Overview of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. 11/23/19

NOTE: Along with John I have also caught a cold.  Because I need to take colds seriously, we have cancelled our excursion for 11/24, and 11/25 is a day at sea. This gives us two days to try and get well before we visit Cambodia. I probably will not have much to write about for those two days.

If you enjoy bus rides than this is the cruise for you. Today, especially, the ratio of time on the bus to time actually seeing something interesting is especially poor. Our excursion of six hours included about one hour and fifteen minutes of seeing something interesting. Since our boat is docked an hour away from the city, that is two hours sunk in just going back and forth. Driving in Ho Chi Minh City is especially tedious because there is so much traffic. And this is on Saturday when there is less traffic.

There are masses of people on motorbikes and scooters
The people wearing green jackets or helmets are employed by Grab, the motorbike Uber of Vietnam

We finally reach a temple, Jade Pagoda, to see. It is a combination Buddhist/Hindu place built in 1900. Our guide suggests we go in and put our hand on our hearts and make a wish. Our guide, along with the majority of Vietnamese, does not belong to any organized religion. I find it uncomfortable to be making wishes and taking pictures where people are worshipping. Our guide does not come in with us so other than the Buddha we have no idea what we are looking at. This took up 20 minutes of our non-bus time. Some of the statutes in the Jade Pagoda –

A Buddha
A revered figure
Another revered figure

Now we crawl along in the traffic while the guide points out a couple of things. Here’s the Opera House.

Opera House in Saigon

Here is the Post Office built by the French.

Saigon Post Office

We stop for five minutes to take a picture of the reunification palace.

Reunification Palace

Interestingly our guide,who is a young woman, says that there are still a lot of people in South Vietnam (she refers to South Vietnam as if it were still a country) who are angry that North Vietnam took over the South. She also says that the Americans did not lose the war. They just gave up.  She also told us that South Vietnamese and maybe all Vietnamese hate China and Chinese people and especially Chinese tourists. She says the Chinese are rude and crude. She gives us examples of bad behavior.

Then we ride around a block a couple of times so she can show us where the iconic picture of South Vietnamese trying to get on to the last U.S. helicopter was taken. She says it was not on the roof of the U.S. Embassy but on the roof of the C.I.A. Building.  We cannot see what she is referring to.

Then we go to a wood lacquer workshop where art is made by inlaying pieces of wood, eggshells and other things. There is a short presentation and then a “buying opportunity.” They have western toilets and there is some weak air conditioning so we are pretty happy about that.

Man working with eggshells
Finished eggshell pictures
Close up of eggshell picture
Mary in store for “buying opportunity.” We are part of the green fan group.
Part of the showroom

Our last stop is at the Banh Thant market which we saw yesterday. John and I walk in. It is crowded and very hot. We walk out. John stops at the men’s room while I wait outside. Unfortunately it is a place for sex workers to be standing. We all side eye each other. I move to another spot. John comes out and we spot our bus. We are early but the bus is air conditioned and quieter so we are happy to get aboard.

After this we go back to the ship. We take showers. Neither of us is feeling well but we go for dinner and cobble together a dinner out of four starters – shu mai, summer rolls,spicy prawns, and pho. It is quite enjoyable.

Our starter – spicy shrimp and summer roll
This is followed by lobster and pork shu mai
Vietnamese pho

I am really glad that we have cancelled our outing for tomorrow and that I have two days to try to kick this cold before we land in Cambodia and have our Cambodian Cooking School excursion.

Saigon Cooking School. 11/22/19

Today we take the bus into Ho Chi Minh City (hereafter indicated by HCMC or Saigon) to meet with a local chef, go to the enormous Ben Thanh market, and then make our way to the Saigon Cooking School. At the school we will prepare a three course meal for ourselves and eat it! But first a few words about HCMC.

Saigon is nothing like Hue. It is modern and bustling. The traffic is monumental. No one seems to pay much attention to the traffic laws. The prices in the market are inflated about 70% and you are expected to bargain the seller down. (Not my favorite way of shopping so we buy nothing.) It is a big city of 10 million people hustling to get by. It is not clean. Due to the extreme heat and humidity and very little air conditioning people sit out on the sidewalk if they can find space between the motorbikes.

We are docked outside of HCMC so it takes 45 minutes to an hour to get into the city
Our port, Saigon Premiere Container Terminal, is located in Nowhere, Vietnam. There is no town to walk to just a huge parking lot filled with newly arrived cars
Apartments are high rise and also in smaller units in HCMC
We are told not to take our phones out to take pictures because motorbikers snatch them from your hands as you are taking a picture. I risked one of men selling coconuts to drink

We meet our chef outside the market and she takes us inside to talk about the various fruits and vegetables that we will use.

Chef talks about limes and kumquats. Lemons are expensive so these green kumquats are used for a similar flavor
Behind our chef are turmeric, young ginger, lotus root and she is holding a banana bud
Here she is discussing the difference between Thai basil and lemon mint
Some more of the coconuts to drink from
There are oodles of spices, teas,and coffees. (There is a special weasel coffee which is made from coffee beans that have passed through the weasels’ digestive systems. Farmers collect the poop to make it. Yum)

After our visit to the market we take a short drive over to the Saigon Cooking School where there are cookers and ingredients for each of us. We put on our aprons and get to work. It is all quite comprehensive and we use a real propane cook top. I manage to set my towel on fire. The first dish we make is sour soup with prawns. We cut up all the vegetables and cook it ourselves!

John looking Iron Chef-y
A look down the table at our cooking accoutrements

The ingredients to our sour soup with prawn are water, elephant ear stem, okra, prawn, bean sprouts, tomato, pineapple, tamarind paste, rice paddy herb and saw tooth coriander, sugar, fish sauce, salt chopped garlic and cooking oil. We sit down to eat our creation.

Sour soup with prawn or in Viet canh chua tom

Now the chef expects us to move a little faster. I really have almost no time to take pictures. Finally I give up with the picture taking and just concentrate on the cooking and getting my phone out of harm’s way. Our next course is lotus stems salad with prawns and pork, goi ngo sen. The ingredients are sugar lemon juice, fish sauce, long chili, garlic for the dressing and pickled white radish and carrot, fresh lotus stems, pickled lotus stem, prawns, lean pork, onion, Laksa leaves, peanuts, fried shallots, and deep fried lotus roots. We have a tool to cut the carrots into fancy julienne and a peeler which is much more difficult to use than my OXO one.

Our chef is mixing the lotus stem and carrot in the picking juice
Our delicious salad, lotus stems salad with prawns and pork or goi ngo sen

Our last dish is chicken stew in a clay pot with ginger, basil and coconut juice or ga kho gung. This takes quite a bit of cooking and pressing of the tamarind paste. This is where I set my kitchen towel alight but smother it so quickly that no one notices. They are really busy chopping and stirring and trying not to get burned or set their own towels afire. So we are dealing with sharp knives, a really hot propane flame, and a clay pot that you cannot touch unless you are using your towel (which puts it really close to the open flame.) Chef tells us to concentrate!!

John enjoys a Saigon special beer as a reward for all his hard work
Chicken stew in a clay pot with ginger, basil, and coconut juice or ga kho gung (forgot to take a picture before I had eaten most of it)

Our chef whose name is maybe Ugen or maybe some thing else compliments us on a job well done and says we have all graduated from The Saigon Cooking School. Yay! She gives a folder with our recipes and a coaster to commemorate our day.

We cooked, ate, and had fun!!

It has been a long day of learning and cooking and we arrive back at the boat about 7 hours after we left. Everyone is pretty tired out but happy that we had this experience.

Another day at sea. 11/21/19

We are on our way to Ho Chi Minh City formerly known as Saigon. It seems like the people in the southern part of Vietnam use the two name interchangeably.

Not much to report except for coming in in second place at trivia today. Sometimes our team listens too much to John’s opinion on the answers and sometimes too little!

John is working on recuperating from his cold and I am working on catching the one he has.

From the food scene, we eat at the Chef’s Table and have their rendition of California Cuisine—it is more West Coast than California. No California wines are included!

Sweet potato chip with apple, rosemary, and creme fraiche
Crab cake with avocado, orange, fennel, shallot, dill and blood orange
Seared halibut with c=California olive, herb vinaigrette, crumble roasted cauliflower, and buttered panko

In addition there is a Moscow mule granita as a palate cleanser and an Ojai Mandarin parfait that I did not take pictures of.

Authentic Vietnamese cuisine in Hue. 11/20/19

We experience fairly rough seas overnight which I find difficult to sleep through. So I am pretty sleepy this morning. But there is no time for laggards and we soon are on a bus to go and try the “Tastes of Hue.” The plan is to meet with a local chef and go through a market learning about the different foods in Vietnamese cuisine and then walking back to her house for a luncheon that she has prepared for us. We originally thought we were going to get a cooking class but that will have to wait for another day.

Our excursion is 6 hours long. One thing they don’t tell you in the blurb about the excursions is how long you are going to be on the bus. They just say “after a ride through the Vietnamese countryside, you will arrive in Hue…” Today’s ride is nearly 2 hours long each way. On the ride to Hue we see a different face of Vietnam. It is poor and rural. Both on the ride and in Hue we are surprised by how Third World Vietnam is.

Vietnam is mostly agricultural with rice paddies everywhere still plowed by water buffalo. Most of the housing is built behind whatever business the locals can drum up—a cafe or restaurant, karaoke bar, spare parts for machines, hair salon. The people we see are cultivating a garden, watching their children, or just sitting around. It is much poorer than we imagined.

Rice paddies along the road
Most houses appear to be one room wide. Woman working in her garden on the right, clothes drying on the left
Business in front of the living quarters, man on a motor bike. There are few privately owned cars.
Pink house with a karaoke business in front
In urban Hue the houses are closer together. Here again the living quarters are over the cafes below.

The traffic is somewhat chaotic with motorbikes dashing to and fro. Anyone who hesitates has lost the edge to get through an intersection. Our bus is enormous next to the rest of the traffic so for us the locals give way. We de-bus and meet our chef host, Hoang Thi Nhu Huy, a renowned chef and cookbook author specializing in royal Hue cuisine. First she walks us through the market describing the different foodstuffs.

Madame Nhu Huy discusses the various types of rice
Here Madam Nhu Huy points out the different peppercorns used in Vietnamese cooking
The noodle lady
Meats of all kinds are laid out in the open air market
The fish look remarkably fresh
Outside the market enclosure are women selling green-skinned oranges and dragon fruit
Here a woman, in the iconic Vietnamese conical hat, is selling everything from chubby carrots to shiny eggplants and prickly bitter melons. (Bitter melon, good for your health!)

I have to admit that I am somewhat put off by the smells and the fact that I see a large roach crawling among the dried noodles in a package. I am glad when we exit the market and proceed to Madame Nhu Huy’s house for lunch. And what a lunch it is! Obviously she has been cooking for days to put together this feast. We sit at communal tables and Madame Nhu Huy comes around to explain each dish and drink.

Phoenix egg pancake and pate starter. The yellow “feathers” are egg pancakes. The egg pancake is also wrapped around a chicken pate in the tail
Poor John has caught a cold but is still a pretty game eater and drinker
Chicken and fig salad served with crispy pancake
Mackerel served in a shredded crispy rice wrapper
The only dish I was so-so about is short rice served two ways, steamed and fried with shrimp
Just when you think you are done, a bowl of pho with five color noodles that she has made by hand
Dessert is fruit. This is a sugar or milk apple
I really liked these small fruits. You peel them and inside is a segmented fruit that looks like lichee. (Landsat)

John, who has taken prodigious notes throughout the meal, has become a favorite of Madame Nhu Huy. She is so excited when he stands up and is so much taller than she. She insists on a picture with him and her assistant wants one too. She is a teacher and thinks that maybe John is one too because of his notes. The Vietnamese people are very friendly and affectionate.

Little Chef and Big John
The Chef holds her cookbook so we can take a picture

Now it is back on the bus for the ride back. I immediately fall asleep until we get to our rest stop which is at a cafe on a small lake. It has western bathrooms which is the main reason why we stopped there.

When we are get to the ship and are back in our room the phone rings and it is from the kitchen. The head chef wants to meet with us. We set up a meeting at 5:30 PM. The head chef, Eslam from Turkey, wants us to know he is so sorry for the bone incident yesterday, are we okay, and what can he do to make it up to us. He tells us he would do this for any guest but I think maybe they are afraid that we will sue or something. Can he make us special lobster or a special dessert? I ask if he can move up our 9 PM reservation at the Italian restaurant to 8 PM. Of course, no problem and we will get a special dessert plus we can have reservations at any of the specialty restaurants on any day we want. We feel a little embarrassed. The main reason we said anything about the bone was to alert them about it not to get anything special.

When we get to the restaurant, Manfredi’s at 8 PM, they are falling all over themselves to be nice. The restaurant manager says they have been looking forward to our visit and take us to a table by the window himself. The head chef comes over to make sure we are happy and we get quite a delicious special dessert.

Our special dessert—deconstructed baklava with vanilla ice cream sitting on a base of pistachios

Sailing by junk on Ha Long Bay. 11/19/19

Today we venture out on Ha Long Bay by junk. These junk, though, are not the ones we imagined from our childhood.  Those junks with their square sails are now only used for promotional pictures and maybe holidays. This junk is gasoline powered. The boats seem a little scary with their rotting wood staircases up to the observation deck. But we all make it back with the exception of one boat that broke down and had to be towed back. Luckily it is not ours.

Modern junk
John on the junk

Ha Long Bay has 1969 islands and islets and is part of the Gulf of Tonkin. Its depth is around 90 feet and fishermen ply the waters fishing for squid, cod, grouper, and clams. Mostly, though, they are fishing for tourists. It is big business here. Although the islands look fairly close as we push off from the dock, it takes almost an hour to get to them as the boat goes really, really slowly. We are allowed up on the top deck but cannot stand in the middle since the driver sits in the back of the boat and needs to have a clear visual line to steer the boat. Finally we get to the islands and they are pretty fabulous. They jut up out of the sea and are covered with jungle-like foliage. Some have fanciful names. Since it is not sunny today the sea is a more of a somber blue-gray instead of a bright jade color.

Entering the islands of Ha Long Bay
Lush foliage on the islands
The islands go on and on
Mary and John selfie on the junk
More islands
This duck shaped island is aptly named Duck Island
This formation is called ‘Fighting Cocks” but it looks more like kissing hens to me
Taking the very slow trip back to port

At lunchtime there is a special Vietnamese cuisine presentation. It is especially bad. If you never have had Vietnamese cuisine you definitely would not want to eat it again after sampling the ship’s banh mi, pho, and fried rice with chicken. The banh mi is silken tofu with pickled vegetables. The vegetables are served with a lot of the pickling juice so that the roll is totally sogged out. There is also sriracha mayo. This horrible wet sandwich was inedible to me. The chicken with fried rice seemed more Chinese than Vietnamese and pho had weird noodles and no vegetables. Hopefully at some point we will actually get some authentic food from the local cuisines.

Poor John gets an oxtail spring roll from the buffet and encounters a large bone in it, over and inch long and probably half an inch in diameter. How did someone miss it.?! We told one of the chefs about it which will have repercussions tomorrow.

John in his traditional beer pose
Soggy banh mi, sad pho, and Chinese chicken

Later in the afternoon John goes to a presentation about the empires of Southeast Asia while I stay behind and take a nap. I am still having some trouble with jet lag and wake up in the wee hours of the night.

Our day finishes up with dinner at The Restaurant which John and I refer to as “the”. I stick with fish but John orders lamb curry. The server takes his order with the comment, Wow! We are not sure what she is wowing about.

Ha Long Bay and water puppets. 11/18/19

We get up early to see Ha long Bay in the first morning light. It is quite  overcast this morning so the jewel-like color are muted.  Nonetheless the limestone islets soaring up from the sea and topped with thick vegetation are pretty impressive. No wonder this area was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will explore the islands by junk tomorrow.

Some of the islands and islets in Ha Long Bay as we come into port
As the sun peeks through the sea takes on an aquamarine hue
Ha Long is a city with lots of building going on and a fairly new bridge

Today our main activity is a trip to a farming village where we meet a family, have tea with them, and see a water puppet show. Our guide, Moon, is pretty rah rah Vietnam is the best. These best things include pearls, coffee, pretty women, rice, fishing, and being invaded. The reason why they are best at being invaded? Because of all their other best things that everyone wants. But good on her for being proud of her country.

We travel through Ha Long Bay city where there are a lot of apartment buildings and hotels which seem pretty deserted. Maybe it is not the tourist season? It takes us about an hour to get to the village. There are only nine people on our tour which is great. There are rice paddies all around the village. It is the dry season now so the rice has been harvested. They will plant again in the spring. An older lady, Mrs. Pham, welcomes us to her house, gives us hot tea, and shows us around. She has a big genealogy tree on the wall showing how her family started out with one guy and now the family has over two hundred members. We are also invited to use their bathroom which, as feared, is not western style. There is also a giant spider on the wall. I decide not to brave the facilities or the spider.

Harvested rice paddy
Some fields planted and others harvested
Mrs. Pham welcomes us with tea
Mrs. Pham is 76 and lives with a cousin in their house which is 186 years old
John walking across the courtyard of the house
Mrs. Pham with her giant genealogy tree
A small section of Mrs. Pham’s family tree
Paying reverence to one’s ancestors is very important here. Mrs. Pham has an altar set up in her house.

After talking for a while we head over to the water puppet theater. The puppets are made out of jackfruit wood which is light and buoyant. After a short singing segment by two ladies in a rowboat, the water puppets appear in the water from behind a screen. The stories are about rural life—planting rice and catching fish. It is told in a humorous way. We are served watermelon and cake with tea. After this we head back to the ship. Moon suggests we might stop at a pearl place but I am falling asleep and not up for a forced buying demonstration. So I vote to veto the plan. Yay! The noes win!

We are served watermelon and cake while we watch the water puppet show
Two ladies singing in a boat
Two dragons in the water
Two men ploughing with oxen while two women plant rice

Later this evening we go to the Chef’s Table for dinner where we have a lovely dinner and a fine chat with the manager, chef, and sommelier. The manager tells us that we are his favorite couple and I tell him he is our favorite restaurant manager. Tonight’s dinner is Asian Panorama. All the portions are small so I feel like I can enjoy everything without feeling guilty.

A day at sea. 11/17/19

We depart Hong Kong just before the escalated trouble starts. Even though we did not see any demonstrations, trying to get from place to place was difficult. I imagine that the threatened, heavy-handed response by the Chinese government will only make matters worse.

We take off for Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, which I was informed by my friend, Rose, at the nail salon, is very beautiful and the site of the most recent King Kong movie. Tomorrow we will visit a rural farm, learn about rice cultivation, and see a water puppet show.  Originally we had booked a nine hour excursion to Hanoi on Monday only to find out that the nine hours are filled with 6 to 7 hours on a bus getting there and back. Too much bus time! We have also discovered that hand sanitizer and tissues have been left in our cabin to use for the less than hygienic bathroom situation on the excursions. (Oh, dear) Then on Tuesday we will board a junk for a ride among the limestone islands of Ha Long Bay.

We fritter Sunday away with dining, a port talk, and napping. The water is very calm not at all like our Atlantic crossing last year. I must publish at least one picture of our horrible meal last night. We go to the regular restaurant called The Restaurant, where we choose the “Destination Menu.” We really are hoping for some authentic Asian food. The menu consisted of a spicy shrimp appetizer  (which was not spicy) and Hainanese chicken. Below is a picture of the chicken.

Hainanese chicken

The chicken is a dry, bland, poached breast, with a pile of bland white rice, warm cucumber slices, and two bland sauces. It is laughably terrible. I am very sorry for the Hainanese people if this is what they eat!

A tour of Hong Kong. 11/16/19

Today we take a tour of Hong Kong. First we go up to Victoria peak. Originally we were supposed to take the tram but the protests have closed that avenue of transportation.  The views from this highest peak are amazing. Hong Kong is a tightly packed city of 7.5 million people mostly living in endless high rises. We spend some time walking around and taking pictures.  

View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak
John and the view
Mary, John, view selfie
John by Lion’s Gate
Galleria at top of peak. Stores still closed this early morning. Excellent American style bathrooms.

A note about bathrooms. When we were in China several years ago many of the bathrooms were Asian style (no toilet) and we women had to line up for the one American style toilet. I had read on the internet how to manage using an Asian style porcelain hole in the ground, practiced at home, and mastered it. But I find, several years older with knee problems, and I can no longer manage it. So finding American style toilets is a concern for me and most of the ladies on the bus. Fred, our tour guide, refers to bathrooms as “happy rooms”. At first I did not understand what he was talking about. Come on, Fred, it is 2019 we can hear the word toilet without swooning!

Fred (not his real name) Cheng, our guide

Next it is off to the Stanley Market and we are given about an hour and a half to look around. It is a warren of very small schlock shops. John and I know that shopping is not what we want to do so we wander around for a while and decide to kill some time at a pub and have a beer and an avocado toast. We spend a pleasant 45 minutes and then head back to the bus.

John in his traditional beer pose
I decide I should be in the picture too!
Avocado toast, so California!

Next up is a ride on a sampan. After our adventure on the Bosporus we should be wary. We take a ride around a small harbor in Aberdeen. As in Turkey, our captain speaks no English and often abandons the rudder to take pictures of the victims on the boat. At least on this boat ride we are not surrounded by super tankers! In the harbor there are lots of small working boats, luxury yachts, houseboats, and floating restaurants.

Not an inspiring sign!
Our captain
Enormous floating restaurant
Another sampan
The old and the new
John and Mary on the boat

After our ride we get stuck in the monumental traffic brought on by the protests. We are supposed to be back at 1:30 but it has taken an hour and a half to go about 10 miles due to the unrest which we do not see but feel the effects of.  Fred, who manages to talk the entire time, is concerned about the economic impact. There are many fewer tourists in Hong Kong. After finance tourism is the second largest industry. Fred is quite open and frank about the Chinese takeover in 1997. He says nothing much has changed. They still have freedom but no democracy.  However most of his family emigrated to the US and Canada before the handover. He seems kind of on the fence about the protesters.

We have missed lunch but wisely the Viking people have left one venue open for the returning guests. It is a giant scrum of people trying to get food. I eat whatever has the fewest number of people in front of it—some fish, rice, and the dreaded “seasonal vegetables.”

Later we have a safety drill and a face-to-face immigration inspection where some officials make sure we are the people in our passports. Finally we have dinner around 8PM. We meet the very congenial manager of the Chef’s Table who invites to come as often as we would like, the chef who wants us to be as happy as possible, and the lovely team of servers.  The Chef’s Table is a set menu with wine pairings. We have a nice dinner seated at a window with a view of the Hong Kong harbor light show.

John and wine glasses

It has been a very busy last couple of days with little sleep and we fall asleep immediately upon hitting our pillows. Nonetheless we only sleep for about 5 1/2 hours before jet lag catches up with us. Tomorrow is a day at sea and I imagine lots of napping.

Imagery Wine Dinner. 10/5/19

When we got to Imagery around 6PM we were surprised to see the parking lots totally full. I guess I was thinking this was a smaller affair. We were given a small pour of the 2017 White Burgundy (yum) and waded into the sea of people. We found some people at a table and put our stuff down so we would have enough hands to get some passed hors d’oeuvres (who doesn’t love passed hors d’oeuvres!) and some 2016 Barbera. There was also an olive oil tasting station, a guess the juice station, and a station about the artwork on the bottles.

Tables set up on the back lawn of Imagery Winery

 After standing around for a while we headed over to the table and met our dinner mates. At our table were a couple from Cleveland, a couple from Connecticut, and two ladies from Sarasota. It was a congenial group with this one guy, Dieter, and John doing a lot of the talking.

They poured a glass of 2016 Tusca Brava and one of 2016 Lagrein and dinner commenced. The first course was a salad of greens, a pear half, Gorgonzola, and walnuts in a Moscato dressing.  It was quite good. Now it seems that we were the last table being served and unfortunately between our serving position and the fact that the temperature was plummeting as it got darker everything was cold.

Pear and Gorgonzola salad

Sure, it was probably around 80 when we got there but by the time we went into the tasting room for dessert it was in the 50s. So maybe the food might have tasted better if it were warm. We had Cannelloni stuffed with crab, shrimp, and scallops topped with a vodka sauce. This was cold seafood mush inside cold pasta. I ate like one bite. We also had porchetta on a bed of roasted butternut squash, beets, and Brussels sprouts. Now it is quite dark and the first piece I took was a big cold piece of fat. Yuck! I tried to find some lean pieces but I would have needed a flash light. The vegetables were super good and so I mixed them in with the mushroom risotto which was also very good. Everything was served family style so nobody took too much to begin with which was good for my diet. John who eats anything ate my cannelloni and my meat so I was a member of the almost clean plate club.

Seafood cannelloni, porchetta, and risotto

I really had to increase the light on the main dish plate! For dessert there was gelato and a 2017 Primitivo. I had a scoop of pistachio which was really delicious like you were eating the nuts themselves and not too sweet. I ate half my scoop before passing it over to John.

The wines were great. The hors d’oeuvres were also very good and the salad was super tasty. I should have made myself a vegetarian plate out of the vegetables and the risotto which fared much better under the arctic conditions.

But it was fun! The people were interesting. The winemaker and her sister spoke. Jaime Benziger, the winemaker, was named to the 40 under 40 international wine makers and a bunch of other awards. Her brother who stopped by the table said that since she was a kid she helped out doing the scut jobs at first and then learning the whole business to become winemaker. Her sister runs the business end and their father, Joe, runs Benziger Winery nearby.


Boise, 9/12/19. Reno, 9/13/19. Home, 9/14/19.

On the 11th we drove all day to get to Boise. So not much time to hunt out things to write about although we did have lunch in Arco, Idaho, the first  town of nuclear energy, and that was pretty interesting. We listened to a waitress talk about how in 1955 their town was the first to have been totally lit up by nuclear power coming from reactors at the nearby Idaho National Laboratory. She remarked that now the lab was removing nuclear waste from the ground and putting it into containers where it wouldn’t leak out. Scary stuff, I’d say.

Photo from the internet

Take a look at this blog for more info about the area  https://idaho.for91days.com/arco-and-atomic-city/

Since we changed our plans we have to shuffle our hotels around and we cannot stay at the Residence Inn where we first booked in Boise. Instead we are staying at the Riverside Best Western Premiere which turns out to be not so premiere. I book the honeymoon suite since we like extra space and John is my honey. Unfortunately it is a rather dark suite that smells musty and whose bathroom is painted a rather unfortunate shade of dark brown.

Our room has a large whirlpool bath in the center of it!

On Thursday we are up early and ready to explore Boise! Since Boise is a state capital, the first place we visit is their be-domed building. Seriously, I will have to visit all 50 capitals to find out if there are any without domes! Idaho was admitted to the Union in 1890 and their building was completed in 1905. It’s architects went for a classical look. It has lots of columns. The three types—Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian are all represented. Atop its dome is a 5’7” eagle. We cannot find a parking space so I just run out and snap a picture and then hustle back into the car before the Capitol Cops can bother us.

Idaho Capitol in Boise

The plan for the rest of the day includes the Botanic Garden, the Old Penitentiary, and the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. We also want to drive around and look at the local architecture as well. The Botanic Garden and the Old Penitentiary are right next to each other so we decide to begin there.

But, no, it is not to be! Right next to these two tourist sites is the aptly named Outlaw Field, home to large scale gatherings. Tonight is a concert by Foreigner and everything is closed! We kind of look around on our own as much as we can and no one comes to throw us out. We are hoping for a sound check since they seem to be fussing around with the amps but no luck.

Stage for the Foreigner concert

The part of the Botanic Garden that we can see looks pretty scraggly. We think the better part must be behind the Foreigner stage. There is an interesting sculpture and something that looks like a mini-Stonehenge within our viewing area.

Reverse-Rebirth by Korean artist Han Seok Hyun uses discarded items and indigenous plants to create a tree-like organic sculpture
Stonehenge-ish arrangement of rock

Next we meander over to the nearby closed Old Penitentiary.  I am not sure why this is a tourist attraction. The Old Idaho Penitentiary functioned as a prison from 1872 to 1973.  The structure started out as single cell house in the Idaho Territory in 1870. It grew into several buildings surrounded by a 17’ sandstone wall. Since we cannot get in we take some pictures of the outer walls and buildings.

Most people would want to get out of jail but John wants to get in!
The 17’ wall and watchtower. The guards would have a pretty good view of the concert tonight!

After this is our drive-around time. Boise is much bigger than Helena. And in fact Idaho is the fastest growing state in the United States. The city has lots of important-looking buildings due to state government, an art museum, and a history museum. The history museum also backs up to Outlaw Field and we assume it is closed too. In the historic district are many Victorian and Craftsman style homes. The whole area is like a green island floating in the arid high desert.

We have frittered away the morning and early afternoon and I suggest we have hot dogs at Costco for lunch. John is all in. We find the Boise Costco and after a mild panic over whether either of us brought a Costco card along on the trip (I did!), head in for this yummy treat. In Boise a hot dog and a soda only costs $1.50! So for $3.00 we have a tasty lunch.

Costco hot dog!

After a small siesta we go back out to see the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. It is beautiful place of contemplation. All around are quotes from civil rights leaders, old and new. Boise seems an odd place for this memorial with its Declaration of Civil Rights and moving quotes since northern Idaho is a draw for the Aryan Nation and other white supremacist groups. Indeed, the memorial was vandalized in 2017. But contributions were raised to repair the damage. Perhaps this is a very apt place for the memorial and its center with outreach programs to schools and the community.

The Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial
Stone tablets

Later for dinner we walk over to Joe’s Crab Shack and have a very mediocre dinner.

There are no crabs in the Boise River

The last two days are a long trip through uninhabited country. In fact it is stunning to see how empty Montana, Idaho, and Nevada are. John and I have a long conversation in the car about how coming from a populous state such as California, Texas, or Florida cheapens your vote.

Maybe we could have made it all the way home on Friday but we stop in Reno for an overnight and finish up on Saturday. We dine in Winnemucca, Nevada on Friday for lunch and add Mexican to our list of cuisines.

Tacos with retried beans and rice

On this trip, along with good old American food, we have had Canadian, Thai, Ethiopian, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Vietnamese, and German food. We have enjoyed these ethnic cuisines a lot. Most of the rest of our dining has been pretty mediocre. We saw some great stuff and enjoyed our fellow travelers. I think we have thoroughly seen this part of the country with our several trips and next summer we will need to find something new to do.

I have so much love and gratitude for my traveling companion who did almost all the driving with my sometimes terrible navigation. John has an amazing breadth of knowledge and shares it with me as we travel along. I do give myself credit for planning a pretty busy trip. I book all the hotels, make dinner reservations and find interesting things to do. We make an excellent team.

This was a trip in celebration of John’s 70th birthday. I hope he and I can continue with our adventures for many years to come. Happy Birthday, John!