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Hanoi, Vietnam: crazy traffic, water puppet show and Vietnamese food

IMG_20151013_102647As soon as I landed in Hanoi, I just had a good feeling about this city. After receiving my visa, walking through passport control and collecting my bag, I was on search with another girl to find transport to Hanoi. First the tourist information told us $25 for a taxi to our hostel but we ended up jumping in a mini van costing $9 each. The drive was pretty long with motorbikes crowding the road and crazy driving. This city has character and is very different from laid back Thailand.IMG_20151012_222727

By the time I arrived at my hostel around 10, I was hungry. In search of food, I found a cafe, where I had some incredible pineapple, peanut fresh spring rolls.

IMG_20151013_092542My first full day in Hanoi, I wandered around the Old Quarter. Through the hectic, busy street. One thing I can say about Hanoi is that the roads are full of motorbikes, beeping and swerving about each other. There’s not really any pavements where it is easy to walk so people are just walking in the road. Traffic doesn’t stop so you literally just have to walk out when you want to cross the road, hoping you don’t get hit. It’s scary when there are moving vehicles to avoid driving at full speed.

IMG_20151013_105948First, I went to the Dong Xuan market, which was crowded with stalls and local rushing and pushing past.ni even asked the price of something and they just said ‘No’. I have found that a lot of Vietnamese people are not very friendly and when they are, it’s usually because they want you to buy something from then. I visit the Quan Chuong gate, memorial house and Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake, which, in my opinion, wasn’t worth paying for. Then found the water puppet show to purchase a ticket for the afternoon performance.IMG_20151013_111648

Walking around the lake was peaceful to find the Woman Museum, which was about woman’s jobs, politic, marriage, family, beliefs and fashion. I totally enjoyed finding out about the history and feel that this museum was brilliant.IMG_20151013_133710

For lunch, I met up with my old housemate and her sister, where I had a Vietnamese Crepe. It was filled with prawns, onions and mushrooms but when it was displayed to me, it looked incredible. I got told to cut up the crepe, place it in the rice paper then add the salad bits, roll it up and dip into a sweet sauce. It was delicious.IMG_20151013_150539

After, I went to the traditional water puppet show, where there were several different acts with a band singing and playing Vietnamese music while the puppets moved in the water. I would totally recommend seeing a show if you ever go to Hanoi.

On the way back to the hostel, I went to a cafe called Cafe Pho Co to have a famous egg coffee, which was incredible. The cafe is a quirky place that has a rooftop view of the lake, hidden behind a silk shop along Hang IMG_20151013_161314Gai. Watching the sunset and drinking coffee was just bliss.

In the evening, I had some free beer from the hostel before hopping onto a night bus to Sapa.

A different sort of Gingerbread house

At the beginning of December, I made a gingerbread house with some friends. It took a while but tasted delicious.

Another friend, who is an architect, criticised it so we made a deal: if I cooked the gingerbread, he would design it. It looked incredible but it was not practical to make out of gingerbread.

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Bulgaria: day of tours

Saturday

We got up early so that we could enjoy our free breakfast at the hostel, which included cereal, waffles, fruit, toast, cheese, scrambled egg, tomato, olives, yogurt, tea and coffee.

During breakfast we spoke to two French people, then went to the meeting point of the free walking tour: court house. There were loads of people wanting to do the tour so we split up into two groups. The tour was amazing: seeing lots of sights, interacting with the leader, doing role play, giving out prizes, hearing about the history, showing unusual parts of the city and understanding the culture. The sightseeing highlights were:
– The mineral springs and baths (hot water coming out of taps in the middle of the street: people were filling large bottles as they believe it would give them luck)
– The mosque
– The synagogue
– Statue of St. Sophia
– Court of justice
– Different churches
– National theatre
– Houses of Parliament
– National Assembly

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Once the tour had finished, we went inside the famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was dark, full of gold sculptures, large chandeliers and candles.

After a well deserved rest in a park, we met up with a tour guide to take us on a free walking tour. Yes, you read FREE. (We were surprised too!) It’s with a tour called ‘Balkan bites’.

Balkan Bites is an attempt at providing travelers to Sofia with the first free daily food tour in Europe and maybe the world. The idea is to take a tour of some of the more interesting and trendy family owned restaurants that Sofia has to offer and enjoy some traditional Bulgarian cuisine, while hearing about some of the history and customs that helped make them became staple foods in Bulgaria, by their trained guides.

The first place we walked to was a soup and sandwich place, where were were given a cup of cold yogurt, cucumber and dill soup. It was really interesting and not my cup of tea. The funniest thing was that my friend went to get us some and accidentally dropped the whole try of soup on top of her. I couldn’t stop laughing. Luckily, you couldn’t see it but she smelt like yogurt for the rest of the day.

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Next we strolled to a little bakery, where we tasted some traditional warm pastries filled with cheese. These were actually amazing and so cheap. After, we went to a vegetarian place, where we tried out some homemade bread and different dips. They used traditional ingredients like pepper, tomatoes, aubergines. As we were here quite a while in the cold, we were offered some hot tea.

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The last place we walked to was a Bulgarian restaurant, where we sat downstairs on a long wooden table, which had already been prepared for us. Here we had a rakkie shot and bread nibbles with different tomato and cheese spreads on them.

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While being on the tour, we met two English girls who met up with later on the pub crawl. After being on our feet all day, we relaxed at our hostel before heading out again.

For dinner, we went to a Bulgarian restaurant that had been recommended to us. We decided to spend out and get loads of different, delicious food: cheese in bread crumbs, cheese stuffed peppers coated with breadcrumbs, vine leaves and a cheese and spinach potato gratin.

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In the evening, we went on a paid pub crawl, which was a slight disappointment. We were the first to arrive and I thought no-one else would come but there were the two a English girls we met earlier, an American couple and two Slovakian guys. First we headed to a standard bar, where we had a mint drink, which tasted like mouth-wash.

Next, we walked to an amazing bar called the apartments, which looked like we were hanging around in someone’s house. There were different rooms like a drawing room (you could write on the wall), a movie screen room, a Buddhist room, kitchen and a few other rooms to relax in. The drinks and food was all home-made and healthy. I had raspberry wine, which was sweet, and a chocolate ball.

As we arrived at the next bar, which looked like a converted barn, our guides realised there was a private party going on where the owners forgot to tell them. Instead we headed to a small, long and narrow, dark place with a long bar along one side. There wasn’t anything spectacular here and I didn’t like the atmosphere. Luckily, we didn’t stay here long before heading to. hostel with a bar and a live band. On route, we were given shots of rakkie (famous Bulgarian shot) as we walked through a park. I felt like I was 15 again.

When we got to the hostel, we climbed downstairs to a basement bar, where we slouched on a sofa with a hanging table. Once we had a glass of wine, we walked to a club, which was next to the one we went to the previous night. It was called Terminal 1 as it looked like an airport. Inside, there was a live Bulgarian rock band playing, where we danced the night away and also had a laugh teaching the Slovakian guys chat up lines.

Japanese restaurants: Fuji-Yoshida

The first proper Japanese restaurant we ate in was authentic, delicious and cosy. We were driving around Fuji-yoshida, trying to find food that wasn’t fast food or non-Japanese. We came across a little building with a lit up sign so we decided to see if it was open.

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As we strolled in, we were greeted with friendly smiles. The room had different sections: we wanted to sit at a low wooden table with cushions, where we had to take our shoes off. In the middle of the table was a huge, square cooking stove: this looked interesting. The helpful staff tried to explain each dish ranging from Japanese omelettes, noddles, vegetables, tofu, cheese fondue, rice. I choose a seafood omelette, which had squid, prawns, octopus, different vegetables and an egg. The lady brought it out raw, then mixed and cooked it on the grill in front of me but she let me flip the omelette. After she squirted a sweet sauce, which tasted like honey and soy sauce, and mayonnaise: it tasted amazing. Some of my friends tried different dishes, which they cooked themselves on the grill: all extremely tasty.

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Even though I was full up, I wanted to try Japanese dessert, which looked like rolled up crepes and cream. They sort of were but crispier and inside was a thick, sweet. Maybe fruity paste, which I have no idea what it was. The cream was like the marshmallow fluff you get from the America.

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The whole place had a relaxing atmosphere and delicious food with kind, helpful staff (from what I’ve seen of japan most people are like this)

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