Sunday, December 2, 2018

And Now We Head Home

I woke up around 5:00am and couldn’t get back to sleep so I just laid there and at 5:45am I decided to get up and get things ready to head home. Thomas got up as well and we both showered, dressed and finished packing. Once we were done we went down to breakfast and relaxed, ate and had coffee. After eating we went up to our room and read until about 8:20am. Then we decided to go and look for a letterbox that I thought might be close to our hotel. So we followed the clues and we found some of the landmarks but some were gone. They are doing construction in the area that won’t be complete until February 2019. We couldn’t get close enough to check the final landmark but looking at the construction I doubt if it is there. So we returned to our room and I worked on pictures and journaling. Then at 9:15am I went to Starbucks to get some coffee since we still have a while until we go to the airport. On the way back to the room I saw Arnold, Jeff and Jen in the lobby, they were getting ready to head out. So I said goodbye and went back up to the room. I continued working on photos and journaling until around 11:10am we got our things and we headed down to the lobby. When we got there Paul and Mary were already waiting. Thomas got us checked out and shortly thereafter Matthew showed up with the van to take us to the airport.

It took us about 35 minutes to get to the airport – thankfully it was Sunday and no traffic. At the airport we said goodbye to Matthew and then got in line to check in. The line was moving slow, there was only one person working at the time. Finally, a second person came up and things went faster. We checked in our bags, got our boarding passes and headed to security. Security went pretty fast and the first thing we did was check the board for our gate number. None was assigned yet. We had been in the airport for about 45 minutes and we decided to find a place to sit and wait for the gate to be announced. Thirty minutes later a gate number appeared on the screen. We are on American Airlines flight AA126 (seats 39AB) departing from Gate 40. We had to ask for directions (the signs were so confusing), down the escalators two flights and a train to the first stop. Finally, we arrived at the gate and we got settled for the hour we had to wait until boarding. The time went fast – we both read and before we knew it we were boarding. This time we didn’t have the row to ourselves but that wasn’t too bad. But the flight might have the worst we have ever had. There was turbulence (at times really bad) for most of the trip, the food was horrible and the flight attendants were anything but attentive. I read for a while, watched three movies (Christopher Robin, Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy 2) and then I slept for a while. Thomas was really uncomfortable for most of the flight but thankfully he was able to get some sleep as well.

Fourteen hours later we landed in Dallas and I have never been so happy to be off a plane in my life. Once off the plane we stopped at the bathroom then headed for customs. We stood in line for a while and finally got to a kiosk, where we scanned our passports, filled out a questionnaire and got a printout with our picture on it. Then we had to get into another line and go through an agent. He looked at our passport and took the printout. Next, we had to pick up our luggage at baggage claim and then wheel it fifty feet and then turn it in again – stupid! And finally, we had to go through security again, thankfully, we had TSA Precheck and then we were into the terminal. It only took us an hour and a half – it was a good thing we had a four hour layover. The departure board said our flight was departing at Gate 31 so we headed there. No sooner had we gotten settled they changed the gate to 36 – not too far so we headed there. Then we decided to get something to eat. We had a quick meal at McDonalds and then returned to our gate. I did some pictures and journaling and got some things uploaded to Facebook and my blog. We are on American Airlines flight AA2698 (seats 23DE. We are both ready to get home and all this flying is tiring. We boarded and got to our seats and when boarding was complete we were happy to find that we had the row to ourselves. So we spread out and we both went to sleep. This made for a quick flight and before we knew it we were landing in Albuquerque. We got off the plane and stopped at the bathroom, then went to baggage claim. Our bags were there and first thing is we took our jackets out and put them on – colder here than in Hong Kong.

Then we made our way out to the shuttle and then to our car. We paid our fee and we were off to Santa Fe. It was around 11:00pm when we arrived home and we were both hungry so we had something to eat and then we showered and it is now time to head to bed. This trip has been a dream come true and the trip of a lifetime. But as is usual with our trips we are always glad to be home. We didn’t get to see the dogs tonight, it is cold and Bruce kept them at the other house. Tomorrow hopefully we can get back to normal.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Day in Hong Kong

Our alarm went off at 6:00am and we immediately got up and got dressed. After organizing the room a bit we went down to the restaurant for breakfast. We had a nice relaxing meal and drank some coffee. Once we were done we returned to our room and got our things for the day. At 8:30am we went down to the lobby to meet our group for a day out in Hong Kong. Leaving the hotel we drove through a tunnel under Victoria Bay over to Hong Kong Island. We made our way up to Victoria Peak. Up at the peak we had time to walk around and get some views of the city. There was a haze so it wasn’t the greatest of views but it was nice. After about 45 minutes here we headed back down and went over to Stanley Market. We only had a short time here but is was enough – Thomas and I weren’t really in the mood to shop but we did end up getting a couple of t-shirts. From the market we made our way to the harbor and we took a 20 minute sampan ride and then ended up at Jumbo Floating Restaurant. We had a dim sum lunch which was really good. After lunch we headed back to the hotel.

Thomas and I went to our room and put some stuff away and then decided to go for a walk. We walked along the harbor for a while and then made our way to the Hong Kong Museum of History. We spent about an hour at the museum and then returned to the hotel. Once we were back in the room we decided to take a nap and we ended up sleeping about 45 minutes. Then we spent a little time packing some things and getting organized. Then at 6:00pm we went down to the lobby and met the group and we all went out for dinner. We ate Enjoy Bar & Grill outside and had a great last visit with the group. After we ate one couple went back to the hotel but we went with another couple and to the ferry platform and watched the ICC Lightshow and Music. This was a short ten minute light and music show that was okay – nothing spectacular. After the show we decided to take the ferry over to Hong Kong Island just to see the skyline at night from the harbor. So we had to go over to the other side and get off then get back on again to get back to our side. It cost about one dollar each for both rides.

By this time it was around 9:00pm and we made our way back to the hotel. We needed to get some last minute things packed. After taking showers we packed everything we didn’t need in the morning and now it is time for bed. We fly home tomorrow and it will be another long day of airports and airplanes.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Our Last Stop - Hong Kong

I was up early again this morning. I woke up around 4:00am. Since I couldn’t sleep I edited the photos I took yesterday and then worked on journaling and my blog. By 7:00am I was done with everything and all caught up on my photos and journaling. Then I got up and got dressed and packed my things. Thomas got ready as well and around 7:30am our bags were outside our room for the porters to pick up (this had to be done by 8:30am). After putting our bags out we headed down for some breakfast. We had a quick breakfast and then returned to our room to relax for a while. At about 9:00am we headed down to the lobby to meet everyone. Around 9:30am our local tour guide handed out our lunch boxes and then we got into the bus for our drive to the Guilinbei Railway Station. It only took about twenty minutes to get to the station and there we said goodbye to Christine. Then we went through security and made our way to the waiting area. Our trip number is G2901, we board on platform 11, we are in car 03 and in seats 9AC. We were let onto the platform at 10:30am and the train left the station at 10:55am. We got settled and the train left the station and quickly got up to 240 km/hr. During the train ride they gave us a snack box and we already had our lunch box. We saved both of these until around 1:00pm. We opened one of each box and ended up sharing just the one box which meant we had to carry the other box with us off the train when we arrived in Shenzhen. Thomas read and took a short nap and I read and worked on some journaling. The trip was about three hours and the train reached a speed of 304 km/hr. The train was really comfortable and had lots of room. It was a great way to travel and was much better than spending time in another airport and on another cramped airplane. Also, we got to see more of the beautiful hills in the Guilin area as the train left the station and headed for Shenzhen.

It was just after 2:00pm when we arrived in Shenzhen and we quickly made our way to our waiting vans. We had to split into two groups because all seven of us and all our luggage couldn’t fit into one van. Thomas and I rode with Arnold in one van with some of the luggage and Jeff and Jen rode along with Paul and Mary in the other van. We drove for about 45 minutes from the train station to the border. We first had to get out of the van and walk through customs. We had to show our passports and a departure card to the agent. He then took the departure card, scanned and stamped our passport and then we were good to leave China. Even though we weren’t really leaving China, we were just going into Hong Kong which is technically part of China. Then we got back into the van and drove just a short distance to the Hong Kong border where we had to show our passports and a arrival card. They took one copy of the card and gave us back our passports and a second copy of the card and we were free to enter Hong Kong.

Then it was another 40 minutes drive to our hotel – Kowloon Shangri-La. The drive into Hong Kong was interesting. Lots of tall buildings all clustered together which was similar to the cities we visited in main land China. But then there were lots of buildings and other things that made it seem like we could be in any large city in the world. It just seemed so metropolitan where the large cities in China like Beijing and Shanghai still has a more local cultural vibe. It felt like we had reentered a world that seemed more like ours. The past 18 days felt like we were in a totally different world than ours and now it feels more like home. I am not saying one is better than the other just that it is now more familiar.

Once at the hotel we got checked in and got our room keys – we are in room 1801. We had a little time to go up to the room and get settled, use the bathroom before we needed to meet in the lobby for a walking tour of the area. Our local tour guide here in Hong Kong is Matthew. He walked us down Mody Road to Nathan Road. He talked about shopping, restaurants and bars and gave us an orientation of how to get around. After about 30 minutes we returned to the hotel. We had about a half hour to relax and then we all met across the street from the hotel for dinner. We were on our own for the night so the six of us went to a place called Rocco’s Pizza. It was nice not to have Chinese for a night. We all had pizza and drinks. Thomas and I each had a salad. We had a nice relaxing meal and a good visit and about an hour later we returned to the hotel and called it a night.

Once we were back in our room we took showers and Thomas read while I journaled. It Is now time to get some sleep so we can see more of Hong Kong in the morning. This trip has been a busy one and a long one. We are now ready to return home and have some normal time but I think we can manage one more day before leaving on Sunday for home.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Guilin and the Li River

I had trouble sleeping last night and around 2:00am I decided to edit some photos. So I worked on that for a while and then wrote some blog posts. Even though I was tired and couldn’t sleep it turned out good because I got caught up on all my photo editing and journaling. Finally, around 4:15am I went back to sleep and slept until 6:30am. Thomas and I both got up and got ready for the day. We showered and dressed and got what we needed for our excursion. Then we went down to the Li Café for breakfast. It was a buffet with a lot to choose from. When we finished eating we waited for about ten minutes in the lobby for the group and our local tour guide.

At 8:15am we left the hotel and drove about an hour to our excursion which started at the MoPan Hill Wharf. We got our tickets and made our way through security to boat 168 for our cruise down the Li River. The cruise covered 83km and took about 4hrs. Along the way we saw some beautiful scenery and some special formations. The highlight was seeing the view that is on the back of the ¥20. XingPing Scenery - it is a stunning location. We also saw the following things . . . Bat Hill, YangDi, Crown Cave, the Painted Hill of Nine Horses, Snail Hill and YangShuo County. At YangShuo we got off the boat and walked through a local market. From there we took golf carts to another market – West Street. Here our local tour guide took us to two stores for shopping. I am assuming she get a kick back from taking us there. Thomas and I didn’t shop – we just looked around and hoped this wouldn’t take long. After about 40 minutes we made our way to the bus and started our drive back to Guilin which was to take about an hour and forty-five minutes. Along the way the traffic stopped, we found out that the police had blocked the road for a VIP (don’t know who). Luckily, our local tour guide went and told the police we needed to get to our hotel to get our luggage and then get to the airport so they let us through.
Around 4:30pm we arrived in downtown Guilin and went to Candoing Health Club for foot massages and reflexology. We were there for an hour. First, they soaked our feet in a hot tea bath and massaged our shoulders and upper back at the same time. Then they did massages on our feet and calves. It was incredible and a perfect way to end the day. After the massages we returned to the hotel. Thomas and I went to our room to drop off our things and then at 6:30pm we went down to dinner. It was a buffet dinner and was just okay. Once we were done with dinner we took a walk along the Li River out in back of our hotel. Then we returned to our room and took showers. I thought I might get some photos edited from today but my eyes were closing and I decided just to go to sleep. Tomorrow we head to Hong Kong.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Moving on to Guilin

Today we part with the group and head to Guilin and Hong Kong. Six of us and Arnold are continuing on with our trip while the rest of the group heads back home. Thomas and I were up at 6:00am, we got dressed and went down to breakfast at 6:30am. After eating and saying goodbye to people we returned to our room and finish packing. We still had some time after packing so Thomas read and I worked on photos and journaling. Then at 9:30am we met Arnold in the lobby for our ride to the airport. It took us about an hour to get to the airport and then we checked in and went through security and then on to gate H34. We had some time before our flight and since it was 11:00am we decided to eat our boxed lunch while waiting. At 11:55am we boarded China Southern flight CZ3282 for Guilin. Thomas and I were in seats 45HJ. There was no one else in the row with us so we had plenty of space. It was about 12:40pm by the time we took off. During the flight they serve a meal but we had eaten already so we skipped that. During the flight I read a little, edited pictures and journaled. It was about a two and a half hour flight.

Once we landed we made our way to baggage claim and got our bags then we met up with a local tour guide and got on our mini bus for the hotel. During the hour ride to the hotel the local tour guide (Christine) told us information about Guilin. We arrived at our hotel – Shangri-La Resort about 5:15pm. Arnold got our room keys (574) and we made our way up to the room. We got settle and cleaned up and at 6:00pm we went down to the restaurant for dinner. It was just the seven of us – Thomas & I, Mary & Paul (from Indiana) and Jeff and Jen (from North Carolina) and Arnold joined us. We had a wonderful and filling meal. After eating and some nice conversation Thomas and I took a walk in the garden out back of the hotel. At 8:00pm we returned to our room.

After showers and changing we relaxed and it is now time to get some sleep so we can enjoy our day tomorrow. So far what we have seen of Guilin is beautiful and tomorrow should be fun.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

This morning we were up at 6:00am and down to breakfast by 6:30am. After eating we returned to our room to get our things for the day. Around 8:15am we met the group and got on the bus to make our way to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Today the smog is gone and we were greeted with sunny skies. We also got cold and wind. It was especially cold out in the open in Tiananmen Square. Even with the wind and cold it was still better that having the sky blocked by smog. So we just bundled up and kept going. We walked to different areas of the square and Arnold told us about the history and the buildings around the square. The square contains the Monument to the People's Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Arnold talked about each of these as we moved around. I took pictures and thought about the only thing I knew about Tiananmen Square – the 1989 protests that took place here. It was certainly a different scene here today. A beautiful square with people enjoying a sunny day – peaceful.
From the square we crossed the road via an underground pedestrian tunnel over to the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is enormous. Arnold walked us around to different areas and talked about the history that took place here. We spent about three hours walking around, learning history and admiring the construction of the buildings. By the time we left for lunch at 1:00pm my head was spinning. So much information and history – it is amazing. And to compare that to the United States with only a little over 240 years of history. This trip has been amazing, to visit and see so many things I have only seen in pictures and to get a better understanding of the Chinese culture is something I never thought would happen. Being here has given me a whole different understanding of China. I have loved every minute of being here.

From the Forbidden City we headed to a local restaurant for lunch. It was one of our typical Chinese meal with dishes served on a lazy susan that we all shared. Lunch was delicious and after an hour and a half we returned to the hotel. Back at the hotel we had a couple of hours to relax or do what we wanted. Thomas and I packed to get ready for leaving Beijing tomorrow morning – our last internal China flight. I also edited some pictures and journaled.

At 5:00pm we went down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. They had a buffet with lots to choose from. It was a really good meal. Then at 6:30pm a small group of us left the hotel and went to a show – The Legend of Kung Fu at the Red Theater. I thought that the show might be cheesy but it turned out to be very entertaining and beautiful. It was 9:30pm by the time we got back to the hotel. I was sure glad I had packed earlier because now I could just go to sleep and get some rest for our travel day tomorrow.

We also spent time today saying goodbye to most of the group. Today was our last day together. Most of the group goes home tomorrow. A couple of people are staying a few extra days in Beijing and six of us are headed to Guilin and Hong Kong. Everyone on the trip has been amazing and we have enjoyed everyone. There were 33 of us and it worked out great. We even made a couple of new friends. It is kind of sad to be saying goodbye after 16 days.

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Wall and a Sacred Way

Today our excursion started early so we were up at 5:00am and got dressed and ready for the day. Then at 6:00am we went down to breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then after eating we met the group in the lobby so we could be on the bus and headed out at 7:00am. Our destination – The Great Wall of China. And we were heading to the section at Badaling. We drove for about an hour and a half from the hotel to arrive at the section we were visiting. As we entered the town we started to see the wall on the mountains. I really became excited. I remember seeing pictures of The Great Wall as a kid but I never thought seeing it in person would ever happen. But here I am on a trip of a lifetime and a dream was coming true. The bus parked and we got out and made our way to the entrance. Arnold got our tickets for the cable car that would take us to the top of the wall. We all loaded into one of the cars and up we went. In only a few minutes we were standing on The Great Wall of China. The Chinese don’t call the wall ‘The Great Wall’ – they call it ‘The Long Wall’. So we had a couple of hours to walk the wall and from our starting point you could go either right or left. Thomas and I headed to the right and we walked and took pictures and awed at the massiveness of the structure and were stumped as to how it was built. It mostly sits on the ridges of the mountains in the area. Getting the stones up there must have been incredibly hard. The terrain is challenging to say the least. I was like a kid walking the wall – just flabbergasted about being here. We walked a ways and ended up at a battlement and that is where the wall stopped – there are sections that haven’t been restored and we couldn’t go any further without climbing down from the wall and just walking on the mountain to the next part a little ways away. So we turned around and headed back and when we reached our starting point we continued on to the left. Some parts of the wall are steep and there are steps and ramps along the way. The wall follows the terrain so it has many ups and downs. Thomas ended up stopping and waiting for me at one point because it became steep. I wanted to continue on to a spot I saw that looked like it had great views. So I walked for another fifteen minutes before turning around. I was glad I went a little further because the views were amazing and that is with a haze hanging over us – it was a bad day for pollution. It was also cold and windy but with a hat and a jacket you could keep warm with the difficult walking. Our time here was amazing and I am thankful that I got this opportunity – it was worth the time and money it took to get to China just to have done this today.

At 11:00am we left The Great Wall and headed to a place where the carve and sell jade, we were also having lunch there as well. When we first arrived we were given a talk about jade – the different types and colors, where it is mined and how it is harvested. Then we saw a master carver at work and then saw some incredible pieces. Then the high pressure sales started. But that only lasted a short time because it was time for us to eat. The lunch was really good and we got to try a Chinese liquor called Er Guo Tou. It is sorghum based and was really strong and delicious. After eating we had time to shop – but it is hard to look around and enjoy the items because they follow you around and try to push any item you look at onto you. For me this is uncomfortable and I just left the place and went to sit outside until it was time to leave.

After lunch we drove to The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs. We didn't go to the tombs because they are far out at the base of the mountain but we walked along a path with large sculptures on either side. They were erected to protect the way to the tombs. It was a fascinating talk with Arnold about the Ming Dynasty. 

Finally, at 2:00pm we boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel. On the way we took a quick detour to the Olympic Village. We got to see the ‘Bird’s Nest and the aquatic center. It was beautiful and I love the design. I didn’t get good pictures because of the smog but it was nice seeing the area. We arrived back at the hotel around 4:00pm. We had a couple of hours before dinner so I worked on journaling and editing photos while Thomas read. Then we got cleaned up and ready for dinner.

At 6:30pm we left the hotel and went to Hua’s Restaurant for peking duck. The meal was amazing and the duck was cooked perfectly – it was so delicious. Besides the duck we had a lot of other dishes and by the time we finished we were all stuffed. I have to say that there is no lack of food on this trip. It was around 9:00pm by the time we returned to the hotel. I showered and then tried to edit pictures and get some journaling done but I have to say that we have been so busy that I am having a hard time keeping my eyes open after dinner to get anything done. So it is off to bed so I can be ready for our day tomorrow.