China – 10 Cities in 19 Days: Shanghai

So here’s the part of the trip that things started to get crazy. It’s from Shanghai that we joined an 8 day tour that had us visiting a new city/town almost everyday. We finally saw signs of  blue sky and clean air! My search for throat drops ended here.
Third stop: Shanghai (Sept. 25-26)
By the time we arrived at the hotel, it was close to dinner (we were delayed an hour leaving Xi’an). We had a lot of food we wanted to try, with limited stomach space we had to choose carefully. It happened to be the season for the Mitten Crab (大闸蟹) so we each had one that night. They weren’t very big and it was actually quite a bit of work to eat it….it got a bit messy…. but paired with the vinegar, it was worth the work. Then of course we had to have the Shanghai Steamed Dumplings (小笼包)!
After dinner we walked a couple of the streets around the hotel, there were a lot of outdoor “restaurants” with dishes and dishes of amazing looking seafood. You just choose what you want and they make it for you on the spot. It started to rain really hard suddenly so we ran back to the hotel and called it a night.

The next morning, we went to a section of The Bund. It was too bad we were short on time here, I would’ve like to see the older section of The Bund and the Oriental Pearl Tower up close.

New Heaven & Earth District
These cafes, shops and restaurants were originally traditional shikumen (“stone door”) houses. Now it’s a pedestrian only shopping/entertainment district.

Old Town God’s Temple Street

There were so many places to buy food here, I couldn’t help myself and had to try one of these dumpling/bun things with a straw. Turns out the straw was useless – not sure why they even have them there, but the overall bun was not bad.
Yes – that’s a Starbucks…they weren’t hard to find in China.

That’s it, our stop in Shanghai was very short but we did consider not stopping here in the beginning but I’m glad we had the chance to see it and of course…..enjoy the food 🙂

China – 10 Cities in 19 Days: Xi’an

The 2nd stop in our trip was Xi’an where the main purpose was to see the Terracotta Warriors, something I had wanted to see for some time now. We were tight on time and had arranged a private guide to show us around here. Allen picked us up from the airport, we checked into the hotel and after a short break we were back out at it again. Unfortunately, the air was worse here and I felt thirsty all the time.

There were still signs of the anti-Japanese riots around the streets. Owners of Japanese cars covered up the logos, banners hung up and fencing on the sides of the streets. Stores selling Japanese goods were closed and there were stories of crowds trying to break into hotels with Japanese tourists. I’m glad we didn’t get caught in any of that.

As one of China’s ancient capitals there’s a lot history here. The emperors of many dynasties chose Xi’an as their capitals due to its good feng shui. Unfortunately I got a bit confused after a while…..keeping track of historical dates and names is not my specialty.

Second stop: Xi’an (Sept. 23-25)

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

The Pagoda was built in 652 AD with only 5 levels at the time, then in 704 AD another 2 levels were added. It was then that the 7 level level pagodas became standard. Due to an earthquake in the 1500’s the pagoda is slightly tilted. Rose and I paid the extra fee to climb all 7 levels of the Pagoda, from the windows you can look out at the city and see the mix of old and new. Here’s the view from the top:

Tang Dynasty Show & Dumpling Banquet

Anyone that knows me will know I love dumplings and vinegar but I was once again a bit disappointed with the food. I have to say some of the dumplings were made into fancy shapes and had special fillings, nice to look at but I wasn’t all that impressed. It turned out the favorite among the 3 of us was the “home-style dumpling” – on the top right.

The show was entertaining, there was singing and dancing, the costumes were beautiful.

City Wall

Xi’an’s city wall is one of the oldest and best preserved in China. Along the Wall there were buildings that were partially demolished in preparation for something new to be built. There are some reluctant to move from their homes and continue to live there even when parts of it is already torn down. A city where old and new are trying to co-exist.

New buildings inside the City Wall aren’t allowed to be too high and must be built with a traditional style roof, while those outside don’t have to.

It was here that I learned about the Pi Xiu. I know there are a lot of Chinese mythical and auspicious creatures but this one was new to me. Pi Xiu is the 9th offspring of the dragon, that eats everything but nothing comes out. There’s also a proper way to touch or pet it…it was interesting….

Terracotta Warriors

This was another trip highlight. China’s first emperor had this army built to protect him in the afterlife, complete with soldiers, horses and chariots. The attention to detail is incredible, they’re life-sized, varying in height, rank, weapons and facial expressions. The soldiers’ heads, arms, legs and bodies were created separately and later assembled together.

Originally they were all painted but fade or peel quickly after being exposed to air, they’re still trying to find a way to preserve the colours.

Muslim Quarter

We went for dinner at a restaurant in the Muslim Quarter, it was fun walking along the street looking at the tables of knick-knacks, shops, food carts and restaurants. We ate at a restaurant called Jia San Soup Pau Restaurant, it’s supposed to be famous. My mom ordered the specialty dish, Mutton & Pita, looks kind of like bread soaked in broth (bottom left).

The soup dumplings were quite good, though they look very deflated here.

Food Cart
My mom braved a busy food cart one morning and tried one of these pita/wrap/bun things so after seeing that my mom’s tummy was “ok” after (thanks for being the guinea pig mom) the next morning Rose and I got one too. It’s pretty much a piece of steamed dough wrapping cabbage, bean sprouts and whatever else you wanted. It was very flavourful and at 3 RMB (under 50 cents CND), it was a descent breakfast. But food cart in a foreign country, definitely not for everyone….

China – 10 Cities in 19 Days: Beijing

I recently returned from a trip to China with my mom and best friend (also called Rose if you didn’t know already). We planned this whirlwind trip so we could see as many sites as possible to maximize our vacation time. It was tiring towards the end but we hit all the major sites we were aiming to see, met some nice people and shopped like there was no tomorrow when we got the chance.

Unfortunately, I wound up with a sore throat for the first couple of days – we definitely take clean air for granted over here. The pollution was obvious upon leaving the airport. Buildings the next block over were barely visible on some days. Evidence that “Made in China” comes with a price.

On the plus side, through our entire trip, everyone thought Rose and I were in our early 20’s and just out of school. So we tried to work that to our advantage when being sold things.

Anyways, on to the sites:

First stop: Beijing (Sept. 19-23)

The night we arrived, we went out to try Peking Duck, so we went to the famous Quanjudu Roast Duck Restaurant. Our hotel was in the Wangfujing area so we walked over to that location (apparently there are several). It was a dish I was looking forward to trying but was slightly disappointed by the flavour (or lack there of).

Great Wall of China

This was one of the highlights of the trip and was everything I thought it would be, if not more. The view was amazing and the Wall just went on and on and on. We went to the Mutianyu section where you take a cable car on to the Wall to begin your trek. This section is supposed to have less crowds and tour groups than the Badaling section as it’s further from Beijing city centre.

Another time I wish my legs were longer….some of the steps went up to my knees! Walking down wasn’t the problem – it was climbing back up, but of course we made it!!

Summer Palace

We sure walked our legs off here, by the end of the day, we thought “if this was the emperor’s summer home, how big is the ‘regular’ home going to be?!”.

It’s incredible that these halls, gardens, etc. were built such a long time ago. There was so much to look at. Jade carvings, jewels, paintings, it was a bit overwhelming at times. It’s hard to believe this was all done by hand.

There was so much to see, we didn’t even get through all the sections before we had to go, it’s definitely a place you can spend all day.

Wear comfortable shoes!

Forbidden City (Palace Museum)

Entering the Forbidden City was like walking into the set of an ancient Chinese movie (except there for the crowds of tourists everywhere). There were people everywhere!!! Because of that, it was a bit difficult to get through and see what was in every hall.

We went into the Clock & Watch Museum section where they had clocks that were given to the emperor as gifts. Apparently they were things for amusement/entertainment back in the day….hmmm….can you imagine staring at a clock (even this giant fancy “water clock”) for fun???

….and that was our first stop!

Oasis of the Seas


Coming home after a week on vacation is always hard, even harder when you spent the week being lazy! What a long week of catching up on work and getting back to reality. We spent a week on Royal Caribbean’s massive ship, Oasis of the Seas. With over 6,000 travellers and over 2,000 crew members I was really surprised that it didn’t feel more crowded. In fact most the ship was pretty empty after midnight. They had fantastic shows, lots of activities, delicious food and excellent service.

Now, you might think a cruise is boring….being couped up on a ship in the middle of the ocean….it’s for old people…..it’s all about eating…..etc.etc. I did too until we tried it, I think the key is finding the right ship offering the activities you’re interested in.

Here are a few photos from our trip. We stopped in Labadee, Haiti (the cruise line’s own private “island”), Falmouth, Jamaica and Cozumel, Mexico. 

We enjoy the Eastern Caribbean itinerary more personally but we really wanted to enjoy all the activities available on the ship. We definitely didn’t get to everything but we did do a lot.

I miss being on vacation, and really REALLY miss the heat & sunshine but it’s nice to be home and sleep in my own bed.
It’s not all about the food, but the food was absolutely delicious.

 

The Flowrider was a lot of fun, boogie boarding on this surf simulator was easier than I thought. I couldn’t believe I managed to get up from my stomach. On the Oasis, there are 2 of these, the 2nd one is for those wanting to try the stand-up surfing. 


 Beach by Montego Bay, Jamaica. We took a taxi from the port at Falmouth….I was a bit iffy about it but my husband wasn’t and asked the driver to take us to other places and he took us to some pretty nice places and right into town where traffic was so insane you can reach out the window and touch the person in the car beside.  

Richmond Hill Inn, with view of Montego Bay, 2nd largest city in Jamaica

In Cozumel, we did “scoot coupe” excursion where you drive 3-wheel carts along the coast of the island, with a group and a guide of course, was fun but a little scary going into regular traffic.

Yes, this ship had its own carousel! And like a big kid, I rode on it 🙂

Who can resist a beautiful sunset?

Greetings From Cozumel!

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Gotta love Starbucks & their wifi. Happy, tanned and lazy….will be hard to go back to “real life” in a couple if days. Just spent the last week on board the Oasis of the Seas. What a huge cruise ship! More photos when I’m back 🙂

Anyways, just wanted to say hi!

Rainy San Fran

20120124-224626.jpgWent with my mom for the weekend to see my grandma in San Fran., thought it would be nice to get away from the snow and spend Chinese New Year with granny.

The only thing i didn’t know was Granny’s house doesn’t have centralized heating. I was cold even inside! I don’t know how this little 92 year lady manages with just a sweater and a vest. There were 2 space heaters but I still wore my jacket inside for 2 days and then my hoodie to bed!

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I think I’m gonna stick to visiting in the summer months. It was so windy my umbrella flipped over and broke!

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The only plus was this one sunny day where I took the BART (their subway/rapid transit) to Oakland’s China Town and wandered through the market where people were prepping for CNY.

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While there I had an awesome bowl of Vietnamese noodles (bun rieu) at Ba Le right in China Town.

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Snowy Vancouver

The sunset looked spectacular from the office last night. I couldn’t resist snapping some photos. The weather reports continued to say we’d see snow in the morning. But look at it – how could it possibly start snowing? It was beautiful out.

Well, I guess the weather people were right about the snow. The storm that to hit Vancouver went over to Seattle instead and we just caught a bit of it. Great news for us, but sucks for Seattle (hope everyone there is safe and warm!). We still got some flurries but doesn’t look like much is sticking to the ground, at least not downtown, anyways.


This is perfect weather for comfort food. I’m craving some sort of stew, soup, or noodles. I’ve been trying to get inspired in the kitchen but this weather also makes me want to curl up in my pajamas with a book. There are a few soup noodle recipes I’m excited to try so I promise I will cook up some good stuff when I get back from San Francisco.

Crisp Winter Air

After a stressful morning I decided to take a walk after lunch. It was 2 degrees (Celsius) with a wind chill of -5 outside but I just needed to get out. It was sunny but cold, the crisp air was just what I needed to clear my head. I walked towards the water down to the new Vancouver Convention Centre. I thought I’d share some of it with you. Here’s a look at Vancouver’s North Shore mountains.

I’m still working out all the bells & whistles on my iPhone 4S but these photos don’t do them justice. Come and see for yourself!