Sunday, August 12, 2012

Beijing, China 2012

I'm So Excited They Let Me Into The Forbidden City!

I didn't stand out at all!
Of all of the cities I visited in China, Beijing was the one I was most excited to get to.  We arrived in the morning by sleeper train from Xi'an.  With most of the day still ahead of us, we headed out to the Forbidden City.  

The Forbidden City has been open to the public since 1949.  It is a popular tourist visit, and is enormous in size.  Since we were there in the middle of the day it was packed with tourists and the temperature was scorching.  Keeping hydrated was key as the heat and humidity were torturous.  The entire Forbidden City is paved with stone, so finding a shady spot was next to impossible and meant hugging up to a building with about fifty other sweaty tourists. Most of the Chinese people carry umbrellas and parasols around like Americans carry sunglasses.  I didn't think that I would need one, so I didn't bring the one I had.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  New rule for future travels.....always follow the example of the locals.

Forbidden City Entrance
After about three hours of wandering our way around the maze of the Forbidden City and boring Phil to the point of ditching us for the comfort of the air conditioned hotel room, we left the palace walls on the north side and hiked up the hill to Jing Shan Park.  The hike is steep, but short and gives a spectacular 360 degree view of Beijing.  It also doesn't hurt that it has a fantastic breeze and plenty of shade!

I'm very curious who eats the "Sheep Penis"
As we rolled into the evening hours, we decided to head back to the hotel to clean up and pick up Phil for some dinner.  We took the long way back to the hotel and perused the Night Food Market off Wangfujing Street to see if we would be interested in coming back there for a bit of food.  After seeing the interesting choices of sheep penis and water beetles, we decided that maybe we would pass on eating there and just take a few pictures instead. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

London, England 2010

If you can't have tea with the Queen, 
have beers with your friends!

Chrisy, Nicole, Nikkiy and myself.
Since the Summer Olympics are underway in London, I thought I should get my s*#@ together and finally complete this blog from my trip to London almost two years ago!

Upon arrival at Heathrow we made a team decision to skip taking the subway into the city because we wanted to ride in one of London's cute black cabs also known as a hackney carriage.  Since Heathrow is so far from the center of London, it was not cheap.  But we had fun just the same. They are very large and hold quite a lot of luggage.  We had five people and bags, and the car had no problem hauling all of us to our hotel.

Subway stop - London Bridge
London is a beautiful, and expensive city.  We were lucky enough to have great hotel hookups thanks to my friend Nicole.  After getting squared away in our rooms, we headed out to explore the city.  We have always been big fans of the subway  systems in each of the cities we visit, so we picked up our three day passes for the Tube, as it's called in London, and headed out to get lost!  First priority...find some food, preferable fish and chips!  London is where I fell in love with vinegar on my chips (aka fries). 

Xi'an, China

Less than 24 Hours in Xi'an

Xi'an China
Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
About two weeks before we left for China, we decided we wanted to find a way to head into the center of China to get a glimpse of the Terracotta Warriors outside of Xi'an.  To do this, we had to re-adjust our travel plans a bit, but it was the best decision we made on this trip.

Xi'an was probably the most challenging city of our trip to China.  While Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing are all popular tourist attractions that have many English speaking residents, Xi'an is not.  Locals do speak some minimal English, but conversation is difficult in shops and restaurants.  There is a lot of pointing and head shaking in conversation here.  See the example from our hotel below which reads "Let up apport environmental protection."  which should say, "Lets support environmental protection".  It was exactly what I expected a trip to China would be like.

"A" for the effort!  So Cute!

Xi'an was the only city in China that we really took a long shot on our hotel.  We didn't actually know anyone who had traveled here that could make a suggestion.  Even my travel agent was fairly unfamiliar with the hotels in this town, but he did have a connection that new the area, and gave him some hotel suggestions.  We wanted to be close to the train station as we knew we would be very tight on time, so he put us up at the Grand Soluxe International Hotel.  This hotel is unlisted in Google, so the best link we could find was from TripAdvisor, but it had fantastic reviews from guests so we took our chance, and thank goodness we did because it turned out to be a gem!  Not only was the hotel clean and in great shape, but the staff were amazing and the price was cheap!  We even got breakfast buffet coupons for the next morning.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Shanghai, China 2012

  Wandering the streets of Shanghai

The Bund at Night!
After leaving Hong Kong, we jumped a flight to Shanghai.  While Hong Kong is a very large city, Shanghai is larger.   If the locals told me correctly, it sits at roughly 23 million people.  That's a lot of people!  Almost three times as large as New York City.  The buildings are giant shinny and modern skyscrapers made of glass.  It reminded me a little of what a current day emerald city would be like.  We were extremely lucky to have stayed at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai in one of these highrises on the 78th floor.  The great thing about the highrise the Hyatt is in is that it looks like a wine carrier with a handle on the top, so we never had a problem finding our way home!

One of the many difference between the mainland of China and the city of Hong Kong is that the people in the cities of China are not as used to seeing westerners, so we ended up feeling a little bit like celebrities.  I'm almost certain that there is a picture of me hanging someplace in a random family home in China.  It was rather odd that almost every 20 to 30 minutes we were stopped by groups of locals to pose for pictures.  Phillip was the most popular of all of us!  Nicole and I really just looked like his groupies.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hong Kong, China 2012

Nǐ hǎo Hong Kong!

First Priority after our long flight!
This was my first trip to an Asian country, and I've been wanting to go for a very long time.  Each year when we decide where we are going, we toss a few of our wishes into a hat during the deciding phase, but Asia always got put on the back burner for whatever reason.  This year however, it was unanimous by everyone in the group. Drum roll please.....China!  More specific - Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and possibly Xi'an!

The process for traveling to China is much for detailed than any of the other countries I have traveled to in the past.  The country if China is very large, so we need to decide how far we are willing to travel from city to city and what we wanted to see the most.  First priority...Apply for our Chinese visas.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Southern Ireland (Part 3) 2010

My Possie's in Kilkenny

Drombeg Stone Circle
When we left the hotel, Nicole was on a mission to find Drombeg Stone Circle, also known as Druid's Altar which was supposedly not far from our hotel.  With Mike driving and Nicole navigating, we were on a mission to find it, and I'm not sure why, but we were surprised when we ended up lost......AGAIN!  Now, don't get me wrong, being lost in Ireland is a good thing!

Blarney Castle
The stone circles are so interesting to me.  I was really excited when Nicole told me that she wanted to go find the circle, because I didn't know that there were any close by in the area we were at, but I have spent a lot of quality time reading a book series called The Outlander by Diana Gabaldon which is based around a stone circle in Scottland.  Needless to say, it was really cool to be in an actual stone circle.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Southern Ireland (Part 2) 2010

"Ballycarbery Castle Rewind!"

Something that is never hard to find in Ireland are abandoned castles!  As I mentioned before, It's been a few years since I went on this trip, so the dates and times of some of the events are a little rusty.  I forgot a VERY important part of our trip on my last blog.   Our accidental Irish castle exploration.   

At some point before or during our drive through the Ring of Kerry, we were aimlessly driving through some random backs roads looking for who knows what, and stumbled upon our first castle ruins..........Ballycarbery Castle!

I can still remember when we first saw it from the road.  We were probably about 3 miles from it, but when the first one of us saw it and pointed it out to the others in the car, we started screaming and bouncing up and down in our seats like a bunch of 12 year old girls at a Justin Bieber concert....sadly, I'm not making this up!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Baja California, Mexico 2012

South Of The Border!

The reason I choose to live in Southern California is because we have endless options of amazing things that we have access to.  Within a matter of hours we can be at the mountains, desert or the ocean. But one of my favorite things is the fact that we can drive just 20 minutes south of San Diego and end up in Mexico for a weekend of camping, dancing and wine tasting.  It's a cheap fun way to just get away and relax for a few days.

Fresh Pina Colada
Mexico gets a bad rap, mostly from negative media publicity, that scares tourists from ever traveling south of the border.  But Mexico is so much more than Tijuana.  Just south of the city is one of my favorite coastal drives along the Pacific Ocean.  Baja California!

With a caravan of 7 people, 2 dogs and 2 cars we headed down the coast to K58 campsite in La Fonda.  I have many fond memories from my early 20's of camping here, however I didn't get the chance to explore the area as much back then.  I was much more focused on the party scene.

I happened to have prior commitments on Saturday morning, so most of our group went down on Friday night, and the rest of us came down on Saturday morning just after I finished.  It was smooth sailing through the boarder and we made the drive all the way down in about an hour arriving around noon.  Since we arrived a day after everyone else, we were rested and ready to go.  The early arrivers on the other hand were recovering by the beach from a little to much tequila the prior night.  We took this opportunity to set up camp and head out to grab some lunch and margaritas at La Mision.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Southern Ireland (Part 1) 2010


I heard from a friend of mine, who also happens to be my travel agent, that the best way to see Ireland is to plan nothing and just wing it.  So that is exactly what we did. When a travel agent who works on commission tells you not to pre-book something, you know you can trust his advice because now he is losing money.  Best advice ever!  If you ever need a travel agent, let me know and I'll hook you up with a great one!
Who's driving????

We flew into Galway on what Nikkiy refers to as "a toy plane with a lawn mower engine".  The only thing we had planned other than that flight, was a rental car.  No hotels, no mapped out drive, NADA!!  First order of business........pile all 5 people and their luggage into this tiny "SUV" and learn to drive on the wrong side of the road....or at least the airport parking lot!

 After a LOT of screaming and a whole bunch of accidental shrub trimming, we were off.....until we hit the first roundabout!  Galway is a very small town.  Not exactly hard to find your way around in, but poor Nicole had Mike navigating, and three backseat drivers screaming "CURB" for the first 45 minutes of the drive.  I think we got lost at least five times before we found our way to the city center of Galway.  At some point, I stopped watching because being on the wrong side of the road was freaking me out!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Amsterdam, The Netherlands 2009


We only had one day left of the 2009 trip, and we used it to take a day trip to Amsterdam. One of the great things about Europe is that it is so easy to use train system.  We jumped on one of the early trains in the morning from Brussels and luckily arrived around 10:00 a.m as it was a work day and the train was full of commuters.   It was a very beautiful ride.  As you can see from the photo, the tulip fields were just starting to come into bloom.  
Lucky Windmill Photo!
Before leaving the states for vacation, my friend Didi told me that she and her friends rented bikes when they visited Amsterdam and that it was the best way to get around.  She also proceeded to tell me that all the bikes look the same and that if you do rent a bike, it doesn't really matter what bike you return just as long as you return one.  I thought this might be a little farfetched, but once I arrived, I realized that Didi might be right.....  There were entire parking structures three and four stories tall dedicated to bike parking!
Tulip Fields from the train window

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Brussels Belgium 2009

Thank goodness for my cousins clean socks

With Shannon and Alli in Brussels
When Nicole, Nikkiy and I arrived in Brussels, we were picked up by my cousin Shannon who was living at the time in Brussels with his wife Alli.  This was perfect as they supplied us with not only a place to sleep for two nights, but they also acted as our tour guides.  We were only in Brussels for a day and a half, so we really crammed in our touring.

City Center of Belgium
Jason's bus arrived not long after our train got in, so we picked him up and headed back to Shannon's place to clean up and head out for some touring.  When we got to the apartment and Jason took off his shoes, the dead animal smell came back.  for some reason, he was still working off of the same two pairs of socks, and the sink washings were not helping.  Every time we had been out shopping and playing, the smell was covered by Jason's shoes, so we kept forgetting about needing them.  But after the long shady bus ride from Prague, the socks had to go.  Shannon donated a clean pare to him and we set out to see the sights.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sleeper train ride to Brussels 2009

Time to unpack the luggage!

Nicole, Nikkiy and I traveled by sleeper train to Brussels from Prague.  Jason didn't purchase a ticket to Brussels before he left the United States, so he ended up taking a shady Greyhound-type bus from Prague to Brussels.  That is a conversation for another time. I'm just glad him and his stinky socks made it to Brussels.

As you know from my last post, it's now time to drag Nikkiy's luggage in the reverse direction on the stupid subway to the train station.  But that's really not the worst part of this story.
Looking down from the top bunk.

Once we get to our compartment, we are escorted to our bunks by our steward/butler (honestly, I don't know what to call that dude) who showed us how to turn our chairs into beds and how to go about storing our luggage.  Here we go again.

Nikkiy's bags din't fit in the storage, and the steward/butler couldn't store them anywhere for us, so the only alternative was to empty the stupid bag of the things she needed and shove the empty suitcase to the side for the night.  That smile you see on Nikkiys face in the picture to the right.....I'm almost certain it's fake! ;-)

Prague, Czech Republic 2009

Who decided to bring all this luggage?

Nicole, Nikkiy and I took the train from Berlin to Prague.  Nicole and I have always traveled rather light, and Nikkiy travels light now, however this wasn't always the case.  Sorry Nikkiy!  I have to share the suitcase story to set the tone for this story.

After our train arrived in Prague, we decided that the subway was the best and easiest way into the city.  Prague's subway system is a little older than most subways, and poor Nikkiy had two rather large bags and her purse. The subway platform we needed was on the third level down from the street and there were no elevators or escalators.  Do the math!  This subway decision got ugly quick. When we finally got on the subway, we had to make a train transfer halfway to the city which required more stairs! 

Finally in Prague...waiting for a drink!
We finally arrived in Old Town Prague, and hauled Nikkiy's luggage up to the street level, where we learned that all of the streets were cobblestone.  Now, Nikkiy was already at the point that she wanted to kill Nicole and I for the whole subway decision, so you can imagine how excited she was to haul two bags and a purse around on these old cobblestone streets. Looking back now, a cab ride probably would have been the smart decision at this point, but who wants to see such a beautiful city from a cab.  Nicole and I talked Nikkiy into walking to our hotel.  Little did she know that we would get lost on the way!

Berlin, Germany 2009

Berlin....the second stamp in my Passport! 

Probably the most exciting plane ride of my life!  I actually had my passport for almost 6 years before I actually got a European stamp in it, so Berlin will always be a big deal to me.
Me at the Reichstag Building.

I still remember the layover in Brussels......I couldn't understand a word the flight attendant was saying prior to take off, but more than likely, it was a reminder that I was supposed to save myself before I saved the child next to me!  It didn't matter......I had just woken up for the first time in another country.

I guess that my assumption of my trip to Germany was that I was in trouble because I didn't speak German.  Quite the opposite!  Most Germans speaks some English, so it was a great first country for me to visit.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Where to begin?

I'm a bit new to this whole blog thing.  I travel quite a bit, so I guess I'm doing this mostly so I can remember it, but also so my friends can laugh at me.  I have a few trips coming up that I'll be looking for some advice on....  I love travel, and I'd love to share my experiences as well as welcome the input of others.

Grammar and spelling are not my strong points, and I'm sure I'll make a mess of this, but at least I'll have better system of tracking my trips than the pile of pictures and tickets on the dresser in my bedroom!

I'm trying to post these posts in the order that I traveled them, but some of the stuff from 4 and 5 years ago is a little rusty.  If you see things changing throughout the posts, it is because I've volunteered my travel buddy Nicole to sort through them and help me remember since she has been on almost every single one of these trips. 

Happy Travels!!