A Travellerspoint blog

Shopping

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Second full day in Hanoi and we decide to devote some time to shopping. L and I took off into the Old Quarter to see what goodies might need to be tucked into our suitcases when we return. There's no end to the souvenir shops, the silk shops, the tailors and the touts. We explored a few places off the main drags (Hang Gai Street), and were rewarded with some bargains- the same items at a lower price than on the main street. Around one corner was a fruit stand, with a young woman making smoothies out of tall glasses of gorgeous cut fruit . She'd blend it with a little ice, some sweetened condensed milk and, if desired, add some tapioca pearls. I had an avocado smoothie and Laura had strawberry. fruit_smoothies.jpgUnbelievable flavor! We're definitely coming back to this stand. Once you start shopping and start showing interest in the wares of just about any vendor then all sorts of characters start to accost you to buy from them. We hadn't gone 10 feet from the smoothie stand when a woman carrying a bag of tshirts decided that we needed to purchase one. She would not go away, insisting that it was her first day and that we should have a heart and buy a tshirt from her. She followed us for blocks. This gets old - fast. Part way down another street a basket woman (the kind that you should watch when you want to cross one of these busy Hanoi streets "follow the basket women, they know what to do") badgered L to try balancing the bar of baskets, and while she's at it, wear her conical hat and wouldn't it make a great picture! No price! Suddenly a bar was on her shoulder, the hat was on her head and the woman was trying desparately to take L's camera from off her neck so that a picture could be taken. L was almost choked and the baskets dangled precariously and were in great danger of toppling off her shoulder and into the street. What a mess! And when another one approached us to offer the same thing L decided that the basket women were to be avoided from then on. We happened upon a food market Hanoi_market.jpgand headed down the narrow walk, taking pictures and marveling at the meats and seafood and the produce on display.Hanoi_market_veggies.jpg No Pike's Place Market here, the fish are still swimming in shallow buckets and the meats are being chopped and ground on makeshift cutting tables. You carefully make your way down the aisles, avoiding fish cleaning run off, scooters dashing to their vendors loaded with product and low hanging awnings ready to envelope your head if you fail to duck at the appropriate times. The smells, the women chattering, the cats lounging Hanoi_market_cat.jpgand the fish splashing. It was all very exciting. Hanoi_market_fruit.jpg

Posted by Chi-Xep 17:18 Archived in Vietnam Tagged shopping Comments (0)

Pho: it's what's for dinner (and lunch and breakfast)

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I believe that about 80% of the reason I love to travel is in order to eat the local food. Food is such an immediate and direct way to have a truly honest experience in a culture. Take breakfast, for example. Now, I love eggs and bacon and toast with jam and butter but while travelling I'll go with what the locals eat. So ordering a big bowl of pho ga (chicken noodle soup) this morning was as good as it gets! Yum! pho_ga_for_breakfast.jpgAnd, yes, it was different then what you get in the states, not strikingly so, the differences were subtle: scent and flavor both were more earthy and floral, even. This soup fortified us for the day of walking and exploring the area around Hoan Kien lake, pretty much the cultural center of the city. This peaceful lake has a mysterious and poetic history, something to do with a king and his sword and a very large turtle. By lunch time we were, of course, hungry again and headed off to Gerry's Hanoi Cinematique to meet up with Hung, an old friend of Steph's. We sat down in the bar for a couple of Tiger beers but decided to get a quick lunch with the ladies who set up a table containing a vast array of freshly made foods. A variety of greens and meat dishes, a fried fish, wok fried eggs with a yolk that was still runny and as brilliant and orange as a tropical sunset, some kind of sausage wrapped in a leaf and then fried and rice, lots and lots of rice. It was all delicious. When Hung finally joined us it became apparent that he was hungry and we headed off in search of good bun cha, a soup like concoction made with grilled pork and noodles. The same but different from pho. The noodles are served separate and cold. You take a portion of noodles with your chopsticks and dip them in the broth of the soup and eat them. This is served with fresh lettuce and mint leaves. It was amazing!bun_cha.jpg We decided we needed to find our way to a neighboorhood coffee shop to finish off our lunch with a traditional Vietnamese coffee: ca phe sua (coffee with sweetened condensed milk) we had it iced. Yes, all in all a pretty wonderful day. Can't wait for dinner!

~L.

Posted by Chi-Xep 04:52 Archived in Vietnam Tagged food Comments (0)

Meanwhile, back at the Opera House

all seasons in one day

Our first day in Hanoi was chilly in temperature, but balanced by the warmth of old friends. After L & I got settled into our hotel (the charming Church Hotel, just down the street from the late 19th century St. Joseph's Cathedral), I phoned my old pal, Gerry, who dropped by to welcome us to Viet Nam. Gerry and I were delighted to reconnect, and I'm so glad that he and Laura have now met. As a special introduction to Hanoi, Gerry took us to high tea at the Metropole Hotel. The hotel is a grande dame of the French colonial period. metropole.jpgIt was built in 1901, and has been beautifully maintained. We walked past the lobby, which was decorated with an enormous bouquet of Casablanca lilies. In the main dining room, there's an atrium with additional seating, and we took a table there, beneath a lovely mimosa-like tree. But here's the kicker: in addition to high tea, the Metropole has a chocolate buffet every afternoon. Yes, I said a chocolate buffet- prepared by the Hotel's master chocolatier. If my mother could have a tapas bar, this would be it. The magnificent little bites included: bonbons with ginger, orange praline and pistachio; choc. creme brulee, choc. mousse, decadence, brownies, panna cotta, financiers with ganache, dark fondue with fresh tropical fruits and house-made marshmallows, hot chocolate made with one's choice of premium chocolate (my choice was a dark Valrhona), a selection of ice creams and sauces,Sacher torte...need I go on? So that was dinner. Gerry arranged some tickets for the three of us to attend a spring concert of music and ballet at the Hanoi Opera House- the same theater building where we finished our tour of A Midsummer Night's Dream, back in December 2000. We had a few hours before curtain, so we strolled (some of us strolled, one of us limped) to Gerry's place of business, the Hanoi Cinemateque. I've been there before- there's a courtyard bar just outside the cinema- it was the first place I ever had Absinthe. The courtyard is truly an oasis from the hustle and din of Hai Ba Trung Street, and Laura and I relaxed with a glass of whisky.

The cinema is a little jewel itself- a fully digital theatre where you can see the best in contemporary independent and major studio films from all over the world. While Gerry wrapped up some business, we watched Irina Palm (starring Marianne Faithfull). In the next room, a woman was dubbing a film in Vietnamese- just her voice, no other actors. We grabbed a taxi to the Opera House (built by the French in 1911), Hanoi_opera_detail.jpgwhere we had box seats in the first balcony. The first part of the program was orchestral and choral. At the intermission, stagehands rolled out a white marley (dance) floor, and we saw a fascinating take on Stravinsky's Firebird. The three leading male dancers were very good. Two of them are friends of Gerry's, so we met them backstage. More to come- what a busy and interesting day!Hanoi_opera_house.jpg

Posted by Chi-Xep 03:09 Archived in Vietnam Tagged events Comments (0)

Hanoi

a first timers first impressions

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Steph said it would be a crazy taxi ride into the city. Crazy can mean so many things so I preferred to not watch how the driver was navigating the busy roadway but on the terrain and peoples within my view. Amid a constant stream of honks and beeps we wove our way down the road. Rice paddies spread out in all directions with the occasional home or building scattered about until we got closer to the city. Motor bikes, derelict trucks and busses seemingly built out of the detritus of old accidents, taxis and bicycles mixed with BMWs and SUVs. A cacophony of sights and scents. Little pigs packed 3 or 4 to a cage and strapped onto the back of motor bikes. "Doomed" as Stephanie put it. Can't say I don't love my bacon! Busses, cars and scooters all moving together in some kind of hidden rhythm, all linked together with an energy that reaches out and through just about everything. I wonder, if anyone really stopped to think about it would the whole come slamming to a gigantic stop as everyone crashed into each other at the same time! It seems possible but still they move and weave and dart and honk. Stop lights, because they do have them, are only a suggestion. An ancient remodeled minitruck-like vehicle with an equally ancient driver pays no attention to the red light that has changed and confidently moves into an intersection without slowing down. Prepared for a horrendous crunch I watch amazed as the oncoming traffic parts around him like a boulder in a stream as he makes his was safely through the flow and continues on his way. I am left to wonder at this seemingly normal occurence. I laugh and shake my head. I'm sure no one else even blinked.

Posted by Chi-Xep 15:57 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Taiwan-Hanoi

a three hour layover

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We arrived in Taiwan at around 6:00AM. The upgrade to Elite class on EVA Air was well worth it in terms of general comfort. I can't advise traveling with a sprained ankle, but I'm managing okay with the cool telescoping walking stick from REI. Laura is a champion at toting bags, and I have become adept at limping briskly. We landed in a thick, humid fog. No, really, those were the atmospheric conditions, not a reference to Laura and me! It feels great to be back in this part of the world. The shops with brightly colored packages of food products I'm unable to identify but willing to consume; the ladies in the restroom putting on their jewelry and their completely-inappropriate-for-traveling shoes, the families taking their kids back to the home countries for the first time. We had a three hour layover before our flight to Hanoi. We met a group of nurses from Salt Lake City- they'll be doing medical mission work throughout VN. Best of luck to them! Laura bought a box of red bean cakes at the duty free shop. Yum! Our flight to Hanoi is three hours- the captain warned of turbulence, but there was none to worry about. Landed at Noibai where we were the first to get through immigration (amazing- all the other times I've visited each agent has a queue of 20 people), and it didn't take long for our bags to show up. Next stop: the city!

Posted by Chi-Xep 16:56 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

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