Hove to Hanoi - for modes, a mausoleum, the Maison Centrale, and a Mass
Hanoi Travel Blog› entry 2 of 20 › view all entries
On Wednesday, we wondered if we'd be able to get away from snow and ice bound Brighton. In fact it was easy. On Thursday, the taxi, the train and the tube were all punctual. We reached T4 in under 3 hours and got an earlier flight to Paris CDG than planned, giving plenty of time to catch the Hanoi plane. The only downside was the extra time spent in CDG's slumminess. Air France provided good meals but poor entertainment, and we reached Hanoi exactly on schedule. Immigration was painless, baggage was among the first off, our taxi was waiting and within 90 minutes of landing we were in our hotel.
Hanoi is attractive. Many streets are tree lined. Much 19th and early 20th century building has survived. There is little high rise. The old town has narrow streets lined with shops and with street markets for fruit, veg and fresh (mainly live in plastic bowls) fish. The "French" quarter has wider streets, also with hundreds of shops and an upmarket mall. Clothing is king and much is very fashionable and some is really classy. There are also women in the trad conical hats hawking food carried in baskets balanced over one shoulder, cyclo drivers calling for business, and men trying to sell you army hats. Everywhere, little cafes spill into the streets, the customers on low plastic stools, and serve pho (soup) and bia hoi (fresh beer), but the upwardly mobile take espresso and cake in upmarket coffee shops - there is clearly a middle class. Motor bikes and scooters dominate the roads, bearing down in hundreds as the lights change, and weaving round pedestrians. They park very neatly blocking pavements.
We went to see the enbalmed "Uncle Ho" in his great granite mausoleum. We joined a line, well marshalled by smart white uniformed soldiers and walked solemnly past what could have been a Tussaud's waxwork (he goes to Russia annually to be dealt with). A large group of bemedalled army vets was allowed to queue jump. We exited into lovely gardens where Ho's simple house is preserved together with his grander state cars. A grandiose museum traced Ho's life, with many interesting photos and also included tableaux on peace and righteousness in the world.
On to the Maison Centrale, the old French prison, known to later American PoW's as the Hanoi Hilton. The atrocities of the colonial authorities were graphically displayed, and included the prison guillotine. A couple of rooms were dedicated to showing how well, allegedly, the US prisoners had been treated by comparison.
Later, to Sunday evening Mass at St Joseph's Cathedral. The large French era church was full, the congregation mainly young. The huge west door was open and an overflow watched Mass seated on small plastic stools in the courtyard, from a large video screen. Beyond them in the square, dozens, maybe hundreds more sat watching from their parked scooters and stood for the gospel.
Quite a sight!