At the moment I’m living in Catalonia, about 90 minutes south of Barcelona on the train. My town is pretty… sleepy, it’s very nice and I’m sure it’s about to get busier now the weather’s improving but it’s not an international city with lots of history. Trips to Barcelona are needed. When I found this job I decided that I wanted to get to know Barcelona and I think, so far, I’ve learnt a lot about the Catalan capital. It’s a place I’d visited a few times when on family holidays but it was always far too hot in July/August, the weather wasn’t conducive to sightseeing. Amazingly the Barcelona metro remains too hot even in February.
The first trip to Barcelona, since I became a local, was in September. I had only just arrived and a friend came out to visit, we looked online to see if tickets were available for a Barcelona game. They were! For about 60 euros each. Ouch. Pretty extortionate but seeing Messi play live was/is on the bucket list so it could be justified. Off we went to the Nou Camp to watch arguably the biggest team in the world, it was all set. I logged onto the stadium’s wifi to check the team and…. tragedy strikes: Messi, Suarez and Iniesta are all on the substitute’s bench. Long story short, Barca lose to a team I’d never heard and Messi, Suarez and Iniesta all play for about 30 minutes, they do absolutely nothing. I still feel cheated and will be returning to properly watch Messi play.
During this first trip we also took in some culture, it wasn’t purely to watch the football! We visited Parc Guell to see some of Gaudi’s work, I wanted to see the funky lizard I’d seen on postcards and souvenirs but sadly it was hiding. Stay tuned for part 2!
At anytime of year you’ll spot Catalan flags flying from windows across the state/province/country(I’ll cover all bases). There are different variations but the one pictured below is based on the Cuban flag, everything is clear if you choose to fly this one: you want independence. The topic is huge here, some people are so sure they’re going to become independent. It’s something I still don’t fully understand, I’ll sit on the fence and be an ignorant foreigner. In September it’s Catalan Day so there were even more flags out than usual. Normally I’m not a fan of flag-flying, I wouldn’t want to see the English or British flag hanging out of windows back home. However, I like this picture taken on the most famous street in Barcelona, Las Ramblas.
Confession: I feel like a fraud writing this post. I don’t really like beaches and almost look down on people who just go off for 2 weeks to the seaside without taking in any culture or trying new experiences. Each to their own but I think there’s a lot more to travel. However, after probably 7 weeks of absolutely ‘authentic backpacking’ we decided to book in at a posh resort on a Malaysian island. Well, nobody’s perfect! The resort was amazing, out of our budget to be honest but my girlfriend really wanted to have a few days of luxury. We took an overnight bus from Singapore to Penang and then waited a few hours before our ferry over to Langkawi – by the end of this journey she wasn’t the only one wanting luxury! There’s not loads I can write about Langkawi, it was a great place to relax for a few days. One of the main attractions is huge bridge suspended in the hills, it takes some courage to walk on – a part of the floor is clear glass! It’s worth doing, the views are fantastic.
One of the things I most wanted to see in Asia was a real life monkey. Yeah, temples are cool, snorkeling – amazing… but monkeys top everything. Langkawi delivered! A group of the little rascals started rummaging around on the beach before searching the bin to see if the humans had left any treats. Watching a monkey open a bin bag was thoroughly entertaining, I highly recommend it! I can’t remember if they found anything of use, I’m sat here annoyed with myself for not knowing the ending. They were not bothered in the slightest about their audience.
Overall, Langkawi served its purpose and I enjoyed our time there, it’s beautiful. It’s definitely not a must-visit destination in Southeast Asia but they do have monkeys.
I should be lesson planning but that isn’t very appealing right now, let’s blog instead. The next stop on the tour was Singapore, by this point it really did feel like the end was coming and Singapore gave us a fresh reminder of what home was like. Cambodia, Thailand etc. were like nowhere else we’d ever seen before, it was eye-opening. Singapore was the outcast, it felt like going back to the western world briefly. I was walking around the streets around Arab Street and said ‘this could be Brighton’. Countries in Southeast Asia are cheap for us westerners, they sadly suffer from poverty and instability. Singapore couldn’t be more different, expensive and prosperous.
On the first evening we visited the harbour, it’s located next to the central business district. Many international banks are based there and the skyline rivals those of other international trading cities. I can’t stress how different it felt to other places in this part of the world. Every evening a light show is performed from the recognisable Marina Bay Sands hotel. Pretty impressive. The best thing about Singapore was the diversity, I think 4 languages are considered official here: English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. It meant we could have a Chinese for lunch one day and a fantastic Indian curry just before we left. Coming from multicultural Britain we take such things for granted but a lot of places don’t offer this variety. Without sounded cliche it seems the different demographics get along pretty well, I hope that’s the case anyway. We were staying in a hostel near Arab Street and decided to visit the big Mosque nearby. I’m pretty sure this was the first time in my life I’d been inside a Mosque, I also had to wear a skirt as my legs were out – what a whore!
A theme of the trip was colonial architecture, the French were the big imperial power/oppressors in Southeast Asia but in Singapore it was clear the Brits had been here.
References to the colonial past were easy to find, the Victoria Theatre (yes even with RE!) being a great example…
Overall, I liked Singapore and thought we saw all we’d want to in the few days we spent there. I wouldn’t call it a must-do if you’re planning a trip to SE Asia but it is extremely well-connected place, maybe starting or ending a trip here would make sense.
This will be a short post, as I only usually write about 500 words at the best of times it might as well just be a photo post. We finished our time in Vietnam where we had started, in Ho Chi Minh city. We’d seen quite a bit of the city during our first time there so we decided to book ourselves on a tour to the Mekong Delta in the far south of the country. It was just a day trip and of course set up for tourists like us but it was cool to see life in another part of Vietnam. The Mekong is so important for the countries in southeast Asia, loads of people depend on it.
We were well aware by this point that a tour means stopping at places where you’ll be encouraged to part with your cash. And voila! Local treats were of course on sale including some kind of alcohol with a dead snake and scorpion inside the bottle. Grim. Women were making a kind of toffee sweet that we actually ended up buying, it’s hard to resist their trap at times. We wanted to take it back home for everyone to try and it pulled my mum’s filling out. Oops.
The main reason I’d wanted to go on this tour is because I’d seen boats on the water under overgrown plants/trees. It was getting towards the time to head back to HCMC and we still hadn’t got in a little boat, I was beginning to want a refund but patience is a virtue! We were taken to a river and all climbed in the boats waiting for us, complete with rowers(?) wearing their cone hats. Just what I wanted! We peacefully went along under the coverage of the foliage.
Here is a photo of our happy rower.
That was our last experience in Vietnam, I loved the country. It’s the one (along with Thailand) I definitely want to return to. I found the recent history fascinating, the people kind and the scenery beautiful. I highly recommend Vietnam.
I’ve been saying that I want to get to Cuba ASAP in case it begins to change. I guess with Trump we now don’t know how it’ll play out between the two nations. Either way, I want to see authentic Cuba, the almost-untouched-by-the-US Cuba. And although Japan was tempting me big time, it’s now official….
2017’s big adventure will be Cuba!🇨🇺
We’ve got 5 months left in Spain and then to celebrate completing this job we’ll be heading to the Caribbean. It’s time to begin the research, something to look forward to during these cold winter days.
Here is my list of things I must do:
- Smoke a few cigars
- Snorkel or scuba dive
- Ride in a 50s car
- Practice my Spanish (a lot of improvement required)
- Learn more about the history and politics – visit Che
- Drink mojitos
Vamos a Cuba!
Returning to the Southeast Asia trip – the next stop while we worked our way down Vietnam was Hoi An. Hoi An is a small city and a lot more relaxed than other parts of Vietnam. I’m looking at you Ho Chi Minh. The old town is full of boutique shops and the walls are all a distinct yellow colour. Many of the shops are actually tailors, the city has a reputation for cheap(to Westerners anyway) clothing and it’s almost expected you buy some clothing here. I went for a cheaper option and bought a shirt that I had taken in to fit me better, shamefully I haven’t worn it too often. We also bought our dads ties for Christmas, can’t be sure if they’re worn more or less than my shirt though. You got the sense the shops had been owned by that family for generations, the kids would grow up to make ties and repeat. I hope they’ve always been there and haven’t cropped up due to tourism.
In terms of places to visit and things to see I can’t give too many suggestions. Hoi An is one of those places you just like to wander around, taking it all in. It’s not the kind of place where you tell people you’ve been and they’re instantly in awe – unless they’re interested in Vietnam it’s likely they won’t even know it. I hope the few pictures included below give an idea of what it’s like though, we really liked it there.
A lot of the time the markets and shops that are on popular backpacker routes stock tacky crap, to be brutally honest! Of course that’s a generalisation but arguably a fair one. Anyway, it’s not the case in Hoi An. The items on sale here were interesting, classy, pretty choose a nice adjective as you so wish. These lights were our favourites, we didn’t think they’d survive the travel so we didn’t buy one. Sadly.
By this point we’d been traveling a while and I was in my ‘short hair’ stage. I had long hair before I backpacked SE Asia and have it again now but it was short back and sides at this point. Seems like I did it wrong, surely your stereotypical post-uni backpacker should have long hair! Anyway, I thought I’d get it neatened up in Hoi An by the gentleman pictured below. He also decided to give my ears a clean too, a new experience for yours truly. I’ll spare the details but I was ashamed by the amount he was pulling out (and wiping on my hands). Haircut, shave and clean ears/damaged eardrums = £4 or so.
Taken on a phone through a window, obviously the quality isn’t quite there but I still like these photos taken from the sky. The first must be France/northern Spain and the second is Hong Kong.