Monday, January 30, 2012

Vietnam (2) - Back to Hanoi

After our overnight stay on Halong Bay we travelled back to Hanoi for a city tour. Time for some facts about Hanoi, it is the capital of Vietnam and the country's second largest city. October 2010 officially marked 1000 years since the establishment of the city. On this occasion, Hanoi was named by Frommer's travel guide as one of the world's "Top Destinations 2010"

Hanoi Opera House
The city was occupied by the Japanese in 1940 and liberated in 1945, when it briefly became the seat of the Viet Minh government after Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam. However, the French returned and reoccupied the city in 1946. After nine years of fighting between the French and Viet Minh forces, Hanoi became the capital of an independent North Vietnam in 1954.During the Vietnam War, Hanoi's transportation facilities were disrupted by the bombing of bridges and railways. These were all, however, promptly repaired. Following the end of the war, Hanoi became the capital of a reunified Vietnam when North and South Vietnam were reunited on July 2, 1976.

One Pillar Pagoda
No trip to Hanoi would be complete without a trip to Ho Chi Minh Museum. The building, completed in 1990, is intended to evoke a white lotus. Some photos and old letters are on display on the second floor, but the main exhibition space is on the third floor. 

Inside the Ho Chi Minh Museum

Next stop, the Ho Chi Minh MausoleumThe city down south may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Leinin-esque fashion - against his wishes, but that's how it goes.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

From there you can explore the Presedential Palace Area where the "great" man lived. The nicely landscaped complex includes two of Ho Chi Minh's houses, kept shiny and "as he left them" by the authorities, as well as a garage with two of Ho's "used cars" and a carp-filled pond. 

Presidential Palace

Our next port of call was to explore the grounds of the beautiful university campus before the highlight of our day tour of Hanoi. If you do just one thing when you visit Hanoi, consider taking a rickshaw ride around the city. It's guaranteed to give you a real feel for the chaotic atmosphere of Vietnam's capital city.

The one thing to avoid for fear of falling asleep is the Water Puppet performance, unless you really like this kind of thing we'd suggest politely declining the suggestion from your guide and relaxing instead next to the beautiful Ho Tay/West Lake with a nice cold beer in your hand. 

From Hanoi, we moved onto our next destination which was Hue, to follow the next phase of our Vietnam adventure click on the underlined link.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Vietnam (1) - Hanoi to Halong Bay

We visited Vietnam in July 2009, the first leg of our honeymoon which took us from Vietnam into Cambodia before relaxing in the Maldives for 5 glorious days. Why Vietnam? Well to be honest the idea came from watching Top Gear's Vietnam Special. Any of you who watched it will know that as well as being fun viewing it really showed just how beautiful this country is and when you consider its past it is steeped in interesting history.

About to leave for Dusseldorf airport
We flew from Dusseldorf a couple into Hanoi via a brief stop over in Bangkok. First impressions of Hanoi, hot very hot and slightly chaotic not unlike many cities in Asia. If you think of hiring a car, stop, think again and hire a guide/driver. Rules of the road are very fluent in this part of the world. As mentioned the humidity level in Vietnam can be very, very high, so be ready, pack a lot of t-shirts. If you live in Ireland or the UK take a trip to Penneys (Primark) and stock up on cheap ones which you won't feel too bad about leaving behind as you move hotels. One thing's for sure you will sweat...a lot (see below).

We had a day in Hanoi before departing for Halong Bay, for those of you have not heard of this amazing area, its a UNESCO World Heritage site. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes. Ha Long Bay is a center of a larger zone which includes Bái Tử Long bay to the northeast, and Cát Bà islands to the southwest. A community of around 1,600 people live on Hạ Long Bay in four fishing villages: Cửa Vạn, Ba Hang, Cống Tàu and Vông Viêng in Hùng Thắng commune, Hạ Long city. They live on floating houses and are sustained through fishing and marine aquaculture

Welcoming committee on the Halong Ginger
We spent 24 hours on the Halong Ginger cruising around the bay stopping off at some of the main sites, this was an experience never to be forgotten. The service on board the Halong Ginger was exceptional, the food was delicious, its hard to express in words just how wonderful this part of the trip was. 

Our evening meal was a barbeque on the deck, obviously it goes with out saying that the food was simply delicious. However it was the setting that made this meal perhaps the most special of our honeymoon. It's hard to describe just how incredible it was to be sitting on deck, on a wonderful evening as dusk descended watching the islands go by, it really was the perfect romantic setting and one we'll both never forget.

 It's hard to describe just how special Halong Bay is, here are a few more photos which will give you an idea, to be honest the only way to really understand is to experience it for yourself:

From Halong Bay we travelled back to Hanoi to really get a flavour of this hectic, bustling city. Click on the underlined link to go straight to read more about our experiences in Vietnam.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Berlin, Germany

We visited Berlin for a long weekend in April 2009, a surprise 40th birthday present from Susy to me. As you'll see from some of the photos we were blessed with fantastic weather. I had been there once before for a conference but did not have the opportunity to see all that this city has to offer. To really cover all the sites you need more than a long weekend.

The Reichstag

Thanks to the lovely weather we spent a lot of time walking around the city, above you'll see a photo of the Reichstag, the view from the glass dome is supposed to be spectacular however it's also a big tourist attraction to you need to get there early to avoid the queues.

There is so much to see in Berlin that you could easily spend a week there and not do the city justice. So here are a couple of highlights.  Charlottenburg Palace or in German Schloss Charlottenburg) is the largest palace in Berlin, and the only royal residency in the city dating back to the time of the Hohenzollern family. The palace was built at the end of the 17th century and was greatly expanded during the 18th century. It includes much internal decoration in baroque and rococo styles. During the Second World War, the palace was badly damaged and has since been reconstructed. 

Schloss Charlottenberg

Berlin is a city so steeped in history that it really requires little introduction to most people. For me one of the most interesting and inspiring memories from our trip, was visiting the Checkpoint Charlie museum. The stories of the great lengths that people went to in order to escape across the wall from East into West Germany, are simply incredible.

Finally on Berlin, some more images of iconoic landmarks from our visit ......
Brandenburg gate

The Brandenburg Gate stands at the end of Unter den Linden. It is crowned with a 6m high sculpture of the Roman Quadriga driven by Victoria, the goddess of victory.

Berliner Dom
The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtnis-Kirche was almost totally destroyed during the Second World War. It was rebuilt in 1963 by Egon Eiermann. The damaged roof of the former church has become one of the best known symbols of Berlin.

Franzosischer Dom
The Franzosischer Dom was built for the Huguenot community, who found refuge in Protestant Berlin following their expulsion from France in 1598. It houses the Huguenot museum which charts the history of this community in France and Brandenburg.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pre Christmas break in Munich, Germany

Munich is the capital city of Bavaria, Germany. It is located on the River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps, the third largest city in Germany, behind Berlin and Hamburg. We visited Munich in December 2008 for a pre Christmas break, whilst cold it was a great time to visit the city and to enjoy the atmosphere of the Christmas markets.

Most people think of Munich for the Oktoberfest. For two weeks, the Oktoberfest attracts millions of people visiting its beer tents ("Bierzelte") and fairground attractions. So when in Munich if you can't make the Oktoberfest try to visit of the Bierkellers to savour the atmosphere and enjoy the food, pork knuckle is delicious.

The shops in Munich are fantastic so a weekend break to do your Christmas shopping, visit the markets and enjoy some " hearty" food is a must. I have to be honest and say that it was freezing hence the lack of good photos from this trip which is a shame as Munich is a beautiful city.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Amsterdam, capital city of the Netherlands

Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The city is in the province of North Holland in the west of the country. If you fancy visiting Amsterdam why not tie in a visit to Keukenhof at the same time, just check it is open (check out our Post on Keukenhof).

Amsterdam is a a fantastic city to visit and spend a few days wandering round enjoying the architecture, the museums and the canals. If you're lucky enough to get a sunny day be sure and hop on one of the many tourist canal trips, it's a great way to see Amsterdam from the water. 

The canal system is the result of conscious city planning known as the Grachtengordel, three of the canals were mostly for residential development: the Herengracht (where "Heren" refers to Heren Regeerders van de stad Amsterdam (ruling lords of Amsterdam), and gracht means canal, so the name can be roughly translated as "Canal of the lords"), Keizersgracht (Emperor's Canal), and Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal). The fourth and outermost canal is the Singelgracht, which is often not mentioned on maps, because it is a collective name for all canals in the outer ring. 

The most important museums of Amsterdam are located on the Museumplein (Museum Square), located at the southwestern side of the Rijksmuseum. The northeastern part of the square is bordered by the very large Rijksmuseum. The northwestern part of the square is bordered by the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, House of Bols Cocktail & Genever Experience and Coster Diamonds. Also worth visiting are the Ann Frank House and the Heineken Expereience. If you manage to see the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Ann Frank House you'll have got a real flavour of all this great city stands for.

Amsterdam is a great base to explore more of the province of North Holland, which has many fine old buildings and interesting museums. Below you'll find some suggestions of places we've visited and really enjoyed.

Zaanse Schans is the tourist heart of the Zaan region. This neighbourhood has typical Zaan houses, windmills and other buildings, its a must see if you get the chance to travel outside Amsterdam.

Zaanse Schans
The town of Edam, known worldwide is also worth a visit. The town has many historical buildings as well as the Edams museum which is located in a 16th century merchant's house. During July and August you can visit the Kaasmarkt, to see how Edam's famous cheese is sold.

Enkhuizen is still one of Holland's major ports. Its many fine buildings are evidence of the wealth of whats know here in the Netherlands as the Golden Age. Enkhuizen is home to the Zuiderzee Museum, a combination of an indoor museum (Binnenmuseum) and an outdoor museum (Buitenmuseum). The latter is a unique reconstruction of an old Zuidersee town,

Zuiderzee Buitenmuseum