Sunday, 24 September 2017

Vietnam Part 2

From Hanoi we flew to Da Nang and then drove on to Hôi An, our home for the next two nights. The hotel was fantastic, a refurbished residence, and the rooms were huge and luxurious - just what we needed after the rush of the previous five days. 

At 9:00 AM we set off on our walking tour of the old town that was just a stone's throw from the hotel. Hoi An is a huge tourist town now, but it has retained its old world charm. If you can avoid the tee shirt and trinket sales people it is wonderful place to visit. During our tour we were met by a group of school children who were doing a project to improve their English and we answered a few questions. My purile sense of humour was stirred because all the kids, and their teacher for that matter, had a logo on their shirts that read "Po Po Doo" (the name of an English learning programme I subsequently learned). What made it worse for me was that the teacher wore a name badge that read "Dûng" and the combination of the two made it extremely difficult to maintain a straight face. At night time the old town was lit by thousands of coloured lanterns and was a feast for the eye, while we feasted on some fantastic food.

Next day, Sunday, we drove over the Hải Vân Pass that traverses a spur of the Annamite Range, the traditional border between north and south, to Hué, the former capital. The town is different to most we have seen so far, with wide boulevards lined with trees. There seems to be more order and affluence here. The storm that cut short our visit to Halong Bay, came ashore here and had left some damage with a few houses having lost their roofs and some trees broken. The Perfume River is muddy and not, as we are told, its usual blue colour. 

The hotel here is decadent - the former French colonial governor's residence -  with a fantastic pool, spa and great restaurant. Since the trip has been quite full on so far, we decide to make the most of the time here to indulge. During the cool of the morning - I say cool but it is still 35 degrees C and 90+ percent humidity -  we visited a couple of the royal tombs and then the royal palace. In the afternoon we partake of the pool and spa facilities as much as possible. We are amused when we check out of the hotel and the bill is 11,053,350...Dong not dollars!

The flight to Saigon was uneventful, but Saigon is an exciting place, equally as chaotic as Hanoi, but much more vibrant. We have an indifferent dinner in a restaurant around the corner from the hotel and are then trapped there by a deluge that shows no sign of abating so we dash off into the rain arriving back at the hotel soaked to the skin...note to self, take an umbrella next time.

Next day was a trip to the Mekong delta. We spent some time on a number of the islands there observing some local villages before heading to the city of Can Tho for the night in a beautiful resort with a superb pool, bar and restaurant, all of which we enjoyed. The following morning found is out on the river early where we saw the floating markets where local retailers purchased fresh produce - coconuts, pineapples, watermelons, taro, tapioca, sweet potatoes...the list goes on, from traders anchored in the river. It was an interesting glimpse into the life of a river trader. Next we went ashore to the local markets. This was a busy place with all sorts of fruit and vegetables being sold, along with seafood. Some of the ways in which the live creatures were treated was difficult for her indoors to see, but it is the way of life here.

We then returned to Saigon to the Caravelle Hotel, that was the base for a number of the war correspondents during the war, and, along with the Hotel Continental across the road and the opera house next door, was the setting for the film "The Quiet American".

On Friday we walked round the city center, taking all of the famous sights - Notre Dame Cathedral, the town hall, the post office - all of which are fine examples of the French colonial style (the post office was designed by Gustave Eiffel) - the former presidential palace of the South Vietnamese Government, now called the Reunification Palace, and the War Remnants Museum. In the afternoon we walked to the Ben Thanh markets for an assault on the senses - where thousands of traders are all wanting to sell you a shirt or a watch or belt... After a short visit we return to the hotel for a swim and a drink or two at the famous Saigon Saigon rooftop bar before dinner at an excellent restaurant and bed for our last night in Vietnam.

For our last day we rise late - for the only day of this trip we aren't being collected by our guide early in the morning. We have the day to ourselves until 5:30 pm. After a leisurely breakfast we walked along the pedestrian walkway - avoiding the occasional motorbike whose rider chose to ignore the term pedestrian - that runs for a littke more than half a kilometre from Ho Chi Minn's statue to the river. We went up the tallest building to the observation deck for a superb view of this sprawling city. Then we walked up the walkway again to the cathedral and the post office, stopping in a street filled with bookshops and art galleries. Then it was back to the Caravelle for lunch, followed by a swim, then a freshen up before happy hour drinks. Almost before we know it it is time to check out and head away.

In no time we are at the airport, checked in and now, as I post this, sitting in the lounge reading the New Zealand election updates. In a short time we will board the aircraft and in ten hours or so will be back in NZ, ready for work on Monday.

It has been an enjoyable trip. The Vietnamese people are wonderful hosts - genuinely friendly and passionate about their country. Life in their cities is much like life in any city - busy, noisy, congested, but vibrant. Life in the rural areas is basic by any standards - most people live hand to mouth, with poor housing and few, if any, conveniences.

The best moment of the trip for me - the trek through the rice paddies near Sapa... visually stunning and so peaceful after the noise and chaos of Hanoi and Sapa town.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Vietnam Part 1

The lack of posts in the last two weeks is indicative to two things: first I haven't done anything hobby related since the last post (in part because work was excessively busy and in part because the lead pile has been levelled); second because I am not in the country. A week ago we departed for our long awaited holiday in Vietnam.

Regrettably this report contains no images because I forgot to bring the adaptor that would allow me to download the images from the SD card to the iPad.

We flew into Hanoi via Singapore, arriving a little after 1:00 pm and in our hotel about 2:00. Hanoi was not as chaotic as I expected it. Yes it was busy, but after all the horror stories I'd heard about the traffic it was nowhere near as bad as other places I have been like Cairo, Bangkok or Shanghai. Then again it was Saturday, so time would tell I guessed.

Having showered and freshened up after 15 hours of travel we ventured out, but found ourselves chronically jet-lagged and we retired to the hotel bar or a while, then a quick dinner in the hotel restaurant and into bed by 7:00.

I don't usually like organised tours, but her indoors was insistent and this whole trip is a personalised guided tour for just the two of us - us with a driver and a guide. Sunday saw us out and about in Hanoi. We visited Ho Chi Min's tomb and the presidential palace, then a few temples and pagodas before wandering around the old town. The nature of the city differs little from Bangkok, Hong Kong or Shanghai - narrow streets, crowded, noisy and exciting. Crossing the road is a unique yet not unsafe experience. We were back at the hotel around 4:00 for drinks and dinner in a local restaurant - where seven dishes, some wine and a couple of beers cost us about $NZ50 - expensive by Hanoi standards I am led to believe.

Monday saw us heading to Hoa Lu, in Ninh Binh province, the ancient capital of Vietnam. It was about a two hour drive out of Hanoi and now we saw the change in traffic. At first it wasn't apparent, but when we reached the intersection at the end if the road our hotel was on there was a veritable swarm of motor bikes and scooters...hundreds of them, and soon they multiplied into thousands and then tens of thousands. Yet despite the sheer volume of vehicles and the resulting chaos, it all works. The traffic flows like water, in fact a better analogy would be a swarm of bees or a school of sardines where there are thousands of individuals moving as a single mass without a single one colliding. It would never work with New Zealand's aggressive drivers, but here in this seemingly patient country it was a visual symphony.

On Monday night we caught the night train to Lao Cai. The train set off with a shake, rattle and roll,  a bumped and swayed and every other applicable descriptor - I'd swear at one point it bucked like a bronco - but it was a fun night, even if sleep was a little on the short side. Lao Cai is a city in the mountain region is right up on the border with China and is the gateway to Sapa and the famous terraced rice paddy fields. Life in the mountains is simple. Most of the farming is at subsistence level. We stopped at a local market then at a small village to observe country life before heading to Sapa.

A  city of some 60,000 souls Sapa was a lively place. Filled with trinket shops, hotel, bars and restaurants the place supports a booming tourist trade. We spent a little time in the town, but we were still winding down from what has been an extremely busy couple of months for us both and we chose to return to the hotel, where fortuitously happy hour had just started! Dinner and an early night followed.

At 8:00 AM our guide picked us up and drove us the 6 km to the start of our trek through the paddy fields. This 13 km walk took us right through the heart of the valley, through three villages. This place is astonishingly beautiful. The terraces are a blend of greens and yellows. They wind and weave as though there is a grand design, which of course there is not - it is the workspace of many families scratching out a living. If only my office space - my little 1.8 metres of desk space - was in such an amazing work environment. It was hot, very hot and it tested our fitness. That said our guide said she expected that it would take four hours, but we did it in only three. As we ended the trek we struggled on the final incline, but I was pleased to note that there were many half our age, or even younger, struggling perhaps worse than us. We returned to Sapa for lunch and a day at leisure around the town before we were taken back to  Lao Cai to take the sleeper train back to Hanoi.

After a noisy night on the train - the term sleeper being a bit of an oxymoron in this instance - we arrived back in Hanoi and drove down to Halong Bay where we had an overnight luxury cruise planned. The Vietnamese rate this as their main scenic highlight, and it is certainly impressive, although in my view Sapa is more impressive. The big difference between the two, I suppose, is that Sapa is only impressive for a limited time. Regrettably our cruise was cut short by the approach  of some rough weather that meant we had to be back in port four hours early.

We drove back to Hanoi, with some four hours to kill until our flight to Hoi An. At first there is some doubt that we will get away because of the bad weather, but we soon learn that while all the morning flights were cancelled, ours is OK. We spent some time in the old French Quarter before looking through the History Museum. Then heading for the airport.

And so passed our first week in Vietnam. In just a few more days we will be heading home.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Work in Progress

With the lead pile levelled and no plans to order any more figures until at least the end of September, I have turned my attention to a few items of scenery for our upcoming annual wargames week.

First up is a set of  plastic wattle fences from Renedra. These I bought for use with the Dark Ages project, but they will also have a role with the East African and various Eastern European villages I have done of late.  When I broke the fences from their sprues and glued on the stands they looked too straight...too regular. So I decided to take some of the longer pieces and bend them a little to soften the lines. I like the result. I painted them black, then drybrushed them with brown and then several lighter shades.

Second was a piece for the East African game. It is a rocky outcrop in the jungle with a pond in the centre that flows out with a small waterfall. This will go together with the several dozen jungle pieces already made.

Finally there are two African huts (and the full set below). I still have at least four more of these to complete.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Sunday's Game - the Crimean War

Today's "regular" game has seen the Crimean War armies out of the boxes for the first time in a year. The game was pretty much a repeat of scenario used for the Napoleonic game of two weeks ago whereby both sides were attempting to control roads on opposite sides of  very difficult hill. The terrain was the same as that game, with the western European building replaced by some more eastern types and a number of the woods removed.

Please note that I have made little attempt to organise the images in this post into any sort of chronological order.

The armies were large. The Russians had two full infantry divisions - 32 battalions and six batteries - and a cavalry division of 4 line and 4 cossack regiments supported by a cossack battery. The Allied army could count, 11 British, 13 French and 6  Sardinian infantry battalions, 5 British and 3 French cavalry regiments plus 5 British, 3 French and 1 Sardinian batteries. So in all 62 battalions, 16 cavalry regiments and 16 batteries. The majority of the figures are Great War Miniatures, with some with some Foundry and Perry to make up differences. The rules were the usual house rules, as published on this blog. 

The Sardinians began the game in position, occupying two small redoubts with a bersagleri battalion in each, and four battalions and a battery in camp at the foot of the hill. The rest of the armies were to deploy more or less diagonally opposite of each other.

The Russians had the first move. One division went left to secure the hill while the other one swung wide to the right to move around Allied left. The regular cavalry went to the right, while the cossacks operated on the left.

For the Allies the Sardinians  abandoned the redoubts and redeployed across the base of the hill. The French held the right where they could extend beyond the Russian left, while the British secured the left.

Things developed slowly as both sides found the going slow on the steep hill. First blood was spilled when four large Russian batteries opened on Cathcart's British Division. The Russian bombardment continued relentlessly here and in the space of two or three turns most of the division was cut to shreds.

The Russian infantry on the left secured the crest of the hill, but weren't keen to push across it in the face of British rifle fire. 

The French pressed forward relentlessely. Their cavalry drove back the cossacks, then dared to attack three Russian batteries frontally. It was a risky move, but the failure of one Russian battery to cause any serious casualties allowed the French cavalry to get amongst two batteries and drive the gunners away.

As the French infantry began to dominate the Russian right, the Russians on the hill moved forward against the Sardinians. They drove off the first Sardinian line, but could not drive the supports. The Russians desperately needed to steal the initiative and if they were able would be able to sweep the hill clear... But to wasn't to be and there the attack stalled. The Russian infantry on the right finally got going and drove back two battalions of the Guards. The Light Brigade attempted to intervene, but this was no position for cavalry and it achieved little

But the end was nigh on the Russian left. The French had the better numbers and despite a couple of spoiling attacks by two battalions the Russian line began to crumble. 

Here we ended the game. The Allies could claim victory, having gained the road on the Russian right, while defending their own road.

It was an excellent day of gaming. We had played for maybe six hours in a wet and windy day.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Project Management

Following from Nate's challenge on his Natholeon's Empires blog, here is my "project  statement" for the next year and a bit.

Prussian Napoleonics 
Two regiments (12 figures each) of cavalry 
1 horse artillery battery (1 gun four crew)
Target completion date - late October 2017

War of 1812 American  infantry brigade
Command group (1 mounted and 1 foot figure) - Completed
5 infantry battalions (24 figures each)
1 foot battery ( 1 gun. 6 crew)
Target Completion date - November-December 2017

Crimean War
The Heavy Brigade (5 regiments, 6 figures each)
Target completion date - December 2017

French in Egypt
9 infantry battalions (18 figures each)
2 cavalry regiments (9 figures each)
1 dromedary regiment (9 figures)
3 field guns with 4 crew each
6 mounted generals
Start date - December 2017
Target completion date - March 2018

Ottoman Turks (as opponents for French in Egypt and Russians 1807-1812)
Composition unknown
Start date - March 2018
Target completion date - June 2018

Great Northern War
Composition yet to be decided, but probably
12-18 battalions (18 figures each)
10 cavalry regiments (9 figures each)
6 guns and crews.
12 generals 
Start mid 2018
Target completion date - end of 2018

French Napoleonic Army 1812
Composition unknown
Start - sometime between now and end of 2018

I have absolutely no doubt that there will be something else that will crop up to take my fancy before the end of 2018 and result in an unplanned project.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Petrograd Hussars and the Completion of the Russian Napoleonic Project.

Although the dragoons were the most numerous of all the Russian cavalry types in the Napoleonic Wars nothing speaks of eastern European cavalry more than the hussars. There is something inherently romantic about hussars, especially Russian hussars. Any mention of them sets my mind racing with those spectacular movie scenes with the dashing hussar officers at the grand balls in the St Petersburg palaces. 
When I came to add a regiment to my Russian Napoleonic army, choosing which hussar regiment to do was never really an issue. It was always going to be the Petrograd Regiment and there were three reasons. First, it was the regiment I painted way back in the 1970’s for my original Russian army and sold some time in the 90’s. As I have mentioned before that 1970's army, made up from Hinchliffe figures, provided the inspiration for creating this one. Second, it was the regiment in which Nicolai Rostov served in Tolstoy’s War and Peace – and who can forget the imagery of that charge after Kutuzov (or was it Bagration) ordered “...send in the Petrograd Hussars”? Third, it was the uniform - green breeches and dolman, turquoise facings and pelisse, yellow braid and red houndstooth edging on the shabraque.

As usual these are the Perry figures. In service most units dispensed with the shako plumes and the pelisse, but what is a hussar without the plumes and pelisses? So my hussars are in full dress.

So the army is complete…well maybe. There may be a "need" for a few more units (perhaps some in the 1809 uniforms since many units did not receive their 1812 issue uniforms until as late as 1813) and maybe some limbers and supply carts at some time in the future, but for now at least it is finished.
And the final count:
1 High Command Group (8 foot figures)
1 Infantry Division command group (2 mounted figures)
3 Infantry Brigadiers (3 mounted figures)
8 Musketeer Battalions (192 foot figures)
4 Jäger Battalions (96 foot figures)
1 Artillery Commander (1 mounted figure)          
2 Field Batteries (16 foot figures, 4 guns)
1 Position Battery (8 foot figures, 2 guns)
1 Cavalry Division command group (2 mounted figures)
2 Cavalry Brigadiers (2 mounted figures)
2 Cuirassier Regiments (24 mounted figures)
2 Dragoon Regiments (24 mounted figures)
1 Hussar Regiment (12 mounted figures)
1 Horse Battery (8 foot figures, 2 guns)
All in all that is:
328 foot figures
70 mounted figures
8 guns
Laid out in their Divisional Review they look an impressive force.

The Infantry Division, the artillery, two musketeer brigades and the jäger brigade (rear)

The First Musketeer Brigade

The Second Musketeer Brigade

The Jäger Brigade

The divisional artillery

The Cavalry Division, the cuirassier brigade (left), the horse battery and the dragoon brigade, with hussars attached (right)

The Cuirassier Brigade

The Dragoon Brigade

The high command group
But they pack away neatly into four plastic drawers...

...that in turn slide into a stacking case.

This week also sees the finish of the base for the Russian winter church, the completion of which closes out another project.