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tower Jul 12th, 2006 07:53 AM

Sea Urchin...mucho thanks for the update on Xian and the GW...yes, seems that times have changed drastically. After a month in China, we figured that our daily costs were less than $10 over and above the tour charge of less than $2000...couldn't get in without a tour and Chinese guide in the early 80's. By the way, the optional tour to the Wall was $5 per person including lunch!! Restaurant eating was never more than a few dollars per...and that included those delicious 20 course meals at some of the hosting commuunes!

TravGirl...keep it coming...what a report!! Thank you, thank you! What you're doing for the kids is priceless!
Stu T.

LCBoniti Jul 12th, 2006 10:41 AM

A foot massage - I groan with envy!

Interesting observations about the difficulties of making a living in China and their industriousness. We take so much for granted. Travel is the best way to change that IMO! Again, a priceless experience for your children.


travelgirl2 Jul 13th, 2006 11:47 AM

Day 14 – Beijing City Tour

Jane Yeo (http://janeyeotours.com/beijing.html) comes to our apartment at 9:00 am. We sit and discuss our list of places we’d like to go. Since we only have one day, it will be a busy day. First, we have to visit the PANDAS AT THE ZOO. DS2 loves animals and this is what he wants to see in Beijing. Jane has a driver and an air conditioned van waiting outside, so we zoom across town to the zoo. She quickly gets the tickets and leads us directly to the pandas. It is a Saturday morning, so there are lots of families visiting the zoo. It is quite crowded, so we have to learn how to follow Jane, who is amazing as she stealthily slips through the crowd.

Next, we make a brief stop at Carrefour, which is right next to the zoo. It is very crowded, even more than our previous visit. While everyone waits in the van, Jane leads me right to a sunglass rack. We order the sunglasses, go to the register to pay (change is not made for 100 yuans, so Jane lends me 40 yuans) and then go back to the sunglass area to pick up the glasses. The clerk has removed the packaging, wiped them clean and given me a pouch for them. As we leave, we spot the van and slide open the door. The van is empty inside and the driver is surprised by the intrusion. Obviously, this is not our van, since we are expecting to see DH, DS1 and DS2. We keep looking and eventually find our driver and my family. By the way, our driver (Mr. Li) is very good natured and we immediately like him, although we can’t communicate with him at all.

Our next stop is the SUMMER PALACE. There is a huge man-made lake in the garden area. We walk and walk and take a boat across the lake. This was my favorite stop on the tour. Jane explained the significance of what we were seeing. It was nice to see all the families there. There were just a few other Westerners, so again we are asked to pose for pictures.

As an aside, people everywhere seem especially intrigued with DS1 and DS2. Maybe it is because they are boys and there are 2 of them. I think that most Chinese families in the city still have only 1 child and it seems that people are very happy to have boys. In fact, someone we met on a different day who admired our boys told us that when his wife had a girl, his friends told him they were sorry. Another person admiring the boys sadly told us that they had a girl. I told them that in the US, it doesn’t really matter whether you have a boy or a girl. They were somewhat incredulous. I could tell they were really thinking about that.

After the Summer Palace, Jane takes us to lunch. On the way to the restaurant, she runs into a market and purchases bottled water and Pepsi. The restaurant is GOULIN. It is huge and has table after table of Chinese people enjoying lunch. She orders kung pao chicken (spicy with peanuts), iron beef, garlic eggplant, roast whole chicken, spicy whole fish and fried rice. Everything is delicious and we also enjoy sitting down to rest. There is a lazy Susan at the center of our round table and we spin it around to serve the food. She also orders a bottle of Sprite and 6 glasses. Then, we are free to drink our water and Pepsi also. This is surprising to me, as bringing your own drinks would be frowned upon in the US. We enjoyed visiting this restaurant with Jane, since we would never have been able to do this without her. Everything is in Chinese, I doubt if anyone speaks English, and we are the only Westerners here among the 200 or so people here.

Our next stop is the money museum, something like the MUSEUM OF CHINA NUMISMATICS (or Currency). It is right next to Tiananmenn Square. This is where DS1 wants to go. He has a keen interest in coins and history. We have read that there are people outside the museum, selling old coins. He is disappointed to find no one selling old coins. We breeze through the museum and rush over to the FORBIDDEN CITY.

We race across Tiananmenn Square, as Jane explains various things to us. As it is nearing 4 pm, when the last tickets are sold, I ask Jane if she wants to go on ahead and get the tickets and we will meet here there. She readily agrees and speeds off. She is very energetic. We get to the gate at 3:55 pm and meet up with Jane. We go through the vast palaces, etc. of the Forbidden City. It is very interesting. Courtyard after courtyard, with huge buildings, separated by fancy gates. The place is huge.

At one point, we start to go into one area and a worker basically slams the door in Jane’s face. She politely asks him if we can come in for a few minutes. She points out that it is still early and we have paid for the tickets. He is mad and yells at her. Even in Chinese, I can tell that he is being very rude. He yells and yells. Eventually, Jane yells back at him. Then, he pushes her. I can’t believe it. Jane steps inside the door and tells us to come in. The man is still yelling, now at us, “No, no”. Jane is yelling to us, “Come in, no problem.” People are stopped and staring at all of us. DH, DS1, DS2 and I are suspended for a moment, not sure what to do. Finally, Jane grabs my wrist and pulls me inside the door. It is like jumping off of a huge cliff, I’m not sure what will happen. DS1, DS2 and DH pause for a moment and, when nothing happens, they follow me in. We take a quick spin around and then go to leave, making sure we are not the last ones. But, the man has blocked the door with a large rock and seems to be threatening not to let us leave. After some more yelling, the man moves the rock, Jane opens the door and we are free. We continue our tour of the Forbidden City.

As we walk to the meeting place for the driver, DH makes the mistake of looking for 2 seconds at a vendor’s plastic dragon. The vendor follows us for about 10 minutes. We are relieved to finally shake him. Jane asks us where we want to go next. We debate going to a market, but it is after 5 pm and we have been moving fast all day.

So, we go back to the hotel. According to DS1’s pedometer, we have walked 12 miles today. We are all full from lunch and too tired for dinner. Everyone else goes to the pool and I go to sleep early.

We liked Jane. She took care of us all day, answering all of our questions. She knows her way around and we are able to do much more with her and the driver than if on our own, in a much less stressful way. And, she is smart and spunky, qualities which I admire.


missypie Jul 13th, 2006 12:18 PM

WOW! How much did you tip Jane for fighting her way into the room in the Forbidden City???!!!

I had lunch yesterday with a former colleague who just returned from Beijing. He is working with a US chidrens' home to try to facilitate adoptions. As he was in several Chinese orphanages, I asked whether he noticed a lot more girls than boys. He said that he was looking for that, but that it was about 50-50. He did say that most of the kids in the orphanages would be classified here as "special needs."

tower Jul 13th, 2006 01:21 PM

TravGirl: Got to know more about Jane Yeo...what is her typical rate for a full day as you describe.
Stu T.

travelgirl2 Jul 15th, 2006 03:02 AM

Stu - Generally, the guides in China seem to charge about fifty per person. Not sure if there is a minimum. We had 4 people. Some charged less for the kids, some didn't. All day, admissions, lunch, van and driver seemed to be included. We liked them a lot, so we tipped also.

travelgirl2 Jul 15th, 2006 03:03 AM

That's fifty u.s.

SandyBrit Jul 15th, 2006 04:31 AM

travelgirl2 - Your ability to adjust to your situation and quickly arrange tours is impressive.

The incident at The Forbiddden City must have been a little scary.

You mentioned walking 12 miles a day without a word of complaint from any of your family.

This is a trip of a liftime and we get to share. Thank you.

Sandy

marigross Jul 15th, 2006 04:50 AM

tagging for future reading...

BostonGal Jul 16th, 2006 07:23 AM

I'm so happy I found this thread! travelgirl2, this report is amazing!

travelgirl2 Jul 16th, 2006 11:32 AM

Thanks, guys.

Missypie - that is interesting about the orphanages. A friend of mine is waiting for her referral to adopt a child from China. I, too, assumed that it would probably be a girl.

travelgirl2 Jul 16th, 2006 11:38 AM

SandyBrit - I admit that it crossed our minds to bail out before the Forbidden City. Especially as we were practically running to get there in time. But we stuck with it and were so glad we did.

travelgirl2 Jul 16th, 2006 12:37 PM

Day 15 – Flight to Xian

We had arranged with Jane to have Mr. Li take us by minivan to the Beijing airport for 200 yuan (about $25). This is still pretty steep, but a big improvement over the 500 yuan we paid from the airport. He is right on time and it is a comfortable ride.

We are flying HAINAN AIRLINES. We have no problem checking in with our 3 paper tickets and 1 electronic ticket. I had been slightly concerned about flying a Chinese airline. The flight turns out to be fine. I am surprised to find it is more than half filled with tourists, mostly English-speaking.

We are only flying from Beijing to Xian in order to see the TERRACOTTA WARRIORS. We will stay for just one night, tour the next day and then take the overnight train (16 hours) to Shanghai. I hope this detour turns out to be worth the trouble and money it took to get here. A friend told me that we couldn’t go to China without seeing the warriors. Fodor’s posters also said that they felt it was a worthwhile trip.

When we arrive in Xian, we get our luggage and head out to the waiting area for drivers. We are looking for Clarence Guo ([email protected] or [email protected] or http://www.taxitour.com/cave.htm) , who will be picking us up from the airport. We search the drivers holding signs. We see a little boy, holding a sign with our name on it. I point to it and wave to him. He waves back and waits until we walk out of the holding area. He says “follow me, please”. So we do. We are all exchanging looks, wondering what is going on. My boys are wondering too, since he is even younger than they are. The little boy takes us to the elevator and says “wait here for a moment, please”. He is so cute as he holds out his hand to indicate we should stop our cart and wait for the elevator. We go outside and he checks his cell phone. A few minutes later, a van pulls up and a man gets out to help us with our luggage. This is Clarence and the little boy is his son. His little girl is also in the van with him. The kids are adorable. We talk with them on the way. The little girl comes in the back to sit between DH and DS2.

While talking with Clarence, we decide to see a show tonight with Chinese dancing from the Tang dynasty. He books the dinner show for us and tells us he will come to the hotel later and take us to the show.

We check in to the GRAND HYATT XIAN. The lobby seems nice. We are staying on the Executive floor, so that we can hang out in the lounge and have a quick breakfast the next morning. The Executive Lounge is very nice. It is comfortable and spacious. This is where they send us to check in. When we arrive, they bring us some cold drinks.

We have 2 rooms here. The rooms have the best set-up we’ve had in any hotel yet. They are interconnecting, with 1 king bed and 2 twin beds. Perfect for us. The rooms are a little dark and tired though. Not too bad, just not great.

The staff at the hotel is very nice and helpful. The woman at the front desk doesn’t even laugh at me when I try to exchange 1000 leftover Japanese Yen into Chinese Yuan. I think I am going to get about $80, but I’ve miscalculated and it is only about $8. When she tries to explain it to me, I can only think of the exchange to dollars and then back to yuan. She is very patient. I go get a few British pounds and also some Euros and exchange them also. In China, we’ve found it easy to exchange cash or traveler’s checks at the hotel desks. I wish we’d brought a little more cash with us. We had $300 in traveler’s checks in case of emergency, but we ended up exchanging them at hotels in China, rather than try to find an ATM, although I don’t think it would have been that difficult to find an ATM.

Soon, Clarence picks us up and takes us to a dinner theater to see the TANG DYNASTY CHINESE DANCING SHOW. We are not excited by dinner. It consists of tons of types of dumplings. They keep bringing them and bringing them. Everything is okay, but it is clearly banquet style food for a lot of people. The show is about an hour. It is enjoyable, but we know it is for the tourists. Afterward, we take a taxi back to the hotel and go right to sleep. We have planned a busy day of touring tomorrow.

LoveItaly Jul 16th, 2006 01:03 PM

The TerraCotta Warriors, that is one thing I have always wanted to see travelgirl although Asia in general has not really called to me. I can hardly wait to read your trip report viewing them. And just wanted to say "hello" and a thank you for sharing your family's fantastic and interesting trip with all of us. A safe, happy and beautiful continued journey is wished for you and your dear family!

moolyn Jul 16th, 2006 01:15 PM

Travelgirl, I'm still following your wonderful, ongoing report. Thanks so much for taking time from your travels to share!


SeaUrchin Jul 16th, 2006 01:38 PM

Hi, still enjoying and hanging on every word.

I stayed at that same hotel and one night decided to go to the beauty shop for a shampoo. It stands out to me because the girl was so sweet and proceeded to use a whole bottle of shampoo on my dry hair, gave me a wonderful head and neck massage and then we walked over to the sink rinse off the shampoo.

May hair felt like silk!!

I can't wait until you reach the warriors. I was amazed, hope you are too!

crefloors Jul 16th, 2006 01:51 PM

This is really terrific. I saw some of the TerraCotta Warriors and other figures from the tomb at the De Young Museum in SF several years ago. It was a wonderful exhibit. How lucky you are to actually be there. Loving your adventure.

LoveItaly Jul 16th, 2006 02:56 PM

Well crefloors, how in heavens name did I miss that exhibition in SF? I must have been on a trip I guess. How dissapointing.

LowCountryIslander Jul 16th, 2006 03:36 PM

Travelgirl...

Still enjoying your thread. My first trip to Asia (Hong Kong) in 2004 got me thinking about seeing mainland China and reading your report has brought those thoughts up again. I may have to move mainland China up on my "places to visit" list!

Can't wait to hear about the warriors! :)

Solangemom Jul 16th, 2006 04:43 PM

What a great report!
Thanks.

travelgirl2 Jul 16th, 2006 05:08 PM

I forgot to mention – on our Hainan Airlines flight, while we were going through security. They didn’t seem too concerned about the various electronics we had with us. They did, however, open every bottle of water or soda we were carrying and proceed to sniff each bottle. Do you think they were looking for alcohol? Or explosive liquids?

Toucan2 Jul 16th, 2006 05:12 PM

What a wonderful trip report! I'm bookmarking so I can keep following along. Thank you for sharing.

missypie Jul 17th, 2006 06:29 AM

Travelgirl, I keep wondering about practical stuff like toiletries. Did you try to pack enough, or figure that at least once you got back to western Europe, you could buy whatever you needed?

Has it really been almost a month already? I think my family would have reached its "limit" of daily (hourly?) adventures by now.

Dejais Jul 17th, 2006 06:50 AM

Bookmarking for later. Travelgirl2, you have me hooked but I have to get back to work. I am only In London the first evening and can not wait to read more. Keep writing...please!

Georgia_Traveler Jul 17th, 2006 10:23 AM

I am really enjoying the report so far. Your reports are so informative and natural that I feel as though I am there also. You have given me an interest in Asia that I haven't really had before. Thank you for the reports.


travelgirl2 Jul 17th, 2006 12:14 PM

Day 16 – Xian – Tour of Terracotta Warriors and Overnight Train to Shanghai

To go to the TERRACOTTA WARRIORS, Clarence picks us up at 8 am. He is very quiet during the drive. We notice that the pollution is very bad and the air is extremely hazy. It seems even worse than Beijing. We get to the Terracotta Warriors and it is amazing. It is totally worth the trip and DH says this is the most interesting thing he has seen yet this summer.

It is a huge tourist site, with a big park outside of the museum. They have relocated the village which used to be there, in order to make the park. You have to walk about 10 minutes through the park. At the entrance to the park, there are huge parking lots, starting to fill up with buses. While Clarence is parking, we gesture and ask some men to take our picture in front of a large statue. They agree and then ask to take their picture with our two boys. Everyone is smiling and very happy to pose with the boys. This happens again and again, everywhere we go. I know I’ve said this before, but I find this so interesting.

It seems that about half of the people here are Westerners. This is a stark contrast to Beijing, where we didn’t see as many Westerners as we’d expected (although we did see an interesting tour group of Westerners in the Forbidden City who were all using Sign Language to communicate with each other – Jane found this interesting too – I wonder if Sign Language varies depending on your native country’s language or if it is its own language??).

There are several museum buildings which are very modern and it is quite an impressive place. The farmer who discovered the warriors (one day while he was digging a well) is here. For a price, he will autograph a book on the warriors for you. No photos of the elderly man are allowed though. So I take a picture of the photo of the man hanging on the wall. And, of course we buy a book and have it autographed.

In the display areas, you stand behind fences and gaze out upon the warriors in an excavation pit. There are small rooms where you can have your photo taken next to a warrior, for a price. I start to take a picture in one of these rooms of the warrior, up close, but the guard stops me. Clarence tours part of the site with us and then we tour a lot of it on our own.

After the Terracotta Warriors, we stop in a small town for lunch. There will be a table available in ten minutes, so we walk through the nearby market for a few minutes. Everyone watches e-v-e-r-y s-t-e-p w-e t-a-k-e. They make no attempt to be subtle. I feel like an alien from Mars.

This meal is fantastic, maybe our best in China. Once again, we are the only Westerners. In this town, we are a major oddity. Everyone watches us. During lunch, we see people nudging the people next to them and pointing to us and whispering, in order to alert them to our presence. This continues during our entire meal. This must be what it feels like to be a celebrity. Although it is amusing for a day, I don’t think I’d like it as a lifestyle. Luckily, I don’t have to worry too much about that (ha ha).

Clarence orders all sorts of dumplings. They are delicious. Our favorite is filled with green beans. Why knew there were green bean dumplings? We also have sweet and sour pork, spicy crispy fried eggplant and chili peppers, fried rice, two kinds of greens sautéed with garlic. Yum!

Clarence is a great host at lunch and tries hard to make sure we are happy with our meal. He is constantly refilling our drinks. It is funny when he piles food onto DS1 and DS2’s plates, since he is sitting next to them. Even though they have refused eggplant and some of the other ingredients in the past, they are polite and try everything (I’m proud of them for this). Much to my surprise, DS2 even finishes most of what he is served.

After lunch, we stop to get some cigarettes and a watermelon. We are headed to visit some caves near Xian. Clarence has befriended some people in a village with cave houses. They allow him to bring visitors to their homes. The dirt road is very bumpy. Then, we walk up a path to the caves. It is fascinating. They have dug a well and have electricity, although it is not working at the moment. It is funny to see a TV in the cave.

We visit a family with four generations living together. The eldest man and woman seem amused by us. The man points at me and laughs, while saying something to Clarence. Clarence says it is because we are foreigners, but I think it is really because I am an overweight foreigner with blue eyes. The man walks up to me, stands very close, and searches my entire face. He is fascinated by me and I am fascinated by him. I wish we could talk to each other. But, what would we say?

After visiting the caves, we head back to Xian and visit the TAOIST TEMPLE. We all use the bathroom at the Taoist Temple. DH tells me that DS2 almost passes out when they walk in and he sees a man in an open stall squatting over an open trench.

We also visit the Muslim part of town. The MOSQUE is not what I expected. It is built in the Chinese style, with various buildings surrounding a series of courtyard gardens. The pathway leading to the Mosque is a flea market. The Saddam Hussein playing cards are slightly amusing.

We go back to the hotel and relax in the Executive Lounge for a half hour. It is cool and tranquil, so we enjoy the break. I wish it was longer. Then, Clarence drops us off at the train station so we can take the OVERNIGHT TRAIN FROM XIAN TO SHANGHAI. I had expected the Xian train station to be small. Boy, was I wrong. It is huge and absolutely teeming with people. We see a waiting room for our train and it is overflowing with people. I show our tickets to a guard. He points upstairs so we take the escalator up (about 3 stories high). We go to the ‘soft sleeper’ lounge. The lady shakes her head no and points downstairs. We say that the guard said to come up. We ask her where to go. She says to sit down and wait a minute. Soon, another lady comes and motions that we should follow her. There is no down escalator, so we have to carry our luggage down the 3 flights of stairs. I hope DH doesn’t have a heart attack, as he has the largest rolling suitcase and also 3 smaller bags.

She takes us to a ‘soft sleeper’ lounge downstairs. She tells us the train will come on track 1, which is right outside the lounge, and she will take us to the train. We are surprised, delighted and relieved by the personal service. Sure enough, about ten minutes later, she motions for us to follow her and takes us to our platform and shows us where to wait for our car.

We wait for a few minutes and then follow a man onto the car. The cleaning people come over and shoo us off the train. Eventually, we are allowed back onto the train. Only, I cannot proceed down the hallway, since the cleaning people are in the hallway while changing the sheets in the last two cabins (one of which is ours). The people behind us are irritated at us and keep trying to pass us, which is impossible with all of our luggage. Someone far behind us starts banging to show their irritation. They can’t see the cleaning people, so they are probably wondering what the crazy foreigners’ problem is. Finally we are allowed to pass and go to our cabin. We pull all of our luggage inside the cabin, which leaves us all sitting on the beds, with nowhere to stand. Eventually, we spy an overhead compartment and stow the luggage, while stepping all over each other. Complete chaos and lots of bickering about who is stepping on whom.

After the excitement of getting on the train (it was hell) and getting settled, the actual train ride was fine. It reminded me of camping, which we’ve done quite often. As far as I could tell, we were the only Westerners on the entire train. The soft sleepers were pretty comfortable. Each of us had a separate bed and we were together in our own cabin, where we could shut the door for privacy. It was quite a lively scene outside our door, with lots of Chinese people clustered in the hallway, talking and laughing.

DH, DS1 and DS2 went to the dining car, while I waited with our stuff. They were unable to communicate, so they were just given some food, which they described as edible. People were smoking (a lot) wherever they wanted to. At one end of our car was a pit toilet. When DS2 went to use it, it was stopped up, so he used the handy bamboo stick provided to push everything through the hole. There was also a Western toilet at the other end of the car, which was ok. The attendant brought each car a pot of hot water, which many people (not us) used to make ramen noodles in their compartments. We had brought some packaged food, which we ate in the morning in our cabin.

LCBoniti Jul 17th, 2006 12:34 PM

Wow, this continues to be fascinating!

I loved the part about the "cave-man" checking you out so carefully. Wonder what he was really thinking . . .

I also have always wanted to see the Terracotta Warriers, as well the the Great Wall, both of which you have shared with us. Thanks!

travelgirl2 Jul 17th, 2006 01:11 PM

Hi Linda.

Missypie - I brought small sizes of all our toiletries, including a few little bottles of shampoo, but found that every apartment and hotel in Japan and China supplied every toiletry. Most had at least: comb, toothbrush and toothpaste, razor, shampoo, body wash. In Japan, they also had these great plastic hairbrushes which fold in half. We took 2 of them with us.

For the more personal of toiletries (ladies, you know what I mean), I forgot about these, so bought some in London the first day. I didn't want to find out what products were or were not available in Japan and China!

In retrospect, I would have brought less shampoo and more small packages of Kleenex to use as TP.

Pilates Jul 17th, 2006 01:12 PM

Wow! Really fascinating. I am so amused by the reaction to your two sons. It's so bizarre, but funny. And the way you describe people nudging one another and pointing. Hearing about the sights and sounds from your point of view of this very foreign land is just great. Thanks for letting us take this trip with you and your family.

God bless!

jean253 Jul 17th, 2006 01:25 PM

What a great report travelgirl2,
re your question on sign language . I have a friend who is training to be a teacher , yes there are signs for
different languages also dialects .

travelgirl2 Jul 17th, 2006 01:52 PM

Thanks jean253. I wondered about that...

tower Jul 17th, 2006 03:43 PM

TravelGirl...mesmerizing! What a joy to read!

Your comments on the reaction of the locals reminde me of China 1984....if you think Westerner's are a phenomenon now, can you imagine 22 years back?! For example, outside every hotel we stayed in, people would be lined up three and four deep just waiting for westerners to walk out of the hotel. No kidding!

We were traveling with a friend who had one of the old style very heavy and bulky vdeo cameras which we lugged all over China for four weeks...but we got footage that is remarkable..and I had a Kodak instant which made a big hit with everyone..to actually see their images the minute after I shot it..gave away most of them. At restaurants, same thing...people lined up just like at the Oscars!
Several young girls in Nanjing, studying English in school, asked if they could interview the four of us..and of course, we video'ed them at the same time. I conducted reciprocal interviews of the four of them, and they loved it! Wonder what they're doing now!

By the way, Xian was nowhere near as crowded as you describe...but the gauntlets we had to pass through to get to the soldiers were unbelievably long...everyone had something to sell.
You're finding out that China is one gigantic experience...have fun..the kids will never forget it. Nor will you and your DH

** Can't wait for your next installment!

Stu T.

lolfn Jul 17th, 2006 05:27 PM

still loving your tales!

i lived in asia for a year and never got used to the staring and whispering. especially in restaurants, i'd forget that i looked different and i kept thinking i must have something on my face! once in burma, i was swarmed by a group of teenagers. my tour guide told me they had never seen a westerner before and thought i was a movie star. i agree, i'd hate to be famous!

travelgirl2 Jul 18th, 2006 12:43 AM

Stu - I can only imagine! I am so curious how you were able to travel to China and Eastern Europe back when it wasn't an ordinary occurrence? You have had some great adventures! Travelgirl2

travelgirl2 Jul 18th, 2006 12:47 AM

I don't want to give the impression that the Terracotta Warrior site was too crowded. There are huge parking lots and a huge park to go through. Once you get to the museum buildings, they are large and spread out. So, although there are lots of people there, the campus is spread out and the viewing areas are huge (think football field size) and it is easy to view everything.

tower Jul 18th, 2006 02:42 PM

TravGirl...to answer your question...

<<<- I am so curious how you were able to travel to China and Eastern Europe back when it wasn't an ordinary occurrence?>>>

With a certain degree of difficulty...but China was open to visitors only if you came in with an accepted group and hired a Chinese guide for each city...which we did.
Our Chinese guides were excellent and fun..and we were qualified to visit 10 different cities and regions in a 27-day period.

The transportation was scary and suspect at best...workable seat belts on plane flights were a rare luxury, and for three of the intercity trips we had DC-3's that flew at 9,000 feet, and Russian bult TU-series that also were low flying and excruciatingly uncomfortable. Every person we came into contact with was charming, polite (overly), knowledgeable and so kind.

The food was superb everywhere..seems like every restaurant and hotel was making a very extra-special effort to please so we would carry the word back to America! As you know, there were absolutely NO private motor vehicles in thos dsays...billions of bikes, though, miliotary vehcles of all sizes and shapes. Hotels were generally clean, but there was a nationwide rodent problem..don't ask!!

As for Eastern Europe, I did all this totally independently, beginning in the late 70's, and continuing frequently into this century...primarily researching material for two books that I had planned to write. One came out in '94, the most recent in '04. Both required face to face interviews in Poland, USSR, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania. I merely applied for visas which were not inordinately difficult to come by..just time consuming and frequently teeth-gnashing-ly frustrating.

Another book I wrote in '83
contained some very obvious anti-Soviet material, and not to kind to some of the satellites as well..making for some nervous time at the various L.A. consulates and finally, once within the countries. Nothing unforeseen ever took place...but the vision of a Soviet Gulag was always quite vivid in my mind. Oddly enough, dear wife was calm throughout as she joined me on most of the journeys.

I was very careful not to tape my interviews...instead I would take copious written notes, sometimes after the fact, and all disparaging remarks were well coded.(Recently shared those with some of my grandchildren and they were wide-eyed).

We drove everywhere within the so-called Iron Curtain, but not in USSR where it was at first impossible to rent a car, and later (after the demise of communism) impractical and very dangerous. But I found the Russian Intourist Guides a lot of fun and full of information (approved!). Biggest problem we had in the 70's and 80's was getting to "unapproved" destinations within various Republics within the USSR...we cheated a bit and were never caught at it.

So, there are my answers for you, T-Girl..awaiting your next report...lovin' it!

Stu T.

Eastern Europe in the 70's and 80's was no "day at the beach" but nevertheless fascinating and deeply interesting

travelgirl2 Jul 18th, 2006 02:59 PM

Stu T. - You are a fascinating man!

travelgirl2 Jul 18th, 2006 03:00 PM

Day 17 – Arrive in Shanghai

After 16 hours on the train, we arrive in Shanghai at 11:00 am. Getting off the train is easy. We find the taxi line, where there are two lanes of taxis. Some people were standing in line, but I don’t know why they bothered, because no taxis were arriving at the taxi stop. It was a madhouse as everyone just ran into the street and tried to get into a taxi. We stopped one, but he didn’t recognize the name of our hotel in English. (Drat, I meant to get it written in Chinese, but never got around to a second attempt after the hotel concierge in Xian didn’t know to write the name “Radisson”.)

A man is following us around, offering us a ride. These solicitors are to be avoided, we’ve heard. We are getting desperate, so we discuss whether to take his ride. All 4 of us are standing in the middle of the two lanes of traffic, wondering what we should do. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a nicely dressed man speaks to me in English. I am suspicious. But, he tells us to avoid the man who is following us, since he will charge us twice the normal rate. I ask him if he can tell the taxi driver where we are going. He flags down a taxi, fights off a girl who tries to get in the passenger seat and explains our destination to the driver. I thank him profusely. He really saved us.

We are staying at the RADISSON SHANGHAI NEW WORLD. We also show the cab driver a picture, since it has a distinctive shape, rising in the sky to a point with a sphere at the top. It reminds me of ‘The Jetsons’. As we step into the hotel lobby, the contrast is amazing. It is beautiful and calm. People rush to take our luggage. It is a wonderful hotel. We love it. We have booked a 2 bedroom family suite. It is 2 bedrooms with king size beds and TVs, 2 bathrooms and a large living area with living room with plasma TV and a dining room which seats 8 people. It is richly appointed. In fact, I would say it is the nicest place I have ever stayed (although the ceilings seem low in Asia, as compared to the US). This was the last accommodation I booked, because I just couldn’t find what I was looking for, and I had no idea how it would be. We lucked out.

It cost $275 (plus 15% service and tax) for the four of us, which is not cheap. But, in NY, this would run well over $1000 (probably more). China is the only place where we can afford to travel first class. This caused me some amount of consternation, as China is also a place where you can live simply for very little money. The dilemma over whether to live it up or save money was tough. I finally decided that we would live it up for 2 nights in Shanghai.

The only problem with that is that none of us wanted to leave the hotel. We ordered lunch from room service, which was pretty good as room service goes. We watched some movies in English on HBO, went for a swim, took showers, etc.

For dinner, we went to the SUMMER PAVILION RESTAURANT at the Portman Ritz Carlton hotel. This was rated by Zagat as a 28 (out of 30), which was the highest food rating for Shanghai. We found it to be excellent, as well. Dinner for 4, with drinks, cost about 980 Chinese Yuan (about $123). It was very elegant. Service was very attentive. We ordered crispy barbecued pork, beef tenderloin with leeks, noodles, fried rice, sautéed celery root and vegetables, and scallops and egg in chili sauce. After dinner, we walked to a nearby Haagen Dazs for an ice cream cone. It was still pretty hot outside.

Then, I was surprised to find a very slow moving and crowded taxi line outside of the Ritz Carlton. I definitely would not appreciate that if I was staying here. Although there was an express lane for Ritz Carlton guests and a regular lane for the rest of us, no one was moving too fast. We walked out to the street and in about five minutes, DS2 had hailed a taxi to go back to our hotel. He’s become a man of the world.

Back at the Radisson Shanghai New World, we peeked into the revolving restaurant. We went to the sphere at the top for a drink. The dome at the top houses a bar, with live entertainment. We had drinks and the kids had hot chocolate and watermelon juice. That was a new one to us, so DS1 had to try it. By the way, we’ve heard there is no minimum drinking age in China. There was a terrific rainstorm, complete with thunder and lightning, which was fun to watch from the glass domed enclosure. It was cozy to be inside, watching the weather show and admiring the lights of the city. It seemed that the most of the city lights went off at about 11 pm.

LCBoniti Jul 18th, 2006 03:20 PM

I, too, am fascinated by Stu T.

And I am fascinated by the way in which your experiences are affecting your boys. They are so willing to try different things. I'm sure you are proud of them, as you should be!

Your Shanghai hotel sounds amazing.

Take care!
Linda

SandyBrit Jul 18th, 2006 03:53 PM

travelgirl2 - Just when I think I have heard it all from you, up you come with another incredible story.

Your hotel in Shanghai sounds perfect and just what you all needed at this stage of your trip.

I also am fascinated by Stu T and his travels. I don't suppose we are allowed to ask the name(s) of one of his novels. I would love to read one.

Thanks again travelgirl2.

Sandy


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