It's another somber day in Huế, a perpetual dusk of sinister silver skies and drenching rain that comes in fits and starts. During a brief lull in the foggy drizzle, we leave our cozy hotel room and start a sightseeing tour, walking towards the historic palace at the center of the Imperial city.
The cobblestone streets are slick and glassy, while the trees and grasses are scattered with a thousand pearly lens-like droplets of water. Many people have decked themselves out in a rainbow of colorful plastic ponchos, and everyone, cyclists included, hold their umbrellas overhead like torches. Everyone, except us. We don't own an umbrella!
Once again, in spite of the poor weather, I am delighted to be out in it. The cloudy dampness makes all of this old stuff around us (the rusty metal, the bleeding paint, the old architecture,etc.) come alive.
Before we arrive at the palace, we head to a small restaurant recommended in our guidebook. Following signs to the building, we climb a set of narrow, steep stairs, until we arrive at the balcony area. With a chill wind whipping towards us, it's not the warmest, most cozy atmosphere, but we're looking forward to trying the local specialties for which Huế is renown.
We order our food (springrolls and a famous fried omelette/pancake called Banh Khoai), and then we're befriended by the precocious toddler of the family who runs the place. It only takes one press of the shutter-release button for our new little pal to becomes obsessed with posing for, and seeing our camera.
He makes for a good model, and his enthusiasm knows no bounds. He throws himself at us, lunging to see his own photo in the screen on the back of our camera, then laughs uncontrollably at the sight of his own smiling face, then grabs at the buttons, pressing them wildly, attempting to scroll left and right. He doesn't quiet have the coordination for that yet, so I help him along.
He does, however, have the coordination to investigate Tyler's beard. We think maybe he's never seen or felt hair like this before, because he now seems very intent on running his hands over it. After a minute or two, Tyler suddenly pretends to bite at him, growling playfully.
The little guy shrieks and runs away in wide-eyed, horrified delight, then flops down on his butt. After regaining his composure, he stands back up and squeals with laughter as he runs towards Tyler, hands out to touch the beard again. Giggling and pawing at the red facial hair, he waits for the next frightening roar.
This adorable diversion is a lot of fun when we're not eating, but his antics are significantly less entertaining when our food arrives. Eventually, he grows bored of our lack of attention and begins chucking bottle caps over our heads, watching them fly off the balcony onto the street below. Shortly after, his parents collect him so we can eat our meal without being in the line of fire.
The gates of the old city loom large before us, dark and imposing under grey skies. Approaching one of the impressive entrances, we pay our admission fee and step through the prodigious fortifications, into the once powerful citadel. Waiting inside is a finely manicured world of royal furniture and fountains, carefully pruned bonsai trees, and exquisitely carved architectural detailing.
The former imperial seat of government and Hue's prime attraction, this is a great sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates, shops, museums and galleries, featuring art and costumes from various periods of Vietnamese history. Thanks to its size, it is also delightfully peaceful—a rare commodity in Vietnam.Wikipedia, Hue
Reds and golds are the dominant colors in the decorations, just as they were in the temples of Hội An. It's obvious this place must have been awe-inspiring in the height of it's power. Now, though, the buildings and the land on which they are placed feel vast and open and empty. The whole area evokes in us a sense of desertion.
Meandering around hand in hand, pausing often to take photos, we explore what remains of the grounds, stopping to seek refuge under pagodas or covered hallways when rain showers pass overhead. Later, taking seats on one of the many wooden benches stationed around the courtyards, we sit quietly, watching the water patter softly down to earth. It creates little muddy rivers into which the occasional yellow leaf is blown from nearby trees.
Once the rain has stopped, we move on again, tip toing carefully over the squelching turf, so as not to completely soak our socks. Then, once we're back onto the main building's cobblestone terrace, we leave the peaceful old city behind, in favor of our cozy room and a shower. Our hotel and the warm bakery smelling of apple muffins is just a rainy three kilometer walk away.