To Travel

My epic American road trip…  A 6000+ mile flight.  A 3700+ mile drive beginning in Detroit, Michigan and ending in Charleston, South Carolina.  And a return of another 6000+miles back to Shenyang.  I saw old friends and new, spent time with family, vacationed with Tim, and experienced Americana.  It was exactly what we needed after two years in China and after a very difficult spring.  It was a renewal one can’t describe to most people unless they know what it’s like.

And on day 1, sitting on the plane to Seoul, I came across this poem in the airline magazine.  It was one of those near perfect moments in life.  And I’m lucky to have had many on this trip.

Imagination by Kim Do-eon

When life tastes bitter and spicy

We long for another place

And imagine another time

To travel

Is to walk among dreams and imagination,

To say sweet, consoling words

When one is tired of loneliness

And struggling with a bitter, spicy tongue

Travel is like chocolate

Thanks to Tim, Mom, Korean Air, Henry Ford, Julie B, Zero, Honorary Zero and their clones, the Dairy Deluxe, running through sprinklers, Karissa, MMMR, Ron & T, steak & corn on the grill, Heidi, Chris, friends who love travel & art, the Tremont Hotel, Detroit Institute of Art, Geno’s East, the City of Chicago, Frank Lloyd Wright, Wrigley Field, the Federal Reserve Bank, air conditioning, the farm land of northern Indiana, Trisha & Jodi, more pizza, summer nights in a small town, Purdue University, Mom again and the whole IN-based family, a family golf outing, family meals, Ann & Phil, the rooftop bar in St. Louis, the St. Louis Cardinals,  Rene’, the Doran’s, the Collignon’s, crafts with friends and little girls, the Morrow’s, homemade pizza, Nashville, driving a car, listening to the radio while driving a car, Sharon, diners, homemade bath scrubs, Tammy & Garrett, friends who give you great books, being the star of your own movie, John J., shrimp & grits at Sullivan’s, the Koenigstein’s, friends who let you crash their family lake vacation, the NesPatt’s, the Grosskopf’s, the dream of living in the same city as good friends again one day, Sandra & Bill, Otie, the 501 Club – Kathryn, Kathy, Carol, Ruthie & more, the AYA/NF crew- Donna Lou, Kathy, Steve & Dawn, Beth Ann, Kathleen Flint, the BBBS crew-Tim, Tina & Heidi, Katy, sitting in a Mini convertible in Five Points, Karen & Kathy, talking travel with friends, Isa, Mary & all, kindred spirits & people who know exactly who you are, restaurant recommendations from friends, Lucy, greeting the new Hollingsworth dog and the next Grillzilla, I-26 to Charleston, pulled pork, Tim again, Folly Beach, CRU Cafe, Kaminsky’s, the PGA Championship, the Crab Shack, Lost Dog Cafe, Publix, people who love presents from China, being normal-sized, easy communication, being prepared to go back to China, thinking about the next trip…

The Last Frontier

In August, we made a big check mark on our Life List.  We went to Alaska.  On a cruise.  With a balcony.  And, yes, it was amazing.

We flew to Seattle and spent a couple of days there in glorious weather.  We walked, drank hometown coffee, ate, walked some more, and had a great night at Safeco Field.  After those two fantastic days, we were off to a great start.

We boarded the Holland America Westerdam looking forward to an even more amazing week.  We enjoyed the first day at sea by relaxing, reading, eating… there was  a lot of eating on this trip.  First stop was Juneau.  Juneau, Alaska!  We couldn’t believe we were actually there.  The weather welcomed us with fog, rain, cold, but as we always say, at least it’s raining on vacation.  Little did we know, this would be the only lackluster weather we would have the entire week.  Our helicopter excursion to the glacier was cancelled because of weather, so we walked.  We took the tram to Mt. Roberts to get an expansive foggy view of Juneau.  And this was the point when our choice of Alaska really sank in.  We saw bald eagles in the trees.

Day 3 was at sea, with a special afternoon at the Hubbard Glacier.  This is the longest tidewater glacier in Alaska, with a calving face of about 6 miles.  It is estimated that the ice takes 400 years to travel from the Yukon to the face, where the ice stands 5-10 stories high.  We stood out on a deck in sunshine and watched ice all afternoon.   Tim caught some amazing video, including this huge tower falling.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjtXME9-bNE   We loved the entire day.

In Sitka, we saw a bear preserve (http://www.fortressofthebear.org/), a bird rescue sanctuary (http://www.alaskaraptor.org/), salmon jumping & so many starfish (http://www.sitkasoundsciencecenter.org/?page_id=18).  And we ate a reindeer hotdog – excellent.  Sitka was where we learned more about preservation of animals and the land.  We all must do our part.

In Ketchikan, we saw tourists!  And shopping!  Wow!  We chose a boat excursion here though, taking the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour (http://56degreesnorth.com/).  As Deadliest Catch fans from way back, this was a must.  We spent several hours on the Aleutian Ballad (the boat that took the rogue wave hit in season 2).  We heard stories, saw them bring pots in, got up close and personal with King Crab and Snow Crab, and even got a view of a 40lb octopus that was caught snacking on the crab in the first pot.  Again, we saw eagles in the trees, whales spouting, and a local salmon boat bringing in their catch.  A great day.

Next stop was a beautiful evening in Victoria, British Columbia.  We walked along the harbor, found some crab cakes to snack on, met a jewelry maker who told us his Michelin tire story, and walked through a night market.  Our awesome vacation was coming to an end.  By the next morning, we were docking in Seattle, hopping in a taxi and heading to the airport.  Both of us were already thinking of the next time …

Our First Trip to Beijing

I think that we will visit Beijing many times over the next few years.  So in planning our first trip to this amazing city back in November, we tried to make time for the famous spots and some lesser known.  We chose the Forbidden City, the Zoo, Olympic Park and a few other sites.  This visit was scheduled around my appointment with a rheumatologist at the Beijing University People’s Hospital.  (That will have to be a separate blog entry.)  We chose a hotel that would be close to the university, so that put us in the northwest corner of the city center, close to the Zoo and near the Summer Palace.  It was also close to a metro stop.  Between that and the inexpensive taxis, we had an easy time getting around.

I went down a day earlier for my doctor’s appointment.  So later that day, I opted for a trip to the Silk Market and Wangfujing Street.  Given the shopping and the thousands of people, Tim would opt out of both these excursions.  In the Silk Market, as it is called, they actually sell souvenirs, material, pearls, watches, luxury copies and more.  Many vendors speak English, and they will get your attention by saying “Lady”.  So imagine walking down an aisle of your local department store and having the sales clerks shouting “Hey lady.”  “Lady, wanna buy a watch.”  “Lady, buy necklace.”  “Lady.”  “Lady.”  “Hello lady.”  They are hard bargainers too, and once you show interest in an item, they will expect you to negotiate a price and buy it.  This isn’t really the place for browsers, nor for people who can’t say no and walk away.  You must be as tough as they are.

When Tim arrived, we took the metro to the Forbidden City, the first stop on the Beijing itinerary of many visitors.  The Forbidden City, also called the Palace Museum and the Imperial Palace, was the home of the emporers during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.  Most of it is not original since 600 years will reak havoc on buildings, especially in a hard climate like this.  But they have renovated well and you can get some perspective on royal life during this period.  There is an Imperial Palace in Shenyang, albeit smaller, and it was interesting to see so many similarities in the two complexes.  There weren’t many tourists in November, and certainly not many Westerners.  One couple asked to take a picture with us (see photos) and they treated us like celebrities.  I’m not sure we’ll ever get used to that in China.

After we had spent a good four hours there, we left and walked across the street to Tiananmen Square. Most people our age and older remember this site for very controversial reasons, and that weighed on our minds as we walked through.   They say this is the world’s largest city square, about 440,000 square meters.  Here, you can see the Great Hall of the People and the Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao. If you go at the right time, you can actually visit Mao and see him lying in state. Maybe next time.

We walked south to Dazhalan, a pedestrian street, the oldest commercial area of Beijing. Some buildings have been preserved and some are brand new. This was evident by the Starbacks and Zara, and also by the tea and hat shops.  West of Dazhalan are some of the Beijing hutong (old neighborhoods), where tiny streets, dumpling shops, tea houses and souvenirs abound. 

When we reached the end of Dazhalan, we made one of those traveler decisions.  For those of you who travel, you’ll know what I mean.  You finish a visit in a different place than where you started, and you convince yourself that you can just walk a little way in a different direction and find something else to see or find a metro station.  After a kilometer, you wonder if you should just get a taxi.  After two kilometers, and after a long day of walking 25,000 steps, you are cursing your tourist map of whatever city you are in.  You try to motion for a taxi, but it is 5:30 and they are all full.  You walk another kilometer.  Just when you’re sure your feet have nothing left, you spot the metro station 50m up.  And after a short metro ride, another short walk, you sit down at the Mexican restaurant you had heard so much about, order a beer or margarita that you haven’t had in 6 months, take a breath and a drink, and you don’t remember how tired you were just a half an hour ago.

Travel is about those gorgeous sites.  Seeing Mao’s painting hanging from the gate to the Forbidden City.  Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, or every time.  Seeing the sun come up at Abu Simbel.  For us, travel is also about the food.  Whether it is the dumplings, the unknown meat on a stick, the melting ice cream cone, or a Mexican restaurant in the middle of Beijing, we remember places because of what we ate.  And travel is about decisions.  I will wear comfortable shoes. I will dress warm enough or take sunscreen, depending on the season.  I will take my picture with unknown Chinese people to make their day, and make ours too.  I will walk down an unknown street, open my eyes and see what there is to see.  And I will do it all over again.

Paris is always a good idea

Thank you, Michelin, for organizing your huge meeting in Paris this year so that I could wrangle a trip and tag along.  I visited my favorite city in the world for maybe the 27th time.  I walked and walked and walked (and ate) and walked.  We got to see some wonderful friends, and a fantastic brother!  And I got to spend some time in a foreign country where I am not on constant display and can communicate.

Tim always makes fun of me for taking the same pictures in Paris, over and over.  I love the way the Eiffel Tower looks from underneath.  I love how pastries look in their box.  I love the Pont Alexandre III in the afternoon light and its view of the Tower.  I love the architecture and the dogs and the women in their fashionable clothes.   Paris, take me away!

The Trip to Seoul

Earlier in October, we took a fantastic trip to Seoul, Korea.  This is another city, and country, with an amazing past and future.  They have had a turbulent history over the last 600 years or more, and they fight an ongoing war with their northern brothers.  It is an incredibly international city; friendly, clean, hilly and green.  Coffee shops on almost every corner, of few of which we enjoyed.  We learned so much about people who live well, in a developed and advanced nation, all the while living in anger and fear over a border and historical dispute.

We had the enormous fortune to meet and old friend and a new one in Seoul.  Tim worked with Kyu in Lexington SC, and he was there visiting his family.  Kyu and his brother were our knowledgeable guides and translators, and treated us to some fantastic food (and a half dozen Krispy Kreme)!                

Seoul is a great city for foreigners.  It is easy to navigate from the airport and in the city, and they have a great city tour bus with various routes.  We bought a day pass and got off the bus at the sites we wanted to visit, and then hopped back on for the next adventure.  We saw palaces and modern skyscrapers, architecture and green spaces, a military base and a military museum, costumes, colors and Koreans, oh my!  Enjoy the photos.  Also, there are 3 short clips from the palace re-enactments if you’d like to take a look:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQGYiec-_8o  OR http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xC8qiYpu-6o  OR  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlZGmzZg8EM

Bangkok, Oriental setting…

For weeks, that old song has been stuck in my head.  “One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster”, etc. etc. Rest assured, that gorgeous place didn’t make these tough guys tumble.

There are many times over the years that we have been thankful for Tim’s great job. This week in Bangkok was one of those times.  Tim had to go for a few days of work, so we tagged on some vacation time too.  We loved the city and the people, though the weather reminded us of a trip to Provence in June many years ago when a friend, Matt, said, “Oh, this must be what it’s like to live on the sun.”  A humid sun, no less.  For people like us who sweat when the AC is off, just walking outside in Bangkok put a nice sheen on our entire bodies.  They know how to use the air conditioning there though.  The sky train (elevated train) was a welcome cool as we traveled around the city.  The trick was to keep moving; on land or water – the breezes were critical outside.

Since we only had a short tourist time, we opted to use a tour guide for the city one day, and outside the city another day.  Tour with Tong was recommended by many folks on Trip Advisor, and we would have to agree.  They certainly made things more efficient and it went much more easily with them.   Our first stop was the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  This is an amazing complex; one of those places that you don’t believe really look that way until you’re standing there yourself.  Like St. Basil’s in Red Square – it doesn’t look real in the pictures.  Many sites in Bangkok are like that too.  The Palace complex construction began in the late 1700s and it was until recently, the royal residence.  It remains government offices, foreign dignitary guest housing and the famous Temple.  There are gloriously ornate buildings, defenders of the King in huge statue form, walls of galleries telling a proud history, and Buddha is ever-present.  We saw and heard tourists from around the world, at the same time seeing locals in devout daily prayer. 

The Thai people are pleasant, seemingly happy, and smiling most of the time.  They always take the moment to smile, greet you and say their sawahdee.  Dare I say you feel a bit happier being around them.  We heard the tourist warnings and took heed of pushy vendors and tuk tuk drivers, but had no problems.  I think because we choose to have, and plan on, a good experience, then we do.

In addition to the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo), we also visited the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho), the Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun), and took a river and canal tour.  Throw in a tasty lunch, a tour of the Jim Thompson house, and even a traditional Thai massage, and it was a great day.

On Monday, we opted to see some of the country and toured the Kanchanaburi province.  The main purpose of this trip was to see the Temple of the Tiger, a sanctuary for rescued animals in the area. It was started years ago, when a poacher brought a baby tiger to the monks (because the mother was dead).  From that one occurrence, the temple grew and the number of animals grew too.  They have 72 tigers this year, along with water buffalo, pigs, deer, and even a peacock.  It was amazing to see their work; like taking care of those animals is their calling in faith. As with all travel, there is food involved, and Monday’s lunch involved pad thai and spring rolls at a fabulous outdoor, rural restaurant. We loved it.  After the temple, we stopped at the Erawan Waterfall and hiked to the first two levels.  For us, this was another of those places that don’t seem real in the photos.  On this Kanchanaburi trip, we also visited the bridge over the River Kuai and the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre museum.  The latter tells the story of the Japanese invasion of the region and is dedicated to the men who were prisoners of war for the death railway.  It was sobering, to say the least.  It has always been important to us, in traveling, to see the beautiful and the sometimes painful reminders of the past.  It gives us perspective on where we are in the world; where we have been and where we are going.

The next couple of days involved Tim going to meetings and Julie off on her own.  In this week, there were some non-touristy things too, like our first Burger King and Dunkin Donuts in three months, a visit to a great grocery store with lots of Western products, a fantastic bookstore where I spent a little too much money on English books, and a couple of American movies.  All of these things give us perspective too, and a little comfort.

Enjoy the photos.

Dan Dong and Hu Shan

Last weekend, we went to Dandong and Hushan, about 3 hours southeast of here, on the eastern part of the Liaoning Province.   The Yalu River separates Dandong from a small industrial town in North Korea.  Yes, the border.  The Yalu River Bridge used to connect the two sides, but it now ends half way long its full span, the remainder was dismantled by the Koreans at some point.  They say the Chinese half of this bridge bears the scars of US fighter jet combat in 1950.  This, along with a museum, monuments the War to Resist US Aggression & Aid Korea, or as we call it, the Korean War.  There is the new Friendship Bridge, for trains and buses. The train line runs from Beijing all the way to Pyongyang.

 It was amazing to us to be so close to the border.  You could swim across, and at some points, I think the river is quite shallow.  We were able to see factories and other buildings.  Through the telescope in our hotel room, we could also see some people and even a North Korean cow.  You’ll be happy to know they look the same as they do around the world.

About 10 miles from Dandong is a town called Hushan.  It is very small actually, but famous because there is a restored piece of the Great Wall there.  It is amazing.  The Great Wall is called Changcheng in Chinese, which can be translated as “long fortress” or “long city”.  The fortress itself once stretched more than 5000 miles in northern China to protect the country from invaders.  That included about 4000 miles of actual wall, with some trenches and other blockages for protection.  The building started in the 5th century BC and went through the 16th century.  They have done a great job to restore many parts of the Wall, most of them near Beijing.  Most of what remains is from the Ming Dynasty (15th & 16th century).  So before Columbus even landed in North America, the Chinese were restoring sections and building new sections.

Part of the Wall near Hushan was only unearthed in the last 10-20 years after years of sandstorms had covered it.  This section also overlooks the Korean border, and there are warnings about hiking out of range since the border is not always well marked.  An amazing feature for us to see was working farm situated right next to the Wall.  And yes, we climbed all the way to the top!

The other stop we made was at the Daoist Temples at Phoenix Mountain (Feng Huang Shan).  This is similar to Qian Shan that you may have seen elsewhere in the blog.  You hike for a while, then stop at a temple to look at it and get some rest, then more hiking.  We picnicked with friends, did some hiking, and in the rain, also saw much of the mountain by car.  Driving to and from the interstate, we drove through very rural area and saw rice and tea fields.  We have seen many crops before, but never those two. Like so many things seen with fresh eyes, we looked at these and remembered how lucky we are to have these experiences.

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