New Orleans: Shopping

Firstly, we’ve had more views in the last two days than in the last two weeks so your attention obviously has to be bought with interesting postcards, I get it now. Hussies! I’ll go mail those postcards today… or tomorrow. Sometime soon, anyhow. Winners were: Katrisse, Nicolette (send me your new address on fb!), Izaac, Nikki U, Sarah and my dog (don’t ask). Which means I have to go buy at least one more postcard so that I don’t disappoint my dog. So if anyone else wants one just say.

So, shopping! I’ve tried to put aside some money this year for shopping in the US. I’d heard things were cheaper here than in Europe and better quality than in Asia. Not that I haven’t bought stuff elsewhere, but that was mostly accidental *cough*Turkey*cough*. I had a proper list of things to buy here and I’ve made some decent inroads.

First up was make up. I’m not a huge make up person but my favourite brand, due to their super bright colours, is MAC. Turns out it’s half the price here than it is in Australia. Win! I spent .. well, no need to know how much precisely, but quite a bit in a MAC store in New York, and more in Sephora. I’ve said on FB that I’ll take orders if people want me to bring things home and a few people have already asked. I’ll pick up more stuff in LA or San Francisco.

I also lost all my make up that I’d brought travelling. Oh no, that meant buying all new stuff! Woe is me!

Thankfully I found nice people in the stores to help me with things like foundation and powders and whatnot… there’s nothing like buying makeup to make me feel like I am about 12 years old. Beyond eyeliner and mascara I have no idea what I’m doing.

Shoes were another thing on the list. I’m also not a shoe person – in fact I’ve reached that age where finding a pair that is just right means I’ll probably buy 5 pairs just so I don’t ever run out or have to go shopping again, but there’s lots of things available here that either can’t be bought at home or are far cheaper here so I’ve bought a pair of ‘Joker’ converse high tops and I’m looking for a few other pairs of shoes that are fun rather than sensible.

Now fancy clothes are something I love and the range of sixties/rockabilly/steampunk stuff in New Orleans is very impressive. I’ve bought three fabulous dresses for swing dancing and a steampunk skirt, each piece was under $100 but would definitely be double that at home. And the fabric and patterns they have here I’ve never seen before. So much temptation!

Things white people love = vintage style clothing with modern prints.

We’ve ended up staying an extra day in New Orleans so I might just head down to the boutique shops one more time before we leave…


I have so much to write about that I barely know where to start.

So many pretty flowers in London.

First of all, turns out my laptop is completely dead. I am quite sad about this, and as I remember things that are on it that are important I will no doubt become more sad. Photos aren’t too much of an issue because most of the photos I’ve taken are either on my camera, Luke’s computer (which I’m currently using) or a memory stick that I transferred a bunch of albums to a few weeks ago. Not everything will be there but the very best are on flickr too so hopefully not too much is lost. When I think that I have less than 10 photos remaining from my whole previous two year trip to the UK I have to admit that really things aren’t that bad.

Andrew has very kindly ordered me a new hard drive and he and Luke will install it when it arrives tomorrow and I swear I will be more diligent in backing everything up. For at least a month or two.

So, to catch up on the things I’ve missed recording so far.


About a week and a half ago on a Friday Luke and I drove to London to meet up with Rowan and Kerry, friends from Melbourne. We had our first decent drive in Van Falen and it went pretty smoothly. As we’d be picking up Mum from Heathrow on the Monday morning and parking in London is crazy, we left the van at the airport and then caught the train into the city. We met up with Rowan and Kerry without incident and our first stop was Camden Markets.

Camden High Street.

If you’ve never been to Camden and you like alternative clothes, art and counter-culture then definitely go. The shops sell everything, from cheap t-shirts to vintage dresses (I bought a dress that looked like it would belong in an Austin Powers movie), there’s hippy clothes, both classic and classy, amazing leather bags, goth and lolita, moroccan glassware, nepalese furnishings and my old favourite, cyber-rave wear.

And the mecca of cyber clothing is Cyber Dog.

When I’d been there 10 years ago it was a big store with a dj and dancefloor in the foyer. These days it’s even bigger. The shop assistants still dress like Bladerunner extras and there’s dancers on podiums in the foyer too. There’s also a queue to get in. It was kinda nuts but fun to check out. Lots of uv stuff and novelty items. I’m not sure who’s wearing all this gear these days but there’s lots of people looking at it in the store. We weren’t supposed to take photos but I got some sneaky footage which will eventually make it into a video.

We wandered around some more shops then headed to the British National Gallery because Kerry was keen to show Rowan and I was happy to go. The BNG is one of my favourite galleries ever. Brilliant collection, gorgeous building, free… what’s not to like? We walked around fairly quickly, stopping at favourites, then met Matt outside.

Matt had come down from Nottingham to meet us and we’d planned to have a night out partying. I suppose the lesson we learned was that, if you’re planning a night out in a city and none of you actually lives there, a bit of planning is in order. None of us had really checked out what was going on and so we had dinner, dropped stuff off to the hotel room and then headed out into Soho. By the time we got out the pubs were closed and the clubs were full. Despite this just walking around was fun and it was great to catch up. The hotel room was big enough for us all to sit comfortably so we ended up having a bit of a party there.

Rowan and Kerry caught a night bus back to her parents’ and Luke, Matt and I got a decent amount of sleep.

The next morning we walked back over to Leicester Square. Matt knew a great Malaysian restaurant, nothing fancy but great food. I wished we’d gone there the previous night instead of opting for mediocre Italian. Then it was M&M’s World, which is just around the corner.

We hadn’t really planned to go but it was right there. Plus I like chocolate a little bit. The staff at M&M’s World were super-dooper-almost-frighteningly friendly. I took lots of photos and, miraculously, didn’t buy myself any chocolate. I did buy some for other people though. Which I haven’t sent yet. So it might be for me.

As a reward for not buying any chocolate I bought myself several Fry’s Chocolate Orange Bars in a newsagent straight after. These are the best chocolate bars in the world and, while you can get them in Australia they are never perfect – always broken and sticky or with that white fat bloom on them that you get when chocolate heats then cools. I got to eat these ones sitting in the sun by the Thames surrounded by tulips. Probably the best place ever.

After that we walked along the Thames and checked out what was going on, which was quite a bit because it was the weekend. Lots of buskers and people being statues (god knows why anyone would do this out of choice), pretty carnival rides and interesting things to look at.

London merry-go-round.

Matt and Luke take a break.

Soon enough it was time to say goodbye to Matt and then head back to the Heathrow Hilton where, instead of having an early night in preparation for meeting my mum at 5:30am the next morning, we stayed up til late watching a terrible movie on the tv. It had Vince Vaughn and Jason Bateman in it and it was about 3 couples who go to an island to repair their marriages. When I read that sentence back I’m not sure why we watched any of it, let alone the whole thing til the end. I can only claim, in my defence, that after 15 years of not owning a television I find them hypnotic. Trust me, it’s a thing.

The next morning, since Mum’s flight got in at 5:30 we thought we’d get to their airport at 6 since customs takes a while and baggage takes a while. Well, turns out they don’t take a while. Waiting for someone who has already gone through takes ages, however. Eventually we worked out that she was already back at the hotel and met up, me feeling quite flustered that I’d messed up the first hour of Mum’s trip. Mum didn’t mind at all – she’s pretty much unflappable – and then we hit the road and headed for Wales. The rest of the journey is recorded in a previous post. Suffice to say, we saw lots of amazing countryside and made it to Ireland largely without incident. Unless you count a flat battery as an incident. Which I do.

Windy days and long hair do not for good photography make.

Farewell Hoi An, Hello Saigon.

Our last full day in Hoi An was a busy one. I spent the morning doing a cooking course by myself, that is, without Luke but with about 10 other people – 4 English backpackers and an Indian/Malay family with a couple of little girls.

I was picked up from our hotel by taxi and then joined the rest of the group at the local Hoi An markets for a tour and to buy the food we would cook in our class. The markets were colourful and interesting but our translator and guide was a fairly young girl who hadn’t been doing the job long and could not even tell me how much a bread roll cost. She said she’d never bought one, which I found rather surprising. She had to ask the man who was with us, who was doing all the actual buying but didn’t speak English. Turns out they should cost about 3,000 dong (about 15c AUD). Interesting, considering we’d been paying between 10 and 20,000 per roll in Hanoi. It’s hard not to get the feeling that you can’t trust anyone when you’re being charged more than 3 times the proper price. The next day Luke and I tried a new strategy – walk up with the amount you’re willing to pay in your hand and ask for the amount you want and the sight of cash seems to work much better than asking ‘how much?’ and getting told an astronomical figure. It just takes a while to work out what is an appropriate amount to offer.

Anyhoo, from the market we boarded a boat that seemed to be furnished with bolted-down dining chairs and headed down the river for 45 minutes. There was a reasonable amount to see but it would’ve been nice to have some information about the industry we were passing and the history of the area. Our guide mainly played with her phone.

We got out of our boat amid a plantation of water coconuts and got into two smaller canoes and were paddled a bit further between the palms, getting a closer look at the trees and the grungy slicks of god-knows-what on the surface of the river. It was nice and peaceful though and I spotted some fish in the water. Fish in Vietnam must be the aquatic equivalents of cockroaches considering the filth they survive in.

Our next stop was a hut where we tried our hands at milling, threshing and grinding rice to produce rice milk by traditional methods. I found that pretty interesting – a lot of very hard work! We collected the rice milk to use in one of the dishes we were going to make.

Last stop was behind the hut and through some vegetable gardens. A large open air structure thatched with palm leaves but, thankfully, containing some powerful fans. It was stinking hot weather. Not so bad on the river but where we were was stifling. I’d brought my fan and got some envious looks when I pulled it out. If you’re traveling to Asia (or anywhere, I guess) in Summer I highly recommend having one on you at all times. They makes a huge difference.

Our 4 dishes:

Vietnamese spring rolls.

The emphasis here was on presentation.

Vietnamese crepes.

The crepe mix was primarily rice milk and coconut cream. It was very much like a taco shell that we filled with delicious, crunchy salad greens. Would love to make this when I get home.

Beef salad.

We made a beef stock and then added spices and poured it over the cold noodles. Delicious!

Pho Bo (beef noodle soup)

A staple of the Vietnamese diet and particularly tasty when you cook it yourself. So easy!

We watched a chef prepare each dish then had our own station to go back to for practice. We got to eat everything straight away (yay!) and there were lots of breaks to chat and drink the endless refills of passionfruit juice.

We headed home in a taxi (much faster) and I really enjoyed the whole experience. It could only have been improved with more information and better English on behalf of our guide but she was extremely friendly and positive so that makes up for a lot.

On my return to Hoi An I dashed to AoBaBa for one of my many fittings and then to Yali for my coat. I got dirty looks at Yali for being many hours later than they asked but there was nothing I could do. To cut a long story short, my coat was finished that evening and looked fantastic. Possibly a tiny bit tight (if worn with several layers) but that’s more motivation to lose the weight I’ve put on this year.

The gob-smackingly superb building that houses AoBaBa. It’s very old (over 500 years) but maintained beautifully and shows what a strong influence Chinese and Japanese culture had on the town, which was once the greatest trading port in eastern Asia. This is one of two courtyards in the building.

I had my last fitting at AoBaBa the next morning and was extremely pleased with the results. I’d taken a steampunk-ish styled pattern to them and I think they really enjoyed making it. Certainly Kathy (my fitter and sales assistant) was visibly excited about me trying on the finished product and took a photo and called all the other girls over to have a look when it was done, telling me that she had never made anything like it before. That was nice! If you’re reading this and thinking of heading to Hoi An to get clothes made do go to AoBaBa and ask for Kathy. The assistant who helped me at Yali was good but I don’t think she cracked a smile the whole time we were there. Be aware that if you go and get clothes made whoever you speak to first will probably end up working very closely with you, so wander around the store until you see someone you like the look of then go up them and ask for their help. Working with a happy person makes the process so much more enjoyable!

Kathy and I. Watching her trying to reach my shoulders to pin things together made me feel like a giant. All the Vietnamese women are incredibly dainty and elegant, especially in their traditional ao dai.

This costume comes in 3 parts, the blue coat, purple skirt and a black and white bustier. Now to figure out where to wear it!

We spent our last evening taking photos, eating at Cargo again and visiting the ‘Good and Cheap Bar’ in the hope of grabbing Phi, the owner, for an interview. Sadly we only spotted him once and the vibe was nowhere near as good as the previous visit so we had a couple of drinks then went back to the hotel.

The exterior of the ‘Good and Cheap Bar’.

The morning after (yesterday morning, in fact, although it feels like a week ago) we had our final fittings, collected our coats, left our 12kgs of clothing and excess belongings to be mailed home by Kathy (for the bargain price of $70 dollars!!! It’ll take 3 months to get home but still…. $70!) and bought some supplies for the train. We checked out of our hotel and taxi’d to Da Nang ($19 if you’re curious, get your hotel to book a driver, a taxi is about $25) where we had a bit of lunch then boarded the train.

This time we had top bunks, which I didn’t think was so bad. We read, ate chip and cheese rolls out of our laps and watched the countryside roll past. We shared the cabin with a couple who had a little boy who was quite adorable and didn’t cry too much, thankfully.

In my usual dyslexic style, I’d read the train ticket and thought we got off at 5pm the next day. No, no. Turns out we got off at 5am. So we awoke to shouting and pointing and quickly got our gear together and jumped out into the hot and sticky Saigon dawn. Footage of the train will be in the next video. I neglected to take any photos. Oops!