Saturday 30 September 2017

Off the Painting Desk This Week

On Tuesday a small parcel of Perry Miniatures Prussians was waiting on the doorstep when I arrived home from work. This was a long overdue purchase required to finish the Prussian army I started about six years ago.

The parcel contained a regiment of hussars, a regiment of dragoons, a horse artillery gun set and three mounted colonels.

The first item painted were the three colonels.

Next was the gun set.

Finally for this week are the first couple of bombardment markers for the WWI games. I has seen these in photos on a number of blogs, but was uncertain how they were made. Then just a week ago the "How to..." booklet that was included in the latest digital version of Wargames Illustrated contained a tutorial, so I got busy with cocktail sticks, glue and foam chips. I am pleased with the result and will make some more in the coming week or two.

Monday 25 September 2017

Vietnam Part 3

I knew that my SE Asian holiday was well and truly over when arriving back at work today I found 400+ emails in the inbox. Thankfully a significant number had already been dealt with by my ever efficient team by mid-morning they were down to a manageable level.


Although jet-lag is still plaguing me a little, I managed to find a little time to download a selection of images from one of the cameras.

This first few are from the Ninh Binh area - the Hoa Lu temples and the limestone outcroppings at Tràng An (that appeared in the film "Kong Skull Island").

The next few shots are from the Sapa area.

Next a few shots from Halong Bay

The tombs and citadel at Hué.

Finally some scenes from the riverside and the markets along the Mekong near Can Tho.

The next day or two should see the arrival of some more toys from the Perrys that will restore the lead pile and I will be back into the painting again.

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.