Riviera Maya in May

So here I am again, consciously pushing myself to write something on this blog sitting in it’s little corner of the ether “collecting dust.” I was motivated to get my butt in gear and consolidate some boxes containing old stuff, and while doing so, I found receipts and tickets from the trip that Stuart and I took to Mexico. Neither of us had visited our neighbor to the south, and Stuart especially was skeptical about this destination. We ended up spending a spectacular week in the Riviera Maya at the Secrets Silversands, an all-inclusive adults-only resort.

This vacation was much needed after Stuart’s challenges with losing a job and the daunting task of job hunting. The week was an escape from reality, and we have our Grandma Kim to thank for this jaunt.  We timed it that we were there on Stuart’s birthday, so it was nice to celebrate at such a beautiful place.

We ate so much great food at the resort. I had plenty of cocktails beach side.

Fresh ahi tuna salad

We also ventured out to see Chichen Itza, and marveled at its mysterious structure and history. This was also where we had the most delectable pork tacos — even the ones that Stuart accidentally laced with some seriously potent habanero salsa. I am now a huge fan of Yucatecan cuisine — bold flavors, colorful, and sublime!

the famous pyramid in Chichen Itza: El Castillo or the Temple of Kukulcan

We also visited the ruins of Tulum. What a view the Mayans had! We learned so much about the social classes of the ancient Mayans and how this walled city atop the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean played a tremendous role in politics and trade back then.

Mayan Ruins of Tulum

After Tulum, we hit a water park at Xel-Ha. We floated down the lazy river, snorkeled, and ate more wonderful Mexican food. One thing for sure I will remember this trip is the embarrassing amount of margaritas I consumed. Good thing we also didn’t shy away from doing water activities and exploring the ruins to burn those calories.

That would be me cruising down the river.

The natural lagoon at Xel-ha where we snorkeled.

As a birthday present for him, I got us intro to scuba diving lessons and went scuba diving in the Caribbean! We had the best time especially with us as the only people on the boat. The underwater world is so magical. We encountered giant manta rays and a few sea turtles.

Stuart and I during our dive joined by a friendly sea turtle

It was interesting to learn that for a lot of people, going to Mexico is habitual. It is a part of their lifestyle. Many of the couples we met at the resort find it surprising that it was only our first time being there. Some of them come back to that very same resort more than once a year. For someone who wants to go see and experience much of the world, I had to consciously refrain myself from commenting on their choice to just keep going back to one place. After all, the Yucatan is such a beautiful place with the turquoise Caribbean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. The area is riddled with Mayan mysteries topped with fascinating colonial history. I can’t fault them for falling in love with such a spectacular place. I, for one, would easily find myself going back for another round of fun in the sun. But maybe not before I clear a few more destinations on my list.

Hasta luego, Mexico!

Categories: Beach Vacation, Mexico, Photography, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

London’s Tube System: Mind the Gap!

Underground Every time I get to a city with a great public transit system, I get slightly depressed thinking how public transport in the Seattle metro is so insufficient.  We have a bus system that is sad with some routes that are reliable enough for commuting, and some that are not so much. The buses themselves (especially the King County Metro buses) could use some major upgrades. We have the Monorail, which is essentially a tourist trap. And we also have the Light Rail that only goes from downtown Seattle to the airport.

Dragging our exhausted selves and luggage, we got on the train from Heathrow that will take us to central London. We figured out that we would need to transfer to the Northern Line that would take us to the neighborhood where our rented apartment is located.

The automated lady announcer came on: “This is a Piccadilly Line service to Cockfosters.” I immediately thought of my friend Alex exclaiming, “That’s what she said!” This thought made me chuckle a bit.

Then I noticed how clean the train is. It wasn’t loud either. The doors automatically closed and opened at every station we stopped. This is noteworthy because the Paris metro ones don’t; you’d have to manually open the doors to get out. The London subway cars are well lit, have seats that are in good condition, and most of all, they’re well ventilated and do not reek of BO.

And then there’s the awesomely convenient Oyster Card. It’s a plastic card with a magnetic chip – not some little paper ticket with a magnetic strip.  Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Paris all spit out flimsy, easy-to-lose tickets. It may not be the case for the local commuters, but visitors would also appreciate having a card that’s not easily ruined or lost. The ticket for the Paris metro is especially small.

Oyster Card and Paris metro pass

An Oyster Card compared to a Paris metro pass

When you buy an Oyster Card, you just put however much money you think you’ll need. When you run out, you just top up using one of those automated machines or at a ticket counter. You just tap your card at the entrance and tap again as you exit and the exact fare will be deducted from it. If you happen to glance at the display just before walking out, you will see your remaining balance.  How’s that for straightforward!

I’ve never felt so safe using the subway. I went out by myself a couple of times and I was not worried about getting mugged or some other crazy thing to happen to me.  The map illustrating the tube lines routes and stops are easy to follow. In no time, I was transferring trains and changing lines like a pro. I have also learned to appreciate the constant reminder to mind the gap. Why, yes, I will definitely mind the gap!

Chicago, Boston, New York City, San Francisco, Manila, and Paris: those are the cities with some sort of railway commuter system that I can compare with London’s tube system.  It’s by no means an extensive list, but I would say it’s enough for a fair comparison. Say what you will about the British and their funny hats and for driving on the left side of the road, but in my book, they totally nailed this whole tube system down. And yes, how I really do wish we had something remotely close to this in Seattle. Based on my personal experiences, London’s Underground is by far the best subway system that I have ever used.

Categories: Experience, Explore, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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