The next morning, Craig was feeling even better. This was great, as today was our last day in Vietnam, and we wanted to enjoy it. We woke up at 6:30 a.m., took showers, and headed down to breakfast at 8 o'clock.
We stopped in at Spices Garden. If Nhung was working the breakfast shift, we would eat at her restaurant today. We asked the hostess if Madame Nhung was here. The hostess got a worried look and asked if everything was alright. We smiled and said that we were her husband's clients, and that we had just wanted to say hello. She was relieved that we weren't looking for the manager with a complaint. She told us that Madame Nhung had the day off today, and offered to call her for us. We thanked her and said that was not necessary, and headed over to La Beaulieu for breakfast.
We had a delightful breakfast of fresh fruit, homemade yogurt, fresh-baked baguettes, flan, cheese, bacon and sausage, banana bread, dumplings, fresh orange juice, and coffee. Craig had regained his appetite and enjoyed it all, though he stayed away from anything greasy. We love the atmosphere of the dining room and the service was phenomenal, as usual at the Metropole.
Cuong arrived in the dining room at 9 o'clock. He had called our room this morning and got no answer. He thought that was a good sign that we were up and about, so he enjoyed breakfast at home with Nhung and then came over to meet us. When he walked into the restaurant and saw Craig at the breakfast table, he was absolutely beaming. It was obvious that he had been quite worried and was so relieved to see that Craig was feeling better. He sat with us and enjoyed some coffee and orange juice. We were all looking forward to dinner at Cuong and Nhung's house tonight, so we decided it would be best for us to just take it easy for the day, and save our energy for the evening. After finishing breakfast, we said goodbye to Cuong, with plans for him to pick us up in the lobby at 5:30 p.m.
Craig and I wandered around the hotel, admiring the art on display. We studied paintings by Dang Van Quynh as well as Thanh Chuong, among others. Then we decided to take a little walk. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday, and we had yet to explore the area around the hotel on foot. There were two vintage cars parked outside the entrance to the Metropole. They could be hired for drives around the city. We walked around the block and were amazed at the number of bridal parties who were getting their pictures taken outside the hotel. We saw at least a dozen. It is clearly a popular backdrop for wedding photos!
Sme young women were approaching any foreigners in the vicinity and asking them to buy some matchbooks for the Red Cross. They showed their credentials, which looked authentic, but something seemed off. They told people to donate what they wanted, but if they did receive a donation, they hassled the people to donate even more. And they never gave anyone a matchbook. It seemed very suspicious.
Everyone seemed to be out and about, enjoying the gorgeous, sunny weather, and we enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the city. As we walked past parks, we saw more bridal parties getting their photos taken. It sure was a gorgeous day for a wedding. The Hanoi Opera House is an exquisite French colonial building, constructed between 1901 and 1911. Its architecture is modeled on the Palais Garnier in Paris. Its exterior is yellow, the royal color which the French had appropriated from the Vietnamese Nguyen dynasty. The traffic situation in front of the opera house was unbelievable. Two large streets of multiple lanes came to an intersection. Not only was there no traffic light, there were not even any traffic signs warning anyone to stop, yield, or at the very least be extremely cautious. Here, cars, buses, and motorbikes just drove through simultaneously, without even tapping the brakes. It seemed as well-choreographed as any ballet that might take place within the opera house itself!
We passed a plaza with a statue of Ly Thai To, who is known for relocating the imperial capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long (modern day Hanoi) in 1010 A.D. Once again the sheer history of the Vietnamese culture was staggering. Hanoi has been the capital for over a thousand years!! Families were rollerblading along the plaza near the statue.
The hotel is in a great location, and we only had to walk for a couple of blocks to arrive at the picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake. The lake is known as the Lake of the Restored Sword because an ancient turtle is said to have presented King Le Thai To a magic sword in the 15th century which helped him to win a 10-year war against the Chinese. After his victory, he returned the sword to the turtle. Cuong had told us that a large, old turtle lives in the lake to this day, and that he has photographed it.
People were out on their motorbikes and cars. We saw golf carts full of people taking a scenic tour of the city. A group of young Vietnamese men said hello to us and asked us where we were from. Everyone was so friendly, and we appreciated their interest. As it approached noon, the sun was very hot, and we were quite thirsty. We stopped at a little souvenir stand to buy Fantas for $1 each. We walked along the lake front down towards the iconic red Rising Sun Bridge (aka The Huc, or Morning Sunlight Bridge), which was familiar from every travel television show we had seen featuring Hanoi. It is a wooden footbridge which leads to the Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain), which sits on a small island in the lake. It was very picturesque.
We passed some public art on display. One interesting piece depicted the earth being held up by two hands, with a white dove perched on top of the earth. Vietnam appeared oversized on the front of the globe. The statue was surrounded by topiaries shaped like dragons. Beautiful flowers were growing out of decorative tree stumps. An ambulance drove by, and Craig and I thought of how far we had come in the past 36 hours as we snatched a picture of it.
We were out during the hottest part of the day, and I felt like I was starting to overheat. Craig was finally getting his energy back, and was enjoying the exercise. But I was starting to feel dehydrated. My body was finally coming down from the state of manic hypervigilance that I had needed to maintain while Craig was sick. I had stayed mentally strong for him, but if I wasn't careful, I could succumb to dehydration as well. I had inadvertently put my needs on the backburner, and we didn't want me to get sick right before our long journey home. So we headed back to the hotel. Our roles from the last 2 days were reversed as I sat in the air conditioned lobby while Craig went out to buy water. A few doors down, he found a small shop where a very friendly and helpful lady sold him two large bottles of water at 50 cents each. She showed him other items that she thought he might be interested in, but he was eager to deliver some water to me, so he politely declined.
When he got back to the lobby, we went up to our room and added Gatorade powder to our water bottles to help with rehydration. We set the air conditioner to a cool temperature so that we would be comfortable while packing our luggage for tomorrow's flight. We organized all of our clothing and purchases and started to pack them away. We wrote a few more postcards, and I went down to the front desk to mail them. When I got back to the room, my skirt got caught on something as I was walking, and it ripped. I was disappointed, as I had planned to wear it to Cuong and Nhung's house for dinner tonight. Craig remembered having seen a sewing kit in the bathroom along with the other myriad of amenities provided by the hotel. He was right. When I opened the sewing kit, I found that all of the needles were even pre-threaded! This hotel truly had everything you could possibly want or need. I quickly stitched up the rip in my skirt, happy that it would be able to make it through one last night.
At 5:15 p.m., we went down the the lobby. Cuong arrived shortly before 5:30, and led us out to the car. When Mr. Giang saw Craig up and about for the first time, he ran over to him with a huge smile and gave him a great big bear hug. We were very happy to learn that Mr. Giang would be joining us for dinner as well. Tonight would truly be a celebratory dinner, the perfect way to cap off the trip with friends who already seemed like family.
Mr. Giang drove us down the main road past the Millennial mosaic wall. He turned off the busy street and we suddenly found ourselves in a quiet, tree-lined cul de sac. Cuonng and Nhung live in a gorgeous tall, narrow rowhouse with three balconies overlooking a courtyard. It is in he heart of the city, but feels much more rural. The location is fantastic!
Nhung greeted us at the door and led us inside for a cup of tea. Cuong presented us with a bag of goodies - a Vietnamese cookbook ("equal opportunity," Cuong said with a laugh), some tea and G7 3-in-1 coffee left over from the boat, and a stack of around 80 color prints of photos from our trip. We flipped through the photos together. He really is an amazing photographer, and it was nice to be going home with physical prints that we could show people. There were a lot of great shots of Craig and me together, something that is usually lacking when one or the other of us is always the one behind the camera. Such a thoughtful gift! And he even included a print of the large turtle he had photographed in the past at Hoan Kiem Lake, so that we got a chance to see it.
Cuong and Nhung's 14-year old son Phong arrived home and introduced himself. We had heard so much about him from Cuong over the course of the trip. It was so nice to finally get to meet him. He was very polite, intelligent, and sociable. Soon we were called upstairs to the dine-in kitchen for dinner. Nhung gave Craig a Ha Noi beer in a festive can decorated for Tet. The can had an old-school pull tab that we haven't had in the U.S. for about 30 years. (In fact, although Craig remembers them from childhood, I think they had already switched over to the modern style ones by the time I was cognizant of such things). When Nhung learned that I am allergic to beer, she sent Phong to the store to buy a bottle of Coke. They are so thoughtful!
Nhung delivered more and more food to the table: beef and noodles, spring rolls, noodle salad, beef jerky, chicken with broth and mushrooms, and greens. It was absolutely delicious! Craig fully had his appetite back, and was able to enjoy every bite. Home-cooked delicacies such as these were a perfect conclusion to our culinary experiences in Vietnam.
Mr. Giang had brought the leftover rice wine from the boat, which was in a plastic yellow gasoline jug. Nhung insisted that this was not a suitable vessel for serving company, so she poured some into a fancy porcelain decanter. Cuong poured us each a shot, and we all toasted, "Chuc suc khoe!"
Cuong and Nhung's elder son Kien arrived fresh from winning a soccer match and joined us at the table. It was nice to meet him as well. He had planned to bring his wife and baby daughter, but the baby was teething and running a fever. A family friend nicknamed Andy arrived. He had gone to school in the Boston area, living with a host family in Roslindale. We discussed the possibility of Phong coming to the U.S. to study. He is a good student and his English is fantastic. Who knows what the future may bring?
The rice wine was flowing liberally, and the whole family kept saying that the only time Cuong drinks like this is when he is with his brothers-in-arms from the war. Cuong said it just proved that we had bonded, like family. When pouring a round of rice wine, Cuong fumbled the lid of the decanter and broke it. We all playfully teased him, saying that maybe Nhung should have left the rice wine in the plastic gas can after all!
Phong had made cupcakes for dessert. They were delicious. We showed the family our small photo album that we had brought from home: photos of our house and our families, hoping that one day they will be able to visit and meet them in person. We had very lively conversation and many laughs. We truly felt like we were kindred spirits with Cuong's family, and we took many photos to commemorate our farewell dinner.
At 8 o'clock, Mr. Giang drove us home, and Kien went along for the ride. He accompanied us into the lobby, wanting to make sure that we safely got into the elevator. It wasn't necessary, as the hotel is very safe, but it was very sweet of him and we appreciated the fact that he was intent on taking care of us. When we arrived at our room, the turndown service had already been completed. Our bedtime pastry was different tonight; it resembled a toasted marshmallow. As usual, it was delicious, though we didn't know what it was called. We laid out our clothes for tomorrow and finished getting everything packed for our long journey home. By 11 o'clock, we were ready for bed.
Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
Wedding photos in front of the Metropole
Hanoi Opera House
Rising Sun Bridge, Hoan Kiem Lake
Wedding photo in front of the Turtle Tower, Hoan Kiem Lake
Sculpture near Hoan Kiem Lake
Cuong and Nhung's house
Delicious dinner at Cuong and Nhung's
Craig, Cuong, Phong, Kien, Steph, Nhung
Mr. Giang, Cuong, and Steph
Kien, Cuong, Craig, Steph, Nhung, Phong