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ASIA Cruise – part 1 Hong Kong and Vietnam

Excited to be back in Hong Kong after a couple of years and arrived early on New Year’s Day – just in time for a demonstration – which had a large turnout but was mostly peaceful until the end when the two lions – Stephen and Stitt – outside the HSBC Asia HQ were plastered with red paint:( They have now been covered up with hoarding to be be restored – only one of two times they have been covered or moved – it happened when the Japanese invaded HK during the WW2!)

Demonstrators Hong Kong New Year’s Day 2020

HSBC lion plastered with red paint 😦

Still I do understand why these demonstrations are happening and I’m pretty sure they won’t stop so I do hope that the Chinese government come forward with some solutions or this could turn ugly. Certainly tourism has been impacted severely – hotel prices down, malls empty and generally less people about. Even the NYE celebrations were tempered with no fireworks at the end of the decade.

In spite of all that’s going on the famous HK lights at night are hard to beat and still gave me a thrill.

Hong Kong skyline at night

We also visited the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden in Kowloon for the first time. An oasis of peace in this very busy city tucked in among high rise apartments. It was a lovely spot to meander for a couple of hours. And check out that blue sky!

Chi Lin Nunnery Hong Kong

Nan Lian Gardens Hong Kong

I met up with my cruise buddies Luisa and Chris in Hong Kong as our next stop is two weeks on Seabourn Ovation.

Chris, Luisa and I enjoying the sights of Hong Kong, Peking duck and cocktails at Sevva

First stop on the cruise was Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam – a palace I haven’t been to in twenty years. I understand some parts are now very crowded with tourists but our visit took us to some quiet areas and a local village that is working to create and eco tourism culture. Plastic water bottles are no longer allowed on the Bay – that is a huge step in the right direction. This place is as lovely as I remember it:)

Beautiful Halong Bay

Halong Bay even lovelier in black and white

I skipped the stop at Danang (as I will be back there next month) and had the ship just about to myself which was rather nice.

And then on to Saigon – first visit for about four years and a city I thought I was very familiar with but an evening walk made it clear that the amount of construction that had taken place in the intervening years meant that much had changed and got a lot swankier than I remember!

But the roof top bar at the historic Rex Hotel where the foreign correspondents used to gather to watch the war (they often call it the American War over here) is still going strong and a very pleasant way to enjoy a few cocktails with great views of the city centre.

Night time views from the Rex Hotel rooftop bar in Saigon

During the day we took a two hour drive to the Mekong and then cruised down it for a few hours stopping off along the way. Nice way to spend a hot day but sad to see how much trash is chucked into the Mekong – they urgently need to take the Halong Bay approach to cleaning it up if they want to keep the tourism dollars coming in.

Rolling along the Mekong – I think the second place is a “fixer upper”!

Back in Saigon we had a foodie day visiting the medicine museum first to find out about traditional Vietnamese medicine and then to some of the local street market stalls. Colourful as ever.

The Medicine Museum Saigon

Street food Saigon style

Reflections on my 2018 year of travels

So as we lurched into 2019 in a world which seems very confused and bifurcated, I thought I ought to take time to remember where I visited in 2018 before getting too embroiled in 2019 travel planning.

The year started off in my old home of Melbourne, Australia and ended in Las Vegas, USA. In between Australia and the US, I visited 24 Countries (Vietnam, Thailand, Puerto Rico, Grenada*, St Maarten*, Barbados, Martinique*, St Thomas*, Portugal, Czech Republic, Poland*, Greece, Spain, the UK, Germany, Austria, Slovakia*, the Netherlands, Iceland*, Greenland*, Canada, Bermuda* – *=new country, so I am now up to 99).

I was lucky to spend time with great friends many of whom hosted me in their homes, to take a cruise and make new friends, to stay in rented apartments and also hotels.

I have learned I can live out of 2 suitcases and without a base and actually I really like it. The freedom of not needing to acquire new things – because you have no base that needs to be filled with stuff and also because every item of clothing you buy means you need to throw an old item away – is quite liberating. I still enjoy shopping but it is primarily window shopping these days and clothing purchases are assessed by weight in my suitcase above all things – thank goodness for lightweight trainers.

What I have really loved is spending more time than just “ships passing in the night” with my friends in various parts of the world and the chance to spend longer periods of time in towns and cities so I can just “be” without having to cram everything I want to see in 3 or 4 days. I love time on my own too and can mooch around museums or parks or walk with no aim in mind other than finding a nice cafe for a drink or a snack while I watch the world go by or immerse myself in a book or even better listen to an audible book.

So I’m in no rush to change this strange lifestyle just yet and plan to do the same in 2019 while adding to the new country list.

Thanks to those of you who have followed my travels. It is great to see likes and comments. Below are some visual memories

(For travel geeks – more info below on exactly where I’ve stayed in case anyone wants any tips:)

Australia – Melbourne and Victoria; Vietnam– Danang; Thailand – Bangkok and Chiangmai Rai; USA – Miami, Washington DC, Pittsburgh; Buffalo; Princeton; New York City; Cleveland; New Orleans; Las Vegas; Boston; Canada – Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal, Gaspe and Saguernay peninsula; Labrador; Nunuvut; Prince Edward Island; Newfoundland; Caribbean – Grenada, Barbados, Martinique, St Thomas, St Maarten; Portugal – Lisbon, Salema, Evora; Czech Republic – Prague; Poland – Krakow; Greece – Mykonos, Crete; Spain – Estepona, Bilbao, San Sebastián, Seville, Córdoba, Carmona, Jerez, Cadiz, Malaga, Torremolinos, Gaucin, Ronda, Granada, the UK – London, Durham, Beswick on Tweed, Mayfield, Frome, Cambridge, Kingston; Germany – Munich, Murray, Nuremberg, Bavaria; Austria – Vienna, Graz; Slovakia – Bratislava; the Netherlands – Amsterdam, Haarlem, Giethoorn,; Iceland – Reykjavik; Greenland – Nuuk, and lots of tiny towns!; Bermuda – Hamilton and around the island.

And here are a few pictorial memories

Victoria, Australia, Vietnam and Thailand

Cruising in the Caribbean

Lovely Lisbon

Prague, Czech Republic

Krakow, Poland

Crete, Greece

Mykonos, Greece

The Algarve Coast, Portugal

Pinxtos in Bilbao, Spain

Estepona, Andalusia, Spain

The Bavarian Alps, Germany

Vienna, Austria

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Icebergs off the coast of Greenland

Quebec City, Montreal, Canada

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Buffalo, New York State, USA

Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Bermuda

New York City, New York, USA

Autumn colours And gourmet dining in the UK

The Alcazar in Seville, Andalusia, Spain

The Alhambra Palace in Granada, Andalucia, Spain

Winter in Seville, Andalucia, Spain

Xmas in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

New Year in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Austria, Vienna – Final museum madness part 2. Farewell Vienna

After enjoying the Egon Schiele exhibit I went upstairs at the Leopold for a special exhibition of the art owned by Heidi Horten. Who? You might say. Well Heidi is a billionaire following her marriage to the much older Herr Horten who owned one of the biggest department stores in Austria. When he died she inherited his wealth – she is a billionaire – and invested some of the money into an impressive art collection some of which was on show at the Leopold. As you will see from the artists below she had a fair bit of cash to spend and I think acquired a lot of the art in one go from London auctioneers.

A selection of Chagall, Magritte, Matisse and Freud.

And then a sprinkling of Picasso’s, Warhol and Nara

One of the great things about my visits to Germany and Austria has been the access to more artists from this part of the world. Below is Marc (the deer)| and then a few years later Roy Lichtenstein does a homage to his work in his own style. Below are Pechstein and Jawlensky – I love these works

Next stop – Amsterdam.

Germany, Bavaria – Of castles and mad Kings and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

As a child I listened in fascination as my Bavarian mother told me stories about “Mad” King Ludwig and we visited the castles back then too. Decided to was time to go again many years later and revisit the magic place that enchanted Disney so much that he copied it for his theme park and for those of us of a certain age it will forever be the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Castle (if you’ve no idea of what that is watch the movie – a family classic).

Anyway, King Ludwig became king suddenly aged 18 and was not very interested in the job. His heroes were the knights and ladies of the medieval times and in particular he loved stories about King Louis IV (the sun king) to whom he dedicated Neueschwanstein. What he really seemed to like about the French king was his “divine right” to rule (and wouldn’t we all like some of that sometimes?) but by the time he became King those days were well over and pesky ministers kept interfering in state matters – so he decided to ignore being king and build fantasy castles instead while cultivating his love of music – he was a close friend of Richard Wagner.

Why”mad”? He was declared unfit to rule when he was 40 (those pesky ministers again) and sent to live permanently in an asylum nearby. One day he and his psychiatrist went for a walk and never returned. Both were found dead in the lake. But no-one knows what happened? A drowning accident? A fight? A murder? – You decide as the descendants from the family will not allow his body to be exhumed which would of course most easily prove how he died (some say he was shot). I suppose the mystery is part of the myth.

He built 3 castles in his life and spent most of his time in Linderhof. By the time Neueschwanstein was inhabitable he only get to spend 170 days there. It is also only partially completed – an excellent multi visual show at the end of the tour shows how it would have looked if all the plans had been completed.

Footnote: before he went into the asylum the one thing he asked was that if he should die that his castles should be pulled down and reduced to rabble. He was such a recluse that he didn’t want anyone else in his home.

All I can say is he must be spinning in his grave if he can see how many people go through them every day in five minute intervals! Maybe he was not mad, just ahead of his time and creative? I like to think so…..

And here they are:

This one is Linderhof – a bijou number but very sumptious inside (no photos allowed which is a big shame but you can check the web)

And here is the famous Neueschwanstein

And finally Hoheschwangau which his Dad (King Matz II) built nearby and where he grew up.

Spain, Bilbao – Museo de Bellas Artes and pinxtos tasting

Obviously everyone visits the Guggenheim in Bilbao (and of course I did too) but it is worth taking time to see the Museo de Bellas Artes too. It has a permanent collection including some big names but also houses a great selection of more modern Spanish art. I liked the variety it offers (it is celebrating 110 years of existence this year so there is a retrospective of some of their favourite pieces.

The picture on the left is a Rembrandt on loan from the Dulwich Gallery – it is stunning and unusual to see a portrait of a young female from him. She seems to be jumping out of the picture. On the right is the moustachioed Philip of Spain by Velasquez. I am particularly fond of the Zuloaga painting of the Countess Matthieu de Noailles – bottom right – she looks like a lady who knew her own mind even back in the mid 19th century and apparently she was a trendsetter, writer and contributed to society in many ways.

My favourite in this group is the young girl with the carnation in her mouth – lovely soft colours – by Guiard. Of course the Murillo of St Peter in Tears is pretty good too!

And now on to modern contributions including a huge room with a video exhibit called the infinite garden – it runs for 75 minutes and I happily sat in it for 20 minutes – wish I had had more time. The Spectator by Cronica is also fun – made of paper mache.

And finally I went on a pinxtos tour (pinxtos is roughly the Basque equivalent of tapas but both parts of Spain insist that what they make is very different to the other!). I just know they taste delicious.

The Caribbean- St Thomas and St Maarten/Martin

First two days at sea had two stops. The first to St Thomas was unexpected as we were meant to be in St Croix! High waves meant access to St Croix was not possible and hence the re-routing.

Sadly a lot of the islands were very badly damaged during Irma and in some case also Maria. Also cruise terminals in this part of the work tend to be very full of jewellery shops – and no I haven’t bought anything. You can have too much of a good thing.

I did find a synagogue in St Thomas which I think was the nicest building I saw. Note special parking for the rabbi below. And the impressive iguana near the docks who greeted us on arrival.

St Thomas

Next day we visited St Maarten/Martin part owned by the Dutch and part by the French. Most ships dock on the Dutch side but the French side (a 15 minutes taxi ride from the cruise terminal) is prettier although far more badly impacted by the hurricane with many shops and restaurants yet to re-open. I hope it picks up again as it has charm.

Australia, Melbourne- NGV triumphs again with its new Triennial – who needs Venice?

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So lucky to get a sneak peak at the brand new NGV Triennial . It is superb. All the fashion designs of Guo Pei are breathtaking – and it is the first time she has shown all her work in one place.

And I loved the interactive Yayoi Kusama- the dot artist that some of you will know I’m somewhat obsessed with. The display is a complete apartment with flower stickers that each visitor can stick wherever they like (mine’s on the kettle as I couldn’t find a champagne bottle!). By the end of the exhibit in a few months’ time,it will be covered in flowers so everyone will have completed their own Kusama experience. Brilliant idea.

Then there is the room of human giant skulls – confronting when you come across it unexpectedly upstairs.

Can’t wait to go back and see it again — and it’s free!

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