Porto is hilly, which means there are a lot of lookout points through the city. This particular one was at the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal. On the left of the main park is a path that takes you down to these smaller gardens overlooking the Douro river and the Vila Nova de Gaia side. These secret gardens are pockets of serenity within the city, surrounded by flowers, large shaded trees, and amazing views. Once in awhile you’ll hear a sharp cry, but don’t be disturbed, it’s just one of the peacocks signaling a mate.
On the second day we headed out to Foz do Douro and Matosinhos, small seaside towns just north of Porto. It’s possible to walk there from the Porto city center by following the paved walkway that winds along the coastline, however it will take about 1-2 hours. On a nice day, you will find a lot of people out on the beach. The aesthetic and layout of this place reminded me of the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, which is not surprising since Brazil was settled by the Portuguese.
We finally made it to Porto after a roundabout flight to London. Having heard so much about this quiet city from my sister, I couldn’t wait to see it for myself and had high expectations. The city itself reminds me of a lot of other European cities, but the difference is that it’s laid back and not overrun with tourists. I immediately fell in love with the rambling cobblestone streets lined with charming colorful apartments and their balconies filled with flowers. The city is small and walk-able, a definite bonus. Even with the rolling hills it was still easy to get around. We spent the first day exploring the city and immersing ourselves in the local culture. It doesn’t hurt that we are staying in an apartment instead of a hotel, making us feel even more like a local.
On our last day in Ngapali, we paid a visit to the nearby fishing village where the local fishermen were just coming home from a night out on the sea. The catch of the day was quickly brought up on shore. Here you can see fish laid out to dry under the hot Burmese sun. The market was just opening, and buzzing with people out to buy their food for the day. In these remote villages, it’s more common to buy fresh ingredients every day, instead of relying on the fridge.
Every year on the night of the full moon in November, everyone in Myanmar celebrates Ta Zaung Dine, a festival of light. Away from the glare of the neon lights, the big orange moon shines extra bright. Each house was lit up by candles, lanterns, and strings of colorful lights. People of all ages gathered to see the paper lanterns floating down the river. Occasionally fireworks and sparklers would go up to the cheering crowds. By the market, the atmosphere is even more festive where families bring their kids out to eat, buy new clothes and play games.
After traveling for 11 days, we were ready for some R&R at the beach. Arriving at the beautiful Hilton Resort in Ngapali, we were pleasantly surprised that our status as a Gold member got us upgraded to a villa with a private pool facing the ocean. This sleepy fishing village is everything that we could hope for, crystal clear ocean, fine white sand, and peace and quiet to recharge for a few days before heading back to work.
This morning Fausto had a little celebrity moment when he came out of the temple and ran into a bus load of locals on their way in. They were quite excited to see a white person, so they started to shake his hand and take pictures of him. Then everyone wanted to be in the photo with him. One lady took possession of his arm and wouldn’t let go. I was relegated to the sideline while Fausto soaked in the limelight. Then another white guy walked by and they couldn’t decide who to take pictures with, so they got both of them to pose together. It was a little surreal, we were not sure what was going on, but I think Fausto enjoyed himself.
This morning we woke up early and rode our bikes out to one of the temples to watch the sunrise, and were rewarded with the sight above. The hot air balloons rising over the temples of Bagan in the early morning makes for a magnificent sight. In addition, with the thick fog rolling in from the river, it also creates a sense of mystique to the whole shot.
You know the expression “…until the cows come home”? It means having to wait a long time for something. Well, today I saw a literal enactment of this idiom when all the cars and buses on their way to see the sunset at Pya Tha Da Pagoda had to wait patiently for the cows to make their way home.
In the small village of Mingun, just an hour boat ride north of Mandalay, you can catch an ox cart taxi to take you around town. Even though the town is small, it is famous for the unfinished Pahtodawgyi Pagoda. The King at the time wanted to build the largest temple in the world that would rival the Great Pyramids of Giza. His ambitious project drained local resources and was an unpopular undertaking. When he passed away, the pagoda was left unfinished and currently stands as an impressively gigantic dilapidated pile of bricks.