Lockdown Armchair Travel – Hanoi, Vietnam – March 2013

Coming to the end of the alphabet now, and V is for Vietnam, a country we visited as part of an Indochina tour in March 2013. We visited too many places to put them all in one armchair travel blog, so I’ve concentrated on Hanoi, the capital of the north, and with a very different vibe from most of the rest of the country. So when you think of Vietnam (or Hanoi), what do you think of? Maybe something to do with this:

The mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh dominates the city as does his legacy. But let’s start off with something a little gentler. The first thing we saw in Hanoi was an out-of-town water puppet theatre, in the village of Dao Thuc.

Puppeteers work behind the stage and under the water to bring their stories to life.

It all feels like the product of a very innocent age. The puppeteers are all local farm workers, who put the shows on in order to keep the tradition alive. At the end of the show we give them a round of applause.

And they applaud us back. After the show we were invited to go “backstage” (as it were) to see the puppets for ourselves. And, as always, they take on a sinister appearance when they’re not on stage.

Back in the city, we visited the 900 year old Temple of Literature, a Confucian sanctuary and historical centre of learning.

We also visited the Museum of Ethnology, a park containing replica buildings, textiles, musical instruments, etc, showing the diversity of people who make up the country of Vietnam.

At night, everyone seems to gather around the Hoan Kiem Lake, to engage in all sorts of pastimes. Tai Chi, exercise classes, rollerblading and breakdancing, all to a Michael Jackson soundtrack! Not what I would have expected from Communist Vietnam.

The following morning we were ready for The Big Sight. Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. There’s a museum devoted to him of course, but the queue was too long for us to join.

The same applied to the mausoleum! These people are queueing to get in.

There’s no doubt it’s architecturally outstanding – in a very Soviet way.

It’s located on a vast, but otherwise empty, square, just to make it stand out. And you can’t stand too close to the building. Come back you two, you’ll get into trouble with the police!

Nearby is the more modest, and more classically attractive, Presidential Palace.

You can’t linger here either. But you can at the One Pillar Pagoda, an attractive wooden pagoda originally constructed in the 11th century, standing in an elegant lotus pond.

Before we say goodbye to Hanoi, let’s just meet some of the people. Boys will be boys, right? You just know they’re up to no good.

Everyone relies on motorbikes.

And dining is informal, taken wherever you can.

The mausoleum is patrolled by men in smart uniforms.

But farming is the heart of the country.

Much to our guide’s horror, I took a photo of a protest. He was furious, saying the police would rip the camera from me and we’d all get into terrible trouble.

We didn’t. But it was a fine example of how Hanoi had a very anxious and tense feel that the rest of the country didn’t. Instead, envy the children, who aren’t yet too worried about things!

If you’d like to read about our visit in greater detail, I wrote a blog post at the time that you can find here. Now that lockdowns are (hopefully) a thing of the past, it makes sense for this to be my last Lockdown Armchair Travel post. However, if we’re all confined to barracks again, I expect I’ll go back to the letter A and start all over again!

 

 

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Uzbekistan – October 2009

Nearly at the end of our lockdown armchair travel alphabet, and U is for Uzbekistan – a country I’d always wanted to visit, ever since I first heard about the silk route and saw pictures of incredible Registan Square in Samarkand. So what do you think of, when you think of Uzbekistan? Maybe it’s the same as me – the Golden Road to Samarkand?

The amazing spires and domes of Registan Square. I’ve got so many photos to show you… 116 in fact, so buckle up and let’s start on the road to Samarkand from the capital Tashkent.

Our first port of call was Shahrisabz, the birthplace of Tamburlaine the Great, or Amir Temur as he is known locally. Here’s the Great Man himself

Here’s some of what remains of Amir Temur’s Ak-Serai Palace…

This is the Mausoleum of Jehangir, Timur’s oldest and most favoured son.

And this is the Kuk Gumbaz mosque, a Friday mosque built in 1437 by Sultan, astronomer and mathematician, Ulug Beg.

We continued our drive down to the border town of Termez. As the route is used for smuggling drugs from Afghanistan we were stopped regularly by police – maybe once every half an hour, to check our passports and the boot of the car. All very polite but no nonsense at the same time. Eventually we reached Termez! This was the view outside our hotel:

So there was never any doubt as to where we were! Our tour was to start at the local museum.

But it was a Monday, and the museums were shut. However, our guide also worked at the museum, and she arranged for it to be opened specially for a private tour just for us! That was quite a privilege. We saw loads of riches – here are a few of the exhibits that interested us:

Alexander of the Great Bust – if I read that right

Tamburlaine’s chess set (allegedly)

A fine samovar. And much more, as you’d expect. Our next port of call was the Hakim-al-Termizy mausoleum complex.

Beautiful inside:

Hakim-al-Termizy was a Sufi saint, jurist, and writer who died in Termez in 859. There appears to be a bandstand in the gardens.

See the flat white building behind? That’s a military installation in Afghanistan. That’s how close to the border we were! Nearby is the Fayz Tepe Buddhist Temple – a 2000 years old monastery complex

We also visited Kampyr Tepe, which had just (a matter of days) been released from being a miltary zone and opened up to tourists. There was no one else around for miles, and hardly any excavations had really been completed. Walking around, we spotted these kitchen containers, still in their original location.

And pieces of pottery just laying on the ground

Our final visit of the day was to the Murch Bobo Mosque, the Friday mosque built in 1916. Very colourful!

A slightly nerve-racking drive back from Termez to Samarkand – because none of the petrol stations had any petrol, as the government had sequestered it all for the lorries carrying the freshly picked cotton. So we relied on reused two-litre coke bottles of petrol bought on the black market in villages as we went! But we did reach Samarkand – and all its glories.

Just wandering around on our own, on our first day

so much fantastic architecture

the domes, the towers

Registan Square itself, made up of madrasahs and a mausoleum

Here is the famous Sher-Dor Madrasah, with its fantasy tigers on the front arch

The magnificence of it all takes your breath away

Plus these buildings are tall! This is the Tilya Kori Madrasah

The arches are immaculately defined

And the decorations extraordinary

Here’s the tomb of Tamburlaine (again allegedly)

Look at all this exquisite internal decoration

This is Ulug Beg’s Observatory, built in the 1420s.

A fascinating place

Here is Ulug Beg meeting some other people. And they all look like Ulug Beg.

The Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis. Stunning architecture, housing the bodies of the great and good, including a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed. The roofs under the outside part of the mosques are brightly painted in the Iranian style (apparently).

Beautiful colours

So much to enjoy

This is the other major Madrasah, Ulug Beg Madrasah.

We also visited the Bibi Khanum Mosque with its famous stone Koran stand. Childless women are meant to crawl underneath it to make them more fertile.

It’s all beautiful by night too.

And whilst this may look like a welcoming sight – the wine is very sweet and not that great. Still we bought a few bottles to take home, as you do.

Let’s take a pause from all this architectural splendour, and take a look at some markets. Some of them are in the usual format of – well, a market! This is the market in Termez

And this in Bukhara

And this in the capital, Tashkent. Nice melons.

But in most places, people just sell their home/farm grown/caught produce by the roadside. On the way out of Tashkent, people sell their wares out of prams.

Or some more melons

Fruits and spices

The ubiquitous pomegranites!

If you saw a pram, it never had a baby in it. This one in Khiva contained bread!

Anyway, back to the sightseeing. After we left Samarkand we had a long drive to our next location, Bukhara, crossing the Kyzylkum Desert. Our next night was spent in a desert yurt.

And it was in the middle of nowhere!

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? I have never, ever been so cold in my life. My uncovered head sneaked out of my sleeping bag overnight and the subsequent headache didn’t lift for three days! I was very happy to move on towards Bukhara.

The outer walls of the fortress are enough to deter any invaders

And the old town is rather attractive – probably the most attractive place we found in the country

Evocatively lit at night too!

The next day our tour started with the Ismael Samani mausoleum


The Memorial complex of Al-Bukhari is a lot more modernAnd the Chashma-Ayub mausoleum, site of Job’s well – and now a museum for the town’s water supply!

This odd design looks as though it could blow over in a strong wind. Not so. It’s the Bolo Hauz Mosque. Very busy on Fridays, when the attendees spill out on to the street.

It was built in 1712


See the beautiful detail of the tiles
Here’s the Kalon mosque, rebuilt in the early 16th centuryIt’s a stunning sight

Madrasahs fill the courtyards

And more fantasy creatures on the decorations – Simurghs on the portal of Nadir Divan-Beghi madrasah

And the Chor Minor, with its four minarets

We saw the famous Bug Pit – but it was a bit shabby really

Onwards the next day to Khiva, a city protected by UNESCO but which has been transformed into a living museum, so it has a slightly odd feel to it.

This is the lovely Muhammad Amin Khan Madrasa

The walls of the city are immense!

And it’s very atmospheric by night

Various sights include the Kukhna Ark

which offers great views of the city from the top

including the walls

And the harem!

In the Juma mosque, every pillar has a different carving

In Khiva they celebrate the man who invented algebra, Al-Khorezmi.

Before returning to Tashkent (which we did on a most terrifying broken down old Uzbekistan Airways propeller plane) let’s have a look at some of those exquisite tiles that you find dotted around the entire country.

Tashkent is a modern city. From our hotel room we could see the TV tower straight in front of us!


But there is room for the famous storks too!Which are even immortalised in silver!

In Independence Square

There are modern schools

Modern Madrasahs

A modern Friday Mosque complex

Not sure the brooms in the market are that modern though!

And the super pears are imported from China!

There are modern statues! This is the Monument to the Fallen in the Wars

And this is the Memorial to the survivors of the Earthquake

Before we leave Uzbekistan – let’s have a look at the people. They say people make a place, and that’s certainly true of Uzbekistan. Lads on a street market outside Tashkent:

A bride and groom in Shahrizabz. They are meant to maintain solemn faces all day. If they (especially the bride) are smiling, it implies they are of, shall we say, loose virtue

Some reckless and daredevil Russian fellows (at least, according to the T-shirt one of them wore)

Photograph me please!!

Those impish Russian guys again

A calligrapher – almost everyone over the age of 30 in Uzbekistan has a mouthful of gold teeth!

A potter

Some likely lads

Folklore and fashion show girls
A happy bunch of farm workers

A family from Khiva

And a terrible Tashkent twosome!

Thanks for joining me on this long, but hopefully entertaining set of Uzbek reminiscences!

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – USA – New York City, March 2008 and July 2015

Getting near the end of the alphabet now, and U is for the United States of America – and here are some pictorial memories of a couple of trips to New York City; in March 2008 and July 2015. So, what do you think of, when you think of New York City? Maybe this:

A gift from the people of France back in the 1880s. It stands on Liberty Island

And thousands of people visit it every day! When we visited New York the first time, we had to attend a business meeting in the Empire States Building – that was a treat. Here’s a view of the ESB from The Top of the Rock.

The Top of the Rock is the observation platform at the top of the Rockefeller Center – and it’s a great place to start your visit of New York because the views at the top are absolutely sensational – and in one crisp moment you can take in all the city.

There’s that Lady again: