Miss Saigon? Sure do.

Miss Saigon? Sure do.

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!

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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.)

Travel: looking for the best doors to capture

Travel: looking for the best doors to capture

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A simple wooden door made from fence palings – whatever does the job. On the road to Freycinet, Tasmania.

What is it about doors? I can’t stop photographing them. Below are just a few of the recents I’ve slammed but I’ve been shooting them for years.

The beautiful coloured doors of Ireland, especially Dublin – all shiny and bold. There are many reasons stated as to why the doors were painted different colours, my favourite is that the doors were painted by women so that their drunken husbands would come home at night and recognise their houses!

A great essay on  the origins of the architecture and the door culture of Dublin can be found here: https://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/ALandmks/DoorsofDublin.html

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Adding colour to the neighbourhood and a safe place for a cat to sit so it can skeedaddle inside at the sound of danger. In Essouira, Morocco.

We have doors for privacy, decoration, boastfulness, to keep the elements at bay and to protect ourselves. I have walked past doors and wondered what’s going on behind this one: drama, joyfulness, creativity, poverty, sadness and some doors hide wickedness, mayhem and cruelty. There are great and grand doors that have watched kings and queens pass through to their death or to exile; doorways that elephants have rumbled through carrying spices, jewels and goods that countries and indeed populations had never seen before; doors that have opened to the brightest brains in the halls of universities; doors that have been slammed in the faces of the idealists and the revolutionaries and doors that have had some of the finest music ever written sounding behind them. It’s best I mind my own business and take them at face value and remain curious.

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So old, so lovely. Faded glory in Tangier, Morocco.

IMG_0745Going grand with this beauty in Rajasthan. After a few drinks it’s fun to play the axe throwing game.

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You can’t go past Morocco for the best doors, especially the one’s painted to match my hair. Most of these are the doors and doorways to riads. Often rather modest doors and when they are opened you step into another world, a world of a royal palace or grand mansions with orange trees and fountains and amazing tiles . . . stepping into beauty and calm.

DSC01894And all hail the circular door, small, compact and fits snuggled into round doorways. This is a home of a Hobbit outside the town of Matamata in the north island of New Zealand. There’s a large population of the small folk here and a few humans have been sighted too.

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This bold and beautiful door hinge is on a door in one of the old buildings in St Gallen, a city south of Lake Constance in northeastern Switzerland. It couldn’t be pried off even with a Swiss Army Knife.

 

IMG_6014These two gals drove a pretty fierce bargain as to the price of getting this shot. Even when agreed on a price we had to renegotiate as there was two of them . . .at the Red Fort, Jaipur, India.

 

On the left, the doors do two jobs, they shut for privacy and they hang goods for sale. On the right, the 20th century brought roller doors to the world.

I always thought that red doors were the ants pants of a style statement but the blues got me in Morocco. The diversity and gradations of the colour is seductive and ever pleasing.

DSC03324Oh, this . . . 

DSC03382This mighty archway with its thick walls is an old stables house for a palace outside Fes, Morocco. 

IMG_5583Now we are in the Red City of Marrakech. This weird little stitched up door looks rather irritated or almost like a fake door . . .

IMG_6423This cutie is in a small village on Maui, Hawaii called Paia (Pay-ee-ah) which is a bit like Nimbin but less functional (no atm or chemist). But plenty of surf shops and ice cream parlours. Dates back to about 1927.

E7D91744-FF9C-442D-BE45-D3FF6CFA0C85A bit of fun for very short people in Long Beach, California.

DSC02642And an almost ‘moonish’ gate in Hanoi, Vietnam. Door to a busy buddhist temple. Closed until the keepers have their cigarettes and coffee. Enlightenment is patient.

IMG_6757Doors, door, doors and more doors at the Marriott in Anaheim, California. Same, same. same. Doing the same job as all the others.

IMG_6008Lurking at the Red Fort, Jaipur. Waiting for a surprise visit from a Maharajah . . .waiting, waiting, waiting.

IMG_6109Out in the countryside in Rajasthan, where doors are thick and strong to keep out the wild tigers . . .true.

FFC0ED87-6FF2-4B72-9616-54495A094DFDhttp://www.incredibleindia.com

http://www.bypriorarrangement.com

 

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.

 

How not to look like a tourist

You are a tourist but you need not be so obvious – try the ‘blend in’ tactic.

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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.

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For ease and comfort while being a tourist, try to blend in.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Slow coach

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.

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Sometimes it’s hard to blend in.

Treat yourself

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.

IMG_0085And if you have to wait for a bus in a foreign land, just dress to impress.

Vietnam & Singapore take the cake

Vietnam & Singapore take the cake

It’s time to talk about cake again. Classic high tea doesn’t have to be taken in an English country garden. These two teas enjoyed in Asia take the cake!

When I’m travelling I always plan an afternoon tea experience into the itinerary mix. I think it is the most civilised and friendly ritual anyone could indulge themselves it.

My two standouts for last year (2018) are both set in Asia. The first was in Hanoi, Vietnam (yes, there’s so much more than pho) and the second was in Singapore (hold the chilli and pass the cakes!).

Hanoi

To stay in the Sofitel Legend Hanoi Metropole Hotel is to be treated like royalty and to be immersed in Hanoi’s long and complex history. The French carved out a colony in Vietnam from 1887 until its defeat in the First Indochina War in 1954 when independence was claimed for the country.

After that Vietnam couldn’t catch a break and until the mid 70s war between North and South with many other nations putting their oar in, raged until peace at last.

The French left many beautiful buildings especially in the north – Hanoi has the lion’s share of splendid, restored colonial villas and public buildings. The Queen is the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, 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 warm “bonjour”.

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The hotel includes 364 rooms and the historic Metropole wing has 106 guestrooms and three Legendary Suites. The suites are named after famous residents and visitors to the hotel (Graham Greene, Charlie Chaplin, Somerset Maugham).

Afternoon tea here is best entered into with a stout heart and a competitive spirit.

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Every day, between three and 5.30pm, an irresistible chocolate library opens in the Club Bar. Praline, ganache, éclairs, mille-feuille pastries, chocolate fountain, a selection of every imaginable kind of French pâtisseries and delectable chocolate in all shapes and form appears and appeals seductively to the afternoon tea fanatic.…its reputation has spread well beyond the borders of Vietnam.

Made from the finest Vietnamese grown cocoa, the Metropole Ganaches are carefully prepared to make the finest grade couverture chocolate. The chef here was dipping tiny matcha nougat squares in chocolate while we watched. There were two of us and we decided to share the love. One of us would take the High Tea and the other would take up the Chocolate Library challenge. This is a buffet extraordinaire – try one of everything – chocolate truffle, mousse and ice cream, macarons, a chocolate fountain and a hot chocolate for good measure.

The High Tea comes on a layered stand – where to start? From the bottom with savoury snacks including baby quiche Lorraine’s and tiny sandwiches. Up a level and the scones call to you. Jam and cream of course and decorated fruit tarts – on top now – a display of wee cakes to slip delicately into one’s mouth.

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There are other wonderful restaurants here – but don’t book on the same day as you have the High Tea.

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 new lounge Angelina – the hotel promises a gastronomic journey.

And did I mention cakes?

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SINGAPORE

I once read a food travelogue that described Singapore as the ‘world’s best restaurant’. Every Asian cuisine melds with all world food here and whether you eat at markets, food courts, hole-in-the-wall treasures or five-star gourmet extravaganzas – there is not a dish that you could miss out on here.

I’m a sucker for simple old-school chicken and rice and anything that is presented from Little India and have always been on the hunt for the perfect afternoon tea.

On my most recent visit I finally got to enjoy afternoon High tea at the famous Fullerton Hotel.

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The magnificent Fullerton Building is a grand neoclassical landmark built in 1928. Gazetted in December 2015 as a National Monument, it was once home to Singapore’s General Post Office, the Exchange Room and Exchange Reference Library, and the prestigious Singapore Club. Today, The Fullerton Hotel is a stunning 400-room heritage hotel in Singapore.

Located in the Fullerton Hotel Singapore’s vast sunlit atrium lobby, The Courtyard (North and South sections) is the lively restaurant setting for all-day dining, whether for a light meal, a signature Japanese or Indian curry buffet, leisurely afternoon tea with unlimited replenishment of your tiered contents and free-flowing coffee and tea; or an elegant cocktail.

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We stuck with the afternoon tea and despite the generous offer to replenish . . .we only ordered extra scones, they were that good!

Tastefully furnished with plush sofas and a friendly ambience – the tea event was being enjoyed my many other High Tea aficionados.

Our tea arrived as the lovely silver art deco three-tiered stand arrived laden with all that is good under heaven. The scones are a little exclusive and like to be served away from the rest of the sweet treats – they arrive on their own plate, jam and cream to the side.

Small sandwiches, finger style were filled with egg, smoked salmon and smoked duck. Brie cheese with plum jelly on a hazelnut cracker was devoured without a second thought. Little samosas, miniature pies covered the savoury offerings and the various layers of all types of cakes and patisserie beckoned. Chocolate éclair, lemon tart and English fruit cake were savoured slowly.

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A special, traditional Singapore cake is the Kueh Lapis. The cake has, it is reported, to have its origins in the Nonya cuisine or the Indonesia cook book, who knows? The delicate cake is a layered cake, sometimes called the thousand-layer cake – or ladder cake. No matter where it comes from, it was delicious, light and geometrically perfectly layered.

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Writer, Bev Malzard continues her arduous quest in search of the perfect afternoon tea or slice of cake. She’s probably found it/them but is usually in a sugar coma and doesn’t know cake from a meat pie. 

                                           Doing my best to be ladylike.

This article was originally published in http://www.mydiscoveries.com.au

 

 

 

Coffee clutch or . . . get some caffeine into you.

Coffee clutch or . . . get some caffeine into you.

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.

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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.)

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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.)

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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.

https://www.wien.gv.at/english/culture-history/viennese-coffee-culture.html

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4 NOUS-NOUS, MOROCCO

“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.

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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.

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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.

All images from @unsplash http://www.unsplash.com

 

 

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Street wise: Hanoi, Vietnam

Street wise: Hanoi, Vietnam

www.sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi.comA quick fix blog this week as I am away on a yoga retreat in the Blue Mountains, a couple of hours west of Sydney (I knoooow, what was I thinking) and am short on blogging time this week. A post on the yoga experience might even make its way here if I survive bending, stretching and being ‘mindful’. Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe maybe.

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One of my fave shots: there’s always a bride waiting to be photographed.

So, following on from last week’s Vietnam cruise story here are a few images I snapped in Hanoi pre and post the cruise. What an amazing city is it; brim to overflowing with personality, pragmatism and sassiness. The French colonial theme still stands in some quarters with rather lovely buildings, parks and he aroma of freshly baked bread . . .which is the legacy the Vietnamese were happy to retain once the colonialists had departed.

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IMG_1655IMG_1653Spot the tourist.

 

Writer, Bev Malzard has visited Hanoi several times and the last visit she stayed at super posh Hanoi Metropole Hotel, a divine establishment breathing history and charm. Here she cosies up to one of the doormen who gave her cheek every day, and she gave back as good as she got.

 

IMG_2753http://www.sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi.com