Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Harbour cruise


Saturday 19 to Monday 21 March

Sydney was the first point of landing by the British and is the world’s most magnificent harbour.  It is dominated by two iconic pieces of engineering and construction – the Harbour Bridge and the more recent Opera House.  Our time here is a little limited in relation to the size of the city and throughout this part of our journey the rain feels almost incessant.  Rain at this time of year in this part of Australia we discover is not uncommon as it often interferes with some open air performances which are planned for Autumn – so this might have been predicted.

We arrive in the late afternoon and the coach rapidly manages the journey into the City Centre to a Sofitel which is just walking distance to Circular Quay, which is where we head a little later to wander along and to take in the two iconic landmarks previously mentioned.  Walking back along the Quay we note a number of people eating at Searock where we eat as well; some excellent starters – chilli prawns and crab on tostada; simpler main courses – Wagyu beef burger for me and some salmon for Jackie.  Then back up the hill to the hotel.

The following day is not too bright but we decide to risk the two bus tours to see as much of the City as possible – first to Bondi which on a coldish day does not seem quite as welcoming as I am sure it does on a bright sunny day.  There are a few people in the surf but like the similar Melbourne suburbs seen previously it does look a little run down.  The bay itself is not large; somehow I had always imagined miles of sand but in reality there is probably a bigger beach at Bournemouth.  The return journey passes through some more attractive places, Rose Bay, Double Bay and Wooloomooloo (I hope I have spelt that correctly) where the old “Finger Wharves” have undergone much work and now appear to house a great selection of restaurants.  Once back in the City Centre we switch back to the other tour to see the city itself.  (we had used it briefly to get to the Bondi service from the hotel).  Our progress is slow due to the time spent waiting for buses at one point or another and towards the end of our journey we get a little wet as the rain arrives, so we retire to the hotel.

Here are photos of the bus tour.

It brightens briefly but by the time we head out for the evening cruise with Captain Cook Tours it is not looking so good and our trip round the harbour hardly allows any sights to be seen as the rain buckets down.  A good supply of wine does enable a cheerful evening to proceed and our table seems to lead the noise generating activities.  The Harbour Bridge looks severely distorted through the windows and others go to lengths to take photos of the Bridge.

Monday comes and there is little improvement in the weather as we wander back down to the Opera House for our formal tour of the building.  Designed in the late fifties built in the sixties it opened in 1973.  In some respects therefore it is noticeably not modern with a lack of lifts.  It also took much longer and cost a lot more than originally anticipated.  We are shown into the newer area that has been developed partially underneath the two original main auditoria as part of more recent developments and also into the two main halls.  These are separate structures from the external sails but throughout there is a harmony of design and careful thought to make the buildings as sympathetic to productions and to be associated with the external harbour.  Our tour guide is clearly keen on the building and the productions and makes a great impression on all of us.  The shape of the sails are derived from sections of a sphere and they are not cleaned; rainwater does the job and channels the water into built in drains which take the water down into the harbour.

Photographs for the visit are here

Lunch in the food court area is luckily under cover as the rain pours down only easing a little towards the end of the afternoon when we head out to go and find the area known as “The Rocks” which is past the end of Circular Quay.  This area has been restored from being extremely run down to an area of restaurants and shops on a some steeply inclined hills.  Although better visited at the weekend when there are also small markets there is clearly a vibrancy no doubt achieved by being immediately adjacent to the point at which the major liners dock when visiting the port and, due to their size, are unable to pass below the Harbour Bridge.  The approach to construction is very similar to Devon and Cornwall with steps up to front doors from the street with the next house being built further up or down the slope as appropriate.  And there is a German Oompah band playing outside “Munich” where the staff are suitably attired for a German bier Keller.

This evening we are due to meet Graham and Lorna in the Bar Blu on 36th floor of the Shangrila Hotel – their suggestion and this provides an absolutely stunning view over the City and of course of the harbour area.  We then go on to dinner at the Customs House on the fifth floor, under cover but with a feeling of the open air.  Again a great view of the Bridge and the best food of the holiday – another  chance for a Moreton Bay Bugs and then some salmon in a light tandoori sauce.

Photographs from the viewing point are here.

We are so late back to the hotel that the front door is locked and gaining entrance takes a couple of minutes.  A short night ensues.

Ho Chi Minh City and Port

Day 19 Saturday 3 January 2015

This morning commences with a trip to what is now known as the “Re-Unification Palace” but was originally the Preseidential Palace from the time of construction in the early 1960’s until the end of South Vietnam in 1975.

For a period post 1975 some of the contents were sold and so some aspects of the private quarters are reconstructions.  The main presidential offices however are as they were at the time of the later Presidents whilst South Vietnam existed.  The President’s office and the main meeting rooms are as they were then – and how they were used to greet visitors – domestic and international.

In an interesting echo of our visit nearly three weeks ago to the Ho Chi Minh residence and adjacent bunker used during the war periods when bombs were being dropped on Hanoi, there is a similarly well defended area under the Re-unification Palace for the South Vietnamese President.  There is a direct route from the President’s office to the underground bunker – which has two levels and the level one metre underground has been opened to visitors.  There is a command room, a president’s room (and bedroom) and a security and communication rooms.  There was also a deeper level which was believed could not be reached by exploding bombs but this has not been opened up.

The photographs can be found here:

Looking at the building externally the architecture is clearly of that era and given the nature of the concrete I hope that it will be maintained for the future.  Therer are maps both in the security council room above ground and in the command bunker below showing the battle areas and reminding us of the Ho Chi Minh trails which led from north to south.  Peak US soldier deployment was 1969/70, at which point the army losses were so heavy and the US forces decided to adopt a new approach – described by one of the senior officers that they intended to bomb North Vietnam “back to the Stone Age”.

Our next visit is to the musem which is now called “War Remnants” which earlier had the name “War Crimes” and the thrust of the place really reflects the latter approach.  It lays out the story of US involvement – which started far sooner than I realised – in Vietnam from the late Forties through to 1975.

For those as ignorant as myself it turns out that the Americans were largely funding the activities of the French in seeking to restore colonial power after the declaration on independence as the Americans were at the time dependent on supplies of Tin and Tungsten from the area.  Once the French had failed at Dien Bien Phu, the Geneva convention separated the country into two, ostensibly for a short period.  In that period those in charge in the South became heavily influenced by the Americans and so the planned elections and re-unification never happened.

The War Remnants Museum mainly exposes the illegal activities of the US forces, their brutality and of course the application of napalm and agent orange for the defoliation of the forested areas.  There are tributes to the reporters who covered the conflict and many of the telling photographs which made an impression then are visible.  This includes the famous print of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the naked girl running from a napalm attack.

There is an entire room dedicated to the after effects of the use of agent orange (dioxin) and the impact on subsequent generations, causing numerous deformities and other defects in those descended from people who suffered exposure.  Room is also given to the work undertaken post war by Vietnamese to recover and identify their lost compatriots.

When I was taught history I was told that the winners always write the history books and this museum is a perfect representation of that theory.  The guerilla war had already been lost by the French in 1953 and consequently the Americans were (in hindsight) on a hiding to nothing throughout the sixties and seventies (a theory made stronger by what we are told at the Cu Chi tunnels – see tomorrow).

By way of providing some balance the land mines laid by the Vietnamese in Laos to protect the northern part of the trail which are still there and are not identified is not mentioned and yet it is one of the highest concentrations of land mines in the world.

We have time for a brief visit to the Central Market and this is even more packed than some of the others we have visited.  Were I still working as this is one of those places that reckons they can make a suit in 24 hours I would have done so.  Looking at the fabrics the quality seemed good and it was one of those things that I simply wanted to try.  But now I might wear a suit once a month and probably the ones I have will last a lifetime.  After some hunting around the wife buys some hazelnut coffee, neither of us fancy the squirrel or weasel coffee.  And some further hunting produces a “Mont Blanc” bag with a zip along the top for me and a new baseball style “Vietnam” cap as the old one is filthy.  It will be interesting to see how long the real leather bag lasts.  The sales woman proved it was real leather by use of a lighter – so at least she has confidence in her products.  I doubt it is real “Mont Blanc” however.

In the evening we have a great time.  We board a boat of fun to go around the Saigon river and there is lots of good food being cooked and a real mix of entertainment.  The band playing are very competent and the singers perform well – upbeat and far more fun than the singers on Xmas Eve,  There are also dancers who not only do a local dance but also belly dancing and lead a conga around the ship!  A magician appears at our table – wearing a short sleeved shirt, so there is clearly nothing hidden up his sleeves – and he is able, under our noses to make pieces of string change length become interlocked, and then revert to single pieces and makes little balls vanish and re-appear.   Whilst all basic staples of the close up magician his misdirection and skill mean that there is not the faintest clue as to how it is all done.  And for some of the tricks it is the second time we have seen them this week.  Amazing skills.  We really feel that this evening was a great entertainment and it certainly put a smile on our faces.

From the river we could also see the other boats and some of the waterfront and sadly the pictures cannot do that justice but the buildings which have been developed in recent years certainly give the City a status and whilst perhaps not quite as clean as Hanoi, it is certainly a very modern city.