Tag Archives: Friends

Vietnam, Hoi An

In case anyone thinks I’ve given up blogging about my travels – I haven’t but as I’ve spent the last three weeks with friends and on my own (planning the rest of this year and even 2021 travels) in a place I have often blogged about – I thought I would save this visit up for one blog with things I haven’t necessarily mentioned before although I have posted a few interim things on Instagram which is much faster!

I always love having people to stay at my place in Vietnam when I am there and this year I had two lots of visitors. Firstly my cruise and SE tour buddies – Luisa and Chris (and aren’t we glad we did the Asia cruise at the very start of the year thereby avoiding cancelled destinations and even cancelled cruise) and secondly Jo and Fliss – both of whom, like me, are rather enjoying not working. Jo is a regular visitor here but the other were newbies so it was fun showing them around.

Luisa and Chris pose by the pink wall in the old town of Hoi An. We enjoyed seeing the local temples and the Calm Spa in the rice paddies – water buffalo not included – we just chanced upon him and his owner on our way there.
Jo, Fliss and I loving not having a schedule anything more complex than gin time, spa time, food time, shopping time!
En route to cooking school – a stop at the colourful market in Hoi An is one of my favourite places to take in the freshness and buzz
Taking a rid in a traditional fishing coracle boat before we got down to some serious rice pancake making

My apartment is a very short walk from Marble Mountain but as is often the case I rarely visit there. But this time we took the short elevator ride to what I thought was just one pagoda but turned out to be a large complex of pagodas and temples. Pretty cool actually and literally on the doorstep.

Temples, pagodas and buddhas at Marble Mountain

En route to Marble Mountain there are about 10 massive – and I mean massive shops – selling marble everything. Again another place I had never beven into – but this time I decided that “Marble Bunnings” or “Marble B and Q” for my Brit friends had to be seen. So glad I did – check out photos below – not sure who buys these – and some are ginormous – but I did get a kick out of seeing what was for sale!

To give you a feel for the sheer size of these places – which also include an indoor area for the more delicate works
But it’s not just buddhas and lions. Do people really buy status of Washington and Einstein in Hoi An? I guess they might.
I actually quite liked these and could imagine one on my balcony at home – wherever that is!
And these made me giggle the most – there are about 12 of them – it was hard to choose my favourite 4

And a visit to Hoi An has to include shopping – ladies I’m looking at you! Of course I had to join in – such a bargain – so had some clothes and some shoes made (plus some Birkie lookalikes). We also bought a lot of other stuff – I won’t bore you….

Finally the two things I never tire of when I visit this part of the world – the evening light in Hoi An and the view from my apartment.

Dusk in Hoi An
Rain or shine doesn’t matter – I love “my beach” in Danang.

I will be back next year but now heading south to another of my “homes”……..

Singapore – Friends and Flowers

Back to Singapore again after the end of our cruise – I know it quite well but always great to see new things and catch up with friends as well.

We visited the Botanical Gardens and I think I was last there in the 80s. It’s so wonderful – an oasis in the centre of a busy city. We spent three hours there wandering from one end to the other. And it’s free with only a small payment to visit the orchid garden.

Orchids at the Botanical Gardens

More stunning orchids

Even the leaves are beautiful here

The bigger picture as you walk around the Botanical Gardens

Singapore reinvents itself every year -I never get bored of the skyline and like finding new spots for taking photos.

Singapore in black and white around Marina Bay

More enjoyment of plants and flowers at the Gardens by the Bay – never get bored of these – although we couldn’t do the skywalk due to maintenance which was a shame. Next time.

Inside at the domes at the Gardens by the Bay

And always good to catch up with friends like Tareq and June – and to watch Chris getting her daily sugar rush after a massive Sunday brunch.

Little India, friends and another lunar new year rat!

Chris, Luisa, June and I enjoying a Steamboat dinner.

Happy Lunar New Year of the Rat!

UK, London day trips – off the beaten track. Banksy, Henry More, William Blake, a Michelin meal and Ian Dury

An unexpected visit to Bristol meant that my friends Sylvie, Andrew and I signed up for a Banksy and other street art tour – Banksy comes from Bristol and it is a city of significant street art. From a period when the local council constantly painted over street art to one that encourages street art festivals – this city has an excellent selection of non commissioned and commissioned street art. This was a great 3 hour tour and a good way to see the city too.

Banksy’s Well Hung and the Mild Mild West (reference to Bristol) and the latest from JPS

Sadly Coat of Arms (gets it??) and the flowers are due to come down soon due to demolition plans

Robin Banks (get it?) uses his well known motif “The Vandal” – a badly behaved banker.

Stick Man manages to make very simple images show pathos

Sesk always paints a local person he meets. The tiger/dragon thing looks like he is scratching the passers by!

Also with Sylvie and Andrew we planned a visit to Perry Green (near Bishops Stortford) – the home and grounds of the sculptor Henry Moore. The house tour was excellent and really gives insight into the man and his art – no photos allowed. The grounds house many of his works and they look even better when you get weather like we did.

Reclining figures – large on the hill, smaller on the grounds and Sylvie and I trying to blend into the art

Double Oval, Family Group, Goslar Warrior and Two piece reclining figure

My friend Christine celebrated her big birthday earlier this year so we had a belated super meal at Michelin starred The Clove House in the old Shoreditch Town Hall. Every course – and the meal took us about 4.5 hours to eat – was delicious. We enjoyed the wine pairings too.

Food to drool over

I don’t care what anyone says – I love a bit of foam!

Christine enjoyed her wine pairing:)

A new exhibit of William Blake’s work has just opened at the Tate. I visited there with one of my cruise buddies – Chris. Blake was rather a pompous man who had high views of his own art compared to others – he was not therefore the most popular of people. He worked closely with his wife and she is featured heavily in this exhibition as she is thought to have coloured in some of this book illustrations.

Book illustrations including an original of the Tyger Tyger burning bright poem

A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the whole of the Canterbury Tales pilgrims

Everything from Isaac Newton to Pilgrim’s Progress to the Name of the Beast is 666!

The Ancient of Times – maybe his most famous piece

And finally a lovely day at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park where we were celebrating Lorna’s birthday. We found the Ian Dury chair – Reasons to be Cheerful – just down from Harry’s Mound (a place where there is a gap in the trees and a telescope enabling you to clearly see the whole of St Paul’s cathedral – which is quite a distance away). The chair has a bar code so you can immediately listen to some Dury classics – which we did.

Hit me with your Rhythm Stick; it’s nice to be a lunatic – hit me, hit me, hit me – one for my Brit generation:)

UK, London – off the standard tourist track

Given this is my home town I tend to blog less when I’m over here and only cover things I’ve not seen before – so here’s a pot pourri or some more off the beaten track places I’ve been to in the last ten days.

Firstly some black and white pics of the City of London and even on a gray day the architecture and splendour shine through.

St Paul’s from the Southbank

Golden Hinde, Southwark Cathedral and the Globe Theatre

The Wobbly (Millenium Bridge) and Remains of Winchester Palace

The Walkie Talkie building and the Monument

St Paul’s

Then off to Brixton for an excellent David Bowie Musical walking tour. You walk around spots where he was brought up and Nick plays Bowie songs in full along the way as you stop by iconic places such as the Ritzy Cinema and the Brixton Academy.

David Bowie musical walking tour in Brixton

As a big Ottolenghi fan I was excited to visit his newest restaurant Rovi with my friend Lorna to celebrate her birthday – as ever the man is a genius! Select a number of the small dishes to share – that way you get to taste more of his inventiveness. Lobster roll and ribs were my favourites.

Rovi in Fitzrovia

A trip to the Tate Modern is always worth it as the building is a design marvel. I visited the Olafur Elliasson exhibit – it was futuristic and cool. Finishing soon I think.

Tate Modern

And then I finally got to see Hamilton – it was worth waiting four years for – if you can get a ticket GO.

Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre

And a highlight was visiting Chihuly Nights at Kew Gardens with my friend Peter I am a massive fan of this glass artist and the installations all through the park are wonderful. Not sure my photos do it justice but did my best. Am going back to see it during the day too. A must see.

The magic of Chihuly glass sculptures at Kew

More awesome glass by Chihuly

United Kingdom, Scotland – Edinburgh in the rain and the dry

I should have remembered that a summer’s day in Scotland means a lot of rain and my first morning in Edinburgh was no exception. It bucketed down.

Edinburgh in torrential summer rain

However that evening I ventured out again and it had cleared up which was just as well as I was going to watch the outdoor Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – which operates come rain or shine.

Finally the rain stops as the evening starts

It only rained in the last five minutes and I’m so glad I went as it’s an incredible experience worth doing once in your lifetime – it’s not cheap!! Attached some photos of the marching bands and video too – spectacular.

The Tattoo in front of Edinburgh Castle

Finally on day 2 of our Edinburgh stopover the rain stopped and how much better the city looked. I had fun wandering around the old Town but I especially liked “New Town” with its lovely Georgian buildings – apparently the largest Georgian style residential area in the world. Also lots of cool boutiques and artisanal type shops. Definitely swanky around here and not swarming with Festival tourists.

Sometimes the sun comes out in Edinburgh in August!

Georgian splendour in Edinburgh New Town

It is Edinburgh festival time which means the population swells considerably and it’s both fun and rowdy – I would love to return for a two week stay – one when I would blitz festival events and one before it starts so I can be a tourist without the hordes!! Maybe next August.

I did manage to visit the National Gallery of Scotland which is undergoing renovations but has a very respectable collection of all “the big names” from Vermeer and Rembrandt to Titian and Reynolds and of course a great selection of Scottish painters.

A selection of art from the National Gallery of Scotland

Finally it seemed like numerous people I know were also in Edinburgh at the same time. Some I just missed because they’d been and gone and others were arriving after I left but I did manage to catch up with an HSBC connection that I first met when I worked in Vancouver back in the 90s and then again when we both spent a fair bit of time working in Hyderabad. We nearly connected in Bermuda last year but she was moved just before I arrived so it was all the more special to catch up with Jane and also to meet Jackie – another HSBC alumni.

Me, Jane and Jackie contemplating how small the world is!

Hungary, the Buda side of the river

It seems that whenever you find a city with a river through the middle there is an automatic rivalry between both sides. There is no exception in Budapest. People who live on the Buda (old historic) side are known to say “everyone who lives in Budapest lives in Buda or wants to live in Buda”: those on the Pest (more modern side) say “Buda,Siesta; Pest, Fiesta”.

On this occasion I stayed on the Pest side right on the river. I’m glad I did. It enabled me to enjoy the urbane and lovely Pest side (being a city girl more my thing) while enjoying the views of the Buda side and being able to walk or take a quick bus journey there.

Day and night time views of the Buda side of the River Danube

I was meeting some friends for lunch on that side so made it my day to visit Buda (and a day is fine I think).

Castle Hill is where you find the old palace, the Fisherman’s Bastion, cobbled streets, the Mathias Church and various museums plus great views all around.

The Mathias church is spectacular inside and out and has existed since the 11th century with a rebuild in the 15th century. For a while it was converted into a mosque (yes, Ottoman rule again) and it was used for one of the coronations of the Austrian emperor Franz Ferdinand and his wife Elizabeth known as Sissi in the 19th century. She loved Hungary and learned the language (she was smart) and convinced her husband to let Hungary have its own language and jurisdiction. She is very beloved over here. I remember my mum was obsessed with Sissi – I think she was the Princess Diana type idol of her time.

It is a lovely church inside and out. Very warm colours and a lot of bright Hungarian folk art. Liked this one a lot. If you go to the museum of the first floor it’s easier to take pics of the detail and erase the crowds out. There are lots of them!!

External views of Mathias Church with its pretty roof tiles.

The soft colours of the interior of Mathias Church plus one pic showing the hordes!

Close ups of the artwork higher up in the chirch

The organ and folk art style above the stained glass windows

Castle Hill houses the Fisherman’s Bastion rampart walls. These were last rebuilt at the turn of the 19th/20th century to celebrate the millennium which is why it is more ornate with a viewing terrace than a practical defensive fortress. There seem to be various theories on why “fishermen”? The fisherman’s guild may have protected the original fort as they lived below it and also there was a fish market there – so that’s most likely I suppose. It is very fanciful and the views are lovely.

The Fisherman’s Bastion

I also met up with my friend Jo’s mum Gillian and her friend Jill for lunch inside the Bastion which was very posh:)

Inside the Fisherman’s Bastion Restaurant

Me, Gillian and Jill

Tasty morsels at the Fisherman’s Bastion restaurant

By the way, my pork was uniquely Hungarian from the mangalica pig bred here for superb tasting pork (I learned about this from my food tour guide Ange on the previous day when I tasted some pate from the same pig) . Have to share a picture of them as they are “pigs in sheep’s clothing” and I had to look them up for myself to believe they really existed.

Mangalica pigs

I walked around the castle hill area dodging the rain by visiting the National Gallery which had an exhibit on surrealism. I think the buildings were more interesting than the art and signage is lousy!

Museums and fountain on Castle Hill

A little bit surreal

and then one shot looking down from the Buda side before I walked down the hill to and crossed over the Danube back to Pest.

The other hill on the Buda side is where the citadel is located plus the lady liberty statue and some of the best views of the Danube.

There seems to be some debate about what she is holding? A fish? A leaf? Or as one 8 year old told my guide “it’s obvious – she’s holding an iPad and taking a selfie”!

Romania, Bucharest – last few days in the city

After my lovely tour of the Romanian interior I finished up with a few days in Bucharest and also met up with one of my old school friends Lorna.

Bucharest cannot be deacribed as one of Europe’s prettiest capitals even though it is sometimes called the Paris of the East – somewhat of an exaggeration. And although the communist regime ended in 1989 a series of governments considered both “alternative communist” and corrupt has maybe not helped the city progress as quickly as it could have.

I highlighted some key buildings in my first blog on Romania so for the remainder of my stay I visited the ones I hadn’t seen.

A highlight was a visit to the symphony at the stunning Atheneum Theatre. Concert and environment were perfect and all for GBP15! I also did the day tour – which was just and another chap being given the run of the place.

Bucharest has a lot of very large buildings and monuments. These include the memorial to those died in the world wars- (or the football with a stick through it as it is often referred to!)

We paid a visit to the National Museum of Art housing a broad range of Romanian art including the works of Brancusi (who I didn’t know was Romanian) as well as a European collection. Even though it was a Saturday morning we had the whole place virtually to ourselves and I especially liked the four seasons painted by Brueghel.

On Sunday we were due to visit the Great synagogue plus the holocaust memorial ( it is believed 400,000 Romanian Jews were killed) but it was closed for no good reason!

We did however manage to get into the Choral Synagogue modelled on the one in Vienna and also the massive Jewish cemetery which had some very old and much more recent tombstones. There were lots of Israeli visitors there – this is because a lot of Jewish Romanians left the country during the communist regime under a program where Israel paid for them to emigrate. The regime in Romania charged a hefty amount of extra money for the privilege of being allowed to leave so it could take years to actually happen. Many come back to visit relatives who stayed or to get back to their roots.

We also decided to visit the former home of the communist dictator Ceaucescu, his wife and three adult children. I feel that in talking to people, the shadow of this horrible couple still hovers over Bucharest to this day. While much of the country was starving and living in extreme poverty this house, which is deceptively large, is a wholly inappropriate show of wealth, luxury and excess. Nevertheless it is also a fascinating display of what was available to those with money in the late 80s. Because he and his wife made a speech, escaped from the angry crowd, were recaptured, tried and then both shot (the latter three in the space of one day) the place has been left as it was found in pristine condition.

Not only was there a suite for the parents there was also one for Mrs Ceascescu to use during the day and one each for the three kids – plus and indoor and outdoor garden , gold bathroom, indoor swimming pool etc etc. No-one In Romania has any idea about this opulence because locals were not even allowed in the street where they lived and they rarely entertained in this house beyond the immediate family and close friends.

Some of the other people on the tour were locals and visiting for the first time and were clearly horrified at what they saw. Once again an example of people in power preaching one thing and doing another.

A final dinner in the old town with Lorna and large glasses of local wine topped off the visit.