Friday, July 18, 2008

A busy first day

Today was a busy day. We arrived in Hanoi yesterday morning, and we were greeted bby friendly Vietnamese hosts who escorted us to our hotels. And we do mean hotels; we thought that we would be staying in one hotel for the first three days, but instead we were divided up into three: one for the leaders, one for the observers, and one for the students.

The hotels are about 5 km apart, which is but a short 50,000 dong taxi ride. The taxi service is nice, but nothing compares to the pure adrenalin rush of trying to cross the streets through the sea of motorcycles. Some of us are pretty good at it: walk slowly, looking into the traffic, and steadily drift across three to six lanes of honking, swerving, belching honda motorcycles.

We survived that part. We weren't as lucky with the fruit ladies, who attacked us with such enthusiasm that before we knew it we had them taking pictures and giving us gifts of pineapple. Then they wanted out money. Not all of it, but certainly more than the pineapple was worth. Eventually we extricated ourselves from the predicament, with little more than a bruised pride. And several bags of rather juicy pineapple. And, we must confess, we were a few dong lighter.

We wandered through the dedicated streets of the old quarter, seeing shops and signs and smelling the odors of spicy cooking and glue and, you guessed it, motorcycle exhaust. They really are everywhere. Lunch was at a curry place. Tasty!

Then we went to see the prison where John McCain spent part of the war. The Hanoi Hilton. A prison built by the French, with walls topped with broken glass. We saw a real guillotine; and the cells where Vietnamese "radicals" were held in the early 1900's. And pictures of John McCain in the lake where his plane went down.

After that we had some more resting time at a coffee shop beside the lake. The flavored shakes are quite tasty, as is the Vietnamese coffee. Then a trip back to the hotels.

Tomorrow we venture on a day trip, complete with 4 mile hike and 2 hours of boat rides, to the perfume pagoda. Details soon....

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