All aboard, now where’s that map?

I’ll be updating this map from time to time when we add tours, day trips or activities we wish to do during our stay in Vietnam.

First stop is Ho Chi Minh City
Then onto Hanoi
Third Hoi An and
back to HCMC before we leave for home.

vietnam-map2

Wow, its been six years already!

pho1

They say time fly’s and I really know what this means now. It was February 2012 when Michele and I took off for our first real “no kids” holiday.  It was the best break I’ve ever had and it was made more special to know it was right on one of Michele’s big birthdays (see how polite I am not to mention which one).  Paris in February was freezing but that did not diminish our enthusiasm for what we found to be one of the truly great cities on the planet.  Many people we have met prior and since have their “yeah but” about it, we had the best time ever.

This brings me to why I’m dusting off this old wordpress site and cranking up my creaky amateur blogging skills…

…Vietnam baby!!!

In a little over 50 days (but who’s counting) we will be heading off into the wide blue yonder on our second childless adventure this century. To say we are both looking forward to this is a massive understatement and the research, planning, booking and dreaming has well and truly begun in earnest.

So why Vietnam you might ask? It all started back in the middle of 2017 when a small take away shop opened in the building where I work in North Sydney.  It’s specialty dish was Pho soup, and any of you that have tried this dish will know exactly what I mean when I say it is the true taste and essence of Vietnam.  With its strong beef stock base and infused delicate Asian herbs and spices, all covering a generous portion of rice noodles leaves me salivating every time I walk past the shop front any lunchtime. The real trigger came one night while watching one of those travel shows and they advertised cheap return flights to Ho Chi Minh City, BOOK NOW! they said, and so we did.

I must admit, neither Michele or I had much idea on what we wanted to see or do or even what parts of this small but diverse sliver of land bordering Cambodia in the south, Laos to the east and China to the north. All I knew at that point was I needed to taste an authentic Pho soup no matter what.

So the journey begins. I hope you can enjoy it with us 🙂

Day 14 – Homeward Bound

This will be the last post from Paris.  We are packed and waiting for a taxi to take us to the airport and from there home to Sydney.  Both Michele and I have had the best most memorable holiday we have ever had.  We have laughed, walked, ate, drank and walked some more.  I don’t think there is a rue or boulevard we have not been down, nor a shop or stall we have not perused.  We have managed with a minimum of French language skill and the people we have encountered have been friendly and helpful.

We have both decided that we shall return to France and explore some more of this wonderful culture and I have pledged to keep up the blogging as my love of photography has been rekindled and I have seen so many other good sites from good people that like doing the same or even different things and telling the world about it.

It is difficult to sum up a place in just a few words, others have written whole books on Paris, but here are some simple words that I think best express what Paris is from an outsiders perspective:

scale, grandeur, history, food, flavours, smell, grey and cold, warm and inviting, passionate, aloof, accommodating, cigarettes,   fashion, classy, taste …simply French.

So au revoir Paris, which literally translates to “until we re see you”  and I know we will definitely be doing that!

Day 13 -Champs Elysees

Another early start as I had googled and found a music shop that stocked accordians. I
was looking for a concertina actually but surely they would stock the smaller cousin to
the larger piano accordian. I had the address and it was close enough from our hotel to
walk. It may have been further than I planned and they did not have what I wanted so
Michele was not impressed. I sweetened her up with a starbucks coffee and we were back
on speaking terms. We caught a taxi across town to avenue Champs Elysees and we took
our time sauntering along just window shopping. Past Cartier, Louis Vitton and other
brand names I had heard of but had no idea what they sold. I now know that everything
they make has a covering of gold, how else could they justify the prices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We found the Laduree shop, which supplies the world with mouth watering hand made
macaroons to die for. We were tempted to pay the 15e for three macaroons but decided to
just buy one, eat it and savour the memory. We plan to stock up on macaroons from our
local Layfaette store up the road where we can get 24 for the same price (and they are just
as nice imho.

We passed on the overpriced cafe’s and restaurants and went back to our hotel where
Michele had spotted a small “tranditional” French restaurant that looked to have a very
good menu.

She was right.

We both enjoyed a pate for entree and I followed with Coq a vin (classic) and Michele with
a fillet steak au bernaise sauce and potatos. We say this all the time, but this meal was
perhaps the best we had had in Paris in the past two weeks.

We are back for a quick nap (jet lag) to get ready for our last night in Paris.

Day 12 – Opera District (not far from the Louvre)

We left Montmartre and settled into the Opera district for our final two days before we leave Paris and head back home. We are slowly running out of steam but are committed to get the most out of these last few days. We dropped the bags at the hotel (the room was ready this time) and headed straight out to visit the musee de l’Orangerie where some of Monets major works are on display. The musee is located in the grounds of the Jardin des Tuileries Gardens facing the place de la Concorde. The main Monet exhibition comprises two large circular rooms with floor to ceiling paintings of his famous “water lillies” 360 degrees, amazing. He truely is the painter of light. We spent quite a while just sitting and looking, the way to really see this art.

We only had a short walk across the gardens to reach the Louvre to see more of what we missed earlier last week. I could spend days more to really do these museums justice, alas not this trip.

We grabbed a quick baguette and drink for lunch to save room for a nice dinner this evening if we do not fall asleep again when we get back to the hotel. Tomorrow we intend to do a final lap of the champs Elysees and sit for our final cafe on what is perhaps the most touristy part of Paris, but then again thats what we are.

Day 11 – Montmartre Lazy Day

After a late night to the Moulin Rouge and all the walking we have done over the past few days, we decided to have a sleep in this morning.

Moulin Rouge cabaret was more than I expected. Just long enough at two hours to keep my interest and with enough variety that kept the show rolling. I think if you go to these shows expecting to see high class, slick professional entertainment you will be dissappointed. What it is, is what it is.

It is cheesy ham played up to meet a willing audiences expectations. I was however surprised at the varied age groups present. I expected an older group perhaps looking to reminisce but half the audience were under thirty something which is interesting to know what they got out of this type of show.

It had a juggling act, a man and woman acrobat team, a mime act and a woman who swam with a bunch of anaconda type snakes in a glass pool on stage…now you don’t get that on todays TV do you! Michele’s favourite was the circus themed routine with six small ponies trotting their stuff amoungst the dancers. I watched with interest to see if any of them left a gift on stage, they didn’t 🙂

As I said before, it is what it is.

Next morning we revisited a few of the streets we remembered from our previous trekking and had another delightful late lunch. I took the opportunity to try the French traditional dish of escargot (snails). I won’t have them again but I have now tried them. They have little taste of their own, perhaps a slight earthy flavour which is easily swamped with the garlic and herb sauce. I followed this with what was perhaps the best fillet steak and potatoe gratin I’ve every had. I am constantly amazed at the quality of cooking even these small restaurants (this one would have seated less than twenty patrons) can produce such quality fare.

On the way back to the hotel I tried another French traditional drink, “hot vin” which is served from street stalls and is very hot, almost boiling. I will be investigating what this concoction had in it as it was delicious. Warming and aromatic with a definate cinnamon flavour. Add this to my most favourite things list, it seems to be growing daily.

We picked up a bread (flute) and a couple of pasteries from the local baker to make it through the night. An early night and we are on the move tomorrow for the last time.

Day 10 – Cimetiere de Montmartre and Pigalle

We had a quick French breakfast of bread, pasteries and condiments with cafe and tea this morning. Then it was off to find this beautiful old cemetery we had heard much about located on the west side of the Montmartre area. It was a very serene and peaceful place in the midst of all this busy madness. I was surprised that it was not morbid or scary as one would think, its was quite surreal. Michele found a very captivating crypt of a famous Russian dancer, Vaslav Nijinski, which caught her eye because someone had left a pair of point shoes on the grave. Quite moving. We also located the grave of Edgar Degas the famous French artist.

We walked back through the Montmartrmade streets just taking in the atmostphere and stopped in for another Startbucks coffee (its becoming a bit of a joke for Michele now) but it also gives me a chance to use free wifi.

We took our time wandering back to the hotel and Michele picked up some keepsakes for friends and relatives, and I grabs some photo opportunities with my favourite model, Michele.

Its off to Moulin Rouge tonight and then a late late dinner somewhere yet to be decided.

Day 9 – Montmartre and Basilique du Sacre Coeur

Today we move home. After five days staying around the Eiffel and Trocadero districts on the left bank we moved to Montmartre in the Northern areas on the outskirts of Paris. The hotel is close to the Sacre Coeur Basilia and Michele’s fav, the Moulin Rouge. She has pre-booked a night at the cabaret and I’m looking forward to that as a whole new experience! The hotel did’nt have our room ready when we arrived so we parked the luggage and took off to find out where we were. We headed through the small streets towards the church on the hill. As it was Sunday we were joined by hundreds of others heading the same way. I had left my hat in my luggage back at the hotel so had to buy yet another piece of clothing to lock out the bitter wind. I think I am keeping the French small stall owners fully employed in these austere economic times.

There are 234 steps to the top and the church sits looking over the whole of Paris. It was quite misty this morning so visibility was limited to a few kilometers but it was still an impressive vista. The church is made of a white stone that shines brightly in the strong winter sunlight and can be seen from most areas of Montmartre.

Whilst walking up the steep hill we noticed a coupld of street mimes.  Well they were more like living statues and were happy to pose with tourists for a few coins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving to the back of the church you come to a small village square where artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso and singer Edith Piaf all lived at different times. The square, known as Place du Tertre, was full of modern day artists plying their trade by sketching and painting tourists for around 60e a pop. We didn’t hang around and worked our way down the other side where we came across a strange statue embedded halfway into a wall. I later found out that this related to a French fairytale of a man who could walk through walls and became stuck one night and so is frozen where he stands.

We continued our walk through the backstreets of des Abbesses and onto rue Lepic which took us down to the main road of de Clichy on which sits the Moulin Rouge theatre. We made our way back to the hotel but not before stopping for another scrumptous lunch of French onion soup (now becoming our all time favourite lunchtime fare) with crispy bread.

Our room was ready when we arrived back and we settled in for an early night after walking some kilometres today. Tomorrow we head off on more discovery and more kilometres of French street-scapes.

Day 8 – musee d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou

Paris

Something I had not realised before now was that the Louvre does not house any
artworks from the impressionists on. This means most of the relatively new artists (from
around 1800’s) up to the middle of of the 20th century are now housed across the Seine
at the musee d’Orsay. This is a old train station converted into a wonderful museum on
five levels. It has sculpture, paintings and even furniture of note. I was not allowed to
take any photographs inside the musee which seemed at odds with the other museums
but I respected their request (after I shot one of two in ignorance).

I was a little dissapointed that there were only a few Monet pieces on display here (my favoutite artist along for Van Gogh), I
would find out later that Monet has his own musee just across the river near the Plaza
de la Concorde just up from the Louvre. I intend to visit there before I leave Paris.

We spent the morning enjoying the masterpieces and then headed across town to Centre
Pompidou, another musee, which I understood to be  a completely different experience. The
building looks unfinished from the outside with steel work exposed and glass “tunnels”
carrying patrons up and down the levels. It first reminded me of a giant ant farm, what a
hoot.

Inside is brightly lit with neons and signage similar one would see in Times Square NY. It
has child care areas and cafe’s, libraries and gift shops on the ground floor
and as I said before, the glassed in escalators on the outside of the front fascade and gives
you a great view of surrounding Paris as you move between floors.

The artworks are from the middle of the 20th century up to the present day and encompasses all media and mediums.

A piece made totally from champagne metal tops at the very front of the musee is amazing and from a distance looks like a tapestry of woven cloth. Some of the works are truly thought provoking, whilst others just leave me wondering …why, but that’s what this art is all about…thinking.

We were tiring after a busy few days and the cold was taking its toll (on me more than
Michele) and we caught a taxi back to the hotel for a hot bath and an early dinner I had Beef Bourginon and another Ricard to warm me up :))
Tomorrow we leave our current hotel and head off to the Montmartre district to saviour
another aspect of Parisen life.

PS.  It would not be Paris without a demonstration or peoples march in the streets.  Around 5pm we heard a clatter outside the hotel window and quickly rushed to see what the commotion was all about.  We could not work out exactly what the protest was about other than animal welfare or stop the cruelty, based on the signs they were carrying.  It seemed they were making their way to the government square or up to the Trocadaro district.  Viva la France.

Day 7 cont… Passages to the old Paris

Paris – North of musee du Louvre

After our exploration of the Louvre we headed north in search of what we had heard were covered passageways containing shops and boutiques of all descriptions. They were not easy to find and at one point after traversing many roads and streets, Michele finally spotted the main entrance to what we had been looking for, the “passage des Panoramas”

The building facades on these small inconnecting streets are no more than a few metres apart and have some kind of roofing over head. This was sometimes a substantial roof structure like a skylight, other times it was a simple temporary tarp. They could be called arcades but they seem adhoc or done for convenience rather than by design.

The shops and stores inside these small allyways are as varied and uniquely Parisien as they come. We found a shop selling doll parts right next to a coin seller next to a handmade chocolate maker and everything in between. Galleries and antiques everywhere and small bistroes and cafes bursting with lunchtime patrons cosy and full.

A little disorientated after meandering from arcade to alleyway, we jumped into one of the small cafes for lunch and collect our thoughts and strategies to get back to base. It was here I discovered the warming powers of a French apperitif, Ricard. Tasting of Aniseed (or as the waiter informed me Aineles) and with a kick like a mule, it is just the thing to bring your core temperature up in these artic conditions. I gave the thumbs up to the waiter after downing all 6cl and he smiled. I would have thanked him with words but I found it hard to breath never mind speak after the lique hit my tonsils. Boy it was nice though.

We had toasted sandwiches with coffees and I had a glass of Bordeaux red to complete a great lunch.

Where did they get the piano from? Only in Paris...