Recently departed friends from Hanoi invited me on a trip to Tho Ha Village, Bac Giang province. It was a really nice experience to discover another new place that I've never been. It's about 40 kms aways from Hanoi and it took us about 1.5 hours by car. It was a pleasant trip even though the weather wasn't the best and I was concerned about my motion sickness background but we had great conversations during the journey.
I had heard lots about the traditional culture in this village, a famous place for making Gốm Sành (pottery without glaze fired with dry grass and then firewood and coal) and producing rice paper and raising pigs.
When we arrived our tour guide directed us for a few minutes along a lane of very interesting and beautiful old houses before taking us on a ferry over the Cau River. What I found amazing was the fact that many families maintain their traditional trade and they are actually making rice paper for a living.
Strangely, our first stop was at the home of Mr Viet, a local man who can play four different musical instruments. He played a song for us then he helped us to practice the instrument as well and it was rather funny. I don't have much talent so I let my friend Viv and her family make fools of themselves while I sat down enjoying the music. After the music lesson, we moved onto the entrance of the house and Mr Viet's wife was ready to instruct us on the finer points of making steamed rice pancakes. It wasn't that easy but we managed it very well.
Next up we visited the amazing old Doan Minh pagoda and a very nice communal house. I loved the Doan Minh pagoda with its many statues. I thought it looked a bit similar to the Defence Pagoda in Hanoi(Chua Tran Quoc). We spent about 40 minutes wandering around the pagoda before walking back to the banks of the Cau River for lunch. During our walk through the market, I saw people grilling pig's feet and lots of children playing around. They were very friendly and happy which is a great thing to see when you visit a place.
We had lunch at a cafe on the third floor overlooking the Cau River. They served way too much food including deep-fried spring rolls, omelette, tofu with tomatoes sauce, chips, deep fried fish and a broth. I love eating in the countryside as people cook with their own authentic recipes. I felt a bit exhausted so I took a ferry back to the car while my friends keot walking through the village.
It was a great day. I had a fabulous time and I would definitely go back there again for a day. Thanks so much Viv, Sue and Michael for a brilliant day.
On my trip to Europe at the end of 2010, arriving in Venice was just as magical as what people say about it. I don't think anything can prepare you for this amazing city in Italy. There I was, walking alongside the main canal in Venice looking for hotel rooms. We had arrived on a busy Saturday afternoon and most of the hotels were fully booked as Italians go to Venice for weekends with their friends and family and of course there were thousands of tourists just like us. As we expected the hotels were very expensive but luckily we found the Biasin Hotel right on one of the many canals. The owner, a feisty 85 year old, was a very clever business woman but a little bit eccentric. Her hotel was fully booked as well but she offered a partitioned off section of the attic, which we shared with several backpackers. We didn't mind as she had promised us a room across the canal in her other hotel, with actual views over the canal. because we were staying four nights, she gave us quite a good deal, too. In the hotel, most staff were students from around who had come to Venice for study were working here part time. The young receptionist who looked after us was actually from India.
I have to admit that Venice is gorgeous; no traffic, nice shops, great food and ice cream!!!! The Italians make the best ice cream in the world, I reckon. Another thing I have to admit is that, even though it was almost winter, I ate at least one ice cream each day we were in Italy.
Over the four days in Venice, we walked around town and it was like a difficult game of chess with the walkways, bridges and canals making it hard to get back to the hotel - or anywhere else for that matter. But I absolutely loved it. We took so many photos and checked out lots of beautiful shops for Venetian specialties like carnivale masks, they are brilliant!!! I kind of regret that I didn't buy one even though I know it's just another dust-collector. Next time!
We decided to visit Murano Island, famous for its glass, which is about 20 minutes by ferry and it was truly worth the effort. The beautiful scenery from the ferry - seeing Venice from a distance - was another time to say "Am I really here in Venice?". I bought some champagne stoppers and other small souvenirs for my friends and they were pretty cheap and very special. We wandered around this small village for an hour before visiting the other islands of Burano - famous for it's incredible coloured houses and Torcello, a more peaceful and spiritual experience.
Back in Venice, we visited the incredible San Marco Square and cathedral. My friends took a trip to the top of the building while I walked around the square and nearby promenade taking photos of the pigeons and gondolas. There were also people dressed in opera costumes trying to sell tickets - it was a pretty special atmosphere, even though it was cold and raining. On the way back to the hotel, we walked over the Rialto bridge and watched the boat traffic as the skies got dark. We used the city's great vaporetto system to get around as well as walking. Seeing Venice from the water is important, I think.
Four nights in Venice was not enough for me as there is still so many things to see and discover but that means I have a reason to come back.
I still have to pinch myself to believe I've been there.