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 – 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:

From there we decided to check out Central Park – a very desirable area of the city.

Including the skating rink

Here’s the Dakota Building – where John Lennon lived.

We also had a touristy trip around the park in a horse drawn carriage. Our driver was called John – and our horse was called Rocky.

We had a quick trip around the Museum of Modern Art, where we had some soup

And left our shopping.

We were there for a week, so we had a chance to see some different districts. Here’s Chinatown:

And Greenwich Village:

The Flat Iron Building:

And the Chrysler Building – New York must have the best known skyscrapers in the world.

We saw some shows, on both trips, which gives you a chance to see Broadway and Times Square, both by day and night

Only A Chorus Line fans will get this reference:

This was Ground Zero in 2008:

We were also there at Easter time – and they have an Easter Parade, just like in the movies. This lady was very proud of her Easter bonnet.

I really liked the mixture of old and new architecture

But new will always overwhelm old in the end!

But you best get the feel of New York on the streets – as in all cities. Fascinating sights, quirky things, and stuff you’d never see in the UK – like puppies in a pet shop window!

A must have for your accessories collection:

Plus the ubiquitous taxis:

And school buses!

Happy memories – I hope we can go back sometime soon.

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Istanbul, Turkey – 29th March 2012

Continuing with the lockdown armchair travel memories, and T is for Turkey. We’ve been there a couple of times on cruises, and we had a week in Istanbul in the late 90s, but I can’t find any of the photos from that holiday. So these pictures are from a day spent in Istanbul during an Eastern Mediterranean cruise in March 2012, concentrating on The Main Sights. So, what do you think of, when you think of Istanbul? Probably one of two places, depending on whether you’re Team Blue Mosque…

Or Team Aya Sofya

It’s a tough call. From the photos, you’d always say the Blue Mosque, but when you’re inside the Aya Sofya, it takes your breath away. We took a tram from near the port into the centre of the city, and headed straight away for the central complex that houses both these magnificent buildings, plus the ancient hippodrome.

I’m not sure Constantine would remember it looking like this, mind. OK, let’s head straight for the Blue Mosque.

Really the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, built between 1609 – 1616.

One of the five mosques in Turkey that has six minarets, apparently.

It’s a big tourist favourite, but is primarily a working mosque. It has a relatively small courtyard fountain.

Delightful from the outside…

But its beauty really hits you inside!

Look at that amazing decorated ceiling!

It really is the definition of breathtaking.

It’s beautifully lit too

And the calligraphy is stunning

Architecturally fabulous!

The pictures tell their own story.

A brilliant place. After the Blue Mosque, we decided to find the Basilica Cistern, a favourite place of ours from our previous visit.

It’s called the Basilica Cistern, because it was built underneath a basilica in the reign of the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century.

It’s an incredibly dramatic and moody place, enhanced by the lighting

With just a little water in there to make some extra-dramatic reflections.

There are two columns topped with Medusa heads

Or, rather, upside down! It’s a dark and haunting place

But, being Istanbul, you’re never too far from a spot of commercialism…

That’s so out of place! Anyway we left the Cistern and returned to the other end of the main square to see the Aya Sofya.

Or Hagia Sophia, if you prefer. It’s been a Roman Catholic cathedral, then it was converted to a mosque, and then in 1935 it was turned into a museum – which is how we saw it. But in 2020 it became a mosque again.

Those colours are extraordinary!

Just take it all in….

The immaculate marbled floor is apparently now covered by carpet

There’s a stunning minbar

Beautiful calligraphy

Marvellous windows

Fabulous tiled walls

Big pillars

Ramps lead up to an upper floor

From where you get this great view!

And you can get a closer look at some of the detail

You’re also closer to the mosaics – this is the Deësis mosaic

The Comnenus mosaic dates from 1122

The Empress Zoe mosaic is even earlier

Southwestern entrance mosaic dates from the reign of Basil II (958-1025)

The Aya Sofya even has nice doors!

And a look out of its upper floor windows reveals a fascinating collection of domes!

Yes, I think I am still Team Aya Sofya. Other interesting sights include the Egyptian Obelisk

With its intricate base

And the Serpentine Column

Shoppers, of course, head for the Grand Bazaar

A massive covered market, probably the best I’ve ever visited

It’s a maze where you can easily get lost

You’ll get invited in by the shopkeepers to share a “no-obligation” cup of apple tea

If you believe “no-obligation”, you’ll believe anything!

Great place for lighting

And ceramics

We had a quick walk past the University

But the other place I really wanted to see before we left was the Suleymaniye Mosque

Commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent and inaugurated in 1557,

It was the largest mosque in Istanbul until the Çamlıca Mosque superseded it in 2019.

Four minarets, each and every one a stunner.

Again, it’s inside the mosque where the whole place comes alive

with its extraordinary ceilings

superb arches

and just its innate grandeur.

Although, to be fair, it’s pretty grand from the outside too.

Streetlife in Istanbul is pretty hectic, as you would expect

But the views make up for it

And you can easily blend in with the crowds.

And that’s Istanbul – grandeur, magnificence, and the occasional bit of quirkiness.

So we sail away and say farewell to Istanbul!

 

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Tunis, Tunisia, 19th December 2012

Finally moving off S and on to T, and T is for Tunisia and one day spent in its capital, Tunis, during a Mediterranean cruise shortly before Christmas in 2012. So, when you think of Tunis, what do you think of? Probably not this…

But our cruise was one of the first that called into Tunisia after its 2011 revolution, and there were still plenty of military around, worried about security.

However, it didn’t spoil our day – the country was desperate to revitalise its old tourist industry, and the soldiers simply ignored us. Tunis is a delightful mix of the old and the new. Modern architecture like the City Hall

Sit comfortably side by side with sights such as the Catholic Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul.

The modernity of the University

And the tradition of the Youssef Dey Mosque

As with many Muslim cities, you get the best feel for real life in the bazaars and the souks. Tunis has a wealth of them.

You can have your hair cut

Buy from a tailor