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Exploring North Vietnam: Sensational Sapa

About five hours drive (or 8 hours overnight train trip) north of Hanoi is the mountain hideaway town of Sapa, in the shadow of Fan Si Pan—one of Vietnam’s tallest mountains. This is a land of steep hillside rice terraces and colorfully dressed hill tribes like the Black Hmong and Dao. There’s a beautiful lake, of course, French colonial buildings, and a town that’s constantly under construction (like the rest of Vietnam). We roamed the town, took in a buffet dinner and dance show at our hotel, and visited an eclectic mostly-outdoor market. I had come down with a bad case of bronchitis, so couldn’t hike to the hill-tribe villages as we had planned. A local doc gave me some antibiotics, which perked me up for awhile.

So, let me take you on a photo tour of Sapa. As always, click on any photo to enlarge and then arrow back and forth. Please enjoy.

Sapa lake and French colonial buildings

Categories: Architecture, Art, Asia, History, Photography, Shopping, Travel, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vietnam—Exploring Hanoi’s Old Quarter: Part I

I was in high school/college in California while the Vietnam war had been raging for ten-plus years, and I knew many young men who were drafted into the army and sent to this far-away country. Years earlier, the U.S. had teamed up with other UN countries to stop communist North Korea from taking over democratic South Korea (remember the tv show, MASH?). In Korea’s case, the UN forces were able to push back the N. Korean forces to the 38thParallel, where the country remains divided to this day. I suppose, when the U.S. went into Vietnam with the same aim (to keep the North Vietnamese Communist party out of South Vietnam), they felt it was doable. But this time, the U.S. was alone, without the backing of UN troops. As we now know, the war in Vietnam was a disaster for both the Vietnamese people and U.S. soldiers. The Communist north took over the south, many Vietnamese U.S. collaborators were killed, and I’ll never forget the news videos of panicked crowds trying to get on the last U.S. planes to leave Vietnam.

Since then, Vietnam has fostered good relations with the U.S. and has welcomed tourists from all over the world. Even so, memories of the war-ravaged country remained in my mind, and since it is a Communist country, I wasn’t sure what to expect when Jerry and I traveled there last November (2019).

We had taken a southeast Asia cruise a few years earlier and joined excursions to central and south Vietnam, but we had never seen the North.

So please join me as I take you on a virtual tour of North Vietnam, starting with its capital, Hanoi. As far as I could tell, there is no central transportation in Hanoi. Everybody, and I mean everybody, rides mopeds or bicycles, but mostly mopeds (tourists can take rides in pedicabs (called cyclos). It must be the moped capital of the world. Crossing a street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, you must watch for a good open spot, step out onto the street and keep going. If you don’t stop or hesitate or waiver in your direction, the moped riders and any other vehicles will swerve around you. It takes getting used to.

Carrying colorful balloons on a moped_DSC0124 copy_DSC0124 copy_DSC0145 copy_DSC0145 copy

Categories: Architecture, Asia, culture, Food, History, Photography, Shopping, Travel, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Futbol, Art and Tango in Buenos Aires

3-D Artwork in La Boca's Caminito

We were warned: Watch your wallets and purses if you go to La Boca, Buenos Aires’ rough-and-tumble barrio located at the mouth (boca, in Spanish) of the Riachuelo river along the city’s southern border.

During the day, however, the most clear and present danger to your cash lies with the hawkers and hustlers in La Boca’s Caminito—a colorful tourist trap lined with artists’ studios, trinket shops, cafés, musicians and tango dancers. If you like, you can have your photo taken with the dancers—for a price, of course.

As always, my focus was on photography. In particular, I wanted to capture the bright red, blue and yellow dwellings constructed mainly of planks, sheet metal and corrugated iron—cast-off ship building materials left over from the days when the neighborhood was lined with shipyards. Early dockworkers—settlers from Genoa, Italy—built the makeshift houses. Other Europeans followed. Today, many La Boca residents are of mixed European descent: Italian, Spanish, German, French, Arab and Basque.

Drab and dreary at their inception, Caminito’s houses were painted in 1960 by local artist Benito Quinquela Martin, who also erected a makeshift stage for performances. Now each café has its own narrow stage where singers, musicians and tango dancers perform for your pesos. The many hawkers can be annoying, but it’s a poor neighborhood and they’re just trying to make a living.

Not too far from Caminito, La Boca’s futbol (soccer) stadium rises from the narrow streets like a modern-day Roman Colosseum. Instead of gladiators and lions, however, the stadium—named La Bombonera (the candy box)—is home to Argentina’s most famous soccer team, the Boca Juniors, but rivalries with other teams—especially their sworn enemies, River Plate—are, it seems, just as fierce. When full of screaming, chanting, weeping, frenzied fans, the blue-and-yellow stadium, it’s said, shakes as if an earthquake is underfoot.

La Boca has a third claim to fame. In 1882, after a lengthy general strike, it seceded from Argentina—or tried to. Rebels raised the Genoese flag, which was immediately removed personally by then President Julio Argentino Roca.

Categories: Argentina, Art, Photography, Shopping, South America, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Tulips in Turkey

tulips arranged in S-curves decorate the border of a driveway leading to Istanbul University

Turkey is full of surprises. For example, it is commonly believed that tulips originated in Holland. In fact, tulips are native to Central Asia and Turkey. It seems that in the 16th century, someone brought them from Turkey to Holland where they became wildly popular.

In Turkey, under the reign of Sultan Ahmed III, the period between 1718 and 1730 became known as the Tulip Era—an era of peace in which handmade textiles, embroidery, carpets, clothing and other objects were adorned with tulip designs and large tulip gardens sprang up around the Golden Horn in Istanbul. When the sultan was dethroned, the Tulip Era came to an end, but tulip gardens can still be found in Istanbul, and the lovely designs still adorn many handmade goods (see photo below).

The botanical name for tulips, Tulipa, is derived from the Turkish word “tulbend,” meaning turban, which the flower resembles. The tulip is considered the king of bulbs and is Turkey’s national flower.

a gold letter opener from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul sports a tulip design

Categories: culture, flowers, History, nature, Photography, Shopping, Stock Photography, Travel, Travel: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Inside a Turkish carpet factory sales room

They’re beautiful. They’re beguiling. They have cachet. They’re well made. They’re easy to clean. They’re hard to resist. You want one, but they’re not cheap. The sales staff brings you tea and goodies to eat as the head salesman extolls the virtues of his carpets, and his assistants roll them out one by one.

Categories: culture, Photography, Shopping, Stock Photography, Travel, Travel: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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