After a more leisurely breakfast than usual, most of us headed off with Chau to absorb some of the history of Hue. Eleanor stayed back to enjoy some well deserved R&R. Eleanor is our role model and our inspiration: mot, hai, ba, DYO to Eleanor.
Along the way to our first stop, The Citadel, we picked up a few details about its history. The 5,000 hectare Imperial City was established by Emperor Gia Long in 1805. This huge complex, protected by watch towers and moats, housed temples as well as living quarters for the emperor, concubines and eunuchs.
During the Tet offensive in 1968, the US destroyed much of the Citadel in order to take back Hue from the Viet Cong. This battle has been described as the fiercest of the whole war. Hue did not come back into the hands of Ho Chi Minh and the communists until 1975. Then, in 1993, UNESCO designated the Citadel a World Heritage Site and this has allowed money for restoration to flow into the Site. For more information, consult Bernie, who is as good as any guidebook.
When our group is not cycling a certain lethargy creeps in and we don't look like the active fit group we are, but all the men in the group perked up considerably when Chau gleefully described the special leaf pressed into a tea and consumed by the emperor to improve his performance with one of his 200 concubines. The original viagra - murmurs of "sign me up" were reported heard.
Our next stop was the mawZOlium. What was that Chau? Oh, you mean mausoleum? Yes, that's what I said, mawZOlium. He is so keen and eager to please, we smile and move on. Set high on a hill outside the city, this impressive and ornate structure was built by the 12th emperor of Vietnam, Khai Dinh, the last emperor to be buried in a royal tomb at Hue. The tomb combines Vietnamese and European architectural styles. Built into the hill, the tomb rises steeply through three levels and at the summit is a bronze bust of the emperor.
Lunch was at the Ancient Hue restaurant which was quite off the beaten path. Most enjoyed good soups, and some inferior milkshakes and meagre cups of coffee (no Starbucks grande here).
After checking out of the hotel the vans headed off to the market. Yvonne, Paul and I lasted about 7 minutes. I guess we weren't in the mood to handle the aggressive approach and were reluctant to look at the merchandise or make any sort of eye contact, for fear that the merchants would literally reach into our pockets for our money. We wound our way back to our vans and found our drivers sitting around at a tiny cafe drinking coffee. What a great idea. We pulled up chairs and enjoyed a cup of that wonderful milk and coffee for a mere 10,000 dong (50 cents). Chau showed up sporting an olive green army cap complete with yellow star which he had purchased for 12,000 dong (60 cents). Our eyes lit up and he headed off to buy 5 of them for those of us that wanted them for the same low price. Thanks, Chau.
At the airport, Paddie, Les and Bernie, the last three to register for the trip, casually walked by the rest of us and headed for the business class line. Bernie wasn't sure about all this, so while we were waiting for our flight, Brendan borrowed his pass and headed in for some tasty pre-flight snacks before rejoining the riff-raff. When we landed in Hanoi, Bernie, sweet guy that he is, gave Yvonne and me each a chocolate bar that he had picked up during the flight.
WOW! HANOI! It's a shame that we'll not see anything here. The city is so different from Ho Chi Minh City. There are more cars, English billboards and larger buildings to name just a couple of first impressions. This city of 4 million, the political centre of Vietnam, definitely has a buzz about it.
Dinner was a series of lovely dishes and accompanied by 3 musicians. The older gentleman could make his stringed instrument sing!
It was late, but Bernie, Sharon, Paul, Paddie and I headed out for a walk and topped off the evening with a soft ice cream cone with chocolate from Lotteria, the Vietnamese version of Dairy Queen. Not great, but hit the spot.
Tomorrow, we hit the hills of north Vietnam. Bring them on; we're ready!