July in Vietnam: A Day in Hanoi

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Hanoi on its own was fairly charming. Near the Old Town is the famous Hoan Kiem Lake and a rundown little pagoda, Thap Rua, sits on a tiny islet close to the far side of the lake.

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On the other side stood a Chinese temple, Ngoc Son Temple,  that could be reached on foot over a bridge. While fairly pretty, it seemed very generic to me, far too much like the Chinese temples at home in Singapore.

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Inside, I was fascinated by some ornamental statues, like this rather spaced out looking phoenix.

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I thought it was pretty cool and almost cartoon-like. What do you think?

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I wandered the streets till I found an appetising looking place, striking gold when I stumbled across this stall selling spicy pork noodles. It came with a whole host of different pig parts, from mystery sausages and pork balls to intestines, tendons and other unidentifiable parts. I was very pleased to findwhat I later discovered to be the de rigueur pile of herbs and vegetables that I liberally added to my noodle soup.

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Needless to say, it was wonderful and I had to get a picture to commemorate the occasion of Enjoying Good Food.

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And I was off to wander round the Old Town, but not before gawking at this rather odd Communist sculpture, the Martyr’s Monument. I suppose it’s saying that technology is the best (from man holding plug in centre), if not guns are good too (man at side), failing which the women would wipe everyone out with swords. I’m still puzzling over the gender implications of this. If anyone could translate the words at the base of the statue I’d be grateful!

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The Old Town consists of a warren of streets, each having its own specialty product. There’s a street of nothing but stainless steel kitchen fittings, another of mirrors, a third of traditional herbs and medicine, yet another of lanterns, and a mind-boggling array of others.

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I was a little wary of the watchful eyes on me and didn’t get any good pictures of each street. A pity. However, the sight of these two trees being trucked to goodness knows where was a surprise find. It drew the eyes of everyone on the street, including motorcyclists peering round to check that they weren’t about to topple.

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And then there was the St Joseph cathedral. It’s a bit surprising to find a lovely cathedral in the middle of Communist Hanoi, but there it was! I thought the Gothic structure was pretty cool…

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… as were the sober grey granite walls on the side.

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Inside, the breathtaking view from the nave.

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It’s wonderful how they managed to get the stained glass so beautifully done I almost felt like I was somewhere in Europe.

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After all that wandering in the almost unbearably humid weather, I needed a good dinner. This came in the form of Cha Ca La Vong, labelled grilled fish on the menu, but really fish fried in turmeric oil together with local vegetables over a charcoal brazier. It was delicious and also very oily.

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There wasn’t a great deal to see in Hanoi but it was a good introduction to the rest of the country. Next stop, Ha Long Bay.

A Faux-Chichi Night of Whisky

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There was cheese — a pecorino and a Manchego. Check. There were olives — a mix of marinated black and green ones, of which some were the Kalamata variety. Check. There was whisky — a Dalmore 15, a Talisker 10 years and a Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Check. There was even a Partagas cigar. We were all set for a chichi tasting session.

In contrast, we weren’t particularly chi ourselves. And a good thing for we had loads of fun chatting about all sorts of, um, odds and ends. Evidence is here.

This was my first time doing a serious whisky tasting complete with notes. First was the Dalmore 15, (40%) a Highland single malt. The deer stag logo was quite scary. Would probably give you a fright if you lift your drunken head off the table and suddenly its bloodshot eyes staring accusingly at you.

The whisky itself was sweet and smooth. After the sharp blast of alcohol passed, I detected notes of vanilla and caramel but none of the “aromatic cloves, cinnamon and ginger, Seville oranges, lemons and limes” of the accompanying literature. Neither did I get any clues from tasting it that it had been aged in “100% sherry casks — Matusalem, apostoles, amoroso.” Employing my great powers of imagination, I thought there was a hint of orange on first whiff but nothing more. It went well with the creamy pecorino. Otherwise, it seemed rather closed, like a wine awaiting maturity. I can’t figure this one out. Further educational sessions are clearly in order.

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Next came the Talisker 10 years (45.8%), an Island Single Malt. It comes from the only distillery on the Isle of Skye. It had a very complex nose. Despite the lower alcohol content compared to the Laphroaig, it need a lot more water for it to open up. There was something rather elusive about this whisky, I can’t quite find the words to describe it. The nose is a bit salty, somewhat reminiscent of the sea. After the initial alcoholic blast on the tongue, it takes off with lots of vanilla and malt, then the smoke asserts itself, finally leaving the peat to linger on the tongue. Very pleasing, especially with the Manchego. I think the salt crystals in the cheese emphasised the salt in the whisky.

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Last and best was the Laphroaig Quarter Cask (48%), an Islay single malt. According to Wikipedia, the Quarter Cask is made to taste like the whisky made 100 years ago. The nose wasn’t as complex as the Talisker but there was something restrained and more refined about it. In the mouth, it started off with caramel and vanilla. Before long, the smoke emerged and left a long peaty finish. I enjoyed that greatly.

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It was a close fight, but the Laphroaig won this tasting session. We truly did save the best for last. (More because the owner turned up later.) I’m looking forward to more tasting sessions ahead.