It hit me the moment I found myself wedged between an orangutan and an American flamingo in the middle of the Hong Kong botanical gardens: this is a city unlike any other. To sum up Hong Kong in one word it is Big. Huge. Humungous. Enormous. Colossal. Take your pick of fancy words that equal “big”. Is it overwhelming? Of course, but when you embrace this floaty sense of being overwhelmed it is absolutely incredible. Hong Kong is the definition of Big City.
Every year I interrupt my nomadic existence to go home, the place I grew up. Every Christmas the allure of exotic locales can’t manage to outshine the brilliance of Middle of Nowhere, Michigan. Funny what a nice family does to you. I crave corn fields over white sand beaches, and choose metro-Detroit potholes to a skydiving adventure elsewhere.
So it’s not that I’ve never retraced my footsteps. But up until now I’ve never re-visited one of the more exotic places I once lived. Then last month JD and I went back to South Africa. The reason: a fantastic family wedding in Johannesburg. Our detour to the city of Cape Town, where we spent three years together before moving on to Vietnam, seemed innocent enough. What I didn’t realize then was that an old home is like an old boyfriend: it can unexpectedly rekindle a fire you’d thought burned out long ago. Really, I should’ve known better. After two years as “just friends” on separate continents, JD and I were back together one second after we saw each other again. I have no excuse to underestimate South Africa’s charm.
Cambodia is in a perpetual state of mood swings. It’s an up-and-down sort of place that teases away any sense of normalcy with its extremes. After traveling through Cambodia last month I fail to find a pretty paper box to wrap it up in. Just when you want to call it beautiful, it hurls a city slum at you. Just when you think it’s relaxing, a tuk-tuk plows you over. The only simple way I can sum up Cambodia is to say that it is a country of “most”; the most exotic, the most poor, the most opulent far past, the most horrific recent history, the most gracious people, the most heart-breaking stories. Cambodia manages to win most categories for most good and most bad.
Belgium, you little biscuit. You grew on me like a nice, big beer gut. I met you lukewarm, and left in love. Your people, your countryside, canals and, of course, your beer have made you a lifetime friend.
For those of you considering growing your own beer belly in Belgium, and maybe learning, like, one new thing about the World Wars, here’s where I highly recommend you go.
There’s nowhere like Normandy.
This northern corner of France sucked us in like flies to a Venus Fly Trap. We went expecting to relax in the sun, surrounded by pretty flowers. Instead we got an unforgettable trip through one of the most welcoming, historical and daydream-inspiring places I’ve ever met.
In short, here’s where we went and why we loved it.
In the midst of my ever-present pining for the Great Unknown, one country regularly grabs my attention: France. It might be cliché or even boring to focus on the most obvious travel destination, but the heart wants what the heart wants. The delectable combination of peaches, cheese and crepes paired with a finely honed sense of style and seasoned with a light dusting of pretentiousness brings this country from the middle of Europe straight to the middle of my heart.
More and more people are choosing to take cooking classes when they travel. The sheer number of misspelled Cooking School signs around Da Nang, Vietnam gives me the idea that Vietnamese cooking is hot on the culinary scene. So, being a sheep, I have joined in the foodie addiction splendour – I am officially going to take a Vietnamese cooking class.
A few weeks late, but fantastic nonetheless.
Remember how excited you used to get for show and tell at school? Or how you’d jump around when your mom brought in class cupcakes for your birthday? Remember how amazing it was when the teacher would let you use the glitter markers? Or make you line leader for the day? Now imagine being a nine-year-old once again and welcoming a surprise visitor. No, he’s not the principal, or somebody’s dad. He’s a dragon – a dancing lion dragon who does gymnastics on teeny, tiny suspended discs and then wiggles his dragon butt when you pet him.
Ahhhh!!!! Best day ever!!!!!!!!!
Turns out eating ice and crossing the road are about the same thing here in Da Nang, Vietnam. All travel blogs say Don’t Drink the Water. Just like that: bold, italicized and underlined to let you know they Really Mean It. And no ice, they remind you. After all ice is water. But the thing is, it’s hot here. Like crazy mo’fo’ f-ing hot. And I’m here for two years. How can I possibly survive without ice? So when faced with my first Vietnamese coffee – iced coffee – I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and slurped like a maniac, hoping to make it to the bottom of the cup before too much ice had seeped its way into my body to twist and mutate my intestines.
It’s the same strategy I’m using to cross the road. In America we call them traffic lights. In South Africa we call them robots. Here we call them…nothing. Why bother naming something you don’t believe in? I say “believe”because driving here is a religion. You believe you have the right of way. Always. You believe those annoying red and green lights above the road are for decoration. And, in order to cross the road, you must blindly, stupidly believe that somehow you will make it to the other side.
Why did the Vietnamese chicken cross the road?
It didn’t, Stupid.
By now you should know that I love wine. In fact friends and family are starting to call me a wino, but I’m sure that’s just a joke (?). Naturally I take no responsibility for my own actions. Rather, I blame Cape Town for this. After all it’s not my fault that I happen to live in the world’s best wine county. I mean, what else am I supposed to do – drink beer [laughs hysterically]? So it should be no surprise that I have spent many a weekend afternoon sipping away on one of the gorgeous wine farms in the area (it definitely beats exercising). And my favourite one? Well, glad you asked ‘cause it’s a beauty: Vrede en Lust.