Monday, March 26, 2012

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

I have just been to Hong Kong for the weekend. This is Hong Kong sevens rugby weekend so there are many tourists coming in just to watch few matches. I'm a big tennis fan but rugby is a game that me and most Vietnamese don't understand. So I took myself off to enjoy the geography of Hong Kong, wandering up the mountain by escalators then walking down to the harbor and around the streets is the best way to see Hong Kong. While most of the old buildings seem to have disappeared, the city is very much about buildings in general. In fact, sometimes it feels as if the sky has disappeared. The trams and buses also are things I love to see and photograph. I took so many photos of the beautiful old trams, which these days are covered with amazing advertising.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong of course is famous for food and I was lucky during my trip to eat Dim Sum at Maxim's Palace City Hall with my friend's cousin's family. It is the best place to eat Dim Sum in Hong Kong, a place which required us to queue for some time to get in. I walked out of there completely full. For the rest of the trip, I was eating on the street but it perhaps wasn't the best street food because I hadn't done much research about where to go. Next time I come back, I'm going to find out the best places.


In general, I think most people seem to come to Hong Kong for shopping. I've never seen so many shopping centers and specialist designer label shops in my life. And it is by no means cheap. I can't afford to shop like that. I was told that it's mostly the mainland Chinese coming for that kind of shopping.

Tu - Hong Kong

I would like to go back to Hong Kong for a longer vacation to get a better feel for the city, perhaps also to see the other islands and Macau. Thanks to Tracy very much for the great hospitality and for inviting me to stay in your lovely apartment.

Sunday, March 18, 2012



I have all these posts about my 2010 trip to Greece and Italy that I never posted. This one is about Florence.
Florence is my friend's favorite destination as she's been here before and she know this place quite well. We arrived in the rain late at night by car from Frosinone, further south, and we managed to find a small hotel in a huge old Florentine building near the river. The hotel owner, a lovely guy, told us to park the hire car on the Ponte Amerigo Vespucci, one of bridges over the Arno River. Parking in Italy was a night mare as people park by touch and we were very worried every time if any damage had been caused to our rental car. Anyway, we were fine without any drama and we got some excellent recommendations from hotel owners for food and the best way to reach the famous spots. We had a great meal at a small restaurant called Il Contadino in which the chef comes to tell the menu, which is different every night. We each ordered different dishes in each course so that we could try every thing on the menu that night!!!! It was one our best meals in Italy, and very much thanks to local knowledge.


The next day, we started our day by walking up toward the Ponte De Vecchio, one of the most famous bridges in the world, where gorgeous jewelery is sold. We stopped at the shop just over the bridge on the left hand side for ice cream :) which was my idea, of course. Who else would want ice-cream at 9am?


We split up then, with one of us heading to the museum and the other two to the Duomo, an incredible church in one of the squares in Florence. We walked up to the top of the Duomo to see the whole of Florence view. It was breathtaking. It's a quite a few steps up tothe top but it's really worth it. It was a great experience but not so good if you are claustrophobic or a bit unfit or overweight as the passages are very narrow.


We walked to the area near the Uffizi Gallery, which has a square with some amazing statues, including a copy of the famous Statue of David. There was a Japanese couple celebrating their wedding with an Italian priest, something which is quite popular for Japanese tourists, who spend a fortune on it.


We had lunch inside the main market and I had the best squid ever. We couldn't ask any questions to the owner about the recipe as she couldn't speak English. We need to learn Italian if we come back and can't blame anyone but ourselves. After lunch, we walked to the leather market which is something Florence is famous for. There are thousands of leather products hanging and they are real, not made in China :) Also there were lots of African men trying to sell fake stuff even though there are signs around the market to warn against it. I treated myself to a small bag to put my belongings in and it will always remind me of Florence. I wouldn't say my bag was expensive nor my friends' bags and jackest but I found out in the end, when we returned to Vietnam that our stuff was much cheaper than in Vietnam and we are assured of the quality.
Florence is a magical city but that's it for now.
To be continued

Monday, March 05, 2012

Winter Winter

Hanoi winter

Winter in Hanoi is super challenging for a southern beach boy like me. Today, there are more signs of warm spring, though it's very wet and quite cold still inside the house. Hanoi's humidity makes the 'feels like' temperature several degrees lower or higher, depending on the season. The cold gets into my bones. The heat I don't mind. Winter tourists upon arrival don't seem to notice but within a few days they are seeking out the jumper shops.

Bun Rieu - Thanh Ha Market

The other problem is the lack of heating. Hanoians tend to tolerate it because the deep winter is not that long. They wear their coats and wooly hats inside while they're watching television! This year I've bought a cheap Chinese heater which is actually only useful when it is blowing directly on me and will probably put our electricity bill through the roof. I've also bought these water bottles that plug into the electricity and heat up in a few minutes. So I am prepared much better than my past ten years in Hanoi.

Banana fritters

Another way to keep warm in winter in Hanoi is to eat smart. On the streets, trying hot sweet potato or cassava, steamed buns and even boiled corn from a mobile street vendor while crowding around their heated cart give a few minutes of warmth. Rice porridge and hot pots are my other favourites at this time of year.

Thanh Ha Market

Winter time is also a time that I put on weight even though I am very busy with work, because winter food in Hanoi is mostly pretty heavy and deep fried. This sometimes means I have to buy winter clothes for my expanding waistline. Hanoians actually love that they can get out of T-shirts and shorts in winter and they go quite crazy buying and wearing heavy clothes. I don't go crazy but I did buy a jumper the other day in the Old Quarter. The worst part was taking my many layers of shirts off to try it on!

I'm sure it won't be long now before people are complaining about the heat.