Notes from the Backpacker Trail, page 2

So. There we were. Vietnam. We got off the plane in Hanoi, took a car into town, and checked in to the Trang An Hotel, pictured here. The hotel was upstairs -- on the ground floor was a silk shop.

This is about an hour into our initial orientation walk in Hanoi, right after getting unpacked. We were fascinated by these banyan trees, which we'd never seen.

We loved the old colonial architecture, genteelly decaying in the tropics ...

...the French windows...

Some of the French colonial architecture wasn't decaying at all. The Hanoi Opera House.

We toured this beautiful city on foot. Here we see the Huc bridge, built in 1885, crossing Hoan Kiem Lake to the island that holds Ngoc Son Temple, built in the 1700's and dedicated to the guy who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century.

Ngoc Son Temple.

The city was beautiful and worth walking, although the road around Hoan Kiem Lake pretty much always looked like this from early 'till late.

If we'd waited to cross until there was a break in the traffic, we'd never have seen what was on the other side of the street.

Every single person in this picture is honking his or her horn.

We studied the locals. They'd just stare straight ahead, seemingly oblivious to traffic, and walk slowly and steadily across the street. Oblivion. We copied them, and all the motorbikes swerved to avoid us.

They probably thought I was crazy for taking pictures out in the kamikaze lanes. I, as my loyal readers know, will go to any lengths for fans of my website.

They even had these little kiosks on the street with maps showing you where you were, just like in New York!

One of our first priorities was to find a language school where we could acquaint ourselves with the local idiom. The next morning, our first full day in Vietnam, we found what we were looking for here, in the History Museum of Hanoi, near downtown.

This beautiful building seemed to incorporate elements of both French colonial and Vietnamese architecture. In addition to being a museum, it houses the Vietnamese Language Centre, a branch of Hanoi National University.

We had a charming and effective teacher, Co Hue. She taught us for a whole morning while one of her assistants brought us coffee.

We learned the names of foods, how to ask directions, all kinds of things.

Nadia poses underneath another banyan tree, in the courtyard of the History Museum campus. These trees grow all over Hanoi. They have aerial roots that descend from branches and develop into additional trunks.



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