The City of Lanterns – Hội An

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It was a short flight from Hanoi to Da Nang and then a 45 minutes coach trip to our hotel in Hội An.

Hội An is a city on Vietnam’s central coast known for its well-preserved Ancient Town, cut through with canals. The former port city’s melting-pot history is reflected in its architecture, a mix of eras and styles from wooden Chinese shop houses and temples to colorful French colonial buildings, ornate Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge with its pagoda. This landmark 18th-century wooden bridge features elaborate carvings and  a pedestrian passageway.

After all the hustles and bustles of Hanoi, Hội An provided a totally refreshing and contrasting experience of Vietnam.

Our hotel was only a short tuktuk or taxi ride from the Old Town or about a 15 min walk. This beautiful UNESCO World Heritage old town offers so  much to see.  It is definitely worth paying the small fee to enter specific homes and Assembly Halls, many dating from the 16th and 17th Centuries.

From the first time we crossed the Japanese bridge to go into Ancient Town we loved it.  So much history and it’s absolutely gorgeous!!

Hội An is small enough to walk the streets and explore the many shops selling souvenirs and clothing or have clothes or shoes made in a couple of days. Hội An is the place in Vietnam to have clothes made.  Just take in a piece of clothing that you would like duplicated and it will be made in 48 hours, or, have something designed and made especially for you.

There are plenty of chic little cafes to cool your heels or have an inexpensive local meal. But Hội An by the river in the early evening is a sight to behold, with endless strings of colourful lanterns hanging on both sides of the river, up high along the streets and outside every single restaurant.

Almost all restaurants have tables on the second floor terraces overlooking the river, so try get there early, have a cocktail and take in the uniquely romantic settings of this world heritage city at its best in sunset. It’s almost fairy-tale like at night with all the pretty lanterns hanging in the streets and the candles floating on the water.  Check out the night markets or walk along the river, or do it all. I could easily stay in Hội An for a couple of weeks, to try a different restaurant on the waterfront each evening, to have a daily massage, bike ride and take in the happiness and tranquility of this divine town.

 

Hội An is one of the most beautiful cities in Vietnam and well worth a visit.

We loved Hội An and even though we had 3 nights it wasn’t enough to discover all the areas and things to do.

Unique and fascinating Hanoi

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After an unusually long flight we arrived here in Hanoi, Vietnam

This very fascinating city has so much to see and do. After checking in to our hotel, as always we explored the city.

One of the first things we noticed is,  one must have nerves of steel to drive here.  There does not appear to be any road rules but if there are rules then no one is abiding by them.  There are definitely many more motorcycles than cars and everyone must drive with their hand on their horns. For us,  crossing the road was flirting with death.  As for getting around we  needed to walk on the side of the  road as there was no place to walk on the  sidewalks as they were crowded with parked motorcycles.

The main mode of transport is definitely motorcycles and bicycles. It is incredible what these resourceful people can fit on to a bicycle or motorbike, including a family of 4, ladders, baskets of flowers, fruits, vegetables – even move house.

Hanoi, with its population of 9 million people,  is a very busy exciting city which does not appear to sleep.  The architecture is unique and interesting with a combination of Vietnamese and European styles.

We walked to the end of our road to the lake, Westlake which has a variety of activities around it including large groups of men playing board games. You could tell it was a regular event.

Wandering around the city we saw so many interesting and different sights but nothing could prepare me for their power supply to the businesses and homes. I tried to capture this in my photos.

After a day of navigating the city by foot we became more confident crossing the roads and soon were walking around the local areas less stressed. And, we were able to open our eyes to cross the road.

Once you are outside the main part of Hanoi city there was very little traffic

There is so much to do and enjoy here in this vibrant city. More stories and photos to follow.

Impressive: The Palace of Reason – Palazzo della Ragione, Padova

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Overlooking the Piazza della Frutta is the medieval town hall, Palazzo della Ragione.

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The Palazzo della Ragione separates Piazza delle Erbe from Piazza della Frutta, the piazza which holds the daily fruit and vegetable market.

This massive building was built with one large roof over the entire building, which makes it the biggest roof in Europe that is not supported by columns. It is an Architectural wonder. The Palazzo was built in 1218 and enlarged in 1306. Until 1797 it was used as city council’s assembly hall and palace of justice.

This palazzo is, like the entire city, a symbol of the history, of the power, “Ragione” means reason in Italian, and one can imagine that locals several centuries back used this space to organize their town and settle disputes.

On the ground floor, is the Centro Commerciale Il Sotto Salone which has been in operation for nearly eight hundred years, and is the oldest commercial centre still in operation. Here you will find many various shops, including delis and artisan shops, where you can find many of the local specialties. You can buy fresh hand-made pasta, fresh fish from the fish market, a selection of specialty cheeses, selection of home-made sausages, high quality meats, a good selection of Prosciutto, and specialty meats from an equine butcher, coffee from a coffee market plus more.  Today there are more than fifty small shops, offering quality food products, wine bars, bars and gift shops.

The upper floor, called Il Salone is a vast hall, one of the largest medieval halls of the world. The frescoes decorating this grand hall can overwhelm you. The ticket office provides a description of the decorations to guide the visit, but it is the overall massive scale of the space that leaves a lasting impression

This is one of the many squares in Padova but this one is stunning. The architecture is incredible and well worth doing some research before visiting to understand its history.

There are plenty of cafes around to sit and admire the architecture and the markets and once again to watch the world go by.

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Coffee and a cornetto here was very nice

Experience the Local Foods at Piazza della Frutta, Padova

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After spending time in Piazza dei Signori, I wandered in to the next Piazza, the Piazza della Frutta – another one of the numerous piazzas of the historic centre of Padova.

This is where the fruit and vegetable market stalls are that sell great quality produce. These markets are held on most days with the meat and fish markets close by as well. It is just such a lovely setting for a fruit market, with the central palazzo overlooking the square. Here you will find fruit that tastes like fruit.

There are plenty of shops, cafés and bars overlooking onto the piazza. After wandering around the markets, it is wonderful to sit in one of the bars, enjoy a coffee, people watch and soak up the atmosphere. This is where I was able to use the free WIFI and email photos to friends and family back home.

 

This beautiful and lively square is in front of the impossing Palazzo della Ragione and behind City Hall

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No visitor to Padova should miss this venue. It is beautiful. There is colour, beauty, vibrancy and above all, a tremendous feeling of history.  It seems to be the beating heart of a magnificent old city.

Padova is a walled city situated along the Bachiglione River between Verona and Venice. It is around 40km from Venice and also a popular stop on the way to Verona, Milan or Florence. I travelled by train from Lucca with a night stop-over in Ferrara before arriving in Padova

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My Perfect Australia Day

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Once again I made my annual pilgrimage down to the northern rivers area of NSW to celebrate Australia day with my family.  This part of northern NSW is about a 3 hour drive south from Brisbane.

Australia Day is our official National Day which is celebrated annually on January 26th. It marks the anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet of British ships into Port Jackson Sydney in 1788

In contemporary Australia, the holiday is marked by the presentation of the Australian of the Year awards. It is an official public holiday in all states and territories and celebrated with festivals, concerts and ceremonies, large and small, in communities and cities around the nation.

For us, it is time with family.

The beginning of our day commenced with our early morning walk where we were watched by some of the the many locals. They are always so curious and usually only hop away when we start to get very close to them.

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Then it was time to take the boat out on the Clarence River. Once again, we were blessed with glorious weather. We motored on down the river to where the mouth meets the Pacific Ocean, between the towns of Iluka and Yamba.

We visited a favourite local beach where a swim was a must. As usual it was “crowded” with about a handful of people from other boats.

Then we motored over to the local pub on the river in Iluka  for  nice cold beers  which were enjoyed down at the water’s edge.

After enjoying our beers, we then walked over to the local Fisherman’s co-op to purchase our fish and chips and calamari for our very Aussie lunch at the beach on the river.

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Fisherman’s Co-op Iluka

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After a full and fabulous day out on the water we cruised back up the river to home.

Then, as evening approached,  with neighbours joining us, we settled in for our very Aussie backyard bbq. An Aussie barbecue is a great Australian tradition and almost a most on Australia day.

A few more of the locals hopped over for a late afternoon feed.

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Elegant Renaissance Piazza – Piazza dei Signori, Padova

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After about an hour train ride from Ferrara, I arrived in Padova.  I checked in to my hotel, enjoyed a late lunch and then went exploring, starting  with visiting many of the “must see places”.  My first “Must see” in any new town or village, is to find the main piazza in the town, and Padova was no exception.

I discovered Piazza dei Signori where I later ended my day.  Piazza dei Signori is one of the many piazza of this historic city. This elegant Renaissance piazza in the heart of Padova, is buzzing with bars, cafés and restaurants and is full of life and full of laughter

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It houses the most exquisite clock tower, Torre dell’Orologio,  which was built after the Venetians conquered Padova as a symbol of power and status. This public clock which was built in 1344 is possibly the world’s oldest clock. You will find this big astrological clock on the white tower of Palazzo del Capitanio at one end of the Piazza.

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Piazza dei Signori is a lovely place to sit, eat, chat and watch the day go by.

There are loads of bars and restaurants to choose from. This piazza is quite well located in the historical part of Padova and surrounded with great galleries and shops.

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Beautiful Apartments overlooking the Piazza

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On my first morning in Padova I ate my breakfast at the hotel where I was staying,  but after discovering Piazza dei Signori, I then chose to enjoy my typical Italian breakfast at one of the many bars in the Piazza.  This is café society at its best. Actually I ended up having 2 breakfasts as I found another café that I liked more than the first one.

During the day, Piazza dei Signori, is a typical market place with its stalls where you will find locals shopping.  Here I found both the tourists and locals intermingling.  These markets are quite large with a great selection. The fresh fruit and vegetable markets and the fresh food stalls were excellent.

Also in the Piazza dei Signori are many attractive small specialty shops and cafés with most attractions well sign posted for us visitors in Padova.

Each afternoon, the markets are closed and moved away, and the tables are brought in and the entire piazza is turned in to a huge dining area.  The entire marketplace is equipped with cafe/restaurant tables: it is a true evening food celebration, completely taken over by the surrounding restaurants. The place was buzzing with people enjoying a meal and each other’s company.

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After the markets are closed

What a perfect evening. The food was good – you will leave this place with a full stomach and a smiling face!

A wonderful Piazza for Dining and People Watching. 

 

 

Charming and Elegant Hoi An

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It was only short flight from Hanoi to Da Nang airport where the coach was waiting for us to take us to our hotel in Hoi An. Hoi An is on the coast in central Vietnam just a short drive south of Da Nang.

After spending a few days in Hanoi, Hoi An was a breath of fresh air. The sky was blue and the fields bright green. Of course, this is to be expected as we went from a major very busy capital city to a small Asian town.

Hoi An which is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site retains much of its original charm and character with a French flair. It did not take us long to settle in to the atmosphere of this lovely town.

The locals are so polite, gentle and very helpful. Our hotel is in town and very close to most things including the Old Town, the city’s historic district.

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Apart from visiting Da Nang, Marble mountain, the large Lady Buddha, the Old Town, the night markets we also were able to fit in a few massages and manicures.

I could easily return to Hoi An to stay for a week or 2. Each day would include the delicious fresh local food, a daily massage, perhaps a small tour, a cocktail or 2 overlooking the river each evening  and dinner each night at a different restaurant in the Old Town.  Good living and good health.

 

Pretty and Proud – Spello

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I have been to many dozens of small towns and villages in Italy. When it seems like it is just not possible for the next Italian town to be prettier than the last, I arrived in Spello.

This Roman town is entirely surrounded by walls

Spello is a pleasure for those who love walking,  although the steep streets are somewhat tiring. Three well-preserved Roman stone arches form the entry points to the town; Porta Venere, with its towers, Porta Urbica and Porta Consolare. The Roman gateways into Spello are most beautiful and well worth visiting.

Once inside, the cobblestone streets meander in and out of mysterious alleyways that lead to simple, yet elegant stone houses.  I strolled up and down various paths and found that around every corner there were historic sites, mainly Roman.

Most of the houses had a multitude of plants along the lane-ways and streets with lots of small lane-ways to explore. The green-fingered locals try to outdo each other with their billowing hanging baskets and flowerpots, filling the streets with a riot of colour and scent.

I stayed 3 nights in one of the most refined hotels, Palazzo Bocci in Via Cavour. This four star hotel is the quintessential 18thcentury resting place. The walls and ceilings are enrobed in exquisite original frescos. The bedroom ceilings have huge wooden rafters and deep window bays. From my room I enjoyed sweeping views of the surrounding country side.

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Palazzo Bocci

After checking in to my hotel I ventured out for my first explore. Half way up a steep street I met a local man who invited me to sit with him to catch my breath. After chatting for about 10 minutes, he suggested I walk to the Forum at the top of the town to visit Piazza Della Cappuccini with its panoramic views of the old Roman Anfiteatro.

Spello is a photographer’s dream. I could not help myself from taking dozens and dozens of photos of the proud and very pretty town.

It was an easy walk down to the train station where I took the train to both Assisi and to Foligno.  It was not so easy walking back up the hill but there were many opportunities to stop for a chat, a photo, a gelato or a glass of wine.

If you want to experience the charm of a small Italian village and live like a local for a few days,  then Spello is a beautiful alternative to better known places like Assisi and Perugia,  which are close by.

The Hilltop Town of Orvieto, Umbria

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In addition to the Duomo and the Underground city tour, one of my favorite parts of Orvieto was, Orvieto.

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Orvieto is a city and commune in southwestern Umbria. It is only just over an hour train ride from Rome. Trains depart hourly from Roma Termini so it makes it easy to visit Orvieto just for a day. However, if you have the time, I suggest that you spend a couple of days or more there.

The city is a warren of winding narrow streets and beautiful alleyways. While the city walls and the sheer cliff faces that supported them were ample defense in most cases, the city’s rulers decided not to take any risks. The result is a series of winding streets which while somewhat confusing also do a brilliant job of adding charm and character to the town.

Of the many streets I saw and wandered, there were many more I missed.

Street scenes of Orvieto, Piazzas and  Streets

I spent an entire afternoon exploring many of these streets and the city’s series of impressive walls which were added to the tops of the cliffs to further secure the city’s perimeter.

These walls provide a stable series of walkways and viewing platforms for residents and visitors to traverse in search of one of the many amazing views the city offers.

The Town Walls and Views from Orvieto

I ended my afternoon in The Giardini Comunali  which are near Piazza Cahen and set within the walls of the medieval Fortezza Albornoz. From this garden you can enjoy marvelous views of the Paglia river valley.

Giardini Comunali

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Orvieto’s funicular connects the railway station to the city’s historic centre by overcoming a vertical distance of 157 metres.

Apart from the city inside the walls, Orvieto is an ideal location for relaxing walks, enjoying the countryside, and outdoor picnics. If you have the time to spend in the area there is so much more to see outside these city walls. I met people on the train going to Rome who had  rented a villa down from the hilltop town  in the valley who told me that they had visited the walled city many times during their week long stay as well as exploring many of the areas below the town on the hill.