Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shanghai - Day 3

By day 3 in Shanghai we realized that we had seen all the main sights in the city already. The only other sights we wanted to check out were the People's Square and Fuxing park. Once we got to the park the weather became really bad with the rain coming down hard at moments and then a steady drizzle. The park was nice and would have been much nicer had there not been such a horrible downpour. We decided to walk to the French Concession after the park. This area is supposed to have several French style buildings and cafes. We were struggling to find it exactly, because it is not listed on maps as a specific destination. But once I read the description in the guide book I found out that we were in fact already in the French Concession and had been for quite some time. The buildings did look nice and the streets were tree lined and all but it was nothing spectacular.
After the Concession we headed back towards our hostel with a walk through of People's Square. We saw the National Museum as well as the Municipal Government Headquarters. We had a rather long walk to Fuxing park and back to our hostel but it was not too bad. The rain had stopped at this point. We were just eager to get out of Shanghai. We saw all the main sights in the first two days really.

Before we headed to the train station we had some Carl's Jr. We were so surprised to see the restaurant in China. It was delicious. We eventually made our way to the train station without a hitch. It took us awhile to find our platform though. We had ordered our train tickets online and they were delivered to our hostel without any problems. Once we set our stuff down went back to the Bund area along the river. We found a local microbrewery. I had seen them advertised on our map. We walked in and no one was there. I guess they don't get too much of a lunch crowd. The beer was really good. It had been seven months since we had a micro-brew. The smell in the pub was so good. The aroma of hops was enchanting.

Once we found our platform, Latanya was starting to hyperventilate, do to the massive amount of people. They finally opened the gates to board and we headed to our car. Once we got on the train it seemed to be rather clean and relatively nice. There were not any private compartments. Just cabins divided by two walls. In each open faced cabins that had two sets of bunks three bunks high. Since we were the last to arrive in our cabin, we were dealt with the top two bunks. There was a nice family of four below us. We climbed to the top and tried to get comfortable. With the exception of little head room and the ceiling feeling as if it were right on top of us the space was not too bad. We had room to put our bags on the bunk with us and still had enough leg room. I could tell Latanya was trying to come to grips with the situation.

She was a trooper for sure. This was not her idea of traveling. But I told her it was just for one night only and that we would be flying back to Shanghai. She took a deep breathe and began to relax a little. Once the train got started we new there was no turning back. I was so excited, we were going to see the Terracotta Warriors!!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shanghai - Day 2

We woke up rather early and headed straight for the Expo. Once again we realized we did little to zero research for this trip. We had no idea how much tickets are, how long there good for, where we need to go as well as other questions? We tried to answer our questions one at a time and along the way. We made our way via the subway, we asked an employee and pointed to where we wanted to go and they showed us which ticket to get and where to get off.

When we arrived we followed the crowd, the best thing to do in this type of situation. And boy was the crowd flowing. We got to the ticket booths and asked what tickets were available. We chose a day pass and then walked over to the security check point. The security check point was a made house. It was kind of organized but had a lot of people. Instead of standing in a line, with maybe two people wide it was a line of fifteen people wide. We were shoved through the metal barriers like cattle. It was not a pleasant experience and it was Latanya's worst nightmare. But luckily we made it through alive and well.

The next stop was getting on a special subway line that lead to the Expo. This was once again another shove match. So many people not enough space. After the cramped quarters and a rather short ride, only two stops, we finally arrived. Yeah!!!
We got there the weather was overcast but we knew it would start raining soon. The weather was completely different than the day before. Yesterday it was really warm with hardly a cloud in the sky. Today it was about to pour and it was chilly.
We had our map of the Expo and headed toward the USA exhibit. The grounds were huge. It made Disneyland look tiny. As we walked we saw many different countires. Every country had it's own exhibit. Many were made up of large buildings that were specially designed to represent themselves. Small countries were put into large warehouse buildings together. For example the many of the Caribbean countries were put together, and many South American and Latin American countries were put together and so on. The larger ones had huge buildings to themselves and put on a wonderful display. The lines were extremely long for the popular countries. If you think about it, most of the tourists there were Chinese. Many of them would never go to these countries. They had souvenir passports were you could get a stamp from the different exhibits.

We arrived at the USA exhibit and the line was extremely long. We did not wait too long though, about an hour. When we went inside they filled a large room with about 300 people. There were large screens that showed a short film and introduction to the exhibit. We were then moved to an adjacent room with benches and watched another film about the future of the USA in respect to innovative thinking in relationship with our youth. It was cute. We were then moved to another room for another film and then one more after that. The concept was future planning and making a better community. While doing this help mold our children to help brainstorm and eventually help lead the cause. It was a great concept but a little bit of a let down as far as entertaining. The last room at the end was filled with merchandise of course with all of the corporate sponsors. Very American. It was great to see home even for a little bit.
Next we began to head to other exhibits. The short list of countries we saw were, Cuba, North Korea, Cambodia, Caribbean Nations and the African Nations. We could have spent several days there and checked out them all but that was not going to happen. The place was too big. We spent most of our time just walking around. It took forever to walk from one end of the grounds to the other. We did see a lot of golf carts that drove around like buses on a bus route. We opted out of this because we wanted to stop as we pleased when we saw an interesting area.

The highlight for Latanya was of course the Guyana booth. She felt proud of her heritage. She was also very interested in the displays. She took me on a tour and taught me a lot. She felt closer to home when we saw the booth.
After several hours of walking and by now the rain was really coming down and our feet were really hurting, we decided to leave and head to the downtown financial center. We got to the ultra modern high rises and the rain had subsided. We walked around a mall for awhile and then found a delicious restaurant. We stuffed ourselves with fried rice, dumplings and wantons, mmm.
After dinner we walked along the river bank. We stopped at a Paulaner brew house. Apparently they have a lot of them in Shanghai. It was nice to have a good beer on draft, something hard to find in Korea,unless you want to travel a long ways. After our happy hour beer we headed back to the hostel to get a happy hour beer at our hostel bar. All in all it was a full day. We did lots on foot. The next day we had no more sights on our list in Shanghai, so it was really all up in the air. One important event on our schedule was to catch a train tomorrow evening, an overnight train to Xi'an.

For more pics here is the link just highlight the web address and put into your web browser Enjoy!:

Shanghai - Day 1

After our trip to Hong Kong and Bali we had about back at school before we headed back to China. This trip was anticipated more by me than Latanya. On the to do list was to visit Shanghai a modern metropolis and Xi'an the beginning of a unified China.
We left in the morning from Korea. We arrived by midday. It was really easy to find our way to the subway that led to the city. We quickly found out that we did not do too much research this time around on our itinerary. We decided that we would take our time see the top sites and go from there. The subway was nice and efficient. We started to notice a little more stares than we were used to. In Hong Kong we were never stared at. It makes sense seeing as it is only recently removed from British rule. In Beijing the stares were only in the touristy areas where there were more Chinese tourist from elsewhere in the country than locals. But here in Shanghai we had literally just stepped on the subway in the station at the airport, completely unexpected. We would later find this the theme of our trip.
After a couple of transfers we finally arrived at our stop. We made our way to our hostel. Because I am amazing at finding my way anywhere, it was rather easy making it to our place. The hostel is situated down a smallish street that smelled really bad. I think there is a fish market right next store. We would also discover there was a weird smell that was present wherever we were in the city. Back to the hostel. It was just fine. Big enough rooms. The cleanliness was almost up to Latanya's standards but not quite. There was also a restaurant and bar on our floor. WiFi was free and what more do you need.

After we got settled we headed out to see a little of the city. We knew that today would be the best day to get out and see the city seeing as it was going to be the best weather of the week. Rain was on the way. We walked down to an older renovated part of the city. The architecture was nice, the people not so much. The stares were continuing. It really gave us a bad vibe from the start. In Beijing the stares felt almost celebrity but here in Shanghai it's like we are zoo animals. We walked along the Bund which sits along the river. We were able to see the picturesque downtown skyline. At this point the weather was quite warm and the sun was really draining.

From the Bund we decided to go inside and checkout a museum. Shanghai is well known for its museum and one on my list was the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. The center is several stories of urban planning. I was in heaven. I really enjoy urban planning a lot. I am interested in how huge cities are developed and the future of their development. On the top floor they had a model of the entire city of Shanghai in a room that took up huge amount of space. It was great just to walk around and read about all their displays.

After the museum we tried to find some local food but unfortunately did not see anything appetizing. I think the smell of the city prevented us from find anything that we would want to eat. Sometimes we forget that we eat with all our senses. Smell is a big factor. So we decided to have some Subway and then head back to the hostel. After a few happy hour beers at the bar we called it a night. The next day was going to be a marathon. We were going to the World Expo 2010!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hong Kong - Day 10

We tried to sleep as much as we could on the plane. It was a flight of about 4 hours. We arrived in Hong Kong in the morning this time, rather than the evening, so no sleeping in the airport. We had accomplished a lot on our first day in Hong Kong so this day we wanted to take it nice and easy. We were able to use the lockers this time around and then dropped of our stuff and headed out. Instead of going straight to the city we took a bus to the Big Buddha. The bus ride was not too long and before we knew it we were at the cable car station to go to the Big Buddha. The cable car extended over the highway, across a bay and then up and over mountains. It was a long ride, maybe about 45 minutes or so. As we got to the area of the Big Buddha we noticed a small village built up brand new. The village was a sort of Disney downtown. Latanya and I called it Buddha Land. There were multiple souvenir shops and little restaurants.

It was a nice walk towards the Big Buddha. Even from the cable car we could see the Big Buddha, the statue certainly lived up to the name. We walked to the base and took quite a few pictures. It was really picturesque with the surrounding mountains so green and lush. Latanya was pretty tired at this point so she sat down and I took a small trail and walked around for a bit. It was overcast at this point with some sprinkles of rain. After a little while we went back to the cable car and made the decent down to the bottom and then eventually to the city.

Once back in the city we made our way to a temple and checked out a really nice park. The heat was definitely getting to us now. It was midday at this point and maybe the heat was not the problem but the humidity sure was. It was ridiculous. By now the clouds had left and the sun was pounding on us. The park was really nice even in those weather conditions. Every piece of shrub, plant, tree, building or anything else for that matter was built or shaped with a purpose. You know to keep the feng shui of the place. It was all really impressive to know that every blade of grass was clipped a certain way to make it all come together.

After the park we headed to the harbor. We walked around the harbor front where they had the Chinese Hollywood stars. Just like Hollywood they had stars along the sidewalk. We made sure to find the best ones, like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. Most of the other ones we had no idea who they were. We also got the end of the walk and found the Bruce Lee statue which was really cool. Boy was it a tourist attraction. After that we walked around the surrounding neighborhoods and took in the city. We really liked Hong Kong. It was so inviting and foreigner friendly.

We then sat in a coffee shop for a bit waiting for the evening to come. We were anticipating the downtown light show that was going to happen in about a half hour. The premise of the light show is for the downtown skyline to light up and produce lasers that go along to music. Because we were on the other side of the harbor we had the best view. So when the light show began we were taken back. Taken back in the sense that this was it. Though it looked like it was hard work producing the show it was sure a let down. The lasers were not on every building and we felt that the sequences were a little lame. But we set out to see it and we accomplished that. Just before the show ended we sneaked out and headed for the airport.

Getting to and from the airport at this point was second nature to us now. We then picked our bags up from the lockers, so much cheaper than the left luggage. We grabbed I bite to eat and then caught our flight back to Korea. We knew it wasn't going to be to long until we were back on another vacation. Next on our list was back to China for one last Chinese experience.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bali - Day 9

It was our last day in Bali :( At least it was not our last day of vacation. But though we were going to soon say good bye to Bali it just so happened to be one of the best days yet.
We woke up and checked out. The family that owned the place were so friendly and kind. We found that about most Balinese people. Once we checked out we made our way to our spa appointment. The spa was grand and beautiful. It was set on one of the bigger resorts along the beach front. We gladly took off our bags and stepped into our private couple room. The room was fitted with two massage tables, an opening to an outside garden wall, a bathtub filled with rose pedals, an outdoor shower, a running water fall, a closet for our clothes and sink to wash up. It was gorgeous and stunning. We just walked into a two hour heaven. The masseuses were really great. We were immediately put into a trance as soon as they began the massage. For two hours we were pampered. After the massage itself we were able to bathe in the bath full of rose pedals, how romantic. It was so invigorating. This was the life. We could totally get used to this. At the end of our two hour awesomeness we grabbed our bags and made our way for one last walk along the boardwalk. We took in some final beach time and then called for a taxi bound for Ubud one more time.

We had to meet up with Jess and Fran one last time. Jess and Fran got us tickets for a traditional Balinese Kecak dance. The dance was done at night. It was performed under a small roofed stage. A temple area if you will. When we arrived it had just began. It was a real intimate setting about 30 people in total were in attendance. There was a circle of Balinese men sitting on the ground in a circle chanting all while two beautifully dressed Balinese woman danced around a tree made of lit candles. The intricate moves were elegant and precise. It looked like it took years of practice. The dance continued and the story began to unfold. A man dressed like a king came out and chased them around the center for awhile as well as a man dressed as a monkey. Fitting seeing that the monkey forest was not too far away. The dance soon ended and another began.

The second dance was equally entertaining. The men put dried coconut husks in the middle of the dance floor and then lit it on fire. They were a blaze quite quickly. A man came out shortly and was wearing a wooden horse around him. He pranced around and then all of a sudden he ran straight up to the blazing pile of coconut husks and kicked them. Not only did he power through the flames but kicked them so hard that it flung flying projectiles at the crowd. The entertainment level went from great to super amazing. They proceeded to re-pile the ablaze coconut husks and then he kicked them once more. They actually did this several more times until the flames were out and the man on the horse was taken away. The dances were so wonderful, it was a great way to end our Balinese experience.

But we weren't done just yet. We all went out to dinner to an upscale Balinese restaurant. Upscale meaning not a street stall. The food was great I had the Nasi Campur. It's a popular dish served with meat kabobs, rice, veggies and prawns. It was really good. It was great to chat with Jess and Fran. We really had a wonderful time with them. They made our Bali trip so much more special. We were sad to leave them for sure. After some nice desert (the Klappertart, inside joke) we made our way to the main street to hire a car for the airport. We negotiated a fair price and said our good byes. Jess and Fran were staying in Bali for a little longer and then would see more of Indonesia as well as some other places before they went home. There are still some talks about them working in Costa Rica in the future, if that ever becomes a reality we will be on plane to see them as soon as we can.

So we drove away not knowing when we would meet again, but knowing that we would one day. The ride to the airport was just fine. Our driver was great as they all were. The airport was quite crowded for so late at night. We waited a little while for our plane and then began our journey back to Korea. Of course we had another stop over in Hong Kong before we got back, vacation was not over just yet.

Bali - Day 8

The next morning Latanya had one more thing to accomplish. She wanted to do a yoga class in Bali. She had signed up for it the day before and she took off as I stayed in bed. As she left I spent my morning watching cartoons in Indonesian. It was actually really entertaining. Latanya and I were going to meet at the same cafe we were supposed to meet Jess and Fran at when we first arrived in Sanur. But as I got ready it appeared that I would make it there in time to meet here right after her class. So I headed to the yoga studio.

When I arrived I sat down and waited for a little bit. Latanya came out a few minutes later. She had a great session, it was only her, the instructor and one other person. Her yoga room was a second story hut. It had a big glass window over looking the swaying trees in the distance. The walls were completely covered in mirrors. She did some basic yoga posses, you know nothing too hard. She found her ability was perfect for the posses they did. To end the class they did a meditation for five minutes to try and feed the energy from the room. It was a great experience for her. She looked so relaxed and centered afterwards.

We then headed to the cafe and grabbed some lunch before heading back to the beach. Once again we did some more lounging and relaxing. Latanya passed by a spa that looked inviting. It turns out that they had a special for the next day for a couple combo massage for a happy hour price. It was buy one get one free for two hours. So Latanya made an appointment for the following day. Tomorrow was going to be our last day in Bali what better than to get a two hour rub down.

We finished our beach day with a nice leisure walk. We hunted down some more corn. Check, still delicious. We picked up a couple beers for the room and said good night to Bali one last time. Though we were going to leave tomorrow night we had a lot to accomplish the next day, including, checking out, getting a massage and still meeting up with Jess and Fran, plus experience one last impromptu Balinese tradition.

Bali - Day 7

Have no worry we found a place! We actually booked the guest house that Fran and Jess stayed at when they first arrived in Sanur. It turned out though the part they stayed in was really run down and dirty, our experience was quite different. They actually just opened a brand new part to their facilities. Brand new, as in yesterday brand new. We were the first guests in our room ever to stay there. They actually were just putting the last finishing touches on the rooms.

So in the morning we headed over to our new place. It was only a five minute walk away. It was a little closer to the beach too. It was set off the main road down a driveway. The place was quaint and quiet. The room was absolutely huge and clean. The bathroom was very spacious with a giant tub.

Once we were settled we made our way towards the beach. We found a nice resort which looked nice and decided to rent a couple of beach chairs for really cheap. Along with the chairs we were able to use their pool and swim up bar. We had lunch in our chairs and enjoyed the beautiful water. The water was great to just relax in. After awhile we headed up to the pool and relaxed some more. After a long extensive time lounging we decided to pack up and walk along the boardwalk for an early evening stroll.

I saw some great food stalls near the end of our walk. I was just dying to get my hands on some grilled corn on the cob. It looked so delicious. We stopped and ordered a couple along with a coconut to share. You should know how we love our coconuts, mmm. We asked for the spicy sauce they spread on it and were in heaven. There were a few younger Balinese couples that seemed to be on a date and were having the same snack. I guess we picked a hot spot.

After our quick snack we walked back toward the main area and had a little dinner and a few drinks. All in all it was a great day for doing nothing. The next day was going to be much of the same with the exception that Latanya had one more Bali activity on her wish list.

Bali - Day 6

Latanya and I woke up at 3:30am. Geday had planned to pick us up at 4:30am and then we were going to be picking up Jess and Fran for our tour of Bali. Geday arrived promptly and we made our way to Jess and Fran's guest house. They were waiting on the curb when we arrived and so they jumped in and we headed toward Mt. Batur. Mt. Batur is a volcano on the northeast side of the island. The sunrise at Mt. Batur is claimed to be breathe taking. I guess since we saw the sunset on the west it was fitting to try and see the sunrise on the east, key word try.

As we made our way, once we began to gain altitude we noticed a think layer of fog surrounding us. After a long drive, two hours worth we finally stopped at a potential great view point. We all got out walked over to an early morning food market. It was pitch black still and everyone had been there and set up for awhile. Most every vendor looked at us in a surprised manner. Either they could not believe us foreigners were up this early or up this early and at their morning market. Anyways, after a quick look through we head back to the van to wait for the fog to clear.

While in the car Geday stood outside for some reason, Fran accidentally sat on a pastry in a plastic bag in the front passenger seat. It turns out that the pastry just so happened to be Geday's breakfast. Fran felt so bad. He would make it up to him later though, by buying him lunch on our drive home. So more time past by and the fog had still yet to clear. We knew it was getting to be that time for the sunrise now. We got out of the car and walked to the view point. The viewpoint was still covered with fog. We waited some more. Finally after some more waiting we began to see a little shimmer of light. It was below our vantage point, we of course thought it was the sunrise. It turns out the shimmer was not the sunrise but in fact the reflection of the sun already risen shining off the lake below. Though we did not see the actual act of the sunrising near Mt. Batur we still got to see an amazing sight. After more of the clouds lifted and burned off we were able to take in an amazing panoramic view of Mt. Batur and the surrounding valley.

After we took it all in enough we climbed back in the car and drove to Lovina. Lovina is at the north of Bali. It's home to chilled out beach lounging with black sand. Latanya really wanted to see the black sand and so did I, we had never seen it before. Black was not the exact color however. It was more of a charcoal color. Anyways the dark color is due to the volcanic nature of the area. It was pretty neat and interesting.

We all got a little breakfast and walked around for a little bit. At this point it was getting to midday and we knew we had to be back in the early evening. It was a heck of a long drive to make it there but well worth it. The windy trip back was exhausting but some of the scenery was just amazing. We stopped on the side of a cliff at a turnout and took in the beautiful tiered rice terraces. Absolutely gorgeous! We stopped again as mentioned before to have lunch. Fran and Geday had two full plates of Balinese dishes. It looked pretty darn good. It was suckling pig with an array of goodies. Everyone else were not hungry. The best part, apart from the great food was the price. I think Fran bought Geday's meal for like a dollar.

We all pilled back into the car and made our way back to Ubud. We dropped Jess and Fran off at their place. We were going to part with them for a little while. We weren't leaving them for good though. We had talked about meeting them once more before we left. Geday, again dropped us off. He was such a nice driver and very kind. We lucked out having him. We crashed out for sure after the long trip. The next day we were definitely taking advantage of the beach, all day. Oh, and we had to find another place to stay. Oh, boy what were we going to do!!! AHHHH!!!