The dashboard digital clock on our rental Volkswagen Polo showed 12:05 a.m. as we exited the mountain-pass tunnel in rural Iceland. The stars lit up the midnight-blue sky and the snowcapped mountain peaks loomed off to the west, our left. We were looking for the Northern Lights and had already been driving around for the past several hours, so far to no avail.
Cambodians (actually, people from all of the countries we visited in South-East Asia) love children. “Hi, baby!” and “Hi, boy!” were near constant refrains during our stay. One night, when we ate dinner at a do-it-yourself barbecue place on the street in Siem Reap, a waitress took Jude out of his chair and brought him dancing (in our full view) across the street to a French funk band that was playing on a small stage next to a giant gaudy Christmas tree and a tank full of those ubiquitous massage fish. He loved it. “More dancing,” he told us for the rest of the night.
Christmas is big in Vietnam.
A good feeling runs through Luang Prabang. It sounds cheesy, but there is something almost cosmically happy and upbeat about this place. Part of this “feeling” no doubt has to do with the beautiful setting. More than that though, the locals’ positive attitude and laidback demeanor surely rubs off on tourists. The owner of our hotel told us that he and his wife can tell how long a tourist has been in town by the speed of his or her gait. A faster clip on day one gives way to a gentle stroll by day three.
If there is a more photogenic city in the world than Luang Prabang, Laos, I’d like to see it.
Jaipur, capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan, and the third major city that we visited in India, is known as the “Pink City,” as much of the city center is painted a distinctive pink color (I thought it looked more peach, but no matter).
The Taj Mahal is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Crossing through the Main Gateway and approaching the Taj on foot (Jude in backpack), we gazed up at the magnificent palace—resplendent in the North-Indian sunshine, a shining white beacon visible from miles around, the crowning achievement of the Mughal Empire—and it was easy to see how it made the list.
Sitting on the roof-deck of the small Delhi hotel, fireworks exploded overhead as we devoured plate after plate of delectable curry. It was the end of our first day in India, and also the first day of the Diwali Festival (the country’s largest festival, which also marks the beginning of the Indian New Year).
For Jude, the best part of visiting Budapest was definitely going on a pony. Jude and I were hanging out at a small petting zoo in City Park (while mom soaked in one of the city’s thermal baths nearby) when we saw a little girl (maybe 3 or 4) taking a pony ride. Jude was captivated, but didn’t want to get too close as he has always been scared of large animals. When she was finished, I told him, “Now it’s Jude’s turn.” “No!” he screamed. Sensing that he would have a change of heart, I picked him up while the screaming continued, and placed him on the pony. I had to wave off the woman in charge who gestured in surprise that I would put a screaming child on top of her pony. Sure enough, the screaming quickly subsided and Jude ended up loving the experience. He talks about it still pretty much constantly, and even did a second ride to show mom how brave he had been after she got out of the bath.