Sunday, May 1, 2011

And we're back

So after a couple of days in London we are home.
The surprise at Heathrow was great, and meant that John got out of going to see Wicked with me, and Eileen got to come instead.
We went to the royal wedding, but didn't see much, and visited my Aunt Nooney and her family in Wokingham.
Myself and the girls went to King's Cross to play at being Harry Potter.
All in all a relaxing few days, and now we are home.

New Zealand's Entire South Island. (Very specifically the canyon swing for me)
Bloomfield Lodge
Kuala Lumpar
Koh Phangan
Hoi An
Hong Kong
Yang Shuo

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shanghai - Beijing

After (yet another) overnight train we arrived in Shanghai on Friday. Shanghai is a pretty cool city, and quite modern. Beside our hotel was a good high rise building with a cafĂ© at the top which offered great views of the cities. Unfortunately we couldn’t see too well because it was foggy!
That night we went to an acrobatic show which I have to say was spectacular. There were a few different acts – people jumping through hoops, balancing acts, silk ropes, throwing of hats, hula hooping and some others. There was also a guy balancing a pot on his, and throwing it up and catching it on his head. And when I say pot I mean quite a large ceramic pot. Which seriously had to hurt when it landed. They also did a ball of death – motorbikes going around the inside of a  large metal ball.
On Saturday we went out to explore the city. We saw six weddings! Shanghai has an amazing skyline with many different towers and impressive buildings, my favourite of which was the skylines and the convention centre. (There was a big international convention in Shanghai last year, which is still being advertised/promoted). We visited the bund area, which is along beside the river. We got sunshine, but it was still quite hazy, so we couldn’t see too much. We visited the Shanghai Museum, which is a lovely building, but quite repetitive inside. Probably the best part of the day was our trip out to the airport. Doesn’t sound too great, and it took us about half an hour. However, the trip back at over 400km/h, that lasted 7 minutes was worth it. I hadn’t realised that Shanghai had a mag-lev train, but I was willing to try it out! It was rockier than I expected, but it was definitely worth doing. I loved that they showed the speed we were travelling on the information screen. We reached 432km/h. In the evening we visited one of Shanghai’s markets. (You’d think that by now I would have had enough, but no….) We did a good bit of bargaining here. Generally people accept much lower prices than their original price!
On Sunday (Easter!) we went to mass first. We were lucky enough to get a mass in English, and we managed to get there in time. We even got an Easter Egg. There was a lady giving them out after mass, which was a nice touch. They were little plastic decorated ones, and there was even a chocolate inside. We spent the afternoon at a theme park. Which wasn’t very good at all. The rides were all very tame, but the Chinese seemed to be terrified on them. They all came off them breathless and shocked looking. Another girl in the group had visited and said the same thing – she kept expecting the rides to be great because of their reactions. My favourite was the ferris wheel. When we got into our little car, we found, like in many other places in China, playing cards. We haven’t actually worked out why there are so many cards lying around the place.  We got a bit lost on the way there, but a nice man stopped us to let us know that we were going the wrong way, and told us how to get there. It was obvious, that while he had reasonable English he wasn’t very confidant with it, so it was very good of him to stop us and help us.
We got some really nice food in Shanghai – really good potatoes cooked in nice sauces, and very good sweet and sour pork. Definitely going to try and cook some of this stuff when I get home.
On Sunday night we got on our last (woohoo!) over night train. This was one of the better ones, because it started later, so there was less hanging around before bedtime. Unfortunately we got the top bunk, which meant a big, high clamber up, and banging my head off the light!
On Monday we arrived in Beijing, and went to see Tian An Men Square and the forbidden city. Some of the stories are very interesting, as are some of the rules. The wife and concubines of the emperor are only permitted to enter once, and then they must stay in the palace. The buildings were all painted red, as this is the colour to represent happiness in China, and the rooves are yellow, the royal colour. (Seems backwards to me!) People in China were not allowed to wear yellow, as this was seen as an insult to the royal family.
On Tuesday we visited the Great Wall. I’m sure you have all seen photos, so there isn’t much to say! But it was a great experience. It was tougher than I expected – you have to climb up to it, and then on the wall there are a lot of steps and slopes. But the views are well worth it. We got a mix of weather – sunshine, rain and thunder. (It was only afterwards that we learned that a few tourists die every year due to lightening on the wall.) We had planned to toboggan back down, as this is an option, but it’s not open when wet. In the evening we went to the snack market to try some of the local delicacies. We started off nice and safe with strawberries and pineapple, and then moved onto the scorpion and snake. The scorpion wasn’t actually too bad – a bit crunchy, but all we could really taste was the spices. The snake was ick. It was really rubbery, and didn’t have much of a taste. (Could be because I had a turn in cooking it.) We also had some crab, which wasn’t great. On the menu there was also star fish and sea urchins, but we didn’t get to try them all.
Wednesday was our last day in China, and the first truly great weather we got. It was sunny and there was a bit of a breeze that blew the haze away. We could see much further than we could any other day. We visited the Temple of Heaven, which I was expecting to be nice, but I wasn’t expecting the beautiful, huge park that it was set in. There were loads of people doing Tai Chi and dancing, and there were also people apparently washing the trees. I scared an old man – his water was leaking, but I couldn’t let him know in Chinese, so I touched it to show him. He snatched it away from me, as if I was going to steal it, but once he realised what I was trying to say he smiled at me. The temple itself was quite impressive. We had more Chinese people taking pictures of us, and when I was taking a picture of Aina and Kristian, the couple we were with, some Chinese people hopped into the picture with them. (They seem to fascinate the Chinese – Aina is very blonde, which is rare in Asia, and Kristian is really tall, also rare in Asia). After the temple we went to our last Asian market, where John got a lovely watch. I’m sure it’s a genuine Breitling and all! Last night we went out for a farewell dinner and a few drinks, and tried the Beijing duck – we got two whole ducks between the group, which were cooked in front of us. The bits that weren’t put into pancakes were deep fried.
This morning we were up early to head to the airport. Beijing is an impressive airport, and we are now on a plan headed for Heathrow, and looking forward to getting home. 

We arrived at Heathrow yesterday, to a huge surprise. Helen, Maria, Eileen and Mammy and Daddy had all come to meet us. I of course screamed and cried my eyes out!