Road trip: Go West

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Forbes Town Hall.

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

Stroll around the stunning, elegant Japanese Garden.

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Cowra Japanese Gardens.

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.

Visit: www.visitcowra.com.auu

Cowra

 

  1. Parkes

Whole hunka love . . .

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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).

Visit: www.visitparkes.com.au

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  1. The Dish

Look to the stars – and further

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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).’

Visit: www.csiro.au/parkes

 

  1. Orange

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.)

Visit: www.visitnsw.com/destinatons/country-nsw/orange-area/orange

 

  1. Bathurst

History, heritage and damn fine scones

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.

Visit: https://www.bathurstart.com.au/

 

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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.

Visit:  www.visitcentralnsw.com.au

0A bit shabby but still standing – the wall too!

Travel: Make mine Marrakech

Travel: Make mine Marrakech

 

Marrakech Morocco, it’s bold and it’s beautiful. Colours collide here and eyes and ears are put to an endurance test. Every morning I woke up in the Red City, I fell in love with it, over and over again.

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The early foreign travellers to Morocco called Marrakech ‘Morocco City’. The city of old has expanded over the centuries since its origins but it is those beginnings that have kept it as mesmerising and traditional as it was in the past. It’s still a marketplace.

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It is the ‘Red City’, soaked with the natural red ochre pigment that is the walls and buildings dominating the city, souks and medinas, but there are other colours too that fight for space – colour is king in Morocco. A variety of blues and bright yellow and pink fight for your attention.

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To try and give a blanket narrative on this magical place is like trying to cover an oval of brilliant blooms with a handkerchief. Following are observations, ideas and suggestions of how to experience the beauty, colour and movement of Marrakech.

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Playing the market

Marrakech has Berber rather than Arabic origins as it was originally the meeting place of the Atlas tribes. It was the centre of the past for gold, slaves, ivory and leather brought to Morocco by caravans from far away empires via the desert port of Timbuktu. The visiting and trading population swelled the city’s souks and its way of life.

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In the heart of the medina (a medina is a distinct city section in north African cities, typically walled, it has narrow lanes and streets that are maze-like), is the wide open spaced Djemma El Fna or Jemaa el Fna (this has many spellings) – the city’s main market where all aspects of north African life is on view and the space becomes a theatre. The main souks are to the north of the market place but this is where the action is.

The epicentre of Marrakech is Jemaa el Fna, weaving its chaotic magic all day and all night.

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The famed “night market” at Jemaa el Fna is a bizarre microcosm of entertainment, food, and tradition. Since the mid-11th century, this plaza has been the beating and sometimes bloody heart of Marrakech’s old city. A thousand years ago, executioners plied their trade here (hence one translation of the plaza’s name to mean “assembly of the dead”). Today, the only gore you’re likely to see is from the skinned sheep’s heads ready for barbecue that await the market’s hungry patrons. The market is eminently intriguing in all ways – in a can’t-look-away kind of way.

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You have to keep moving at a steady pace throughout the market to avoid the snake charmers because if you stop for a brief moment to look at the reptiles, you’ll find one or two wrapped around your neck and shoulders. They’ll stay coiled there until you pay up for the experience – or else you might choke!

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There are fortune tellers, water sellers, jugglers, acrobats, garment makers, sellers of strange things in bottles and one stall that I cannot ever unsee – the man selling the teeth.

Day and night this middle-aged man sits on a folding chair at a card table presiding over a mounds of teeth. Some of the teeth have been worked into half dentures, delicately displayed for toothless shoppers (and generally the people of Morocco have terrible teeth due to to amount of sugar they consume daily).

Where did he get all these teeth?

A charming sight is the water sellers dressed in colourful garb as they have been for centuries with pompom hats fringed with coloured wool. In the local dialect they are called Gharrib and they carry goatskin tar lined bags holding water. They are mostly wandering entertainers these day but the Moroccans consider it lucky to drink the water they sell (see picture above).

After wandering around and if you aren’t stopping to eat a barbecued cow’s head, or skewered chicken feet, go to a café on the perimeter of the square, grab a cold beer and watch the amazing dance of pedestrians below as they shape shift thought the market.

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Colour and culture

Take an historical tour of the Bahia Palace and the Saadian Tombs are exquisite examples of refined architecture and tradition. Bahia (Bahia means brilliance) Palace was built in the 19th century and captures the the essence of Islamic and Moroccan style.

DSC03632It’s interesting to explore the layout and see the rooms of the harem which includes a vast court with four rooms built for Si Moussa, the grand vizier’s wives and many more for his 24 concubines. School rooms for the great many offspring that were produced on a regular basis.

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A visit to a souk is mandatory. If you’ve run out of spending money – sell a kidney. Beautifully made shoes and leather goods, carpets, embroidered caftans, spices, brass and copper goods are begging to be snaffled up.

In the early morning when the traffic is cool and calm, hop into a caliche (horse-drawn carriage) and let your destination be spectacular Jardin Majorelle, with its abundance of giant bamboo, yucca, palm, cypress and banana tree, bougainvillea and otherworldly cacti. These earthy, natural colours contrast vividly with the cobalt blue façade (called Marjorelle Blue) of the villa lovingly restored by Yves Saint Laurent.

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The French fashion legend said he ‘found colour’ in Morocco and made it his second home. The Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech is a joy, a revelation and to see the exhibits is an emotional experience. The building is made from local bricks and the architecture is formed like the fabric of a dress with the curve of a draped cloak. There’s a rotating cast of 500 fashion items of clothes, and 50,000 pieces of accessories on display to be absorbed.

Saint Laurent dedicated his later years to this museum and created the extraordinary Berber Museum and stocked it with glorious, historical garments and accessories from the diverse Berber community that he had collected in his travels over the years.

Shuffle through the medina to fill your heart and soul with the essence of Morocco and once you’ve had your fill of the sights and sounds, the people and the donkeys crowding the medina’s alleyways step back in time to the 12th century. Count the 19 grand gates surrounding the medina – the grandest of all being the Bab Agnaou. And before you leave the distant past behind, walk the grounds of El Badi Palace, a 16th century ruin (but in very good shape) that still has an orchard growing ornamental oranges.

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Close by to the museums and gardens there’s a small local and French designer section of new buildings promoting modern, collectible goods and there’s a cool café to calm the shopping ardour.

A taxi ride back to Jardins de la Medina a superior riad (a type of traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden, courtyard and fountain) to shake off the heat of a heady Marrakech day and perhaps take a dip in the pool set in luxurious gardens or maybe a spa with hammam (a traditional cleansing ritual), steam bath and traditional Moroccan beauty treatments.

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Marrakech has centuries old layers to be uncovered and enjoyed. So much of its history is on display and open to touristic scrutiny but remember it has secrets – just think about the streets lined with orange trees, so pretty and not quite what they seem.

The trees are for ornamentation only – you can’t eat the fruit.

The author travelled to Morocco with http://www.bypriorarrangement.com

This story was first published by https://letstravelmag.com/

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I have to fess up – I did not drink the water.

 

 

 

Travel: the year that was 2019

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Writing or typing 2019 has been a trial for me. Those numbers didn’t sit right, they jar and are unbalanced. And every time I wrote it I questioned myself . . .was it 2019? or 2018? And as 2020 has arrived, I’m getting excited about writing those lovely 2020’s for an entire year.

But before leaving 2019 behind, despite the numericals, it was a damn fine year for travel and experiences. And there were a few super highlights.

I began 2019 slowly and stayed at a northern beaches house that I make a pilgrimage to every year. A few days with old friends to laze about, go to the beach and yak about old times, good times and what’s in store for the future.

Throughout the year my partner and I left Sydney for further pastures, some close to the city some a bit further. First encounter was in a sleepy holiday place called Ettalong. Drive to Palm Beach on the farther reaches of the northen beaches then a quick ferry ride. We went to the famous Cinema Paradiso two nights running for movies and choctops.

Mid March I was Morocco bound. Two spectacular, colourful weeks there were thrilling. Every day was another day to fall in love with this amazing country. (Stories available https://travelgaltravels.com/2019/06/18/the-ultimate-town-of-colour)

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I would recommend this country and would stress to do it with a small group company. Highlights: everything.

The end of April and I was in India for a trade show in Delhi. Always fun to be back in crazy India. And while there I developed a stingy, hurting, feverish bout of shingles. In 47deg. heat and having to wear clothes that touched the skin was torture. Aftet he trae show I went with a few people to Jaipur and on to Dera Amer: Acquiring 180-acres of largely neglected scrubland in 1981, the Singh family made a commitment to returning this stretch of land to its state of untouched natural beauty. The concept behind Dera Amer was never about profits, and despite being approached by several developers to turn the plot into something more lucrative, the Singh family remained resolute in the protection and preservation of the local environment. Over 30-years later, Dera Amer is something of a sanctuary for animals: both domestic and wild, and the perfect spot for visitors who wish to escape the city.

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After India which included several palace dinners and tiger sightings in the wild I recouped my health and equilibrium.

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The end of May hurried itself up to me and I was in a plane to Hawaii with a to day stop over on Maui, then on to the USA mainland flying into Long Beach with Hawaiian Airlines.

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2J9A3067 Rae Huo photo 6/18. Female guest and Male flight attendant, Keawe

I was here for a monster travel trade show (6000 delegates) called IPW (International Pow Wow). Four days of full on talkfest, business, parties and grand gestures followed. Our party (the entire 6000 peeps) had Disneyland to ourselves and we were some of the first visitors to the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. I almost missed it, thinking nah, just another ride. Ohhh, it was/is fantastic. Such splendid detail and every space (no pun intended) is covered in realistic Star Wars paraphenalia and the space ship is real – I know, because I piloted it.

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After IPW I met up with a road warrior friend and we hot-footed it to Palm Springs. I wasn’t sure what was in the offing but I found lots of stories along the way and the charm of the desert towns and parks. (I will post a story on the experience soon.) It was fiercely hot so outside the air-con in the car we slipped into cool coffee shops and restaurants. There are beautiful mid-century homes and public building there plus a retro vibe in the restuarants still standing since the Rat Pack days.

 

In between my overseas trips, going into the diary are notes that are scribbles: “Dumplings with Merryl”; “movie and lamb with Dot”; ‘astw trivia night”; “magazine gone into liquidation – bugger”; “to Orange and Nashdale Wines for glamping”; “record Crime Story”; ” dawn balloon ride for friends”; “send invoices”; “Belize, yes or no”.

We went west for my partner to research wall art in country towns for a story in the Financial Review’s Weekend Magazine. Drought, drought and drought.

Then a gig came up for New Caledonia. I said yes to the job but had a ho hum attitude towards the destination – only because 20 years before there was nothing in Noumea that was memorable for me.

But “quelle surprise”. I had a wonderful time, Noumea was fab and felt young and invigorated. The beaches are sublime and the food has moved on from too much butter and bloody vol- au-vents (this was heavily on the menu years ago). But as New Caledonia is only three hours flight from Sydney – France is in the Pacific. Mad if you don’t go!

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After two days in tropical north Queensland’s city of Cairns I visited Fitzroy Island just 40 minutes off the mainland where there’s a family friendly resort and a turtle rehabilitation centre . . . a fine endeavour indeed.

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In between the trips there was work: writing, writing, writing; sub editing, content creating, procrastination, lots of visits to the pool to avoid work; meeting friends for loving catchups and being grateful for this life.

Happy new year to friends, comrades, relatives, aquaintances and peers. May our collective year bring good health, good work, good times and good choices.

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In the pink in Long Beach, California where I caught up with my old mate Ronnie Woods.

 

 

 

 

Postcards from the Seaside

Postcards from the Seaside

Remembering a Christmas in England, and when on Boxing Day some friends went for a swim, in fact a very quick dip. Not me.

Travelgal on the move

I know my beaches. I grew up in Sydney and had the advantage of swimming at the great urban beaches in this part of Australia’s east coast. Golden sand, the smell of coconut oil and hot chips, squealing children and days so long that they went on forever.

And as I grew older and began to travel I became a bit of a beach snob. New Zealand Bay of Islands got the big tick; Fijian Islands got a tick; northern Bali with the black sand and tepid surf, no: Greece’s pebbly shores no but the water yes; the warm China Sea off the coast on Saba, Malaysia, no. And swimming in the Red Sea was fun but it sure wasn’t Bondi!

P1000641Checking out the surf.

When I lived in England in the 80s some friends and I (two Kiwis) took a trip from London to Brighton in January. Sweet Geezus…

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Bali cooking class

Bali cooking class

Many Aussies flock to Bali for their summer holidays. So, if you need a distraction from total relaxation . . .try a  little education, in the culinary mode. Read on.

I hadn’t planned to do anything strenuous on a holiday in Bali last year – just sleep, eat, swim. But life often has other plans. We had been in Ubud for a couple of days, happened upon a royal cremation that saw a few thousand people converge on the cultural and spiritual town of Ubud, about an hour’s drive from the capital Denpasar. Well, that was a colourful and jolly affair.

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The following day we did some slow sightseeing outside of town and then took a walk down a back road in Ubud. About to turn back because of the fierce heat and I spied the sign ‘Goya’ at the entrance of somewhere that looked rather fancy. Then a chap asked us if we’d like to take a look at the resort. Sure.

We walked through a spacious foyer breezeway and then stepped down and followed a path lined with tall bamboo crowding to create dappled shade.

Out of the shade and in front of us was an infinity pool (they are de rigueur in Bali), and to the left a canopy covered a lovely outdoor restaurant. Now, how does this happen? We talked to the staff for a few minutes and next thing, we had signed up for a cooking class to be held the following day.

I had partaken in a few cooking classes in the past, they were hands on but not comprehensive – maybe some chopping, plating up or dipping rice paper sheets into hot water. This was the real deal. Our chef was with us every step of the way. We were introduced to the variety of spices, and how to prepare the ingredients. We cut, diced, shaved and mortar and pestle wrestled a sambal into submission.

Despite the heat we toiled towards a fine lunch. The sambal spice was included in the Chicken Lawar, Pepes Ikan (barramundi) steamed inside banana leaf). Dessert was Sumping nangka (jack fruit).

Once we finished cooking the meal we were walked to a little cabana, were we given our certificates for being the best cooks ever to attend a cooking class here!

We ate really good food in Bali over an eight-day period BUT this was the best meal of all. True.

Included in the price of $AU45, is the class for a couple of hours, a reserved table to eat lunch and a video and pictures taken and emailed to us (these are the pics and the video) and for an extra $5 you can stay and swim in the infinity pool afterwards.

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For details: Goya, Bali cooking class  www.goyaboutiqueresort.com email: goya@goyaboutiqueresort.com

Writer Bev Malzard paid for this class herself and recommends the experience as fun and filling! Just a tip, wear makeup or tidy up for the video – she didn’t but thinks it could have been a winner as a Masterchef audition!

Vietnam’s Hanoi and a shining ritual

Vietnam’s Hanoi and a shining ritual

I do love a bit of tradition, especially tradition that has a gentle message. While staying at the elegant Metropole Hanoi hotel (Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi), just strolling through the corridors of the original building (built in 1901 by the French colonists) you can see and feel the essence of Indochine and hope to understand this (first) luxury hotel built in the city.

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The hotel has a few famous ghosts that shuffle through the corridors when the lights go off and guests are tucked between their immaculate cotton bed linen. Rich dark brown timbers creak mildly underfoot in the rooms and the walls wear the patina of stories told and sold.

Author of many fine books, Graham Greene including The Quiet American spent time here (Suite 228)working on his books and watching the last days of the decline of French colonisation and CIA intrigue. This book and the film has endured and like the French (here from 1887-1954) has left its mark on Hanoi.

The hotel has also outlived its original owners, the colonisers, the CIA, the Japanese, the Chinese, Americans, Australians and all others who came to snatch a slice of Vietnam.

The Metropole Hanoi is a much-loved hotel and I met a man who had been staying here annually since the early 80s. He recalled then that there was a food shortage, and the staff of the hotel were too shy (call that scared) to talk to guests because of the culture of spies that flitted in and out of the shadows as Vietnam began to consolidate as a communist country after a bloody and bitter conflict that lasted from 1955-1975.

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There’s a short tour to be had at the hotel where much of the past is recorded in panels. There’s the famous image of Jane Fonda and her visit here with an anti-war message and also Joan Baez stayed here and was present during a hideously long bombing raid across Hanoi over Christmas in 1972. The United States Airforce unleashed Operation Linebacker II, its most intensive bombing campaign since WWII.

Baez and the hotel staff spent 11 nights of the bombardment in an underground bunker crammed with 40 people.

This small network of cells (below) is under the hotel’s back courtyard and was only unearthed during renovations in 2011. Now there’s a new and sad tradition that invited guest into the bunkers narrow rooms where they listen to a crackly, fuzzy tape recording of the bombing and the screams of a mother calling for her son.

Baez based her famous anti-war song Where Are You Now My Son on this incident and partly recorded it in the shelter. The music is punctuated by the thumps of bombs hitting the ground.

Vietnam has weathered many a squall and indeed centuries of storms – and lives and thrives to move on.

The Metropole Hanoi has withstood much and has kept its sense of style, its good manners, and is a shining example of what true hospitality is.

The Shining Ritual

And talking of shining, one of the charming traditions carried out every day at the hotel is the Shining Ritual.

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The Shining Ritual indicates Sofitel’s refinement and unveils the secret of excellence through recurrent cleaning and polishing of the Sofitel Legend nameplate located at the hotel entrance.

Every day, hotel staff perform the Shining ritual using a red velvet towel and green tea to clean the brass plate and the bronze gong. In the past, only Royal families had access to velvet, a material symbolising luxury, elegance, quality and beauty. Red is the colour of luck, happiness and success. Green tea, besides having healthy benefits is also a cleaning agent in Vietnamese households.

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The Gong, a musical instrument used by most highland ethnic groups in Vietnam, is believed to link people to the spiritual world and is also representative of Vietnam culture as a whole.

Writer Bev Malzard, stayed two nights in the divine Metropole, enjoyed a feast of a breakfast and an afternoon tea to write home about – which she will do as soon as she has shed the three kilos that curiously attached to her body after a three-hour High Tea. Mon dieu!

He insisted he was the most handsome of the two? You choose. I know I made my choice.