Monday, 30 November 2015

Spectre


Daniel Craig is back again as James Bond, the debonair, womanising, rule breaking, MI5 agent 007. In 'Spectre' Bond's villainous opponent is Christoph Waltz whose evilness on screen has already earned himself not one but two Academy Awards.

The template for these Bond films is so well known there is no need to outline the general nature of the plot. It is sufficient to say that the template is adhered to in style in 'Spectre' in quite an entertaining manner even if it is somewhat overlong.

I checked and found the earliest Bond films were about 110 minutes in length. 'Spectre' and other recent Bond films run for about two and a half hours. This extra thirty five minutes or so makes them a little long and I feel that each of them stretches the material a little to fit the length rather than because the extra length is necessary to the plot.

★★★1/2

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Vietnam Day 2 - Hanoi

This was scheduled for us as a free day with only the welcome dinner in the evening programmed as our first tour activity but at the airport pick up the previous evening we were asked to assemble in the afternoon for a city tour.

We began the day with a hotel breakfast. As expected there were many offerings of a savoury nature traditional in the Asian diet which we three would not usually eat as breakfast items.

This dish attracted our attention;


What might it look like? Well, take a look for yourself;


It looked, and tasted, like a beef stew. Quite nice really although not what I would usually eat for breakfast.

It was raining quite steadily and we decided to use our free morning to explore the neighbourhood and the nearby lake, one of many in Hanoi. I had brought an umbrella with me from Sydney but the others had not. We were directed to a nearby supermarket where CE and ME purchased umbrellas for a handful of dollars. CE managed to cut himself opening the umbrella for the first time drawing blood so we returned to the hotel briefly for him to be bandaged. Then we set off.

Dodging stalls, people seated on kiddie type stools eating on the footpath, motor bikes parked on the footpath and all manner of other obstacles we eventually reached Thong Nhat Park. Across the road we circled around this serene lake which my iPhone identified as being in Lenin Park.

Thien Quang Lake

A nearby school with Ho Chi Minh's image prominent;



A Hanoi street at school pick up time (around 11.30 am) for those students attending morning school. (A different set of children would arrive at 1.00 pm for those attending afternoon school.)



After about three hours of walking we returned to our hotel for the briefest of breaks before the city tour.

The Hanoi skyline viewed from our hotel room;


In the afternoon we embarked on the city tour, which turned out to be two events which the tour program stated were to have occurred the next day; a walk past Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and a visit to the Temple of Literature. We assumed we would be returned to the hotel to freshen up for the evening's welcome dinner following the tour but as it turned out we were taken directly to the dinner from the tour; CE, ME and myself still in the clothes we had sweated through in our long morning's walk in the rain.

Assembling for the city tour we met our fellow group travellers for the first time. We were a party of eighteen in total, all from Australia and all pretty well proving to be delightful travel companions for the following three weeks.

First stop the Mausoleum which our group could only view from the outside in a slow walk past;


Next stop, which we could and did explore for about an hour was the Temple of Literature, a centuries old complex of courtyards which was Vietnam's first University;


At the end of our visit the sun had set and we were taken across the road to a training restaurant run by disadvantaged teenagers for our first meal as a group. No photos of this but the meal was reasonable enough.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Vietnam Day 1

The first day our trip was basically a travel day. Two flights to take us from Sydney to Hanoi via Singapore.

'Us' comprised friends CE, ME and myself. The first leg was by Singapore Airlines to Singapore; a flight of about 7½ hours. The plane was modern and in good condition and the service and catering were good. After a transit stop at Singapore of nearly two hours the second leg flight was by Singapore Airlines subsidiary SilkAir.

The two airlines seemed like chalk and cheese. The SilkAir plane was clearly very old and the service and catering ordinary. We arrived in Hanoi after sunset around 6.30pm from memory.

Descent to Hanoi
The most notable sights on the drive to our airport were the French style buildings with narrow frontages; virtually one room wide. Apparently wider buildings attract a higher tax. I wasn't expecting the maze of neon style advertising prevalent all around the city. Block after block was crowded with local families eating their evening meal on footpaths and street frontages.

Our hotel in Hanoi was the Sunway Hotel; a chain of hotels under Malaysian ownership. It was cited as Four Star but I reckon it was a little under that standard but quite acceptable. CE and I were on the 10th floor and were to find ourselves waiting ages for lift service from that level.

On this night and after two flights none of us felt hungry enough for a meal but we wandered around nearby blocks for somewhere to enjoy a drink and we stumbled across a restaurant we were to return to several times for meals. The Quan An Ngon at 26 Tran Hung Dao has lots of character and good local meals at low cost. I recommend it should you find yourself in Hanoi.

Quad An Ngon Restaurant

At this point we were not aware of how many others were on our escorted group tour. The tour proper was to start the following afternoon when we would meet our other travel companions for the first time.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Be it ever so humble.....

....there's no place like home.

Our descent into a cloudy Sydney this morning

We have returned to Sydney this morning weary after a somewhat gruelling schedule but very happy with our visit to Vietnam and Cambodia. The positives of our tour clearly outweigh the few negatives.

Will post photos from the trip in the days to follow.

Home

If all goes to schedule and flights are punctual, arrival in Sydney at 11.40am.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Siem Reap

A free day in Siem Reap ahead of departure tonight for Singapore, thence on to Sydney.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Siem Reap

A boat trip on Tonle Sap Lake. In the evening a farewell dinner at New Hope, a training restaurant.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Siem Reap

The site of temple ruins from the Khmer Empire and the first of to days at Angkor Wat.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Phnom Penh

A sombre day visiting the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and Toul Sleng, a notorious security prison. Also scheduled to call in at Sunrise Childrens' Village.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Phnom Penh

Flying to the Cambodian capital today. Sightseeing the Royal Palace, the Central Market and the National Museum.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Mekong - Ho Chi Minh City

Continuing our cruise along the Mekong until returning to Ho Chi Minh City in the evening.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Ho Chi Minh City

A history lesson for us in today's touring to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Reunification Palace.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Hue - Ho Chi Min City

In a taste of European travel sightseeing in Ho Chi Minh City today will include Notre Dame Cathedral, Hotel de Ville and the (ahem) French inspired Post Office. Visits also planned to the Emperor of Jade Pagoda and the War Remnants Museum.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Hoi An - Danang - Hue

Travelling north via the Marble Mountains, China Beach, the Hai Van Pass. In Hue we are to visit the old Imperial City and the Imperial Tombs.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Hoi An

We expect to spend time in the Central Market and by the harbour visiting locations dating from the era when Hoi An was a major international port between the 17th and 19th centuries.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Halong Bay - Hanoi - Hoi An

We complete our Halong Bay cruise during the morning. Returning to Hanoi we will fly to Danang then on to our overnight stop in Hoi An.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Hanoi

We start the day with a Tai Chi class which might test my inflexible body somewhat. Visits planned to the Temple of Literature, the Tortoise Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Museum of Ethnology and the city's Old Quarter.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Hanoi

The day to ourselves in Hanoi ahead of the gathering with our fellow tour travellers this evening.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Leaving on a jet plane....

We fly out this morning for Hanoi via a transit stop in Singapore. The first leg is on Singapore Airlines and the second leg is on their subsidiary Silk Air.




I'm not sure what level of internet connection I will achieve during this trip. I will post messages if I can otherwise photos and comments will have to wait until my return at the end of the month.

I have prepared a brief message for each day we are away just to let you know where we expect to be on that date.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Light traffic and a storm arrives

I went into town this morning for some last minute shopping ahead of my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. It was my first time in the CBD since the closure of the first section of George Street in preparation for the construction of the CBD and South-East Light Rail.

How pleasant from a pedestrian point of view it was to be able to move about without dodging vehicles. And how nice it was without the noise and smells those vehicles bring with them.

George Street, Sydney

I returned home mid afternoon just ahead of a fierce looking storm announcing its arrival as seen from my dining room.

Tha'r she blows
Ten minutes later the sky was dark, thunder and lightning passed overhead. Another five minutes and the sky is already brighter and clearer. Until the next storm appears.

All Too Much (aka ATM)

I don't about you, dear reader, but is there anything more frustrating than dealing with a Telco or the bank? Which bank? Any bank!

Dear, oh dear I sometimes fear the worst when I have reason to deal with them.

This week my bank sent me a new ATM card to replace the card which expires at the end of the month. The accompanying letter instructed me to start using the new card, current PIN number and all immediately and to destroy the expiring card. No mention of 'activating' the card or some such intermediate step. It all sounded very simple. Too simple?

Yesterday morning I used the new card for the first time at my local branch.


The ATM thought momentarily before informing me the PIN was incorrect. Had I miskeyed? I tried again noting very carefully that I keyed the correct number. The ATM thought and again responded the PIN was incorrect.

I was not going to try a third time. I know from experience that a third strike means the ATM takes the card and stubbornly refuses to give it back. There was no way I wanted that happening three days out from a departure for overseas.

My local branch maintains archaic customer hours and I had to wait until opening time (9.30am) before seeking personal assistance. There was no explanation offered nor suggested for what happened.

The teller got me to reset the PIN; the same number as I was using with the previous card and that I had tried to use earlier.

The bank did confirm that 'activation' was not needed for an ATM only card but as for what went wrong when I tried to use it; I still have no idea.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Valet parking

I don't think I'll ask the Captain to park my car!



(The Ostend Spirit beached in Turkey.)

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Dressmaker


Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) returns to her outback Australian town in the 1950s, now an accomplished dressmaker following training and work in Europe. Dunnage has a past in the town that she does not remember well that involves a murder and she is keen to determine the truth.

For me, 'The Dressmaker' is a curate's egg of a film. I loved Judy Davis and Hugo Weaving who have key supporting roles. Winslet handles the Australian accent as well as any foreign performer that I can recall and delivers her usual competent performance but she is mismatched in age with Liam Hemsworth and some other characters.

The film contains many humorous moments and yet there are as many that misfire. The odd collection of township characters felt over the top to me. What mostly seems to be a comic mystery dips into some quite dark areas as it proceeds and the film is overlong. Some of the plot tangents are inexplicable.

I hoped to like the film more than I did and in fairness I should point that a party of nurses from my hospital enjoyed it greatly as quite obviously did the largely female audience at the session we attended.

★★1/2

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Bridge of Spies


In 1957 Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is convicted in the United States of being a spy for the Soviet Union and gaoled. Later Abel becomes a potential exchange for American U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) who the Soviets have imprisoned. Abel's defence lawyer James B Donovan (Tom Hanks) is engaged to negotiate the exchange.

Steven Spielberg's 'Bridge of Spies' is a thoroughly entertaining and interesting depiction of events at the height of the Cold War. Whilst a thriller in intent the film is seasoned with unexpected but pleasurable humour and it throws light on a somewhat forgotten episode in Soviet and USA relations.

Highly recommended.

★★★★