Barcelona is my current (I’m very fickle!) favourite European city for a number of reasons. One, because of the amount of greenery you can find here. I love any city where you can get lost in a big park for the day and forget that you’re in a sprawling metropolis. Two, because there is a beach. I mean, who doesn’t love a good beach? Three, the architecture. For me, the best parts of the city aren’t the tourist traps, although don’t get me wrong, I appreciate those as much as anyone else. It’s the fact that in Barcelona you can turn a corner and discover something totally amazing on a seemingly unassuming street.
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Back when I was newbie blogger and Homeless and Confused was a brand spanking new site, I wrote a (albeit pretty crappy) post about how I had recently visited Barcelona and loved it.
Aside from the fact that the photographs are terrible (thank God that camera broke and saved us all a lot of trouble), the sentiment was true. It was my first trip to mainland Spain and I really enjoyed myself.
“Now, why, when she’s currently in Mexico, would she be telling us this?” you’re probably thinking to yourself. Well, I apologise for the brief interlude in proceedings, but I’ve got some (semi) exciting news. I’ve actually made some future plans for once, instead of just lurching frantically from one destination to the other.
I’ve booked flights to Europe in July, starting with Madrid!
That news in itself may not seem too inspiring, especially because I spent a large chunk of last year exploring Eastern Europe, but it’s all for a good cause. Namely, my 30th birthday.
Yes, that’s right, it’s the big 3-0 for me this year, and as much as I love being on the road, I couldn’t justify spending such a big milestone abroad. I want to be with my family. Hence the flights back to Europe.
The facilities are good, use them
Before I got to Vietnam I had visions of squat toilets all over the country, like that of many other South East Asian destinations and so steeled myself for having to ‘hover’ on a regular basis.
This turned out to be a misconception and the only squat toilet I encountered was at a service station at the side of the road. Apart from this, the plumbing tends to work in much a similar way to Greece: don’t block the pipes by flushing the toilet paper down; instead use the bin provided and everything will be fine.
As with anywhere in Asia, arm yourself with plenty of tissues and antibacterial gel in case you’re caught short with no supplies. You may also be charged to use toilets if they are situated at popular tourist sites. Don’t be cheap and think you can get away with paying the minimum price unless you are male and are used to using public urinals. I made this mistake and was shown to an exposed toilet bowl with no door that could be seen from the street!
It WILL rain – there’s no best time to visit Vietnam
If you are travelling from one end of the country to the other, it will rain at some point during your trip. The seasons vary throughout the country and I encountered rain in both Hoi An and Hue. Even though it was still warm, the rain was heavy at times, but don’t let it dampen your fun.
Ponchos can be bought for a minimal price when you are there (the thinner plastic ones are good just for walking around whereas you should invest in the thicker, longer ones if you’re planning on riding motorbikes and cycles a lot).
Also, don’t bother packing an umbrella – it just adds to your baggage weight and even the lowest class of hotels tend to offer them free in the rooms. Note - Make sure you return the umbrellas before you leave as you will be charged for them otherwise.
The trains never run on time
Once you’ve spent a few days in Vietnam you’ll realise that the Vietnamese are a laid-back people, who are never in a rush to get anywhere. This translates to their public transport system also.
Having used a few sleeper trains during my stay, it became custom to never expect to arrive at your destination at the intended time, even if you had set off within an hour of your departure time. Just go with the flow and be ready and alert to leave the train at your station when you arrive because they don’t hang around for long and you never know where you might end up if you have to stay on the train until the next stop.
All of the holes you can see that are carved into the side of the rock were homes for pigeons, who were considered to be very valuable in the years before artificial fertilisers came to pass (pigeon poop was used as a fertiliser for crops back then. Too much information?) The entrance to some of the pigeon holes were decorated with painted symbols and drawings and we managed to get close enough to snap some photos.