A day or so in Saigon is like a week anywhere else, staying in District 1 at the delightful Caravelle Hotel (yes, still the best breakfast in Asia).
I’m a sucker for a good hotel breakfast, and as one who has the simplest morning meal at home I go crazy when I’m at a brekkie buffet. The Caravelle Hotel, for me. is my go-to in Indochina. Every nationality is catered for, which suits me as I can cover ten countries in one sitting.
The hotel is situated opposite the charming Opera House (built in 1900), near every high end shop in town and 15 minutes walk away from the real shopping in big and vibrant Ben Thanh Markets – oh joy, oh joy!
The streets are buzzing with millions of motorbikes and we were pedalled around in a rickshaw yesterday – always a bit embarrassing as the drivers are usually the size of my left leg!
Visited the Reunification Palace and for the first time I visited the War Remnants Museum (much more realistic than the word ‘War Memorial’); sombre and heartbreaking, the museum pulls no punches and the photographs on the walls tell the horrific story of Vietnam’s suffering.
A funny thing happened at the Palace, there was a group of war vets, men and women who were ecstatic about having their photographs taken with us . . .see, you don’t have to mention the war!
Writer Bev Malzard has visited Vietnam many times and blames the introduction to pho for her obsessive search for the best bowl of pho in Sydney. (On the lowdown, Eat Fuh (their spelling) has the most fragrant and divine broth for pho in Marrickville.)
I’m posting this as an update, after the devastation throughout Australia of the bushfires, wrought on country towns and villages that will be doing it tough for a long time to come. Following are a few towns, not necessarily bushfire affected but the drought and the idea of bushfires has kept visitors away from many places outside the cities and urban areas. Let me request that you head out with a full heart and an empty Esky. Buy local, eat local and shop local while visiting the towns. Let’s share some love.
Head out of Sydney to explore the central west. There are thriving towns, sleepy hollows and a wealth of innovation with a big, warm welcome when you drive into the towns. Stop by and spend a few $$$ as the towns are stretched because of the fierce drought that is affecting everyone out there. Farmers markets, gift shops, cafes all can benefit by a few dollars spent here. (Keep your showers short and your support long.)
Five Highlights of the NSW Central West:
Cowra Japanese Gardens.
Stroll around the stunning, elegant Japanese Garden.
This ultimate, tranquil experience is one to enjoy with a slow stroll, a picnic or view from the Japanese Tea House. Ken Nakajima designed the Cowra Japanese Garden based on the first landscape garden built by the Shogun Tokugawa during the Edo period of Japan, the 16th century.
There is the wartime legacy of Cowra with the solemn reminders of the Cowra Breakout, the POW Camp and the War Cemeteries. An uplifting sight in Cowra is the World Peace Bell set in Cowra’s Civic Square where you can listen to an audio presentation and even ring the bell.
Parkes has a host of festivals throughout the year and the big one is a celebration of Elvis Presley’s birthday in the second week of January. Thousands of visitors flock to Parkes to hear impersonators sing the King’s hits, dress up vintage-style and to dance in their blue suede shoes. If you aren’t driving, there’s the Elvis Express train that transports passengers to Parkes from Sydney and return. (There are many great packages to the festival to be had.)
Stay at Hotel Gracelands (where it all began) for great accommodation and a fab restaurant (with much better food than Elvis ever ate).
On the outskirts of Parkes is THE Dish, yes, that one. On the flat drive out to the CSIRO complex you drive on a road shaded by tall eucalypts. Paddocks spread before you, a few sheep are feeding and the scene is quiet and rather sparse. Then the Dish appears – so incongruous and so wonderfully familiar (for me, all because of the movie). Enjoy a cup of java at the Dish Café and watch and wait while it does a little turn. This sophisticated piece of scientific equipment stands in the middle of a sheep paddock just 20km from Parkes off the Newell Highway. There are many hands-on exhibits and a 3D theatre screening programs on space and astronomy (great stuff for kids and adults too).’
With the drought you could say ‘Orange is the new Brown’.
Orange is a wonderful, classy country town that is not famous for oranges – in fact there are no oranges grown in Orange. There is a fine legacy of agricultural business though and cherries are the orchards of choice and of course classic cool climate wines are produced in the surrounding vineyards. This country town has been gaining a strong foodie following for a few years now and the quality of produce, menu innovation and top shelf restaurants has given Orange a formidable reputation. The town is at an altitude of 862m so it’s a little cooler in summer that the sea level towns and there’s often a snow fall in winter. Mount Canobolas at 1395m is the local mountain, for a drive and a grand view of the city and surrounding countryside. (The information centre here is informative and there’s often an exhibition that’s worth stopping an extra day for.)
It’s about 200km west-northwest of Sydney and is the oldest inland settlement in Australia. The city has the classic wide streets and a plethora of heritage buildings from colonial to Federation to mid century modern. There’s a lot going on here and there’s a youthful feel as it’s a university town.
The food scene is innovative and I can totally recommend the jam and scone scene . . .
The Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG) is a standout among the nation’s regional art galleries. It’s smallish and has some spectacular exhibitions on display regularly.
This is five highlights only, among many, so next time you want to take a driving holiday in New South Wales, head west: stop off at Blackheath on your way before you cross the Blue Mountains, have a coffee and lemonade scones at Altitude; try the Servicemen’s Club at Cowra for a good club dinner; visit the Dubbo Western Plains Zoo and spend the day there, and walk around the old Dubbo Gaol for some jailhouse blues; sink your teeth into the best egg and bacon roll in Cumnock; check out pretty Molong and its blank silos waiting to be painted; the tiny town of Milthorpe between Orange and Blayney where there’s a one hat restaurant called Tonic that is the talk of the town; seek out the Bakery in Forbes for more light-as-a-feather scones; drive out of Condobolin (Condo) to view the ‘Utes in the Paddock’ outdoor exhibition of painted utes in various states – quite something to see, as is much of the Carbonne villages, roadside stalls, spectacular natural wonders, annual country events and generous and warm hospitality oozing authenticity and rustic charm.
You are a tourist but you need not be so obvious – try the ‘blend in’ tactic.
It’s funny that we recognise other tourists when we are travelling, there’s a certain gauche appearance to some, a gawky look to others, a ‘look at me’ image and a ‘I don’t care what the culture is, I’m wearing this’ attitude, and we see someone who had no idea what the weather was going to be like and is inappropriately dressed for the current climate. And then we pass a window and see our reflection . . .eek! Let’s address the dress code.
I can always pick the older Aussie male traveller (and the older Americans too). The big white sneakers and socks pulled half-way up the calf and the men are wearing shorts.
Now, shorts are fine in the tropics, beach resorts or cruise days. But. You are a standout tourist in sophisticated cities.
For ease and comfort while being a tourist, try to blend in.
Wear it well!
Nothing shouts ‘tourist’ more than bulky sneakers, a backpack with a logo, and sometimes a bad hat – think foldable, terry towelling or canvas. And garments sold as ‘vacation wear’ marketed to travellers are dead giveaways. Locals do not wear zip-off pants in khaki or colours as muddy as that.
If you’re travelling for a couple of weeks, invest in a good Panama hat (the authentic Panama’s roll up nicely and you can wear them for years) or wear or a subtle baseball cap. OR just buy a cheap hat in Asia and ditch it before you depart the country.
And don’t wear loud T-shirts or sweat shirts announcing that you’re an Aussie. No political messages or what you deem amusing either. For men and women, plain T-shirts and cotton classic shirts.
If in a cold country, don’t look as if you’ve never known cold before. A good parka and a classy scarf and warm hat helps you blend in. You don’t need to be in a Michelin Man puffer jacket, unless you’re in Siberia in the winter!
And never wear a bumbag (or as the Americans call them ‘fanny packs’), they not only spell tourist, they spell ‘person with terrible taste’, they are a crime against fashion . . . and humanity.
Conclusion: avoid bright colours and logos, electronic gear in plain sight and glittery jewellery.
Sometimes we can be rather overdressed.
Pack a couple of smart outfits to wear if you are to attend a concert or splurge on a fancy restaurant. You’d be surprised at how many travellers turn up to the opera in Vienna or at the theatre in London wearing what looks like yesterday’s borrowed bushwalking gear!
Now, this is a good look.
Where you go
The art of blending in is best achieved by quietly fitting in without anyone noticing. Begin without walking around with a giant map in your hands. Use a map on your phone and don’t stop in the middle of the street, road, a crowd to consult your phone map. Find a quiet spot to find your bearings.
Embrace the art of ‘slow travel’. Don’t rush everywhere to see everything. Enjoy long, slow breakfasts in local cafes or leisurely picnics in parks. And on the perimeter of tourist sites you’ll be less of a target for pickpockets.
Sometimes it’s hard to blend in.
In Paris? London? New York? Book a haircut at a fancy hairdressing salon. You’ll look and feel a million bucks.
Need a new coat? Hit the sales in Los Angeles or Las Vegas at the amazing Outlet stores or sale time in Milan. Yet again, you’ll look as cool as a local and you’ll bring a beautiful garment home with you.
And chaps – ditch the baggy-bum Dad jeans – buy yourself some new jeans (preferably dark blue or black) and some fashionable chinos.
And if you have to wait for a bus in a foreign land, just dress to impress.
Denver has been the subject of many songs by famous artists especially native son the late John Denver, but my fave is by Jimmy Buffet:
I’m about a mile high in Denver Where the rock meets timberline I’ve walked this ground from town to town Just to finally call it mine
Dating back to the Old West era, Denver is definitely oh, so 21st century.
Denver, the capital of Colorado, features landmark 19th-century buildings, museums that include the Denver Art Museum, an ultramodern complex known for its collection of indigenous works, and the mansion of famed Titanic survivor Molly Brown.
At the end of the 16th Street Mall, cross the road to visit the Union Station, a splendid example of 19th century architecture. Once a bustling transit institution, but as roads and flight took goods across the state lines, the station’s use declined. But it’s now back in business as a bus and rail terminal and a lovely hotel is inside the original building as the Crawford Hotel.
The main hall is now a café, bar, lounge area full of gentle buzzing conversation and good vibes. Everyone welcome as long as you ‘be nice’. Union Station is located in LoDo (Lower Downtown), Denver’s vibrant oldest neighbourhood – check out the city’s best known restaurants, galleries, shops, and boutiques.
The revitalised Union Station is part of the refurb of the LoDo area of Denver.
Denver is also a jumping-off point for ski resorts in the nearby Rocky Mountains. It’s a university town and there’s a lot of sporty stuff going on here. And in Denver you will find the highest concentration of recreational marijuana stores in Colorado, with a large number of select stores selling recreational and medical marijuana. Marijuana stores in Denver are required to close by 10pm. See https://www.coloradopotguide.com/where-to-buy-marijuana/colorado/denver/ just sayin’ (it is legal).
It’s called the Mile High City because it is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level (1.6km).
I believe that as the cowboys galloped into town all those years ago and helped grow this city, it was today’s hipsters who moseyed into town in their electric cars, wearing man buns and sporting old school beards that have put the edge on Denver.
It’s always been known as a friendly, easygoing place but the hospitality bar has been raised up and up.
The local Beer Trail boasts an extraordinary craft beer culture – home to Colorado’s oldest and largest beer pubs, and if the beery brew isn’t to your taste there’s a slew of cafes serving coffee that even Aussie coffee snobs approve of.
If you are a Super Bowl fan this is the home of the Denver Broncos and their home is the Mile High Stadium which is open for a walking tour through the hallowed halls.
The main drag is the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian and transit mall is 1.25 miles long, runs along 16th Street in downtown Denver. Stroll it and shop, stop and eat or drink or catch the free tram from one end to the other.
Just outside of town is the amazing natural amphitheatre Red Rocks where everyone from Bruce Springsteen to U2 have performed. To see a concert here is an out of body experience. The sun goes down, the rocks surrounding you are in sharp contrast to the blackening sky, the lights go up and the music begins!
Culture rules in Denver from high to low – rock to symphony, traditional art to an outdoor gallery of topical wall art, fast food to high table cuisine.
Writer, Bev Malzard squealed when she found out she was going to a concert at Red Rocks to see local boys made good – One Republic (Shooting Stars) . . . oh what a night. And would recommend anyone who enjoys music of any sort to do some research before you travel anywhere and book seats for a concert so you can immerse yourself totally in the music, the scene and with the locals.
AVERAGE FLIGHT TIME LAX-DEN 2hrs 20 mins
BEST TIME TO VISIT April through May and September through October. The city’s shoulder seasons are characterized by comfortable temperatures,
Plenty of street art around town, this bold pour of milk splash is coming from the Dairy Market building.
I was so excited to finally visit the Blue Pearl – Chefchaouen in Morocco. Seeing images of the pretty town for years made me wary that I might be disappointed. No. This small city does not disappoint.
How many words for blue? How many shades of blue are there? Baby blue, azure, cobalt, pale blue, indigo, sky blue, navy blue, teal, sapphire, cornflour, periwinkle, Marjorelle blue, powder blue, electric blue . . . this could go on for many more words. And many of these shades are seen on the walls of the building of Chefchaouen and indeed dotted throughout streets in other Moroccan cities.
A bustling town high in the Rif Valley of northern Morocco, Chefchaouen sets itself apart from the dusty landscape in a palette of powder blue. The history of the settlement dates back to 1471, when it was a small fortress established by Moorish exiles leaving Spain to fight the Portuguese invaders.
As the Spanish reconquered Moorish lands in the late 15th century, Chefchaouen grew and prospered with the arrival of Muslims and Jews fleeing persecution.
The refugees whitewashed their houses, balconies and tiled roofs, and added citrus trees to the centre of their patios, creating a Spanish style and ambience.
But it was the Jewish immigrants who popularised the pale-blue wash, considered a holy colour in Judaism, that is now the town’s trademark.
The city’s signature colour is a variety of calming shades of blue that lower your blood pressure in seconds. Known as Morocco’s “blue pearl” or “blue city”, the buildings in Chefchaouen are painted using a talc or chalk-based paint that looks so beguiling. I saw a woman with a fat brush attached to a long handle painting a wall and later found out that only the women paint the walls – no men do this work. I couldn’t get to the bottom of this particular feminised ritual – so if anyone knows why, please comment and tell me.
The streets of the town aren’t wide, they’re not full of shops, the crowds aren’t thick and there’s less mania to the atmosphere than other touristy Moroccan towns.
In the charming town, it’s easy to spend a day wandering and trying to find new angles of blue. Up and down stairs, along the main arteries, through the small winding passageways and the doors . . . oh, so splendid.
The main square has open air cafes and restaurants where there’s no rush to move on. A slow lunch, a leisurely coffee, an hour or two sitting on a cushioned lounge and you’ll be happy, calm and certainly won’t get the blues – or maybe you will.
Writer Bev Malzard travelled with http://www.bypriorarrangement.com and wandered up and down and in and around and absorbed the glorious blues of all shades. She ate lunch at Cafe Clock Chefchaouen and despite the variety of cuisines on offer: Arabic, Moroccan, Middle Eastern, vegan friendly, she refused the camel burger and settled for a good old Yankee burger with meat and chips.
Coffee snob? Think that cafe latte is the one and only? When you take a sip of this beautiful beverage it’s about the shot, the kick, the blend, so take a chance and discover other coffee styles.
Australia has one of the most eclectic, thriving food scenes around and a cafe culture to match. So naturally, we don’t mess around when it comes to coffee. But do we know our way around the world’s coffees? Read on.
1 ITALIAN CAPPUCCINO
This splendidly evolved cuppa is named after the Capuchin friars’ cloaks. The word ‘cappuccio’ means ‘hood’ in Italian, and the ‘-ino’ ending makes it what’s called the ‘diminutive’.
In other words, instead of just meaning ‘hood,’ ‘cappuccino’ means ‘little hood’.
It’s because of the hoods worn by a particular order of Franciscan monks which was founded in the early 16th century that they were given this moniker – Capuchin monks, or “Cappuccini” in Italian.
The wonderful beverage is: double espresso with steamed milk creating a lovely ‘crema’. (Italians do not drink cappuccino after midday.)
2 GREEK COFFEE
This is a strong brew, served with foam on the top and the grounds in the bottom of the cup
Strong ground powdered coffee spooned into a briki (Greek coffee pot), water added with a little sugar, boiled and stirred roughly. The ‘crema’ is a shiny foaming surface. Served in tiny cups and downed in two sips. (Order cafe metreo for a little sugar included.)
3 VIENNA COFFEE
An indulgent traditional drink made with two shots of black espresso in a standard size cup and infusing the coffee with a generous amount of whipped cream. Swirl the cream and dust with chocolate sprinkles. Expect this elegant coffee to arrive at your table served on a small silver tray accompanied by a glass of water.
“Nous-Nous’ is Arabic for ‘half-half’, half coffee, half hot milk. A strong, tasty drink served in a little glass tumbler.
5.VIETNAM’S EGG COFFEE
Everyone at Hanoi’s humble Cafe Giang have come for “cà phê trúng,” or egg coffee, a Hanoi specialty of a creamy soft, meringue-like egg white foam perched on dense Vietnamese coffee. Nguyen Van Giang invented the recipe while working as a bartender at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel in 1946. There was a shortage of fresh milk then, so whisked egg yolk was used as a substitute.
“All the foreigners and the Vietnamese in the hotel liked it,” says Van Dao. So he decided to leave the hotel to start selling egg coffee and create his own brand.
6 BALI COFFEE
Or ‘Cat Poo’ coffee. Kopi luwak is the world’s most expensive coffee, produced from the coffee beans which have been digested by a civet cat that selects the finest, ripest coffee cherries to eat. It can’t digest the stone (the coffee bean) and poos them out, its anal glands imparting an elusive musky smoothness to the roasted coffee.
And for coffee fiends there’s so much more . . .the heady Turkish coffee, Kahve; the Ethiopian Ceremonial coffee; the Ipoh white coffee of Malaysia . . .and the all-time great Australian flat white. A shot of espresso and hot milk, no adornment. Drink up!
Writer, Bev Malzard could not find a picture of Morocco’s nous-nous nor has she ever tasted it . . . but . . . next month she’ll be in Morocco and will hunt this coffee down. Watch this space.
After ten days sailing on the Red River in North Vietnam we came back to earth (land) and entered the mighty maelstrom of a late afternoon Hanoi happening. It seemed so crowded, so noisy, we had to find some a peaceful place.
I’m used to busy cities and love to throw myself into the middle of a crowd, but after gliding on the silky river waters and away from the hurley burly it came as a shock.
Then peace and quiet opened its doors – we entered the Metropole Hotel Hanoi and the world was set back on its axis.
To stay in the Sofitel Legend Hanoi Metropole Hotel is to be treated like royalty and be immersed in Hanoi’s long and complex history. The French carved a colony out in Vietnam from 1887 until its defeat in the First Indochina War in 1954 when independence was claimed for the country.
The French left many beautiful buildings especially in the north and the Queen is the Hanoi Metropole, gleaming white, brass polished as a shining ritual and all things here, tres bon. The staff still greet each guest throughout the hotel with a welcoming “bonjour”.
The hotel includes 364 rooms. The historic Metropole wing has 106 guest rooms and three Legendary Suites. The suites are named after famous residents and visitors to the hotel (Graham Greene, Charlie Chaplin, Somerset Maugham). Green and Maugham spent long periods here working on their novels. (For inspiration read The Quiet American by Graham Greene, or watch the movie starring Michael Caine.)
From the Paris-inspired cafe La Terrasse, to the popular poolside Bamboo Bar or Vietnamese restaurant Spices Garden, the multi-award French restaurant Le Beaulieu or the stylish Italian-influenced restaurant and lounge Angelina – the hotel promises a gastronomic journey.
The architectural style is neoclassical and is set on a tree-lined street. This luxury hotel is a 5-minute walk from the Hanoi Opera House and 27km from Noi Bai International Airport.
And if you can only visit for one thing – make it afternoon tea. Served daily, High tea and the Chocolate Library – tres, tres, bon.
Every day, between three and 5.30pm, the Chocolate Library opens in the Club Bar. Praline, ganache, éclairs, mille-feuille pastries, chocolate fountain, a selection of every kind of French pâtisseries and chocolate in every shape and form appears and appeals seductively to the afternoon tea fanatic.…
And the High Tea isn’t too shabby either . . .scones, pastries, tiny cakes, finger sandwiches, baby quiche . . . do I need to elaborate? My travelling companion and I worked the program . . .one of us did the High Tea, the other the Chocolate Library. Would have been a terrible shame not to share.
And there’s always Le Spa du Metropole after an afternoon of high indulgence. Enter a calm sanctuary of refined style for rituals combining east and west – to massage way the High Tea guilt.
For a little bit of fancy Francais in Vietnam, this hotel offers every experience to please a world traveller. Bon chance!
Writer Bev Malzard, recovered from an afternoon tea sugar coma, and proceeded to order a simple repast later in the evening. There’s a little shop within the hotel that sells baguettes, rolls, charcuterie and a selection of exquisite French cheeses. It was just a simple, light dinner . . . truly.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do. So throw off the bowlines,sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. - Mark Twain