A Night Train to Huế

It was strange to get back to Hanoi after we thought we said goodbye from it for good.
After a brief shower at the hotel we went outside to eat at a place ran by a married couple, who sold fried meat in a baguette in the middle of the street. The woman sits in front of a small grill and wave at it with a piece of plastic, and the man serves the food and pours the beer out of a big barrel.
After we ate and recovered from the long ride, we strolled once again in the familiar streets with a deep sense of nostalgia.
Like coming back to an ex.
We drank cold watermelon juice at a busy cafe. A few teens walked around with a huge speaker, and one of them was lip-syncing to the playback music, as the others sold their CDs. After that, we had craft ice-cream at a hipster place.
It was already late but we didn’t want to finish the night, so we went to have some beer where we sat before with Nadia and Xavier from Ecuador.
When we got back to the hotel it was already dark and the doorman slept in the lobby on a mattress. He got up to unlock the door.
He was wearing pajamas and another man slept with him, and the whole situation was a bit awkward.

The next morning we got up early and booked a night train to Huế.
We ate meat soup and had coffee where we sat on our first day, when we only arrived at Hanoi, a day that seemed so long ago.
We kept walking around, saying goodbye to the city for the second time, and around 12 we got back to pack our bags and check out. We had to clear the room for the next guests but our train was leaving only in the evening, so they let us keep our bags in the hotel in the meanwhile.
We went out again and came back to our favorite places in the city, trying to soak them in as much as possible.
When it started raining, we had a strong bitter tea until it cleared.
After we traveled in the lake area we came back to the hotel but it was still early, so we had an early dinner at the couple with the grill in the street.
We bought some beers and snacks at a minimarket, and at six-thirty the taxi arrived.
By seven we were already on the train.

We shared a booth with a middle-aged Vietnamese couple who talked a lot, but it didn’t bother us. It was a small booth with two bunk beds and an end table between them, and Roni and I were in the top beds so we could talk.
Our booth-partners wore matching blue shirts. They seemed like they were used to such traveling – they took out plastic boxes with hot meals and made a whole dinner on the small table, while Roni and I sat together on one bed and snacked cookies.
I passed the time with my book – The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux, a book about traveling in trains in different countries.
Towards ten o’clock I put the book down and looked out the window, nudging with the train’s movements, and fell asleep without intending to.
I woke up again at 2 AM, surprised that I managed to get some sleep, and couldn’t fall back asleep because I had to pee. It was quite a journey, to get carefully down the bunk bed, silently out of the room, and into the toilet, tiny and compact like in an airplane.
When I got back to bed I lied on my back and listened to the rain that was falling all night. My thoughts went to foods I missed – olive oil, olives. Fresh crisp vegetable salad with salt and lemon. Mediterranean white cheese, gently salted, with a garnish of fresh oregano.
Slowly I fell asleep again, and when I woke up it was already daylight and everybody in the booth was waking up as well.
I went to brush my teeth in the shaking toilet car and just couldn’t feel clean enough.
We tried to ask the Vietnamese couple where we are supposed to get off but they didn’t speak English, and only gave us spicy ginger candies. The man nonchalantly took Roni’s shoes when he went to brush his teeth. When he came back, he tried to teach us Vietnamese via a small guide-book we bought one day from a street vendor, back in Hanoi.
Around quarter to nine the train slowed down, and the stewards called in the halls “Huế! Huế!” so we said goodbye and got off.

It was sunny outside, and smelled of fresh rain.
Some nice people helped us find direction and catch a taxi with a decent looking driver. He drove us through a big organized avenue with plants and statues by a big river on one side, and stylish buildings on the other, everything clean and fresh.
We arrived at the hotel that was inside an alley with some more hotels.
A nice lady approached us, and after we checked-in she invited us the have breakfast until the room is ready.
Coffee, at last!
We had a light breakfast of meat soup and fresh fruits, and after the receptionist told us a little bit about the city she gave us the room key.
The shower felt great after that strange night.

We went towards the market.
First, we walked around in the alleys with some clothing stores and had lunch at a BBQ restaurant. Then we approached the main street by the river and crossed a big bridge.
The air was nice and soft wind blew. There was a typhoon warning, but it didn’t get there and there wasn’t any cloud in the sky.
The market was loaded with goods, everything colorful and inviting, especially where they sold special and bright-colored fruits and vegetables. On the outside they sold different spices, meat, fish and chickens in cages, and on the covered area on the inside there were dark pathways busy with shoes, clothes, different kitchenware, toys.
We had coffee, and I paid 2,500 Dong to use the public toilets that were just a hole in the floor.
We came back to the room and took a sweet nap, and then went again to the other direction.
On our way down we met Quan, a young friendly guy who helped us carry our bags to the room in the morning. We asked him if he could, or know somebody that could teach us some basic Vietnamese. He said he’s got a friend who likes to meet people from abroad since she wants to practice English herself, so he will bring us together.
Throughout the trip, we’ve met a lot of young people want to practice their English, and sometimes students would just approach us on the street to have a small talk.
We found the downtown, with many shops and businesses and mostly big roads busy with motorcycles. We traveled there and when we got hungry we had pork chops and noodles soup at a restaurant in the street.

It was getting late and we were tired from the weird night on the train so we came back to the room and showered again, and then got into the big white bed, falling asleep in front of a silly movie on the TV.

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