Saturday, April 29, 2023

Good Morning Viet Nam!.

Arriving in the very early morning hours we found ourselves in a monochrome world; one that even muted the sunrise. Good morning, Viet Nam! 

A muted sunrise on the Saigon River, Viet Nam

Because our cruise ship carried only 625 passengers, it was small enough to dock in Ho Chi Minh City. That meant we had a bit of a river cruise traveling up the Saigon River, at the break of day. Those enormous cruise ships can't make it up the river, so another plus for small ship cruising.

River traffic on the Saigon was fascinating.

This was the destination we had been waiting for on this 10-day Southeast Asian cruise. Aboard the Oceania Nautica, we'd set sail from Bangkok, Thailand and had visited Koh Samui, Thailand, then spent a day in Cambodia. We spent two days at sea thanks to stormy weather to our north and finally we were approaching Ho Chi Minh City, still called by some, Saigon.

The Saigon River, a journey in itself

One of my favorite parts of cruising is arriving at a port, especially one that we've never been to before. And this was certainly that! The everyday sights and sounds are every bit as interesting to us as are the 'tourist attractions' that await on land.  I guess we'd ascribe to the theory that in cruising, the journey is every bit as interesting as the destination itself. The Saigon River didn't disappoint.

Entering the mangrove lined river

Remembering 'that' war

The majority of our fellow cruisers were of the age to have lived through the Viet Nam war years. The Scout, on this journey, recalled his luck in having a military draft lottery number of 365, virtually an assurance he wouldn't be called to serve in the Southeast Asion conflict. I was a teenager who remembers the horrors that appeared in U.S. headlines. My memories of what had actually taken place here were as hazy as the atmosphere.

Along the Saigon River

For others on the ship, the memories of the war were much more vivid.  One of our fellow passengers, a Vietnamese lady, was returning back to visit her country. She had been one of the 'boat people' who had managed to escape.  

Another man, who had served in Viet Nam, stood next to us at the railing as we entered the river. He gazed out to sea as if seeing a scene from decades ago, and said, "We were out there. Our boat was out there. . .we saved 150 of them. . .they wouldn't have made it, had we not been there." 

A bridge under construction on the Saigon River

He then pulled out his wallet and retrieved a folded bill, a Vietnamese 'dong' as their currency is called. He showed it to us, saying, 'I've carried this with me since then.' He gave it a final glance, folded it up and tucked it and the memories it held back in his wallet and then continued to gaze at the sea. 

Up a Hazy and Polluted River

I'll admit that we've become spoiled by the crystal clear, deep blue and green waters that surround us in our adopted country, Greece. Some days the clearness and color intensity stop us in our tracks - so beautiful, that it doesn't look real, as in the photo below:

So you can imagine our reaction to the Saigon River pollution. I took this shot and several others of the free-floating debris that we traveled through to reach the dock. It seemed endless. While motor vehicles and scooter pollution contribute to a hazy - polluted - atmosphere at times, we lucked out and had blue skies. 

But the polluted river has so many sources of contamination that it doesn't seem to stand a fighting chance at clearing up anytime soon.

A current of garbage making its way to sea

Since returning and preparing to write this post, I have been reading about the sad state of the Saigon River -- actually, somewhat startling, in this day and age of world-wide environmental focus. There are so many sources of pollution it is mind-numbing.  Industrial, agricultural and population-generated waste are all blamed for the river's pollution.  Most recent articles about the city say leaders are 'looking at' the waste problem - sadly, none report any actions being taken.  

Pollution in the Saigon River

We docked some three hours after entering the river. Our stay in this city of about nine million people was for the better part of three days. By the second day the ship was asking guests to conserve water because they were not taking on water here.  I can see why!

One morning as we made our way into the city, we saw a shop owner vigorously sweeping the waste that had accumulated on the sidewalk in front of his small business. It was an admirable effort until he swept the containers and garbage into the storm water drain instead of putting them in a garbage can!

Approaching Ho Chi Minh City

While our introduction to this amazing city was a bit off-putting due to the pollution and haze, it was a fabulous stop in a most amazing city. It exceeded my expectations tenfold. We are both saying a return visit will be in order. Next post will focus on all that is stunningly beautiful in this, the largest city in Viet Nam.

Until then thanks for joining us today.  Wishes for happy and safe travels to you and yours~

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Adrift in the South China Sea

 Adrift, is probably too strong a word. As in reality, we simply sailed in circles for a couple of days.

Tender at the side of our Nautica ship

We were sailing from Cambodia to Nha Trang, our first stop in Viet Nam, on a 10-day Southeast Asian adventure aboard Oceania's Nautica. But when we checked the ship's navigational map, it appeared our ship was headed back the direction from which we had come. We joked with others at breakfast that someone had better tell the captain we were supposed to be going the other way.

Blue line shows our circling the South China Sea

Turns out the captain got the last laugh. We were going just the way he intended. The morning announcements confirmed we were going back the way we came as we were getting away from the storm and rough seas that would prevent our visit to Nha Trang. As the blue line on the map above indicates we didn't move very far either direction for a time.

Instead of one day at sea, we'd have two. Now we both like sea days, but when the selling point of the cruise had been two stops in Viet Nam, the news, I will admit, was disappointing. 

Koh Samui tenders were open to the sea and sun

But the port we were skipping was a' tender port'; one that requires the ship to anchor some distance out at sea, passengers descend a portable stairway attached to the side of the ship and board small boats that take them back and forth between the port and ship. 

Sometimes the shuttle runs in those 'lifeboat' tenders that dangle at the side of the ship and other times they are provided by the port. In Koh Samui, Thailand, we had colorful Thai tenders that opened to both the sea and the sun.   

Our ship at sea in a tender port, Koh Samui, Thailand

Neither of the small boat options would be good in a storm when the ship is a healthy distance from the shore.

View from the Nautica Horizon's Lounge

It was a good reminder that the best laid travel plans don't always work out, especially when traveling on the sea and subject to the whims of Mother Nature and the weather gods.   The nice thing about being on a cruise ship with such an itinerary change was not having to scramble to find an additional night's accommodations nor change airline tickets. 

For two days, the ship and the sea would be our world.

Days at Sea. . .

In today's cruise world, our ship with just more than 600 passengers, is considered small.  Yet, it came with a choice of dining venues (fine dining to grilled hot dogs and milk shakes), there was musical entertainment, a small casino, theater, movies, lectures, cooking demonstrations, and a wonderful wood-paneled library where you could spend hours. 

Staying on board was not tough duty.

Morning coffee on our cabin's deck - a daily event

We didn't completely avoid that storm and our ship was rocked both evenings of our sea days with wind and waves. Think of a cradle rocking from side to side and you've got an idea of the motion.  It was not frightening, but somewhat upsetting to those who don't have strong stomachs - luckily, we aren't among those folks.

Sun and sea beaconed on those sea days

The weather was hot, usually in the 80F to 90F, or 26 - 32C, range.  The chaise lounges at poolside called out to many of our fellow passengers. 

Our cabin - Oceania Nautica

We opted for the comfort of our cabin where we'd grab one of several books we'd purchased along the way and spend most of the afternoon reading.   

One of our delightful crew members

A highlight of any cruise for us is getting to know members of the staff. . . and sea days certainly give you time to visit with staff.  All of the service and hospitality personnel are primarily young people from all over the world. They are eager to talk about their families and the countries from which they come.  Their home country used to be printed on their name tags, but Oceania has quit doing that for whatever reason.  

A favorite Happy Hour waitress was from the Philippines. The ship's next cruise segment would get her back to the Philippines and afford her a day-long visit with family - she was thoroughly excited.  But, the 28-year-old, added, she was in her eighth contract on the ship. She'd begun with the idea of doing a single six-month contract and had liked it so well, she found herself signing up for more.

Senior Staff introduced at the Captain's Cocktail Party - guess the Chef

There is usually one staff member who stands out above all others for us and on this cruise, it was Aye.  This livewire seemed to work 24/7 behind the buffet counter. Always full of life, she was calling out greetings and flashing her smile whether she was serving early morning breakfast or late-night buffet.  

My name is Aye, that is A not I

'My name is Aye,' she explained one morning, 'That is A not I.' Aye hails from Myanmar. And that is all that I learned about her as her job serving at the buffet didn't allow much chat time. However, in that brief name discussion I told her I was Jackie.  From that point on she no longer greeted me as 'Ma'am' but flashed her smile and would call out, 'Miss Jackie'.  

Aye charmed us all

One evening in Viet Nam, she was dressed in a traditional Vietnamese outfit to help serve a special Asian Buffet dinner.  While always adorable, on that particular night she was simply stunning. I asked if I could take her photo and if I could share it with my friends on social media.  I stopped her in her tracks, she was so flattered: 'Oh Miss Jackie, you want my photo? Of course!' 

Early on I predicted that with her personality and skills, that we would likely have her as a cruise director one day. As our cruise went on, I changed the prediction: this young woman may well be the company's CEO one day!

And with the photos of Aye against a backdrop of Ho Chi Minh City, you have probably figured out that we eventually arrived in Viet Nam. HCMC was stunning and will be my focus next time around! Hope to have you back again and bring some friends with you! Until then wishes for smooth sailing to you and yours~

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Gasperetti's - A Taste of Home

 My taste of home arrived at our village post office last Friday. 

My taste of home

Exactly one month after it began its journey from my hometown, Yakima, Washington, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, it arrived in our adopted home in the rural Greek Peloponnese. 

Melt-in-your-mouth meatballs

'Gasperetti's, The Story of The Restaurant' was published as a tribute to the long-time Yakima business and the family for whom it is named. The restaurant is a part of Yakima Valley history, having been operated over a span of nearly 70 years, in two locations, by two generations of the Gasperetti family. It closed in 2020.

From the book, a menu, circa 1945

I liken the book to a multi-course meal at 'The Restaurant' (as it was called in its day). Its appetizer course is the opening chapter; a history that takes the reader back to the family's culinary roots in Tuscany, Italy. The main course consists of some 65 mouthwatering recipes for those favorite dishes that were once served at The Restaurant, now adjusted for home-sized cooking.  Sweet memories prompted by its photos was a most fitting dessert. 

Thursday nights Crab Cannelloni Nights

I was surprised by not only the hunger pangs it prompted, but the emotions as well. It was a shot of nostalgia, and memories both for the restaurant and the town.  It had been 'the place to go' when celebrating life's special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, or even the end of an ordinary work week. It was at this restaurant where we gathered with our close friends a few years ago to celebrate our move to Greece.

Gasperetti's Comes to Greece

John Gasperetti and the book

News of the book's publication many months ago had me contacting my now FB friend, John Gasperetti, about ordering a copy. I'd finally decided the logistics of doing it from Greece were too difficult and I'd risk waiting until my next trip to the States to get a copy. I was hoping it wouldn't be sold out.

Postage to Greece is outrageous

Then came a message from my college roommate and forever friend, Mary. She said a parcel was headed my way. She provided a tracking number, but its contents remained a secret.  

She and I both began tracking the parcel two weeks into its journey. By then, it had reached Athens. In fact, it had shipped from Athens five days before the day I checked on it- but to where, I wasn't sure. The travel time between Athens and here is about four hours, certainly not days. . .

Nikos, the unflappable clerk at our small village post office, checked his computer. He told me it had shipped from the Post Office to Customs in Athens. He speculated, that maybe it had, or maybe it hadn't gotten there; maybe it had or maybe hadn't been shipped. . .or maybe it had gotten there, and no one recorded it. Bottom line, it was in a Black Hole somewhere.  Another 10 days and we'd have to start some sort of process to find it, he advised.

But what did it mean?

Its whereabouts got murkier when I checked on it this week and found signs of movement, I just wasn't sure what they meant. So back to Nikos I went. He frowned at the news of 'held in customs' because that could mean a hefty customs fee. 

Then he flashed a big smile and said, "Oh! My computer says it is here. Yes, it came Friday!"  He reached to a shelf a few feet from his chair and there it was - my taste of home!  As I've written before, getting mail in Greece is always an adventure.

Stirring the Italian travel bug

Besides taking me on a trip down Memory Lane, the book stirred our collective travel bug.

Borgo a Buggiano Italy

The family's culinary roots stretched back in time to a small village in Tuscany. 

 '. . .the family culinary skills were first showcased when, in 1800, the first Mario Gasperetti earned the praise of Pope Pius VII for his superior chicken cacciatore'.  

'In 1906,' the book continues, 'Mario's great-great-grandson Angelo Gasperetti arrived at Ellis Island in New York City from the small village of Borgo a Buggiano, northwest of Florence, Italy.'

The Gasperetti 'roots' in Borgo a Buggiano

'Near Florence!' I exclaimed as I was reading the passage to The Scout. 'Let's go visit that village the next time we are in Italy!' The Scout was already looking it up on a map of Italy. The village, it turns out, is between Lucca, where we now have friends living, and Florence, a favorite of ours! (Since we are less than a two-hour flight from Italy these days, a quick trip might just be in the offing!)

The Arno - Florence, Italy

Over the years of dining at the restaurant we came to know John and his sister Jean who operated 'The Restaurant' that opened in 1966 while I was still in elementary school. Their parents, Mario and Minnie, had operated the original Gasperetti's from 1943 until 1960 at another location.

John Gasperetti and his sister Jean Gasperetti Lemki

Let's Eat!

The cookbook is a tribute to an Italian family and the mark they've left on the culinary scene in Washington State. I know people who used to travel across the state from the Seattle area just to dine at this Yakima landmark.  A visit back to Yakima for us certainly wasn't complete without dinner at The Restaurant. 

The recipes, while predominantly Italian, also include those that spotlight Yakima's agricultural base, like the Broiled Yakima Pear Salad. Others carry names of restaurant patrons, friends and family.  Brad's Avocado and Dungeness Crabmeat Salad is named for John's husband, Brad Patterson, the restaurant's long-time creative culinary artist and chef. Brad joined the Gasperetti's team back in 1966 at age 19.

Note: Kalamata olives in this recipe!

As I was reading through the recipes, the one above stopped me in my tracks! Back in our Yakima days, I'd never have any more imagined Gasperetti's closing, than I'd have imagined us living in and growing Kalamata olives in Greece.  Yet, both have happened! I've decided this Chicken Cacciatore will be the first dish I make and will use our Greek home grown and oil-cured olives in in it. 

My homegrown and cured Kalamata olives

Thanks for indulging in my trip down memory lane and joining me for a taste of home. I will resume tales of Southeast Asia in my next post.  How about you? Any similar restaurants located on your Memory Lane?  Any cookbooks that sparked a taste of home?

And for those of you who want a copy of this book, they are available from Gasperetti's Floral Design, 5833 Summitview Ave., Yakima, Washington, 98908. Details and ordering information from: or the FB page, Gasperetti's Floral. 

Until next time. . .


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...