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Am I really standing on the corner of Ngo Quyen Street, across from the famed Hotel Metropole in Hanoi? Built in 1901 in the heart of the city near Hoan Kiem Lake and the magnificent Opera House, it truly is a legendary hotel having earned the right to be called so for many reasons not the least of which is its long colorful history, at times gray and foreboding, but mostly vibrant and illustrious, and always romantic! In 1936, Charlie Chaplin spent his honeymoon here and no doubt, countless others have as well. Artists, writers, impassioned travellers and adventurers have all sat, as I do now, in this fairy-tale garden and dreamed. In the 1950s following Vietnamese independence, it was used as the official hotel for visiting VIPs and during the war years, it became a base for the press and for diplomats.

 

It has witnessed the opulence of French Colonial rule as evidenced in its elegant architecture, and it has survived the horrors of war. Memories of these times are balanced like yin and yang, leaving one appreciative of the privilege of having been a guest at the Metropole. Nothing is more poignant than their Path of History tour, which ends with a moment of reflection in the underground bunkers built to protect guests from the bombs of the Vietnam War. Joan Baez visited the city with an American delegation in December 1972 and during this time while caught in the Christmas bombings, she recorded her song, "Where Are You Now, My Son?” Outside, the sidewalk around the hotel is flanked by trees planted in what were once manholes during those turbulent years.

 

The outdoor pool is heated making a December swim possible, and poolside one lounges amid twinkling white holiday lights and the tallest Christmas tree in Hanoi. Choose to be active in the fitness center or to relax with a spa treatment. Choose Continental or Asian cuisine in Le Beaulieu Restaurant or opt for an exquisitely prepared Vietnamese dinner in the Spices Garden, which is what we experience on our first evening in Hanoi.

 

Seated at our table, we have a view of the garden and courtyard with their twinkling lights, seeming to cascade everywhere like fairy dust. So too the candlelit interior of the restaurant just sparkles with elegant table settings. For the first-time visitors to the city that we are, Spices Garden offers us the opportunity to sample some of the finest examples of the culinary traditions of Hanoi as well as the specialties of both the North and South of the country. We hardly know where to start, so our waiter comes to the rescue and guides us through our multi-course dinner, suggesting that we start with the crab, asparagus and mushroom soup. Cac Mon Cuon offers us a tasty selection of Spring Rolls. For our main course, we select two different entrees - Cha Ca, Red River fish with rice noodles, shallots, peanuts and herbs and Black Angus beef with lemongrass and garlic. It is easy to see how wonderfully and healthfully balanced the cuisine of Vietnam is, with textures and tastes perfectly paired. We linger, sated with the flavors of Vietnam on this our first night, leaving us eager to explore more. No doubt the chef tonight has presented us with a meal that would satisfy the most discerning native of Hanoi.

 

At the Metropole, romance is felt everywhere. The Metropole’s classical white façade with green shutters and original wrought iron details makes for a most romantic backdrop for wedding photos. It is such a popular custom, that we witness at least two dozen couples posing for their portraits in a two-day period. On sidewalks, across from the hotel and in the nearby square, badminton is played and couples practice their dance routines, proving that what has happened in the recent past should be remembered, but that life goes on and it is important to play and to dance.


September 2014

All images and reviews copyright 2015 by Ginda Simpson

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Hotel Metropole Hanoi Legend

15 Ngô Quyen, Hoàn Kiem, Hànoi, Vietnam

Hotel Metropole Hanoi Legend ~ Original watercolor painting by Ginda Simpson

This hotel is featured in my travel story: Holiday in Hanoi

Vietnamese Cuisine: Spices Garden – A Restaurant and Cuisine that Dazzles…