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.