Lost on the Mekong Delta

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The river washed away the humidity of the wet-season. A soft breeze drifted over the water, granting some relief from the heat. Our little wooden boat putted further and further upstream as a wall of green closed around us. Civilization seemed far away.

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Working the rice paddies, Vietnam

Only that morning I’d been wandering the chaos of Saigon. Before dawn the bikes start their chorus of horns. Even at that hour the streets are busy, and the place simply bursts with energy. It is a city totally alive – and totally exhausting with its humidity.

Our minivan soon left the city behind. Lush rice paddies stretched towards the horizon. In a scene unchanged with the centuries, water buffalo pulled ploughs as farmers in their conical hats bent under the sun, planting rice seedlings. Colourful ancestral shrines stood amongst the verdant fields.

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Some Odd Things To Do In Florence

The Arno at dusk

This is an extended version of a guest blog I wrote for mytravelintuscany.com – the rest will (eventually!) follow in another blog

 

See A Painting Finished By An Angel

 

The Piazza Santissima Annunziata is one of Florence’s most picturesque squares. It was designed by Brunelleschi, who also designed the two main buildings, the Spedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) and the Bascilica della Santissima Annunziata, the mother church of the Servite order. In the 14th C the Servites commissioned The Annunciation from the Dominican friar and artist Fra Bartolomeo. A master of sfumato, Fra Bartolomeo combined his religious beliefs with a fresh realism and emotional depth, and during his lifetime his paintings decorated churches and monasteries across Florence, Venice and Lucca. Continue Reading →

A Convent Stay, Venice – Canossian Institute San Trovaso

A crumbling archway

 

The Canossian Institute San Trovaso

 

Everyone should fly into Venice – with a window seat – at least once in their life. First come the outlying islands, so many of them dotted amongst the blue of the Adriatic. Suddenly the history of Venice makes sense, from when the swampy, malarial marshes offered shelter from the invading Goths, to her days of seafaring glory.

A hidden canal near our convent

A hidden canal near our convent

Then comes the city herself. Even from the heavens Venice is breathtakingly beautiful, especially when bathed by an autumn sun as storm clouds swell on the horizon. Every part of the city is on view, from the Camponile to the ridiculously enormous ocean-liner terminal. Even the wooden posts in the lagoon are clearly visible, marking channels, moorings, and all important routes through the swirl of shallows and sandbars and wrecks and lobster pots.

The next essential is catching a boat from the airport to the city. There is no better way to approach Venice, whether on the public vaporetto, or by a much faster private boat. Our vessel was all streamlined wood, the skipper as sleek and polished as his vessel. (I have yet to spot a female skipper in Venice.) Despite a complete lack of Italian, as soon as my husband began admiring the boat (being a long-time sailor himself) the skipper happily displayed the boat’s paces. As the rain finally poured down and visabilty vanished, the skipper raced along the narrow channel to the city, overtaking vaporettos and all other speedboats in a shower of spray. Continue Reading →

The Sparrows of Hong Kong

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I heard them long before I saw them; the twittering of voices, so happy, so light, but growing to a deafening crescendo as I came closer. Walking back from the Star Ferry to Central is via a series of raised walkways which connect the high-rise malls and expensive hotels while providing safe access over the road. Indeed, a day can pass in Hong Kong without ever descending to street level.

Hong Kong is for walking. In a place perennially crowded and which I have visited so many times, it’s amazing what I still discover, whether it be in a side street, or even in full view. It’s so tempting to always revisit old favourites, yet in a place which has survived by always reinventing itself, there is always something new – or very old – to find.

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Lan Kwai Fong – Forgotten Hong Kong

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 Fragrant Harbour

Hong Kong: Fragrant Harbour, in memory of those perfumes which once drifted out on the sea breezes to greet incoming ships. Now the smell is more distinctive, a mix of heat

Part of my walking route, courtesy of the hotel directory!

Part of my walking route, courtesy of the hotel directory!

and unrecognisable spices, a place where drying seafoods and traditional medicines mingle with wet markets and lush vegetation. Then there is that piquant touch which comes from being one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Like Proust’s madeleines, the unique tang of Hong Kong has become locked in my memory.

As a child, the wall of odours crashed over me as soon as I stepped from the plane. Now, with the airport moved to the reclaimed island Chek Lap Kok, landing in Hong Kong proves much more sterile. No longer the dramatic sudden drop between buildings, looking through windows into people’s lives: a family at dinner, someone shaving. It has become too easy to pass from the air-conditioned airport via waiting car to hotel foyer with only a breath or two of the outside air.

In Lan Kwai Fong, however, I closed my eyes and immersed myself in old Hong Kong. The smells and sounds belong only here. Some penny turtles slept in the foyer of my hotel, readying themselves for a day of swimming in water-filled porcelain bowls and clambering over mountainous pebbles and artistically arranged sticks. I stepped past them into the tiny Kau U Fong Lane. Despite the early hour, I was soon covered in sweat. From a few steps away the bustle of Aberdeen Street threatened at any moment to spill over and drown where I stood, but for a moment I had a few square meters to myself, a rare privilege in Hong Kong.

The once Fragrant Harbour

The once Fragrant Harbour

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The Monks Of Luang Prabang, Laos

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The monks of Luang Prabang

The sun rose as the rain fell. I could hear the heavy drops as they danced across the hotel roof and onto the wooden verandah. Everywhere else lay hushed. The street outside the room was empty, and beyond it the Mekong rushed by.

At least, I think it was the Mekong. Luang Prabang lies on a sliver of land running between the meeting of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. Our hotel, the Xiengthong Palace, was the last residence of the Lao royal family. It rests opposite the revered Buddhist monastery, Wat Xiengthong, away from the bustle of the town.

A walk along the street, around the bend, and one river became the other. Both large, both brown, both soon to be in flood, but the Mekong was far the larger. I never even learnt the name of our street. Everywhere I travel, I steep myself in the history the place, and learn all I can about everything I see; but Luang Prabang cast its spell even as I was in the plane. Continue Reading →