Old Quarter – Hanoi
A short flight with Vietnam Airlines takes us from Hue to Hanoi – the capital of Vietnam.
Compared to hot and steamy Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi in mid-February is cold, overcast and drizzly – one morning it gets down to 11 degrees C and we’re still cold, even wearing four layers of clothing. Other Australians in the Hanoi cold are identifiable by their outfits of shorts, T-shirts and thongs.
Our hotel is in the Old Quarter and the surrounding area is more crowded and has more dangerous traffic than Ho Chi Minh City – which is saying something. It is impossible to walk directly along any footpath or roadside due to myriad motorcycles and motor scooters.
Wall-to-wall tiny shops line the footpaths, selling clothes, footwear, camping gear, electronics – you name it. There is no noticeable copyright law in Vietnam so many of them stock well-known brand name products, cheap. A local tells us the goods are often sourced from the same sweatshops that the big brand names use.
And there is even a relic of French colonialism as on the street corners old ladies sell baguettes by the dozen.
In the shopping areas, it is surprising to see that Australia’s ANZ Bank supplies most of the ATMs. Continue reading
Early February 2012, we arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, a place we visited briefly in 2008.
Only 36 years have passed since the end of the Vietnam War, and, while we are not there as war tourists, we can’t ignore the evidence of that recent past.
For example, in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City; in the nearby Cu Chi tunnels; in shops selling reproduction propaganda posters; in reafforestation projects still revegetating land recovering from Agent Orange defoliation.
Against that sombre background, we set out on a 10 day tour from hot and steamy Ho Chi Minh City (AKA Saigon), heading north to Hanoi.
8/2/12 – 9/2/12. Saigon is a mad house of traffic as usual.
At the Cu Chi Tunnels, some 40 km from Saigon, our Intrepid Travel guide, Son Le, (“Call me Sunny.”) tells us that a few of the passageways were widened – so that fat tourists can see where the Viet Cong lived and fought during the war.
Cu Chi tunnel entrance
I venture underground. The tunnel is narrow and as black as night. I have to stoop doubled over to proceed. Not normally claustrophobic, after about 10 metres I’m glad to get out. Continue reading
On a visit to Vietnam in February 2012, a superficial look at wine lists shows wines from Australia, Argentina, South Africa, Chile, France, Italy and the US fairly well represented. Of the Australian labels, De Bortoli and Jacobs Creek are ubiquitous.
Prices I thought were uppish, which for a relatively poor country means that sales would mainly be to ex-pats and tourists.
I wonder about cellaring and the consequent condition of wine in a country of extreme temperature and tropical monsoons.
One young Argentinean cabernet we try is oxidised. A cheap Vietnamese white – Dalat – made from the cardinal grape is average to quaffable. I didn’t try the Dalat red, made from the same grape, with strawberries added.
Then it’s another relatively short bus ride to Marseille, the second largest city in France.
Our apartment, only a stroll from the Vieux Port, is on the sixth floor. The decor is modern with smart furnishings and looks out over the city roofline. Each morning we watch as a large seagull regurgitates fish for her obese chick nesting just outside the window.
Marseille chick waiting for fishy petit dejeuner
(The apartment is in fact the best accommodation we had on the trip. See details here.)
Nearby is the main commercial thoroughfare, Rue Canebiere, popularly known by English speakers as ‘Can o’ Beer’. The name is derived from long-disappeared hemp farms that provided cordage for sailing ships in the olden days. Continue reading
Waiting for the bus to Aix en Provence on a gloomy platform. In the middle of the day, it is a vast dark space like a set in search of a horror movie. The waiting room looks slummy, is graffitied and smells like a pissoir. Spooky.
Waiting for a bus
First stop in Aix is for a refreshing drink at a sidewalk bar. Among the thronging crowds in the Cours Mirabeau, we sip a milky, pungent pastis.
Cocktails with Cézanne
That evening, as we take a stroll past the Musee Granet, a departing guest hands us his invitation to cocktails for the opening of the Cézanne exhibition two days later (Collection Planque).
As if we own the place, we walk in among the dignitaries and culturati, me in my cocktail outfit of Dunlop Volleys and frayed Nepalese cut off shorts. Luckily, we have missed the speeches and immediately join the guests tucking in to huge plates of food and generous glasses of red.
Lucy asks what we should say if one of the many security people ask who we are. “I’ll tell them, ‘I’m the cultural attaché from the Orstrylian Ministry of the Yartz!’” I reply. Continue reading
Sous le pont d’Avignon
The train from Dijon to Avignon takes us through vineyard country. Signs for M.Chapoutieradorn the hillsides. As you enjoy the scenic vignettes, you pass an ominous brooding nuclear reactor, no doubt waiting for the Rhone to flood and irradiate the already powerful reds.
A first impression of Avignon is that it is noticeably more touristy than Dijon and more English language friendly. For example, unlike Dijon, many of the restaurant menus here feature English translations.
Half a bridge too far
A must-see here is the Pont d’Avignon, originating from the 12thcentury and the basis of the famous song. It’s actually less than half a bridge as only four of the original 22 arches remain, so it stops disappointingly half way across the river. They have had many centuries to fix this but so far no action.
And I have it on good authority that the song we learned in execrable French at school is wrong – they didn’t dance “sur la pont”, they actually danced under it, that is, “sous le pont”, in a long gone café. Should I be called upon to sing this song in future it is the correct “sous” version I shall offer.
We have a good look round at the Palais des Papes in the heart of the city. A bunch of popes who battled with Rome for control of the Catholic empire lived here and ruled in the 14th century. Continue reading
On another Dijon evening we dine at Restaurant Le Verdi, Place Emile Zola. We share a Salade Chevre Chaud – squares of grilled chevre topped with pine nuts, set on crusty bread over a dressed green salad. Also, a perfectly al dente tortellini filled with ricotta and fresh asparagus sitting on a bed of creamy sauce dotted with petit pois. All washed down with a 500 ml pichet of Pays du Gard Rouge.
- Salade Chevre Chaud
Food Observations Nowadays in France you can’t help but notice a significant amount of “biologique” (organic) food and wine in the shops. Organic wine apparently accounts for 10% of the French market, with consumption growing rapidly.
Early June, it’s springtime in France and we’re on the fast train to Dijon, capital of Burgundy. After Dijon, we’ll head towards Avignon, Aix en Provence and Marseille.
Asparagus - Les Halles
No rental cars or rural retreats this trip. It’s all train and bus from Paris to Marseille, staying at pre-booked, self-catering apartments in the heart of each town.
A dark and stormy moussaka
One evening, many decades ago, the good Greek ship Ellinis was under full sail (poetic ain’t I?), somewhere in the North Atlantic. Most of the souls aboard were young Australians, en route to England to gain a bit of kulcher.
The sea was angry that night my friends – as George Costanza might have said. Storms were creating massive waves, and as the ship had no stabilisers we were rocking and rolling as we sat down to late dinner in the dining saloon. Continue reading
by Annie Field
Last Wednesday we were hosted by the Illuminati wine family. We stayed an extra couple of nights in the wintery Le Marche region, just to attend the work organised appointment. We met up with Stefano Illuminati around midday for a tour of their facilities, a tasting and what was described as a lunch that was to be “nothing special” in the organising pre-emails.
The winery and vines are actually in the Abruzzo region which borders Le Marche to the south. Stefano shepherded us into his Porsche for a tour of their expansive vineyards, pointing out the different vineyards (Montepulciano being the star, the white Pecorino an up and comer), trellising techniques (they use both espalier and canopy styles) and described with ardour how the business has grown since his great grandfather established it over one hundred years earlier. Continue reading