Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Lebanon!



Lebanon is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, while Cyprus is west across the Mediterranean Sea.  Lebanon's location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland facilitated its rich history and shaped a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Five Days in St. Petersburg.

Image from The Telegraph (Telegraph Travel)

O
f all the places in Russia that I am looking forward to visiting, St. Petersburg tops the list.  I have been wanting to come visit this historic city for as long as I can remember and believe it or not, I had a chance to come to Saint Petersburg back in 1996 when I came to Moscow for a work assignment.  It would've been very easy for me to extend my stay to include a few days in Saint Petersburg.  But just about a day after arriving into Moscow, I came down with a bad stomach flu and while I was able to fight through it to do my work, it pretty much took all the desire out of me to travel to Saint Petersburg.  I have regretted that decision ever since so the five days that we will be there will be five days of dreams come true for me.  And I'm going to savor every single minute of it!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Packing List. Trans Siberian Railway.

A Richard Limoges porcelain box, a miniature suitcase, from Rochard.  This tiny thing is so beautiful!

Our Russia trip is just a few short weeks away and pretty much all the logistics (accommodations, train tickets, and tours) have been worked out.  Both Chantale and I got our Russia visas last week so we know for sure we are going to Russia!  We can now turn our focus to packing.  This is not an easy trip to pack for!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Three+ Days in Moscow.

Photo by Valerii Tkachenko.  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The last time I was in Moscow, it was 1996 and I was there on a work assignment. We did have the weekends to explore the city and as long ago as that was, I still remember quite a bit about my time there.  So, planning for our time there on this trip has been relatively easy.  This time around, I will include those sights that I missed visiting in 1996.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Trans Siberian Railway Journey. Updated Itinerary.



It's been several months since I started planning this trip and since then I've learned a lot about the Trans Siberian Railway and several of the towns and cities that it passes through. As a result, what I thought would be our final itinerary back in February turned out to be the second of many iterations.  Planning this train ride has proven to be much more challenging than I had expected but I think it will be worth all the time and effort that went into putting the overall trip together.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

An Ancient Village. Dangjiacun.


We spent the afternoon visiting an ancient village called Dangjiacun which is located several hours drive from Xi'an but only about a 20 minute or so drive from the city of Hangcheng.

The name, pronounced 'dung-jya-tsoon', literally means "the Dang and Jia clan village". Dangjiacun came into existence around 1331 AD, during the time of the Yuan Dynasty which was founded by the great Mongol emperor, Kublai Khan.  Even though China nominated the village for UNESCO World Heritage Site designation back in 2006, few tourists - foreign or local, seem to know about this place.  In fact, if you Google it and try to look for any sort of historical description about the place, you pretty much come up empty handed.  The only write ups are from people who have visited the place.  We came here based on recommendation by Genessa and again, I was a bit skeptical because of the lack of information about the place but my gut told me that was probably a good reason to come here because it's still off the beaten tourist path.

Day Trip. Guanzhong Folk Art Museum.


I
have to admit that I was a bit hesitant, actually quite a bit hesitant, about visiting this place called Guanzhong Folk Art Museum.  But Genessa kept assuring me that it was worth coming to and I'm glad I listened to here.  I was imagining a museum filled with all sorts of artifacts and indeed that's what it is except it's an open air museum and the artifacts are mainly houses.  More about this later in the posting but for now, I have to do the obligatory "post up about breakfast" blurb.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Xi'an. Random Moments, Random Photos.

Hotpot Dinner!

After our morning stroll along the top of the old city walls and through the old neighborhood around Shuyuanmen Ancient Culture Street, Yim and I decided it was time for lunch.  Little did we know how close, like less than a block from where we entered the old city walls (South Gate), we were to the fast food restaurant that we had our dinner at the night we arrived into Xi'an.

Strollin' Thru The Xi'an 'Hood With Yim. Shuyuanmen Ancient Culture Street.


Te moment we left the old city walls behind, we found ourselves on the quiet streets of the old neighborhood.  We didn't have any sort of a map to guide us so we just walked up a street to see what was there.  A few shuttered up shops, not yet open for business.  Some quiet homes and side alleys.  Even though at times, there wasn't much interesting to look at, I love walks like this....it's a small peek into local life.  Yim and I barely spoke on the first part of our walk.  It was as if our quiet surroundings hushed us into silence.  So, I took photos and here are a few of them.

Exploring Xi'an With Yim. The Old City Walls.


Y
im and I have the day to ourselves today as we sent Bro and SK off on their own sightseeing venture today - they'll be visiting the Terracotta Warriors and Han Yang Ling Museum.  We arranged for a car and driver to take them around and they will hire a guide to take them on a tour of the Terracotta Warriors complex.  Yim and I did this same itinerary in 2016 so we were able to advise them on what to do.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Xi'an. The Drum Tower.


After our brief visit to the Great Mosque, Yim wanted to go back to the same art gallery that we had visited in 2016 to see if there were any new works of art for sale.  So we made our way to the covered arcade where all the souvenir vendors and art galleries are located.  Believe it or not, we found our gallery.  I think it was even the same guy, the artist's son, manning the place.

Xi'an. Back to the Great Mosque.


A

fter lunch, we plunged ourselves back into the crowd of the streets of the Muslim Quarter and miraculously managed to find our way to the Grand Mosque.  It was funny that at one point, we crossed paths with two Muslim men and without exchanging a single word, they pointed us in the direction of the mosque.  It was that obvious that we were tourists....even with our obviously Chinese faces!  Of course, using our fingers we reconfirmed the walking directions and then smiled and waved to the very friendly men as we  left them behind.

Xi'an. The Muslim Quarter.


It's the first day of my third visit back to Xi'an and it's Yim's second time here. For both Bro and SK, it's their first visit to the city and I hope they enjoy their time here.  For me, I think Xi'an is my favorite city in China as far as being a tourist is concerned.  The old city is reasonably small and very walkable.  It's full of history and interesting sights, sounds and smells and at the same time, it's also very modern.  Not to mention that it always feels like springtime here - the weather is perfect for me.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Back to Xi'an!

Waiting Room 8 at Beijing West Railway Station.  A sea of humanity waiting to board the train to Xi'an!

Today, I made my third trip back to Xi'an and like my first trip here, I arrived by train though this time it was by high speed train from Beijing.

A Day With Yim.


Today is Bro's and Yim's birthday so Happy Birthday to both of them!  My plan is for us to celebrate with a roast duck dinner tonight but that will depend on whether or not everyone is in the mood to go out for dinner.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Great Wall or Bust! Okay, It's a Bust.

See those humps at the top of the mountain.  Those are two of the turrets of Jinshangling.  That's all I saw of the Great Wall today! 😒

Our day of sightseeing started out on the wrong foot when the guide called in sick and the weather turned crappy on us. Not to mention the fact that the driver showed up so early we weren't ready to leave the apartment.

Changling Tomb.


The best thing about today was that Yim finally arrived. Our group of four is now complete and we're all excited about the trip ahead of us. The worst thing about today was that the sightseeing tour, which included a hike up and down the Simitai section of the Great Wall, that I had signed us all up for was a a major disappointment and the bad weather had a large part to do with that.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Wangfujing Snack Street.

Scorpions on a stick.  Do you dare try one?

Beijing has a fair number of night markets where you can come and sample all sorts of tasty, okay maybe not tasty for everybody, delights.

On my 2009 visit, our tour guide brought us here so we could experience the night market and sample of the unique food offerings - roasted scorpions anyone?

Lama Temple.


After spending a couple of hours walking around the Temple of Heaven, we made our way by metro to the Lama Temple.  The last time I came to the temple, I arrived by foot and from a different direction so when we exited the station, I wasn't sure where the temple was in relation to where we were standing.  As I looked around, I noted the tiled roofs of buildings peeking over a large wall.  My bet was that was the temple complex.

Temple of Heaven.


After our failed attempt to visit the Forbidden City because it's designated as a museum and today is Monday which is the de facto day of the week that museums are typically closed, we decided to head to the Temple of Heaven.

Forbidden City or Bust!


You can probably already guess from the photo that opens up this posting whether or not we made it to the Forbidden City, the highlight destination on our sightseeing itinerary today, which was an ambitious one - Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, National Museum of China, Temple of Heaven, and Niujie Mosque.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Beijing!


It's been almost 9 years since my first visit to Beijing. On that trip, we covered a lot of sightseeing ground but I was more than happy to revisit many of those places as this time around, we will be exploring at our own pace so I hope I will see things that I missed the first time around.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

At the Circus.


Tonight is our last night in Shanghai and I wanted to end it with something fun.

Cherry Blossoms at Gucun Park.


Today was set aside as blossoms day. I planned this day with Bro and I in mind, well before we learned that SK would be joining us on this trip and well before I found out that the poor thing suffers from really bad spring time allergies.  Pollen is not her friend!  Despite the fact that she's been outdoors all day, with the pollen fluttering all about, she's been a real trooper about it ....runny nose and puff eyes and all!

The Stilt Performers at Nanhui Peach Blossom Village.


Stilt walking is a centuries old performance art form in China; more traditional in the northern part of the country than in the south. Typically, performances take place in conjunction with the Spring Festival aka Chinese New Year but on occasion, if you are lucky, you'll catch a performance. It was our lucky day when we were in Shanghai. It was the time of the annual Peach Blossom and we had made our way to the Nanhui Peach Blossom Village on the outskirts of town. We were strolling around the gardens when we heard the sound of music. We followed our ears and saw the performers so we sat and watched for a few minutes.

It's All About the Blossoms. Nanhui Peach Blossom Village.


Today was the day that I had been looking forward to ever since I started planning our visit to Shanghai. I had set aside the entire day to visit gardens to see blossoms. More specifically, peach and cherry blossoms as it just so happens that our visit to Shanghai coincides with the annual festivals for both types of blossoms.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Xitang Water Village.


The last stop on our sightseeing tour today was Xitang, a small ancient water village located about 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Shanghai.  If you look for tours to Xitang from Shanghai, you'll find that a lot of them start in the late afternoon because it's popular to be in Xitang when it's dark and the village is all lit up.

Hangzhou. Zhongzhu Monastery.


After leaving the tea pickers behind, we drove a very short distance to Buddhist temple, nestled in the green hills somewhere near Meijiawu Tea Village. It's a very lovely, secluded and tranquil spot for a temple.  According to the itinerary, we were at Zhongzhu Temple which dates back about 800 years.  I have not been able to find any information about it on the internet but obviously, it exists!  So, I have no information about the place other than the name.

Hangzhou Revisited. The Tea Pickers.


The Qingming (phonetically pronounced "Ching Ming" in English) Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, is the day when Chinese people visit family graves or burial grounds to pray to their ancestors. They sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, and joss paper, among other items, to the ancestors. This year the festival will take place on April 5 which is just a few days from now.

Hangzhou Revisited. West Lake.

On our boat ride on West Lake.

It was a really long day today but unfortunately, most of it was spent going from one place to another....either on a train or by car.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Slice of France in Shanghai. The French Concession.

Strolling along one of the streets in the French Concession neighborhood.  We picked up a walking partner along the way. 😁

Under international law, a concession is a territory within a country that is administered by an entity other than the state which holds sovereignty over it. This is usually a colonizing power, or at least mandated by one, as in the case of colonial chartered companies.

The Bund.


Ironically, I've only walked along the Bund at night. Today was my first time seeing it in daylight.

The Bund refers to a stretch of embanked riverfront in Shanghai that runs along the western bank of the Huangpu River in the eastern part of Huangpu District. The area along the river faces the modern skyscrapers of Lujiazui in the Pudong District. The Bund usually refers to the European style buildings and wharves on this section of the road, as well as some adjacent areas.

The Backstreets of Shanghai.


From Yu Garden, my plan was for us to go to Shanghai Old Street which is located about a two block walk from Yu Bazaar. But, there were no signs pointing us which way to go so we started out just wandering without a clue.

Yu Garden.


I first visited Yu Garden when I came to Shanghai in 2009. Back then, I didn't do any pre-trip research so I had absolutely no idea that this place existed.  I came to the area because I found out about Yu Bazaar, the shopping complex that surrounds the garden.  Only when I arrived, did I see the ticket counter for Yu Garden and decided to check it out.  On that visit, there were few tourists around so I pretty much strolled through the place on my own.  It was such a peaceful and tranquil place to be.  Today, when I saw the horde of people entering Yu Bazaar, I realized that it would be high chance that many of those people would be visiting the garden as well.  Sadly, peace and tranquility through a lovely green garden would not be on the agenda today.

Good Morning, Shanghai!

In Gucheng Park, looking towards the Bund.

Poor SK, jetlag kept her up into the wee hours of the morning and so she had barely a few hours of sleep by the time Bro and I were awake. I know she must be really tired but I can see she's determined to push through it so I just have us all carry on as if she was on the same time zone as Bro and I.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Hong Kong to Shanghai.

SK and Bro.  Lots to chat about as  we walk along the Bund.  It's been a very long time since they've seen each other!

The best part of today was reuniting with SK!  After a lot of back and forth with her and Anna, our Airbnb host, Anna kindly let SK into the apartment 2 hours before official check in time.  The cleaning woman was still in the apartment, getting it ready for our arrival, but SK didn't care.  The poor thing arrived into Pudong International Airport early in the morning.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Last Views and Meals Kowloon. Sham Shui Po and Claypot Rice.


We spent our last afternoon in Hong Kong back in Kowloon. I have decided that Kowloon offers up more of the iconic "Cantonese" lifestyle experiences that I am interested in.  I love its crammed neighborhoods, filled with semi dilapidated high rise buildings, streets lined with shops selling all things Chinese and people....lots and lots of people.  So many people that Bro is now beginning to yet revise HIS version of the child policy.  He is now at one child per four families 😁

Exploring Lamma Island.

Yung Shue Wan, Lamma Island.

I can't believe it but it's already our last day in Hong Kong. Time has really flown by and even more so considering my original itinerary only had us here for 3 days.  Due to a mix up on my part that had us arriving a day into Hong Kong a day earlier than I had originally thought, I had to come up with something for us to do today.  So, my suggestion was to go to Lamma Island.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Bye Bye Macau. It's Back to Kowloon.

Bro shopping for fruits in Yau Ma Tei.

Oce we decided to leave Macau and return back to Kowloon, we once again had to figure out how to get the bus back to the ferry terminal.  Yes, we could've easily taken a taxi but as a responsible traveler, I always try to take public transportation first and the buses in Macau are plentiful, cheap and if you are in any of the tourist sites, there is always a large display with a map marked with the tourist spots and the bus numbers that will take you to each of them.

A Slice of Portugal in China. Macau. Part 2.

The Ruins of St. Paul's Church.  This is the southern facade of the original church.

After our tastebud satisfying breakfast of Cantonese congee, we set out to see the landmarks of Macau.  It was easier to get around Senado Square than I had anticipated which was great because we didn't have to rely on the Google Map that I had put together for sightseeing around the Senado Square area.  The streets here have pretty good signage.

A Slice of Portugal in China. Macau. Part 1.

Senado Square, Macau.

We spent the day on the island of Macau making our way over by the highspeed TurboJET ferry from Kowloon.  Neither Bro nor I had ever been so exploring Macau was something I was very much looking forward to and Bro was as well.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Roast Duck and a Light Show.


Today, it was the early bird dinner for us.  For some people in Hong Kong, there was still some time left to linger over high tea.  But, we were hungry.  Not only had we spent the better part of the day walking but we had also skipped lunch.

Escaping the Concrete Jungle.


We took the local bus down from Victoria Peak. It wasn't a long ride and the bus made barely a handful of stops. Our challenge was figuring where to get off as we really had no clue what the route of the bus was.

High up on Victoria Peak.

Victoria Peak.
Panoramic view from Victoria Peak.  The buildings of Hong Kong Island in the foreground, Kowloon in the distance. Use the horizontal scroll bar to pan to see the entire photo.

Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island. Locally, it is simply known as The Peak. With an elevation of 552 meters (1,811 feet), it is the highest mountain on Hong Kong island. The summit is occupied by a radio telecommunications facility and is closed to the public. However, the surrounding area of public parks and high-value residential land is the area that is normally meant by the name The Peak.  It is a major tourist attraction that offers panoramic views of Central, Victoria Harbour, Lamma Island, and the surrounding islands.

Man Mo Temple.


We exited the Central-Mid Levels escalators at Hollywood Road and walked down the road until we go to Man Mo Temple.

Man Mo Temple is a temple for the worship of the civil or literature god Man Tai and the war god Mo Tai. The two gods were popularly patronized by scholars and students seeking progress in their study or ranking in the civil examinations in the Ming and Qing dynasties. There are several Man Mo Temples in Hong Kong, the best known of which is the temple in Sheung Wan which is the one located at 124-126 Hollywood Road.

Up, Up, Up, and Then Down.


I think Bro thought I was crazy to drag him to see escalators but that's exactly what I did and it was the first thing we did today after our dim sum breakfast at Lin Heung. The Central-Mid Levels Escalator system in Hong Kong is not only an important transportation system for residents of the city but it's also a tourist attraction so we had to go.

Tea and Dim Sum to Start the Day.


T

oday was a really long day and we kicked it off with a meal at a very traditional Cantonese tea house called Lin Heung Tea House (Chinese: 蓮香樓; literally: "Fragrant lotus")  located at Chinese restaurant located at 160-164 Wellington Street, at the corner of Aberdeen Street, in Central, Hong Kong Island.  We took the MTR to Central and then walked from there. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

End of Day 1 in Hong Kong.


After visiting Lantau Island, we decided to head back to Kowloon but we weren't quite ready to call it a day yet. We had read about a fruit market in Yau Ma Tei that we wanted to check out. As we all know, Bro is a fruit addict and well, there is no way we would have skipped visiting this place once we knew of its existence.

Buddha Time! Lantau Island.

Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island.

After our leisurely stroll through the Goldfish, Flower and Bird Markets, Bro and I walked to the nearest MTR station and made our way to the Tung Chung MTR station.  Final destination?  Lantau Island.

Markets of Hong Kong. Fish, Flowers, and Birds.

Fish for sale at the Goldfish Market.

We spent our first full morning in Hong Kong exploring three markets - the Goldfish Market, the Flower Market and the Bird Market. All three are located within walking distance of the Prince Edward MTR station. We made our way there after having a classic Cantonese breakfast of congee at Sun Kee Congee in the Hung Hom neighborhood.

Starting Off Our Day, the Cantonese Way....With Congee.

Waiting for our bowls of congee at Sun Kee Congee.

We kicked off our first full day in Hong Kong by getting up bright and early!  When I checked the time on my phone, it was barely 6:30a.  I looked over at Bro's bed and while there was no sign of him rustling around, I decided that we had at least 7 hours of sleep and well, that should be enough to get over jet lag.  Basically, there would be no jet lag for us!  Since I was up, I decided to hit the shower first.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Hong Kong!

View of the Temple Street Night Market from our Airbnb.

Greetings from Hong Kong! This is the starting point for our epic trip through China. Bro and I will be here for the next few days getting reacquainted with a place that I have not been to since I was a kid....literally decades ago. Even though I have been here several times, as a child, I don't remember much about Hong Kong so I will essentially be experiencing it for the first time. For a Chinese person like me, who is of Cantonese heritage, Hong Kong is above all, culinary heaven. I have picked out a few special places I want us to eat at and am very excited about that.