Tag Archives: Church

Bath, England – Impressions

In my ongoing exploration of the UK, I spent a day in the small city of Bath in the county of Somerset in South Western England.

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It was officially made a spa city in 60 AD by the Romans who built the baths and a temple in the river valley. Bath is a pretty city noted for its architecture, but also the golden colour of the stone from which everything is built. The stone, called Bath stone, is a type of limestone found in the region.

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I had initially planned to take the Bath Hop-on Hop-off bus around the city on both routes to get the best views and see the most sites, but due to the rain from Hurricane Lorenzo crossing the region, I made a short, self-directed walking tour instead.

Gregorian Architecture
This is the prominent architectural style in central Bath with many elegant buildings being constructed in this style around the city.

Bath Circus
Circus in Latin means circle, and the Bath Circle is three lines of curved buildings set in a circle around a central circular grassy space. It was apparently inspired by the Colosseum in Rome.

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Royal Crescent
Built about the same time as the circus – circa 1770 it is in a semi-circle with a large park from one side.

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Pulteney Bridge
This bridge is a local landmark crossing the River Avon to join the city of Bath with the Pulteney family lands on the far side. Unlike simple bridges, the Pulteney Bridge was designed with shops across its length on both sides of the street. The bridge stood for 25 years before a flood-damaged the north side which had to be rebuilt.

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Bath Abbey
Built in the 7th century as a medieval abbey church, it is one of the largest pieces of gothic architecture in the West of England. It was rebuilt into a Cathedral in the mid 12th century but was stripped of being a cathedral in the mid-1500s returning again to the status of Abbey. It was reformed once more in the 19th century to its current form.

I took the opportunity to take an abbey tour, including climbing the 200+ steps to the roof. The group stopped off to learn about the bell ringers along with the various mechanisms used to automate them, as monks of the time were rather lazy.

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The Roman Baths
The baths were built over a series of hot springs by the Romans around 60 AD. The hot springs bubble up from deep in the earth at a steady temperature of 46ºC. The baths fell into disrepair when the Romans pulled out of Britain 300 years later. The baths were thought destroyed in the 6th century AD. It was rebuilt in 1200 AD and then entirely redesigned in the 18th century into its current state.

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The baths have a Pump Room beside it as a conference hall and restaurant, while the baths themselves go underground in several large rooms. Tours are expensive, and I chose not to take one, but they take visitors underground to all of the rooms, although people are no longer allowed to bathe in the baths. While I did not take a tour, I did get an up high picture from the top of the cathedral during my tour of that structure.

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The next day I headed up to Bristol for more exploration.

The World Wanderer

Birmingham, England – Impressions

Birmingham is known by some as the second city as it’s the second largest city in the United Kingdom. Situated in the West Midlands of England, Birmingham is just over 200km (125 mi) North West of London.

Although there is evidence of human’s in the area up to about 10,000 years ago, Birmingham, or Beormingahām as it was known, was said to have been established in the late 6th century. And with train tickets from London only £5.50 each way, it deserved a long weekend to explore what the city has to offer. St Martin in the Bullring…

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Bullring and Grand Central
Right near Birmingham Moor Street Station, these two separate indoor malls are joined by a series of sky bridges that cut through the nearby TK Maxx building to make one large indoor mall. The Bullring is named after the major commercial area of the city and is in a distinctive building. The connected Grand Central mall is just as large and is a distinct building of its own.

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Bullring Rag Market
Similar to the original markets which spawned the Bullring commercial region, the Rag Market is an area of fruit and vegetable stalls mixed with clothing and other general knickknacks in small booths. When compared to the upmarket style of the markets in York or some areas of London, you will understand where the name Rag Markets come from. While they certainly are not pretty, there are plentiful bargains here.

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Custard Factory
What’s now known as the Custard Factory, is an area of creative and digital businesses in a set of very colourful buildings that was once the Bird’s Custard Factory from the 1840s. It now contains many small shops, offices, galleries, theatres and eateries.

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Victoria Square
Under the statue of Queen Victoria, this public pedestrian square is surrounded by the Birmingham Town Hall, Council House and Chamberlain Square.

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Saint Philips Cathedral
the seat of the bishop of Birmingham, Saint Philips Cathedral, it is the third smallest in the UK. Compared to the Cathedral in York, it’s tiny, but still contains unique stained glass windows yet only a short 300-year history, including being damaged in World War II bombings.

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Aston Hall
Aston Hall is a villa built in the early 1600s that has been converted into a museum. It is situated in Villa Park, which, for those with a knowledge of sports, specifically Football,  is home to Aston Villa football team and their stadium, right next door. Unfortunately, the villa museum is not open on match days which just happened to be the day I stopped by for a visit.

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Gas Street Basin
An attractive section of canals in the network that flows throughout Birmingham, similar to many other UK cities. The surrounding area contains bars, cafes and several attractions such as the National Seal Life Centre and Birmingham’s Legoland.

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IKON Gallery
While waiting for my entrance time of the National Sea Life Centre, I popped into the local IKON gallery to check out a couple of the exhibitions. The IKON gallery is a world acclaimed art gallery spread over three levels just off the Gas Street Basin area. While it is fairly small, the three exhibitions were an interesting change of pace in this fast paced city.

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National Sea Life Centre
The National Sea Life Centre is an aquarium in Central Birmingham showcasing over 2000 different sea animals from various places around the world, from the Antarctic, across many of the continents. The aquarium is entirely set inside in a four-story building that leads you through a series of displays climbing step by step to the top, before catching a lift, or stairs, into the basement where there is a tunnel through a larger pool. Amazing displays show all sorts of creatures, from sharks to sea horses, penguins to jellyfish.

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Cadbury World
Cadbury World is an exhibition built beside the main Cadbury factory in Bournville which is a town originally built for the workers of the Cadbury factory. The Cadbury World exhibition is only one of two in the world, the other being in Dunedin, New Zealand. The 90-minute long attraction goes through the history of the Cadbury empire and documents many parts of the chocolate making process, including chocolate Easter egg manufacture. It is an interesting place to learn the history of chocolate and the region, and not just for the kids.

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Dudley Castle and Zoo
On the outskirts of Greater Birmingham is the township of Dudley, and on a hill above it is the ruins of the Dudley castle. Dudley Castle was built in 1070 by a Norman knight not long after the Norman conquests. I travelled for an hour out to Dudley to investigate the castle only to find that it was part of a zoo with a steeper entrance fee than I had hoped. And, as it was late in the day and I likely wouldn’t have enough time to make the visit worth the entrance fee, I took a bad photo and caught a tram back to the Birmingham city centre.

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Graffiti Art of Digbeth Walk
On my wanders around the city I noted many pieces of graffiti, but not until writing this did I discover there was an actual walk relating to a graffiti art. I would loved to have spent some time following this around the city as the few pieces I saw were amazing.

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Too Much to See
One long weekend was not enough to get to all the things I had hoped to see. Here are a few things I didn’t get to…

Thinktank Museum – Birmingham’s Science Museum.
Cannon Hill Park – The city’s most popular park spanning 250 acres.
Botanical Gardens – Gardens of a Botanical nature
The Coffin Works – A museum in the process of making coffins.

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Overall Impressions
Birmingham is a large thriving city only indeed second in the UK to London. The central city has so much foot traffic most days it could be considered reminiscent of Brixton or Oxford Street. But it is still different to the larger London, in that it is less cosmopolitan. And, only two hours away by train, it is definitely worth a visit.

The World Wanderer

York, England – Impressions

Twenty-two miles north of Leeds, York is a city in Yorkshire founded by the Romans in 71 AD.

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Over the nearly two millennia since it was founded it has been known as Jorvik, Eburakon, Eoforwic, Everwic, Yerk, Yourke, Yarke and eventually simply York. After the Roman founding, it was overtaken by the Angles, captured by the Vikings, overrun by the Normans, ravaged by William the Conqueror, saw a peasant revolt, a Catholic uprising, and was besieged by Parliamentarians during the English civil war. In the last century, it was bombed by the Nazis and has been entirely overrun by rampant armies of tourists, who currently besiege the city, pillaging its wares on a daily basis.

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The City Walls
As the city was founded as a Roman fortress, a large rectangular wall was built around it covering about 50 acres. Much of these original walls still exist in the city today although over time parts have been destroyed or left to fall into disrepair, only to be repaired at various points in their history.

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The walls are an enjoyable way to walk around the edge of the central city, with walkways around the upper portions. A full circuit of the city centre atop the wall takes about an hour and gives good views of the city.

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Yorkshire Museum and Gardens
During preparation to build the Yorkshire Museum, workmen uncovered the extensive remains of the 13th century St. Mary’s Abbey. Many parts of these ruins were incorporated into the design of the museum and are contained in various exhibits.

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The grounds of the museum are extensive, including gardens and other buildings beside the River Ouse. While the museum itself is small, the three floors showcase exhibits from the age of dinosaurs through history to modern times, with a major focus on the local area.

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York Minister
The York Cathedral is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe.

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The cathedral was commissioned in 1220 and completed a short 252 years later in 1472. The entire building is 160m long and about 70m wide at its widest point. Inside the gothic architecture is beautiful with its open plan construction and a multitude of ancient stained glass windows. There are many areas inside the minister that are under restoration.

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The York Minister also has three towers, the central one some 72m tall. There is a challenge using the day to climb the 275 steps up the thin spiral staircases to the roof which has the best panoramic view out across York.

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Harry Potter, Diagon Alley and Shambles Market
While none of the Harry Potter movies was filmed in or around York, the city has still been taken over by Harry Potter Mania. There is a thin alley near the Shambles Market which has been compared to Diagon Alley from the movies.

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While I’m not a fan of the movies and have no idea what Diagon Alley is, the locals have taken advantage of the fever and there and many Harry Potter oriented shops in that particular alley. This one, for example, sells wands.

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York Castle and Clifford Tower
The mound on which the castle is built was constructed by William the Conqueror in 1068, and the first wooden castle was built in the same year. But, by the following year, it had been burned to the ground by rebels and Vikings.

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The second wooden castle was completed soon after and lasted 100 years until 150 Jews hiding in it committed mass suicide by burning it down. It was rebuilt in stone in the mid 13th century by Henry III.

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The shell that remains now gives excellent views across York.

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Holgate Windmill
The Holgate Windmill is one of the few working five sailed windmills remaining in the UK. It was built in 1770 and has gone through many repairs over the past 250 years. It was closed in 1933 after storm damage. Restoration began in 2003 anew and was completed in 2012 when for the first time in over 80 years it turned by wind power.

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UK’s Confectionary Capital
York is considered the home of confectionary in the UK with the Rowntree company introducing to the world such offerings as Smarties, Kit-Kat and fruit pastels. Even George Cadbury, I don’t need to tell you which company he started, was trained at Rowntree’s in 1858. Rowntree’s is now owned by Nestle. But it’s not just big chocolate companies in York, there are many boutique chocolate stores in the city and even York’s Chocolate Story, an interactive attraction which delves into, oddly enough, York’s Chocolate Story.

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Guy Fawkes
In 1605 he was discovered about to ignite 36 barrels of gun powder under the Houses of Parliament in Westminster London in an attempt to ignite a Catholic uprising. He was hung 2 months later, then drawn and quartered. I mention this because Guy Fawkes was born and educated in York.

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Overall Impressions
York is a very busy city even in March, which is considered the low season. I’m told that in summer it’s almost impossible to move in some of the inner city streets for the tourists. In my opinion, it has a similar vibe to Prague in the Czech Republic based on the cobbled tight streets, the number of pubs and the sheer amount of tourists. There were many places to see, and I enjoyed learning about the popular destination in Northern England.

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The World Wanderer

Boudicca Way, Norfolk, England – Part 2

I recently walked the Boudicca Way in Norfolk, England. See here for Boudicca Way, Norfolk, England – Part 1

Day 2 – Saxlingham Green to Gissing – 28km (17.4miles)

After a night in a tent and a B&B style breakfast, I packed up and headed out. I had planned for today to be the longest day of this walk, so thought it best I get started early. The trail went quickly through a field to a small lane then onto a major road for a hundred metres or so before diving back onto cropland.

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I started to see horses in paddocks as I walked and chatted to several as I went past, some coming to the fence to check me out. As I cut around a small copse of trees, I began to hear the highway ahead. I crossed another paddock and over the road where I could. I then walked between a pair of fields with horses and ponies roaming around before onto a small lane that again led to a rural road. I followed this to a small village before turning left and along for fifteen minutes to the large village of Tadburgh.

There is a pub on the far side of the township, and I was keen for a coffee, so I walked along the major road to it. It was closed. It seemed pretty standard for Norfolk not to find anywhere open that sold food. I sat on an outside seat and ate some trail mix before heading off again.

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I walked on again along tight country roads for some time, standing aside for the occasional car that came by. I turned right and headed onto farmland again along permissive lands provided for my walk. I crossed more wild trails fending off nettles with my walking poles. Over a major road,  I walked into more fields, passing some trees called, ‘Devil’s Wood’ then along a path to the village of Fritton. As I walked, I wished for a seat, and when I got to the corner there was one waiting near a phone box. I sat down and ate more of my trail mix. Again, like the other villages, there was no place to stop to buy any food, not even a corner shop to grab a snack.

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After a rest, I headed south with the threat of rain looming in the sky. It spat a little as I walked under a row of trees, but nothing more. Then it was back into farmland and across more wheat fields before heading south into Tyrell’s Wood, the first I was allowed to walk through. It seemed popular with dog walkers. When I got to the carpark, I took another rest, taking off my boots. Today my boots have been hard on my feet and ankles, and I could start to feel some strain on my Achilles’ tendons. So when I put the boots on again, I made sure to keep them loose.

Rain threatened again as I headed off again along country lanes. After ten minutes the rain finally came down. I was prepared for it and had brought a small umbrella with me. With it open, I stood under a large tree while a heavy barrage of rain came down for 30 minutes or so.

When it stopped, I headed off again and five minutes later had to cross a wheat field with a path cut through it. It was a little slippery, but the wet dirt had yet to turn to mud although my boots and legs got wet from the wet plants.

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I eventually made it to Pulham Market, a larger village with a pair of pubs close together. But time was getting on, and I estimated I still had another 2 hours to walk, so I didn’t want to stop for too long. I had no idea how far I had walked since leaving camp nearly 8 hours earlier, but my legs were growing sore and seized up each time I stopped. So I pushed on. My left Achilles tendon was still sore, so I tried to go easy on it, adjusting my boots again to give some comfort.

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I pushed on south along the road and then a country road that led onto more fields. I again cut across wheat fields and along grass verges hiding nettles until I reached another major highway. It was here I was to leave the trail to get to my accommodation another 5 miles away.

I walked through more country lanes, past houses and farms, through the village of Tivetshall St Mary to the remains of St Mary’s Church where I stopped for my final rest. I was just about to leave again when it again began to pour.

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Once it had finished, I set off but was again stiff. I crossed a railway bridge then followed a muddy trail across yet another wheat field and a grass paddock. One more road and I arrived at my B&B. My legs were sore, and I was knackered after a 10 and half hour day, nine of them walking. I looked forward to a shower and a walk to the pub for dinner.

After my shower, I could barely walk. Then because a local fete had been on that day, I discovered the pub was not serving food and delivery from Diss was going to cost me a fortune, so I resigned myself to eating trail mix again. But again, my host offered to cook me dinner. It was amazing. Afterwards, I watched some TV before collapsing into a comfortable bed.

Day 3 – Gissing to Diss – 10km (6.2miles)

Rain rain rain, all night long. It would be a short walk today to my end point where I was catching a train late in the day. My hosts told me I could stay as long as I liked, and I made a plan for when the rain stopped.

My host dropped me off back on the trail, and I waited in a pub for the rain to stop, but alas, it did not. The pub did not serve food on Mondays but could heat up a sausage roll for me. I eventually gave up waiting for the rain to stop and caught a bus to the train station in Diss where I hung out for several hours waiting for the train. Not the way I wanted to end the walk, but neither would be getting rained on and having to cross muddy fields.

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Overall
Honestly, while it was an interesting walk along roads and through paths across farms, there was not that much to the Boudicca Way. It was good exercise and got me used to a heavy pack again, but there were very few scenic views or places of interest. The difficulty finding accommodations and there being practically nowhere to eat made it a rather annoying trip. I’m glad I walked on this side of the country, but next, I will be off on what I hope will be a more decent hike, Cheshire’s Sandstone Trail.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Hanoi, Vietnam – Impressions

First established as a city in 1010, only half a century after Vietnam’s independence from a millennium of Imperial Chinese rule.

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Sleeper Bus
There are two ways to get from Luang Prabang, Laos, to Hanoi. I chose to take a sleeper bus instead of flying, as it was far cheaper in comparison, although the bus takes just over 24 hours. I’ve been on overnight buses before, although they’re more comfortable in South America.

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The seats of our bus are set in a ‘sleeper’ position and that’s how the stay, the roof isn’t high enough for them to sit up straight. With the seats only providing a total of 1.5 metres of room my legs had to be extended into the padded aisle. I was luckier than those on the upper level.

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About eight hours into the journey the tooting began. The chain-smoking drivers used the horn perhaps 30 times a minute for the entire rest of the journey. This meant the young children onboard could not sleep, and tired young children tend to cry. A lot. In the end it was a rather noisy ride, but they do call this the ‘bus from hell’, so I wasn’t expecting anything less. Even so, when we arrived in Hanoi after 26 hours I had a cracking headache.

Old Quarter
Arriving late in the evening my initial impressions of Hanoi were not pleasant. The thin dirty streets clogged with motorbikes going every which way, seemingly without order, and all tooting their horns with obscene regularity. The headache didn’t help either.

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Initial daylight impressions weren’t much better, the thin dirty streets were still crazy with tooting motorcycles, but markets had been erected and people were crowded everywhere. To add to that, the city was draped in a heavy layer of smog. But first impressions are just that, first impressions, and they often change if you get to know a place.

Buying a Bike
Instead of catching tourist buses/trains through Vietnam, I decided to buy a motorbike and ride the 1,750km south to Ho Chi Minh City. This is becoming a more popular way of seeing the country. With the help of my hostel manager, I was picked up and taken across the city to a 2nd hand motorcycle sales yard with many dozens of used bikes available.

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An hour later, I’d tried 5 different bikes and had selected a favourite. I tossed down 6 million Dong (US$280) and rode away.

For the next couple of days, I put the scooter to good use as I toured the city.

Hanoi Opera House
Modelled after Palais Garnier, the older of Paris’s two opera houses, the building was built in the early 1900s.

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Trán Quóc Pagoda
The oldest pagoda in Hanoi at approximately 1,400 years old. It sits on a small islet on West Lake and is connected to the mainland by a causeway.

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Cua Bac Catholic Church
Built in the 1930s in Art Deco style, Cua Bac is one of three major churches in the city and is famous for having been attended by President George W. Bush during an official visit.

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St. Joseph’s Cathedral
The oldest church in Hanoi, it was one of the first buildings built by the french colonial government.

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Presidential Palace
Built to house the French Governor-General, it was built in a french design with Italian Renaissance elements. The palace is guarded outside the gates and I was lucky to get a distant photo as attempts to get closer caused the guards to angrily blow whistles at me.

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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, the Mausoleum is the home of the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, Chairman of the Communist Party between 1951 and 1969. Armed guards protect the site and public viewings occur most mornings, although very strict rules must be abided by during the visit.

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Ho Chi Minh Museum
Near the Mausoleum, the museum steps visitors thoroughly through Ho Chi Minh’s life and Vietnam’s revolutionary struggles. Unfortunately, most of the exhibits are in Vietnamese and French.

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One Pillar Pagoda
Standing between Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Ho Chi Minh Museum, the pagoda is one of the most iconic temples in Vietnam. It was ordered to be built nearly 1,000 years ago after a childless emperor had dreamed of the buddha sitting on a lotus leaf and handing him a son. Unfortunately the area around the pagoda is being redone, so closer viewing was not possible.

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Historical Military Museum
No visit to Hanoi would be complete without a visit to the war museum. The exhibits step through the conflicts during the past century, including the Indochina war, with France, and then on into the American War (the war we know as the Vietnam War). Many old relics are staged around the museum, from tanks to bombers.

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Hanoi Citadel and Flag Tower
The Imperial Citadel was the former home of Vietnamese royalty between the years 1010AD and 1810AD. Most of the buildings were destroyed during the French colonisation. Some of the buildings that remained intact were the Flag Tower…

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…and the citadel’s Ladies Quarters.

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The hustle and bustle of Hanoi did grow on me over 4 days, although the constant beeping is enough to drive anyone insane in a week.

Next I begin a three-week quest to ride the length of Vietnam, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City on a scooter.

The Lone Trail Wanderer