Our last "new wonder of the world" in Mexico

Our friends Guy and Cynthia had a week of vacation in March so we decided to travel with them and experience a Mexico all-inclusive resort. 

It’s definitely not our typical style of travel, but we were looking for a hassle-free vacation and settled on Mexico because it was a short flight and was nearby the final "new 7 wonders of the world" on our checklist.  Note: We still haven't seen the Pyramids in Egypt, but those are now considered to be on the "old wonders of the world" list. 

We stayed in Riviera Maya on a resort called "Catalonia Riviera Maya”.  It was a pretty nice resort with most of the amenities you would normally expect.  We had fun relaxing, eating, reading, snorkelling, kayaking, and participating in some of the hotel’s activities.   We also decided to book 2 hassle-free excursions with Sunwing: Coba Express, and Chichen Itza / Cenote Maya.




Coba
"Coba Express" was a quick half-day tour to a somewhat-less-touristy ruin called Coba, located 2.5 hours South of our resort. 

Here are a few fun facts we learned about Coba: 
  • Coba means "plenty of water". 
  • The first ruler of Coba was a woman
  • Coba had about 5000 inhabitants during its golden years
  • The rulers were "gods" and would modify their physical appearance to look like gods. They gave themselves tattoos, sharpened teeth, wore complex costumes made of feathers, and pressed their heads between wood pieces to have cone-shaped heads. 
  • The rulers also controlled their subjects through their knowledge of mathematics and astronomy - they were able to predict eclipse occurrences and used that knowledge to install fear in their subjects.
  • Mayan had a really complex set of numbers - it was base 20, whereas ours is base 10 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_numerals
  • The 2012 end-of-the-world calendar was the end of one measure in their number system 
  • Cenotes, the Mayan's primary source of drinking water, contains a lot of calcium carbonate. It was estimated that the life expectancy of Mayans was about 40 to 50 years old as they would get kidney stones from the water.

Chichen Itza
We drove Northwest for about 3 hours and visited the Chichen Itza site for ~2 hours.  We then visited a Cenote on the return back. We chose to take a smaller van tour and it was worth it as we arrived at the touristy site well before all of the giant buses, so we were able to see the site with fewer tourists. 

Factoids (from our guide):
  • The entire site is 27 sq. km - we only visited about 3 sq. km of it
  • Guatemala was the heart of the Mayan culture which included Belize, part of Salvador, and part of Mexico
  • The main temple is oriented to the 4 cardinal points.  It took 1 or 2 generations to complete and was finished around ~1100 AC.
  • Only the High Priest was allowed to go up the temple
  • Only the ruler, high priest, and some merchants, were actually allowed to live within the city. Regular people lived outside the city.
  • The site was populated for about 1000 years
    • At around 400AC, people started moving from Guatemala to the region around Chichen Itza
    • Starting ~200AC, conflicts arose in the region.  
    • By 1470 AC, the site was completely abandoned, and Christopher Columbus arrived in America 24 years later.
    • The Spanish arrived in the area in 1526 AC
  • Historians think that the region was abandoned due to a big drought around ~1000 AC 

Lastly, and probably the highlight of our excursions, was the Cenote. Cenotes are underground caves and the one we visited was huge.  Here we rappelled 23m down into the water to swim and play for a while, then experienced a Mayan blessing ceremony, and had a traditional lunch before heading back to our resort.

While we were in Mexico, reports of the first presumptive cases of Covid-19 in Calgary had begun.  We were fortunate and returned to Calgary on March 7th - just 1 week before Calgary declared a state of emergency.

Vietnam 2019

This year, Jen started a new job that gave her the opportunity to work for 2 months at the office in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. 

It was an unforgettable experience and she had such a great time meeting her Vietnamese co-workers who were so kind and welcoming. They gave her a taste of the local way of life and work culture in Vietnam, and showed her some of the best local restaurants and foods in the area around the office.  They also went on a company trip to Rạch Giá and Nam Du Island.  It was such a privilege to have this opportunity to meet and work with such an amazing and fun group of people!

Jen's parents and Dom also came to visit Vietnam for a few weeks!
We did the usual Mui Ne + Hoi An visits, met up with friends, and enjoyed the Vietnamese food. 

On this trip, we did 2 new things that we hadn't done before: 

1) Lantern Making 

In Hoi An, we took a class on how to make Vietnamese lanterns. It’s a 4-hour class where you frame and cover the lantern with the fabric of your choice!  It was really enjoyable and we were all very happy with our creations .

2) Bà Nà Hills 

On our way back from Hoi An, we stopped in Da Nang to visit the Golden Bridge. It’s a popularly Instagrammed bridge held up by a pair of giant hands.  The actual bridge is just a small portion of a bigger complex/park, which is built to have the look and feel of a European city. A 20 minutes gondola brings you up to the village (a nice place go if you need to escape a zombie apocalypse). We took time to explore the area and enjoy the relaxing scenery. 


A trip to Vietnam would not be the same without seeing people manage to transport something on their scooter, which would think is impossible!

Dubai

We were worried that a 16-day cruise would be really long and start to get boring, but it passed super fast and before we knew it, the last days of our cruise were sadly upon us. 

We arrived in Dubai around 2 PM and were greeted by a lovely landscape view of the Burj Khalifa towering over the skyline.

We hopped into a taxi to visit the tallest building in the world and surrounding attractions. Along the way, we saw some of Dubai's amazing architecture and were in awe seeing the large number of active sky-scraper construction projects underway. 

At the Dubai Mall, we strolled through the surrounding areas and went inside to see some of the mall attractions like the Aquarium and the indoor waterfall. We grabbed a bite to eat while watching the world's largest light and sound show on the Burj Khalifa.

The next day we departed the boat and left our travel companions behind 😢 to continue their cruise to Singapore. 

We strapped on our backpacks and went to explore “La Mer”, a new sea-side resort area close to the ship.  It was really pretty, but crazy hot!  We spent a couple of hours exploring and then headed back to the airport to made our way to London.. and back to reality.

Suez Canal

On day 9 of our cruise, we passed through the Suez Canal. 

It took about 10 hours to cross and was a pretty uneventful other than seeing a few landmarks along the way. 

One interesting part of the journey was to see the contrast between the East and West sides of the canal. 

On the West side you see cities and trees. 

While on the East side it's mostly desert. 

Athens by Bike

At our third cruise port, Athens, we decided to explore the city by bike!  We were able to cover a lot more ground to get a good overview of the city, but it did not allow us to visit specific sites (like the Acropolis). 

We had a great guide who stopped regularly to tell us myths about the city and the gods... Like why is Athens called Athens: 

Here is the short version: Athena (God of Wisdom) and Poseidon (God of the sea) fought to be the patron god of the city. They both presented a gift to the king so that he could choose a winner. Poseidon made a spring while Athena gave the city an olive tree seed. Unfortunately, the spring water was salted so the king choose Athena and named the city Athens.

Here is the slightly longer version: https://www.greeka.com/attica/athens/myths/athens-name-giving/


One of the best stops on our tour was at a local bakery where our guide bought us some traditional Spanakopita, Bougatsa (a traditional dessert), and other delicious treats to taste :)

Capri

Our second Cruise port stop was Naples. From here we decided to get on another boat and go explore the island of Capri and its famous Blue Grotto.


When we arrived in Capri, we switched to a smaller boat to head to the Blue Grotto. At the blue grotto, we switch to an even smaller boat to enter this small hole in the wall. It was a boating extravaganza ;)

Once we entered the cave, this amazing blue aura appeared in the water around us. The reflection from the sun in the water of the cave was just magnificent.  Our boat driver sang while paddling us around the cave a few times.  The visit was short, the cave was small and it was crowded with many boats.. but the experience was still quite enjoyable.

After our quick Blue Grotto excursion, we climbed to the top of Capri to have some delicious Naplesese pizza.

We finished our day by exploring the cute city. 

Orvieto and Bagnoregio

The first stop on our Cruise to Dubai was Civitavecchia (the Rome port city). Since all of us had been to Rome before, we decided to book a private tour and explore Orvieto and Bagnoregio.

Cita di Bagnoregio is a small town near Rome that sits on a hill, like a lot of cities in the region.  It was abandoned for a long time, but now has about 15 inhabitants that most likely are there to caters to tourists.  The base of this city is eroding slowly, so eventually, it will slowly be abandoned again.

From here we set out to Orvieto to see their famous cathedral and the other sites in the city


We also had enough time to take a tour of some of the tunnels below the city that were dug through the years. They were used for different things: such as cellars, water storage, and even as a coup for pigeons.

Lastly, on our way back to our ship, we stopped on top of a hill to admire the view of a big lake in the region. 

Barcelona to Dubai Cruise

We decided to join Jen’s parents on a 16-day cruise from Barcelona to Dubai on a new Royal Caribbean ship called the Spectrum of the Seas. This was a good way to spend some time with them and relax. The Spectrum was a brand new boat and our portion of the trip was considered the inaugural trip.  The full journey was destined for Singapore where the boat would be stationed to serve the Asian market. 

Although this was a long cruise, it only stopped at the following ports: 
  • Barcelona 
  • Civitavecchia (Rome)
  • Naples
  • Athens
  • Aquaba
  • Dubai

The rest of the time we kept busy with multiple activities. Here are a few that we enjoyed: 

  • Progressive Trivia: Every day, we participated in a trivia contest that tested random knowledge. We learned a lot about South Africa (since that's where the trivia host was from), a lot about different phobias, and what random groups of animals are called.  Did you know that a group of owls is called a parliament?


  • Flow Rider: Yay


  • iFly: No better way to dry out your gums 


  • Fencing: This was their first attempt at having this activity on a ship, so the experience was pretty short, but it was fun to give it a try since neither of us had ever tried fencing before.. plus there is nothing like being equipped with a sword and saying, "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!" 


  • North Star: The North Star is a big bubble on top of the ship that gives you a bird's eye view of the ship. It seemed like a silly idea at first, but in the end, we were surprised at how impressive the view actually was.


  • Morning Yoga: Every other day they had free yoga classes :)


  • Comedy, Music Shows, and movies on the top deck: At night we had a variety of entertainment opportunities with semi-known performers.


Jen's parents stayed on the boat for another journey all the way to Singapore. But we had to go back to work after Dubai. 

Spring Visitors

This year, we were fortunate enough to have some visitors in the Spring. 

Guy and Cynthia came for about 1 week and we had a great time exploring London with them. 

The Kiss family also came for a quick long-weekend. It was such a pleasure to see them again. 

Sintra

Not far from Lisbon, there is a weird Lego-like palace called Sintra. It looked really vibrant and so different from other castles we had visited in the past. 

The Pena Palace was built in the mid-1800s on top of an old monastery. It was built as a royal summer residence but is now a royal attraction. If you want to know more, check out Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pena_Palace

After our stroll of the colorful palace, we walked over to visit another castle on the adjacent hill, overlooking Pena Palace.  This castle felt completely opposite to the Pena Palace.  Where Pena Palace is bright and vibrant, the old Moor castle is dark and gloomy. It was built by the Moors in the 8th and 9th centuries and is really worth the walk as you can go around the battlements and see the scenic surroundings. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_of_the_Moors)
The trip took us a full day and involved a lot of walking.. but it was definitely worth the visit. :)