One of the most popular destinations to visit in Paris is the Montmartre District. With the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur (Sacred Heart) sitting on top of the hill with incredible views of the city, it is certainly worthwhile to put it on your itinerary. There are plenty of restaurants and cafés in the area and many people go there just to sit on the steps of the basilica and look out at the wonderful views. We didn’t make it there until our second visit to Paris, which was in the winter and unfortunately it was a cloudy and rainy day, which did diminish the views a bit.
The inside of the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur is certainly quite beautiful and might be even more popular with Notre Dame still being repaired. The area is very busy, even on the rainy day that we visited, so be prepared for large crowds when you visit. We only had a few hours in the area during our visit, so we’ll have to take the time to go once again on our next trip to Paris when hopefully the weather will better.
During our time in Ecuador, we made Quito our home base and then did excursions from there. We had a lot of things planned for our visit to Ecuador, so we sandwiched our excursions with time in Quito before and after our various adventures. It worked out really well because we had a couple of days to get acquainted with Quito before leaving every day and then we had a couple of days on the back-end to relax and enjoy the city after seven straight days of waking up early, most days at 5:00 am. Our hotel was perfectly situated between Quito’s old town and the restaurant district called Mariscal. There was also a park on one side and a market selling local products on the other side.
On our first day in Quito, we had to walk through the park on way to the old town area and on the weekends artists sell their originals all around the park. We strolled along the sidewalks looking at the artwork and various items for sale. We didn’t buy anything that day, but we did see a watercolor painting that we knew that we wanted and we returned the following weekend to get it as our memento of our trip. There were so many wonderful paintings that we wish we could have purchased several of them. The walk to old town takes you by many small shops specializing in a variety of products such as shoes, suits, toys, etc., plus there are many tiny restaurants, many of them selling ice cream to the cars that were passing by as well as the pedestrians on the sidewalk.
As with many cities, there are several churches and cathedrals that are the highlights to see and the most beautiful of these was the Basilica, which also provides the opportunity to climb to the top of the tower with wonderful views of the city. The Basilica del Voto Nacional is the largest neo-gothic basilica in the world and its architecture is truly stunning. In addition to the Basilica, San Francisco and La Compaña are two must see churches. Seeing the gold-plated walls of La Compaña is something that will stay with us for quite some time. Each of these churches was beautiful in their own ways and are definitely worth visiting.
The other location that we spent a fair amount of time at was the Plaza Grande, also known as Independence Square, with monument to the independence heroes in the center of the plaza and two palaces around the square. You can also see the changing of the guards at 11:00 am, but the crowds can be quite large. There is also a shopping area inside of one of the palace buildings with wonderful restaurants and excellent local artisan crafts. It is an excellent place to sit and have a glass of wine and people watch. It was also where we saw the most tourists of any place that we went to during our time in Quito.
Another location that is definitely worth visiting is Calle La Ronda, which is a street with old world architecture. You definitely can feel the history as you walk along the cobblestone streets and in many ways it almost transports you to Spain. The balconies with their colorful flowers, small shops and restaurants, and bustling streets are very fascinating. Although we didn’t take the time to go up to it, you can’t miss seeing the Panecillo statue, the statue of the angel that oversees Quito’s old town. There are several other sites to see while you are in Quito, but these are the ones that we felt were most important.
Quito is like any major metropolis with different neighborhoods of various economic wealth. There are definitely places and times when you need to be aware of the possibility of petty crime and pickpockets. With that said, just like any city, you just need to be smart about where you go and be aware of your environment. We found everyone to be extremely friendly and helpful wherever we went in Quito. Especially in the old town area, Quito’s old world charm was very interesting and enjoyable. It is definitely a city that deserves at least a couple of days in order to fully see everything that it has to offer.
Although the majority of religious sites that we visited in Vietnam were temples and pagodas, we did enjoy seeing the St. Joseph’s Cathedral when we were in Hanoi. It is a classic, Gothic-style cathedral with a large courtyard in front of the church. During our visit to the cathedral, there were many people enjoying the open space in front of the church and many different vendors selling flowers, fruit, and other items around the courtyard. There are also several cafés, bistros, and restaurants around the church and we enjoyed a cup of egg coffee at one of them and sat and did some people watching.
We visited Vietnam in the month of November, so workers were busy setting up a nativity scene during our visit to the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. The cathedral was built in the late 1800’s and was designed to resemble the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. The inside of the cathedral is quite stunning with tall, narrow stained-glass windows and understated ceilings. The artwork, altar, and memorials are very beautiful and quite colorful in contrast to the white walls.
As you walk behind the cathedral, you will come across a wall with a golden relief depicting key moments in the life of Jesus. Next you will find a cave that has a painting inside representing the birth of Jesus. Finally, there is a large mural on the wall that shows the three wise men as they follow the Star of David to Jerusalem. It is not something that we have seen at the cathedrals that we have seen in other parts of the world.
Located in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, it is certainly worth taking the hour or so to visit St. Joseph’s Cathedral. We would also recommend visiting one of the bistros and sitting outside to watch the bustling area. Considering how busy Hanoi is in general, spending time in this tranquil setting is quite relaxing.