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One of the more interesting things I’ve seen in Ho Chi Minh is the Independence Palace, the former home of South Vietnam’s president, right up until it was taken by North Vietnamese forces in 1975.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

You can basically just wander around the enormous building, where everything has been left the way it was in the ’70s.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

It’s a fascinating piece of history.  There’s an old movie theatre.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Including the projection room.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Plenty of offices.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

People lived here.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

It’s a bit eerie, and absolutely worth spending some time wandering around.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

 

The Gekkeikan Sake company in Kyoto has a sake museum, and it’s actually quite similar to the Heineken and Guinness tours I did in Europe (right down to the fact that it’s housed in an ex-brewery).

However, it’s a lot smaller than those two, and doesn’t have quite the same element of flashy corporate spectacle.  You start in an area that goes over how Sake is made, then you proceed into a small museum that outlines the history of the Gekkeikan brand (it’s been around since 1637, so there’s some history there), then finally you get to try some sake.

The Gekkeikan Sake company Sake Museum in Kyoto, Japan

They give you two different types of sake and a plum wine to try.  The sake wasn’t bad at all — this was only my second time trying sake, and while it’s not exactly my new favourite drink, it’s pleasantly sweet and fruity.

The plum wine, on the other hand, wasn’t great.  It basically tasted like boozy sugar water.  It was way too sweet.

The Gekkeikan Sake company Sake Museum in Kyoto, Japan

All that and I was out the door about twenty minutes after I came in.  So it’s probably not worth coming too far out of your way for — but at least it’s ridiculously cheap at 300 yen (just over three bucks Canadian), which includes the sake samples, plus a small bottle of sake to take home.

Remember the Guinness Storehouse that I wrote about in Ireland?  Well, they have something in Amsterdam called the Heineken Experience that’s pretty much the exact same thing, but with Heineken instead of Guinness.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Like the Guinness one, it’s in a converted brewery, and you basically just walk around and look at various exhibits that tell you the history of the beer.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

It has pretty much all of the faults of the Guinness tour (it’s all very surface level, with little to no insight on how they currently brew their beer), but it’s an engaging enough way to spend an hour or so.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The biggest issue is that it’s extremely crowded, and it doesn’t seem to be particularly well-designed; you’re often in tiny little rooms that wind up feeling a bit claustrophobic, especially at the beginning of the tour.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

But of course, you do eventually get to drink some beer.  There’s the standard Heineken (which is quite refreshing), plus one called H41 which had a really in-your-face clove flavour.  It was interesting, though I don’t know if I’d ever want to drink it again.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

If you walk around Dublin for long enough, you’re going to see someone holding a bag from the gift shop at the Guinness Storehouse.  It’s definitely one of those must-visit places for tourists.

Well, I’m a tourist.  I like must-visit places.  I also quite like Guinness, so yeah, it’s a no-brainer.

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

And the Guinness Storehouse is neat, but it’s hard not to compare it to my recent tour of the Glengoyne whisky distillery, in which we got to see every step in the actual production process.

The Guinness Storehouse is a slick multimedia experience that’s compelling to walk through — but it has very little to do with how the drink is actually made.

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

You get to see a bunch of historical equipment, and there’s a lot of talk about things like the perfect temperature to roast barley (232 degrees) and the number of nitrogen bubbles in every pint (30 million), but almost no insight on how Guinness is actually produced today.  What machines do they use?  What does the factory look like?  Who knows!  There are photos and videos of what the factory looked like decades ago, but pretty much nothing on how it looks now.

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

Still, it’s an enjoyable enough way to spend an hour or so, plus at the end you get to go up to the Gravity Bar (which is surrounded by windows offering amazing views of the city) and have a pint of the black stuff.  Anything that ends with you drinking a glass of Guinness can’t be all bad.

I’ve been almost entirely eschewing organized tours on this trip — partially because I like wandering around on my own, and partially because that stuff isn’t cheap.  If you’re only travelling for a week or two, it makes complete sense to pay for stuff like that, because why not?  You may as well cram as much as you can into the days that you have, and then worry about the money when you get home.

But when you’re travelling for several months, your budget is drastically different.  Every cent counts, and if you’re taking pricey tours everywhere you go, that’ll add up fast.

Still, exceptions have to be made, and in Scotland — which is known just as much for its scenic countryside as anything else — I figured I’d be remiss if I stayed entirely in the city.  Since renting a car was out of the question, a tour was really the only option.

Stirling Castle, Glasgow, Scotland

It was a fun day.  We visited Stirling Castle, which is possibly the most famous one in Scotland.

There were some great views from up there.

Stirling Castle, Glasgow, Scotland

We also went to Doune Castle, which has been featured in several movies and TV shows, most notably (to me at least) Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Doune Castle, Glasgow, Scotland

We saw Loch Lomand.

Loch Lomond, Glasgow, Scotland

None of my photos were quite able to capture it, but this place was scenic AF.

Loch Lomond, Glasgow, Scotland

And finally, we visited the Glengoyne whisky distillery and got to see the whole scotch-making process, which was actually quite fascinating.

Glengoyne Whisky Distillery, Glasgow, Scotland

It’s kind of insane that a drink with so many complex flavours is made with just three ingredients: barley, water, and yeast.

Glengoyne Whisky Distillery, Glasgow, Scotland

For the unaware, Cinecitta is the legendary Italian studio where directors like Federico Fellini and Sergio Leone made a bunch of their films, not to mention big Hollywood productions like Ben-Hur, Roman Holiday, and Gangs of New York.

For 20 Euros, you can check out some nicely-assembled exhibits, and you can take part in a guided tour around the studio.  It isn’t exactly cheap, but if you can’t forget about the budget every now and then for something like this, what’s the point?

Cinecitta

The highlight was probably getting to see the set of the short-lived HBO show Rome (that’s a great show, by the by.  It was, sadly, ahead of its time — it feels like a precursor to Game of Thrones in a lot of ways).

Rome

They have a few other sets that you can see, including, randomly, a bit of the submarine set from U-571.

U-571 set

It was actually a pretty interesting tour; even aside from what we saw, just being in the same space that saw the production of so many great movies is kind of electric.

There are certain drinking-related things you have to do when you go to a country: if you’re in Scotland, you have to drink some Scotch; if you’re in Ireland, you have to drink some Guinness; and when you’re in Porto, you have to have to drink some port wine.

Though if I had any foodie cred left after admitting that I like McDonald’s, I’ll lose it now: I’m just not all that into wine.  It’s fine, I guess, but I can’t say I fully understand the appeal.

Still, I decided to get into the port wine spirit; I headed over to the Taylor’s port cellar for a tour (Taylor’s is one of the oldest producers of port wine — they’re currently celebrating their 325th anniversary).

The tour costs 12 Euros, lasts a bit over an hour, and includes two sampling glasses of wine.

A bunch of barrels

It was an interesting enough tour, though the audio guide features more minutia on wine production and the lineage of the various founders of the company than any reasonable person needs.  It’s also self-congratulatory almost to the point of parody.  But… there’s wine!

Yes, at the end of the tour you wind up in a bar next to some fancy gardens (which includes a peacock just standing around relaxing), and they serve you two glasses of port wine — one white, and one red.

Just a peacock, chillin'

They were… winey?  Extremely winey? Actually, no — these were pretty different from any other wines that I’ve tried.  They were intensely sweet.  The white was comparatively subdued, but the red was pretty much a sugar bomb.  It was basically like drinking boozy grape juice.  Being less of a fan of wine and more of a fan of things that are sweet, I actually quite enjoyed it.

White and red

However, I should admit that I have an absurdly low tolerance for alcohol. For the sake of my dignity, I was going to say that the two glasses of wine left me a bit tipsy, but let’s not mince words; I was full-out drunk. The winding, hilly cobblestone streets that surround the cellar suddenly became treacherous. I didn’t fall over, though there was a mishap involving a sloped sewer grate that could have very easily ended in injury, either physically or to my pride (or, most likely, a bit of both).