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Our Grand Finale Tour of Southeast Asia

The words, “This is our last year in Vietnam” clearly struck fear into the hearts of my family members. Before you could say, “Tien’s your uncle” suitcases were packed, tickets bought, visas ordered and – lo and behold – they came, they saw, they loved it. For JD and me it was a chance to see them, to show off our city and to revisit our best spots.

So where did we go?

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Cape Town Unrequited Love

4I’ve met the best city in the world.  She’s beautiful; she’s cultural; she’s fun and interesting and she makes me happy.  She’s the city of my dreams.  And, wait, I’ve known her before.

Cape Town, the Mother City, is my one who got away.

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How the East Was Won

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Or rather how the East won me over – East as in Eastern Europe.  After spending most of my American life pining to be exotically French or Italian or even British and being obsessed with all things Western European,  I have come to admire Europe’s other half.  My trip with my mom to Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia and Italy (just couldn’t resist!) transformed Eastern Europe from intriguing to enchanting.

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This is Croatia

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And it’s wonderful.

The Glitz, Glam and Grit of Budapest

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Budapest startled me.  The fine beauty I associated with Western Europe interlaced with the darkness of far and recent past so perfectly that I was sure I was in a storybook.  Here the opulent Parliament building sits just in front of walls still suffering from Soviet bullet wounds.  The Jewish Quarter hosts one of the world’s largest – and most beautiful – synagogues in between lots that have been abandoned since most of the Jews there were deported in the last months of World War II. From the Danube River you gaze at a fairytale castle just next to the statue made to commemorate that the people wanted no more war.  Budapest quickly became one of my favorite places.

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Honeymoon of Nine Children

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Most couples are surprised to get one honeymoon baby.  We had an average of nine.

The idea of revisiting a place where we’ve already been is not our style.  The more you travel, the longer the list grows of places to visit.  No matter how many places you can check off, the list never gets shorter.  So it was our highest compliment to return to the Philippines for our honeymoon.   After becoming engaged in the Philippines last year there was a sentimental component, but really we went back because it’s so fricking cool.

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Island of No Natives

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It’s not often you find a country that no one is from; where the only ones indigenous are the plants.  However in Mauritius the equal non-nativeness  of the island may be part of the reason the place works so well.  Off the coast of Africa, a continent plagued by the lasting effects of different peoples stepping on each other throughout time, Mauritius sits as an appealing alternative; a more harmonious way different cultures can share a space.

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What da What in Da Lat

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Where was Rumpelstiltskin?  Where were Hansel and Gretel?  All I could find were Ha and Hang and Hung, all Nguyens.  Something didn’t match.

In Da Lat everything you think you know about Vietnam is wrong.  There are pine trees instead of palm.  There are hills instead of beaches.  People grow flowers instead of rice.  And it’s cold.  Actually cold.  Ok, more like cool but definitely not brow-dripping hot like the rest of the country.  Da Lat makes you stop and wonder, “What da what is going on?”

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Mui Ne: Dunes, Kites and a Kremlin of Russians

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Red meets white at the strangely diverse Vietnamese town of Mui Ne.  This small fishing town was introduced to backpacker hostels and kitschy souvenir shops after two notable discoveries were made: surfers found the wind conditions perfect for kite surfing and Russians just plain found it.  Suddenly this lazy, lapping village, with its notorious backdrop of red and white sand dunes became front and center in Vietnamese tourism.

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Happy Hippos (Togetho)

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I am spoiled by summer.  It is as miracle-embraced  for me now as it was for most of us when we were six and had our first long, uninterrupted break from school; a break we’d previously been living but never fully appreciated until Kindergarten sounded the alarm and gave us a Monday-to-Friday routine.  As a teacher, I still get that luxurious stretch of time.  But now, instead of spending hours climbing trees, I’m climbing planes and getting the absolute thrill of seeing a different part of the world each year.

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