Muscatine, Iowa: Meeting Miss Emelia.

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It’s hard to stay away from a place like Muscatine, Iowa.

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Especially when your new-born niece lives there, and she is as sweet as Miss Emelia.

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Meet Emelia Grace Goodall, everyone.  

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This beauty was born to my brother Jeremy and his wife Sarah on May 17, 2014.

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Emelia was starting to smile lots while we were there.

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It was super special to take in these moments, and spend some time getting to know our darling niece.

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Congrats, Jer & Sarah.  You guys are fantastic parents to Emelia already.

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It’s beautiful to see your support for one another and the way you two embrace this new stage of life with such flexibility and joy.

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Thanks for the awesome times in Muscatine!

Kansas City.

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Kansas City held a heartwarming reunion with our dear friends, the Keels.

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We arrived in New Zealand the very same week as this amazing family, and shared in the joys, wonders, and bewilderment of moving to a new country and continent together.  It felt so good to be in their presence again, share stories of adjustment, and validate that the experience of going to New Zealand was indeed real.

It was very special to share some wonderful times with our friends Tim, Mimi, Mabry, Annie & Blaise in their very cool hometown of Kansas City.  Some of the highlights included:

Kansas City Barbecue.

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I didn’t know it was a thing.  But it is.  It is QUITE a thing.  Kansas City BBQ is a culture unto itself that must be experienced to be understood.  Tim & Mimi took us to some of their favourite BBQ joints.  Our first Kansas City BBQ experience was takeout from Oklahoma Joe’s, a BBQ place run out of what looks like a gas station.

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Make no mistake- Oklahoma Joe’s is serious BBQ business.

Brendon savoured his Z-man sandwich, while I thoroughly enjoyed my beef brisket (sans the bun.)  I appreciated the thin slices, minimal fat, and thorough application of bbq sauce.

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Then we encountered L.C.’s.  L.C.’s has been known to have the “slickest floors in Kansas City.”  We’re talking smoky, messy, rustic style Kansas City BBQ here.  The kind of bbq where the air is a thick, translucent haze, rolls of paper towel sit on the tables and slices of white bread are used to sop up the glorious mess on your place.  It was epic.

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Mel’s first major league baseball game.  

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Mimi’s dad generously got us tickets to see the Kansas City Royals play the Detroit Tigers from the 4th row … pretty amazing viewing the game from there!

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Visiting Jacob’s Well.

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Tim started Jacob’s Well Church years before moving to NZ, then returned as Senior Pastor.  Mimi is also the Director of Children’s Ministry.  An inspiring place to visit.  One afternoon, Brendon had the chance to share his thesis work with some of the pastoral team there, which was an encouraging and affirming experience for him.

Kansas City Coffee.

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The coffee scene in Kansas City was awesome.  None of our cafe experiences disappointed in the least; mind you, Tim had hand-selected them all for us, so we knew they would be good.  Coffee highlights of the city included:

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Quay Coffee- A really nice geisha full of florals and gentleness.

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Second Best- Some nice espresso, a Kenyan pour over, and a crunch peanut butter affagato.

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Oddly Correct- An enjoyable cappuccino and an exceptional old fashioned sour cream glazed donut.

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PT’s Coffee- A Colombian (single origin) espresso, Kenyan pour over, and iced almond chai.

Meeting Jeremy Collins.

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We were on our way to the cafe Oddly Correct when Tim mentioned we should stop in and visit his friend Jeremy who works in an artists space next door.

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Jeremy kindly took the time to share some of his work with us, including some sketchbooks from a recent trip to Venezuela, and the trailer to his upcoming film, Drawn.  It’s hard to explain what our brief visit with Jeremy did… invigorated/stirred our souls a bit maybe, or gave us a hope that people really can find ways to incorporate their passions and live out their convictions in ways that are possible and meaningful.  Jeremy’s film, Drawn, is being featured as part of the Banff Film Festival, and premiers in Banff this fall.  We are going to try to be there for it.  You can watch the trailer here.

Miscelaneous gems.

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Kansas City far to cool to be thoroughly explored in 3 days.   We probably just touched the tip of the ice berg really, but here are a few other places that stood out as being exceptionally awesome:

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Little Freshie has amazing gourmet snow cones.  Blackberry lavender, anyone?  Or green tea pear?

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Utilitarian Workshop is a super cool design store full of local handmade jewellery and other beautiful objects.

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Our time in Kansas City was overall rejuvenating and inspiring.  The Keels spoiled our socks off and we are so thankful for the time that we could spend with them.  Thanks so much, Tim, Mimi, Mabry, Annie, & Blaise for making our time in Kansas City so epic!  Until next time, friends! x

Next stop: Muscatine, Iowa.

Cross-continentals.

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New Zealand, being relatively small in size (comparative to Alberta), was pretty easy to get to know over the course of our time there.  Canada on the other hand, is a much different story.

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Upon our return, we realized we hardly knew our home country and continent in comparison to the way we had come to know and appreciate New Zealand.  To remedy this, summer of 2014 would hold a cross-continental road trip for us, with a final destination of West Quaco, New Brunswick.

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After spending a few days in Edmonton celebrating Canada Day and catching up with friends, we packed up our 2000 Toyota Corolla (crossing our fingers and hoping she lives up to her longevous Toyota reputation) and hit the road.

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First stop: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the place of Mel’s birth.

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We had a nice visit with Nana and Auntie Judy, and shared a coffee with a high school friend of Brendon’s, Jordan, and his wife, Lauren.

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From here, we began our venture south to the destination of Rapid City, South Dakota.

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We met up with our friend Josh and the Corys (B’s friend Cory and his wife, also named Cory) who are due with their baby any day now.  Cory and I even fit an impromptu maternity shoot.

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The Corys were gracious hosts and awesome tour guides around their quaint city, which features statues of all the former US presidents on the street corners.

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We posed for a photo with John Adams.

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The scenery through South Dakota was actually quite striking at times.  They had a neat badlands region just outside of Rapid City, and some stunning rock formations which jetted starkly out of the flat surrounds.

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From there, we were on to Kansas City.  More on this in the next post.

 

Welcoming warmth in The Deer.

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We apologize for the lack of updates over the last little while.  Life has held many transitions, commitments, and deadlines which have unfortunately meant limited time for blogging.  But I’d love to catch you up on what the past 2 months have held.

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First off, we would just like to say that Red Deer definitely looks much better in green than it does in brown or white.  Well, this is probably true of just about anywhere.   The arrival of warmer seasons brought a welcomed lightness and hope to our days.  It’s wonderful to walk outside and have the air not hurt your face.

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The spring held a visit from Brendon’s mom, Fay, and sister, Karly.

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We enjoyed some fun Neilson family times at Luke’s ball games and cheering on Naomi in her first Triathalon.

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Speaking of Triathalons, a shout out to our bro-in-law, Craig, for an incredible performance in the Coeur D’Alene Ironman race and qualifying to go to Worlds in Kona again.  Congrats, Craig & Team Schmitt!!  So proud of you.

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Brendon is now in the final revision stage of his thesis work.  It has felt like a long haul, and he feels quite ready to be done, but there is still a bit more refining and revising to do before the final product can be submitted.  I keep reassuring him that he’ll get there soon enough!

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We were delighted to celebrate Morgan’s graduation from Grade 9 and be there to see Morgan rack up a series of awards at her end of year prizegiving, including the prestigious “Elmer S. Gish Family Award,” given to a student who is well-respected by peers and teachers and who has made a significant contribution to the school community.  Way to go, Morgo!!  So proud of this girl.  In general, it’s nice to be back for these sorts of things, you know?

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My first school year back in Alberta is now complete- hooray!   I had a great year with my Gr. 3’s and 4’s, and my current school has been an awesome place for me to grow as a teacher.  I really feel fortunate to be able to work in such a positive, supportive environment, and with some excellent teaching colleagues, some of whom have become friends.

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As for what next year will hold?  Well, it looks like our feet will be sticking around The Deer a bit longer.  I have kindly been offered a position teaching Grade 2  next year with the same school, and am pleased to continue my journey as a teacher working for and with people I have a lot of respect for.   As much fun as teaching a split class is, teaching a single grade again will be a nice change, and it’s been a while since I’ve taught Grade 2… it’s good to keep things fresh, right?

Staying on with the same school meant preparing to move to a new school campus over the summer.  Along with packing up the entire contents of my classroom, we also packed up the contents of our apartment and put all our belongings in storage while we do some travel over the summer months.

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The spring held its share of uncertainties, decisions, moves, and transitions.  But it did open up its share of hopes about returning to Red Deer for another year.

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On leaving NZ: One year later.

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One year ago, we said goodbye to beautiful Aotearoa.

To commemorate this occasion, I made a pie.

When people find out we spend three and a half years living in New Zealand, the most common question that follows this discovery is “Why did you leave?”

While this question does ring in our ears from time to time, (especially during the depths of the winter months), we suppose the main answer to that question has to do with the people whose love sustained us despite the physical distance that separated us.

While that “settled” feeling still has yet to come, and while we miss the beaches, the lushness, and the beauty of New Zealand’s land and people, we do have a peace about being back in Canada, in this land that is our home.

We continue to look back on our time in New Zealand with awe and thankfulness, knowing that we will be forever shaped by those years spent in the land of the long white cloud.

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Mel & Breno’s Red Deer.

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For the past 9 months, Red Deer (or Rouge Deer, as we like to call it), has been our place of residence.

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We have done our best to try to embrace what Rouge Deer offers, and although we may not have discovered all of its gems yet, here are our favorite places & aspects of this rural city of Central Alberta.

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We will begin with what we consider the gem of The Deer: Dose Coffee Company.  Dose has been Brendon’s haven and saving grace amidst his year of thesis writing.  They alternate between serving Transcend and Phil & Sebastian coffees, and sell beans from a few reputable roasters.  The owners, Roland and Alison, are great people whom we have really enjoyed getting to know.

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What we would have done without Dose this year, I have no idea.  I personally enjoy the Dulce’s, and they also have a nice selection of teas.  Recently, Brendon began working Fridays at Dose and was featured in an article in the Red Deer Advocate earlier in May.

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Auckland has its iconic Sky Tower, but towering above Red Deer’s skyline is this distinguished water tower.  Painted an attractive seafoam green, isn’t it a beauty?  Seeing this majestic structure peeking out from over the treeline brings me just a little bit of joy, every time.

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Red Deer’s historic downtown quarters have quite a charm to them.  The city has done a nice job preserving the historic aspects of buildings, and numerous statues and murals give glimpses of days passed.

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The Dented Can is one shop that you must check out when wandering the downtown, especially if you are into antique/vintage wares.

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We initially over-looked what enjoyment we would get from this mounted radio/cassette player upon first moving into our little apartment.  Listening to the “Strombo Show” on CBC Radio 2 has become a favorite Sunday evening past-time.  “The Signal” with Lori Brown at 10pm is another favourite.

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The river valley trails in Red Deer are excellent.  I feel fortunate to live very close to them, and utilize them frequently.

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For fitness, I tend to do more interval-based training these days, rather than long distance running.  This painted concrete pad looking over the river is a great little spot to get a bit of a workout in.  I especially enjoy that it gets great late-afternoon sun.

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So far, I have located one set of stairs next to the river valley which I have also enjoyed utilizing as part of my fitness regime.  It recently became “closed for construction,” though, so if anyone else knows of another (perhaps longer) set of stairs within the city, I would love to hear about its whereabouts.

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Galbraith Park.  Just a block from our place, this is a nice spot to take an afternoon nap on a blanket, play some catch, do some wildlife watching, or just close your eyes and imagine you are on a beach (while ignoring the sound of the obnoxious motorcycles and trucks roaring by).  Just last week, we spotted this young deer meandering through the park.

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From May to October, Red Deer runs a pretty substantial farmer’s market- probably the most eclectic one we’ve seen.

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A wide mix of produce, craft, packaged product, and antiques… you never quite know what kind of gems you will find.

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To quote our friend Matthew Cairns, “The Red Deer Farmers Market is a great to place to go if you need: a new bag for your vacuum, hemp jewellery, Titanic on VHS, and sausage.”  Truth you speak, Matthew.

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The RD Farmers Market has grown to be quite immense in size, and is very well attended by central Alberta folk.  Strolling this vibrant, diverse market is a truly lovely way to spend a Saturday morning.

Red Deer Food trucks Chedda'Heads and the Stache

Food Truck Fridays start up again in the summer, with a gathering of the local food vendors in the city’s central quarters.  You can also find the food trucks at the Farmers Market on Saturday.  Chedda’ Heads and The Stache are two of Red Deer’s most popular food trucks.

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Bower Ponds is a lovely place for an afternoon promenade (or a skate in the wintertime).

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We haven’t dined out a ton in Red Deer, but some local restaurants we have tried out and would like to recommend Addy’s (run by a sweet family from Syria, serving Middle Eastern cuisine), Reuon Thai, and Blue Dragon Thai & Cambodian.

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Sylvan Star Cheese, a local cheese-making company from the heart of Alberta.  We highly recommend the Old Grizzly.  Available at many grocery stores around the city, or a trip out to the Sylvan Star Cheese Shop out in Sylvan Lake can be a nice excursion.

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Did we mention that Red Deer has a couple of pretty great thrift (op) shops?  Red Deer is well known for having one the best Value Villages around, but my personal favourite is the Bible For Missions Thrift Shop.  BFM’s prices are quite a bit more reasonable than VV’s, and it is run entirely by volunteer.  We have to admit, we have found some real steals there.

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Our Red Deer Family.  It’s been wonderful having Brendon’s sister, Nicole, and her family here in Red Deer.  We have so loved being able to be there for our niece and nephews’  birthday parties, hockey games, and holidays… something that feels a bit novel after having been away for so long.

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We have also shared some great times with the lovely Schultz’s, who have been good friends of ours for a long time.

Yep, so that’s pretty much The Deer… as experienced through our eyes.

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We recognize that there are probably many other fantastic things in Red Deer aside from what we mentioned, but we wanted to moreso give you a glimpse of the Red Deer we have experienced over the past year.

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Red Deer friends (who probably know the city MUCH better than we do), feel free to contribute your favourite spots and recommendations that we may have missed in our post.

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Halong Bay: Bay of a thousand islands.

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At this point in our journey, we were beginning to feel a bit tired and travelled out.  The idea of an organized day tour where all your transportation and food was taken care of sounded awfully appealing.  So we signed up for a tour of Halong Bay through APT Travel.

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After a four hour ride on a minibus, we arrived at the Halong Bay pier.  The Nu’u Nghi boat was waiting for us, and minutes upon setting sail, we were presented with a beautiful seafood feast.

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The perfectly timed meal ended when we pulled up to the Don Thien Cung caves, and got off the boat to explore them for about a half hour.

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(The coloured lights are just for effect.  The inside of the cave is not actually rainbow.)

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Next stop was a fishing village, where a small group of Vietnamese people live year-round.  There is even a school here on the water, where children attend until age 11.  After that, students leave the village to continue school on the mainland.  We were given the chance to kayak in and around the fishing village and surrounding cliffs.

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It was crazy to fathom the unique challenges of living in a small fishing community such as this one.  We wondered how they felt about their existence being a tourist attraction.

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As you can see, Halong Bay is a pretty stunning place.  Although impossible to capture in one photo (unless from the air), Halong Bay is comprised of 1900-2000 islets.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Limestone cliffs, partially covered with lush plantlife, jet starkly around of the water.  Though pictures do not do justice to the immense awe that this place conjures, perhaps they convey more than words.  We’ll leave you now with a few images to take in.

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It felt kind of weird to be the tourists in the tour group, but hey, after several weeks of organizing our own adventures, it was actually kind of nice to sit back and enjoy an excursion that someone had already done the work of orchestrating for us.

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We got to know Halong Bay better than we were planning to.  Left behind again by our transport, after the agent PROMISED we would not be forgotten, we got to spend a bit of extra time hanging out in Halong Bay.  (But of all the places to be stranded… we suppose it could have been much worse.)

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The town itself didn’t have a lot to offer, but we spent some extra time chilling out by the water.

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The beach is where Halong Bayers seem to flock to in the evenings.  And why not?  It’s beauty is hard to ignore.  Young and old alike go for a dip to escape the heat.

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It appeared that some organized swimming lessons were going on.  This was definitely the busiest beach we encountered throughout our time in SE Asia.

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We highly recommend you visit the world wonder of Halong Bay if you ever get the chance!  (We heard the overnight cruises, or the ones that overnight on Cat Ba Island are pretty epic, but weren’t able to make it work.)

Thanks, Halong Bay, for sharing your splendor and beauty with us!

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Hanoi: A place to sit and watch the world go by.

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I hit a low point in our travels once we reached Hanoi, which we travelled to by rail.

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After being dropped at the wrong location by our taxi driver, finding our hotel was obstacle number one in Vietnam’s capital.

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Traffic was insane. Imagine, literally, a river of scooters flowing through the streets.

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Crossing the street was at your own risk, and definitely a risk at that!  You just kind of had to go for it… slowly.  The general principle is that the traffic will go around you.  We are proud to say that we managed to avoid being hit by a scooter through the entire duration of our stay in Vietnam.

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Appealing restaurants were a little harder to come by in Hanoi, as were people who spoke good English.

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Northern Vietnam appeared less tourist-friendly than their neighbours in the South.

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The smells, the chaos, the noise, the dirt, the cluttered sidewalks, the persistent nagging of street vendors… they were starting to get to me… one could say I was nearly “Asia’d out.”

THANKFULLY, I stumbled upon this article by Steve Jackson, who offered some wise & timely words:

“THERE IS NOT ONE SPECIFIC THING WORTH SEEING IN HANOI.

NOT ONE.

And yet Hanoi itself is unmissable.

Spend your time rushing around to see any of the sites on the above list and you may miss its charms.”

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We thought Steve’s words to be very knowing, so we took his advice and did a little research on the Hanoi cafe scene.

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After strolling around Hoi Kim Lake, we caught a cyclo who pedalled us to the doorstep of Cong Caphe.

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On the walls inside this reputable Hanoi Cafe hang Vietnam war paraphernalia.

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On the menu, a variety of coffee beverages, and a limited number of snack items, including pop corn.

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Highly recommend the coffee and coconut coffee shake. An interesting flavor combination, but it works! Brendon says his best Vietnamese coffee experience was here as well.

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Although the view was somewhat limited, the cafe itself was a great place to sit and think about Hanoi.

Beware that within the small cafe, smoking is permitted, so air quality has the potential to be quite poor. You’ll have to forgive Cong Caphe for the lung damage.

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Thanks to Steve Jackson, we adapted a much more relaxed perspective about our time in Hanoi, which challenged me to focus less on ticking things off a list, and instead, look around and appreciate who and what was around me at that moment.

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Hanoi sewing machine

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Saigon: A sensory tour.

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What were we doing precisely this time last year?  Exploring Vietnam.  Since I wasn’t able to keep up with blogging about all of our South East Asian escapades, now seems like a fitting time to re-visit the places we encountered one year ago.

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As our first impression of Vietnam, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) was a pretty cool city to visit.  Let us take you for a bit of a sensory tour through the streets of Saigon.

Taste

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Pho, pronounced “fur” (with a British accent.)  Essentially, pho consists of noodles in broth with your choice of chicken, beef, pork, and sometimes if we were lucky, vegetable.  The option to add in fresh herbs and sprouts on the side added flavour as well as nutrient value.

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In our search for the best pho in the city, we learned an important lesson: Lonely Planet doesn’t know everything.  The option that was NOT in Lonely planet turned out to be our favourite.  *International travel tip: Locals are a better resource than the travel guides that everyone else is using.

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Fresh vegetables and herbs, wrapped in pretty bundles.

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Basil.  Lots of basil.

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Banh Xeo, a Vietnamese sizzling pancake.

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Spring rolls.  Crispy awesomeness.

Smell

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Fried sweet baked goods being sold by Vietnamese women on the roadside.

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Char grilled meat.

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Durian, or other over-ripe, aromatic fruits.

The pungent aroma of seafood left to dry in the sun.

Hear

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Aggressive marketplace ladies.  “Lady, what you like?”

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Cyclo drivers, eager for business.  “Where you go?  I take you there?”

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Constant honking of horns.

The sizzle of street food.

The roar of Bui Vien Street (pictured above) at night as the people come out to live it up.

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Children playing.  Sometimes not so cooperatively.

Feel

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Sweat dripping off your brow, and down every other part of your body.

The breeze from scooters whipping by.  Another near miss.

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A moment of tranquility in one of Saigon’s serene parks, as well as some mild relief from the heat.

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The sweet, layered refreshment of a Vietnamese iced coffee.  The cold glass against your overheated skin is heavenly.

See

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Helmets for scooterists.

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Tall buildings.

Scooters zooming in and out of days and nights.

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Lights.

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Inspiring boutiques with upstairs cafes.  A few of our favourite finds included L’usine and Magonn.

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Wires, criss crossing the streets in all directions.  And COLOR.  So much color.

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The Notre Dam Cathedral.

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Boats that are fish.

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As you can see, Saigon was a full-out experience for the senses.  We hope this post allowed you to have a taste of this vibrant city, if you havn’t had the chance to visit yet for yourself.