Xi’an

This post is being written in Sedona AZ on Halloween more than a month since we were actually in Xi’an. Wow, how time flies!

Rocky picked us up at 8 am (so we didn’t get much time to sleep in that extra long bed!) and our first stop was the Big Goose Pagoda. This would be the first of many Buddhist Temples we would visit in China. All temples have a “Happy” Buddha near the front-he is the smiling big bellied one. And always the guide would point out that Mike or I or we both were like happy Buddhas!

At one point, Rocky and I were walking along and suddenly realized Mike wasn’t with us. We turned around and found him surrounded by middle school kids. Turns out an English teacher brings his students to the temple and asks tourists to speak English with the students. It was such a hoot to see shy Mike center stage trying to come up with simple questions for each kid. Even funnier was watching the kids helping each other try to answer. This was the first of many interactions we had with Chinese folks wanting to practice their language skills. We were often stopped and greeted with “Hair-row, how are yu?” When we responded we were off to the races with a fun conversation!

We left the pagoda and drove an hour or so out of the central part of town to see what had brought us to Xi’an, the Terra Cotta Army. These clay statutes had been made and built as part of the tomb complex of China’s first emperor. They lay buried for over 1600 years until they were accidentally discovered by farmers digging a well. There are three pits which are now contained within three separate buildings where the army is found.

There are estimated to be over 8000 soldiers plus chariots and horses. All but a few were in pieces due to the collapse of the wood roof that protected them (initially) from the dirt under which they were buried. When the wood rotted, the dirt damaged them. There is a large group of anthropologists who have worked continuously since they were found piloting them back together. They number each piece and where it was found and use plastic bins to keep pieces together. Each warrior is unique so it’s a huge jigsaw puzzle. It’s estimated at their current rate they will finish putting back together those currently unearthed in another 100 years. Of course there are many that have yet to be uncovered.

In a separate building there is a museum display of the few figures that were intact. You’ll note that they (and the rest of the warriors) are missing their weapons. This is because the 2nd Emperor opened the tomb and had his soldiers steal them! This is also when some of the figures were damaged.

In the second picture above you can see that the figures were originally colored. The back if that warrior has the original color. Apparently, unless these colors are protected immediately after being exposed to air, the color fades.

It is impossible to adequately describe the magnitude of this place and its impact when you walk around. To think about the amount of work it took to create this army is mind blowing. Hopefully these pictures give you a little idea.

After having our picture taken with the army, it was time for a late lunch. Ricky took us to a local place and helped us order. OMG, it was so good-I had been told that we wouldn’t like real Chinese food. That Chinese American food was very different and that real Chinese wouldn’t be tasty. Not so! It was similar but so much fresher, better!

Rocky wanted us to order more than we did, thank goodness we didn’t! We had leftovers which he took home. We had pork buns, dumplings and sizzling beef stir fry and then a fried dough with a molasses sauce for dessert. The stir fry was served on a thin aluminum pan sitting on a very hot plate.

After our late lunch, we drove back to the city and were dropped off at our hotel where a nap may have been taken. After our naps we went and explored the neighborhood around the hotel. It was busy with shopping, food and folks just out enjoying the evening including the two twenty somethings in their crazy Little Bo Peep outfits. We were a few blocks from the center of Xi’an which is marked by the Bell Tower. This tower is lit every night but was surrounded by special decorations in anticipation of the National Holiday a couple of days away. Each town has a bell tower and a drum tower. The bell was run in the morning to get work started and the drum in the evening at the end of the day. That is Xi’an’s drum tower in the distance behind the Bell Tower.

While we weren’t hungry after our huge lunch it was fun to check out some of the street food. We did eventually go back to the room and munch on some chips we had left from an earlier visit to a store and a pomegranate. Pomegranates are grown in this part of china and we had seen them along the road. They put plastic bags over the immature fruit to keep bugs out while still on the tree. Then the bag also makes for an easy way to tote it home! It was tasty though a bit messy to deal with in the hotel room.

Tomorrow we are going to see Xi’ans City Walls and then head towards Beijing!

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To China

This post is being written from Las Vegas about our trip from Japan to China on September 27th. Sorry I have fallen so far behind.

The picture above is Mike in Kyoto as we boarded our bullet train to the Osaka airport for our flight to Xi’an China. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After our long day to, from and in Hiroshima and knowing we would be going non-stop for the next 7 days we decided to take it easy on our last day in Kyoto. We had thought about seeing another sight or two but the remaining ones required a trip away from the city so we decided…”next time”.

After sleeping in, we had a tasty last lunch in our hotel’s buffet restaurant. We hadn’t planned on eating there but after peaking in and seeing it was all locals, we decided to try it. Very tasty salad makings and Japanese versions of European dishes but also some delicious tempura and other Japanese noodle dishes. It was interesting watching the locals use chop sticks and raise their plates to eat non Asian dishes.

We had originally intended to use the same luggage service to take our bags to the airport and for us to take the subway to train station. But we found out we had to send the luggage two days ahead and that the cost of a cab was cheap much less than the luggage service, we decided we would handle the bags ourselves. The hotel called us a cab and I’m glad we had that experience.

Like so much in Japan, it is still old school. The driver wears gloves (some wear suits and hats), the cab is immaculate and the seats are even covered with antimacassars!

We arrived at the station and quickly boarded the Hello Kitty Express to the airport. Everything on the train was themed even the bathroom mirror and the antimacassars!

We arrived at the HUGE (well we thought it was huge until we saw China’s airports) too early to check in so had to cool our heels for a bit in the checkin area which wasn’t much fun as apparently half of everyone leaving Osaka was doing the same thing.

But after we checked our bags, and after spending a bit of time in the lounge we found ourselves aboard our plane for our 4.5 hour flight to Xi’an. When we booked the flight on Hainan, we discovered for less than $100 more over what an economy ticket plus the exit row seat fee cost we could be in Business (which came with extra bag weight which we needed 😢) it was a no brainer to ride up front. The service and food but most importantly legroom were all great.

We arrived in Xi’an at 11:35 pm. We had used a Chinese tour agency, China Highlights to book our hotels, tours and transfers in China. We don’t normally use an agency but as Asia was completely new to us and frankly we were a bit afraid to plan our travels without help. Thank goodness we did, as it turned out to be the National Holiday in China. If not for the advice of the agent we worked with, we would likely have been trying to see the sights along with thousands and thousands of Chinese. She advised us to arrive earlier than originally planned which we did. All of that is to say that we were pleased to see the smiling face of our guide “Rocky” waiting at the door when we exited customs. He and our driver drove us through dark but heavily decorated streets to our hotel in the center of the city where we arrived about 1 am.

Our room was large but Asian standards but when we walked in I was sad to see what I thought was a very ornate footboard. I had told Lily (our travel agent) that I was very tall and that I’d appreciate it if we could be assigned a room without a footboard. Oh well, it was only two nights. But wait, that is a strange looking footboard. What is it?

Yes, apparently the hotel had taken Lily’s request to heart and using some ballroom chairs, and extra pillows and a folded comforter, they had extended the bed! Wow, this was a new one! Mike said, “can you imagine the conversation the housekeepers must of had while setting this up!”

So after a long day, we fell asleep in a very long bed in a brand new country!

Tomorrow, we are off to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Seattle

We arrived about an hour and half early and lucked out with our seats. The economy cabin was about half empty so Mike moved to an empty seat in the middle section of the same row where we had our assigned exit row seats so he had no one beside him and I had two seats to myself! We feel like we won the lottery!

Stayed awake the whole 10 hours so we are ready for bed! 🛌

Disembarkation

As much as we hated to leave, we are still smiling so it must have been a good time!

While Viking requires you to be out of your room by 8 am on disembarkation day, they do serve breakfast in both the buffet and the Restaurant. Since our trip to the airport wasn’t scheduled to leave until 9:40, we timed it to leave the room exactly 8 am and had a civilized proper breakfast-with lambchops and a pistachio raisin roll of course.

We then adjourned to The Living Room to wait for “Purple 4” to be called. While there we had the opportunity to say goodbye to the various cruisers we interacted with aboard. Some we exchanged contact info with, others a simple “safe travels”. Before finishing breakfast, the Assistant Cruise Director and singer Brensley Pope stopped by to say goodbye. So a sad time as all good times come to an end.

We are now sitting on the bus waiting for the boss to give the go ahead to head to the airport hotel where Viking has booked us a day room. And at 10:18 we are off!

And at 11:16 we are in our lovely room at the Regal Airport Hotel. It is directly connected to the airport but unfortunately no view of the runway or taxi way. Just a parking garage.

Given our air was “free”, I’m impressed that Viking is providing us this nice room to wait for our flight that leaves in about 12 hours. For those with afternoon flights, they’ve provided a hospitality room in the meeting part of the hotel. I’m gonna run down there is a bit to see how those folks are faring.

Then Mike and I have to decide whether we are going to try to sleep this afternoon and start resetting our clocks or just go enjoy the pool and relax until time to check in our luggage and head to the priority lounge for our flight.

#FirstWorldProblems!

Packed 😢

Even though we have gotten rid of a pair of shoes and a couple of shirts, we had to pull out the folding bag to meet the maximum weight requirements for the flight back tomorrow! That wasn’t an issue on the cruise over or on our Hainan flight from Osaka to Xi’an as they allowed a 70 pound bag.

Anyway, just finished a final load in the launderette so everything is clean and Mike is showering for our final dinner aboard Orion at the Chef’s Table

We had a good tour of Hong Kong and would like to come back and really explore sometime.

After dinner, we are looking forward to the light show the island does each evening and then we will rush to our rooms and pack away our dress clothes and put the bags out.

Tomorrow Viking is providing us a day room at an airport hotel so we are going to try to start our biological clocks moving back to Pacific Time by sleeping in the afternoon and staying awake in our 11:35 pm flight to Seattle. We are scheduled to arrive Friday night, 2.5 hours before we leave Hong Kong! So it will be about bedtime when we get to our friend Andy’s.

Sorry for not catching up the blog but I hope to do so as we continue our roadtrip once we get back. In the meantime, I will do some a la minute posts tomorrow and when we get back to the USA.

Hiroshima

We took our second bullet train early in the morning for the roughly two hour trip to Hiroshima. We had arranged another “Goodwill” Guide and Tai met us as promised at the train station. That’s him below in a picture taken on the ferry to our first stop, Miyajima. This resort island is known for its Shinto Shrine that has a huge Torii partially submerged at high tide.

Unbeknownst to me (despite copious research) the gate is undergoing renovations so rather than seeing this:

here is what we got:

Mike’s bad juju continues-remember he didn’t get to see Big Ben’s Tower in London due to similar scaffolding. If we ever get him to Paris I’m afraid the Eiffel Tower may be under a cloak too!

The shrine itself is pretty interesting as it is mostly overwater (or at low tide, over sand😢)

We hiked up lots of stairs to get to the beautiful pagoda that dominates the hillside where we took our standard selfie and Tai all but laid on the ground to take a much nicer photo.

The island is also home to a herd (perhaps several) of small deer. They aren’t at all afraid of people and we were warned to keep our ferry tickets put away as they have been know to snatch and eat them. Luckily our train passes were good on this ferry so that wasn’t a concern for us!

After returning to the ferry and back to the mainland, we took the Hiroshima streetcar back into the city. We had ridden a train out from the City as it was covered by our rail pass but due to time, Tai said it would be faster overall to take the streetcar since it would make a stop directly at the Peace Park. I’m always up for trying new transportation and the streetcar was great. Tai taught Mike how to buy our ticket and off we went. I particularly liked the attendant in her white gloves who walked through the car after each stop to make change if needed.

We arrived at the Peace Park stop but before we visited it was time for lunch. Tai took us to a restaurant in a department store. This is fairly typical in Japan, the malls and department stores have floors devoted to restaurants. In the one we visited I counted five different ones on the floor he took us too. We had Okonomiyaki. This delicious cross between a pancake and an omelet was delicious! We had seen it during our YouTube research so we were glad Tai suggested it. The dish is made on a flattop by making a crepe, covering it with cabbage, sprouts, other fillings (one of ours included local oysters) an egg, special sauce (sorta a sweet and sour Worcestershire) and noodles. Through an intricate series of flipping you end up with crispy noodles on the outside and gooey deliciousness inside. While we ate at a table, if you sit at the flat top, you eat it directly off the griddle. Either way it was Yummy!

We really enjoyed our time with Tai. He is a recent retiree also and enjoys being a goodwill guide to improve his English (which is already amazing!) it was fun to watch him pull out his phone and look up translations and then ask us to explain certain phrases that don’t translate exactly. For example, at some point I said in relation to our first visit to China that we took the cruise to “dip our toe in the water”. This phrase obviously doesn’t make much sense when directly translated but once we explained, Tai grinned and reached for his notepad to write it down. I would love it if I spoke a foreign language enough to be able to be a Goodwill Guide in the US. 😢

After lunch we walked a block or so, to reach the Peace Park. This park is built around the former municipal building whose dome was the sighting point for the knowing when to drop the world’s first atomic bomb. The title picture for this post is what one sees when entering the park. The park is beautiful and and spreads across both sides of the river. It is in start contrast to the destroyed remnants of the building. I was particularly taken with the fallen stone and brick ruble scattered around the buildings.

In addition to a Museum which we didn’t have time to visit, there are memorials throughout the park.

The most moving is the Children’s Peace Memorial. It was inspired by Sadako Sasaki who was exposed but not injured during the original blast when she was two years old. Nine years master, she was diagnosed with leukemia. Believing the ancient practice of folding origami paper cranes would bring her health, she started folding and continued to do so until her death 8 months later. Today, in addition to the clacker of the bell that hangs in the center of the Children’s Memorial, there are thousands of cranes that people around the world have folded in the children’s memory and in the hope for peace surrounding the monument. The modern connection between paper cranes and peace is said to be the result of Sadako’s original cranes.

Our visit to the Peace Park was very impactful. It is awful to think of the horror that the bomb wrought. Of course the horror of war is also unimaginable. I hope that the goal of this park to achieve Peace in the world is someday permanently achieved. This is also probably a good time to share my thoughts regarding the way the Japanese treat us. Unfortunately I never felt close enough to any of the Japanese people I met to discuss it with them, but I found it surprising that there appeared to be no resentment towards Americans. Given the devastation the war wrought I expected that they would not be as accepting and friendly. Perhaps it is that ingrained Japanese politeness and desire to not disrupt. I mean a people who don’t blow their car horns or don’t ever push to get on or off a subway certainly wouldn’t want to treat anyone badly simply because we retaliated for a surprise attack by defeating them. Anyway, not trying to be political, just an observation.

After thanking Tai for his time, stories and knowledge, we headed back to Kyoto arriving about 12 hours after we left. Since we were still stuffed from lunch we ended up eating some leftovers we had in the room and hitting the sack. It had been a long but meaningful day.

Tomorrow we head to China!