Saturday, January 30, 2010

Educational day in Dalat

I regret that I didn't get a better photo of this woman spinning cotton in a very ancient fashion. We were in her tiny home as one stop on the tour we took with a guide from our hotel in Dalat, The Pink House Hotel. This was a fascinating day and we learned so much about the area that we would never have known if we had not lucked into this hotel. What she is spinning is not cotton as we think of it, but the fluff from a kind of tree that they harvest and extract the large seed from before they can spin it. With the fine cotton thread they weave large squares of fabric used for clothing.They dye them with various plant materials in blue, gold and green. We did not have room in our suitcases for one of these pieces of fabric unfortunately. Now I know how my parents felt when they had to turn down a large NW coast carved wooden mask for lack of space on their sailboat. That mask now resides in a museum in Seattle, as these weavings will also probably end up in a museum some day.
These are coffee blossoms that look and smell like jasmine. I imagine that they are in the same family. I was surprised to learn that these flowers smell so sweet, but it was a pleasant surprise as we drove through miles of coffee plantations and some tea, as well. There had been three days of rain just before our visit, which is very rare, but good for the plants, so it will be a good year for coffee. Our guide told us that there had been big parties to celebrate this good fortune. Wish we had been there for that!
Another stop along the way was at a silk factory. I have been to some in China filled with big, loud machines, which are not that fun to see. I really liked the way that these cocoons are set out to dry on big bamboo baskets. I learned that there are larger cocoons that have two pupae and these are separated out, as the silk they produce is thicker and more coarse.
I also learned that the price of silk varies here from the wet season to the dry season. Cheaper in the wet season, but still quite reasonable by our standards.
Yes, we even stopped at a cricket farm. Hard to read, but this is the "cricket menu" that was up on the wall. I had decided to forgo the cricket tasting, but our guide gently suggested that I should try them. Since the cricket farmer so generously fried up a fresh batch for us, how could I resist? I even ate two, and they are kinda crunchy. Not bad. We did pass on the cricket and scorpion wine, however.
This enterprising farmer also raises scorpions, grubs and flies.
While in the market later that afternoon, I couldn't resit this photo of various kinds of rice. Who knew there were so many different varieties--at least twenty or more.
Well, this turned out to by my "white post" from Dalat! But haven't you learned something new?

more Vietnam

This isn't a very good photo unfortunately, but I wanted to show you a pile of silk scraps that I gleaned while I was on a tour of a small silk factory. I wish I had thought of this earlier. Actually I did ask for scraps at a lantern making demo, too, but they were much smaller. I can hardly wait to get my hands on a sewing machine to turn these into something else-maybe a scrappy journal cover. I have been enjoying the one I made to bring along on the trip. I like having a soft journal as well as my regular journal.
Speaking of journals, I thought I would share a few of my journal pages. This group of large pots was painted while we were at The Pilgrimage Village in Hue. The pots really are as big as a small palm tree. This was a lovely resort--our one splurge of the trip but it was so worth it! I found a good deal and it was the perfect place to stay after a long and somewhat rugged overnight train ride from Hanoi. I might do a separate blog post just with photos from this place, as everything about it was exquisite and we contemplated just staying there for a week or two!
This is a small sampling of my beach combing finds from the beach in Nha Trang. I spent 15 minutes or so with my eyes on the ground and easily gathered more than a cup full of treasures. I especially love the bits of broken pottery. One time in Hong Kong we found a beach that was covered in these pot shards and I gathered a big collection. Hmmmm. Wonder what I have done with them...
This is the beach in Nha Trang. It is a pretty beautiful place, and these thatch umbrellas dot the beach and can be rented for a fee. If we didn't have a bus to catch, I would have happily stayed all day just gazing out to sea. The scuba diving and snorkeling is supposed to be great here, too, but that will have to be for another trip.
When I first saw these fruits on the street outside of my hotel in Hanoi, they seemed so strange and unusual, but after seeing them daily, they seem as familiar as apples and oranges. I have tried them all (at least the ones in this photo) and many more, but still have not tried durian, which I am a little afraid to sample as it has a very strong smell. They are not even allowed on the buses in Singapore because of that. Maybe today is the day. I will be on the lookout for some.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

nha trang

Well, a little out of order here, but I was on a roll and wanted to show a few more of my favorite things. The photo above was taken at one of our all time best restaurant experiences in Nha Trang, at the beach. We flew there from Hoi An as it would have been a punishing bus trip, and arrived at this beautiful location (think Hawaii) to grey skies and drizzle. We tried a little walk along the beach, but the large waves made it less than enticing. Instead we went out to the nearby hotspring, and enjoyed a truly authentic experience with the locals. We did not opt for the mud bath treatment however, but spent out time in the mineral pool and warm waterfall.
But back to the restaurant, Lac Canh. It is another local spot, where everyone is having traditional Vietnamese barbecue cooked right at your table over a charcoal fire. We ordered beef. pork and tiger prawns and stayed busy cooking them, as that fire was hot! It was a fun and delicious meal that cost all of $10.
Can you tell from this photo how fresh looking all of the vegetables are? Every market is like this, and all the fruit and vegetables look as though they were picked or dug only moments before. I especially like the color combinations that come together in every market.
I like to think that someone bought these guys to take them home as pets. They seemed so calm-resigned to their fate?
In every part of Vietnam you see slightly different shrines. This one was right outside of the spa where I had a pedicure. They use the term spa loosely here, but most are very nice, if simple. If you look closely, you can see the little shade that can be pulled down in case of rain. Speaking of rain, we have been extremely fortunate to be here in the dry season, and any rain that we have encountered has usually been while we are traveling by bus. However we did have one evening when it started raining just as we were leaving dinner and I was wishing that I had a rain poncho like everyone seems to don as soon as it starts to rain. Seconds later, a young boy popped out in front of us saying "rain coat"? How could I resist, at any price? Of course I bought one ($1) and soon after, the rain stopped..
This was the view we had from our hotel breakfast table at our restaurant in Hoi An. Table with a view, huh? Our room was nothing special, but they had added newer parts that had this same view, for a higher price ,of course. In front of those rooms was a lovely vegetable garden where they picked fresh produce, and everything was labeled for us tourists.
All throughout Vietnam we have seen these beautiful yellow mums in all the markets. Everyone is buying large or small bunches to give as an offering to Buddha. Also, red an yellow flowers of all varieties are a common sight, as Tet, or Lunar New Year approaches. The
Yellow Mai flower is especially popular for Tet,and we have seen many miniature trees in stores, restaurants and courtyards. The Vietnamese love bonsai and topiary and you often see bonsai for sale along the roadsides.
This color is a bit washed out, but I loved the combination of lanterns that we saw when we stopped at a temple. It seemed deserted, but as soon as we pulled up on our motorscooter, out popped someone to show us around, for a small donation.
I took so many of these lantern shots that I cant' keep them straight!Jim waited patiently each time I saw another good lantern shop, or a photo that I had to have. Perhaps this is new, or maybe the same.
The first night we were in Hoi An, I spied this shoe shop across from where we had dinner. I was drawn to it like a bee to honey! These lanterns were my favorite of all I saw, and the owner of the shoe store had made them herself. I really wanted to bring all of these home, and she told me that I could go to her lantern factory to see more. Now I am kicking myself for not going to take a look. And I call myself a lantern sister!
Hoi An is a small city with a big reputation for custom tailoring and shoe making. So many tourists come here with the intention of having clothes made during their stay. I have all the silk outfits that I need (one) and since Jim is retired, he did not feel the need to have a custom suit made, no matter how inexpensive. But it was fun to browse the silk shops that line every street. Shoes can also be made to order, but every pair looked a bit off, and lacking arch support, which I definitely need. We enjoyed watching other foreigners looking and having fittings done, but were glad we had no spare room in the suitcase. It made resisting all that much easier.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I couldn't resist adding one more photo of Halong Bay. It's not hard to see from this sunset photo just how magical this place is at each time of day, from morning to night. I love being on the water, and sleeping on a boat is even better. It must come from the years we had a sailboat when I was growing up. I always felt very cozy on that boat at night, and at Halong bay we were surrounded by a little flotilla of boats, all lit from within. I would have to say that this is one of the best places I have been , and it ranked right up there with seeing the Taj Mahal. Halong Bay is in the running for one of the new Seven Wonders of The World, and I do think it belongs there, but of course that means more tourism coming to Vietnam.
Hoi An was our most recent stop along the "gringo trail" as we like to call it. You do tend to see the same travelers over and over on these kinds of trips. Sometimes that is nice, like when we ran into our friends from the train to Hue, Kent and Jude when we flew out of Hoi An together. These two ladies were selling little bird whistles made out of clay, which they would happily demonstrate for you if you showed the least bit of interest, or even if you merely walked by.
I love walking through the markets, as the food always looks so colorful, and that is where I tend to find my best photos of women doing their daily jobs. Their faces have so much character, but I have a hard time looking them right in the eye to take their photo. It seems too invasive. I guess I wouldn't make a good professional photographer!
Hoi An is a very charming town full of ancient buildings and it is a world heritage site because of this. We arrived at night and I was so charmed by the many many lanterns hanging all through town. I really wanted to scoop them all up to bring home, but we are trying to travel light and it is just not practical. Even so, the merchants continued to tell me how they could be collapsed to fit in a suitcase or mailing tube...I believe that there is such a tradition of lanterns here as there was a big Chinese and Japanese population and many of the ancient houses also have beautiful old lanterns inside. I just could not stop taking photos of the lanterns, so you will see more of them. They came in all shapes and sizes and one could even get them custom made.
Well, you already saw these, which now seem to be a pale imitation of the real thing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Vietnam Halong Baydu

Indulge me for a bit while I take you on a voyage to Halong Bay, just a short day trip from Hanoi. We knew that we wanted to go on this tour, so we booked it the first day we were in Hanoi. Everything you want to do, travel-wise, is very easy to do in Vietnam. And there are usually many ways to go-bus, private car, etc. We chose a nice looking boat from the brochure, and did not get the least expensive, nor the most expensive tour. Jim knew, from reading the guidebook (we are mostly all carrying around dog eared copies of Lonely Planet)that you definitely get what you pay for here.
So we were surprised when we were met at our hotel by a private guide and our own bus!It got better from there, as after our 4 hour bus ride, we were taken to our boat, and we were also the only passengers aboard! Yes, we had this lovely boat all to ourselves, along with a staff of 5 to take care of us.
This looks like some fake backdrop that you might stand in front of for a photo, but believe me, we earned that photo after climbing all the steps to get there, then traipsing through the most amazing caves we had ever seen. I was a bit skeptical about the cave part at the beginning, as I have a bit (a lot) of claustrophobia. This cave was huge and very open, and not at all claustrophobia inducing.
This is the long view of our boat in the early morning, as we took the smaller tender to the floating village. The bay was just as spectacular in the morning as it was during the day. As you can see, our boat was quite large enough for the two of us. Did I mention the beautiful, five course meals we were served? All the food was spectacular, with carved carrot and tomato garnishes and was as delicious as it was beautiful.
This is one of the floating "grocery stores" that came to the village and also hung around the boats just in case you needed to satisfy your craving for pringles, oreos or soda pop. We bought some crackers for the kids at the floating school
This is where Jim and I are thinking of retiring to. Wouldn't it be peaceful and quiet? Well, maybe a little too remote for us.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Dorothy, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore! Yes, it's true, after nearly 24 hours of travel, we have arrived in Vietnam. Did I forget to mention that I was leaving on a trip again? No, most of you knew of this trip was imminent, but even last July while I was in Paris, I did not know that I would travel again to a French inspired country again so soon. Even though this trip has been lingering in the back of our minds for several years. It is always exciting to travel to a country new to us and Vietnam is strange and exotic enough to intrigue us.
This was one of my favorite street views so far. We happened upon the street where all manner of paper goods are sold for decoration and burning ,and I was in heaven.
This is the tiniest temple I have seen here, which we found at the end of a dead end street. It was really like someone's house and we dared not enter in case it was! All the temples are painted a warm golden yellow, as was the complex of buildings where Ho Chi Minh lived. We visited his tomb our first day here and it was quite amazing to see him laying in state, as if sleeping. No talking, no cameras, arms at your side in respect, no holding hands.
I have enjoyed seeing the baskets full of interesting fruits and vegetables, some of which I know, some of which I have yet to try. It is my goal to try as many new fruits as I can while on this trip. I will begin with dragon fruit, the beautiful pink and green ones pictured here. First I must sketch it though.
Another typical selection of fruits and veggies that you see on the street. Everything looks fresh and good and makes you want to taste it all. So far we have been pleasantly surprised by everything we have tried. Yum.
Here is typical flower seller. Everything is sold on bikes. They seem to have this selection of flowers--a variety of roses and golden mums. Of course gold is a popular color here, especially as they prepare for Tet, or the Lunar New Year. I love seeing how virtual stores are carried by bike and baskets slung on a pole.
Two days at Halong Bay coming up, so keep posted for some watery views.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I became very excited about sewing again when I saw the shabby journal cover that Paula made in the online class, Remains of the Day with Mary Ann Moss. While mine is not as gorgeous or as detailed as some of the examples, it was fun and inspiring to sit down at the sewing machine and just have a free for all journal session. I just added signatures of Lennox paper, tying them in with silk ribbons.
One could also sew the signatures in, but since I was using heavier weight paper, I decided on a different way to add pages than I normally do. Also it just shakes things up a bit.
This is the finished journal, with sari silk ribbon closure. I don't know if I will keep that, however, as I may want a more streamlined closure since this will be going along with me on my upcoming travels. Stay tuned!
In my last post I mentioned taking a private journal class with Jane LaFazio in the San Diego area. After the class I noticed that I enjoyed working in a simpler fashion, with one item per page. I have come to enjoy a new sketch journal, given to me by a friend, that is the perfect size and weight of paper for me right now. It is made by Pentalic, and called Nature Sketch. It is 7x5 but comes in other sizes. While the paper is not watercolor paper, it is heavy weight cotton paper and holds up well for watercolor.
This is one of the pages that I did while sketching with Jane at the Bernardo Winery. These curly pods were a good subject, but there were so many things we could draw.
I still remember the feeling of sun on our backs as we sat sketching. I wish I was there right now!