Street Food. Sort of….

Pop up flower shop on the corner.

I talked yesterday about our trip to a local market. That was the first stop on a tour about Saigon street food. The components, as it were. The next stop was a street food street. Basically a stretch of sidewalk, it is managed by a local charity and is an attempt to get people started in small businesses- the first step away from unlicensed mobile carts. The spaces are made available to small business people, and they have the use of the space for one meal service. When we got there the breakfast vendors were just packing up and the lunch people were about to arrive. Our guide works for a telecom company around the corner during the week and this is their go to lunch spot. Not much to see when we were there, but when things are in full swing it’s a very busy place.

And then the tourists started to arrive and they want to try the street food experience. The government thought about it a bit and decided to create the street food market (not street) for the tourists. While the street is licensed and inspected, the market is managed to a slightly higher standard. Can’t be poisoning the tourists, after all. Not quite as authentic but still yummy.

Chicken thighs wrapped in vermicelli noodles. With chicken thigh in the side.

Yum yum! Wilf found a craft beer and declared it good. Besides Vietnamese food there was Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Mexican- you name it.

Tourists – out of the heat and into the food!

After a snack we headed off to a very swanky restaurant for lunch. The lack of passengers on our ship has made for a bit of tap dancing on the part of the tour operators. Usually when we arrive at the pier there is a phalanx of buses waiting for us. In Hoi An both tours I did had sixteen people. In Ho Chi Minh City there was one coach bus per tour – maybe 30 people? Usually the guides are on their phones, making sure we don’t all wind up at the same place at the same time, coordinating arrivals for lunch. With so few people we keep showing up early for things. At our lunch stop we got a very thorough tour of the restaurant – I think they skipped the refrigerators – to get the kitchen caught up to our arrival.

This was really good but hooh! A lot of food.

In Ho Chi Minh City there are three ports. The old colonial port was built by the French. The river is deep enough there, but narrow, so only shorter cruise ships can go there – they need to be able to turn around. About 45 minutes away in the container port where the small and medium ships can berth. The big guys are another 30 minutes away in the area where the car carriers unload. After our huge lunch the guide finally gave up, stopped talking and let us snooze on our way back to the container port.

So good I did it twice

Our first port in Vietnam was Da Nang. I’ve sort of lost track of what the original plan was – it didn’t include a stop in Da Nang – but it did include a visit to the town of Hoi An. The plan was to visit the town and go to a cooking school.

The two days at sea to get to Vietnam were rather bumpy, so Wilf decided he didn’t need a bus ride and stayed on board while I joined the excursion.

Once upon a time Hoi An was a major port for Southeast Asia. Chinese and Japanese traders set up residence and this was one of the towns where East met West to do business. Eventually, however, the port silted up, business shifted to Da Namg and Hoi An became a riverside backwater. This fact saved it from being bombed during the Vietnam war and now it is a major tourist destination.

Amongst all the tourist tat there are some beautiful old building – old merchant houses, meeting houses and temples. The historic part of the town is closed to cars in the middle of the day. Nothing to be done about the motorbikes, though.

Our first stop was the central market, which is the food supply for the town. At first it was all fruit and veg.

Soon enough we came to the meat and fish area. There was a bit of horrified muttering in our group ‘no refrigeration! What about the heat?’ I would say – do you smell anything? Nope. All of this stuff was alive a few hours ago and it will all be sold within hours.

This tour was happening on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Wilf and I came back to Hoi An. We went to the market about 2.5 hours later tha my previous visit. And the fish was all sold and the meat vendors were also packing up. Everything all ship shape and proper. After some of the fish and meat markets we’ve been in in other parts of the world (I’m looking at you, Durban.) this was a wonder of cleanliness.

Normally the town is full of tourists. We happened to be there on a rare rainy day, which thinned things out considerably. It did make for a session of swimming up stream like salmon in the teeming rain.

Time for some food!

The cooking school was on the third floor of a building – Chinese restaurant on the second floor, street food market on the first. They were all ready for us in a very slick teaching set up.

We made spring rolls, barbecue chicken thighs, crispy pancakes and green mango salad. It was all delicious!

Shrimp and pork spring roll
Ingredients for chicken marinade
Green mango salad

Everything was so delicious that on the following day we came back. The ship moved from Da Nang to Chan May. We took an excursion from the ship that took us to Hoi An and left us to our own devices for the afternoon, then took us back to the ship. Being us, you know what we did!

Yep – lunch and local beer. The ground floor of this restaurant has a central seating area and little stalls arranged all around the edges where all different types of food were being made.

Dumpling production

We ordered by saying yes to the dumplings, checking out the lady at the next table and her interesting banana leaf packages and generally ‘bring all the food’.

Those are crispy pancakes, Madame.

By the way – yesterday I was rocking the ‘doused by a bucket of water’ look courtesy of the rain. Today I was working that shiny look only high heat and high humidity could bring…..

Once fed we explored the town a bit. There are several very old temples and merchant houses to visit. Being next to the river flooding is an issue. This merchant house is right beside the river. There are markers inside to show how high the water has been. There is an attic area and all the furniture can be hauled up if there is enough warning. The enormous teak pillars that support the house stand on marble pads. In the picture below you can see almost at the top the marker for the 1964 flood, which was devastating…

This area is also famous for its marble production,and families have been in the business for generations. No bus trip is complete without a stop. I’ll leave you with a selection of items that they would have been happy to ship to us…

East meets west, Goddess style

Tap tap. Is this thing still on?

Greetings, beloveds. Last I left you we were in Windy Wellington, NZ. And then – whoosh – a year has passed. Our next adventure begins soon, but I wanted to check and see if I still remember how to do this.

I’ll be back soon, but until then here is a picture of the sort of thing we are planning to escape.

Making sure we have an escape route

That was last month, and it didn’t last long. But still! Not supposed to happen here!

Back to Japan

Wilf and I just can’t seem to get Japan out of our system, so off we go again. We’re starting in Osaka this time. I’ll be back with the details of our adventures- until then here’s a little bling from a shop across from our hotel:

U-huh – that’s a convertible Benz completely covered (seats, too) with rhinestones. As one does.

The first time we came to Japan in 2009 Hallowe’en was a low key affair. It gets bigger each time we visit.

They call it fishing, not catching

Wilf and I headed to the north end of Vancouver Island recently to see if the pink salmon were schooling at the mouth of the Cluxewe River. After the miraculous summer of 2014 and the no show of 2015 our hopes were high. Wilf has been following reports from his fishing buddies throughout the north island, and the reports were…… inconsistent. Some fish around, but they were not biting.
 

Wilf sets out to see who’s out there.

 One of the nice things about being at Cluxewe is running into friends. Don and Peggy, Margaret and Denise were on hand.

 Margaret did catch fish – one of which we ate!


 Our last night there was perfect – sunny, no wind. Margaret took a break with us while Miss Emma kept a close eye on Don.


There’s at least one fish out there and Don wants it.

 James wandered by

 Eventually Don came in to join the log sitters.


I wandered up the beach

 And found Wilf and Denise returning from the mouth of the river.

There were a few fish out there, and a few were hooked but they weren’t being landed. Once again- lots of fishing, not much catching.

Chacun a son Gout

Once upon a long time ago Wilf and I were in a pub in London. We were looking at the bar snacks, and on offer were packets of potato chips – crisps – in the flavour ‘roast beef’. I decided that was too weird to eat and passed. And I’ve always kind of regretted that – after all – a bag of chips? Don’t like ’em, don’t eat ’em. Since then we’ve been to Japan twice and Turkey and India and have sort of adopted ‘Sure, I’ll try that’ as a motto to live by.

And then I was in our local Fairways market. And there, in the ‘ethnic’ section was a display of potato chips from Scotland:

Steak flavoured crisps! I’m in. And, after tasting them I’d have to say – apparently texture contributes a lot to the taste of something. Do they taste like steak or beef? No. What do they taste like? I don’t know. But you know what they aren’t? Salty!!! Half the salt of a similar sized package of North American chips.

Of course, if I’m going to continue on my path of ‘brave eating’ I guess I’ll have to go back and get the package that was beside the aberdeen angus steak flavour.

What do you suppose ‘Haggis and cracked black pepper’ is going to taste like?

Christmas 2014


 
When we were writing this letter last year it looked like 2014 was going to be a quieter year than 2013, which seemed like a good idea after all the activities of that year. Then….. 2014 happened!
After 14 years in this house we finally bit the bullet and took on the big project – hardwood floors. In January we packed up the contents of the house, moved out and let the contractors at it. Six weeks later we moved back in to beautiful new floors throughout. Many thanks to Joan & Doug for letting us bunk in with them for the duration. Over the summer we had the outside of the house repainted, finishing off the sprucing up that began last year. And next year – kitchen counters?
Once again 2014 was a year of travel. Sharon’s Mom celebrated a big birthday with all the family in Las Vegas over Easter – shows, excursions & helicopters made for an action packed trip. In August both Sharon and Wilf had big trips. Sharon joined girlfriends Nan & Lisa in Birmingham, England to attend the “Festival of Quilts” – a week of shopping and looking at quilts at the Big Show! Later in the month Wilf’s fly-fishing club had an excursion to the north end of Vancouver Island to fish for salmon on the beach at the mouth of the Cluxewe River. According to the locals, it was the best salmon run in 20 years. It was a wonderful experience we shared together.
In September we returned to Istanbul – Wilf celebrated his 60thbirthday there and this year he celebrated his 75th in that great city. We enjoyed the city once again, then boarded a cruise of the Black Sea. After 12 days of interesting ports, including Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia we arrived in Athens, Greece then moved on to a week in a villa on the island of Crete. It was a truly memorable trip full of great sights, great food and time with good friends, Nan and Greg.
Christmas will be spent with Sharon’s parents and brother Bill in Victoria. We will cross Australia off the bucket list this winter and a family trip is planned for fall 2015. Truly, we are blessed to be able to travel the world and come back home to our wonderful spot by the sea. We appreciate so much our family and friends and look forward to another year of adventures.
Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Love,  Sharon and Wilf

 

More adventures in bathing.

And so the great adventure, Autumn 2914 version, begins. We are in Istanbul – we were last here in 1999. It was pretty straightforward to travel from Victoria – Victoria to Toronto direct (~4 hours) followed by Toronto to Istanbul direct (~9 hrs). Long flight, but not complicated. 

Because we arrived at 9:30 am I figured that we’d be too early to check in to our hotel – and we’d be tired. So maybe a visit to a Hamam would be in order. One thing and another, we found a Hamam that met our requirements and made a reservation. 
Most hamami are segregated – there are either seperate facilities, different times of the day or different days of the week. Which is fine, but the first places we found would have had me going in the morning while Wilf did??? And then Wilf off in the afternoon leaving me unattended. But we found a place – for tourists- that is co-ed. 
After a visit to the Hagia Sofia (in the 15 years since our last visit they’ve moved the scaffolding from one side to the another) we found ourselves at the Hamam, tired, disheveled and hours early for our appointment. No matter – they swept us in and got us settled. 
As is traditional men get a large towel wrap to wear in the bath. To preserve modesty women are given a pair of shorts and a bikini top in addition to the wrap. A pair of wooden clogs completes the ensemble and off we went. 
The main room is a large domed area with a huge marble platform in the centre – 8 people can lay out easily. The platform is heated – as is the floor – and we layed down to relax in the heat. Around the outside of the room are big marble sinks and small basins. We could go and pour water over ourselves – mostly to cool off. After awhile we were called into a smaller room where there were two marble massage tables and two muscular guys. First up we sat down by the big sinks for a rinse and then a scrub. Sort of like being worked over with a potscrubber. 
Once we were scrubbed there was the small problem of hauling my weary slippery self up off the floor, but big guy helped me get the job done. I’d forgotten about the Ottoman sitting on the floor thing…
Next up was the soap bubbles – the masseur had what looked like a big pillowcase in a pail of soapy water – the case would be full of air and bubbles – it was a strange sensation as the hot bubbles poured over me – by the time he was done I was covered from my neck to my feet in a layer of bubbles about 4″ thick. 
After the bubble bath and a rinse – a massage. That worked out the kinks! In a more traditional set up there would have been a very thorough scrubbing to take off a couple of layers of skin followed by a massage that takes you apart and then puts you back together. None of this was quite as rigorous but it was just the ticket. 
After it all we changed out of our wet things and into a dry towel. The attendants then used more towels and lots of flapping and wrapping to get us all bundled up – we sort if looked like gift wrapped packages by the time we got to the lounge area to enjoy fresh and delicious orange juice. 
My bathing beauty!

What I did on my winter vacation

2014 is half gone and I haven’t checked in for an age – so this will be a quick recap.

Rather than take a winter vacation this year we underwent another project.

First – pack up about 85% or our belongings and have them moved to the garage:

Second – have a lot of wood delivered:

We then moved out for six weeks, while a lot of this went on:
And when it was over – new hardwood floors throughout!
Along the way we repainted our bedroom, changed some appliances and light fixtures. We did NOT do the heavy work ourselves. Alain, Nathalie and Kyle of Woodfellow Flooring did the work on the floors and it is beautiful. With an open plan house they had lots of strange angles and no places to hide. And they did a wonderful job. The installation is lovely and the finish just gleams. And they took extra special care in getting our home back in shape when they were done. We would recommend them if you need new floors in the Victoria area.
While I’m in a recommending mood I have good things to say about AtoB Moving – they came to move our stuff and did a great job. They were quick and careful and had the contents of most of the house packed into the garage in very short order. They really worked hard. And when the time came to move back in they were as quick and careful as the first time around.
Moving out, having our house in an uproar made for a strange winter. But the end result is worth it!