Hidden Valley Waterfall

Hidden Valley Waterfall

Friday, August 16, 2013

An unbelievable two months (beginning in China)

It has been exactly two months since my last entry. I did not intend for that to be the case, but when I was unable to access my account while traveling, I figured it was just as well for me to focus on the traveling at hand. So, to catch you up on my most amazing summer, I'll begin with my China travels. This is where the summer started. Then, I will do a blog about each country I visited.  In order to be ready to start the new school year and tell you all about that, it means that I'll need to post two blogs on some days. Read if you want, or skip them. But, let's get this party started.....China 2013..

Some friends and I decided to take the train to Xi'an. This is where the Terracotta Warriors are. Well, one of my student's mom is from Xi'an. She was so appreciative of everything I did for her son this past school year, that she insisted that my friends and I cancel our hotel and stay with her family. So, to avoid such a generous offer and run offending her, we obliged. We took the train for 10 hrs. Oh my. That was enough for me. It wasn't horrible, nor the longest train I have ever been on, but damn.  Her brother and his friends picked us up at the train station and took us out for some dinner. We were all exhausted, but we were excited that we had such gracious hosts looking after us. We had delicious dumplings, in various flavors in the Muslim Quarter. My favorite where the mutton. :) Once back to the house, we got sleeping arrangements settled and showered and ready for bed.

Our host, the second from left (Hannette, Lisa, Petri, Johanna)

Now, bear in mind, we had someone to translate through all of this, as the brother does not speak much English, nor do his friends, who we came to find out worked for him and were our personal drivers for two days. So, the next morning, we woke up to a full breakfast purchased for us, and a host (the grandmother) that spoke NO English. Yep..interesting to say the least. For breakfast, we had bread (a type of "pancake" with onion that I love) and stinky tofu soup.  You read that right. I did my best to eat as much as I could, but it was definitely not my favorite food. Calvin (the brother in charge) picked us up and we all headed for the Terracotta Warriors. It was an impressive sight, to see thousands of men carved out of clay. But, our tour guide that we got there was cranky and rushed us along. Then, we we refused to go into yet another "exhibit" (aka: shop for her to make commission), she got upset. We weren't interested and since WE were paying HER, we felt we had the right to say no.

After this, we headed back into the town for the most delicious lunch ever. We went to a fancy restaurant that has the big lazy Susan in the middle. Calvin did all of the ordering and we just went with the flow. Before we knew it, food was coming out and didn't seem to stop. We actually had to tell Calvin, "no more!" We had a great time talking (through Cherry, our wonderful translator...pictured far right in the front).

It was the first time I ate fish that still had its head intact. I was able to avoid the chicken though, that still had its head attached as well. There is something about my food looking at me that just makes it hard to eat. As if this meal wasn't enough in itself to treat us like royalty (AFTER the morning at the Terracotta Warriors - all paid for on our behalf), we then got the tour of the city. Xi'an is very lovely in the fact that so many of the buildings are still the original pagoda styles. And, the new construction are keeping with that style of classic Chinese, so they build to blend it. I love that!  We went to the city wall and the drum tower in the afternoon. They were both fun and nice to see.

Later that evening, we were treated to drinks at Calvin's club. Well, he manages it. There was even live entertainment. The whole day was just wonderful and fun. We were treated like VIP guests everywhere, which none of us were used to! LOL.  I can't thank my student's mom enough, or her family, for the hospitality and kindness that we were given. It wasn't just me, but 3 friends as well. 

The next morning, we had breakfast waiting for us, as well as goodie bags of food to take on the train to Beijing. This time, there was no stinky tofu, but instead, it was a pea/bean type soup. Hmmm....The Chinese sure do like their soup. Especially for breakfast. This was better, but still not my preferred choice. I ate as much as I could, but sad to say, it wasn't much.  I did eat all of my pancake though! Before we head to Beijing, here is a picture of the Xi'an drum tower at nighttime. :) 

After another 5 hr. train ride, we arrived in Beijing, the capital of China. I have sinus issue in Shenzhen, and Beijing's pollution is much worse, so I was quite worried. And rightly so. As we got closer and closer, each time the train doors opened and air came in, I would cough. It felt so thick. Ugh. It was going to be a long 4 days there. 

We did as much as we could in our time there. We arrived Monday night and just found dinner and relaxed. Tuesday, we went to the Great Wall. Now, I was super excited to get those majestic pictures that you always see from people, that shows the wall miles and miles long. Oh, I got memorable shots alright, but those weren't the ones. It was rainy that day, so there were dark clouds hanging about. Add that to the already thickly polluted sky and you get about zero visibility. So, here are some of my shots:

  Me on the wall...
 You can see some wall ahead....

 Hello, Great Wall?! Are you there?? 

Luckily, my friends and I were able to laugh it off. It  happens I guess. Not everyone can have the best pictures all the time. On the bright side, the weather make it semi-cooler (still hot, but not torturous). So, climbing up all those steps and hills was more manageable. We were still soaked with sweat by the time we were done though. There were actually two sections of the wall we hiked:  Badaling (very touristy and LOTS of steps) and then Mutianyu. This was easier b/c there is a cable car that takes you up! Heck yeah..my idea of climbing. haha.  In between, we stopped for a traditional lunch. Again, the food seemed to never stop and we had MORE than enough to eat. And it was SOOOOOO delicious. 

After a long day of hiking two sections of the Great Wall, we were all in need of showers and rest. We found a great Peking Duck place for dinner. There was no head attached, so I was thrilled!  I'd like to say it was an early night, but it was still a good 11pm before I could crawl into bed. And the next day, my legs were sore. 

But, I couldn't let it slow me down. We wen to the Summer Palace (where we climbed more steps to get to the top of the Buddhist Temple). The Summer Palace was gorgeous though! I enjoyed my time there very much!! Here are some pics. Not much to say in words except: Beautiful place. This is how I wish all of China looked. 

This is in front of the temple that I climbed to the top of via stairs. 

So, after this, and what I thought was the last of my stair climbing, we went to the Drum and Bell towers. And wouldn't you know it - more stairs! Elevators were not an option, unfortunately. And these stairs were so steep, they had warnings on the sides! Oh, how my calves were yelling at me. I don't think I've ever given them such a work out, two days in a row. 

The dreaded stairs in BOTH towers. 

Inside the Bell Tower. It is the biggest bell I've ever seen!

After the Bell Tower, we had a tea tasting to relax before heading to the Drum Tower.

We got to see the Drum Tower performance. It was really neat.

A view from the Drum Tower. The sky wasn't much better this day than the Great Wall day.

Well, when all was said and done, I didn't want to move. However, I did get a shower and spend the evening playing cards in the hotel bar with some friends. It was their last night and I have no idea if I will ever see some of them again. :(  Thank goodness for Facebook! lol

My last day in Beijing, I went to see the Forbidden City. It was a lot bigger than I anticipated it being. Although most of it is closed off (the rooms), it was still pretty impressive to think that this city within the city was all the emperor needed. 

And, who can make a visit to Beijing without walking the famous "snack street" for an evening treat? I'll tell you who - me! Oh, I walked it, but I wasn't about to eat anything from it. Why you ask? Well, see for yourself some of the "delicacies" available:

NO THANK YOU! I'll still to dumplings and noodles and rice. 

So, it was an interesting time in northern China. Much different from Shenzhen where I live. But, it was time to move on, out of China, for the rest of my vacation. I know this is a long blog, but to be fair, a lot of it is pictures! The next one will be about Denmark - my first Scandinavian country of the trip. I will not combine any other cities, like I did in this one. But, these were two short stays in the same country, so I figured I could combine them. Stay tuned for more of my 47 days of travel!!

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