December 25, 2019– January 8, 2020
From the beaches of Thailand, we flew up to Hanoi, Vietnam.
Hanoi turned out to be our home-away-from-home. My cousin’s cousin (and now considered our honorary cousin too) Ana and her family have been living in Vietnam for little over a year. They offered us to stay with them, especially considering that we were going to be there during xmas and New Year while their family was going back to Europe for the holidays. We ended up having their gorgeous home all to ourselves for the full two weeks. By that point, we have been traveling for 10 months and just came off the 2 months in Thailand where we ate in restaurants most of our meals. We were desperately craving home cooked meals, familiar fresh fruits and vegetables and some western food in general.
Ana made all sorts of arrangements to provide us with the most comfortable stay, sending her driver to pick us up from the airport, arranging for her housekeeper to shows us around and help us with any questions/needs we had, leaving us their xmas tree and decorations for us to decorate and feel more like “home for the holidays”. Since we arrived on (American) Christmas day, we decided that we would set up the tree and follow by our typical holiday prep to properly celebrate Serbian Christmas on January 7th.
Our plan was to rest in Hanoi for a week, explore the city, enjoy some homemade food, bake some cookies, catch up on school work. For our second week there, we were to go up to Sappa for some good hiking and beautiful views of rice fields, then south to Nin Binh for gorgeous landscape, and possibly to Halong Bay for a popular river cruise.
Half of our plans for those 2 weeks did not materialize.
We were really happy to be in this gorgeous home, prepping for New Year celebration, making familiar meals, baking cookies that the first week went by in a jiffy. Then Pedja came down with a flu and a couple of days later I got hit even harder.We spent the whole second week alternating between bedtime and short bursts of just enough energy to do a few small outings around Hanoi.
My first impression of Hanoi was that it was really dirty, I saw trash everywhere, Red River was full of plastic and all sorts of garbage (Petra and Pedja even saw a dead dog floating in the river) and the air was pretty hazy and polluted most of the time. The streets were extremely busy, sidewalks usually blocked by millions of motorbikes, constant car and motorbike honking drove me bananas and overall the chaos of this metropole was hard on my senses. I was probably the most vocal one pointing out all these negative observations.
On the other hand, Hanoi felt quite safe and Pedja and Petra did more urban walks in Hanoi than most other cities we’ve visited.
There are definite patches of beauty in Hanoi as it is after all one of the most beautiful of the colonial Indochinese cities. With estimated population of almost 8 million, it is the kind of city that defines the term of “urban jungle”. My first impression was only part of my overall feel of this impressive city. I certainly learned to love Vietnam, including Hanoi by the time we were ready to leave a month later.
I wrote once about how hard it is to do hair upkeep while traveling, and how badly my hair got damaged back in Barcelona (our 4th month of travel). Ana arranged for Petra and me to see this good western hairstylist in Hanoi. Even though I desperately needed a bit of a refresh, I did not end up getting one. My hair is in such bad shape that the hairstylist strongly suggested I do nothing with it for a few months. I listened to her advice and now I have to constantly remind myself that this overall travel experience is way more important than my vanity. Petra, on the other hand, got a cute haircut and even though she questions if made a right choice to cut her hair, I believe she is equally, if not more, beautiful with the new look.
All the walks that Petra and Pedja did while I was sick were quite useful because they also did all of the xmas shopping for us. We were planning to use this holiday as an excuse to do a bit of an update of our wardrobe. Most of us needed a bit of a refresh since we have been living out of carryon luggage for so long. It turned out that only the kids got a few new needed items. Maksim needed new shoes and pants since he (again) outgrew both. He grew out of 2 pants size and 1 shoe size in the past 10 months.
Petra also needed of couple of new items. Pedja shrunk her cashmere sweater by accidently putting it in a washer. She also needed new sneakers. Pedja and I couldn’t really get in to shopping mood. I have not been interested in buying anything while traveling, not even small souvenirs. It was nice to be in this mode for almost a year, not think about ‘things’ but have only brain power for ‘experiences’. I’m just about ready to wake up from this ‘no-shopping lull’ and ditch half the contents of my suitcase to replace them with some new items.
Petra got to play a pick up Ultimate game with a few local but she wasn’t into it much so we only went met with the team once.
Oh, and I just remembered one more thing. In Hanoi, I accidently gave Nina a buzz cut. I guess, sh..t happens. And Petra broke 3 of Ana’s dinner plates on our last day in Hanoi. That was a memorable day.
Two weeks in Hanoi went by too quickly, especially considering that a few of those days were spent mostly sleeping and recovering from flu. Next on the agenda was moving south to central Vietnam (next post).