Medellín: Comuna 13

Today we are taking a walking tour of Comuna 13, a place once considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world (80s and 90s). In the past it was run by violent drug traffickers but now is a very colorful and popular neighborhood for tourism. Tourists visit Medellín and take a tour of its great graffiti art.

We meet our tour guide at our metro station, El Poblado. Once the group has all arrived we ride the metro together down to where we ride the cable cars uphill. At the end of the cable line we take a bus. Alternatively you can take the metro to San Javier metro and walk to the escalators. We took the escalators down later at the end of our tour.

View from cable car station

Once off the cable railway we stop for an arepa and fruit juice.

We hop on a bus and head further uphill to start our walk.

Once off the bus we walk a little further uphill. He tells us the history of the area. We learn stories, even personal stories of his own, about how the residents lived in fear for many years. In 2011 the government started a series of improvements to the community, including an escalator. The area gradually evolved into a safer and visited area by tourists (to the dismay of some locals). These tours try to bring dollars into the community and minimize the disruption to the locals. Hopefully our tour did not cause too much distress.

Fascination with busy power poles

We learn about one of the most famous graffiti artists of the area Chota 13 (@chota_13). We learn that he started a school in the barrio. The school is dedicated to teaching the children art and hip hop dance to keep them out of violence.

We stopped at a bar for a pit stop. The bar displays pictures of celebrity visitors. They were especially proud of the visit by former president of the USA Bill Clinton.

We stopped for some frozen mango.

Around the corner from the mango place there is a fun black light gallery. Some of the art is best seen with 3D glasses.

Eventually we start heading downhill back toward the train station

The soccer match we attend tomorrow: the two local teams

We say goodbye to our tour. The tour from Comuna 13 Medellin Graffiti was money well spent.

Before we head back to El Poblado we stop at the Museo de Antioquia so M can see all the Botero artwork. I am able to save her some time by showing her the interesting exhibits like the religious art wing.

We stop to try some cheese balls.

We head back to El Poblado. We find a very busy dog walker and some more street performers.

I try tonight to meet up with another friend I knew in college who happens to be in town. We try to stay out late to meet up with her but our schedules don’t align. They don’t even head out until late and we do our partying early. We did stay out late enough to witness just a little bit of fun of the neighborhood.

37 Park Medellín

Zona Rosa area of El Poblado

We shared a good amount of Sangria.

We stopped at one last bar where we had lots of street entertainment.

Dance groups in El Poblado

At least we had one night of fun in our vibrant neighborhood.

Tomorrow is our last day in Colombia and we plan to attend a soccer match. Wish us luck.

Back to Medellín

M and I head to Medellín Colombia today. It is the second time for me and the first for her. A couple weeks ago I spent some days leisurely around the city. I hope to see more this time around.

The flight to Medellín from Cartagena is only around an hour and ten minutes so our travel journey is not long. The flight is in the morning and I order a cheese and ham toasted sandwich to hold me over before my journey.

When we arrive we check into the same hotel I stayed in prior, Diez Hotel Categoria in El Poblado. It is a good choice. Our room has two beds and a hammock that overlooks the neighborhood.

I wasn’t sure how we would feel when we arrived so we didn’t have much booked on our first day in Medellín. Luckily we are early enough to take a free walking day tour with Real City Tours (pay guide by tips).

Fortunately I already navigated the metro during my prior visit so we took the metro to meet our tour.

We are a little early for our tour so we stop for a beer in a old charming bar called Salón Málaga. Most were not drinking, in fact we thought we were getting a sneer from the table next to us but we ended up chatting with the girl and her mother instead. They were Spanish speaking but actually live in the USA and were tourists in Medellin as well. We made plans to share a taxi with them to Guatapé the next day but plans fell through when they had to leave town early.

We meet up with our tour guide who then takes us around the city and points out different landmarks.

Plaza Cisneros
Parque de la Luz (Plaza Cisneros)

At one point we sit by an old train station (Edificio Antigua Estación del Ferrocarril de Antioquia) where our guide gives us a “real talk” about the history of Medellin – tells us the history of all the factions that caused turmoil: the government, the military, drug lords, right wing militia, left wing militia. The losers are the ordinary people who had to live through the war and terror.

We are taken to a shopping district where there are lots of pop up stands you can get cheap goods (Carabobo pedestrian street).

National Palace Mall

Sex workers hang out in front of this church.

Parroquia de la Veracruz
We are told where to go to get some great empanadas

We end up at the Botero park where we can see lots of Botero statues.

Our tour group

Our guide talks about the metro and the pride the locals have for their train.

We are told the area under the train is where people go to exchange goods. We don’t have time to watch but we go back later to see it in action. Mostly men take items to exchange (belt buckle, watch, coins or whatnot) and engage with conversations with others to see if a deal can be made. It is interesting to watch and seems to be a sport of its own in the city.

We walk by some musicians playing outside at Parque Berrío. People are dancing to the music.

Parque Berrío
Fun Jesus taxi
Church across the street from Berrio Park

Our guide talks about some local fruits. I finally get to try that weird looking fruit (guama) from my first visit to Medellín.

guama

Finally he takes us to the Parque San Antonio where he tells us the story of the bombed statue.

Parque San Antonio

At the end there is a question and answer session about the city. Some was asking about seeing a futbol (soccer) game while in town. The guide tells us about the upcoming El Clásico Paisa game. I don’t listen too carefully because at this point going to a soccer game in Medellín seems too intimidating to me. Plus I am not sure we’ll have time. M pays attention though and is able to talk me into attending the game. More on that later.

Hue Day Tour

Thien Mu Pagoda

Hue is located in central Vietnam on the banks of Perfume River. Some cultural areas of interest are in close walking or taxi distance but I decided to make the most of my time by booking a day tour of the highlights. Day tours are nice because it saves you transportation hassle and it gets me out of my solitary lag. It is nice to spend the day with others every once in a while.

My Hue Vacations tour with tour guide Dany starts with a hotel pickup around 8:00 AM.

Thien Mu Pagoda

Our morning begins with a visit to Thien Mu Pagoda (see photo above). This iconic Buddhist temple is a highlight of the city.

After our visit to the pagoda there is a 30 minute boat trip along the perfume river. It is relaxing but not memorable. The boat operator tries to sell us souvenirs during our ride. I don’t buy anything but a can of soda.


Dong Ba Market

After our boat ride we have a little time to explore Dong Ba Market. I get to feed my love for food markets all over the world. A couple of my tour-mates aren’t happy with this stop but the market is right up my alley.


Imperial City

Next we visit the Imperial city and Citadel. Our guide points out lots of damage from the war. Some of the buildings that are still in place are impressive.


According to our itinerary our lunch is supposed to be at a local home but it is really a restaurant that built for handling lunch service to the various tour groups that come through daily. Lunch is pretty quick and not memorable enough for me to take note of.


Minh Mang King’s Tomb

After lunch we visit Minh Mang’s tomb. It is the final resting place of a famous Confucian ruler during the Nguyen Dynasty. The property has a long stretch of walkways that lead you from monument to monument before you finally reach the tomb which is only open on special occasions.

I enjoy walking around the quiet grounds. There is one influencer doing a photo shoot with her instagram poses but it doesn’t bother me today because the site is not crowded and they also did not block access from others while they were doing their thing – they were willing to put their photo shoot aside while others are around. I give them props for that. So much of my travels were “sullied” by instagram models rudely blocking access to famous sights.

Mausoleum of Emperor Khai Dinh

The last monument stop is the mausoleum of Emperor Khai Dinh. He was a very unpopular ruler due to his extravagant spending and closeness to the French occupiers. His extravagant taste can be seen in the tomb he built for himself.

Look at all the designs!

incense stick village

Final stop is at an incense stick village shop. We get a demonstration on how the incense is made. I thought about buying some to ship home but it was hard to pick out scents that wouldn’t cause me to get a migraine. The incense village is an interesting stop to end the tour on.

The tour guide takes us back to our hotels and I take it easy the rest of the evening.

Hanoi Food Tour

There is no way I am going to visit Vietnam without doing a food tour. We have a good selection of Vietnamese restaurants where I live but I would like to know which dishes I have been overlooking.

While in Hanoi Vietnam I took the walking street food tour given by Hanoi Street Food Tour.

I’m early so the tour office suggests I walk around while I wait and maybe get a beer on beer street which is nearby.

local beers
74 Hàng Bạc Street Food tour location

We meet our friendly tour guide Cozy. The area is crowded so we try to stick close to her as she takes us to all the stops.

Food Stops

1. Bún Chả at Bun Cha Ta

First stop is for Bún Chả (Rice Noodles with BBQ Pork). There is a vegetarian version of the soup if needed but I did not come all this way to not try the dish in its original form. It is delicious and well balanced. The pork meatball and soup is served separately from the rice vermicelli and herbs. You assemble it all together at the table. Cozy tells us about how this dish is different depending on if you order it in the north or south Vietnam (It tends to be more spicy in the north and sweeter in the south). I have another new favorite.

No.21, Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street

2. Egg Coffee, happy water and Vietnamese Baguette at Hanoi Egg Coffee

No.10, Hàng Muối Street

We go to the egg coffee shop to try a few things.

Egg coffee is made from egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and coffee. It is delicious but very rich. I would probably drink it as a once in a while treat.

cafe trứng – egg coffee

Bánh mì is pretty familiar to me because we have them back home. The one served here is pretty tasty.

bánh mì – Vietnamese sandwich, ingredients vary

We learn a Vietnamese cheer and then try happy water (rice wine) or rượu và.

rượu và or happy water

3. Dried Beef Salad “Sexy Salad” (Nộm Bò Khô) at Long Vi Dung

No.23, Hồ Hòan Kiếm Street

At a small outdoor restaurant where we sit on little chairs Cozy introduces us to what she calls “sexy salad” (Nộm Bò Khô). It is a dried beef salad made with shredded green papaya. The papaya is not sweet so it all makes sense. I am eating raw street vegetables (a big gastrointestinal no-no) but I don’t care. The salad is good. It does not seem to give me problems later on so I would not be opposed to coming back to order this salad again.

Nộm Bò Khô – dried beef salad

4. Steamed rice Pancake or Bánh cuon at Quán Bánh Cuốn Bảo Khánh

No.14B, Báo Khánh Street

First we watch Bánh cuon made by the women outside then we go inside to have the pancakes served with dipping sauce. Main ingredients of the pancake are rice batter, ground pork, wood ear mushroom, and shallots. They are a nice snack.

Bánh cuốn steamed pancake

5. Vietnamese Fried Cakes (Pillow cake, salty donut, sweet donut, fermented pork)- Đồ rán at Bánh Gối Lý Quốc Sư

No.52, Lý Quốc Sư Street

Some are savory, some are sweet but all are good. I would like to come back sometime and order a whole plate of this for myself.

6. Fried rice and Spring roll (Cơm rang & Nem rán)

No.65A Bát Đàn Street

Viet Spring Rolls to try their spring rolls. The wrapper is flakier that what we typical get in the USA. The rice is a nice accompaniment.

Cơm rang (rice) & Nem rán (spring rolls)

7. Sticky rice with coconut ice-cream – Kem xôi dừa

No.95 Hàng Bạc Street

We end it all with Kem xôi dừa or sticky rice with coconut ice-cream. The rice is colored green from the pandan leaves. It is a very nice treat. What a perfect way to end the evening.

Kem xôi dừa

I contemplate a night cap at beer street but my belly is too full so I start walking back to the hotel via the walking streets by the lake. The streets come alive at night. People are selling things, groups are dancing, people are singing; it is very entertaining.

Dam day two

On day two in Amsterdam I had a very nice breakfast on my boat where I got to chat with both my Airbnb hosts.

It was time to head off early for the free walking tour I booked Free Dam Tours. It was an informative introduction to the city and worth the 20 Euros (Free but it is customary to tip).

After the tour I was starving so I decided it was time to try a pancake for lunch. Of course I had to do a savory one because I am weird like that and rarely get sweet cravings.

Next up is Pozenboot.

I arrive at Poezenboot at 1:30 PM and it was good thing I didn’t arrive any later since they just about distributed all the visitation tickets for the day. Poezenboot is only open 13:00-15:00 PM and only on certain days. Visits are first come first served and limited in size. Luckily I got in.
What we have is a cat rescue and sanctuary on a boat house in the Amsterdam canals. It is kitschy and fun. It was a good visit but most of the kitties were sleeping.

After kitty town it is time for the long walk to Moco where I can see artists such as Banksy, Kusama and also below.

Keith Haring

Daniel Arsham

Finally I decided to wander through Vondelpark before going back. It is a pretty park.

It was a long walk back. Phone is dead luckily I made it to the circular road that directs me to my airbnb. It is still about a mile away but luckily it is straight shot- no more veering off in the wrong direction by following the canals.

Poor feet so beat up. I have the best sleep I have had in a long while.