A Visit to Bangkok, Part Two: Peeking Into Chinatown

Red Lanterns festively displayed by a street vendor in Bangkok's Chinatown

Red Lanterns festively displayed by a street vendor in Bangkok’s Chinatown

.

There’s something familiar about Chinatown.

No matter what city you’re in, whether it’s New York City, San Francisco, Hong Kong, or Bangkok, the images you’d conjure up for Chinatown are roughly similar.

Street view - Bangkok's Chinatown

Street view – Bangkok’s Chinatown

.

Street vendors hawking their wares, a variety of foods for sale – some of which look totally unfamiliar – and lots of small Chinese grocery stores selling packages of dried fish, along with Chinese tea shops and restaurants.

Colorful rolling carts displaying fruit in Bangkok's Chinatown

Colorful rolling carts displaying fruit in Bangkok’s Chinatown

.

Bangkok’s Chinatown felt familiar in the way that I described, but there were unfamiliar sights too.

I WISH I could have gotten a photo of the strange machine I saw on many street corners used to roast chestnuts in what looked like circulating black gravel stones. I’ve never seen such a machine before.

But, to me, the way to see a place is by watching the people.

Woman washing pans in a food stall

Woman washing pans in a food stall

.

More washing going on in the alley

More washing going on in the alley

.

Walking along the crowded streets

Walking along the crowded streets

.

And, of course, tasting the food. The vegetarian fare I sampled included Mapo Tofu, Chinese green leafy stuff with mushrooms, and something new to me: Iced chrysanthemum tea with lemon and honey. It was all delicious!

Dinner was delicious

Dinner was delicious

.

If you’re wondering whether or not to take a stroll along the crowded streets of Bangkok’s Chinatown, stop and buy some fruit from a rolling cart and then ducking into one of the many restaurants or tea shops to eat a snack … the answer is yes, you should. But I would say that for Chinatown in any city around the world………

 

Advertisements

A final Netherlands – Belgium vacation mash-up

It’s been two weeks since I returned from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Belgium. If you’ve read any of the preceeding posts (about 9 so far I think) about the trip, thank you.

This will be my final post, with a melange of images that give you a taste of the many places I visited … some of which I haven’t mentioned yet.

(The blogging about the trip begins with the post “Going Dutch” and adds from there – you can also find them if you search my “Travel” tag.)

Boat making its way on a Brugge canal

Boat making its way on a Brugge canal

Travel Tip: Brugge is beautiful, and worth seeing as a day trip. Stay in Gent, Belgium and travel to Brugge for an afternoon.

The Delft town square

The Delft town square

The other side of the main square in Delft is this magnificent church

The other side of the main square in Delft is this magnificent church

Canal porn - Another tourist taking a canal beauty shot - Delft

Canal porn – Another tourist taking a canal beauty shot – Delft

Travel Tip: The three images above show you everything you would want see in Delft, in my opinion. I suggest you go elsewhere to spend your limited travel time and budget.

Stitched sculpture of a woman - SMAK Contemporary Art

Stitched sculpture of a woman – SMAK Contemporary Art

Travel Tip: And when you go to Gent, if you like contemporary art even a little bit, you would do well to spend an afternoon at SMAK, the Contemporary Art Museum.

Detail - stitched sculpture

Detail – stitched sculpture

Bicycle sculpture - SMAK

Bicycle sculpture – SMAK

Canal in Amsterdam

Canal in Amsterdam

Don’t get me wrong (from my previous blog posts, I mean) Amsterdam has it’s charms. When the sun peeks out from the clouds, and a lone boat sails down yet another picturesque canal in the center of the city, you could come to like the place.

Me taking a photo of tourists taking a photo of themselves in Rembrandt Square - Amsterdam

Me taking a photo of tourists taking a photo of themselves in Rembrandt Square – Amsterdam

Yeah, the place is over run with tourists but what can you do but go with the flow? After all, I was one of them.

Detail of something I liked at the Rijksmuseum

Detail of something I liked at the Rijksmuseum

And the art is pretty cool, no matter which museums you like best.

Writer sculpture - Eye Film Institute Amsterdam

Writer sculpture – Eye Film Institute Amsterdam

Despite all of my experiences, I still found it hard to encapsulate them into blog posts. There was so much to write about, and I didn’t even realize it until I got home.

View from top floor of the Amsterdam library

View from top floor of the Amsterdam library

Top Secret Travel Tip: This is the best view you can get in the city of Amsterdam. Behind Centraal Station, you can take a free ferry across the water. Find the Amsterdam Public Library, and go to the 7th Floor, which is their EXCELLENT restaurant. Go to the outside deck, and snap a couple of incredible shots of the city, then go back inside and get one of the most reasonbly priced, delicious lunches you’re going to find.

Worn Out - Van Gogh sketch

Worn Out – Van Gogh sketch

When it was time to leave, I was ready to come home to New York City… still the best city on the planet.

The Train, The Train! Transportation Nightmares between Amsterdam and Belgium

A small variety of tram, high speed, and local train tickets needed to get around

A small variety of tram, high speed, and local train tickets needed to get around

Yellow tickets for travel inside the Netherlands; Blue ticket for the Amsterdam tram (24 hr pass); high speed computer print-out ticket for travel from Amsterdam, NL to Brugge, Belgium… the dizzying array of tickets needed to get from place to place was confusing for this traveler.

In Belgium, if you announce to the conductor before you get on the train, you can purchase your ticket on the train. In the Netherlands, if you attempt that move, you’ll be asked to pay a $35 euro surcharge for not having your ticket in hand.

What does that really mean? Miss the train sitting on the platform in front of you, go downstairs, wait on line to buy a ticket, then go back up to whatever platform for the next train, wait twenty minutes… did I mention drag your luggage around with you? Yeah, do that too.

And how are you supposed to know all this?

I have no idea.

The three days I decided to roam the countryside by train were a logistical nightmare.

Amsterdam to Brugge, Belgium

The day before I was supposed to leave, I went to buy a ticket at Amsterdam’s Central Station from the company that runs the HiSpeed rail service. I was informed that there were no more seats on the HiSpeed train, and that I would have to take a local train, that would add another 40 minutes to my trip – but – the cost would be half of what I would have paid for HiSpeed service ($43.80 euros vs. $97 euros for HiSpeed.) O-kay…

But, I was told, you have to change trains multiple times. That’s right: there is no train between Amsterdam and Brugge. There is train service, but you have to go from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, then from Rotterdam to Antwerp, and then go from Antwerp to Brugge.

Freaking hell, I thought, but what other choice did I have if I wanted to see picturesque Brugge?

So on the morning of my trip, I got onto the train in Amsterdam as planned. Half-way between Amsterdam and Rotterdam the train broke down. Dead. Stopped in place for more than 40 minutes. During the ticking of the clock, I missed my connection for Rotterdam to Antwerp.

Uh oh.

Skylights above the Antwerp Train Station, upper platforms

Skylights above the Antwerp Train Station, upper platforms

 

I could go through the hell I experienced in detail, but I will spare you and tell you this: I had to change trains five times before I finally got to Brugge in the pouring rain. And instead of taking 3 hours, or even 3.5 hours, the trip took me over six hours to get from Amsterdam to Brugge.

You can already guess, correctly, that all that changing of trains, waiting on platforms, purchasing of tickets and transfers and the rest of it… was exhausting. By the time I got to Brugge (in the pouring rain) I had little strength left to see the town. I walked around for two hours in the rain, and then went to my hotel and collapsed.

So much for Brugge. Which is beautiful, by the way, but not a “real town.” I mean to say, Belgians call it an “amusement park” because everything there is geared to tourists. Yes, it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site, and it’s a phenomenal example of medieval architecture and worth seeing. Once.

Travel Tip: Brugge is a very small town, so my recommendation is don’t bother staying there overnight to pay tourist hotel rates and instead stay in Gent and do it as a day trip.

Brugge to Gent

I don’t recall the trip from Brugge to Gent being that arduous, but it was time consuming. You’d think it shouldn’t take a few hours to get to a town that is really close by, but the stuff that takes up your time are all the little tasks you must attend to in order to get where you have to go.

For example, once I got to Gent I had to find out which Tram would get me nearest to my hotel. Then I had to go outside the train station and find an out-building where they sell the tram tickets (harder to find than you might think.) The trams in the Gent station are numbered, but even when you know which one you need, you have to make sure you’re getting on the right one, going in the right direction and you need to know the name of your stop (which they’re going to announce in foreign accent you probably can’t understand.)

So yeah, it took me all morning to get from Brugge to Gent due to all the little things.

Gent to Delft

I had had it by the time I tried to get from Gent to Delft. I had to do the reverse order crap I did before and change trains in Antwerp, then Rotterdam then… somewhere else I can’t remember because there is no direct train from Rotterdam to freaking Delft.

Travel tip: If you are going to see Brugge and Gent, SKIP DELFT. It’s smaller than both of those places, and just as touristy. It’s not worth it, especially when you consider the hassles of getting there by train, which are considerable.

I think I mentioned this in my other post Going Dutch, that it was freezing cold and windy the day I traveled to Delft. What I didn’t add then, but will add now, is that it took me from 9am until 1:30pm to get to my hotel. That just plain pissed me off.

Like in Brugge, between the horrible weather and the ridiculous arduous trip, it knocked me out from enjoying the sights for the most part. I walked around Delft and I’m sure I saw most of it, it’s a tiny place… but the near-gale force winds chased me inside to my hotel.

And finally…

Delft to Amsterdam

Yeah, that’s right… you can’t get to Amsterdam from Delft. You have to go to the Hague, where I did not visit because I was not going to take even one more tram, bus, train or horse drawn carriage ride to ANYwhere by the time I made it to Delft in the middle of the afternoon. So, sorry Hague, I could have spent some tourist dollars there but you’re train system sapped me of my willpower to get to you.

Ironically, and this is ironic to me… the train service between the Hague and Amsterdam is fast and nearly non-stop.

It was a quick and efficient trip.

Too little, too late.

Oh… yeah… the views of the countryside out the train window(s) are pretty. Lots of green space, cows, sheep and not much else.

For hours.

And hours.

NoLa Diary Lucky #13 – the Allure of Algiers Point

In order to get to historic Algiers Point from New Orleans, you’ll need to take the Algiers Ferry. You can catch the ferry across Canal street from Harrah’s Casino.

TRAVEL TIP: As you approach the ferry entrance, you will see homeless people sitting on the steps, most drunk. You can avoid this entrance by continuing on towards the Mississippi River, walk over the streetcar tracks for the French Market streetcar and to your right you’ll see a ramped walkway marked “handicapped entrance.” When you get to the top of the walkway, go to your left and up the stairs into the ferry terminal.

I believe the best photographs of St. Louis Cathedral are to be had from the Algiers Ferry. You cannot get the entire cathedral in your shot if you are standing in Jackson Square – the Algiers Ferry shot gives you the entire building, and it is a beautiful view.

St Louis Cathedral - as seen from Algiers Ferry

The best reasons to go to Algiers are the historic homes, plus the Holy Name of Mary Church is picture worthy. A quick stop at the Tout-Suite Cafe across from the church is a great place to have lunch or a snack before heading back to the ferry.

If you do go to the Tout-Suite and you see a distinguished older gentleman with white hair at the counter, it’s probably George. He’s a local and a regular. He’s so friendly and helpful, make a few minutes to chat with him. You can’t help but be charmed!

———

SAFETY: Only go during the day. Don’t wave your expensive camera around or flash your i-Phone 4. Don’t walk around texting or talking on the phone. Pay attention to your surroundings.  Be alert and sensible, and have fun.

The first time I went to Algiers I was freaked out by the thuggish looking types I saw sizing up tourists on the ferry and hanging back in crowds watching everybody around them. I didn’t stray far from the ferry entrance and went back quickly. My second time, was a beautiful sunny day in the early afternoon, I felt relaxed, kind of knew my way around, and it was a much better experience.

I had no problems on either trip but for me, the second trip felt safer. Always trust your gut!

———

An Algiers home adornment

Okay, so you’re probably wondering how charming the houses are… how about this one?

This Algiers home is picture postcard perfect!

So many of the houses I saw were like the one above – manicured landscape, well maintained and great looking paint to accentuate the architectural embellishments. You could pretend on some streets that you were in Bermuda, not New Orleans. I noticed tropical foliage seems more abundant on Algiers Point.

This Catholic church is pretty, you can practically see the spires of the church from the ferry.

Holy Name of Mary Church - Algiers Point

And if you want a place to stop and relax, I can think of no better spot than the Tout-Suite. This couple opted for the outdoor tables to drink their coffee, but the inside is just as charming.

Tout Suite Cafe - Algiers Point

I loved this old Gulf station too, which had a classic charm all its own. Check out those Spanish tiles on the roof of the gas station! And the slightly rusted orange Gulf sign is a piece of Americana.

Gulf Station - Algiers Point

Everywhere you look, people have decorated their homes so meticulously.

All dressed up - Algiers Point

And that is the allure of Algiers Point!

 

NoLa Diary #10 – the Muffuletta and the Mississippi

Just like the Hudson River is a character in the story of New York City, so the Mississippi River is a primary character in the story of the city of New Orleans. So what could be better than a picnic lunch right beside the mighty Mississippi? On a warm, sunny day like today, nothing could be better.

Today’s NoLa story starts in the French Quarter at 923 Decatur Street, where you can find Central Grocery Co. When people talk about Central Grocery, they get religious, frankly. Central Grocery is the indisputable home of the original Muffuletta sandwich. This sandwich is so famous it has it’s own vocabulary. You can get a full Muff, a half-Muff, and to complete your rite, the pilgrims drink Barq’s Root Beer.

Central Grocery Co. - home of the Muffaletta

There are two doors in the front of Central Grocery. One for people coming in – aka THE LINE – and the other one for people leaving. So I got on line (thankfully only about 10 people in front of me, at 11:30am on a Wednesday) and bought my half-Muff for $7.50, a bottle of Boylan’s Creme, and some Zapp’s Sweet Potato chips to round out my culinary experience.

Considering the size of the thing, a half-Muff is a full sized sandwich under ‘normal’ circumstances (not NoLa though, where portions run huge.) $7.50 is a completely reasonable price. It’s got a bunch of deli meats like salami, mortadella, plus provolone and their original olive spread on an Italian roll. They cut the thing in half (which they call quarters, haha), and wrap it in Central Grocery Co. printed paper.

The inside of Central Grocery looks it's full 100 plus years old

So I got my sandwich and made my way to the Waterfront Park, which is just on the other side of the French Market, across the Streetcar tracks and runs alongside the Mississippi River. Every few 100 feet there are benches to sit on flanked by garbage cans (conveniently) and street lamps.

I sat down on a park bench and immediately noticed this is NOT the Hudson River kids.  If the Hudson is the shy boy who sits in the back of the class, the Mississippi is the dish throwing girlfriend who beans you on the head with her beer mug on a bad day. This girl ain’t no lady.

I watched the turbulent muddy waters of the Mississippi whirling in vortices in the center of the river and thought uh, I wouldn’t want to captain a ship in those waters. The Mississippi looks dangerous, which makes sense because New Orleans looks dangerous too (and is, some of the time.)

One of the many working tugboats on the Mississippi

Watching boats on the Mississippi is like watching a wrestling match. You’ve got freighters and tug boats and ferries and paddle-wheel cruisers for tourists all jockeying for position in the center-most parts of the river where, I’m guessing, it’s more navigable.

Does this boat look big? I can tell you it IS, and on the river it's like a floating toothpick.

It’s quite a show to watch these big boys turning with the bends in the river and the water dashing against the rocks which line the sides of the river (I was sitting at the top of the “embankment” where the park is located.)

Great view of the candy apple red paddle wheel of the Creole Queen chugging down the Mississippi

And as I finished one quarter of my half-Muff washed down with my Boylans, I declared myself full, even though I had purposefully eaten no breakfast today.

Muffuletta consists of

 

I packed the other quarter (haha) into my rucksack and made my way down off the embankment and disappeared into the crowds in the French Quarter.

 

This big boy rounds the bend in the Mississippi and heads toward the bridge

50 Free Things to do in New Orleans

St Charles Streetcar heading back from Uptown towards the French Quarter

CLICK HERE for my New Orleans photos: https://cdeminski.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/new-orleans-photo-page-now-up/

.

CLICK HERE for my guide to budget conscious dining in New Orleans, and a link to an online NoLa restaurant guide: https://cdeminski.wordpress.com/2011/12/26/a-word-about-what-ive-eaten-in-new-orleans/

.

There is a great New Orleans site (www.neworleansonline.com) which has a ton of information about NoLa in terms of getting around, restaurants and FREE things to do while in the city.

I really enjoyed reading this list: 50 Free Things to do in New Orleans because I’ll have such a wealth of time on my hands while I’m in the city, so a little planning will go a long way.

For example, did you know there is a free ferry ride you can take to Algiers Point so you can get great photos of the NoLa skyline? The Canal Street Ferry is free for pedestrians, and it’s certainly now on my list of things to do when I’m there.

Another very important item on my list is the New Orleans Museum of Art  – and it’s free on Wednesdays! And what’s more wonderful is the museum is located in City Park, which also houses the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden and you guessed it – it’s also free.

Now, I’m sure I’ll be doing things in New Orleans that aren’t free too, but everything from taking in art galleries, to exploring the local parks, historical sites and neighborhoods are and it could take an interested traveler more than a few weeks to explore all these wonderful possibilities!

PLEASE share your favorite things to do in New Orleans below – especially things that are unusual and a bit more off the beaten path!