stayed in nearby Selcuk, a medium sized city, not without it's charms. Now that we were getting to southern Turkey, it had a much more tropical feel.



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There was a beautiful old mosque.





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And a round stone castle not far from a pedestrian mall that was closed to traffic, with shops and restaurants. The weekly market took place right in front of our hotel, hours after our arrival, and we stocked up on different types of feta, delicious tomatoes, olives of all kinds, and strawberries. It was more than enough for lunch and dinner. The non food section of the market was less interesting. Mostly it was bargain clothes, probably made in China. Wandering around the back streets of Selcuk, these ladies were kind enough to let me take their picture.





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Efes itself was a bit of a disappointment after Pergamum. Although larger and more extensive, the setting is not so lovely, and the place was packed with tourists from all over, even in the hot sun of mid-afternoon. Where you are allowed to walk is also quite restricted because of the numbers. Nonetheless, it is worth a visit, in part because some of the buildings have been tastefully reconstructed and you get a sense a just how large a city it was.





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Posted by jonshapiro 06:42 Archived in Turkey Tagged photography tourist_sites buildings_postcards Comments (1)

Bergama

We arrived here, at the Odyssey Guesthouse in Bergama, in a downpour which continued for most of the day. We did laundry, and more or less hung out, reading the copy of the Odyssey that was in every room. We did make a brief foray to see the old Roman Basilica nearby,and stopped in a carpet and gift shop and chatted with the owner, a handicapped man of about 60, whose English was quite good. He told us about his children in North Carolina, and said how lucky we were to be born in America. Quite true, despite the crazy politics of our country today. He was quick to add that Turkey is much better off now than it was just a few years ago, something which echoed Martine's comments in Istanbul.


Back Streets of Bergama near Guesthouse
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Today however, is truely glorious, with blue skies and bright sun. We hiked up the back way to the old acropolis, clamoring over stone walls and ascending herd paths up the steep green hills. By going this way we managed to avoid the tour groups until we got to the very top, and by then most of them were going in the opposite direction.



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The ruins, often overlooked by many on their way to Ephesus, are impressive. It was one of my favorite sites in this country of ruins. Many Corinthian and Ionian columns still standing tall, glistened white in the sun. Some of the original details of the temple friezes are still present.




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There is an enormous 10,000 seat amphitheater carved into the hillside, a homage to Zeus, but apparently the site of political speeches.






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The ancient city, which dates to 400-500 BC, was successively occupied by Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and then Turks. Home to over 200,000 people in its heyday, it was known as Pergamum.







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On the way down, we skirted the teleferique and climbed back over the stone walls to the narrow alleys of upper Bergama.







View of the City with Basilica
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We then walked to the other set of ruins on the opposite side of town, known as the Asklepieion. It dates to about 300BC, but which was at its height in 100 AD, as a vast medical center. It also had complete mental institution with a dream interpretation center, and hot and cold herbal treatments, for those with psychological ailments. Freud had nothing on the Greeks. Though somewhat less impressive than the stadium on the hill, there was a smaller amphitheater of 2-3000, perhaps where Galen and others performed surgeries. Death was officially forbidden to enter, but it seems as though gravely ill patients, those who were clearly dying and/or pregnant, were not allowed in the first place. I guess the doctors felt they had to stack the deck in their favor.

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Back at the Odyssey Guesthouse terrace, I gaze out at the crumbling brick walls of the Basilica (100 AD), old tile roofs in the foreground, and green hills beyond. I can make out some of the older ruins dotting the hills leading up to the acropolis on my left.




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This is a very friendly town. All of the kids we meet are eager to practice their English, and people go out of their way to show you where things are if you need help. While bigger than Ayvalik, it feels more relaxed because it is not a resort.

In a little while, we will have tea or coffee with Alex, who we met in a locanta yesterday. Though Turkish, he lived in Astoria, Queens for many years and has recently returned to his country for a different job, and to help take care of his family. When we arrived at the cafe, he was already there with another Turkish friend who spoke no English. He said he brought his friend because he didn't know the city very well, having just moved here less than two months ago. This friend called yet another friend who had a car, and we proceeded out of town, first to an outdoor place that was not really open, and then to another restaurant in a small indoor mall. They ordered for us, a large mezze plate, pizza, a bulgar dish, salad, and mixed kabobs for all, even though we tried to tell them we weren't hungry, as we were expecting only a light snack. The friend with a car, Osman, teaches comparative religion in the local high school, where it is compulsory. He spent several years living in Syria, where he attended university and worked as a journalist.

And so we began asking questions, translated by Alex, about Syria, Iran, and the Middle East in general. Osman felt that Turkey used to get along well with its neighbors, but no longer, in part because of the situation with Israel and the United States. He said he thought that Iran will gradually liberalize, but is unsure what will happen with Assad. About Israel and Palestine, he seemed to agree that Israel should give up the settlements and the occupied territories, and that there needed to be a two state solution.

What was striking to us, is that Alex did not feel free to express his opinions to his friends because, as he later put it, he is Turkish, and yet he is not Turkish. He is Muslim, and yet he is not. A man caught between two cultures, he nevertheless insisted on paying for everyone. When we asked about his family, that is when we found out that his father recently died unexpectedly during routine back surgery, and Alex, as the oldest son felt responsible. He initially came to the US in his early 20's, after getting a very good job with Alitalia, the Italian airline. He said he had many problems because he was so young, and the office politics were complicated. It was apparently a high pressure job, but after therapy, (how typically New York), he decided that he had to leave, and ended up going to Bolivia to study Spanish in 2006. It was almost the total opposite life from what he had been living before. As it turns out, he was also married to a psychologist, though now he is divorced. We didn't get the whole story of what happend after Bolivia, but now that he is back in Turkey, he feels it is his responsibility to take care of all the problems in his family, something he didn't feel living in the United States. We exchanged emails and offered each other a standing invitation to come and visit. A most interesting man, and a fascinating evening talking politics with people whose views we would never get to hear.

A reminder once again of why I travel. It is because of chance encounters like this one, unrepeatable and unique to the moment.

Posted by jonshapiro 14:47 Archived in Turkey Tagged people tourist_sites buildings_postcards Comments (3)

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