My inspiration for going to Macau actually stemmed from a Bill Whitaker piece that aired on CBS This Morning. He said Macau earns gambling revenues up to five times the entire state of Nevada, and suggested it might be the “new” Las Vegas. I wanted to see for myself… so we took a ferry over from Hong Kong and spent the day exploring. My opinion: It’s a far cry from the Vegas Strip – the casinos are spread out across two islands, and there’s just something a bit off about seeing gondolas teetering past Chinese lanterns inside the Venetian. The best part of Macau: the food… fish balls, pork buns, almond cookies… and my personal favorite, Lord Stow’s Portuguese egg tarts, which we enjoyed from the banks of a small fishing village, as we watched the sun set over mainland China. I did go home a winner… a whopping 90 Hong Kong dollars ($9 USD) richer. But it’s the egg tarts I’d go back for… not the casinos.
Hong Kong in a few words: not at all what I expected. Sure, there was the lingering smell of drying fish, and the dragons and paper lanterns. But the city turned out to be so much more than the clichés of Epcot’s World Showcase. So much more. Hiking trails spilled out to picturesque beaches reminiscent of the Caribbean. The vistas from Victoria Peak made even the tallest buildings look like mere pins in a map. And the firework show, which we viewed from the Peak, kept us saying, “Oh wait, now THIS has to be the finale,” over and over. I had been warned that I would fall in love with the city. And indeed, by the end of my nearly two weeks in Hong Kong, I wondered what would happen if I didn’t get on that plane home.
When life hands you lemons in the form of political unrest in Bangkok, go to Phuket instead. The change of plans meant I’d have to travel to Thailand alone. I stayed in a spacious beach bungalow along a private cove, where the coconut drinks were hacked fresh the tree and an hour long massage cost $10. At first, it felt like I was honeymooning by myself. But I quickly found company and conversation in the other guests and my hosts. The dad regaled me with stories from his days as a fixer in the movie biz, and I talked for hours with a couple from the UK. I’ve had a lot of positive AirBNB experiences along the way, but this one was undoubtedly the best yet.
Fun fact: Budapest is actually split into two parts, Buda (to the west) and Pest (to the east). On a bridge, right between the two, is where I ran into whom I like to call the “Argentine version of me!” Both of us were holding SLR cameras, traveling alone, and interning for media companies abroad – her in Spain, I in London. We agreed to grab dinner together and after that met up with my AirBNB host who showed us around the city’s best “ruin bars.” Probably one of the most memorable experiences, though, was Széchenyi Thermal Bath – think speedo-wearing, leather-skinned old men… lots of them! I grasped the edge of the deep end of the pool and kicked gently… not really moving anywhere; just swimming in thoughts… I was nearing the end of my two-week-long solo backpacking trip and my six-month stint in London. I knew then I had achieved something special. But as time goes on, it only becomes clearer just how important traveling through Europe was (and continues to be) on just about every aspect of my life. I promised myself then, in that pool, that I would never stop traveling… well, so far, so good!
Vienna was beyond beautiful and by far my favorite stop in Eastern Europe. I was nearing the end of my two-week-long solo backpacking trip. Vienna was the perfect respite for a restless traveler. I leisurely strolled along the Danube river, had entirely too much Viennese coffee and streusel, and spent hours wandering the gardens of Belvedere Palace… admiring its foliage and enjoying the music of the trombone players.
Prague was the sixth stop on my two-week-long solo backpacking trip. It was my first stop in Eastern Europe. My Fritz-Kola friend who I’d met in Berlin introduced me to his friend who was also traveling through Prague. We wandered through the bustling cobblestone squares at Prague’s center and sipped on pint after pint of Czech beer. We crossed the famed Charles Bridge at dusk. My favorite parts of Prague, though, were the quiet spots overlooking the city, including Prague Castle and Petřín Hill.
Coming out at the foot of Petrin Hill, that great green mound rising up in the middle of Prague, she was surprised to find it devoid of people. This was strange, because at other times half of Prague seemed to be milling about. It made her anxious. But the hill was so quiet and the quiet so comforting that she yielded fully to its embrace. On her way up, she paused several times to look back: below her she saw the towers and bridges; the saints were shaking their fists and lifting their stone eyes to the clouds. It was the most beautiful city in the world.
- Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Of the 18 different countries I traveled to while living in London, Germany was definitely a favorite. Berlin was the perfect combination of art, food and history. I spent four days in the city — not nearly enough time to see everything, but just enough to get a taste of Berlin life. I cheered on Germany’s Euro Cup team from a biergarten, walked along the Berlin Wall, and shared my Turkish market finds — roasted pepper and feta spread, large slabs of fresh-baked pita and a box of mangoes (the latter earning me the name “Mango girl” among my new friends). It was hard to imagine that duress had griped this city more than once in the past century. The wall of artistic restraint has fallen; now the city is fertile ground for some of the most prolific innovators of art and culture. Berlin truly has a vibe like no other.