Ha Long Bay – Vietnam

 

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Ha Long Bay is situated on the north east coast of Vietnam, a ride of about 160 kms from Hanoi. It is an area of about 1500 square kilometres comprising some 2000 islets and Karsts, which has been designated a UNESCO Heritage Site. Ha Long Bay means the bay of descending dragons. It has its own micro ecology and bio diversity and a huge variety of islets.

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You can access the bay from a number of places but the most obvious are Halong town and Bai Chai a small town about 15 minutes away. Travel around the islands is by boat, either old junks which cruise slowly around and on which you can stay overnight or by smaller boats on day trips. One of the delights of this trip is the Vietnamese food that is made locally especially the sea food. On the boats you can order food and have a great meal as you cruise around. The nice thing is that you can order so you get something special.

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There are lots of people selling tours to Ha Long in Hanoi and the local area, many acting only as agents and selling tickets and those tickets can have various prices for the same tour or trip, so it is important to look around. The price differences can be big. For myself I negotiated the various elements of the visit independently so got amazing deals on transport boats and food, but tat is easier if you are a solo traveller than if in a group. Also I stayed in the town of Bai Chai rather than Halong itself , although very close by and that town is very good value. It is being developed for the mass market, so as with many places in Vietnam it is going to change quickly.

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The islets Karsts and the seas around them are a visual delight, something quite unique, but 2000 islets is a lot so its good to be selective and visit the ones you want. Each has a name, the elephant, chicken, he and she, etc so you can be specific. There are many caves and grottos on the islets, some can only be visited at low tide and others any time so find out about those. Some, unfortunately in my view, have lighting that can give them a slightly Disneyworld feel, but they are amazing for all that.

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Halong is a joy, and an indispensible part of any tour of the variety and wonders of North East Vietnam.

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Hue and The Perfume River – Vietnam

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The ancient city of Hue was the capital city if Vietnam from 1802 to 1945 when Vietnam was divided and acquired 2 Capital Saigon in the South and Hanoi in the North. The city’s biggest feature is the enormous 19th century Citadel that also houses what was the Imperial City the home of the then Emperors.

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The City is crossed by the Perfume River. Upstream of the city were many orchards and flowers that fell from those orchards used to fill the river and float through it giving off a scent hence the name. Many of those orchards are gone but annual flowers still float down.img_0345

img_3348The river is very much alive, Transport, fishing and now tourism fill it. One of the most common sights on the river is boats carrying the rich sediment from the river bottom back to the city. The boats are rudimentary and the operators get paid per loan for the sediment which is used in building. To see those boats filled with the water line so close to the level of the river you wonder why they don’t sink but somehow from generations of experience they thrive.

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Along the river are pagodas and also the tombs of former emperors. These burial sites and tombs were identified and designed in the lifetime of an emperor and they are more like small palaces than a burial site, set in carefully selected beautiful sites out of the city along the river. Although there are temples and memorials in these sites, actually the emperors are buried somewhere in the large enclosure but with no one knowing exactly where. Fear of exhumation was such that the Emperor himself was buried secretly in an unmarked grave somewhere on the sit, which was usually tended by former wives of which they could have hundreds.

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The City itself is dominated by the Citadel an enormous construction surrounded by some 10kms of walls. The Citadel suffered huge damage in the Vietnam War in the Tet offensive such that many of the buildings have been destroyed. Some have been restored and it is a wonderful place to visit, although you need time to do that. Many people bypass Hue and their way North and South but for me it was one of my favourite cities in Vietnam and a must visit.

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Bon Voyage, Take Your Time

 

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This little gem of a greeting was sent to me today by a good friend on the eve of my departure for another journey. Those I know who don’t share my obsession with “going on a journey” as I call travelling, have got used to these regular disappearances. They have seen the familiar signs of introspection as I decide where to go and what to do. They have seen the minimal research I do in order to create as much of an adventure as possible when I arrive, and they know that the space they have made for me in their lives, will be empty for a while until I return refreshed and reinvigorated by my experience,, at which time they wont ask me how it was but where I will go next. I will disappear from their lives for a while and they from mine and normality will resume when I have had my journeying fix.

For me the nervous anticipation of pastures new, the preparation, the familiar routines of preparing to go, the nervousness that will turn to exileration as the wheels leave the runway tomorrow, and that wonderful sense of the unknown starts to fill me. What will I see, who will I meet, what challenges lie in store because of my vague itinerary, what special moments, what will go wrong as something surely will, it’s the anticipation of the journey. You start to cut away the routines and events that bind you to daily life, try to make sure that nothing will happen when you are away and turn your face to the unknown. You start to feel a different person, the flavour of life is richer because you will undoubtedly learn many things new and you wont be the same when you return.

I am excited and yes, I will take my time!

The Pirogovo Open Air Museum Kiev

 

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About 12 kms south of Kiev Ukraine lies the village of Pirogovo which contains the Pirogovo Museum of Folk Architecture and Life. It is a 370 acre open air museum showing the cultural history of Ukraine. The site contains folk architecture brought from all parts of Ukraine and reassembled there.

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The setting is rural as is the display, ancient buildings, a church that dates back to 1742, windmills, old houses, art and handicrafts. On festival days in Ukraine there are displays at the site which are well worth seeing.

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There are records of habitation at the sight since the 1600s and its setting is ideal for an exhibit like this. Rolling country away from the city although close enough to easily reach it. In summer it is beautiful with wild flowers walks, streams, horses, all redolent of the times gone by.

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It is an official state museum although the setting is far from the traditional museum building environment. It’s a rally great day out in the country with a combination of rural life, fascinating buildings and real history as it was lived.

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London – Kew Gardens

 

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Kew Gardens, also known as The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, is set in 300 acres on the southwest edge of London. It is an area of London replete with history of British Kings, from Richmond Palace, the home of King Henry V11th through Tudor times to the reign of George 111 who owned what is now Kew Palace, as a nursery for his children. It is one of the most visited places in London but its big and the ticketing systems efficient so its an easy visit.

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There was a Palace at Kew from the early 16th century but the Palace that you see now dates back to late 18th century and is a microcosm of 18th and 19th century life including the Royal kitchens that have not been touched since 1818.

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The gardens are beautifully landscaped with large open areas filled with trees shrubs flowers and endless walks. The river Thames runs through the gardens and you can take time to walk its banks.

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Inside the gardens is the Great Pagoda build in 1762 and the Japanese gateway, and 4/5ths replica of the entrance to a Japanese temple. There are a number of other amazing buildings including the Palm House in which there is a walkway high up enabling you to look down on the trees and the Orangery.

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As well as being incredible gardens, Kew is a serious research establishment containing the world’s largest collection of living plants and a huge seed bank, there for conservation purposes as well as research in conjunction with over 80 international organisations. It also has the largest herbarium in the world.

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In the park itself there is a treetop walkway and endless places to sit talk relax picnic, eat, and just be enclosed by nature close to the centre of one of the largest cities in the world. Definitely a place for a day out if you are in London and you want to get away from the crowds noise and stresses of big city life

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Travelling – The past and the Future, of Life Love and Experience

 

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I was 16 years old when I first travelled alone. On a summer holiday in my school days I earned some money picking fruit, bought a ferry ticket and a train pass and travelled from the temperate (rainy) climate of Britain to the sun kissed shores of the Italian Riviera.

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I arrived at 3.30 in the afternoon, the day seemingly cooling, headed for the beach threw myself into the warm waters and stayed there till dusk spending the next day and a half in bed with sunburn. I was cared for by the lady who owned the pensione I had found, being the cheapest in the place and one that served huge breakfast being the major meal for the day in my impoverished condition. She was the archetypal Italian Mama kind but serious gentle but capable. A 19-year-old girl of outstanding mediterranean beauty who was working there made it clear that she was not interested in 16 year olds, as I lay there groaning theatrically.

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Having recovered I made my way the next night to a piazza in the town and sat at a table in the square sipping a beer and people watching, a habit that was to become one of my favourite travelling pastimes. Looking around the buildings surrounding the square I saw a beautiful girl looking down from a balcony overlooking the square. Leaning on her arms on the balcony rail, the sight of those dark eyes, lustrous black hair and half smile was the incarntaion of perfection. Having exchange glances and smiles and being determined to bring this Romeo and Juliette moment to fruition, I was unfortunately unable to get past her Mother in my quest for the perfect love, despite my very best efforts and using every ounce of my youthful charm, a Mother intent on protecting her daughter from crazy foreigners.

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Still, onwards and upwards was the cry and the journey became a rich mixture of sun, food, wine, and above all people, people I had never dreamt to meet but who were there in the traveller’s road, waiting to share the new experiences of life as people do with travellers. Italian food, the pace of life, its colours, rich and bright, the variety of culture, the acceptance of things new, and a Canadian girl made it truly memorable, a keystone in the wall of my travelling life

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I sometimes wonder should I go back there. What for I ask myself, the players in this little scene are all gone to other places and other lives. Why does it interest me to go back? Those significant moments would not be significant now, I know too much, but the richness of the experience, the novelty, the people, the sights sounds scents and flavours of that concentrated moment in life, that’s what I want to find I suppose. But I know it wont be there, and I also know that those senses and emotions I will definitely find on my next journey to somewhere new, a place I have never been and a new whole rich tapestry of people and experiences that I never dream will happen. That’s where I will find it again.

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“And if I could call back all those days of yesteryear,

I would never grow old and I’d never be poor,

But darling’, those days are gone.

Stop dreaming

And live on in the future….”

 

Van Morrison

The Life Inside Flowers

 

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No matter where you travel in the world there are flowers. Their colours textures brilliance and contrasts are different but nature delivers flowers everywhere. They grow on trees, bushes, from the ground and even in the sea but they are ever present and add to the memories of a place and its flavour.

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What has always fascinated me is what happens inside the flower, at its root, where nature creates the flower, because inside there is a whole world of activity that goes on in the life cycle of the life of a flower, and some of the most beautiful parts of a flower are those that we don’t see close up. They add to the picture but they are not completely visible

 

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That inner world has perfect shapes, bugs and microbes, contrasts of colours and shades which together create the perfection of a flower. Its as if you can see the mechanics, the motor, the engine room the beating heart of the creation.

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The varieties in different places in the world are extraordinary and even flowers we see every day and perhaps take for granted, have that hidden life that is so fascinating.

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If you see a beautiful flower that inspires you its worth taking a look really close up and see what is at home and what is happening inside. Flowers are conditioned by their environment but it does not matter if you look in a garden or a park or the other side of the world, nature is at work.

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