Chinese Doors of Ancient Walled Cities.

Doors, shutters, inner courtyards, Menshen or door gods, all these features of ancient Chinese architecture denote security and protection. Once safely inside the inner courtyard of a wooden Tang dynasty house, a sense of calm and peace descends: you feel perfectly secure and removed from the world.Chinese doors make a fascinating study in themselves. The ancient cities of Dali and Lijiang in Yunnan Province and Langzhong in Sichuan Province afford the traveller with an enormous array of wonderful doors to study and photograph.

Many are richly carved an ornate but today I have chosen a few modest examples.

The Road Taken from Hội An to Huế.

After a long stay in the beguiling yellow city of Hội An, we decided to go by car to our next stop, Huế, a journey of 145 kilometres. There are two main routes to Huế: the new route, now favoured by trucks and other heavy commuters, which passes through a tunnel, a fast but boring trip, and the scenic route over the top of  Hải Vân Pass, which takes a good part of a day, given the various stops along the way. The road taken, the scenic route, provided plenty of distraction, making for an amusing seven hour journey. This route also brings back haunting memories of the American War, with names such as China Beach, Danang and Lang Co indelibly etched in my memory from that era.

Basket boats near Danang
Basket boats near Danang
More coracles.
More coracles.

You can discuss your itinerary with your driver before you go or just leave it up to him. Our itinerary included a long, hot and fairly tedious stop at Marble Mountain. In hindsight, I would not bother with this stopover. The next stop was along the beach at Danang. By late morning, the intense heat and glare was overwhelming: the colourful basket boats, thung chai, nestled on the sand in the foreground, contrasting so vividly with the concrete skyline of Danang, a modern highrise city by the sea with very little appeal. Then, a quick stop at the top of  Hải Vân Pass, (‘ocean cloud pass’) an important stop for historical reasons and providing great views, then down to Lang Co Beach, for a unmemorable lunch in a beach hut, and finally on to beautiful Hue.

Views looking back to Danang from Hải Vân Pass
Views looking back to Danang from Hải Vân Pass

If you go, organise a car and driver in Hội An  In August, 2016, this cost us around $60 AU. Make sure that your driver has a smattering of English. Most drivers have their own agenda: if you wish to cut out a couple of these stops, the trip would take around 4 hours.

Lang Co beach huts
Lang Co beach huts
Hot and Hungry at Lang Co, Vietnam.
Hot and Hungry at Lang Co, Vietnam.

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Chatuchak Market, Bangkok. A Good Match.

A trip to the weekend Chatuchuk market is one of the highlights of a Bangkok visit. The 35-acre market site is home to more than 8,000 market stalls. The market seems overwhelming at first and it’s easy to get lost. Make a plan before you go and stick to the areas that are appealing rather than wasting time in the general furniture, hardware or pet sections. Below are a few scenes from the market, included in this week’s wordpress photographic challenge, A Good Match. I have chosen these photos mostly due to colour matching or the juxtaposition of coordinated elements in the displays.

Beautiful matching blue and white ceramics.
Beautiful matching blue and white ceramics. Boring alone, great when massed together.
more antique matching cermanics
More antique matching porcelain.

You can get to the market by taking the sky train. Hop on at BTS and get off at Mo Chit station, then take exit no. 1 and follow the crowd until you see rows of canvas stalls selling clothes. Turn right while continuing to follow the crowd and you will see a small entrance that leads into the market (clothing section). You can also get there by taxi. It’s a great day out, with plenty of interesting options for resting when you get tired. Little cafes are sprinkled among the stalls and good restaurants can be found around the perimeter of the market, as well as fast food within it.

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Stalls dedicated to home dyed indigo scarves and clothing. I love Indigo.
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Matching Indigo dyed cloth, hand-woven and expensive.
some well matched deep fried items ready to go.
Some well- matched deep fried items ready to go.Not so appealing to eat, but visually well balanced.
A chance for a quiet drink within the bowels of the market.
A chance for a quiet drink within the bowels of the market. Nicely matched decor.

My Myanmar

How much do we hear about Myanmar these days? Or Italy, or anywhere else for that matter, other than the dominant news from the USA?  Since the demise of Berlusconi, we rarely hear about Italy, unless there’s an earthquake. National disasters, terrorist activities, real or imagined, and narcissistic world leaders with toxic tendencies tend to dominate our mainstream media. We are adrift in a polluted sea of fake news.

Buddhist temple, Myanmar
Buddhist temple under a stormy sky, Myanmar

Against all odds, in 2015, a peaceful election was held in Myanmar, enabling a remarkable transition from a military led dictatorship to an emerging democracy. There is still a long way to go, not that any one cares much, when the eyes of the world are so focussed on the golden-haired beast. I’d rather contemplate these golden temples.

My Myanmar, a thousand golden pagodas
My Myanmar, a thousand golden pagodas
More moody temples, Myanmar
More moody temples, Myanmar

For those who take part in the Wordpress weekly photo challenges, the prompts now occur on Wednesday. This week’s challenge is Against All Odds.

Amazing Grace in Hội An, Vietnam

Strolling along the empty streets of Hội An early one morning, I came across this graceful couple. It was 10 am in Nguyễn Duy Hiệu. They were dressed for a wedding perhaps. A photographer nearby recorded the occasion, and so did I. They swanned about the street with not a care in the world. Young, beautiful and happy, they soon disappeared into the yellow cloaked city.gr2-001

gt7

gr

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Paris. It’s all in the Name

What does the name Paris, said in a French accent, conjure in your mind? Let’s add to that initial sensation with more names of eating places, bistro, café, restaurant, brasserie or names of fast foods, tartes, crêpes, baguette or frites: names of streets and places, rue, arrondissement, porte, pont and parc, église and musée. My list could go on forever. The names of commonplace things sound far more romantic and exciting in a foreign language. There’s more resonance, frisson, and nuance in saying or thinking the words. The very naming of things in your second or third language takes you to that place, is an admittance into a new way of thinking, invoking the culture and history of a place. Foreign language gives you a different perspective on life.

Names on Bridge
Names on locks on the Pont des Arts, Paris.
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A bookshop in Paris. I love bookshops in Paris and Rome. The smell, the words….
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Busy scene at Au Bourguignon du Marais
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The corner at La Perla.
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Strolling around Le Quartier Latin, Paris
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Names Everywhere. Not so quaint in English.
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Le Bistrot des Tartes. Inviting
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Where French meets Yiddish, La Marais
French meets Italian at Pippo en paris
French meets Italian at Pippo in Paris

Pour ma petite-fille, Mischa Belle.

Resilient Vietnam

There was a story that went with this post. It appeared for a month and was then removed. I am not sure how this was done. The story, from memory, concerned the amazing resilience of the Vietnamese people. That despite everything, the French colonial period and the American war, which saw the bombing of the Purple City in Hue, the Vietnamese people still welcome foreigners into their country, and are friendly and courteous. I’m posting the removed photos again, along with this brief summary of my original thoughts. Should I be Paranoid?

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Elderly gentleman guards his wares, HoiAn.
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Bridal couple choose the Citadel at Hue.
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Night time diners and card players, HoiAn.
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Night time coconut milk seller, HoiAn

Hopetoun House Hotel, Jeparit. The Jewel of the North-West.

Good food is hard to find out in the little wheat district towns of the Wimmera. No, that is an understatement. Any food is hard to find in the Wimmera, a district in the north west of Victoria. We were caught out badly one Sunday during our drive around the tiny towns of Brim, Beulah and Rainbow. All the pubs were closed. Most, in fact, were for sale, and in desperation, I resorted to a Chicko Roll, a peculiarity of Victoria dating back to the 1950s. For those not in the know, a Chicko Roll is a large spring roll made from cabbage and barley, carrot and green beans, beef, beef tallow, wheat cereal, celery and onion. The filling is mostly pulped and enclosed in a thick egg and flour pastry and then the whole fat roll is deep-fried. My purchased version bore no relationship to the above description. There were no discernible vegetables, the inside tasted like clay, the outside resembling some form of edible cardboard. It may have spent 5 years in a deep freezer before hitting the deep frying basket of the Rainbow take- away. I told you I was desperate.

snapper stack
Snapper stack on smashed potato, pesto, rocket. $18

So you can imagine how delightful it was to find a pub in this remote area serving lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Jeparit’s Hopetoun House Hotel re- opened a few weeks ago, having been closed for some years. With new owners and energetic staff, is has become a little oasis in a food desert.

Spinach and Ricotta tortellini with a rich sauce and fetta. Large serve, $22.
Spinach and Ricotta tortellini with a rich sauce and fetta. Large serve, $22.

When we visited, the staff, who live on site, hadn’t had a break for 10 days or more, given that the menu needed to be trialled and put into place before Christmas. Talk about dedication. The smiling Mel greets all patrons warmly: she is the business manager, bar attendant, and raconteur. She knows the locals by name and makes every one feel at home, including tourists like us. Steven, the chef, is a foodie by inclination. He comes from Tullamarine, a suburb of Melbourne, and talks fondly of his mother, a Montessori teacher, who encouraged his cooking passion. Steve originally came from Sri Lanka. Other kitchen staff hail from the Punjab in India. It is so refreshing to see our talented new Australians ready to embrace work in these isolated towns. I hope they stay.

Steven the chef. It all depends on him.
Steven the chef. It all depends on him.
Sticky Date and Pear Pudding. $10
Sticky Date and Pear Pudding. $10

The weekend we visited, at least 4 times, they trialed their first Sunday roast dinner. Mel mentioned that they sold out at lunch time, (15 serves). She was thrilled. During one of my lunch visits, a mixed gender and very polite bikie group of 12 arrived for lunch. They were on a mystery tour of the Wimmera. I bet they were delighted to find these offerings bordering the desert.

Beautiful sides.
Beautiful sides.

I was also pleased to find a quality house wine at a reasonable price. The Harcourt Chardonnay, a local wine from near Bendigo, a top pick at around $20 a bottle.

Mel the business manager, and Steven, the chef. Two key players in the success of teh Hoptoun House Hotel.
Mel the business manager, and Steven, the chef. Two key players in the success of Hopetoun House Hotel.
Mel bought this sweet concoction over to show us what Steve had been up to.
Mel brought out this sweet concoction over to show us what Steve had been up to.

The tiny town of Jeparit ( population 550)  is situated 370 kilometers north-west of Melbourne. It is a long drive and one I doubt you, dear reader, will be ready to do on a whim. The success of this venture does rely on visitors dropping in for a meal. If you are out west, loitering through that open silo- towered wheat country, exploring the ancient little towns clinging to dear life, remember that the food choices are thin. Hopetoun House is your place.

Cool dining room, good linen, efficient service.
Cool dining room, good linen, efficient service.
HOPETOUN HOUSE HOTEL
31 Roy Street, Jeparit
Ph. (03) 5397 2051 AH 0487 926 888

http://jeparit.com.au/

Open Daily. 11 am to 11 pm

A New Horizon

The country is calling me, the hinterland of Australia, this ancient land, where rocky foundations were laid 370 million years ago, and ancient seas raged around western Victoria a mere 40 million years ago, creating inland deserts and lakes and small pockets of green. Lands that were once steeped in another culture and language, before colonial farmers denuded the plains, believing that the rain would follow the plough, and sometimes it did: where the old knowledge of birds, animals and land, the indigenous Dreamtime, powerful and evocative, can be felt, the song lines understood. These are the lands I now must visit, my new horizons are the most ancient of all.

The Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld. Bistro and Kitchen Garden

People who know about the culinary delights of the Royal Mail Hotel are prepared to travel three hours from Melbourne to dine there. Overseas travellers also make the journey into the Western District of Victoria: the word has spread far. The Royal Mail Hotel has been a two hatted restaurant for some years now and continues to win annual awards. The dining room, and the more affordable bistro, are definitely on the foody itinerary.

Carror risotto, with baby carrots and herbs.
Carrot risotto, with baby carrots and herbs. $26

The Bistro, now called the Parker Street Project, is open every day,  whereas the fine dining restaurant, with 5, 7 and  9 course set menus, is open for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday and lunch from Thursday to Sunday. We visited on a Monday and were delighted to find well priced and stunningly good food at an affordable price in the Parker St bistro. Under its present incarnation, with new chefs and a revitalised menu, it is even better than the last time I visited in 2009.

Fish and chips with a difference. Port arlington flathead, hand cut chips, baked vegetables and brocollini.
Fish and chips with a difference. Port Fairy flathead, hand cut chips, baked vegetables and broccolini. Smoky Pimenton aioli. $24

The key to the success of the hotel is not simply the dedicated world-class chefs, assistants and trainees who work here, but the vibrancy of fresh, organic produce. The Kitchen Garden, which was established in 2009, is the largest hotel garden in Australia. Run on organic principles, it spreads over more than an acre. Eighty per cent of the vegetables, herbs and fruit used in both the dining room and the bistro, comes from this huge productive garden. Chefs pick twice daily: it’s their larder, green grocer and inspiration.

Beautiful just picked green salad, with a paper thin slice of turnip, simply dressed
Beautiful just picked green salad, with a paper-thin slice of turnip, simply dressed. $8

The head gardener, Michelle, will tell you which flowers the chefs love best, ( for instance, society garlic, viola, nigella, cornflower, nasturtium ) and what wonderful beer they are now making with the Verbena. Most of the produce grown here are heritage vegetables and rare herbs, which are not generally available to chefs. Michelle uses a number of organic practices ‘such as using ducks to control pests like slugs and snails and using compost derived from vegetable waste, grass clippings, spoilt hay from chicken coops and animal manure from nearby farms to build up soil structure and provide nutrients.’ She also has fabricated wire cages to protect some crops from the ducks and white cabbage moth, has made circular shade cloth surrounds for blueberries, encourages early tomatoes with wind and frost surrounds, does some experimental planting in hot houses, and trains berries onto tall wire strained structures. The whole tour is an inspiration. If you are a keen vegetable gardener,  you must not leave Dunkeld without a visit to this garden. Ask questions and learn. And try to get your tour when Michelle is on duty, if you are a garden fanatic like me. The chefs lead the tours on the other days. Tours cost $15 per person and last around 45 minutes. A staff member will drive you to the site, given its location some distance from the hotel.

Royal Mail Kitchen Garden
Royal Mail Kitchen Garden

Take your own tour of this amazing kitchen garden by opening this media slide show of photos separately.

Staying at the Royal Mail Hotel is a treat, with private suites facing the grand view of Mt Sturgeon, a large swimming pool for hot days, and great walking, which start within the hotel grounds. If you don’t wish to splurge, the caravan park has spacious powered sites for $25 a night, which are set on a shady creek, and also has cheap overnight self- contained cabins.  Dining in the restaurant is rather special, but you will also do very well in the bistro. The new Parker Street Project, is managed by Stephen, a friendly, hospitable young man who really loves his job. Enthusiastic staff make a huge difference here.

Chefs at work. Dining Room, the royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria
Chefs at work. Dining Room, the royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria
a customer sits on a shady veranndah at teh Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld, set under the watchful gaze of Mt Sturgeon.
A local sits on a shady verandah at the Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld, set under the watchful gaze of Mt Sturgeon.

More details about the Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria, Australia can be found here.