Category: 2006 Summer vacation plan writing contest entries

Claim your prizes!

So far I’ve heard from the 1st and 3rd prize winners plus one of the honorable mentions. If you wrote one of the other prizewinning travel plans, get in touch (otherwise you have to wait until I’m not busy to contact you and who knows when that will be! With any luck it will be this weekend.

The 5 prizewinning entries for the 2006 summer vacation writing contest

Here are the winners! I’ve only commented out loud on the first place winner. All prizewinners should contact me with payment instructions (check or PayPal). There were some awesome travel plans that didn’t win money this time. That’s just the way it has to be in a contest like this. Please don’t email me to complain about how unfair I am. I get enough of that from my students! I don’t expect everyone to agree with so feel free to post your comments below. All I know is that I did my best to be fair because I truly do want my money going to the best travel plans.

Honorable mention ($50.00): Taste of Jamaica

Honorable Mention ($50.00): Madrid to Malaga

Third prize ($150.00): Discovering Spain

Second prize ($250.00): These shoes were made for walking… in England

First prize ($500.00): London & Amsterdam Summer Vacation

1. The vacation plan includes a daily itinerary: 10 points. I didn’t give out many perfect grades here, but I liked how this one did a lot and not too much. Plus getting that Thursday night to see the church, Nieuwe Kerk is very efficient since normally we run out of touristy things to do at night. I also like the variety: different museums, some music, different places, different kinds of food, etc.

2. The vacation plan discusses possible accommodations: 9 points. Good information on the two hotels with details like location, breakfast, and service mentioned.

3. The vacation itinerary includes detailed information on activities (e.g. the attractions of a museum, the best hiking trail, the best restaurants, must see architecture, etc.): 18 points. Excellent work here with attractions in the British Museum, meal recommendations in restaurants, Evensong in Westminster Abbey, etc.

4. The vacation itinerary estimates the cost of activities (e.g. museum admission price, cost for dinner in a recommended restaurant, etc.): 5 points. From transportation to meals to attractions, good work in this area.

5. The vacation itinerary generated discussion on www.travel-plan-idea.com (readers left comments regarding the vacation plan): 3 points. I don’t know who Brook and her sister are, but they sort of saved this travel plan from getting shutout on the comments.

Total: 45 points. Since this is the highest grade I awarded, this is the winning entry in the travel writing contest for a 2006 summer vacation plan travel writing contest.

Washington D.C. Vacation Itinerary

By Evin Bail & William Bail

Day 1 – Northern Virginia

Enjoy a pleasant drive down the George Washington Parkway. Start out in Old Town Alexandria with lunch at a pleasant restaurant in this colonial town with narrow streets. Walk along the shops and browse for non-touristy souvenirs. One of Crate & Barrel’s outlet stores is located at 1700 Prince Street in Alexandria, so perhaps a side trip for some domestic accessories is in order. Drive down to Mount Vernon after lunch for a tour of George Washington’s home. Tour the home, walk down to the historic Potomac River from his house. For dinner, return to Old Town Alexandria.

Day 2 – Art Museums & Capitol Hill

Visit the Smithsonian art museums. Smithsonian Institution museums are free in Washington, D.C. so you’ll get your money’s worth and then some. First, explore the National Gallery of Art. Break for lunch on Capitol Hill at the Hawk ‘n’ Dove, a watering hole for many Senators and Representatives. To read more about the restaurant or preview its menu, visit: http://www.hawkanddoveonline.com. After lunch, walk over to the Freer Gallery of Art to see Whistler’s Peacock Room and its neighbor the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. If you have the chance, also visit the National Portrait Gallery (reopening in July 2006 after extensive renovations).

For dinner, treat yourself to a meal at Occidental Grill in the Willard Intercontinental Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue just west of the White House. Main courses range from $25 to $40. Their lobster bisque is truly memorable. If the weather isn’t too humid, opt for patio dining, but be aware that the inside and patio menus differ. To see both dinner menus and Occidental’s lunch menus, visit: http://www.occidentaldc.com. This is the hotel where the term “lobbyist” was coined and the place where Martin Luther King, Jr., stayed while in town to give one of his most memorable speeches ever. For an authentic mint julep made according to Henry Clay’s own recipe, visit the hotel’s Round Robin Bar.

Day 3 – Penn Quarter & Chinatown

Start your day with a visit to the International Spy Museum in Penn Quarter. Admission is $15 per adult and time specific so advance purchase may be preferred so you can plan your day. To order advance tickets or to learn more about the museum’s exhibits, visit: http://www.spymuseum.org/index.asp. Have a late lunch at Potbelly Sandwich Works (726 7th Street NW). You will leave satisfied and having spent less than $10 on your entire meal. To read their history and menu, visit: http://www.potbelly.com. Wander around Penn Quarter and neighboring Chinatown or catch an afternoon matinee at the movie theatre around the corner. For dinner, eat at Zola’s, which is located beside the Spy Museum. To check out their menu, visit: http://www.zoladc.com/

Day 4 – History Museums & The National Mall

Continue your exploration of the Smithsonian museums with visits to the Museum of American History. The gift shop has unique gifts and there is a separate music shop with American folks, roots, blues, and rare recordings that have been collected and restored by the Smithsonian. This museum also houses Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Indiana Jones’s hat. Next, visit the Museum of Natural History and explore its treasures, including the Hope Diamond. If it’s hot outside, stay a while and enjoy an IMAX movie or proceed to the Air & Space Museum to see a showing at their IMAX. Air & Space is one of the most popular museums on the National Mall for good reason. You can see the Spirit of St. Louis and other planes actually used in the early exploration of air travel. Have lunch in one of the museum cafeterias, but realize that they are geared toward school groups and family visitors so the menu selection is limited. The newest museum on the Mall is the Museum of the American Indian and their cafeteria is an improvement. Enjoy touring the museum during the afternoon. Consider walking up to the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial (west of the museums).

For an early dinner, return to Penn Quarter to get Potbelly sandwiches ordered to go. You’ve just made yourself a picnic. Walk down to the National Mall and settle in for dinner. If you are dining on a Monday night, you may be able to enjoy Screen on the Green. Every Monday night between July 17 and August 14, a film is shown on the National Mall between 4th and 7th Streets. Admission is free and seating is first-come on blankets on the grass. No alcohol is permitted since it is National Park Service property, but picnics are encouraged. To learn more about the event, visit: http://cityguide.aol.com/washington/screenonthegreen/main.adp

Day 5 – Georgetown

Spend the morning strolling around historic Georgetown. This neighborhood in DC has a rich history and is now a thriving area for businesses and restaurants. For the funky shopper, check out Commander Salamander (1420 Wisconsin Ave, NW). Traditional chain stores, such as Banana Republic and Benetton, are also present. Have lunch at Rocklands (2418 Wisconsin Ave NW). Known for its barbecue. For dinner, enjoy a delicious meal at Bistro Francais (3128 M Street, NW). Early dinner specials are available for $20 per person. To learn more, visit: http://www.bistrofrancaisdc.com. After your Friday or Saturday early bird dinner, go to see a performance of The Capitol Steps at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Tickets are just under $40 per person and more information is available at: http://www.capsteps.com/live/reagan04.html

Day 6 – Northwest D.C.

Start with a breakfast bite at Cosi by Dupont Circle then go to the National Zoo. It is free to everyone. Pandas reside there and are themselves worth the trip. Spend the morning there, then head to Georgia Brown’s (950 15th Street, NW) for your last lunch before leaving town. Main courses range from $17 to $26 and are worth every penny. They specialize in Low Country cuisine so you can have fried green tomatoes, catfish fingers, she crab soup, lump crabcake, southern fried chicken, shrimp and grits, or any of a number of mouth-watering treats to show your taste buds what it means to extend southern hospitality. Reservations are wise since it is popular, 202-393-4499. To read the menu, visit: http://www.gbrowns.com/

I’ll have to check my email once more to make sure i didn’t miss any, but I believe this was the final entry submitted in time to be considered for the 1,000 dollar travel writing contest. Thank you to all who participated! Winners will be announced on the 31st of May, but I’ll probably blog a bit about my evaluation process between now and then.

Emerald City Itinerary

Day 1 – Welcome!

You have arrived in Seattle and are ready to start your vacation. Perhaps you arrived through the nearest airport, SeaTac, which is located closer to Tacoma than Seattle. You may have even driven yourself as part of a Pacific Northwest road trip vacation or arrived by train after a bit of railroad exploration. No matter your mode of transportation or budget level, Seattle has something for everyone.

If you want to stay in a social and budget-minded hostel, Seattle’s Green Tortoise Hostel (1525 2nd Avenue) is the place to be. It is located one block from Pike Place Market and close to most downtown attractions. Dormitory-style accommodations cost $23 to $25 per person per night. Private rooms are available for a single or couple for $48 and rooms accommodating three people cost $65 per night. Special offers for discounts are posted on their website, if interested visit: http://www.greentortoise.net. If you prefer to stay in an inn or B & B, focus your search on Capitol Hill or Madison Park. These neighborhoods have a more residential feel and historic architecture. For a standard hotel experience or a boutique hotel stay, there are scores of places within walking distance of Pike Place Market.

One thing to keep in mind while in Seattle is that summer is its time to shine. The slight, but nearly constant rainfall the rest of the year nourishes the city’s lush landscape to be emerald green. To get a feel for local music and the city’s passion for it, tune your radio to 90.3 FM, KEXP. It’s a listener-supported station that is known for its independent thinking and appreciation for up-and-coming and legendarily talented folk, blues, and alternative musicians.

Day 2 – Pike Place Market

Start your day at The Pike Place Market, a nine-acre gem and home of the first Starbucks. To get an overview of Pike Place Market’s history and what it has to offer, visit: www.pikeplacemarket.org. With so many options, you will undoubtedly find a breakfast you’ll enjoy. Three Girls Bakery has wonderful baked goods or grab a Russian pastry from Piroshky Piroshky. They have delicious a smoked salmon piroshky that costs about $5 that has its pastry shell shaped like a fish. Both places cater to on-the-go eating with limited in-shop seating. Both bakeries are a good value and are located on Pike Place directly across from Pike Place Market.

Roam the shops of Pike Place Market. This is a historic and expansive market that embodies the spirit of Seattle ? fresh, local, and friendly. There is something for everyone and many hidden hallways with curious and amazing items. Don’t forget to stop and admire the World-Famous Pike Place Fishmongers as the fish fly. The fresh seafood can be ice-packed and mailed or packed for your return travel so you can bring some real Pacific Northwest Salmon home with you. For a less perishable souvenir, buy some smoked salmon or a coffee mug. If you love fresh sausage, look for Uli’s Famous. His non-pork spicy sausage raises the standard for sausage. To check out his work, visit: www.ulisfamoussausage.com. Don’t forget to say hello to Rachel, the life-size piggy bank who stands guard near the World-Famous Pike Place Fish Market.

For a quick and casual lunch costing less than $10 per person, order up a sandwich and soda at Sound View Cafe in Pike Place Market. There is an amazing view of Seattle’s Elliot Bay. If you don’t mind taking a little time to stop and smell the fresh air, dine at The Pink Door (1919 Post Alley, behind Piroshky Piroshky). It is not well-marked so just look for a peachy-pink door in the alley. It is closed on Mondays. Lunch ranges from $8 to $15. To view their menu, visit: http://www.thepinkdoor.net/

Sit down for a casual, but elegant dinner at Alibi Room in Post Alley (85 Pike Street, 206-623-3180). The entrance is in an alcove of the brick alley somewhat beneath the World-Famous Pike Place Fish Market, so it’s not obvious to passerby, but worth seeking out. The portions always seem smaller on the plate than in your stomach. For something you will remember for years to come, try their Caesar salad to start and their “New Mac” as your main course. A full bar is available. Meals at Alibi Room cost less than $25 per person.

To enjoy a late-night pint, visit Owl ‘n Thistle in Post Alley. They have large screen TVs for big game nights, but also host live local music.

Day 3 – U District & Fremont

Go to the U. District and have your morning coffee and a bite at one of the eclectic bakeries then check out the Burke Museum. Admission to this museum on the University of Washington’s campus costs $8. Once inside, you will enjoy a feast of Pacific Northwest art and artifacts. For information on the museum’s current exhibits, visit: http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum.

Enjoy some shopping while in the U District. Be sure to check out Buffalo Exchange (4530 University Way NE), Newberry Books (4760 University Way NE), and Earth River Records Blue (4744 University Way). Earth River Records Blue has a huge upfront shelf selection and also an extensive stockroom so don’t be afraid to ask for something obscure since the staff is knowledgeable and friendly. If it reminds you a little bit of the record shop in High Fidelity, you’re not alone. If you prefer more commercial shops, such as those you’d find in your local mall, visit University Village. There you will find the Rosanna store. This shop carries the designs of Rosanna Bowles who specializes in household items, such as china. To learn more about her creations, visit: http://www.rosannainc.com/ret_directions.asp. While at University Village, enjoy a cup of coffee at Zoka, a two cafe company that sticks close to its mission to make good coffee. Zoka’s menu and location information can be found at: http://www.zokacoffee.com.

Head over to Fremont to enjoy lunch with a Caribbean flair at Paseo (4225 Fremont Ave N). Some say they have the best sandwiches on the planet, but you will have to decide that for yourself after dining at the HoneyHole on Day 3. Paseo is cash only and averages $25 or less per person for a full meal.

Drive to see the Fremont Troll and the statue of Lenin.

Then go to the neighborhood of Ballard to take visit the Hiram M. Chittenden Government Locks (3015 NW 54th St.). While in Ballard, visit the zany, retro, and eclectic Archie McPhee store (2428 NW Market Street). If you can’t get enough of the store while you’re there, you can shop online at: http://www.mcphee.com.

Make your way back to Fremont for dinner at Bizarro (1307 N. 46th St.). An amazing Italian place with a quirky decor. If you are a group of six or more, it is a good idea to call ahead and get reservations. After dinner, have an imported beer at Brouwers Cafe (400 N. 35th St. at Phinney). With a wide selection of brews, this Flemish grand cafe has a beer to suit your taste. To check out their selection, visit: http://www.brouwerscafe.com.

Day 4 – Capitol Hill

Go to Fuel (610 19th Ave E) on Capitol Hill for a cup of authentic Seattle coffee and a freshly baked something for breakfast. This place is one of a kind so you will be enjoying a genuine Seattle morning, but rest assured they also serve tea and a variety of other beverages. To learn more about Fuel, visit: http://www.fuelcoffeeseattle.com. Pick up a copy of The Stranger or Seattle Weekly to peruse special events and activities taking place while you’re there. Both are free publications and readily available throughout Seattle.

Browse the unique shops on 15th Avenue East and on Broadway then visit the Washington Park Arboretum located between the bottom east side of Capitol Hill and Madison Park. If you’re there on the third Saturday of the month, enjoy the Ceremony in the Japanese Tea Garden at 1:30pm. To learn more about the Arboretum, visit: http://depts.washington.edu/wpa.

Have lunch at HoneyHole Sandwiches (703 East Pike Street). This little find is only for locals so appreciate the reasonable prices and funky decor. Every sandwich is a delicious experience. HoneyHole is open late and table service is available after 5pm when it takes on a nightlife vibe.

As the day winds down, have drinks at Linda’s Tavern (707 E. Pine St.)or the Tiki-style Cha Cha Lounge (506 East Pine St). Both have beer specials and get crowded after 9pm so if you want a table, arrive early.

Day 5 – Music

Grab a booth at Hurricane Cafe (2230 Seventh Avenue near Denny) and order up a late breakfast. Arriving after the breakfast crowd and before the lunch-goers still leaves you with a potentially distracted server, but not having to wait for a table. Their coffee is not characteristic of Seattle’s reputation since it is not made to order, but otherwise their menu selection is fairly good. It’s main attraction is that it is open 24/7 and it isn’t overpriced. Breakfast there is under $10 per person. To check out the menu for yourself, visit: http://www.hurricanecafe.com.

Check out the Space Needle on the grounds of the Seattle Center, which was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. At 605 feet tall, it is a great navigation tool and a fun part of Seattle’s skyline. A ride to the top to enjoy the view from the observation deck costs $14 per adult. For ticket information, visit: http://www.spaceneedle.com.

Have a late lunch around 1pm at one of the restaurants in nearby Belltown. If you like Japanese cuisine (not necessarily raw fish sushi), try Wasabi Bistro (2311 2nd Avenue). Menu items range from $2 to $12. To read the lunch menu, visit: http://www.wasabibistro.biz/menuLunch.asp.

After lunch, your adventures in Seattle music begin. Take a tour of the Experience Music Project at Seattle Center. Admission is just under $20 per person with special events and shows as a separate admission fee. For ticket information, visit: http://www.emplive.org/visit/visitor_info/admission.asp.

That night, attend a musical performance. To Seattle residents, music is like water or air or organic food. Check out a venue’s calendar and if you see something you like, you have a plan for the evening. Showbox (1st & Pike by Pike Place Market) is a great venue that tends to host established musicians who still prefer the small club vibe. Their calendar of events is available online at: http://www.showboxonline.com. Chop Suey (1325 E. Madison) has shows nightly. To view their current calendar of performances, visit: http://www.chopsuey.com/calendar.html.

Day 6 – Alki

Sleep late recover from your night out on the town. After a cup of the nearest coffee, drive to Alki Point, which is southwest of downtown Seattle. Stroll along the promenade and enjoy a different view of the Seattle skyline. Explore the shore-front shops and bask in Seattle’s amazing summer weather. Have lunch at Bamboo Bar & Grill (2806 Alki Avenue Southwest). Bamboo has a delicious salmon and avocado sandwich. To check out their menu and drink specials, visit: http://www.bamboobarandgrill.com.

Depart the Emerald City having had a glimpse into what it is like as a resident, not as a tourist.

Evin Bail

Exotic, Otherworldly Vietnam vacation itinerary

Day 0: Odds are, you are in San Francisco, waiting to board a 747 bound for either Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore, or Bangkok. From there you will connect to Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport. Take this opportunity to intake some choice American food and possibly a strong beer or two; it’ll be the last chance to have a taste of home for a while. I recommend pizza.

Day 1 -airport: After an average of about 20 hours spent in the air plus waiting for connections, you will finally be in Saigon. Traverse the immigration stations with their grim faced guards scrutinizing your passport with quiet calm, there should be no trouble as long as your visa is in order. No bribes needed for these guys nor for customs anymore.

The airport will be curiously devoid of people save for recently arrived passengers and employees. Be prepared for chaos at baggage claim, where the Vietnamese crowd around, push and shove, and try to lift in vain overly-large suitcases meant for a forklift. Be patient, grab your bags, then head for customs. Baggage carts are free, make use of one. Declare nothing, and zip through the x-ray machine.

Upon your exit from the airport, you’ll discover 2 things: heat & humidity. It will hit you like a belly flop. Oh, and also you’ll find out where all the people are. A sea of humanity stretches out before you -friends and family of arriving travelers are not allowed in the airport, and so they crowd around the door. You may be struck with a pretty major impression that you aren’t in Kansas anymore; you are in a different land, another world, an alternate dimension. But, this is the reason why you are here, it is so exotic a place that all the senses are aroused.

Day 1 -Saigon: dive into that sea of humanity and feel like Moses as you part the crowds with your luggage cart. Like fish swimming up from the depths, hawkers will immediately set upon you offering cigarettes, water, taxis. Take a taxi guy up on his offer and ask to be taken to the Rex Hotel, where you have reservations. It’s your first day, let’s ease into the place. The Rex Hotel is located in District 1, 7 km from the airport. It is the heart of downtown Saigon, close to shopping and historical landmarks. Expect clean, modern rooms, hot water, air conditioning, and an assortment of hotel restaurants offering Vietnamese and Western cuisine, even sushi. Not a bad place to sleep off the jet lag.

Day 2 -Saigon: after breakfast in the hotel, you’re off to the Ben Thanh Market (say “ben tawn,” rhymes with “lawn”). Down the street on Le Loi Blvd, it is within walking distance of the hotel. An enormous, hangar-like building built by the French in colonial days, Ben Thanh is put to use today as a giant, enclosed swap meet. Sellers of souvenirs, watches, clothes, bags, jewelry, shoes, and collectibles have partitioned the floor into tiny stalls, each one more aggressive than the next. Many speak very passable English. Bargaining is a must. It is a national custom in Vietnam to automatically double their prices for a foreigner, and triple them for Americans. Also, most items are probably fakes; Vietnam operates outside of the WTO. Stone carved statues, wood carved figurines, paintings, and other hand made items are worth it after you’ve talked ’em down in price.

For lunch, head across the street to Pho 2000 and get a bowl of pho, the traditional noodle soup dish unique to Vietnam. President Clinton ate pho at this very place in 2000; there are pictures of him all over. Ask to see the table he sat at upstairs. Snap a pic, then back to shopping.

For dinner, a series of outdoor seafood “restaurants” appears at dusk as if from nowhere in one of the streets next to Ben Thanh. Choose one for a steamy meal out at night, and feel the hum of the city actually increase when the sun goes down. Grab a ride from a cyclo driver (a 3-wheeled half bike, half chair) back to the hotel to complete your intro to the city

Day 3 -Saigon: Time for sight-seeing. Have the front desk point you towards the historical sites:

-Reunification Hall (Dinh Th?ng Nh?t) where the communists stormed during the fall of Saigon

-City Hall (Uy ban Nhan dan) snap a photo of the statue of Ho Chi Minh out front

-Municipal Theatre (Nha hat Thanh pho) you see this building in movies a lot

-Post Office (Buu dien Thanh Pho) built by the French, a good example of colonial architecture

-Notre Dame Cathedral (Nha th? đ?c Ba) also built by the French

-U.S. Consulate (on Le Duan Blvd) the site of the U.S.’s exodus from Vietnam during the war

75% of all traffic in Vietnam seems to be motorbike. At times, it seems as if you’ve stumbled into a parallel universe where the invention of the automobile never occurred.

Day 4 -transit to Hue: 3 choices here: bus, train, plane

-plane: a short 90 minute flight

-train: a long 20 hour overnight ordeal

-bus: another long, overnight ordeal

The train offers views of the jungle, the highlands, the rugged coastline and a bed if you’ve purchased a sleeper compartment. It’s OK to do once, but beware the bathrooms… which become literal horror shows of sloshing liquid on the floors. But then, you can brag that you experienced a toilet that empties out right onto the tracks below. The long bus ride is not recommended.

Day 5 -Hue: after arriving, it’s time to find accommodations. To make your budget stretch, check in to a “guest house,” the Hung Thinh house is nice, on Phan Chu Trinh road. Check-in, then grab a taxi to the Sinh Cafe office, at 07 Nguyen Tri Phuong street. This place is a tourism and travel service, offering bus travel, tours, maps, hotel packages, and motorbike rental. Arrange a hotel & bus trip to Hoi An [set to leave 3 days from today] and also arrange a hotel & bus trip from Hoi An to Nha Trang [a night bus set to leave 2 days after your arrival there]. Pick your choice of tours of Hue, or go it alone by renting a motorbike if you’re up for piloting that beast in that chaotic traffic.

First stop, the Citadel (Dai Noi) in central Hue, a World Heritage site. It’s hard to miss, there’s usually a giant red flag of Vietnam out front. You’ll have to cross the river to get there; admire the Truong Tien bridge as you cross it, then make a left. The Citadel is several square miles of centuries-old palace architecture complete with some museum-grade displays of imperial age clothing, art, altars, and statuary. You could spend several hours wandering around here; take lots of pictures.

After the Citadel, head to the Dong Ba Market for some lunch and more souvenir shopping. Across the street from Dong Ba, along the row of shops there, near the far right hand end you’ll find a small shop selling western-brand foods. Buy some Kellogg’s Corn Flakes (made in Thailand) and some packets of Vina-milk (doesn’t require refrigeration). This will keep your sanity in check in the morning while the Vietnamese all around you eat boiling hot noodles for breakfast in the 90 degree heat. For dinner, partake of those boiling hot noodles and go for the Hue specialty Bun Bo Hue, a spicy noodle soup dish, available at numerous vendors throughout the city.

Day 6 -Hue: The tombs await. After those godsend cornflakes, get the tour bus or your rented motorbike to these 3 tombs: Minh Mang, Khai Dinh, Tu Duc. These are really extraordinary and beautiful collections of unique dragon-encrusted Asian-style architectural buildings and grounds devoted to 3 of Vietnam’s past kings.

Spend half a day with the tombs then make your way to the Thien Mu Pagoda, on the Perfume River. Either take the road next to the river to get there, or rent a dragon boat for the 30 minute trip up the river. The Thien Mu Pagoda is a functioning Buddhist monastery with a unique tiered tower featured in many pieces of art you see around. Beautiful landscaping, gardens and bonsai trees await your camera.

For dinner, try to find some Banh Loc, or Banh Nam, or Banh Khoai, all specialties of Hue, and have a weak Huda beer.

Day 7 -Lang Co Beach: Take a bus from Hue to Lang Co beach, about an hour away. Spend the day, the beach has food, bathrooms, lounge chair rental, palm trees and crashing surf. Rest easy.

Day 8 -transit to Hoi An, stop at Marble Mountain: take that tour bus you arranged 3 days earlier to Hoi An, an ancient trading port city of the 16th and 17th centuries. Frequented by the Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Dutch, and Spanish traders of the day, the sailors left their indelible mark upon the architecture of the city. Travel the narrow alleyways and imagine that you are back in time in the 1600s and admire the varied styles of buildings around you. Explore the many temples available here.

Along the way, you’ll stop for an hour at Marble Mountain. Lots of ornate stone carved boxes, figurines, statues, and statuettes await your bargaining pleasure.

When the bus arrives, hopefully you’ve chosen the Thanh Binh #3 hotel, fabulous wood carvings throughout the hotel. The bus will probably drop you off right in front. Have grilled pork + vermicelli noodles for dinner: Bun Thit Nuong, available a short walk down the street from the hotel (ask the desk to point you the way).

At night, stroll down the streets of “Old Towne,” a World Heritage site. Admire the colored lanterns that are lit up at night in the lantern shops (a Hoi An specialty). Also, be sure to check out the silk embroidery shop called “Diem Tham Quan – XQ Hoi An” for magnificent pieces of framed art ‘paintings’ that are 100% hand stitched silk thread.

Day 9 -Cua Dai beach: only 7 km away from Hoi An. Rent a motorbike and spend the day at the beach. Return at dusk, stroll down again to Old Towne, admire the Japanese covered bridge, the lanterns, and catch some dinner at one of the many restaurants along the main street. Try out “banh bao banh vac” (white rose) dumplings.

Day 10 -transit to Nha Trang. The bus leaves at 7pm, you have one more day to explore Hoi An and taste the living history. The night bus will arrive in Nha Trang, a beach city, around 6am. Good luck sleeping. Wake to find the Vietnamese here all walking the streets and doing Tai Chi in masses at 6am.

Day 11 -Nha Trang: Check in to your hotel: 52 Tran Phu Hotel -it has Discovery Channel in English and rooms that face the ocean. Relish it. Walk the beach. Find the Sinh Cafe office here and arrange a boat tour of the islands for tomorrow, and a bus ride to Da Lat plus hotel, leaving 2 days from today. Rent a motorbike, search out the Long Son Pagoda at one end of the city and the Bao Dai summer retreat at the other end. The Pagoda has a big seated Buddha statue on the hilltop, great photo op. The Bao Dai place itself sucks, but the hill it occupies affords some of the best views of the city and the bay. For dinner, eat cheap lobster down the street from the hotel at the corner restaurant where you can pick your seafood out and watch them grill it. Drink Tiger beer and a coconut or two.

Day 12 -Nha Trang islands: you’ve arranged a boat tour for the day, or perhaps you’ve arranged for diving or snorkeling (both plentiful here). Breakfast is horded corn flakes, or a complimentary bowl of steaming hot noodles at the hotel. The boat leaves early in the morning, floats around, stops off at an island where they let you snorkel. Lunch is provided (Vietnamese food + fruit), and entertainment is via the crew singing to you. Another island where they jump into the water and offer you a floating bar and another where they let you off to lay around on the beach for a while. Before heading in, they stop at a fishing village, where one can rent a ride in a floating bamboo basket, rowed by the women of the village. They row you over to the floating platforms that serve as their homes and holds their nets filled with squid, lobster, and fish. Dinner tonight is more fresh seafood at another restaurant within walking distance of the hotel.

Day 13 -transit to Da Lat: bus leaves early in the morning, but arrives in Da Lat around 2-3pm. The hotel is the Sinh Cafe operated one, or maybe you’ve chosen one of the many family-run “mini-hotels” here: Viet Thanh Mini-hotel is nice. You have enough time to eat dinner at the central marketplace, within walking distance. The Bun Thit Nuong (grilled pork + noodles) is made differently here, try it out. Peruse the many varieties of fruits & vegetables and flowers here at this market, a Da Lat specialty. Da Lat is known as the agricultural heart of Vietnam and is a nice vacation spot due to its high elevation and cooler temperatures.

Day 14 -Da Lat: hire a car + driver (through Sinh Cafe) to see the sites:

-Chicken Village, an ethnic minority village that does weaving by hand

-Pongour waterfall

-Prenn waterfall

-Datanlat waterfall

-Bao Dai Palace, a last glimpse of the imperial remnants of Vietnam. You can dress up like Bao Dai and get your picture taken for a buck!

-Truc Lam Zen monastery and Tuyen Lam lake

-aerial cable car ride, next door to the monastery

Day 15 -return to Saigon: take the bus back to Saigon (~10 hour ride). Spend another day here perhaps, or go straight to the airport and hop a 747 back to the West.

exchange rate: $1 US =~ 15,000 dong

best place to exchange money: jewelry shops in Saigon near Ben Thanh

Prices (these are rough estimates, prices fluctuate over there):

motorbike rental: $3-5 / day

gasoline: $0.50 per liter (you only need 1-2 liters per day)

Rex Hotel (Saigon): $80-100 / day

guest house room (Hue): $10 / day

hotel (Hoi An): $25 / day

hotel (Nha Trang): $35 / day

hotel (Da Lat): $15 / day

train from Saigon to Hue: $30 per person

plane from Saigon to Hue: ~$75 per person

bus from Hue to Hoi An to Nha Trang: $30 per person

bus from Nha Trang to Da Lat to Saigon: $25 per person

dragon boat (Hue): $10 per ride round trip to pagoda

boat trip (in Nha Trang): ~$10 per person

car & driver for hire (Da Lat): $35 for the day

food: anywhere from $2 to $20 per person per meal

seafood: $15 per person per meal

beer: $1 each

bottled water: $0.30 / liter

coconut: $0.30 each

entrance fees to tombs, Citadel (Hue): $1-4 per person per site

dress up like emperor Bao Dai (Da Lat): $1

internet cafe (Saigon): $0.20 per hour

post card stamp to U.S.: $0.60

taxi: $0.50 per km, $0.80 per km if a long trip

Some pointers:

-bird flu is not too prevalent recently, still, avoid chicken & eggs

-get your shots updated before you go

-take along anti-diarrhea pills in case you are hit with the runs

-bring 100% deet mosquito spray, the mosquitoes there are stealthy, silent and deadly

-do NOT eat anything uncooked or pickled, no raw vegetables. Fruits are OK.

-do NOT drink the tap water in Vietnam, avoid ice made of non-boiled water

-beer is your friend, it helps settle your stomach, fresh coconut juice, too

-don’t bring jeans, you’ll melt in the heat. There’s a reason why you see Vietnamese wear pajamas in movies a lot, because it’s freakin’ hot in Saigon!

-tips are not expected anywhere, except for big restaurants in Saigon

PS- I have original pictures if needed and more details about street addresses, etc for the hotels, etc

-mike (entry 22 in the 2006 summer vacation plan writing contest. No new entries are being considered but stay tuned for the Witer vacation writing contest coming up).

San Diego Getaway: Balboa Park & Coronado

DAY 1 – Welcome

Welcome to San Diego! If you have a camera, some sunscreen, and an appetite for activity, you’re ready for your vacation.

Arrive via Amtrak or one of the many commercial airlines servicing San Diego’s Lindbergh Field Airport (SAN) and hail a cab. Go to your Victorian Bed & Breakfast, Keating House at 2331 2nd Avenue on Banker’s Hill in downtown San Diego. Arrive at Keating House at your previously arranged time. There is no set check-in time, instead you make a check-in appointment and one of the innkeepers greets you and handles your check in. Check-out time is noon. Keating House is an authentic Victorian manor so each guest room is uniquely decorated. Each room is painted as it was in 1888, so you can enjoy rich Victorian colors. Eight rooms and one suite are available. Currently, room rates start at $115 (before tax) and include breakfast. To read about and view photos of each room, visit: http://www.keatinghouse.com/

For your first evening in San Diego, walk or taxi to the Gaslamp Quarter for dinner. Restaurants are plentiful, (I lost count at 75), and range from informal to gourmet fine dining. Whether you want pizza by the slice or a prime Porterhouse steak, the Gaslamp Quarter will send you home well-fed and happy. If given the option, try to get a table by the window or in an outdoor cafe so you can people watch.

DAY 2 – Art Museums

Start your morning with homemade breakfast at your B & B then set out to explore nearby Balboa Park, America’s largest urban cultural park. This classic park was created as part of the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935-36. The Park boasts museums, restaurants, trails, gardens, the San Diego Zoo, and a wealth of cultural attractions. To read a list of special events taking place at Balboa Park, visit: http://www.balboapark.org/aboutschedule.html.

Keating House is about four blocks from Balboa Park so no driving is necessary. If you are traveling with someone whose mobility is impaired, Keating House has guest rooms on the first floor and a free tram drives within Balboa Park so you can save your energy for walking in the museums. To view a route map for the tram, visit: http://www.balboapark.org/trammap1a.pdf

Consider buying a Passport to Balboa Park ($30) or a Best of Balboa Park Passport ($55). The standard Passport covers one adult admission to 13 of the Park’s attractions and is valid for up to seven days. The Best of Passport offers that too, plus admission to the San Diego Zoo for one day. Passports can be purchased at one of the participating Balboa Park museums or online at: http://www.balboapark.org/bestofpark.htm

For your first day there, start with the San Diego Museum of Art. Admission is included as part of the Passport, otherwise it is $10 per adult. The museum’s fine art collection has been growing steadily since the 1920s and it is all yours to appreciate. Having spent your morning appreciating fine art, take a break to enjoy lunch at Water’s Cafe. The Cafe is located in the outdoor Sculpture Court and Garden. The menu offers a wide selection and they boast that no menu item is priced higher than $10. To view their menu, visit: http://www.sdmart.org/info-waterscafe.html. After lunch, stroll next-door to the Timken Museum of Art. Admission is free to enjoy the amazing works of classic European painters.

Enjoy dinner at Prado within the Park, by the hospitality building. Their menu is carefully considered and offered at city prices, main courses range from $15 to $22. When making reservations, ask for an outdoor table. The weather is almost always perfect in San Diego, so why not enjoy it. Also, if you want to beat the rush and catch your evening film, reserve your table for 5-5:30pm. For more information on Prado and to view its menu, visit: http://cohnrestaurants.com/cohn/pradobalboa/

Wind down your day by enjoying a film at the Museum of Photographic Arts. Documentary and classic films are shown and admission is $10. Though this museum is included on the Passport, a film showing is considered a special event and, therefore, an additional entrance fee. It is worth the money if there is a 7pm double-feature of two films you’d never find at the local video rental store. To read MoPA’s current films, visit: http://www.mopa.org/pages/filmpages/nowshow.asp

DAY 3 – San Diego Zoo

Get a good start with breakfast at your B & B, then walk to Balboa Park for your day at the world-famous San Diego Zoo. With so much wildlife to observe, you will not be short of things to see at the Zoo. To view upcoming events and seasonal hours, visit: http://www.sandiegozoo.org/calendar/calendar_highlights.html.

After all that walking, you’ll be ready to eat like a bear so Lunch at Albert’s or one of the other restaurants or cafes within the Zoo. Albert’s is named for the Zoo’s Silverback Gorilla and is the only Zoo restaurant to serve beer and wine. For a complete list of dining options, visit: http://www.sandiegozoo.org/zoo/dining.html

To cap off an active day at the Zoo, have a casual dinner at Hob Nob Hill. The restaurant is located at 2271 1st Avenue, about two blocks from Keating House. Hob Nob Hill has been in its present location under the same management since 1946. They are all about quality without leaving your wallet too empty. Some might say it is a place where you can count on getting the most bang for your buck. The restaurant is open from 7am to 9pm every day of the week. Daily specials are available for lunch and for dinner, but standard menu items, like their tuna melt, are available for either meal. Dinners include soup or salad and your choice of potato, vegetable, or bread. For the perfect start to a refreshing summer meal, start your feast with their Gazpacho soup and finish with a delicious slice of pie. To see the menu and specials (and download a coupon), visit: http://www.hobnobhill.com/

DAY 4 – Old Town & Local History

After breakfast at your B & B, walk to Balboa Park. By now, it is becoming familiar and it’s the perfect time for you to learn about San Diego’s history and rich culture. Your first stop is the Museum of San Diego History. Admission is included in your Passport. This museum houses a vast collection of historical documentation, photographs, and cultural artifacts. You will leave having connected with San Diego’s past. Exhibits bring perspective into how it has grown to become one of the largest cities in the United States. To view the current exhibits at this museum, visit: http://www.sandiegohistory.org/mainpages/exhibits.htm

Before, leaving the Park, stop in to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. If you are a railroad admirer, you will love this place. If you have not interest in trains, you can breeze through, getting the gist of its importance to western expansion.

Depart Balboa Park around 1pm and taxi or drive five miles north to the Old Town neighborhood. Mexican cafes and cantinas are plentiful in this section of San Diego. If the timing is right, you will have missed the lunch rush. You can select one at random and know that if it has managed to stay in business with such healthy competition, it must be worth trying. The price seems to be right too! Food Network has mentioned one restaurant in particular as being a good value. Old Town Mexican Cafe hosts a fiesta every single Friday, but evidently good times and good food are there every night of the week. To learn more about the Cafe, visit: http://www.oldtownmexcafe.com/

Spend your afternoon browsing the shops of Old Town. This may be a nice place to look for a souvenir or two. Next to gifts from a museum gift shop, non-touristy goodies overshadow more generic purchases.

Taxi back to Keating House for a quick nap or to write some postcards, then walk to Hob Nob Hill for dinner. Two nights in a row makes you a regular customer. Since specials are changed daily, you can try something completely different or stick with a favorite.

DAY 5 – Space, Sports & Science

Sleep a little later today, you deserve it. Once you’ve refueled with breakfast at your B & B, walk over to Balboa Park. This morning, explore a different section of the Park. Begin your tour at the San Diego Aerospace Museum. Admission is included with a Passport, otherwise it is $9 per adult. It has a mind-boggling number of retired aircrafts and uniquely insightful exhibits on air exploration. Spend the rest of your morning roaming the San Diego Automotive Museum and San Diego Hall of Champions, just steps from each other and in the same cul-de-sac as the Aerospace Museum.

When you are ready for lunch, consider Time Out Cafe in the Hall of Champions. As a deli, prices are reasonable and outdoor benches are available. You can even get beer and wine there. Another suggestion is to proceed to your afternoon destination, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, and eat lunch at Galileo Cafe. Sandwiches, salads, and pizza dominate the family-friendly menu.

Spend your afternoon in the cool IMAX theatre enjoying a show. It is a good plan to purchase your tickets earlier in the day or before you eat lunch to make sure you have a seat for the show. Matinees are usually shown around 1pm, but schedules may change, so check online at: http://www.rhfleet.org/imax.html. After your IMAX film, explore the Science Center all afternoon.

Wander to the Gaslamp District again and have dinner in one of the neighborhood’s many restaurants. Then taxi back to your B & B for a good night’s rest.

DAY 6 – Coronado

Sleep in on your last full day in San Diego. After a delicious breakfast, take a taxi to Broadway Pier to take the Regular All Day Ferry to the Coronado Ferry Landing Marketplace. For schedule information, visit: http://www.coronado.ca.us/sd_ferry.asp. Take the shuttle from there to downtown Coronado. One-way fare is $1 per person. For route and schedule information, visit: http://www.sdcommute.com/Rider_Information/routes/904.asp

Arrive in downtown Coronado and wander the quaint streets. This is a perfect time to pick up any last-minute non-touristy souvenirs or to treat yourself to a new hat. For lunch, there are numerous options in the downtown area of Coronado, but today you will be dining at the famous Hotel Del Coronado’s Sheerwater Restaurant. Main courses range from $15 to $28. You can find a burger or fresh fish, it all depends what you like. An ocean view is the perfect accompaniment for your lunch, so soak up the Pacific from this historic landmark. To view Sheerwater’s menu, visit: http://www.hoteldel.com/uploads/sheerwater_lunch_menu_1005_869.pdf

After lunch, wander the beach and shop in the resort’s stores. Take your time enjoying Coronado before returning to the Ferry Landing to float back across to Broadway Pier. After you have returned from your day’s adventure on Coronado, taxi back to your B & B to pack for your departure the following day. For dinner, pamper yourself with fine Mediterranean cuisine at Laurel. They offer a special early three-course dinner menu for $35 per person between 5:00 and 6:00pm daily. Otherwise, main courses range from $22 to $34.

DAY 7 – Bon Voyage

On your last morning in San Diego, make sure you have a good breakfast at your B & B and finish packing. If there is one more museum you want to see at Balboa Park or a souvenir you wish you’d bought, you still have time to get that taken care of.

Check out of Keating House a little before noon and taxi to the airport or train station to return home.

Submitted by Evin Bail – this was entry #21. No new entries are being accepted (though a new contest will begin soon). Keep coming back for the last few entries.

Road Trip in Jamaica Travel Plan

I think this is #20. No more entries are being accepted, but a flurry of last-minute entries means you’ll see 5 or 6 over the next week.

Here is another trip to a different part of Jamaica. I hope everyone enjoys this one too! Thanks, Rosanne

Road Trip in Jamaica

Day 1

Fly to Kingston ($300 and up) and rent a car ($600 and up for the 10 day trip). Remember to pack a high SPF sunscreen (SPF 30-50), insect repellant may be helpful some nights, and of course swimwear and camera. Drive to Morgan’s Harbour Hotel where you will stay for 2 nights. ($155 per night for a double room which includes authentic Jamaican breakfast) (10 minutes drive) Enjoy a lovely dinner by the water among the boats. ($25). Be sure to try freshly blended fruit punch.($5)

Some authentic Jamaican foods which you can try on your trip are: ackee and saltfish, callaloo, banana and dumpling with run down, fried plantains, fricassee chicken with rice and peas, stew peas, oxtail, curried goat, jerked pork, pumpkin soup, peas soup. Try Jamaican desserts found at local bakeries: gizzada, plantain tart, grater cake, fruitcake, sweet potato pudding. Two popular local chain restaurants found in most towns here that serve great Jamaican food are Juici Patties and Island Grill. Natural fruit and vegetable juices are also a great choice: otaheite apple (my favorite), beetroot, carrot, coconut water, cucumber, melon. Stop at any supermarket and you can find local handmade sweets such as tamarind balls and peanut brittle. Catherine’s Peak Spring Water is a great choice to keep you hydrated.

Day 2

After breakfast, take a boat ride to Lime Cay from the hotel. (15 minutes boat ride) ($8 for boat ride) Enjoy the day on this tiny island off the coast of Kingston. During the week, be sure to pack a picnic. You can pack sandwiches from the hotel’s restaurant. ($10) On weekends there is a restaurant and bar open on Lime Cay. Take a walk to Port Royal in the afternoon. This historic town has canons and ruins. ($5 for tour) Have dinner on the sidewalk at Gloria’s Rendezvous. ($15) I like the steamed fish and fish soup. Port Royal is a fishing village, so the seafood is freshly caught daily and very delicious.

Day3

After breakfast, drive to Port Antonio (2+ hours). It is a very scenic drive although the road is windy. Most of the drive is along the Wagwater river and then the sea coast. Along the corners are many fruit vendors. Try our exotic fruits grown by our local farmers: starapple, otaheite apple, jackfruit, mango, naseberry, sweetsop, sugar cane to name a few. Stop at Juici Patties in Port Antonio to buy a patty or meatloaf for lunch ($1 each) or chicken lunch.($6) Spend the evening in town taking photos. The market is a great place for photos. Market days are Friday and Saturday. Get to know people, ask about our culture Have gourmet dinner at Trident Hotel nearby ($30). The peacocks on the lawn are very friendly. Stay at Frenchman’s Cove for 2 nights. ($90-$130 per night per room/suite/1 bedroom villa, continental breakfast included).

Day 4

Frenchman’s Cove is a beautiful place where the river meets the sea. The lunch here is excellent and it is served on the beach. Try the escoveitch fish, which is fried fish with a pickle pepper sauce. ($10) Drive to the marina in the afternoon. (10 minutes) Have dinner at Norma’s on the Grill for gourmet Jamaican Food. ($25) After, take a stroll along the boardwalk to the Devon House Ice Cream Shop. This is our local chain with the best coconut ice-cream in the world. Coffee is my second favorite flavor. ($2)

Day 5

After breakfast, enjoy the beach until late morning. Before lunch, drive to Ocho Rios with a short stop in Port Maria (2 hours to Port Maria). Along the way, stop at Blueberry Hill for jerked pork, chicken, and homemade sausage. ($10) Eat at this roadside hut and enjoy the view of the sea from the cliffs. Along this drive, the lush vegetation includes banana and coconut trees. When you get to Port Maria, take a break and stop at Firefly. ($10 entry) (10 minutes drive from the main road). Firefly is the former home of British Playwright Noel Coward. Take a tour of the house and see where England’s Queen Mother once dined, enjoy the beautiful view of Cabarita Island surrounding the ocean and mountains. Have tea and biscuits ($2). Continue to Ocho Rios (1/2 hour). Check in at Sandcastles for 4 nights. ($85 per night per double room, breakfast included). Have dinner there ($20).

Day 6

Definitely climb Dunn’s River Falls. ($10 entry fee) (5 minute drive) The best day to go is when the cruise ships are not in, so you can enjoy and see the nature and beauty of these waterfalls. Take a walk from your hotel to have lunch at the coffee shop in Island Village Shopping Centre. ($15). The coffee is good too! Spend the afternoon shopping for nice souvenirs here. The stores are nice and it is hassle free. You can also get great Jamaican books at the bookstore. Here’s a second chance to have Devon House icecream if you were too full before.

Have candlelight dinner at The Ruins. ($30) The ambiance is lovely as you dine by waterfalls.

Day 7

Drive to Reggae Beach and spend the morning there. ($5 entry fee) (10 minute drive) This beach is my favorite. It is a white sand beach, clear blue sea, and there are plenty shady trees if the sun is too hot. A stone’s throw away is Harmony Hall. Have lunch here at Toscanini, authentic Italian food. ($15) Take a tour of the art gallery upstairs (free) and buy local artwork. The paintings are vibrant and lively reflecting Jamaican culture. The architecture of Harmony Hall is true to Jamaica. In the afternoon, head to Wassi Art Factory and see local artists making and painting pottery. (15 minutes) There are many nice pieces for your home. Have dinner at Bibibip’s Bar and Grill for great Jamaican food. ($15) Try the curried goat.

Day 8

Today, go tubing down the White River with Chukka Cove. ($51) It is a very scenic tour downstream, so make sure to bring a waterproof disposable camera for great photos. You are enveloped into nature among the trees and you see many birds along the way. In the afternoon, go on Chukka Cove’s canopy tour ($67) or horseback riding ($67 for 3 hours). If you prefer to relax, go to Cranbrook Flower Forest ($10). It is a beautiful park where you can swim in the river among tropical flowers and trees. Have a picnic. The store outside your hotel has crackers and corned beef. ($2) Eat like a true Jamaican. Have dinner at Cafe Aubergine, recently voted Jamaica’s most romantic restaurant. ($25) It is a half an hour drive but well worth it as the food is great and atmosphere cozy. I enjoy the lamb here.

Day 9

Return to Kingston (2 hours drive) and stay at The Courtleigh Hotel ($172 per night night per double room, continental breakfast included). I enjoy eating on the patio. Drive to Strawberry Hill before lunch (an hour drive). Have gourmet lunch overlooking the city and the Blue Mountains. ($20) Across the road, tour Craighton Coffee Estate. ($30) It is a 1-hour tour showing how coffee is grown and produced. In the evening, get a massage at Strawberry Hill’s Aveda Spa for the best way to end your vacation. ($115) For dinner stop at Starapples. ($15) (10 minutes from hotel). The oxtail is excellent.

Day 10

Depart Kingston (an hour drive to airport) At the airport, be sure to buy duty-free items such as Appleton V/X rum, and Blue Mountain Coffee, the best coffee in the world.

London & Amsterdam European summer vacation

This was the 19th entry I received for my summer vacation plan travel writing contest. Winners will be announced May 31.

This London & Amsterdam vacation itinerary works best when day 5 falls on a Thursday.

Day 1: Go to Buckingham Palace as early as possible to beat the crowds. The tour is worth the 15 British Pounds and after that, you can have a picnic in St. James Park right in front of Buckingham Palace.

After lunch, go to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Spend a few minutes walking around and taking it all in. Right across from Big Ben is Westminster Abbey.

At 6 British Pounds for adults, it is the second biggest bargain in London (the biggest bargain is saved for Day 2). Westminster Abbey is beautiful inside and out. See the tombs of many of the kings and queens, famous poets, composers, and nobility. The ancient coronation chair is on display there, in use for all the coronations since the 11th century (full of woodworm, covered in scratches and graffiti). Walk up the aisles, and marvel that you’re standing in such a magnificent place, a place where Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson married, and where Princess Diana’s funeral was held. The self-directed day tour is great and Evensong is wonderful. Don’t miss Evensong.

A good place to eat Indian food near Westminster Abbey is Cinnamon Club. Dinner will set you back about 30 British Pounds, but don’t get cheap and skip the excellent appetizers. I liked the scallops personally. The service was only OK, but the food and the bar made up for it. The bar had good cocktails and was playing Bollywood movies. It was an interesting atmosphere. Reservations would be smart – 0845 166 4253. Go to the Old Westminster Library, Great Smith Street.

Day 2: The biggest bargain in London is the free British Museum, which opens at 10:00. If free just doesn’t seem right, you can always go for the highlight tour for 8 British Pounds. You’ll be forced to think about the controversy regarding who should own works like The Pantheon Marbles (or Elgin Marbles) and the Rosetta Stone. You’ll never see everything here, so choose a few things that you have to see and do those first.

After that, go to Leicester Square and Piccadilly in the West End. You could just do some shopping but ideally, you’d like to go to the theater or theatre. We saw the Lion King at the Lyceum on Wellington Street. Of course, there are shows to suit just about anyone who likes musical theater. While in the area, check out Piccadilly Circus, which is cooler than Times Square.

For dinner in the West End, we liked Chinese Experience, one of the few restaurants in London’s Chinatown that has good service. It will cost you about 25 British Pounds. I liked the strawberry spare ribs. It’s not a large meal by American standards but save room for dessert, especially the mango pancakes. Go to 118 Shaftesbury Ave. Reservations didn’t seem necessary and there are plenty of other places nearby, but if you want to play it safe call 0871 0752 840.

If you’re looking for a good bar after dinner, The Intrepid Fox at 97-99 Wardour Street is just awesome. Very hip atmosphere and the drinks are not overpriced.

Day 3: For a nice day trip, go to King Cross Station and platform 9 and 3/4. Take the Hogwarts’ Express to Goathland Station (Hogsmeade Station) in the Yorkshire Moors. The landscapes are dramatic and don’t miss Mallyan Spout, a 70 foot high waterfall.

Hotel in London: Crowne Plaza London St James, 45 Buckingham Gate, Westminster. You can walk to Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, and St. James subway (tube) station. The service was as good as the location, but it was a little expensive. If you’re looking to travel cheap though, London probably isn’t the best choice. It’s a good place to go when you want to splurge. Staying here will save you a little time and money in the morning because the breakfast buffet was really excellent.

Day 4: There’s much more to see and do in London, but to really experience London would take at least 10 years. To get from London to Amstrerdam, you can take an inexpensive train and a ferry. At 25 British Pounds one-way, this is the cheapest way to go. It’s not as fast as a Eurostar, but it’s a nice trip.

You can also take a Eurostar high-speed train from London to Brussels via the Channel Tunnel, then either an InterCity train or a Thalys train train from Brussels to Amsterdam. This is costs from 69 – 149 British Pounds round trip, but it’s faster, avoids a sea crossing, and has a more departure times.

After checking into your hotel in Amsterdam, it’ll probably be time for dinner. Since you had Chinese and Indian food in London, let’s go with French/ Mediterranean food at Restaurant November (Spuistraat 266). Dinner starts at 5:00 and you can eat outside on the terrace. The set menu has an appetizer, main dish, and dessert for 24 Euro. I had a great meal of grilled vegetables, Dutch beefsteak fried in butter (not sure how healthy it was), and tiramisu. A lot of choices for fish lovers as well.

End day 4 on a romantic note, with a canal ride. Avoid the larger, covered boats. Instead try to find a small, open boat because you’ll see much better if you sit in the open. You could also rent a small boat for yourself and cruise anywhere. If you need some herbal help relaxing before bedtime, there are plenty of coffee shops within easy walking distance of the hotel. Remember that Day 5 requires an early start!

Day 5: There are two must-see museums in Amsterdam and we’ll do both of them today so you need to get an early start. The Anne Frank Museum comes first because it gets crowded fast. If you’re not a history buff, you won’t have to stay long and you can still feel some powerful emotions. Expect to see a few people crying, maybe even you.

The Van Gogh Museum has some incredible works, including lots of sunflower paintings. This museum also gets crowded but gets better later in the day (the museum is open until 6:00).

If you’re worried that two museums in one day is too much culture for you, perhaps the Heineken Experience is more your style. This lager theme park is located at Stadhouderskade 78, and opens 10am-6pm daily except Mondays (last entrance 5pm). Admission is 7.50 Euro and includes three glasses of beer.

After a day in the museums, you should be ready to sit down. I suggest Zabar’s at Van Baerlestraat 49 (00 31 20 679 8888), close to the main museums. The menu is mostly Mediterranean seafood and vegetarian dishes. It gets pretty crowded, so reservations are a good idea.

If you managed to get Day 5 to fall on a Thursday, you’re not done sightseeing yet. On Thursdays, Nieuwe Kerk on Dam Square is open until 10:00 at night (6:00 on other nights). This is the church where Dutch monarchs are invested and it is very impressive inside. Admission is 10 Euros.

Day 6: Start with The Begijnhof, which opens at 9:00. This courtyard features gabled homes from the 16th-18th centuries. After that, why not get an overview of the city you’ve been enjoying? From the tower of the old stock exchange, the Beurs van Berlage at Beursplein 4, you can see much of Amsterdam. It opens 11am-5pm daily except Monday.

Then it’s off to the airport. Just like you did in London, you’re leaving plenty to do on your next visit.

Amsterdam Hotel: We stayed in and recommend the NH Barbizon Palace Hotel. It was almost as expensive as the Crowne Plaza London St James, but the service was even better. The location was good, very close to Central Station and the building itself is a tourist attraction. The breakfast is rather expensive, but you get what you pay for.

Taste of Jamaica

Travel writing contest entry #18 was submitted by Rosanne. Only a few days left to submit your travel plans to jtrotta@gmail.com!

Day 1: Fly roudtrip to Montego Bay ($300 and up). Stay at Doctor’s Cave Beach Hotel for 3 nights ($102 per night for one room). Taxi fare from airport to hotel $20. Have dinner at Groovy Grouper across the road ($20) – Try the steamed fish.

Day 2: Have Jamaican breakfast at The Native which is in walking distance ($10). Spend the day at Doctor’s Cave Beach across the road from the hotel. ($3 per person beach entry) It is nice to see the airplanes landing in the distance. Have a Jamaican patty for lunch.($1 each) You can get beef, chicken or vegetable. Try our local Red Stripe Beer. ($2 each) Walk along the Hip Strip and buy souvenirs. Have dinner at Coral Cliff also walking distance ($25 per person) and enjoy live music by the casino.

Day 3: Have breakfast at The Pelican which is also in walking distance ($10). Go rafting down the river with Chukka Adventures ($40). Have lunch at Jerky’s, authentic Jamaican Jerked Chicken or Pork or Fish with a variety of side dishes:

Roast Breadfruit, Roast Yam, Red Peas Soup ($10).

In the afternoon, go horseback riding with Chukka Adventures ($50). Rent a car for 4 days ($200 for 4 day rental). Have dinner at Houseboat for gourmet Jamaican food ($25). It is a lovely view and atmosphere and only 10 minutes drive. Feed the fish that swim up to your table.

Day 4: Drive to Negril in the morning and stay on the beach at White Sands Hotel for 3 nights ($50 per night for one room). Enjoy breakfast($5) and lunch($10) at the hotel’s beach bar. Relax on the seven mile white sand beach. Use SPF 30-50. Swim, take a long walk, and play beach volleyball. Find exotic seashells. Drive to the cliffs (10 minutes) and enjoy the sunset at Rick’s café. If you are brave, jump off the cliffs into the deep blue sea. Stay for dinner ($25

per person).

Day 5: Have breakfast at the hotel’s beach bar ($5). Enjoy the beach in your backyard again. Have authentic Jamaican lunch at Sweet Spice ($10 – only 5 minutes drive). Try various water sports – parasailing, glass bottom boat ride, snorkeling, jetskiing ($10 – $100). Have dinner on the beach nearby at Margaritaville ($25).

Day 6: Drive to Montego Bay (45 minutes) and head to the airport. Buy rum and spices at the airport duty free. Also try a meal at our local franchise Island Grill.

Magic Northern Brazil – Nature and Culture mixed in paradise

Magic Northern Brazil – Nature and Culture mixed in a paradise 8 Day Trip in Salvador and Morro de Sao Paulo – Itinerary suggested by Carina Valicati

This is entry #17 in the 2006 summer vacation plan 1,000 dollar travel writing contestless than one week left to send your entries to jtrotta@gmail.com

I will recommend a perfect trip for holidays, ideal if you have a young spirit, love sun, beaches and natural environments. This destination is perfect for group of friends, honeymooners or just couples, but without little children. Holidays take place mostly in a beautiful place named Morro de Sao Paulo, located in the Thinaré island in the state of Bahia, but a stop in Salvador, the capital of the mayor Northern Brazil littoral is almost a must to discover the essence of its people named “bahiana”.

Day 1: The trip starts in Salvador. Once you arrive at the airport you can take a taxi to the hotel (transfers U$D 25 / hotels or apartment from USD 50 to 150 a double room per day). Depending on your arrival time, a refreshing dip in a swimming pool could be an excellent beginning of your rest, specially after a long flight (most have one). The first sightseeing starts at the end of the afternoon, visiting the most historic, picturesque neighbourhood in this town: “Pelourinho”. As Salvador was the first place settled in Brazil by the Portuguese, this ancient area is full of details that will impress you. Pelourinho is one of the Cultural Human World Heritage, and it is easy to appreciate the beauty of their coloured houses, the old style architecture and the magnificence of its hundred churches. The nightlife in this old area is specially attractive when shops and restaurants open their doors, and fill the narrow stony streets with tables and chairs. It is the perfect opportunity to taste traditional food from Bahia, which has a strong afro influence. Try with the octopus “moqueca” or similar sea food (full dinner U$S 25). Local people love to wear white or shiny clothes. It is common to see some samba dance on the streets.

Day 2: Early in the morning take a taxi or rent a car and run over the 20 km coastline from Port and Farol da Barra, a famous point in Salvador where the lighthouse is a big reference, and continue this tour crossing Ondina, Amaralina, Pituba, Costa Azul, Armação, Corsario, Jaguaribe, Piatã, Plakaford, Itapuã until Stella Mares. A northern route, 60 km from Salvador, takes you to Arembepe, a little settlement beach but without infrastructure for tourism. This place was once popular as a truly hippie village, but today only few people still leave in some of its hovels. However, it is very attractive to visit and the beach is almost deserted with some palms printing a beautiful postcard. Further ahead (+ 20 km) is one of the nicest tourist spots: Praia Do Forte, which is full of shops and lodges. Its picturesque center is perfect for lunch. Few meters further walking is Tamar project, where many sea turtles are rescued and you can see and learn about this marine species (entrance U$S 5). After a long day and once back in Salvador many appealing restaurants near the sea in Barra are suitable for dinner.

Day 3: Before leaving the city, visit the harbour area, which is down to Pelourinho neighbourhood. There is a public elevator, which brings you up to the top, where you can appreciate fantastic views of the bay and take incredible pictures. Getting down again, just in front of this place only crossing the street is the Model Market, where you can buy beautiful souvenirs. Just for adventurous, the is another market close to this one, where locals buy typical products but it is definitely not a tourist place, even though it is exotic and allows you to taste the reality face to face; if you like this challenge it is better to be accompanied by a resident. Once at the harbour take a ferry boat to Morro de Sao Paulo Island (2 hours), which is a popular nice village in one of the extremes of the Tinharé Island in the Camamu Bay (U$S 30). It is recommendable to prevent possible sea-sickness depending of the tide. There are other ways to cross to the island: a shorter by light aircraft departing from the airport, which arrives in 20 minutes (U$S 140 one way), or a longer way (4 hours) combining a boat to Itaparica, a part by land until Valenca and another boat from here to Morro (U$S 42). When you arrive in Morro de Sao Paulo natives will help you with your luggage because of the rugged land (U$S 5-10 is enough for tips). Even though many people have already discovered this paradise, Morro de Sao Paulo seams lost in the world. No cars are available, except some tractors for natives which connect internal sandy trails. Accommodation options go from simple lodges (pousadas) to nice hotels, ranging prices from U$S 20 to U$S 150 a double room, depending on the season (except carnival period, where everything is considerably more expensive in all Brazil). There are many alternatives by cost, services and location, but it is recommendable to reserve your lodge according with your preferences before your arrival (www.e-pousadas.com). Many people will promote the Second Beach as ideal location because it is the coolest during nights, but I really recommend others in quieter beaches, which are beautiful and not so far away from here if you are looking for some entertainment at night (except the 4th or 5th beaches). To conclude the first day on the island just have a quite dinner in one of the nice bars in the little center of this place named “Vila”, with no more than 4 or 5 blocks extension.

Day 4: Start your tour from the Morro beaches in traditional spots. The island is divided into sections and it is very easy to identify each place. The same characteristic invades the region: crystal warm water and thin sand. During morning visit the First Beach, preferred by surfers. It is not so big and depending of the sea level (everything in Morro depends on this important factor), you can be immersed into some natural reef pools on the rocks side. The First beach was the oldest summer lodgings, so that’s why the architecture has not a modern style, in spite of refurnished work. After a while in this place continue the walking to the next popularly known Second beach, which is recognized for the live music, bars, parasols, and rest chairs. Here take a bath and swim to the little corner island named Ilha da Saudade. Many alternatives for lunch are available on the Second beach, but the grilled cheese is delicious (only U$S 1), while you are tanning you under the shine sun in a comfortable rest chair (all day parasol and chair U$S 5). For a great tour and some hike walk as far as the church, crossing the little village, and just in front of this one take the way which goes to the lighthouse. Here there is a spectacular panoramic point perfect for pictures, which goes from First to Third. It is also possible to get down by Tyrolean from this point to the sea at the First beach, but if you look for some quite and emotive moment just return to the church and take another way from the port which borders the sea until you arrive at the antique Portuguese ruins of a fortification built in 1630. Unfortunately, this place is not very well preserved but it reflects the magic of the past. You should arrive here not later than 5 PM to appreciate the marvelous sunset . It is definitely an strategic point of the island to contemplate the last glow of the sun and perhaps, if you are lucky, some “capoeira” show could take place here at the same time. By the end of the day just select one place for your dinner or go for a drink on the Second Beach.

Day 5: Start the day on the Third beach walking along the coast. This section offers different accommodation options (mostly very close to the sea), tents, bars and restaurants. Those who like scuba or snorkeling can rent the equipment here or reserve some excursion tour. In front of the Third beach and few meters from the coast is a very little island called Caitá, which is perfect for go swimming or by kayak. At the end of this beach the extensive Fourth beach appears, apparently unfinished and almost without visible urban development. In contrast with the other beaches, this is a real quiet paradise. The best moment to arrive here depends on the sea level (usually during mornings) but it should be ebb-tide to admire the charm of its place. Only in this case you can walk meters after meters in the sea with the water until your ankle and just then start to discover the magic of innumerable natural pools among coral reef, where you can admire some colourful fishes underwater or just get inside of a pool for a very hot bath (almost therapeutic!). This experience is amazing, specially because you can be in the middle of this paradise just by yourself. The only thing you should consider is to wear rubber summer shoes (because of the sharp coral reef) and a high UV protection because the sun is extremely strong and the salty water maximizes your bronze colour quickly. After a very relaxed day, walk once again until the village crossing the correlative number of beaches and just in front of the church is another strategic point to admire the incredible sunsets. The name of the place is “Pousada Passargada”, which has a beautiful deck with the harbour view. The afternoon meals are perfect to contemplate the imposing sunset in one of the corner tables: could be a cappuccino as well as a tropical drink among other options (U$S 8). You feel a mystic magic while you are focused on the last flash of light, listening to the daily religious music of the “Raval” bolero followed by the “Ave María”, awakening to a spiritual experience.

Day 6: Behind the little center of the Vila you will find a pathway to the historic point named “Fonte grande” (big fountain), built by Portuguese to reserve water for droughts (it is still working). From this point walk straight on your right and then take a down footpath to the beach named “Porto da Cima”. Here the water is incredibly transparent turning from green to blue, and the beach – sculptured with rocks- is quieter than the other visited zones. If there is ebb-tide you can undertake a beautiful walk along the cost, bordering the beach shape; in other terms, you can choose to get on a little boat in the harbour directly until Gamboa. If the walking tour is your choice, you will cross a wooden small port recognized as the yacht club and possibly contemplate bird species and local fisherman few meters from the coast. Afterwards, a pink and brown colorful rocky cliff appears. This is the “Arcila”, where people normally paint their bodies with the cream of clay, a natural product of the water flowing down from the top. It is a kind of a natural treatment of mud therapy, but mostly it is an exotic and fun experience. Just try it. Immediately then, the beach of Gamboa starts. This is a village where most of the locals and fisherman live as well as one of the beautiful spots of the island to spend all day. Choose one of the nice beach bars with rest chairs and parasols, highly recommended some of them situated on the big sandy belly. This will possibly mean a relaxing day for sunbathing. Some good options could be a book, a snorkel mask (if the sea is not rough) or simply take advantage of the deep sea (differently from the rest of the coast) for swimming. The best moment starts during afternoon, when the sun gets down. The sunset here is sensational for pictures, sometimes with some typical wooden boats as a part of a painting. You can return to Vila by boat from the sandy belly if tourists are still there or from the Gamboa port, where you can get around for sightseeing this little village.

Day 7: In the morning take a boat to the neighbouring Boipeba island for a full day excursion (you should book the trip at least one day before, U$S 25-30). The boats pick up tourists in the Morro harbour or at the Third beach. First stop is in Garapuá, a calm fishing spot of crystalline waters. Continuing the trip by boat and crossing the Inferno (Hell) river, which divides both islands, you will arrive in Boipeba, a rich ecosystem almost unexplored by tourism. The beach of Moreré is the disembarkation point, where a lunch with lobster and prawns with bananas is a must (U$S 20). This dish is prepared by natives on the beach with a few simple elements, so it is a fresh and natural home made food and absolutely delicious. Stroll along the beaches lined by coconut palms is a magic dream: fine white sand, blue and turquoise crystalline warm water and some coral reef complete the scenic sightseeing. Continue bordering the coast until the main beach of the island, where some bars seem idyllic on the sand corner. The panoramic view is simply unique. Few steps afterwards, the wooden port of the island appears, splashed with beautiful and colorful fisher boats. If you have the chance to stay here before the sunset, the water shine will record an unforgettable picture in your soul and a simple question will be obvious: “why not spend more time here?”, but the excursion is limited and it is time to return to Morro, not in vane enjoying the rest of the sunset sailing the river and the sea then.

Day 8: Behind the Second beach is stop of the unique motor land transport of the island (tractors) which cross one internal way. If you prefer take advantage of your last time here, wear your swimming suit but get your luggage with you. At around 10 AM you can take one truck to “Praia do Encanto” (Enchantment beach), which is around 6 kms away, and get inside the complex under this name. Here is possible spend half or full day using the swimming pool of the inn in case you are going to have lunch at the bar or restaurant. If the Fourth beach looks immense, this place is much more incredible when the low sea unveils hundreds of sandy meters. It is possible see some horses on the beach, where rare mangrove swamps help to preserve the shape of the coast. At midday is time to say goodbye. Option one (recommended) is take the light aircraft which is very close to Praia do Encanto (Aerostar), and goes directly to the international airport in only 20 minutes (U$S 140 one way), even though there is another company (Addey) in the middle of the Third beach. Option two is return to the Second beach by truck and cross the village to the harbour to take the ferry boat to Salvador, and then catch a taxi to the airport. Both ways are good but, if your arrival to the island is by boat, the airplane could be the perfect alternative for leaving this paradise, not only to have a fantastic panoramic overview of this place, also to finish your holidays in the most relaxing way.

Note: Prices are just references based on a recent experience (March 2006).