Vietnam – Food, Flavour and Phở

Vietnam – Food, Flavour and Phở

vietnamese woman with baskets

Rambutans, Bananas and Mangostreens in her basket

Vietnamese cuisine with its refreshing flavours, citrus hits and use of distinctive herbs and warm spices is one that’ll shake up your taste-buds.  With its careful use of oil it’s also one of the healthiest.  The mere thought of succulent lemon grass chicken, green papaya salad or crisp spring rolls stuffed with minced pork, ginger and Thai basil starts me salivating.  Not only does it taste amazing it looks good too. The food pops with colour – think fresh green herbs, blushing-pink prawns and scarlet-red chillies against a backdrop of pale, fluffy rice. It’s simple, yet sophisticated, vibrant yet subtle.

Pho Ga

Pho Ga

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Vietnam – What to See in Mui Ne

Vietnam – What to See in Mui Ne

White Sand Dunes, Mui Ne

The White Dunes

After a stay in Ho Chi Minh City most visitors to Vietnam looking for a bit of beach time head East to busy Nha Trang and the South China Sea.  Further south is the nuoc mam (fish-sauce) producing town of Phan Thiet but keep going a little further and you’ll come to Mui Ne a small fishing town with a long sandy beach which is the kite-surfing hub of SE Asia.  If you’re not looking for an adrenaline hit or you fancy a day away from the beach there are some sights in the area that are well worth a visit. Check out my guide on what’s to do and see in Mui Ne.

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Miu Ne, Vietnam – Kite-Surfing Central

Miu Ne, Vietnam – Kite-Surfing Central

Busy Mui Ne Beach

Busy Mui Ne Beach

Mui Ne with its temperate micro-climate and 6k stretch of golden sand is Vietnam’s kite-surfing central and adrenalin hub.  Surf’s up most days and although that brings with it a breeze its cooling and refreshing under a hot sun and vivid blue skies. Perfect for a kite-surfing or surfing holiday.  The fishing village at the end of the bay is authentic and colourful which means there’s also a surplus of fresh seafood and there’s some unusual sightseeing nearby too.

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Saigon – Scooters and Sightseeing

Saigon – Scooters and Sightseeing

Saigon Traffic

Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City as it’s officially known, is the largest city in Vietnam with many visitors flying into the city before moving on to explore other parts of the country like Hoi An, Hue or Hanoi. It’s a city of modern high-rise buildings, traditional Vietnamese tube houses and French Colonial architecture. You’ll find street-food, Pho stalls and high-end eateries, parks, markets and shopping malls.  Here’re my tips on what to see in Saigon and how to get the best out of 48 hours in this frenetic city.  But first you need to know about the traffic….

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Hagia Sophia – The Essence of Istanbul

Hagia Sophia – The Essence of Istanbul

Aya Sofya, Hagia Sophia or, in English, the Church of the Divine Wisdom, is a mighty structure defining the heart and soul of Istanbul, melding the characteristics of a city that crosses time, continent and culture.  If you only have time to visit one sight in Istanbul this is it.

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul

Church, Mosque and Museum

Originally built by Byzantine Emperor Constantius I as a Greek Orthodox Church, Hagia Sophia had a hard life and survived an earthquake, fire and revolt over a period of 916 years before being converted to Aya Sofia Mosque in 1453.  Four minarets were added and the vast, domed building remained a mosque until 1935.  At this time Ataturk proclaimed that it should become a museum where symbols of both religions would be housed side by side to pacify both faiths.

Hagia Sophia Dome

Hagia Sofia Dome

Head upstairs, or rather up wooden ramps, for a spectacular view of the main atrium and nave from the balcony above the main entrance.  Bathed in diffused golden light the people gathered below gauge the scale of the building.  The central dome, reaches 55.6 m above the museum floor and is supported by four pendentives adorned with winged cherubs.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sofia Mosaics

Ancient frescos and gilded mosaics of the Virgin Mary and Christ, restored after the mosque became a museum, are displayed under the magnificent dome alongside 19th century leather medallions gilded with the names of God (Allah) and Mohammed in Arabic lettering.  More mosaics, uncovered after the Hagia Sophia became a museum, line the upstairs gallery and give an idea of the grandeur of the original decoration inside the Church.

This is a majestic, beautiful building that inspires a sense of awe and one where I felt compelled to stay awhile, even after having seen all there was to see, just to soak up a sense of time and place and the essence of Istanbul.

The Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern are close by but save the Hagia Sophia til last.

Today any form of worship (mosque or church) is strictly prohibited – as such there is no strict dress code.

 Where: Aya Sofya Meydanı 1 Sultanahmet

When: 9am-6pm Tue-Sun mid-Apr–Sep, to 4pm Oct–mid-Apr.

Cost:  Adults 30 TL – under 12s free

 

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Capture the Colour 2013

Capture the Colour 2013

Last year those nice people at Travel Supermarket held their ‘Capture the Colour’ competition and I had a lovely time going through my photos, re-living past trips and generally having a good old reminisce – it took me days!  You can check out my 2012 post here.   I didn’t win any prizes but did have the shot of my ‘yellow’ Cuban Cigar Lady added to their ‘World Photography Map’ in the North America section – I was pretty chuffed about that!

With over 3,000 entries, the competition was a huge success and they’re running it again this year.  So here’s my colourful collection for 2013 – I hope I’ve managed to capture both the colour and the moment…

Blue

New Year, Ho Chi Minh City

It would have been all too easy to include a shot of deep blue skies or turquoise seas for the blue category but this picture sums up the colour and my mood when I took it.  It was my first visit to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Vietnam and we’d just come out of the War Remnants Museum which displays a lot of black and white war correspondent photography with many harrowing images.  This was a complete contrast to what we’d just seen and brought me back to the present again.   The shot was taken at the end of February so we’d missed the New Year celebrations but  we went back in 2012 and spent New Year’s Eve in HCMC – easily the best New Year we’ve ever had!

Green

DSC_0493-003

Ah, Italy, my beloved Italy!  I visited Italy for the first time last year.  Twice!  The second time was to the Emilia Romagna region with Blogville and I think it was then I decided that Italy would always have a little place in my heart.  And not just because of the gelato…  As you can see there’s some stunning scenery in the area – I took this in Montefiore Conca,  Rimini’s hinterland.  I shall be returning to Italy three times before the end of the year – Bologna, Venice and Rome – can’t get enough of it!

Yellow

Grand Palace Bangkok (2)

Back to Asia and Thailand for my yellow shot – the gold stupa in the Grand Palace, Bangkok.  There is so much gold at Wat Phra that you’ll need your sunglasses.  These monkey warriors have either a blue or a white face and wear multi-coloured traditional dress, made of brightly coloured mirrors.  Each statue holds up the Stupa with their outstretched arms, one monkey warrior, however, is a demon, imposter.  There’re a couple of clues – any ideas who he is?

White 

The travertines, Pamukkale

My ‘white’ entry (or do you think it should have been blue?) is of the travertines at Pamukkale in Turkey.  Pamukkale means ‘Cotton Castle’ in Turkish and perfectly describes the white terraces, which tread their way down the hillside.   Each pool is created from white limestone deposits filled with water from hot springs in the area – nature’s own infinity pools!

Red

Old Woman, Hoi An

Red was a tricky one.  I have some lovely shots of Bologna, known as Italy’s red city, with its red blinds and warm coloured porticoes.  But I felt I needed more people around and so we’re stopping in  Hoi An, Vietnam for my final shot.  This old woman sat at the roadside selling red, clay whistles.  She was quite happy to let me photograph her for a while – so long as I bought a whistle!

Here are my five nominations which also happen to be five of my favourite blogs too:

Travel with Kat – Kat was lovely enough to nominate me last year 🙂

On the Luce

Restless Jo

The Urge to Wander

My Guilty Pleasures

I hope you’ve enjoyed my colour captures; if you’d like to enter you can find full details at Capture the Colour.  To take part you’ll need publish a blog post showcasing five of your favourite travel photographs which best capture the colour of the five categories: red, blue, green, yellow and white – all by 9th October 2013.  You don’t need to be nominated to take part.  Notify TravelSupermarket that you’ve entered the competition by either posting a link to your blog post on Facebook mentioning Capture the Colour and tagging the TravelSupermarket.com Facebook page.  You can also link to your post via Twitter including @travelsupermkt and #CTC13 hashtag.  More information and full terms and conditions here.

Have fun and wish me luck!

Istanbul and the Beauty of the Blue Mosque

Istanbul and the Beauty of the Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, or to give it its official name Sultan Ahmet Camii, is both a place of worship and a major tourist attraction receiving four to five million visitors every year.  Facing the Hippodrome in the centre of Old Istanbul, its grey cascading domes and six minarets are one of Istanbul’s iconic views, the interior is just as stunning.

 

The Blue Mosque, Istanb

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

This was my first visit to Istanbul and Sultan Ahmet Camii was high on my must-see list along with Hagia Sophia Mosque and The Basilica Cistern.  Since they’re all in close proximity in the Sulthanamet this is the perfect place to start exploring the city.

Sultan Ahmet 1 became the 14th emperor of the Ottoman Empire in 1609 at the age of 13. In a sort of mosque face off he ordered the building of a new mosque to rival the nearby Hagia Sophia. The Sultan demanded the mosque have ‘altin minaret’ or gold minarets. His architect misunderstood and built the mosque with ‘alti minaret’ – six minarets instead. The only other mosque in the world with as many minarets was the Haram Mosque of Mecca. The religious leaders of the time were so outraged that the Sultan sent his architect to Mecca to build a seventh minaret so that the holiest of mosques could retain its superior status.

The Blue Mosque Courtyard

We approach the mosque from the West side near the Hippodrome for our first, close-up, glimpse.  This is the best place to appreciate the mosque’s perfect proportions rather than from Sultanahmet Park. A step through the tall wooden gates and into the large square courtyard and we’re face to face with the spectacular dove-grey domes, marble walls and gold-tipped minarets.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

At this point most people just stop and stare and the courtyard is busy with people gazing upwards in awe. The mosque is beautiful with its gently curved domes appearing to bubble upwards. We stay for half an hour exploring the courtyard enjoying the beautifully ornate cloisters and the views of the domes.

To enter the mosque itself we exit the courtyard and head around the outside to the south door which is for tourists. This also helps the prayer part of the mosque retain its sacred air.  Worshippers enter through the main door after using the ablutions area.

As the mosque is a place of worship dress code is strict. Before we could enter I made sure my legs, head and shoulders were covered.  We also took socks with us as shoes had to be placed in plastic bags before we could enter. Recently officials have become stricter and now there are more stringent checks to ensure that visitors dress appropriately. Robes are handed out to under-dressed tourists so if you don’t want to wear one of these don’t dress inappropriately. I visited again in 2014 and despite being covered I was still handed a robe to put on over my clothes.

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the mosque is cool and we notice an air of hushed calm as visitors become aware of the beauty inside.  A lone worshipper immersed in prayer kneels on the deep red carpet. The building is a work of art and earned the moniker’ Blue Mosque’ because of it’s ornate decoration. More than 20,000 blue Iznik tiles in traditional Ottoman patterns adorn the walls and ceilings. Lilies, carnations and tulips are depicted throughout.  We were able to see some of the tiles from the ground floor although the majority are on the upper levels and out of sight.

Blue Mosque Interior Domes, Istanbul

The interior domes are intricately tiled, painted and decorated with verses from the Koran and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad.  We padded across the carpeting in our socks, necks craned upwards. Softly coloured rays of light filtered on to us through the 260 stained-glass windows.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Where: Meydanı Sokak 17, Sultanahmet, Istanbul

When: Open daily from 09.00 till 1 hour before dusk.  Plan your visit to arrive mid-morning as the mosque is closed half an hour before until half an hour after prayer time – 90 minutes in all.

Prayers happen five times a day with the first call to prayer at sunrise and the last one at dusk.  Avoid visiting a mosque within half an hour after the ezan is chanted from the Mosque minarets. On Friday the doors are closed at 11am and open again an hour after noon prayer.

Entry: Free but donations are gratefully accepted.

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