I have never been to a more colorful and vibrant city than Miami. After graduating college, I spent three months in Barcelona, Spain, as an au pair for a wonderful family I had met on aupairworld.com (if you know anyone who is interested in being an au pair I’d recommend this site). Shortly after I returned to the states my Spanish family moved to Miami! I’ve been wanting to visit them for the last three years and finally had the chance. I flew into Miami ahead of a big storm and enjoyed cooler weather, days mixed with sunny and shady skies, and great people watching!
My Spanish family lives on the island of Key Biscayne. They (like most residents of Key Biscayne) live a resort lifestyle in a high rise condominium. Their patio overlooks the ocean that presents beautiful views morning, noon and night.
Since reading Gone With the Wind in college I have romanticized the South. Cobblestone streets, live Oak trees with Spanish moss, and beautiful, historic houses. My dream recently came true as my friend Hilary and I ventured out to Charleston, South Carolina. The historic part of Charleston was smaller than we both expected and a long weekend getaway is the perfect amount of time necessary to see the city.
We arrived on a Thursday, checked into our quaint hotel, and set out exploring. We stayed at the Fulton Lane Inn, a place I’d highly recommend as it’s central to everything.
It’s hard to believe but after 14 days in Vietnam our trip was coming to a close. We ended our Vietnam experience in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam in the north. When we arrived we toured the section of the city that houses all the government buildings.
The two main buildings we focused on were the President’s Palace and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
The President’s Palace was built and used by the French during their occupation of Vietnam. Since Ho Chi Minh was elected Vietnam’s first President the palace has only been used for receiving foreign dignitaries. According to our guide Ho Chi Minh was a very humble person and refused to live in such opulence.
Our second to last stop was Halong Bay. Halong Bay is in the northeast part of Vietnam and is one of its most photographed locations. As the bus approached the harbor I immediately saw why. It’s majestic! The first thing I noticed was the water, which is a rich, emerald green. As your eyes travel up you see impressive limestone islands covered in jungle plant life which makes the deep green vegetation a stark contrast to the dark grey stone.
Our group was fortunate to have rented out an entire Chinese Junker boat to ourselves for the evening. Vietnam will always be a beautiful place, but if you are going to visit I’d suggest you go soon. As our different guides pointed out the country is just starting to get used to having tourists and is still navigating the waters of opening up their country to Westerners. There is still a lot of freedom for visitors and not many regulations on your travels. As time goes by, however, more attractions are being more tightly regulated. A perfect example is Halong Bay. Presently most tourists stay overnight on a boat as they cruise around the bay. In two years from now, however, you will no longer be able to stay overnight on a boat and will have to stay in a hotel in town. We heard several examples like this of upcoming proposed regulations on different areas we visited.
We left Hoi An and started the three hour journey to Hue (pronounced “way”). Have any of you seen the show Top Gear? They have a Vietnam Special episode that travels the same journey we took but by motor bike. The drive is spectacular!
You wind up a two lane road through the mountains and along the coast. We were pressed against the tour bus glass the entire journey. The beaches along the way are beautiful and pristine. We stopped at one beach while in transit and everything was perfect except the incredibly hot sand. Yikes!
Hue is a cosmopolitan city in central Vietnam. We had limited time in Hue (one night) and the majority of our visit was at the Citadel. The Citadel has all of the architectural beauty that you crave when visiting Southeast Asia.
After enjoying our beach time in Nha Trang my Vietnam adventure continued up the coast north to Hoi An. Hoi An is historically and architecturally praiseworthy because of its history as a busy port town. The port brought residents from all over the world, especially Japan, China, France and Italy. These original buildings and bridges are relatively well persevered creating an adorable town filled with a mix of many different styles and eras. Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also a popular tourist destination.
The town is a string of a few small islands only accessible by smaller cars, mopeds and bikes. Besides being architecturally unique Hoi An is also known for its many tailors who make tailored clothing, shoes and leather goods with a turnaround time of less than 48 hours. Hoi An had hands down the best shopping of all my Vietnam destinations.