Friday, November 30, 2012

China Adventure: The Great Wall via Beijing Sideways

Last and, in my opinion, the best post about our China Adventure. At the advice of some friends, we booked a tour with Beijing Sideways to take us to the Great Wall of China. There are other cheaper options, but none as cool and none that allow you to hike the Great Wall alone.

Beijing Sideways is different because ... you travel by motorcycle sidecar!
It was a little chilly so they had these really thick warm lined military coats and mittens for us to wear in the car. The shield on the helmets helped too.

Our first stop was a lovely Buddhist temple where we had a short hike (to get us prepared our guide, Theo, told us) and a stop for coffee and snacks.

Another 30 minutes or so and we were at a remote section of the wall. Which, incidentally had signs saying "no trespassing". We assume Beijing sideways has negotiated some kind of an arrangement. :)
And then we were hiking on the Great Wall of China. AMAZING! This thing is soooo long and sooo steep, it's hard to imagine it being built and guarded full time. We hiked for a while and then stopped at one of the towers for lunch, which our guide had carried up with him. Wine, cheese, chicken, fruit and even cake for dessert. And through it all, the never ending view of the wall. It was a beautiful day too, which made it even more special.

Yep, it was as steep as this photo looks in places. Luckily, we were hiking up and this is a shot from the top. Our route down wasn't quite so scary.

An amazing day!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

China Adventure: Tienanmen Square

Tienanmen Square was only a few blocks away from our hotel ... or so we thought from the map we were looking at. We're still not sure if we took the long way or if the blocks in China are just really long, but after about 45 minutes, we arrived at Tienanmen Square and started to explore.

 This is the original city gate for Beijing. Beautiful structure - I think you can go inside, but we were there after 5pm so it was closed.

 Not exactly sure what building this is - some kind of government offices - guards out front and all closed up for the night.
 A front view of the Beijing Gate.

Tienanmen Square memorial.

 No idea what this was, but it was cool so we had to take a photo.

The entrance to the Forbidden city. We didn't have enough time this trip to tour through it. Next time.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

China Adventure: Getting to Beijing

Our adventures in China continued with a high speed train ride from Shanghai to Beijing. The Chinese are very proud of their train system and have every right to be. The trip was on time, clean, efficient and the service and food was fantastic!

Unfortunately, the day was foggy and overcast so we didn't see as much of the countryside as we had hoped. Even so, the 5 hour trip was comfortable and probably less hassle that trying to get there by plane.
 Spacious, clean and comfortable. And we were in 2nd class.

 Our little snack bag. It had dried bacon, sour apple, some mints and candy and wasabi peanuts. We also got tea, orange juice and a lunch of rice, meat and vegetables.

 We even got a pair of slippers to wear around the train!

Nuclear plant on the way to Beijing.

Friday, November 23, 2012

China Adventure: Yuyuan Garden

One of our favorite stops on the Shanghai day tour was the Yuyuan garden. Built by the son of a family in honor of his father, these gardens are in the middle of Shanghai old streets. There are four different areas of the garden and they are just beautiful.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

China Adventure: Shanghai Old Streets

The part of the tour that felt the most Chinese was a walk through an area called Shanghai Old Streets. It's the oldest part of the original city and crowded and busy and so cool.

This guy was running some kind of puppet show, I think. You paid a fee to sit down and look through the eye holes you see in the front. 
I think this shot is so funny with the old Chinese culture and then the Starbucks logo.

There were lots of interesting food places around the market. Too bad we had already eaten as I'll bet there could have been some fun adventures.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

China Adventure: The Bund

It was time for lunch so we headed to an area of Shanghai called the Bund. It's basically a boardwalk area that overlooks the part of the city called Pu Dong, which is famous for the Pearl Tower. Lots and lots of people milling about and some nice shops and restaurants. A fun area - too bad it was so overcast.

A view of the Pu Dong area of Shanghai.
This photo gives you a sense of the boulevard and the amount of people out and about that day. Our guide told us that all the people on the street were "fresh". She meant that they were tourists from other parts of China and not residents of Shanghai. :)
People doing I'm not sure what on the top of the Pearl TV tower.
The Pearl Tower. Had we had another day in the city, we would have tried to go up to the top. I'm sure the view up there is amazing, especially at night.
Just behind this beautiful memorial was where we had lunch. Real Chinese food is a million times better than we get from the places in the States. I was continuously impressed with the food even when I had no idea what I was eating. :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

China Adventure: The Silk Market

You can't visit China and not visit a silk market. Our tour took us next to a 'silk museum' which was a clever way to get us into a silk merchandise warehouse. We did learn a bit about those little silk worms, however.

Each silk worm spins their cocoon, which are the little white puffs you see in the photo below. The entire cocoon is about the size of cotton ball and is one continuous thread of silk. The machine below is unraveling that thread of silk and putting it on a spool so it can be used. The cocoons are sitting in water to soften them up so that the strand of silk doesn't break as the machine works.
The other way they use the silk is by forcing two worms to share a cocoon. The cocoon is a bit bigger as a result and is made up to two strands. These aren't unraveled but instead soaked and then stretched. The photo below is one of those cocoons that's been stretched and is now drying.
Once dry, the cocoon can be stretched further, which is what they're doing in the photo below. Layer after layer makes up the filling of a silk comforter which are said to be very light but still very warm.
After our brief tour through the 'museum' we were led to the WalMart like place you see below. Tons of silk products, comforters, comforter covers, screens, clothes, scarves ... We found a few things we liked, but very little we could afford. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

China Adventure: The Jade Buddha Temple

Next on our tour was the Jade Buddha Temple. Shanghai has grown around this temple, which is so amazing. We drove down a really crowded street, hopped out of the van on that same busy street and then suddenly stepped over the threshold in to this beautiful temple. Such a contrast.

The entrance wall. I love the contrast of the skyscrapers in the hazy distance.

These two were right over the entrance door.

 There were a number of different temples that made up the whole complex. In this one in which the directional kings are depicted. There are four (North, South, East and West) and each represents a part of our character.

A view of the inner courtyard.

This is one of the worshipers.  They have prayer sticks, which they light using the fire you see above or the lotus candle you see below. The sticks smoke a lot and the worshiper holds them in front and then prays to each of the four directions.

 Inside another of the temples (the largest one). There were 3 resting buddhas in this temple representing the past, present and future.

Above is a female Buddha. The wall behind her (see photo below) is an incredibly elaborate carving of the 99 teachers. Buddhist monks are required to learn 99 skills that are taught to them by 99 different teachers.

These kings are positioned along both side walls of this template and represent all the different virtues or needs of the worshipers (e.g. wealth, health, long life, patience ...) The worshiper can choose which to pray to depending on what they are asking for that particular day.

Another temple, the area to the left housed the jade buddha for which the temple is named. It was beautiful white jade and really intricately carved. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos.

This is reclining buddha, which is to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously and take time to enjoy life and relax. Sounds good to me!

Our guide didn't specifically describe this area, but it was one of my favorite of the temple. Really quiet and peaceful. The pictures on the walls are carved stone.