Enchanting Vietnam

Hot and steamy the old town area of Hanoi, the Capital of Vietnam is a city with a unique atmosphere, very different to anywhere I’ve ever visited.

Only the very rich have cars but everyone seems to have a motorbike. Crossing the road is an art. “Step out and the traffic will work around you” said our guide Louis. Easier said than done, but it was surprisingly easy. A ride in a cyclo, a bicycle where I sat on a comfy seat steered by a gentleman who sat behind me, was my initiation into getting around the traffic and a fun experience. Currency is the dong and there are thousands to the pound so everything sounds madly expensive but is in fact very cheap. The roads in the old town are named according to what they sell. One street has shoe shops while another jewellery. “You’ll have to barter”, said Louis. I found my way to a silk shop where I was able to buy silk nightwear for a fraction of the price in the UK.

The city has several lakes and with the majority of the population Buddhists, the place ia awash with temples and pagodas. One of the must-sees is the Temple of Literature built in 1070. Young people dressed in their best were being photographed by friends. “It’s the custom to have your photograph taken prior to graduation,“ said Louis. “Students also come here to touch the stone turtles to bring them luck.” I indulged myself in this superstition, making a wish while touching the stone crane birds guarding the statue of Confucius.

Unique to the country is the Water Puppet Theatre where puppets are manipulated on a stick on water by people behind a screen. We were initially entertained with music from an instrument comprising a long upright handle that when manipulated produced enchanting, wishful music. The puppets performed various different scenarios while being glided across the water, a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

Restaurants try to accommodate visitors, adapting their recipes to European tastes. Vietnam, with China on its Northern border, shares a lot of similar food. Bread isn’t served in restaurants although in the street, vendors on bikes sell it. Food is eaten with chopsticks, but generally cutlery is also available. Vegetables tend to be cut up or shredded into tiny slivers as is fish and meat. When eating out with several people, the dishes are put in the middle of the table, and everyone helps themselves. The soup I found in general to be very glutinous, although happily not Pho, a nutritious noodle broth often served by street vendors. Shell fish is cheap and in abundance with the many of the dishes having  crab, shrimps, prawns or oysters in them. Vietnamese love their chilli which is used in the majority of dishes or accompanying dips. Rice is put on the table but usually after all the other food. Perhaps one of the reasons why I didn’t see any fat Vietnamese!

Deep fried jumbo prawns wrapped in a tapioca batter, weaved to look like a bird’s nest not only looked impressive but tasted delicious, as did the oysters baked with chives and peanuts. Hanoi has its Michelin Star chefs. Two star French chef Alain Dutournier can be found at the Press Club in the chic part of the city where the remains of the city’s French influence is still visible in the architecture.

A must see, and a four hour drive from Hanoi is Ha Long Bay. Bordering the Gulf of Tonkin the area, covering 1,533 sq. km is a World Heritage Site because of its outstanding landscape as well as being an UNESCO Natural World Heritage site, recognised as one of the seven new wonders of nature. Thousands of rock formations tower out of the water, some containing grottoes and caves. The most popular and really the only way to see this area is by boat. An overnight stay on a boat is a must, and if you’re looking for a romantic interlude there are also boats for two. There is lots to see and do amidst an incredibly relaxing environment. Swimming in the clear water is one option while another is kayaking. I enjoyed a ride in a sampan rowed by a lady with her infant son at her side. On passing the nature reserve of Cat Ba Island golden-headed Langur, a rare species of monkey, were frolicking on the rocks.

Back on board, the upper deck was used for a demonstration of how to make spring rolls, one of the country’s national dishes. The cooking on board embraces the ancient Taoist belief that in order to attain the highest level of health and nutrition, food should have the perfect balance and harmony of the five elements wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Following this philosophy the dishes with their diverse colour encompassed five essential flavours – sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and salty.


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Acosta Danza’s 100% Cuban

Six-venue Spring tour opens at Sadler’s Wells Theatre on 9 February 2022

A sense of excitement was in the air for the first night of Acosta Danza’s 100Cuban opening night of their UK tour at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London.

The programme of five works, includes three UK premieres, showing off the amazing flexibility of the dancers The highlight of the evening has to go to the contortionist Zaleidy Crespo who danced Impronta with such amazing flexibility and grace. Created especially for her the piece, choreographed by Maria Rovira, brought together modern and contemporary dance in an evocation of folk dances of Afro-Cuban heritage.

The evening finished on a high note with De Punta a Cabo, created by Alexis Fernández (Maca) for Acosta Danza’s debut season in 2016.  A piece for twelve dancers, has a backdrop of the Malecón, a broad esplanade and seawall stretching eight kilometres along the Havana coastline. Maca shares his impressions of contemporary Cuba  – a country full of contrasts, traditional and modern, poverty and development, beauty and ugliness. 

While it’s possible to just enjoy the agility of the performers, each dance also has a philosophy behind it which gives more depth to the enjoyment of the occasion. 

Created by Carlos Acosta, the aim of the Carlos Acosta Dance Academy is to transform the lives of young, talented dancers who would not otherwise have had the opportunity. Students join the Academy at the age of 15 or 16, and train to develop their technique in ballet and allied dance genres – a place for experimentation and exchange in dance, where students also learn from guest artists.

100% Cuban is part of the Dance Consortium, a consortium of 18 theatres, whose mission is to bring the best international contemporary dance to audiences across the UK. 




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Plymouth celebrates 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower

Plymouth is primarily known as the place from where the Pilgrim Fathers embarked on their voyage to America, and this year the town is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower.

In the eighteenth century Captain James Cook set sail from Plymouth on his three famous voyages, and it is still home to a large naval base and dockyard. An area where boating of every form is enjoyed, the harbour is filled with pleasure boats.

Plymouth Hoe, six klm of the English Channel, has its Southwest corner in Cornwall and its South East in Devon. Overlooking the harbour and dominating the site, Smeaton’s Tower is a red and white-striped lighthouse where if you want to climb the 93 steps you will have amazing views across the Plymouth Sound. Flanked by a row of elegant houses, which includes the local Lord Mayor’s official residence, and one displaying a blue plaque indicating that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, had lived there. 

One of the major attractions on the seafront is the glass fronted National Marine Aquarium that boasts the deepest tank, the Atlantic Ocean, in the UK. The aquarium is on numerous levels in a winding circle so I had to walk up numerous stairs and work my way down. While I was there a lady was giving an informative talk on what we, the visitors could see in the tank. To maximise on a visit, there are also plaques with explanations, and interactive screens, but it is also worth trying to coincide a visit with one of their talks.

Whenever I am by the sea, one of my must-haves is freshly caught fish, preferably fish and chips! Conveniently next door and with a large outdoor seating is the Rockfish Restaurant which promotes itself as only selling sustainable food. As my visit coincided with the crab season (April to November) I picked the dressed crab that comes with unlimited chips. Don’t miss the chance of visiting their toilets for its fun broadcast of a radio shipping forecast. 

The quickest way of getting to the various places around the Sound is by ferry in the form of a small, motorised boat. Poppy and I took one to the 17thMount Batten Gun Tower. Groups of young people were scaling a nearby wall while others were being shown how to tie their life-jackets. They were from, I latterly learnt, the Mountbatten Watersports and Activities Centre. A charity led organization that runs a wide range of outdoor activities for both adults and children including some specifically for physically impaired local children. The range of activities includes taster sessions for novices, and has on-site accommodation.

A further ferry ride in the other direction took Poppy and I to the Royal William Yard, home to the largest collection of Grade 1 listed buildings in the UK.  The interior of one of these has been transformed into the Ocean Studios, a large workspace on several levels for artists and craftspeople. A coffee/restaurant space on the ground floor has a space for artists’ exhibitions. Other buildings have been transformed, without spoiling their facades, into restaurants. I found my way to Le Vignoble, a wine bar with a difference. It stocks over 300 wines and I was able to buy a card that allowed me for 0.80p a time to have a taster of several different wines. According to owner Yannick, people tend to drink wine that they know where-as here they can sample a selection without paying a fortune. The wines are kept in an enoround, a system that maintains them in perfect condition for twenty-one days. http://www.levignoble.co.uk

During the summer months as well as celebrating the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, Plymouth holds a variety of festivals. When planning a visit, it is worth checking as to what is on and more importantly where. In August, over several days at the Mountbatten Breakwater, they have a major national firework competition. While I was there, at the Royal William Yard, , there was a music festival as well as a display of Vintage Porche cars.

Near the water the Barbican is an area of narrow cobbled streets and quirky little shops. Among them in Southside Street is another of Plymouth’s major attractions, the home since 1793 for Plymouth Gin. I joined their forty-five minute guided tour. I initially thought it would be similar to gin tours I had experienced before where-as this one turned out to be different and very informative. As well as seeing how gin was made, I and the other people in the group I joined were given various spices to sniff that are used in making gin.  We were also advised to check which brand tonic we put with our gin as some are more compatible than others. At the end of the tour our group were invited to their stylish rooftop bar where we were able to taste the 57% proof Naval gin, the normal being 41.2%. Our ticket included a drink or a miniature to take away as well as £1.00 voucher towards buying a bottle.

I stayed at the Moorland Garden Hotel, a short drive from Plymouth. Owned by the parents of Dragon’s Den Deborah Meaden, the hotel is not only dog-friendly but also borders onto the wild open expanse of Dartmoor National Park, a tranquil spot for relaxing which, after all, is what a holiday should be!

I travelled to Plymouth from Paddington Station on GWR (Great Western Railway), which has a restaurant car on some trains where meals are served by uniformed waiters at your table.

For more about Natasha’s visit to Plymouth, go to http://bit.ly/2tak46z

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Think you know about Chinese Food?

Read my latest article featured in the Magazine Connection magazines

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Gauguin at the National Gallery

Gauguin Portraits at the National Gallery

Paul Gauguin is known for his vibrant pictures primarily painted in Polynesia but he also painted portraits and more. The first-ever exhibition devoted to his portraits has opened in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square.

Featuring over fifty works, the exhibition includes paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings. Pictures range from his early years as an artist through to his final visit to the South Seas.

Gauguin broke with accepted conventions and challenged audiences to expand their understanding of visual expression. Nowhere is this more evident than in his portraits where he revolutionised the portrait making his richer by incorporating situations and experiences. A lot of his work would not have been exactly as he saw it as he was inclined to turn things into something entirely different. He experimented with media, texture, colour and eclectic sources from both the east and the west oscillating between literal, imagined and symbolic likenesses. Initially working as a stockbroker he became a fulltime artist in the mid-1880s, abandoning his wife and five children.

Events related to the exhibition include on Friday, 1 November the Park Lane Group performing an evening of music by English composer Frederick Delius – a friend of Gauguin, alongside musical settings of poems by Stéphane Mallarmé.

On Saturday, 7 December experts discuss the realities of colonial Tahiti.

The exhibition runs until 26 January, 2020. Admission charge.

Open daily10 am – 6pm (to 9pm Friday)

nationalgallery.org.uk    T. 0800 912 6958

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Director of the Munch Museum describes Munch’s The Scream as particularly relevant to Brexit

The Scream

Edvard Munch: love and angst opens at the British Museum on Thursday 11 April, 2019

London is experiencing an exciting time with the opening of so many vibrant art exhibitions. Opening on Thursday, 11 April at the British Museum is the largest exhibition of prints by Edvard Munch in the UK for 45 years.

A pioneer of modern art, the exhibition of 83 works by Munch, includes many loaned from the Munch Museum in Oslo. Best known as a painter, and particularly for his painting The Scream which the Director of the Munch Museum in his opening speech of the exhibition described as an example of Brexit. Munch is quoted as saying of his painting when he saw the sky going red ‘I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.’

The exhibition focuses on his creative period of printmaking between the 1890s and the end of the First World War in 1918 when he established his reputation, demonstrating his skill and creativity in expressing the feelings and experiences of the human condition. This stretched from love and desire, to jealousy, loneliness, anxiety and grief. The exhibition also shows how Munch’s artistic vision was shaped by the radical ideas expressed in art, literature, science, and theatre in Europe during his lifetime.

The pictures relate to events of the period separated by themes – Bohemians and free love,  love in torment, anguish and isolation, sickness and death, stage and performance, ending with the home coming.

The exhibition which runs until 21 July, 2019  is accompanied by a series of evening talks. http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/munch/events.aspx

Adult tickets £17.00. £14.00 on Mondays.  Under 16s free. On Fridays, students and 16 -18s can enjoy 2-for-1 tickets.

Booking in advance recommended.

Sir Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery,

British Museum

Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG.

T. 020 7323 8181


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Van Gogh opens at the Tate Britain

Starry Night 1888

The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain

The Van Gogh and Britain Exhibition which has opened at London’s Tate Britain brings together the largest group of the artist’s paintings to be shown in the UK for nearly a decade. It is the first major exhibition to explore the impact of British culture on Van Gogh as well as the legacy of his art in the works of British painters.

Over 50 paintings and drawings include lesser-known works now in private hands. The exhibition reveals Van Gogh’s enthusiasm for British culture and includes paintings by John Constable and John Everett Millais. The Van Gogh we know was developed in London at a time of descent. He was an admirer of graphics, and was influenced by writers such as Dickens and Elliott. For him it was important to work from first hand experience, and has been described as a painter of the people for the people. Van Gogh Shoes became famous for its associations with the artist’s poor, hard working life.

For the first time, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers 1888 is shown alongside the British artwork that it inspired, and which contributed to a renaissance in British flower painting. The painting was given to Britain’s national collection in the 1920’s.

Many of Van Gogh’s paintings were done in the latter part of his life including The Prison Courtyard, the only one he painted of London. Also in the exhibition is the painting The Oise at Auvers which has also been reconstructed in a digital version. Although its colours have faded, the painting has been brought back to life by the Tate’s conservation team who were able to reconstruct it as it was originally. The exhibition concludes with a group of portraits by Francis Bacon based on a Van Gogh self-portrait.

Shoes 1886

The exhibition, sponsored by EY, includes a programme of talks and events. The Tate’s new podcast The Art of Creativity asks questions about the traditional association between mental health and creativity. Listen for free at: tate.org.uk/art-of-creativity

The exhibition runs until 11 Aug 2019.

Tate Britain, Millbank, London  SW1P 4RG.    

T. 020 7887 8888 http://www.tate.org.uk

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Own an Andy Warhol polaroid

Cover of coffee table book

The Bastian Gallery in the heart of Mayfair has opened with an exhibition of over 60 polaroid pictures taken by Andy Warhol.

The photographs which are quite small 4.3″ x 3.4″ are preparatory works for Warhol’s silkscreen portraits. The majority feature easily recognisable famous celebrities among them David Hockney, Jane Fonda, and John Lennon in the 1970s and ’80s.

The Big Shot camera was an integral tool of Warhol’s from the early 1970s until his death in 1987. The photographs portray the beginnings of an era and society defined by image and illusion.

Forty six of the framed photographs are being sold as a collection. Also on sale is a coffee table book.

Andy Warhol polaroids
photo Luke Walker

Bastian Gallery

8 Davies Street, London W1K 3DW.

Open Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 6pm

Exhibition runs until 13 April, 2019

T. 020 3940 5009


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Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams

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The latest must-see exhibition to come to London is Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams which opened at London’s Victoria &Albert’s Sainsbury Gallery.

The exhibition, the largest and most comprehensive, to be staged in the UK on the House of Dior is based on the major exhibition Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve organized by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Divided into 11 areas, a new section explores the designer’s fascination with British Culture. The exhibition investigates Dior’s creative collaborations with British manufacturers including Dents (gloves), Rayne (shoes) Lyle & Scott (knitwear) and Mitchel Maer (costume jewellery).

Over 500 objects includes 200 rare Haute Couture garments shown alongside accessories, fashion photography, film, vintage perfume original make-up illustrations, magazines, and Dior’s personal possessions.

Dior was born into a wealthy Normandy family but when the family fortune collapsed he was forced to make a living, taking up fashion drawing. In 1946 he founded the House of Dior, and launched its first collection the following year. Dubbed the ‘New Look’ by the press, the collection had an instant and unparalleled influence on fashion around the world. His legacy has continued under six Creative Directors Yves St Laurent, John Galliano, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri their current, and first female creative director.

Swarovski, whose crystals shimmer in many of the designs, supports the exhibition. With the foundation of his house, Dior always envisioned a total look for his clients. People who never visited Paris can still buy his perfume, jewellery, gloves and stockings.

The exhibition runs until Sunday, 1 September 2019.

Tickets from £20.  Concessions: £15.

The Sainsbury Gallery,  Victoria & Albert Museum,

Exhibition Road, Kensington, London SW7 2RL.

Open daily 10.00 – 17.45 Friday to 22.00

T. 020 7942 2000


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Pierre Bonnard opens at the Tate Modern


Considered one of the great colourists of the early 20th century an exhibition by Pierre Bonnard of 100 of his works : the Colour of Memory has opened at London’s Tate Modern.

The exhibition shows how he constructed vibrant landscapes and intimate domestic scenes through the process of reimagining.  Bonnard is known for his intimate, domestic interiors and brightly coloured landscapes bridging both Impressionism and Modernism. Bonnard preferred to work from memory which allowed his paintings to become more abstract. The artist’s wife Marthe de Méligny was a continual subject.


Bonnard’s intense colours and modern compositions transformed painting in the first half of the 20thcentury.  Several of his works are exhibited out of their frames to create a sense of how they would have hung in the artist’s studio. Rather than using an easel, Bonnard chose to pin his canvases directly on the wall while working. This allowed him to roll up his canvases, and take them with him when he travelled between homes in the North and South of France. The unframed pictures also reveal how Bonnard painted very close to the edge of his canvas, sometimes painting a line to show where the frame would go.

Alongside the paintings are 15 photographs providing an intimate portrait of the couple’s domestic life.


Related events include relaxing yoga, and brunch on 26 January, and 2 and 9 February which includes a visit to the exhibition.

The exhibition in the Eyal Ofer Galleries of the Tate Modern runs until 6 May 2019.

Open daily 10.00 – 18.00 and until 22.00 Friday and Saturday

www.tate.org.uk  T. 020 7887 8888


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