into the hinterlands: Sa Pa, Vietnam

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Vietnam is a beautiful country with sprawling coastline, bustling cities and agrarian villages.  It’s a very popular destination amongst travelers for its hospitality, great food and historic value.  And while Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Halong Bay, and its venerable beach cities are probably the main draw, consideration should also be made for its Northern Highlands.

Sa Pa is a city in the northwest of Vietnam, very close to the China border.  Inhabited by indigenous tribes of Hmong, Tay and Dao, this area is surrounded by rolling green hills noted for their rice field terraces and petroglyphs.  It’s a photographer’s dream, and totally worth the arduous journey to get there.

Sa Pa away, doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?

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Plymouth rocking

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Happy Thanksgiving week everyone!  One of the busiest travel weeks of the year, often coinciding with horrible weather.  What could go wrong? 😉

The juice is often worth the squeeze though, and you get to enjoy a lovely meal and reflect on the things for which you’re grateful.  And I guess you get to spend time with your family (whatever definition you choose), too.  Gather around the hearth y’all, for this short week, here is the story of one of America’s folklore icons, the Plymouth rock.

Everyone’s basically heard of the Pilgrims, right?  They were a group of mostly Puritan separatists who sailed from England in 1620.  They were seeking religious freedom by heading to the New World, and they were trying to get to Virginia, where the first successful settlement of Jamestown was founded in 1607.

Obviously, if you’re ever looked at a map of the U.S., you’ll know that Massachusetts and Virginia are nowhere near each other, so they clearly didn’t reach their intended destination.  Storms forced them to anchor near what is now Provincetown, at the hook of Cape Cod.  This is where there was infighting and almost mutiny, so the Mayflower Compact was devised and signed, creating a new government that still gave sovereignty to the king, while enacting a social agreement wherein everyone would play by the community rules.  This happened around mid-November to December 1620, and thus ’tis the reason for the season.

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nothing says america quite like “gift shops”

After exploring the area and having some ill-advised encounters with the native peoples (likely stealing the indigenous peoples’ food and stores), they settled in Plymouth.  This area had been inhabited by the Wampanoag people, however this particular area had been devastated by smallpox (brought over by…you guessed it, previous European explorers/colonizers), and thus made a convenient place to stop.

The Pilgrims success was aided by the Wamponoags, whose prominent leaders, Chief Massasoit and ambassador Squanto, saved their weary butts.  Squanto helped teach the settlers how to eel/fish and cultivate corn before he too succumbed to the plague.  Interestingly enough, Squanto had avoided the previous death wave that killed many of his people as he had been captured as a slave and was in Europe being converted to Christianity at the time.  The more you know, folks.

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Anyway, this was the site of their Plymouth Colony, which by the next year had a successful harvest season.  And what comes before Pilgrim Part B?  Pilgrim Part-A.  And that’s how we got the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving.  Attended by the 50 or so remaining settlers and 90 Native Americans, they ate corn and wild turkey and now so do we.

 

Nowadays, the small town of Plymouth, Massachusetts (40 miles from Boston) is still very keen on their history pertaining to these early settlers.  “America’s Hometown” has the Pilgrim Historical State Park, which has reproduction ship called the Mayflower II that sits in the bay, Plimoth Plantation (living history museum), and of course, the famed Plymouth rock.

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You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned this famed monolith yet.  That’s because the pilgrims didn’t mention it either.  This boulder merely represents the site where the Pilgrims first disembarked, a stepping stone if you will.

Anyway, it is the cornerstone of the Pilgrim State Park, and sits under a very fancy neoclassical portico.  A true American icon, representing strength and resiliency, we’re all truly like a rock.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

the other Sydney (Nova Scotia)

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Sydney, Canada has very little in common with its shared name cousin from down under.  For one, it is quite small, being located in the peninsular province of Nova Scotia.  There are no wallabys or koalas, but there is certainly an abundance of natural beauty.

Sydney, more of a community than actual city, is located Cape Breton Island (no relation to Breton crackers, I don’t think).  This island is located at the far Northeastern tip of the province, and has experienced a boom in tourism over the years due to said natural beauty.

This was the place to see some of the most beautiful fall foliage.  I mean, the roads along the famed Cabot Trail and up in the highlands (the Scots were attracted to this place for a reason) were lined with vibrant hues from the frostbitten leaves.

And yes there is another Canadian Sidney from Nova Scotia, but we’ll get to him later…

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i heart hartford

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Hartford, Connecticut is an elder statesmen of cities in America.  The well-preserved grandeur of many of its old buildings alludes to its history as one of the former richest cities in the country.  Home to the oldest art museum in the U.S. and a very beautiful, sprawling central park, Hartford has firmly written itself into the fabric of American history by being home to many of our nation’s greatest literary minds.

Mark Twain once said of Hartford, “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see, this is the chief. ”

He hearted Hartford, and so will you…

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oh canada: p.e.i. showing some mussels

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Prince Edward Island, Canada is the smallest province in the great white north.  What it lacks in size, it makes up in character, history and abundance of amazing seafood.

That’s right, the home of P.E.I. mussels.  Sweet, tender, they’re a great little representative for this region of Canada.  The whole island is very charming and idyllic, with farms and vast greenery.  It is the very picture of rustic, pastoral tranquility with a sea salt mist.

put a little mussel into it

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Know before you go: YQB

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Y QB you ask? Y, because we like it.  Jean Lesage International Airport, named after former premier of Quebec is the 11th busiest airport in Canada, serving Quebec City.  J’aime Quebec City, one of the most European cities in North America. J’aime the fact that all Canadian airports start with a Y, except that it can get a little dicey when booking because they’re all very similar codes.

Located in the Quebec province, this airport and Trudeau Montreal are the two airports where French is the primary language.  Flying into this airport, especially during peak Autumn will provide miles and miles of rich reds, oranges and yellows of the fall foliage along the St. Lawrence river below.

This airport, albeit fairly small, is spacious, modern and open on the inside. The hub for WestJet and Air Canada, it’s mostly domestic, with a few direct flights from the states, Caribbean.

Remember ✈️ non, non  to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ oui, oui

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️ (about 7 miles or 11 kilometers outside the city)

Security: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (preclearance available to the US)

Ease of navigating through terminals:  ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (not huge, very open and spacious)

Dining: ✈️✈️ (there are literally two cafes and a Starbucks in the whole airport)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️ (not overly crowded, but there could be more stalls/washroom)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi)

Amenities: ✈️✈️ (VIP Lounge, Family Zone, this more of a transit airport)

 

know before you go: IND

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As alluded to in my post from last month, Indianapolis International Airport is one of the nicer domestic airports through which I’ve ever been.   I’m not the only one who is impressed; this airport tops ‘best of’ lists of airports year after year.

Modern, spacious, it’s your standard two story, two concourse (A&B) airport but the open, airy design and ease of moving through said space makes it anything but average. From the time you step foot inside, you can tell the personality of the city and just how proud of it they are.  It’s an enjoyable feeling, even if just for a layover.

As it is the gateway to one of the most visible international sporting events in the world, the airport has to make a great first impression, and it does.  The most eye catching feature is the large civic plaza which is a rotunda just outside security that gives you a 270 degree glass-windowed view of the Indiana plains.  There is great signage, and technology both at the airport and on their website informing you of line wait times.  There are about 44 gates serving most domestic carriers (American, Alaska, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, Spirit, United) and one international carrier (Air Canada).

Remember ✈️ pace(r) yourself  to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ Gentlemen, start your plane engines!

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️ (if there’s one gripe, it’s that it’s about 25 minutes west of downtown, but that’s where there’s a lot of open space)

Security/immigration:  ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (clear signage and wait times posted, TSA was very efficient)

Ease of navigating through terminals:  ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (not a massive airport, but it feels very large yet easy to get from concourse to concourse, rental car facility on the lower level)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (your normal fare: Au Bon Pain, Chick Fil-a, McDonalds, Starbucks, local deli Shapiro’s)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (well dispersed, there are a lot in the ticketing area, pre-security)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi, the civic center area has charging at almost all their lounge chairs.  This cannot be overstated.)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️ (Delta Sky lounge, barbershop and multiple Indy themed giftshops to pick up your last checkered flags and racing memorabilia)

Quintana Roo Crew

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Cozumel is one of the most famous Mexican island “balnearios” or seaside resort towns in the Caribbean sea.  Located just across the way from Playa del Carmen, it is a very convenient stop for cruise ships.  Another municipality in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan peninsula, it is famed for its snorkeling/scuba diving and shopping.  Once a bustling Mayan pilgrimage site to fertility, now tourists arrive in droves to sip on cervezas and eat tacos.

Sorry, that’s a bit reductive, but I think the rich history of this region is lost amongst the thick blanket of tourism that is now its main economy.  And I’m also a little salty that the main Cozumel museum was closed when I visited.  Saltier than the rim of a fresh marg.

Cozoom zoom…

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know before you go: Chinggis Khaan (ULN)

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You read that right.  Ulaanbaatar, capital city of Mongolia, has an airport named after one of the most famous pillagers of all time, their native son, Chinggis (Genghis) Khaan.  I mean, pretty cool name for an airport, and was so named in 2005 to celebrate the 800th (!) anniversary of Mongolia being an independent state.  Currently, there are around 3 million people in the country, with ~1.5 million of them in Ulaanbaatar.  Many Mongolians are still nomadic, traveling around the country in their gers (yurts), but I have to imagine that most that are on the grid use this airport for travel.

I can’t take sole credit for this one, this is courtesy of my parents, as I have not yet made it to the ends of the Earth..one day.  Apple does not fall far from the tree.

This is a small airport, serving mostly domestic flights throughout the country (Aero Mongolia, Hunnu Airlines), however there of course, are many flights from Asian countries such as South Korea and China, as well as European cities like Moscow and Berlin.  Mongolia has only really been open to foreign tourism for the past few years, so its airport system is still developing.  It’s a little bittersweet because this old airport is being replaced with a new more international friendly airport in the next few months.

There is one terminal with two levels.  Arrivals level one, departures second floor.  It’s located about 11 miles from the city center, and you can access easiest by car/taxi.

Remember ✈️ khan it  to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ hun-ny I’m home

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️ (bus, taxi — there can be dense traffic around the airport)

Security/immigration:  ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (typically not too bad as there aren’t usually tons of flights coming and going at the same time)

Ease of navigating through terminals:  ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (just one small building)

Dining: ✈️✈️ (cafe, noodle shop, just enough to get by)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️ (a lot of bathrooms for departure level, only 2 for arrivals, I guess they assume you’re go when you get to where you’re going)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi)

Amenities: ✈️ (one first class lounge, duty free shop/convenience store)

hoosier daddy: indy day trippin’

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Indianapolis is a place you hear about constantly if you’re a sports fan.  From the Indy 500 to Larry Bird (Reggie Miller, if you’re in my age group) and Peyton Manning SB team of 2007, the “Hoosier State” capital is hallowed sports ground.  It has been the bullseye of the news cycle lately, notably for the retirement of Colts QB Andrew Luck.

I can honestly say beyond sports, I didn’t know much about this city, other than the fact that it seems like I know a million people from there.  Impossible, since it is the 17th most populous metro area in the country with about 2 million in population, but their residents certainly infiltrate everywhere else in the Midwest.  Indy is about the size of Kansas City, and similar in many ways.  There are great neighborhoods, a friendly sense of community and an unmistakable pride in their hometown.

Gentlemen (and gentle ladies), start your engines…

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