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Travel the World

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BC: Wish you were here! XOXO

FC: April 21 - May 1, 2011 | CHINA

1: Saturday April 23 | After a long flight we landed early in the morning in Hong Kong. We grabbed some Japanese food and jumped on the express train to Hong Kong Island. We checked into the Renaissance and freshened up for a long day. | Hong Kong

2: The first day was an overcast drizzly day, but we didn’t let it stop us. Our hotel sat right by the Star Ferry port on Victoria Harbor. It was an adorable 1960's double-decker green ferry that cost about 50 cents to ride. We rode over to Kowloon and walked all along the water front area. The rain did not stop the hoards of people visiting and taking pictures. We walked up Nathan Road and through Kowloon Park while being tempted every step to buy Rolex watches. Tripadvisor found us a good restaurant about a block away. So began Kati’s love affair with Chinese dumplings. Next we stopped and got cheap massages. Then we Star Ferried back to Hong Kong Island and signed up for the Big Bus Tour for the next two days. | Star Ferry | Rain, Rain, Go Away... | VICTORIA

3: HARBOR | Hong Kong

4: Due to weather conditions, we wanted to tour HK Island in the sun so we decided to go to Aberdeen on the bus tour. Kati didn’t last long on the top deck in the rain even though we were provided ponchos, but Lex sat on top the whole ride over. The bus included headphones and a running commentary of all we were seeing, which was great for learning the history. At Aberdeen we took a sampan boat ride around the harbor and saw Jumbo floating restaurant, lots of fishing boats, and even ‘houseboats’ (not quite like we stay on at Don Pedro). Next stop, Stanley Market. The bus ride over was amazing. We braved the weather and had fabulous views of multiple bays, beaches, and resorts on a very narrow and windy road. We then explored the market and Lex's desire for a cool remote control helicopter began. | Aberdeen

5: We decided to cab ride back home because the bus wasn’t very reliable on timing. At the end of the day we treated ourselves to some room service and a soccer game on tv before falling asleep early. | STANEY MARKET

6: Sunday, April 24

8: Good Morning Hong Kong! | Happy 34th Birthday Lex

9: We woke up early due to jet lag and got to see an amazing sunrise from our hotel. Sunshine greeted us so we got an early start. We ferried to Kowloon and walked along the waterfront taking tons of pictures. At the Avenue of the Stars we got some breakfast at Starbucks and sat on the deck watching the harbor. This morning is one of our favorite memories of the trip. | Lexie Chan

10: BIG BUS TOUR | The Hong Kong Island tour was wonderful on the top deck of the bus. We learned the history of the areas we drove through. Many areas sit on reclaimed land. Much of the audio tour talked about architecture. We also learned that the Chinese are ‘fond of their luxury items’ and you often see long lines outside designer stores, which we did!

11: The bus took us to the bottom of Victoria Peak where we road the cute, red 120 year old Peak Tram. I ended up sitting next to a woman on the tram who was on our Aberdeen bus ride! The ride up was so steep (27-degree grade!) with great views of the city.

12: Sky Terrace | Once at the top of the Peak (1300 ft) we went up higher to the Sky Terrace (1400 ft). We could see both sides of the island from there. Inside the Peak Tower are tons of shops and restaurants. We could easily have spent they day hanging out there, but we had a lot of sightseeing still to do. | Victoria Peak

13: We had read about Wonderfish Spa as one of the top attractions at the Peak. We submerged out feet in a warm water bath while little fish nibbled the dry skin. It was totally freaky and we didn't last five minutes!

14: MAN MO TEMPLE | Mo Men Temple is an 18th century temple for the worship of the literature god Man Tai and the martial god Mo Tai. These two gods were patronized by students and scholars in the Ming & Qing Dynasties.

15: Inside the temple hangs hundreds of spiral incense burning. We had to watch out because the ashes drop on your head as the incense burns. Free incense sticks were available so we lit three for the three boys. This temple is a photographers dream (technically no cameras are allowed). Outside was a little furnace for burning your wish. I wrote my wish and burned it accordingly. Only time will tell if my wish comes true. | Making my wish...

16: Maxims | Lunch was at the famous Maxims Dim Sum in the city Hall Bldg. The building wasn't much to look at but the restaurant looked like a giant ballroom with huge chandeliers and big windows looking out at the harbor. The food is pushed around on trolley carts and you just choose what you want off it (we depended on pictures because the writing was in Chinese). We stuffed ourselves on what is supposed to be snack food (mostly dumplings)! We got fresh squeezed juice that tasted like you were biting into an actual green apple. Then we walked along the long corridor walkway that stretches over a mile through the city back to Central Pier and caught the ferry to Kowloon.

17: Kowloon View | Nathan Road (The Golden Mile) | We had to RUN to catch the Big Bus Tour on Kowloon and barely made it. We relaxed and rode the whole route without getting off.

18: Top of the Ritz | The View | We grabbed a cab to the new Ritz Carlton because we heard about its chocolate library. The Hotel sat on the top 16 floors of a brand new building that is the fourth tallest in the world (1600 ft, higher than Victoria Peak). Unfortunately there was a 30-table wait for the chocolate so we didn’t stay. The nice manager let us go up at see the outdoor rooftop lounge. The view was incredible and scary because we were so high. | The Ritz Carlton

19: Lex's Birthday Dinner | To celebrate Lex’s birthday, we had a gourmet dinner on the top floor of the Peninsula Hotel overlooking the harbor and HK Island. For being such a historic and old hotel, the restaurant was very modern. We had a beautiful view of the sunset while we dined on fresh fish, veggies, and chocolate tarts. | After dinner we ran to the pier and watched the laser light show (choreographed to broadcasted music) on the buildings across the river. Then we walked to Temple Street for what was supposed to be a night market. It was not happening so we walked back and caught a ferry home.

20: In order to make the most of Lantau Island on our last day, we packed up and stored our bags at the airport, which happens to be on the same island. Then we jumped over to the Ngong Ping 360 cable car terminal where we rode in the Crystal Cabin (glass bottom) cable car. I pre-purchased our tickets online, which saved us a couple hours in line! The car carried us across the island’s mountain peaks (3.5miles) where we could see all the South China Sea Islands that surround Hong Kong. | CRYSTAL CABLE CAR | Monday, April 25

21: We reached Ngong Ping Village at the base of the Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha) in 25 minutes. Coming over the last mountain crest and seeing the Big Buddha in the distance was amazing! We strolled through the village quickly to get to the real attraction of the Buddha. After 268 steps we made it to the base. Inside there is a little museum with a relic of Guatama Buddha, consisting of his remains. We lunched at the neighboring Po Lin Monastery on a very fresh, yummy Chinese vegetarian meal.

24: Tai O Fishing Village

25: Next we jumped in a taxi and went to the bottom of the mountain to the quaint fishing village, Tai O. We cut in line for a boat ride when we told them we were pressed for time. The boat ride took us out in to the sea to look for pink dolphins. Everyone told us no one ever sees the infamous dolphins so when one actually appeared, I wasn’t prepared! It looked like it was just floating there, not moving much and then it was gone. I’m proud to say that we did succeed in seeing one though! Then our boat drove through the village, which is built on stilts above the water in canals. It was so neat we wished we had more time to explore it. We had barely enough time to grab a taxi back up and jump onto the cable car. We chose not to do the Crystal Cabin on the way home so we got a private normal car because we paid extra for the Crystal Cabin. Then we were off to the airport and a flight to Beijing. | See the pink dolphin?

26: We were impressed with the enormity and niceness of the Beijing airport. It had been renovated and expanded for the 2010 Summer Olympics. We got a private car to the hotel because we didn’t know better and paid about triple what we would have in a car, but it was still cheaper than anything in the US. Our Marriott was deluxe! It is built next to the old city wall and it’s only a couple years old. All the hotels we stayed in had bathrooms with windows into the rest of the room – interesting design. | Beijing | Tuesday, April 26

27: Jingshan Park | The park was full of retirees in groups dancing for exercise. | We met our guide Tony and started out in Jingshan Park, a previous imperial garden turned public park. It’s an artificial hill built on the central axis of Beijing. The hill has five peaks and a beautiful pavilion on each peak. This hill was made with the dirt from the Imperial Palace’s moat. There was a peony festival going on so the park was packed with retired folks. The peonies and other flowers were gorgeous and in full bloom. The top of the highest peak had a phenomenal view of the Forbidden City and the central line that runs straight through the city both ways (Temple of Heaven in the south & Olympic Park in the north). | The last emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Chongzhen, committed suicide by hanging himself here in 1644.

28: We entered the Forbidden City through the back gate and started our tour in the palace living quarters (178 acres). | Forbidden City

29: We learned the sloping ridges of building roofs are decorated with a line of statuettes and the number represents the status of the building. The buildings had an interlocking system to protect them in an earthquake (very advance engineering). Yellow was the imperial color so all rooftops of the Palace are yellow.

30: We saw courtyard where the last Emperor Puyi (Qing Dynasty) lived when Republicans came in and pushed him off the throne (1912). On display were toys from his childhood, his old writing desk, and a few other personal items. Then we saw Empress Dowager Cixi's living area. She was the most powerful woman in Chinese history and was the de facto ruler for 47 years. She started as Emperor Xianfeng’s concubine and gave birth to a son who became the next Emperor. She would sit behind a curtain and guide her son (the emperor) when he met with leaders.

32: On the ascents and descents to buildings, there are large carved stones. The emperors would be carried in sedans over these. One of them was so large and heavy a system of pulling it over ice was created in order to move it to the Imperial Palace. The carvings always involve a dragon, symbol of celestial power and the emperor.

35: Through the courtyard runs the Inner Golden Water River in the shape of a bow and crossed by five bridges. | After the living quarters we saw central buildings where coronations and ceremonies took place and the Meridian Gate (entrance gate). Only the emperor used the middle gate and his wife, once, on their wedding day (she would never leave city again after going through gate).

36: North End of Tiananmen Square

37: Tony took us to a local Chinese restaurant across the street from the current government buildings (behind large wall). After a delicious traditional lunch, we walked back to Tiananmen Square and took pictures. The square is massive and has two huge tvs showing propaganda. The large structure in the center is Mao’s Mausoleum housing his preserved body on display to visitors.

38: Tiananmen Square

39: Temple of Heaven | The Temple of Heaven is a complex and park of Taoist buildings. The Ming & Qing emperors would visit this park to pray for good harvest. This complex holds the only building that was allowed to be higher than the Emperor’s building because it was for God. There are three main groups of constructions: The Circular Mound Altar, the Imperial Vault of Heaven (surrounded by Echo Wall), and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (this building is completely wooden, no nails). The Hall of Prayer was rebuilt after a fire and trees from Oregon were used because they most replicated the originals and the country no longer had trees that large. We toured this park quickly because the weather turned rainy and cold.

41: After a long day, we treated ourselves to the hotel spa. That evening we attended the traditional Peking opera. The building was beautiful and our little table we were seated at had yummy treats including candied nuts. The opera began strange, but ended really well with an entertaining warrior show where the actors threw spears around while singing. Side screens flanked both sides of the stage with subtitles to explain the plots. There were five different shows and each had very simple story lines. The show was mostly about the costumes and music. We had a very challenging time finding a cab after the show, so we decided to head back to our hotel once we finally found one. The cab drivers expect you to guide them and they do not like stopping for foreigners. | Peking Opera

42: The Great Wall of China Mutianyu Section | We awoke to a beautiful sunny day ready to hike the Great Wall of China at the Mutianyu section. Tony and a private driver drove us about two hours outside the city to this section of the wall. This section of the wall is one of the best preserved and at one time served as the northern barrier defending the capital and imperial tombs. It was first built in the mid-6th century. We took a cable car up the mountain. | Wednesday, April 27

43: We didn’t realize there are parts of the Great Wall all across China that do not connect because they were built at different times to defend different areas. Most of the Wall was built to keep out the Mongols who would come, decimate a city, and leave with the stolen goods. This section of the wall had been restored, which made the hiking easier. We were lucky Tony knew his way around a camera because we took about 200 pictures there.

45: We spent a couple hours hiking the Wall. We could see miles of the Wall in both directions. Huge mountains surrounded us with the Wall and watchtowers all along the peaks.

47: To get down the mountain, we rode the wheeled toboggans. The first half was really fun until we got stuck behind a little girl who was very nervous and moved like a snail!

48: We drove to the Summer Palace and lunched across the street at a traditional Chinese restaurant, and for dessert: McDonalds flan McFlurries. The Summer Palace is a 500 acre complex of gardens, palaces, and structures. It sits on central Kunming Lake that was entirely man-made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill. When we first entered the grounds we walked passed the ‘market village’ that was created so the royals could have a shopping experience within the palace walls. Many of the structures had covered walkways so the royals could get around during the rain. Every beam (thousands!) has a different scene painted on it. At the top of Longevity Hill is a huge temple with a Buddha statue. The Long Corridor is a mile long and runs all along the lake at the bottom of the hill. We walked along this busy pass (packed full of Chinese tourists) to get to the Marble Boat and boat port. We rode a very cutely painted boat to an island in the lake where we crossed a large bridge (original) back to the mainland. There was a man on the bridge with a kite over a mile high in the sky! All we could see was a black dot.

49: Summer Palace

50: Our driver brought us back to China (passing the Olympic grounds: Birds Nest & Water Cube) on the way in. He dropped us off at a market for some shopping where Lex bought a couple ties and Kati got two scarves. We walked to the Chaoyang Theater to see the most amazing acrobat show. The stunts were better than Cirque du Soleil and we got popcorn and soda while we watched. | Getting a cab home was difficult, but not impossible when you give them a nice smile! We spent two hours that night figuring out our flights for the next day because Expedia messed up our flight times! It was a good thing we figured it out though. | Chaoyang Acrobat Show

51: We started the day with a tour of the Hutongs with Tony. Hutong are alleys formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences. Over time these residences were broken up into multiple small homes for many families. One building used to be a famous temple with a large compound of houses and courtyard. Now the temple (front building) sells veggies and the courtyard is filled up with lean-tos for homes. Most of the people who live in the hutongs work right in the neighborhood or have moved out and are waiting for the government to relocate them and give them money for their home. Another compound we looked at has a site where students came together and wrote reforms for government. The current government doesn’t tell people about this site because they no longer promote the idea of reform and revolutions for fear of putting the idea into people’s minds. Another home was a famous early 1900 two-story home. No one built a two-story home after the Japanese invaded because real estate became a bad investment. | Thursday, April 28 | Student Reform Meeting Place

52: Tony took us the Collectibles Market. It is a flea market for locals who love to collect antiques and various items. People sell food ration coupons from the early Communist days, old paper money, playing cards with any picture you can dream of, etc. One stall had boxes of broken china. When an emperor came to power, that leader had his own china design from the Imperial kiln and the pervious emperor’s china was broken. People saved the pieces and now they are collectibles. Kati got a necklace pendant made from a piece of Emperor Wanli (1573-1620) of the Ming Dynasty. | We wanted to visit Tiananmen one last time before leaving. We got there with 15 minutes to spare before Mao’s Mausoleum closed. It was a strange experience, but fascinating. He looked orange and waxy. Then Tony took us to the Silk Market and we said goodbye. We spent our last couple hours stocking up on Chinese knock-off souvenirs to take home. We got the boys bakugans and remote control helicopters. Kati got two Coach purses and a wallet. We ended with a Chinese foot massage. The entire massage they were trying to up-sell us, which defeated the purpose of relaxing. The entire shopping experience was exhausting! | There are always buses at Tiananmen in case of protesters so the government can bus them away quickly. | National History Museum

53: Xian | Our Xian hotel was so cool we wished we had longer to enjoy it (we got in late the night before and were off early). We met our guide “Sophie” (her chosen American name). She first took us to the Terracotta “museum”. It wasn’t really a museum, but a shop that makes and sells reproduction terracotta warriors and other furniture. It was interesting because they make them the same way they were made originally (210 BC) using terracotta clay from Mount Lishan. We bought a small warrior for our shelf, leather jewelry box, and little magnet for our Christmas tree. | Friday, April 29

54: We visited Pit 1 first. It is the largest and the size of a football field. A farmer discovered it in 1974 when digging a well. If he was a foot over he would have missed finding the warrior head. Emperor Qin (first emperor to unite all of China) had farmers spend 30 years making these warriors to look after him in the after-life. When his son became emperor, the farmers revolted and smashed all the warriors. Now the archaeologists are piecing them all back together. There are a few that have been found mostly intact now displayed in cases. There were very colorful, but the paint fades within hours of being dug up. The archaeologists are now leaving large plots covered until they can figure out how to better preserve them in air. We saw Pit 2 & 3 next. At one pit a few people asked to take a picture with Kati, guess blonde hair is more rare than we thought when 99% of the tourists are Chinese.

56: Then we visited the museum with a replica of the bronze horses and chariot uncovered. We completed the tour with a 360-degree movie of the history of the Emperor Qin, warrior creation, and farmer revolt. The movie was made sometime in the 70’s.

57: We returned to Xian and visited the city wall that surrounds the whole inner city (about 9 miles around). We rented bikes and rode around the whole wall (dating to Tang dynasty). It was really fun and hot! Then we had to walk back to the hotel because we could not get a cab, but not after a stop at McDonalds for flan McFlurries. At the airport our flight was delayed and it was very late by the time we got to Shanghai. | Horticulture Expo

58: Saturday, April 30 | Shanghai | Our Shanghai JW Marriott was awesome! It was the top 30 floors of a huge high rise and we got a corner room that looked right out to the Bund overlooking People’s Park. We treated ourselves to breakfast in bed for our last day. | Yu Gardens

59: We did the Big Red Bus city tour to learn about the city and see the major sites. We had beautiful weather and it was great seeing the city from the top of the open-air bus. We quickly learned not to get off the bus unless we wanted to wait a long time for another one to come. We rode the bus and toured the Pudong side (filled with massive sky scrapers built within the last 15 years). Next stop, famous dumpling lunch overlooking Yu Garden & Bazaar.. We went back to the Bund to look at the beautiful colonial buildings that line the river walk. | We were curious what the Tourist Tunnel was so we bought tickets and went down the escalators. To our surprise it was a standing people-mover with glass windows on all sides moving through a tunnel under the river with laser lights, blow up people, and commentary you can’t understand. Back on the Pudong side we walked to the Pearl TV Tower and watched bad karaoke from a huge circular people bridge. Then McD’s for ice cream! We walked along the waterfront to catch the ferry back, which didn’t compare to HK’s Star Ferry. We walked the length of the absolutely packed Nanjing Street.

61: Our bus tour included a sunset cruise down the river. Finding it was not easy, but a friendly security guard took us to the spot. Finally on the boat we grabbed two great seats on top and relaxed while the sun went down. This ride was the highlight of the day. The weather was warm, the scenery grand when all the lights came on in the buildings, and relaxing. Back at our hotel we watched footage of the Royal Wedding between Will & Kate while we packed our bags for home.

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