First Weekend in Hanoi – part 1

After idling last night away in front of the laptop I had a slow start with a late noodle soup and enough chillies to get my brain in motion.

I was waiting for my friend An’s family to call and to meet them. But they did not call. Well, maybe one of these days then. This gave me the leisure to read more about Northwest Vietnam where I m planning to go next week.

At noon I was picked up by my voluntary  guide and her girlfriend and we went for lunch and chatting to a posh French place.

I had something like deep fried minced crab-meat-balls with loads of greens and rice spaghetti plus a bowl of a twangy sauce to dip everything in. We also ran into a famous Vietnamese TV show host. They called her the “Oprah Winfrey of Vietnam” 🙂 I don’t know her but the girls urged me to talk to the woman and ask her if she would mind to have her picture taken with them 🙂 Women! Anyway, the lady obliged and we had an interesting conversation in English about Vietnamese culture afterwards. Can’t remember her name, though 🙂

After that they commanded me to the “National Cinema” to watch some 4D nonsense. I like the “National Cinema”, though, with Ho Chi Minh on the front facade 🙂 Four floors – but the toilets on three floors out of order. Like in real socialism…

The pampering took no end as they then took me to a spa, where they left me stranded as they had to go home to tend to their families 🙂 The massage was excellent, even better than the last one. I felt a little ashamed that I could not pay for it as my guide seems to have membership cards to all spas in Hanoi and it just went on her account.

“Swan Spa” was just the place for me. Very fitting, isn’t it? 🙂 As nearly always in this part of Asia, they had neither sandals nor massage clothes that would fit me 🙁 So I had to lie in my own boxers for the treatment. In principle a no-no. Anyway, nobody saw me and the girl and she did her best to kneed this big elephant in front of her. And she did a bloody good job. Especially, she gave me such a brilliant head massage like I rarely had it. Afterwards she was seemingly much more exhausted than me and I think she will not be able to take on another client this weekend 🙂

The massage people called me a taxi afterwards and instructed the driver where to take me. By that time it was already dark. It’s a little bit like in Bulgaria: there are a few reliable taxi companies (like our OK Supertrans) and a lot of crooks. As usual so far, communications between me and the driver consisted of smiling at each other – from my side in particular every time when we had just avoided another accident…

Back at my Ritz I awed and moaned with pleasure on my bed with one or two Cuba Libres. At my age these massages give you such a pleasant body feeling later, no pains in any part of your body – just pure harmony of body and mind. Something you cannot really experience when you are young(er) as your body is in good shape then and you really do not pay that much attention to it…

I studied my various guides where I could go for dinner in the vicinity as tonight I did not really feel like another “Pho”. I discovered that there is a restaurant specialising on eels just around the corner and decided to give it a try. So, I strolled off enjoying the atmosphere on my little street.

Here is a shop selling “Durian”, that very controversial fruit. When I started out with durian it was like with Guinness: I did not like it at the beginning. It’s an acquired taste. But once you get the hang of it…! And it’s STRONG. In Thailand for example you are not allowed to take the fruits onto public transport because of their smell that might annoy people. Let’s say it’s like a stinky French cheese 🙂 I adore it. In the middle of the picture you see all the emptied durian shells and on the tray on the stool on the left the meat (sorry, it’s not focused but I did not want to use a flash not to raise curiosity). A unique and awesome taste.

Most of the shops in my street are “live-in” shops. To the front is the shop and the family lives in the back part…

Here is a hair-dresser’s, just closed, where the three ladies cook their dinner on the table. To my surprise they were singing traditional Vietnamese songs while cooking and the “main chef” sitting on the table as well. They were obviously quite happy. Most likely they live somewhere in the dark part of the building.

A hundred yards further I arrived at my destination: “Mien Luon”, the eel restaurant. “Mien” means glass noodles and “luon” is eel. And in fact they were serving most of their eel dishes with glass noodles.

As the place was quite busy, the rather decisive manager(?) squeezed me onto a small table with a Vietnamese lady and her daughter. Lucky me, because the teenage daughter spoke good English and the mother was charming and together they advised me what spices and herbs to use with which dishes… My first dish was minced eel with loads of greens and cucumber. I had to order some chillies in addition. It was quite tasty but I could not detect the taste of eel. That disappointed me since I am a keen eel lover and one of my greatest joys as a fisherman in Germany or France is to have it raw as “sashimi” only shortly after I caught it…:(

My second dish was “fried eel with glass noodles”. It came with a bowl of dipping sauce/soup – to which I added vinegar with garlic and, guess what: chillies. The eel was cut in strips and had been marinated and then dried before being fried. Again, no eel taste 🙁 After that I decided to give up and ordered no more…ungrateful, long-nosed foreigner that I am…So far, Vietnamese food cannot replace Thai cuisine for me. I hope this will change when I will be in the countryside.

But life is not all about food – and the Vietnamese people are so incredibly caring, respectful and helpful that being here is a great privilege and pleasure. They are all tough cookies – but most of them with a very good heart 🙂

I did not leave the restaurant disappointed (after all it was not the wrong food – just wrong expectations) but satisfied and with a new facebook friend (the daughter at my table) 🙂

Right next to the resto were some local lads having their Saturday evening together. Not a restaurant, just camping on the street but cooking and drinking and smoking bong – and enjoying themselves…lovely!

Just a few steps further a “sugar cane bar” – with cocktails and juices from freshly squeezed sugar canes…wonderful – but not exactly what I needed at that moment.

And here a very exotic restaurant (in Vietnamese terms) a “Berlin Döner-Kebap” shop!!! Hallo Christoph und Annika! Berlin is everywhere!

The price was balcked out, So, I suppose, it was “flexible” – depending on the appearance of the client…The staff were just having dinner. Surprisingly none of them ate any kebap :)))

I finally settled next to a little “café” for a beer, squeezing myself onto the only free chair around, in front of a hotel…immediately striking up a very entertaining conversation with Mr Choi, the guy next to me. A Korean, working in Hanoi for a few months teaching the Vietnamese about heavy machinery construction. He spoke German and English and we became friends quickly. Also with two guys working at the hotel. Maybe it helped that the hotel manager was giving a party for the staff and valued guests and they were all plastered from Vietnamese rice “vodka”…:)

Now I am comfortably back in my room and I even managed to send out the night guard to buy me some cold coke as my supplies were depleted and my little 24h shop next door had closed at 10 pm…obviously the Vietnamese have learned from us, their Bulgarian socialist brothers :)))

Have to lie down now – to enjoy the after-massage body feeling as long as it is still there. Tomorrow will be another tough weekend-day…

 

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