The Winchester Mystery House

Mike and I went to the Winchester Mystery House yesterday (henceforth called the Winchester House because calling it mysterious is stupid) and had a great time sneaking what photos we could! We tried not to go in with too many expectations, and since neither of us were expecting to tour a house filled with ghosts and spooky noises, I think we enjoyed it a lot more than the yelp reviewers. The house itself was actually smaller than I had imagined, most of the rooms are really quite small, and while it’s not as “mysterious” as hyped, it’s still a great old building with some very cool architectural details. Worth visiting if you’re into Victorian architecture or kitschy tourist activities (which I SO am!).

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The Winchester House

The Winchester House

Tiffany Glass at the Winchester House

Unused Tiffany Glass Windows

Glass Window with Spider Web Pattern

Spiderweb Glass Window with 13 Jewels

Vietnam in Photos – Day 7

I am terrible at this posting regularly blogging thing, so I am going to catch up in a series of backdated blogs. At least it will look like I’m good at schedules!

A Random Horse Tied up at the Lake A Cowboy at the Dalat Flower Garden

A horse themed post. Both of these pictures are from Dalat. The first was taken while we were walking around the lake to the Dalat Florwe Garden. We were enjoying our walk (unbeknownst to me I was working up an epic sunburn) and randomly a horse appeared on the side of the road! The horse was just chillin, he was tied up on a long rope nibbling on some grass and there was no one around. It was very random.

The second picture comes from inside the Flower Garden. This guy was walking around with the horse and for a small fee you could ay to sit on the horse and have your friends take your picture. I think it was a pretty slow day at the Garden, and this guy loked a little bored. Suffice to say, it was surreal to see a Vietnamese dude walking around a botanical garden towing a horse in western cowboy gear.

Halong Bay, Hanoi

We took an overnight boat tour around Halong Bay on the 29th. We opted for a more expensive boat because it included kayaking the first day and a morning swim or hike on the second day. Our boat, the Marguerite Junk, felt like a setting in an Agatha Christie novel, especially after the crew brought a plate of fruit accompanied by a giant knife to each of our rooms after we checked in.

The bay itself is beautiful, 1600+ small islands, each covered in a thick layer of jungle all surrounded by an eerily flat bay and enough mist to grey the distant islands out. We visited an “Amazing” (or “Surprising” depending on the translator) cave on one island and saw many rock formations inside which vaguely resembled bears, frogs, dragons, turtles, etc. After that we kayaked for a bit less than an hour, and visited a really cool cove sheltered almost entirely inside an island accessable only by small boat by going through a cave.

I should note at this point, that our boat was full of a great many characters, my favorite being Tripod Man. Tripod Man was from Venezuela, and my first nickname for him was Red Shoe Guy necuae he was wearing an incredible pair of bright red leather slip on boat shoes. His real name however, had to be Tripod Man because he came equipped with a full size giant tripod and one tiny Canon point and shoot camera. Lugged that ebormpus tripod and that tiny, crappy camera all over the place and painstakingly set them up at each point of interest so he could get a picture of himself on each place. We really hope that somewhere out there, Tripod Man has a blog full of nothing but pictures of himself, arms by his side, face slack in front of all of the world’s tourist destinations.

Difficult Guy was another key character on the trip. Difficult Guy, upon being told that he still needed to pay for the tour, and no the van was not equipped to take his credit card, complained loudly about that, the exchange rate, and any number of other things. Later, when we were asked to turn in our passports (as has been standard at every single hotel we’ve stayed in) Difficult Guy protested and asked quite suspiciously about entrusting his valuable US passport to the boat’s captain. Later on he told me that he lives in NYC and is “in finance” at “one of the world’s largest banks”. He was also reading what appeared to be one of those obnoxious books on Power Enough said perhaps. People like that are often quite difficult, ad he definitely lived up to his reputation.

After that we ate (or l watched actually) what looked like the worst food in the world (including squid WITH TENTACLES!!!! And a WHOLE fish and creepy WHOLE shrimp with awful black EYES) mostly I tried not to throw up at the table, really. And that was a close call.

In the morning, instead of keeping with the set itinerary of swimming or hiking up on of the islands, the tour company said that we had to check out of our cabins early and wait on the boat so they could go pick up new guests. It was incredibly lame and I was not happy. Unfortunately a boat tour is pretty much the only way to see Halong Bay, and there’s really no such thing as oversight or money back guarantees here. All I can say is don’t book a trip on the Marguerite!

After getting back to Hanoi we walked around a bit, found a tasty vegetarian restaurant, Tamarind Cafe, that served all day breakfast, and had French toast and omelettes for dinner.

The next day we got up early to check our Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum (which I keep pronouncing incorrectly) and we waited in what had to have been the worlds longest most crowded line. It was 10 times worse than any line at Disneyland, which I have always used as my measuring stick for lines. Also, people here have this amaIng threshold for pushing, crowding and cutting in lines. It was so hot and crowded and full of small children gaping at me (or shoving past me) that I very nearly had a panic attack. The visit inside the mausoleum was disproportionately short in comparison to the length of the line. His body, according to my guidebook, was expertly preserved (via secret methods no less) by the same Russian doctor who embalmed Lenin, and the mausoleum is closed for two months of the year so Uncle Ho’s body can undergo “maintenence”. The viewing itself was eery; soldiers herded us through the room, and his glass box encased body was lit by intense red-orange spotlights on his face and hands. A lot of effort for a guy who suppsedly wanted to be cremated because it “saves land for the farmers”!

After the craziness, I opted to take a taxi back to the hotel while M&L stayed out. Once I got back I realized that my near panic attack in line was probably more related to the fact that I was running a fever than that I am suddenly freaked out by crowds. I don’t know what brought in on, but I pretty much spent the rest of the day in bed, and I still felt pretty awful the next day (yesterday). Poor Leanne and Miles for having to put up with me!

We took a flight from Habii to Saigon tyesterday night so we could be up early for our day trip to the Mekong Delta today.

Hanoi

We took a train up the coast from Danang to Hanoi yesterday, it was a pretty long train ride, over 12 hours, but very pretty. The tracks edge right along the coast so the view was pretty spectacular. We booked a soft sleeper compartment which had only 4 bunks, and about half an hour into the journey Miles looked under his bottom bunk and found 2 boxes of live pigeons! We thought maybe someone had forgotten them on a previous trip so we told one of the porters and a guy came and took the boxes away. Very strange!

After we go into Hanoi we checked into a really crappy hotel and took some quick (and cold) showers then headed out to see if we could book a 2 day tour to Halong Bay. We were able to find what looks to be a pretty fun tour aboard a “luxury junk” through a reputable tour company recommended by Lonely Planet (Sinh Cafe).

Then we ate some breakfast and checked into a better hotel. It’s kind of amazing how much of a difference 5-10 dollars can make in the quality of a hotel room.

After that we took a taxi out to the Temple of Literature, which was a scholarly institution built in 1070 as a center of learning and knowledge founded by Confucian scholars. The buildings are all in Chinese style architecture and the grounds were really well kept and relaxing.

There was a huge school group of 12-13 year old girls and they thought I was the most fascinating thing at the Temple. After I said hello to them they actually surrounded me to ask me more questions and giggle every time I answered that my name is Caitlin and I’m from California.

It was on to the Museum of Ethnography after the Literature Temple, and the museum was full of neat displays about the traditional cultures of many of Vietnam’s ethnic groups. Unfortunately, the museum was not air conditioned and was super stuffy (and about 100 degrees inside) so I didn’t spend a ton of time examining all of the displays. Outside on the grounds they had recreated a bunch of small villages in the architechtural style of several different peoples, so we walked around those (and entertained yet another school group) then had a super tasty lunch at the museum’s cafe.

Tomorrow morning we’ll head out for the Halong Bay trip.

Random notes about the trip so far:

Strangest things seen carried on a motorbike:
– a mid sized refridgerator
– a basket of live geese
– a 20 foot long bamboo ladder

Best oddly translated tshirt:
– Las Vegas – where I lay my mac down (a Mac-10 gun reference, worn by a youngish woman)
– What a great day my mind is paralyzed! (on a children’s t-shirt)

Hoi An

We are in Hoi An now, got in yesterday morning bright at early after a night time train ride up the coast from Nha Trang. We took a bus out to Nha Trang the day before, and took the train out the same day, but we had enough time to check out the beach in Nha Trang and get caught out in a surprise downpour.

The beach was beatiful, I can tell why Nha Trang is a popular scuba/snorkling destination, but we were only out for about 10 minutes before a crazy rainstorm came through and soaked us in less than a minute!

We were able to book a night train up the coast to Hoi An, and as soon as we got on the train I took an Ambien to help me sleep, instead, it turns out that I am one of those people who gets the crazy side effects and it made me hallucinate like crazy! I think I slept but I was still really, really drugged in the morning and I can’t really remember getting off the train or getting to our hotel here in Hoi An. (Miles and Leanne said that I really wanted to brush my teeth in the morning and I that I wandered around the train station toothbrush in hand looking for a bathroom.)

I felt a lot better after we got into our hotel and I was able to take a nap while Miles & Leanne got some breakfast. After they got back from breakfast we ventured out in search of a good tailor. Hoi An is located on the old silk road and is famous for both its tailoring shops and silk. There is a tailor shop every five feet throughout downtown, but we headed for one that had been recommended both by our guidebooks and by a nice French couple we met in Dalat who had also recommended out hotel here.

I looked through a bunch of pictures and picked out 3 dresses and a skirt to have made at Yaly, and after walking around more and checking out the sights also had a pair or leather flip flops made for me ($10) and found a good size knock off North Face backpack ($11). Since M&L only have carryons and I have been carrying significantly more stuff, I had been wanting a smaller backpack. So after we pick up our finished clothes later today, Leanne and Miles and I are planning on finding a post office and mailing our new clothes and my existing bags back home, so that I too can have just one carry on size bag for the rest of my trip.

Today, M&L rented bikes to ride out to the beach, but my ridiculous sunburn has blistered a bit so I am taking it easy at the hotel and hoping it will fade better if I stay mostly inside today.

Dalat

We weren’t able to book a trip to the Mekong Delta so we opted to head up to Dalat, a town in the central highlands of Vietnam that was popularized during the French colonization because of it’s significantly cooler, more pleasant weather and it’s closeness to the main agriculture belt of Vietnam.

We ended up getting an afternoon flight out of HCMC to Dalat for just $46, which saved us a 6 hour bus ride.

Dalat is beautiful. There was a 30 minute bus ride from the airport into town and the entire countryside was so green. There was an odd mix of banana trees, something that might have been coffee plants, wine grapes and evergreen trees (which looked kinda like redwoods).

We treked around what felt like half the town looking for a hotel last night, and settled on one with some seriously weird sheets. They were kind of silky, as were the pillow cases, so if you moved a pillow you ran the risk of having it slide right off the bed!

Despite the weird beds we were so tired that we slept close to 12 hours but we woke up in time to grab an early breakfast and take a couple hours long walk around some random neighborhoods and then out around the lake to the Dalat botanical gardens.

After that it was a very tasty lunch at a place not too far from our hotel followed by a quick hotel change in favor of some comfier beds.

We spent the afternoon touring first the Dalat Crazy House (which looks like something straight out of a Dali sculpture (Leanne and Miles said Gaudi)) and then the Summer Palace of King Dao, which is a gorgeous Art Deco era bulding.

Our new hotel (Dreams Hotel, highly recommended by Lonely Planet) has a rooftop jacuzzi with a bizarre view of the surrounding neighborhood (your typical mix of old slum sort of houses and newer hotels and businesses).

We’re about to go grab some dinner and I suspect that we’ll call it an early night. We’ve got a 9:30 bus to Nha Trang tomorrow morning, then we’ll head up the coast and check out the sights.

Ho Chi Minh City

We arrived yesterday in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. For having traveled over 17 hours leanne and Miles and I all felt surprisingly good.

HCMC is insanely packed with motorbikes, if Vietnam didn’t already feel like an adventure, crossing the steer would for sure. There are no traffic lights to speak of so you just have to go and maintain a steady speed so the people on motorbikes will know which direction to go to avoid you.

Motorbikes, Ho Chi Minh City

We walked around a bunch yesterday, and went to the War Remnants museum, which had a patio full of old USAF planes, helicopters and artillery guns. The museum was full of photographs and items from the war. It was really sad to see documents from so many of the atrocities that were committed during the war, especially being so much closer to it here.

US Air Force Plane Photos from the Vietnam-American War War Crime

Today we’re going to try to get on a 2 day tour into the Mekong delta. We probably won’t luck out on a billion open wifi networks out there, but who knows!

(posted from iPhone, man does technology rock!)

Paracas and the Ballestas Islands, Peru

I never got around to posting my pictures from the tail leg of my Peru trip. These are all from Paracas and the nearby Ballestas Islands, which have been called the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’ because the islands feature over 160 species of birds (including Penguins!), along with Sea Lions, Dolphins, and seasonally, Whales.

Paracas is a tiny town right on the Pacific Ocean and was, unfortunately, hit hard by an earthquake and the resulting tsunami in 2007. The reconstruction efforts are ongoing, and the hotel I had been planning on staying in was actually wiped out in the earthquake/tsunami. I guess my guidbeook was printed before the earthquake hit!

Despite having split up with my fabulous (and fluent in Spanish) travel companion Elly, I was able to find a good place to stay and set myself up with a ticket on the next morning’s boat tour out to the Ballestas Islands. It was a little cold, and a lot grey, but the islands were amazing none-the-less. There were thousands of birds, and our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the islands. Highlights included the adorable Humboldt Penguins:

Penguins!

And the stunning view of the Cathedral rock formation in the Paracas National Reserve itself. the Cathedral

The rock formation was damaged in the 2007 earthquake. Named the Cathedral, due to the arch formation and the hidden caves beneath it, (viewable here) the arch collapsed in the earthquake, and the caves were filled in by a rockslide.

Interestingly, in the town of Paracas, you can still buy postcards featuring the original arch.

View the full photoset here on my flickr page.

nazca, peru

a Condor in flight

After leaving Arequipa 3 days ago, Elly and I booked a 2 day trek through the Colca Canyon. The bus ride was pretty brtual, 1am departure for a 5 hour trip on dirt roads. By the time we got to the town of Cabanacondor, the altitude was getting to me and I was feeling pretty terrible and ended up staying in town and slept for about 14 hours.

I met up with the group the next morning and we bussed out to Cruz del condor in time to see the amazing condors take their morning flight. The birds were fantastic, as was the canyon itself. I got some great photos of the birds and am really excited to have seen them.

Today I am in Nazca, with Elly and a friend we met during the Colca Canyon trek. We took a bus out to the Nazca lines this morning and saw some of them. And tonight we’re planning a trip to the Nazca Planetarium for a presentation on the history of the lines.

Nazca Lines - Hands

In Arequipa, Peru

at the airport

After a late night series of red eye flights with a stop over in El Salvador I made it to the Lima airport to be greeted by my friend Eleanor, complete with a handmade sign bearing my name.

Our day in Lima yesterday was fairly uneventful and didn´t really include much sightseeing. There were a series of strikes planned throughout the country and we were concerned about the possiblilty of not being able to get a taxi into the airport to get to Arequipa this morning because of the strike, so we opted to stay at the fancy hotel next to the airport instead. It was quite expensive, but ater 2.5 weeks of backpacking on Elly´s end and 15 hours of airports on mine, we were both pretty excited to enjoy the luxury of the hotel´s spa and comfy beds.

It sounds like the strikes were fairly uneventful in Lima though, we probably could have risked it and stayed further out but the risk of missing our flight was more important in the long run. In Arequipa so far there has been much more evidence of today´s strike. A lot of shops are closed and there were rocks blocking the streets on our way into town from the Airport. We were able to get a taxi but had to take some back roads to get to our hostel. It was definitely a bit tense for our driver.

 
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