Tag: photography (page 1 of 6)

A visit to Hanoi


Dear Karen,

Have I told you about our visit to Hanoi?

We were living in Hong Kong in 2008, and had no plans for the summer.  Usually we’d fly to Canada or to Europe, but that year, I decided we’d do something different.  “We’ll go to Hanoi and then to Tokyo”, I told the family.

It was our Summer of the Cities ending in Vowels…owels…owels…

We’d booked 2 rooms at the Sofitel Metropole; what a thrill to discover, on arrival, that we’d been upgraded to the top floor, which included free breakfast, afternoon tea, and…wait for it…a butler.  Per room.  This poor woman didn’t know what to do with us.  We didn’t need her to unpack for us, or polish our shoes or check our food for poison.  She tried so desperately to buttle us, and oh, how we wished to be buttled, but I fear we were just too boringly middle class.


Here I am, displaying my boringly middle classness. In a tub.

After unpacking while our butler stood by smiling grimly, we went out to explore the city.  Very near our hotel is a beautiful lake.  We got up early every morning to run round it, hoping to offset the calories we’d eaten and imbibed the day before.


Hồ Hoàn Kiếm. The centre of the lake.


Same lake as above, this was within a 10 minute walk of our hotel.

Our hotel reminded me a lot of other elegant colonial hotels I’ve been in:  The Empress, Raffles, the Peninsula.  Once we set foot outside though, the vibrant street life of downtown Hanoi was buzzing with an energy seen only in crowded Asian cities.  This place was hopping!



Powdered paint for sale.



We need at least one embarrassing tourist photo, otherwise it didn’t happen.

Crossing the street became a game of Vietnamese Roulette:  Lars would lead the way, checking over his right shoulder, seeing a hole in the traffic and boldly taking his first step off the curb.  Michael and I would shuffle behind him, thinking if one of us got hit, the other two would keep the injured one upright until we got to the other side.  With no apparent slowing down or veering, the traffic managed to avoid us.


These motorcyclists are actually stopped for a red light – alert the media!



We had to take a rickshaw ride, just once! Certain family members were embarrassed. Not I.

We walked all round the city.  It was hot, about 30 degrees each day, but with plenty of stops at restaurants for cooling drinks, we were fine.  You soon learn to avoid the hottest hours of day when you’re in the tropics.  We spent most afternoons huddled in the tea room upstairs, swilling back fruit-and-alcohol-laden drinks and eating scones and sandwiches.  And taking dumb pictures.


Mummy got her drinkie!

A visit to Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I was determined we’d spend the night on a purpose-built junk, sailing around the islands.  We set off early one morning and came home late the next evening.  I felt like we were inside a postcard, one that was so beautiful, it just had to be fake.



Ha Long Bay


Lounging on our junk. We were 3 of 5 passengers that weekend.



Boozing it up on the junk.


All the junks come to the beach to drop off passengers.



The people who live here never touch foot on solid ground. They truly live on the water.



Selling us oyster shells and beads. She couldn’t speak English so we bartered in French instead. She totally whipped my ass.


See the look of total panic (and sweat) on my face? That’s because I’m about a million miles underground, in a freaking cave.



Sweet, blessed relief! And hey, doesn’t this look like we’re posing in front of a screen? It’s impossible to take a bad photo in Ha Long Bay.

Meanwhile, back in Hanoi…

Because we had a teenage boy with us, a trip to the Military Museum was in order.  There, we learned about Dien Bien Phu and the American War, as it’s called in Vietnam.  A fascinating visit, and I highly recommend spending the afternoon there.



An exhibit showing the most important thing a soldier had in the war: a bicycle.


There are so many tanks, helicopters, airplanes and cannons (yes, that right) in the museum. People wander about take a close look at them all.

We visited  Maison Centrale.



Such an innocent name for what was a prison and place of torture.  Built by the French in 19th century, it housed Vietnamese prisoners of war:


Models of Vietnamese prisoners in Maison Centrale.

Of course, most Americans would know this as the Hanoi Hilton, the name given by American Prisoners of War during the 1960s and 70s.  Most famously, John McCain spent time there as well.

I get told off by a guard

Lars and Michael played golf one day, leaving me to my own devices.  I spent it wisely, going to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to visit Uncle Ho.  Of course, he’s kind of dead now, but I queued up to get a look at him lying in state, before being herded along by the guards.  It was so cold inside the bowels of the building, that I hugged myself to stay warm.  Immediately a guard began poking me sharply on the arm, telling me with hand gestures:  no hugging!  No!  Apparently it’s disrespectful to hug yourself in the presence of their national hero.  Good to know.



The only photo I was able to take of Uncle Ho’s resting place.  No hugging!



Gravestones are sold on the street. This one has a photo of Britney Spears as the recently deceased, for some reason.

We loved our time in Hanoi.  In so many ways, it reminded us how Hong Kong used to feel, before it got all sophisticated and modern.  I’d love to go back again, to see what, if anything, has changed.

Somehow, I bet the motorbikes will still be there.



Almonte: Tiny jewel of the Valley

Dear Wendy,

Well, I’m afraid I have nothing so glamourous as your jaunt to Italy to report, but this past weekend Mitchell, Rachel, and I hopped in our trusty Jetta and high-tailed it out of Ottawa for an afternoon in Almonte.

I’ve talked about this small town before, as it’s one of my favourite places in the Ottawa Valley: only a 45-minute drive from Ottawa, but it could be in a completely different world. It’s rich with history, and though you’d hardly know it now, it was a manufacturing hub during the mid- to late 1800s. At one point, no fewer than 6 woollen mills were in operation, taking advantage of the power afforded by the Mississippi River. (No, not that Mississippi: this one is much smaller. Not to mention further north.)

alt="IMAGE-mississippi-river-ontario-almonte-after-the-kids-leave"Fun fact #1 about Almonte

The town is actually named for a Mexican general, Juan Almonte, victor at the battle of the Alamo in 1836 and later ambassador to the US and Britain. What in heaven’s name possessed a small town in Ontario to name itself after this guy? Well, Canadians were a bit nervous about the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, and I guess this was their way of thumbing their noses at their southern neighbours. In any case, “Al-Mont-eh” was mispronounced as AL-mont, and the name seems to have stuck.

Fun fact #2 about Almonte

It’s the birthplace of one James Naismith. Who he?

Well, he was a physical educator, trained in Montreal, who went on to invent a game you might have heard of: basketball. So next time you see an 8-foot-tall guy in baggy shorts throwing hoops, you can thank James.


Rachel and James Naismith. I think he likes her.

As I said, one of the town’s defining features is the river: we ate lunch on a charming verandah overlooking the water, and after lunch we explored the Riverwalk. On the way, we discovered some delightful living spaces, including this old mill that’s been converted into condos:


Don’t you love the idea of having your morning coffee with the river rushing past?

We wondered about this house, high above the river, with its…silo? Roman helmet? observatory? Your guess is as good as mine. I did chuckle at what the neighbours must have thought as they saw this one being built. It’s not exactly in keeping with the surrounding homes!


Call it what you want, but this house has a gorgeous view, summer and winter.

Almonte has some lovely examples of Victorian architecture, as well. There’s the old Post Office/Customs and Inland Revenue Office, a beautiful red stone building that now houses a pretty little café:

alt="IMAGE-old-post-office-almonte-ontario-after-the-kids-leave"And of course, the Town Hall, with its Victorian detailing and slate tiled roof: alt="IMAGE-old-town-hall-almonte-ontario-after-the-kids-leave"On our way out of town, we stopped for what were possibly the largest single-scoop ice cream cones we’d ever seen; and as we drove home, we really felt we’d enjoyed a relaxing mini-vacation, 45 minutes from home. Next time you’re here, we really have to build a visit to Almonte into our itinerary!





Dear Karen,

Doors.  They’re boring, utilitarian, and terribly important.

They open our minds and our homes.  They keep us safe when closed, and offer us endless opportunity when open.
Conversely, they also lock us in and allow interlopers to trespass, if we’re not careful.
Do you ever wonder what lies beyond the doors we pass every day?


Underground corridors of Somerset House, with doors leading to even more doors.

I do.

But I’m not a Peeping Thomasina or a burglar, so I’m afraid my curiosity is never satisfied.


A gate on a stables in the country? Not really. This is actually to be found in the heart of the West End.

There are doors in London that I love, which I walk past daily and can’t help but photograph.  Looking through my albums, I’m always surprised to see how many photos of doors I do take.


The V & A Museum. It’s best to describe this museum using photos instead of words, I find.


You’ve heard of Red Sails in the Sunset? Well, let me introduce you to Red Doors in Mayfair!


Probably my favourite door in London, this one sits in Portman Square, Marylebone.

Perhaps there’s a deep psychological reason for this.  Or maybe I’m as profound as a puddle drying in the sun, and I just happen to like doors.


I adore the art deco lettering on this address. Very swank, very 1930s.


Wonderful Wigmore Hall, which holds Sunday morning classical concerts for those us who can get out of bed early enough.



A sweet little school in Marylebone.

Who knows?

Some doors lead to shopping and creative pleasures.


Less of a door and more of a doorway to beautiful trinkets and clothing, stylishly displayed and expensively ticketed.


Every theatre has one. This one, near Covent Garden, is more handsome than most.

Some are rather royal.


The Orangery in Kensington Palace – I bet Kate looks out of her palace window each day and wishes she could trot down here for a cup of tea with the rest of us.

And yet others are tests of courage. 

This is a little kitten wondering if she dare pass through the door into the living room, knowing a much larger cat waits for her within.


Blue. She dared. And the rest is history.

Doors. They’re more than an open-and-shut case.




WordPress Photo Challenge: Spring

Dear Karen,

Blue, my intrepid and mostly insane kitten, has come to me with a poem today.  Doesn’t matter that she stole it from the great Ogden Nash, the inestimable e.e. cummings, or even the shy Ann Onymous; I’m just impressed I could read her normally illegible scrawl.

Spring has sprung,


Tulips springing out all over Regents Park, London.



The crocuses are busy in Kensington Gardens, too.

The grass is riz,


Blue tells me this cottage is in Kensington Gardens, where there’s plenty of grass. Not of the catnip variety, sadly.


The grass is attempting to riz in Knightsbridge as well.

I wonder where the birdies is?


Where are you, birdies?  I can’t see you!

Um, Blue?  They’re over here:

Poor Blue.  She just wants to find those damn birdies, to let them know it’s Spring and time to come back to our rooftop.


Easter in London

Dear Karen,

Well, it’s a wrap:  Easter long weekend is coming to a close today.

Sadly, the Easter Bunny was terribly negligent this year, and didn’t think to bring me my yearly allotment of jelly beans and chocolate eggs (remember we used to call them chocolate footballs?  I still do, but only with people who understand me).

Kind of annoyed about that, to be honest.  Easter Bunny, you let me down.

Aside from that little glitch though, we had a good weekend.

We saw flowers blooming in Regents Park.

alt="IMAGE-pink tulips"

I overheard a woman tell her friend that pink isn’t a good colour for older women. I’m shattered.


Looks beautiful, right? This is one of the spots where Kim Philby used to meet his spy friends, during the Cold War years.

Saturday night, we went to the theatre, to see Angela Lansbury as Madame Arquati in Blithe Spirit.  The audience wouldn’t let her walk on or off the stage without giving applause measuring at least 8.3 on the Richter scale.  We’re just wild about Angela (who, by the way is 88 years old, and I bet wears pink whenever she bloody well wants)!

Sunday was raining but that didn’t stop us from going to the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Remember, we went there last year?  I could go there every day and never be bored.


Seeing the Chinese exhibit reminds us of being back in Hong Kong; we felt very comfortable in this room!


This, my friend, is the most uncomfortable pillow you’d ever care to use. From the Chinese exhibit in the V & A Museum


And in the Japan Room, we have this amusing piece of porcelain.


Gorgeous, isn’t it?

japenese netsuke

Japanese netsuke – the look on his face makes me laugh.

Moving on to the classical statues in the centre of the museum, there was much to look at.


Close-up, male face.

female statue

Just beautiful.


While viewing this unknown woman from the front was beautiful, I found the draping on the back to be equally exquisite.

I can’t not go to the V & A without looking at the Fashion section.


Stunning black velvet and silk gown, Victorian period.


Hello, 1960s! I can’t remember the designer of the far left, but the centre is Pucci and the one on the right is Courreges.

On our way home, I made Lars stop at the Brompton Oratory, to take a look at the Dead Letter Drop, where spies like Kim Philby used to leave cassettes or papers, for their handlers.

Right next door is another church, with a statue of St Francis of Assissi in its garden.  Right beside Francis is a large tree, which was also used as a secret drop for spies.  God, I love this stuff.


St Francis to the right, spy drop tree to the left.

And today, the final day of our 4 day weekend?  I’m getting on a plane to Vancouver in a few hours.  I’ll spend the night in town and then drive up to Whistler where I’ll meet you and Rachel (and okay, Bucky, too) for 9 days of riotous fun diligent work, sorting out the Irving family archives.

Of course, you know this already, so why am I telling you? :-)

See you soon,


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