A Travellerspoint blog

Walk and talk


sunny 27 °C

Summer's here with a vengeance in Amsterdam. The backpackers trudging from the station are bowed and sweating under their packs, fair skinned locals are making every effort to work on their tans and little boats of families putter along canals. Lovely girls in summer dresses cycle upright and dignified to work and tourists in tiny shorts and minimal tops queue for the essential sights. But it may only last another day! Cool weather and rain is on its way back.

We started the day in the Herensgracht Museum which charts the canal development with some clever multimedia elements, and pictures of the canals when they freeze! Skaters take to the ice in droves! The grand house has a wonderful hidden garden at the back- the benefits of wealth- scents of heliotrope and lychnis.

Later we joined a walking tour which ducked through courtyards of the Dutch East India Company and a retreat for women (the beguinage), past the famous windows of the red light district, coffee houses with their herbal extras and several churches and palaces. Oh and a cheese shop and market. We might head back to look at the Jewish quarter and Rembrandt's home tomorrow.

The day finished over beers at a cafe chatting to an English guy on his last days before home, a singer from California and a musician from Canada. The world seems a lot smaller. Lots of intense conversation about politics, The Crisis, the euro, and food.

As we wandered back, music drew us to sit. In a church square, harp and violin wove a thin sound around passers by, bicycles and occasional motor boats. It was the pink granite triangle we sat on which commemorates the oppression of homosexual people, the pink triangle being the Nazi's required ID.

Posted by woylie 11:07 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Twirling parasols and niche gardening


sunny 27 °C

Twirling parasols and niche gardening 

Elms are everywhere here in Amsterdam, mostly along the canals, and yesterday we sat for a cold beer in a quiet triangular courtyard shaded by a large elm. It was hot and a small breeze shook loose seed pods which spiralled from high above. We were told the elms were chosen as their roots went down and did not threaten canal edges. There aren't a lot of obvious gardens in the older part of the city. Glimpses through the narrow houses show some exist but I am very impressed with the determination of gardeners. Pink hollyhocks are tucked into tiny gaps against walls, wisteria is trained around doorways, pots lined up in front of windows and 20cm beds become perennial borders. The flower market was stacked with lavender in pots, gorgeous succulents and massive tulip bulbs and canes of bougainvilleas.

Our room is in the 9 Streets area which we reached across two bridges, through a narrow door and up two flights of ladder like stairs. Goodness knows how women managed with long full skirts. All the houses down these streets have hoists to haul gear up from the street, and I've gawked at window cleaners, builders and deliveries. Lovely place to wander although very quiet until midday. 

We spent time today on canal boats, leaving to wander in the Cuypstraat markets (David enjoyed a pickled herring and onion broodtje-yerk) and then catching a boat to visit the Van Gogh Museum. Can now say we have seen the original Sunflowers, or one of his versions. I recognized another painting as one my parents brought from a trip, which had faded over years but still moved them as a souvenir of a special time and place. Something I had completely forgotten. The boat went out the big locks into the IJ, the main harbour, then back past gorgeous 17C homes.

Dutch cuisine is not perhaps the most exciting. We visited a local "brown" cafe which provides home style cooking. We were lucky to be able to haul ourselves up the stairs to collapse after tea. One plate was full of vegetables, a large bowl held a rich stew and then there were the chips with a rich mayonnaise. Thank goodness for the Belgian beers. We reverted tonight to our version of comfort food- Thai. Mind you, the croissants are marvelous!

Bike riders here rule the roads, park anywhere and apparently put up with a large number of stolen bikes each year. This might explain the basic bikes. No fancy brands here. Someone told us the canals were 1 meter of mud, 1 of water and 1 of bikes.
We are almost over jet lag today and shifting into traveling mode. That means museum feet!

Posted by woylie 22:21 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Getting ready

Holidays at last


Time to clear the decks, brush off the travel blog, and dig out the old passwords. Be interesting to try this time with a tablet. Might be easier than needing to feel like writing when I can find an Internet cafe.
Two weeks to go!

Posted by woylie 06:00 Comments (0)

I won't be doing that stick thing

Can Tho

This was said firmly by a young American backpacker as he fuelled up at a riverside stall beside us. He pushed the chopsticks away with an air of disdain. We were just relieved to have made it to a pleasant table after circling the flood waters in Can Tho streets. Our day started early to join a bus to the Delta so we were ready for a meal. The menu was inscrutable - pork smooth rotation, and opimelic- but a bit of pointing and the help of a middle aged Malaysian gentleman resulted in a good mix. His wife eventually dragged him away, saying he did like to talk, but we now know lots about the joys of Penang.

Our tour followed the well trodden path to My Tho in the Mekong delta, various sized boats right down to little sampans to reach and then navigate tiny channels on the islands, and then a lengthy extra bus trip to reach the central delta city of Can Tho for the night. Our hotel was a small building off the main street, but full of confidence we circled around the flood waters blocking our walk to the river. The problem came on the way back. Nothing looked the same, the water was still risng and despite several helpful locals, we couldn't find our street. In the end, we realised that the water was now completely covering the street, and the hotel was saving power and had turned off their sign. I took off my shoes to wade up the road and arrived dripping in the foyer.

Next morning our group hit the river early to visit the floating market, one of several, where buyers and sellers meet on the water each day. Our boat hooked up to a pineapple seller's boat for a while, and we ate half pineapples on their stems and bobbed in the current. Sellers advertise their stock by tying examples onto long poles.

The rivers are massive at the moment with flooding due to some heavy rain upstream. The water is very brown, and clumps of water hycainth have broken free to float down river. It rains most afternoons but is still warm. Fields and houses on the river edge were often under water.

We then had to wait to drive back 4 HOURS! to HCMC, certainly making us realise the engineering feats required to build and maintain roads in this area. We crossed the Australian-Vietnamese friendship bridge and another funded with Japanese help. Lovely suspension bridges over the huge river.

A long day but some amazing scenery, and an interesting crosssection of urban to rural life along the big road systems.

Our small guesthouse was full for our last night, so Vy had arranged for us to go to a cousin down the next alley. Great service, kept our bags, let us sit around til we needed to leave, and entertainment from the lads in the alley singing and playing cards. We stocked up on food for the overnight train to Hue and walked down to Pham Ngu Lao to take a taxi to the train station.

Posted by woylie 04:36 Comments (0)

Local food

Ho Chi Minh City

Had a great day cooking, eating and chatting at a cooking class based in an old opium refinery. Phuong met us at Ben Thanh market, took us through the markets, patiently answering our questions, and then guided us to make some dishes. Entertaining and interesting company - an Italian woman based for 8 years in Beijing, 2 other Australians and a couple who live in the Cook Islands! Made our way back past a bookshop to buy a recommended book of recipes, and to collapse in airconditioning for a couple of hours. Love to be able to bring back some bowls but all heavy ceramics or made of wood so not worth trying to queue for inspection.

We head off tomorrow early into the Mekong Delta by boat, looking a bit fearfully at the projected weather. Could be a wet time, but guaranteed not to be cold!

Lots of travellers tell us the Cu Chi tunnels are an awesome sight. Nothing will get me near one-way, narrow tunnels underground, even if they are widened so fatter westerners can experience them. The more appealing trip is up the river to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Might need more time on another trip. I do like a mighty river - perhaps because we see so few of them.

I'm reading my way through "Why the West rules the world - for now," where geography forms the basis for the author's big arguments. My Kindle is proving very handy!!

Posted by woylie 02:44 Comments (0)

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