A Travellerspoint blog

Cold But Beautiful Paris

Lynette and I are still in the beautiful city of Paris. Its cloudy and rainy and cold but still beautiful. We are currently staying with some very gracious friends who live outside the city. We take the train about 35 minutes each way to get back and forth to tour the city each day.

The other night our friends served a traditional French meal which was delightful. I can't tell you how great it feels to be staying and eating meals in a real home for a change instead of a hotel and restaurant. Tonight we had fondue which apparently is a very common meal in French homes during the winter. It was very tastey. I did not know this but "fondue" actually means "to melt." Makes sense.

Let's see, what is there to say about France that you don't already know from all the movies or shows done about the place. Oh, here's something, the restaurant servers (so far) are not all snobby and difficult like I had always been lead to believe they were. I'd always heard that they will often pretend not to speak english or will be very rude and such. But we have actually experienced quite the contrary. They have mostly been extremely friendly and helpful, and always speak english as soon as they realize we are foreigners. Which is pretty much immediately by the look of me. And if they have any doubt it quickly vanishes as soon as I open my mouth and try to utter a mangled "Bonjour." You may be wondering how a simple word like "bonjour" could be mangled but I manage it.

Here some photos of just a few of the many moods of the Eiffel Tower:

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And here's me and the Sofie Star together enjoying the view of the tower:
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It decided to rain the day we had planned to go to the Eiffel Tower but the weather here hasn't been too great lately so we figured we probably wouldn't get a better chance. And we hoped that with the bad weather most people would stay away and the line to go up wouldn't be too bad. But we were wrong and waited an hour and a half. (I'd hate to see it on a nice day.) It rained lightly on and off while we waited in line and about a minute after getting up to our viewing point on the second level of the tower it started to pour down. So we took cover and it quickly passed. Then it was still cloudy but we had a great view of the city, accompanied by a few rainbows.
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Here's us on the second viewing level of the tower which is about half way up. We could have gone to the top but it just looked too precarious up there. Even though the tower has been there over 100 years and was built very sturdily, the fact that it was only intended to be a temporary structure for the 1889 Universal Exposition freaked me out. I could just imagine the rivets finally giving way and all popping out just as we got to the top. So I decided the middle level gave us a sufficient view of the city.
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Notre Dame Cathedral:
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I guess its no secret who the French want for US president.
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The spectacular stained glass at Sainte-Chapelle:
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Arc de Triomphe:
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Going up the stairs to the top of the Arc:
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Lynette deep in concentration at the Musée d'Orsay art museum:
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Amongst other things at Musée d'Orsay they have some great impressionists' work including that of Monet, Gaughin, and Van Gogh which were great to see:
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I've always wondered what was inside that big glass pyramid at the Louvre. In case anyone else was wondering here's a photo. Beneath the pyramid, underground, is a big modern entrance hall where you buy your tickets and can enter the 3 different major wings of the museum by way of separate escalators.
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Inside the Louvre:
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The Mona Lisa is one of the masterpieces hanging at the Louvre, but I'm sure you've all seen photos of the Mona lisa before. So here is a shot of the crowd looking at it and taking pictures of it:
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This statue was NOT at the Louvre but I thought it was interesting.
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On Saturday we will be leaving Paris and going up to Tours, France to check out some castles.

dave & lynette

Posted by schuckley 15:18 Comments (2)

Ahhh...Venice

By Dave

sunny

OK, OK, we've gotten a lot of flack for questioning the whole gondola ride thing, and all well deserved I must admit. Lynette and I don't know what we were thinking - we were idiots. We ended up doing it and it was INCREDIBLE! And well worth the price.

We booked the ride through our hotel with the first and only female gondolier, pictured here:

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Included in the price was a bottle of champagne which we were happy to polish off during the 50 minute journey. It quite added to the already romantic mood.

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We quickly found out that the best views of the city are from the water. We leisurely rode down the Grand Canal and along the narrow waterways taking it all in.

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Supposedly all the buildings of the well-to-do along the Grand Canal were painted up this way with elaborate murals back in the day. It must have been quite a sight. This one is the only one that we saw that has now been restored to its former glory:

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There are still amazing details everywhere you look.

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This old place is supposedly haunted. Everyone who has lived here has either died in the place of natural causes or committed scuicide. I guess this means they were all either so happy with the place that they wanted to live out their last days there or hated it so much they wanted to end it all. Its up for sale in case anyone is interested. You might get a good deal due to its gruesome history. Its quite beautiful.
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So we had an absolute fabulous time. it was definitely a highlight of our Italy chapter.
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Back on land:
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I thought this was a cool sign for a restaurant. It didn't even say the name of the place. I guess they just refer to it by saying, "Hey, let's go down to the place with the boat on it for dinner tonight."
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Here's a view from the window inside the Peggy Guggenheim museum. I got in trouble for taking this one. Photos are not allowed inside the museum. I thought this meant of the artwork, but to my surprise it apparently includes shots out the window. The museum houses some great artwork by such famous artists as Picasso, Pollock, Dali just to name a few. (But of course I don't have pictures of any of them.)
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The view at the San Marco square:
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View from the Rialto Bridge:

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Something I found interesting about the meals served in Italy is how they serve things in courses. After appetizers is the first course which is usually a big pasta dish. The second course is a meat dish which they don't serve until the first course is completely finished and removed from the table. Which was a bit sad because I often thought the meat would go superbly with the pasta. The salad course actually comes as the third course, and then dessert.

One of the great things about Venice is that there is absolutely no traffic on the roads, if you can even call them roads. No trucks, cars, motorbikes, not even bicycles. Everyone just walks everywhere. No dodging of traffic, no annoying honking or noxious fumes. Just leisurely and carefree strolling. And every night it seems that the locals are out mingling on the street or in the squares with the neighbors as the children play together. All this walking must be how they all stay so fit and beautiful even with such large and tastey meals.
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We loved Venice so much Lynette wanted to take part of it home with us.

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We are now in Paris, France and loving it. This is a great city. Yesterday we went to the Musee Dorsay art museum, and went to the top of the Arc de Triumph for a night time view of the city lights. Today its off to the Louve.
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-Dave and Lynette

Posted by schuckley 14:23 Archived in Italy Tagged round_the_world Comments (5)

Florence, Italy

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We left Florence a few days ago. Florence is another city that is packed to the gills with lots of old, classical and Renaissance thingsto see... So much so you have to take it in small doses or you could find yourself looking at a Michelangelo sculpture and debating on where you are going to eat later on. The Duomo is in Florence which is this magnificient church built with green, white and pink marble with white sculptures and really breathtaking when you first see it. Michelangelo's David sculpture is here also which we saw earlier today. We completely lucked out because lines can be atrocious for the museum where he lives but for some reason there was absolutely no one in line and we walked straight in, bought our tickets and entered the museum. When we left the museum an hour and a half later the line was so long it almost went around the building. Not sure why but our timing was perfecto! The David sculpture was incredible to see in person like all these other masterpieces we have been blessed to see. We stayed for awhile and just looked at it from every angle. Dave took the time to do a sketch of "David" (the statue) which will be an awesome momento especially since you can no longer take pictures of it (even without a flash).

The day before we spent a large portion of the day in the Uffizi gallery. This gallery is really famous for its massive collection of works from the Rennaisance. It has a ton of masterpieces including two by Botticelli - "Birth of Venus" and "Spring." This is another museum where lines get really long but for this one we reserved a ticket so we could bypass the line which worked nicely. We also went to the Boboli gardens which has this gorgeous view over the Tuscan countryside from one side and then on the other side a view over the city of Florence. You can just imagine those rich people back in the day walking around those gardens and stopping for a chat or a picnic.

The place we stayed at in Florence was a "budget" accomodation in an old building right in the center of town. The first two nights we stayed at this hotel our room actually had a view of the Duomo. The hotel didn't have any double rooms available for the 3rd night but after talking to the hotel owner we sort of convinced him to convert a single room for us. He was kind of embarrassed to do it because he said the room was so small but he stuffed another single bed in there for us. Dave and I thought it must be the size of a closet from the way the hotel guy was acting but when he showed us the converted single room we weren't even phased since it was about the size of a hotel room in Hong Kong! So it was quite fine for us.

Italy has made us feel a bit underdressed however since fashion reigns supreme here. We are definitely getting tired of our worn old clothes over and over and they are definitely starting to wear thin in areas. Black is the universal color though. If you are in black you could pass for a local. Believe it or not, while in Rome, Dave and I were approached by an Italian girl in the subway who asked us for directions in Italian. When we said we were sorry in English she looked a bit embarassed. I'm not sure what Dave was wearing but I was wearing all black. Black never goes out of style.

Here is Dave with some photos.
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Hey, this is Dave with some photos.

This is the beautiful Duomo:
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Some shots of the inside of the dome.
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This is the view of it at night from our hotel room.
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Lynette admiring the view from our elegant hotel room (before we moved into the converted single.)
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Feeling a bit rebellious I let loose my long pent up artistic expression.
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Here's the view from the Boboli gardens that Lynette mentioned:
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Isn't this a beauty? And the landscape is pretty great too.
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We are now in Venice. It is very expensive here. I mean VERY expensive. Especially after we convert to the US dollar. We try not to think about it too much so we can enjoy ourselves but it can be hard. After the conversion a large Coke at a restaurant the other night would have cost about 15 dollars. - and no free refills. Needless to say I didnt get one. We are still debating on whether we should do the gondola ride since it costs 80 euros for 40 minutes which is about 100 dollars. The city is absolutely beautiful though and we've had some great food. We'll try to post some photos in the near future.

dave and lynette

Posted by schuckley 09:12 Comments (3)

When in Rome...

We were recently in Rome, and of course we loved it. Who wouldn't? But man oh man did we stay busy. Everyday we went nonstop because there is sooo much to see and we were only there for 5 days. It was kind of strange for me (Lynette) since I visited Rome when I was in college many moons ago and I immediately noticed some differences when we stepped into the main train station. The first and most obvious was the lack of gypsies. When I was in Rome before they were everywhere. They were dressed in billowy gowns and travelled in packs with kids in tow and they would come right up to you and ask for money and pretty much nothing you would say would make them leave you alone. I think they are still in Rome but I didn't see them in packs like I remember in the train station. Maybe it was due to the police presence I noticed. The other thing that was different was the lack of cats at the Colosseum. I remember there being cats all over the place and this time we saw a few cats around the general area but absolutely none in the Colosseum itself. This is weird and kind of sad since I wonder what happened to all those cats, but not so sad about the lack of gypsies.

Here is a list of all the things we saw in Rome...

The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain (at night), Borghese Museum (please go here if you are every in Rome), Spanish Steps, Keats House, Trevi Fountain (daytime), the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the 3 fountains in Piazza Navona, about 5 or 6 churches that I don't remember the names of, various obelisks, lots of monuments and old buildings, Vatican City including St. Peters and the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, the castle near St. Petes, the Pope.

We saw the Pope! Every Sunday at noon he gives a blessing and a bit of an address to the people who gather at St. Peter's square if he is in town. Lucky for us the Pope was in Rome and so we actually went to St. Peter's and heard him speak - in Italian mostly but he did say a little bit in English. There were a lot of people there so we couldn't really see him well. He was about the size of a peanut to us but they had large screens up so we could see him better. After blessing all the people in attendance, he got into a little car - "the Pope mobile" - and drove through the audience but again not close enough for us to get a good look at him. We could make out the top of his hat basically. We greatly enjoyed the opportunity to see and hear the Pope in person and definitely something I didn't expect I would ever experience.

The Sistine Chapel was a major highlight of Rome also. Dave said it was one of the highlights of his life to see it in person. The thing about going to a place like Rome is that you get to see the actual painting, sculpture, and frescoes by people like Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci, Botticelli, Bernini, and on and on. It is hard to wrap your head around the concept that you are actually looking at Michelangelo's frescoes that he did with his own hands - things we studied in our classes in school, and are popular to most people in the western world. We are now in Florence and experience a whole new set of classical works of art. We hope to post some pictures of that in the near future.

---Hey this is Dave with a few photos:

Colliseum
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The Sofie Star is still in one piece and it made its way all the way to Rome! (unlike the backpack that Lynette bought in Nepal and was forced to finally lay to rest yesterday) Here it is at the Colliseum. (For any newcomers who missed the Sofie Star explanation way back when- My niece Sofie made me this craft piece before we left on the trip and I thought it would be cool to take it with us and photograph it going around the world.)
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I was particularly excited to see the Pantheon. Its amazing how old this thing is - from ancient Roman times. Centuries later, during the Renaissance the building was not looked on with much affection. At one point the Pope almost decided to demolish it but instead just melted down the Bronze which covered the coffered ceiling and used it for an emmense sculpture centerpiece inside St. Peters Church. The dome inside the Pantheon with the huge hole in the top is quite a sight to see in person. Here is a shot of the front of the building:
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The Bronze sclupture for St. Peters Church was sculpted by Bernini. This is a guy I learned a bit about in art history class in college. But to me all those sculptors kind of blended together back then. However, to see the works of art in person I now have a great appreciation for Bernini's work. We saw three of his most famous marble works at the Borghese Museum in Rome. His "Rape of Persephone," "Apollo and Daphne," and "David" (not to be confused with the famous Michalangelo's "David") are some of the finest artworks I've ever seen in my life. I can't believe what this guy could do with marble. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos. But it doesn't matter because I've seen photos of them before and its just not the same as seeing them in person. My jaw actually dropped when I walked into the room and saw the "David" sculpture.

Here's some photos from around Rome:
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Another artist I now have a greater appreciation for is Raphael. Lynette and I agree that his "Transfiguration" painting somehow goes beyond just being a painting, its an experience. You ARE allowed to take pictures of the artwork at the Vatican Museum but this piece was in such a dark room that the photos came out kind of blurry.

But I do have a photo of another Raphael painting that I was excited to get to see in person, "The School of Athens" fresco mural at the Vatican Museum. I've always loved this painting and to see it in person and actually be in the place where Raphael painted it was great fun.
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Here's one of the amazing ceilings inside the Vatican Museum. this place was decked out with all kinds of ornate decoration and art works.
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After the Vatican Museum we went over to St. Peter's Cathedral. Here's a couple shots of the inside:

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Here's some shots of it the next day when we went back to see the Pope:
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If you look close at the bottom of the large central doorway you can barely make out the Pope's white umbrella.
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Here's a shot of the church at sunset.

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That's all for now. Should have some stuff from Florence soon.
(Please excuse any type errors, artwork title errors, and historical errors. I was going by memory and didn't have time to look up to verify.)

Ciao!
-dave & lynette

Posted by schuckley 09:14 Comments (3)

9 months on the road

It is hard to believe but true. Very shortly Dave and I will have been travelling for 9 months. We have had an incredible time and are full of new experiences and inspirations and are looking forward to more in Europe. My Mom asked me the other day when I spoke to her, if we felt it was worth it and to that I would say there is no doubt even without having officially completed the trip yet. We had been right in thinking that we would not regret this decision once we were on the road. The magnitude of what we have accomplished has really become clear as we spend time vacationing in the easy and laid back country of Greece. We feel as though travelling independently through Asia was the challenge of a lifetime. We had to use all of our patience, quick thinking, and instincts to make our way through those foreign countries. We also could not have done it without the help of - too numerous to mention - local people. I should also send props to the Lonely Planet people whose guide books were a major source of help as well.

Greece has been like something out of a dream for Dave and I. We had just come from China which was the biggest challenge of all of the Asian countries we visited but also the one we both will remember very fondly. It is where we took that "a bit too adventurous" overnight bus where they smoked and played loud Chinese music on the radio. It is where a little boy of about 8 years old asked us if he could help us when we were stopped at midnight at some rural restaurant where there was a pig stable next to the toilets and Dave and I obviously looked a bit out of it.

The most challenging in China had to be when we decided to go to the rural village of Pingyao. This was supposed to be the most well preserved walled village in China. The day started with a mad dash to the airport on a airport bus that we almost missed due to a story for another time. Our flight went fine but the airport we landed at was small and there was no information desk and we didn't see any bus station or taxi stand. We eventually found a group of people standing outside and realized that this was the makeshift taxi stand and got in line. We realized quickly since we had been travelling in Asia a lot that people were cutting in line. This is totally a standard practice in China. You can not let your guard down for an instant or someone will try and cut the line. The weird thing is that no one seems to get mad about it. It is just the way it is. Dave manuevered his way in front of a guy who was trying to cut us off and scored us a taxi! Go Dave! He actually has gotten really good at cutting and blocking, etc. We showed the taxi driver the chinese symbol for train station in our chinese phrase book and off we went. Our driver dropped us off in front of the train station although it took us awhile to actually find it since it isn't like it had a sign that said "Train Station" in English on it. We felt uncomfortable immediately since the town of Taiyuan is not a tourist destination and we have never felt more different in our entire lives since everyone stopped and stared at us. We had gotten used to some stares since this is extremely common in China. Little kids pointing us out to their parents. Teenagers elbowing each other and then knodding in our direction. But in Taiyuan, a dusty town where we were only in to catch a train out of, obviously really was not used to foreigners. After roaming around aimlessly for awhile I see a sign that has a question mark on it. We go up to the booth and we say "Pingyao." The person was very nice and wrote something down in Chinese and pointed us in the right direction.

Again with the help of some locals who could guess at where we wanted to go, we found our way to the ticket booths which were mobbed with people. Dave asks a guard for help and he proceeds to cut to the front of a huge line to help us. No one batted an eye. He helps us get our train tickets to Pingyao. Again, without his help I'm not sure where we would have ended up. We then are directed to the actual train station where we wait for our train. It felt as though everyone in the massive waiting room just stopped when we entered. It didn't take long after we set our bags down to draw a crowd. Groups of people were standing around us and one man had me take a picture with his young daughter several times. Most people just stood and stared at us. It got to be so bad that security had to intervene and break it up and we were moved to the VIP waiting room even though we just had regular ol' tickets. Pretty crazy experience.

We ended up on a crowded train sitting across from two extremely nice students. One of which knew a little English. We were so grateful to be sitting next to them instead of some old man who would have just sat and stared at us the whole time. They helped me buy water from the vendor and made sure we got off on the right stop and gave us some handy advice such as Pingyao was known for their beef. This turned out to be great advice because we tried it and Pingyao did indeed have really good beef. We arrived in rainy Pingyao exhausted with our nerves shot after a really trying day. We still had to make our way to our hotel and it was raining and dark. As soon as we left the train station there was a rickshaw driver that knew where our hotel was and took us there (for an extremely overpriced amount) but we just wanted to get there. We whizzed through the darkness and rain and at first the town was like any other dusty town in China but then the rickshaw pulled into the walled city portion and all that changed. It was incredible, like going back in time, and when he pulled in front of our hotel we were welcomed by the warm and incredibly hospitable owner. Dave and I were beyond thrilled. The hotel was an old fashioned Chinese courtyard house that had been converted into a guest house. The rooms had traditional Chinese beds and was full of character. It was like a little oasis and we immediately relaxed. We had made it through one of the most challenging and difficult travelling experiences we have had.

But now we are in Greece and all that is in the past. Greece is like a little heaven on earth I think. We are on the island of Mykonos right now. This is the most popular of the Greek islands and the most busy. It gets 1 million visitors a year and half of them come in August! We are visiting the Greek islands at a perfect time since visitors are few and prices have been slashed (but still expensive.) The Greek islands have been a great treat. We have loved every minute. We have stayed on three islands and each one is different than the next. But all have those adorable white washed houses and churches. We have spent a fair amount of time hanging out on the beaches and the beaches are also different island to island. On Santorini there was a beach with black sand and one with red sand due to the volcanic rock. Paros had beautiful beaches with clear calm waters with huge wind carved rocks jutting from the shore(my favorite beaches). Mykonos beaches are busy with bustling bars and restaurants and the most people we have seen. All of the beaches do have one thing in common however, you are likely to see someone either nude or without their top. It is not uncommon to see a Mom and Dad with their kids next to a couple completely in the buff next to people in normal swimming wear next to several topless sunbathers. Everyone just gets along fabulously. Those crazy Europeans (young and old) just do not care if you see all their bits and pieces, nor do they care if they may be a bit too plump for those speedos or that g-string bikini. We love their seemingly lack of body conciousness but being Americans it still does not stop Dave from pointing out every nude or topless sunbather and me going "where?" and looking.

Yep, life in Greece has been awesome and I am willing to say that there is not a soul alive who would not find something to love about Greece. Although, we do know that that something will NOT be Greek showers since they are small squares that leave water all over the bathroom floor and are not large enough to bend over and pick up the soap without sticking your rear out of the offical "square" that is the shower stall. But that aside it is incredible. Please, buy your plane tickets now. Book your hotel. Go to Greece. Go to Greece.

We have a few more days in this lovely place before we move on to Italy. We fly to Rome on October 8th and I would say that we are equally excited about going to Italy.
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This is Dave here. Just thought I'd throw in a few photos.

Here is Lynette at the beach. Those fleshy objects in the background to the right of her are two of those nude sun bathers she mentioned. But in case you can't tell Lynette decided to stay clothed.
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And this is me at the beach. The water was absolutely freezing, (my arms were frozen in this up position) but I mean come on, this was the Aegean Sea, I had to.
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Most of the churches in the towns are pretty small, the ones with the white walls and blue domed roofs like I showed in the last blog. But we visited this large and very old one in Paros that was beautiful.
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This is a smaller room off to the side of the main cathedral. There's a creepy skull and cross bones carved on the floor toward the bottom, I'm guessing to mark someone's tomb. I've never been to a church before where there was a dead dude buried inside, at least not that I'm aware of. - Pretty eerie.
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One of the things you see a lot of in the churches here are these tin artworks where the faces are cut out and painted.
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Some of them look really strange because the faces are small and so dark from their age and a bit pushed in so it just looks like a bunch of holes where the heads should be.
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Here's one of the many absolutely extraordinary sunsets we've had the pleasure of seeing here in Greece.
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There are tons of cats on the islands. They are everywhere. Here's a tiny kitten that I heard squeeking softly from the bushes.
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Here's one looking for lunch:
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This one is into the art scene:
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And this one greeted us at our guesthouse in the mornings:
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Another animal you can catch strolling the streets here in Mykonos are pelicans:
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Yes, I'm sorry, this is just a photograph of a bicycle but I loved the patterns of the stones in the wall and walkway.
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Lynette at our regular breakfast spot here on Mykonos:
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Me feeling stoic during our visit to the ancient ruins on the island of Delos:
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Below is a shot from the dock on Paros. Our guesthouse was only a block from the water and since the air was cool and no mosquitos we left the balcony doors open at night to hear the wonderful faint sound of the waves washing in all night.
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And here is Lynette just after being surprised by a big wave in the face as she tried to walk the rocks at the shore:
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Okay, that's finally it. I know its been a long one. You can go back to doing whatever it was you were doing. Take care.

Dave
dbuck242@yahoo.com
lynette
lschimpf@gmail.com

Posted by schuckley 04:59 Comments (2)

Greece wonderful Greece

Lynette and I are in Greece. We started out in Athens where we visited a lot of ancient ruins, most notably the Acropolis. This was especially exciting to be seeing things in person that we had learned about for so many years in school or on tv. The Parthenon is not the biggest or most complete ancient Greek structure in Athens but for some reason it is the most impactful. There's just something about it. Even with the scaffolding around it, being used for repairs, it is a magnificent sight.

We stayed in a hostel in the area very near to the Acroplis. This was the part of Athens that still retains its old Greek charm with winding stone streets and charming architecture. Its therefore the most tourist busy area with lots of shops and restaurants. But its cool to stroll around, then turn a corner and find some site of ancient ruins, with the hill of the Acroplis always visible in near view.

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View from the Acropolis overlooking the ruins of an ancient theater. We were able to go down and actually sit on the old marble seats that real toga wearing Greek theater goers once sat.

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The Sofie Star has made it to the Acropolis in Greece! -- I'm saying, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe I'm standing in front of the legendary Parthenon!!"
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Some shots around Athens:
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From the temple of Zeus:
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From Athens we headed off to the Greek island of Santorini. Our plane landed on the island around 5:30 AM, still dark. This is the sunrise view that greeted us when we arrived at our hotel near the beach:

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The views on this island have been absolutely breathtaking. Like nothing we've seen in our lives. We highly recommend you consider the location for your next vacation.

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We've had some spectacular food in Greece. There was a local place in Athens that served to-die-for gyros. Lynette has sampled musakas (sp?) and baklava from a variety of places, and loved them all. I had some stuffed tomatoes that brought tears to my eyes they were so delicious. (This at a place called Mama's where a woman called Mama greets you at the door with a hearty hello and a hug like you are family.) And the fried cheese in Greece is unsurpassed.

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There's often massive crowds of tourists (mostly midday from the cruise ships that have docked) filling the streets snapping photos in every direction. Even when its slower in the mornings or evenings there's usually a good number of people milling about, but sometimes if you are lucky you can get some shots that make it seem like you are the only foreigners in town.

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But there were also times when we would walk a bit out of town center and get away from the crowds. Like this one when we hiked down a long rocky path and found this wonderful lonesome church sitting on the side of the cliff overlooking the sea. No one else was around. We sat there for a while and just soaked in the amazing beauty.

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After walking the town one day we stopped for some wine and watched the sunset:

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Tomorrow we take the ferry to the island Paros for a few days, then Mykonos island.

Posted by schuckley 04:02 Comments (4)

Leaving Asia

overcast

This is Dave. We are in Beijing now, but we were not here during the Olympics. However, we found out that they do the Paralympics (the games for people with physical disabilities,) after the regular Olympics and in all the same venues. So we definitely wanted to try and get tickets to an event so that we could share in the Olympic excitement and see the incredible new buildings. You can see them from a distance from outside the Olympic Village but the view is not that great and is obstructed by other buildings, buses, lamp posts etc. So we wanted to get up close and isnide the buildings too if possible. We figured it would be pretty easy to get tickets to the Paralympics, I mean how popular could they be, most people in the US have never even heard of the Paralympics. But once we got to Beijing we learned otherwise. China has made about as big a deal with the Paralympics as they did with the regular Olympics. They are huge. And all the tickets were sold out. (Although, just like with the Olympics, many of the tickets are bought by corporate sponsors who don't even end up going to the events so there are tons of empty seats.) So we decided to take our chances with trying to buy tickets from a scalper. We took the bus down to the complex and walked around in the courtyard hoping someone would try to sell us tickets. We had met some people who had also bought tickets this way, but since then the police had arrested a bunch of scalpers. So we were trying to be on the down-low. But we were having no luck so I thought we might try to go down the street a bit, which ended up working. Immediately a guy approached us with tickets. Of course we were very suspicious that they were fakes, so we were standing there for a bit examining them and trying to feel the RFID tags that we heard were embedded inside the tickets. The guy could tell we were hesitant so he motioned us to follow him and he took us into the huge line of people waiting to get through the security check and into the Olympic grounds. He shuffled along in the crowd with us the whole way until we got to the turnstile. Once we passed through I slipped him the money. We were in!! A very exciting moment. Now I can understand the adrenaline rush thieves must feel when they pull a heist. But don't worry, this will not lead me to a life of crime. Anyway, we high-fived each other and headed for the porta-potties. (We'd been waiting in line for a while.) After that we headed across to the Bird's Nest. What a sight, I have to tell you. It was much bigger than I'd expected. And what an architectural marvel. Across the way was the Water Cube, also a spectacular vision, hard to believe its an actual building. Our tickets were for the track events so after enjoying the structures for a while and snapping some photos we headed into the Bird's nest. The place was packed! Given how little press and importance is given to the Paralympic games in other countries and in past years, the athletes must have been blown away. We were seated way up towards the top of the stadium but had a great view right near the finish line. We watched some running events, some wheel chair relay races, and some discus throwing. All the while the Olympic torch blazing above the stadium. It was a pretty amazing moment.

It would be a hard moment to beat but the very next day it was when we went to hike along the Great Wall. We got up early to catch our 6:00 AM tour up to where we'd start our hike. It was a cramped 3 hour drive with Lynette and I wedged next to two Chinese woman in the back row of the van, a seat built for 3. It was rather uncomfortable and my right butt cheek quickly fell asleep as did the rest of the occupants up front in their comfy seats. (I would make sure I got one of those seats on the way back.) As we got closer and closer to the site the air visibility got worse and worse, like we were driving into a big cloud. You couldn't see very far and I couldn't imagine the view for the wall could be much worse. We started the hike up and onto the wall. For the first 30 minutes or so I just couldn't enjoy the fact that we were actually walking on top of the Great Wall of China because I was too mopey about how bad the views were. I wanted picturesque photos! But after about 30 minutes the fog began to miraculously clear. I quickly snapped off some shots of the wall going into the distance in case this was a fleeting moment of clarity, but the fog just kept on lifting, along with my mood, and soon was completely gone, leaving a spectacular clear view of the wall and distant hills, and majestic blue cloudless sky above. It was like that for the rest of our 4 hour, 7 mile hike. Now I could not imagine a better day to have done the hike, especially after hearing from someone that it had been raining there the day before. The rest of the day was packed with one spectacular view after another and we had a great time. I guess it just goes to show you that you should get really upset and sulk when things don't go your way because it ends up making things turn out alright.

I have 2 Sofie Star photos this time. One in front of one of the oldest structures in China, The Great Wall.......

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And one in front of one of the newest structures in China, The Olympic Stadium (Bird's Nest!)

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Lynette's leaping abilities continue to amaze me. Here she is showing her excitement for getting in with our scalped tickets:
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You can find a few empty seats scattered throughout the stadium, but this definitely blows away any other Paralympic game attendance.
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Wheel chair relay race at the finish line:
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I'd like to recommend to any future Olympic/Paralympic games organizers that might be reading this to include more than just one McDonald's restaurant on the grounds. They had just one here which was about a mile away from the stadium. We had to walk really far and then found a huge line out front to get in. This photo shows what it was like once we got through the door - More long lines to get to the counters. Granted, they did have some other food vendor stands scattered around, but they were serving primarily Chinese items, and even in China, McDonald's proves to be most popular.
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Here's some shots from our day on the Great Wall:
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The rest of our time in China has been great as well. It started off rough with that crazy over night bus trip, but since then it has been splendid. A few highlights include our bicycle tour through the Yangshuo countryside, the cruise down the Yangtze River, our visit to see the taracotta soldiers in Xian, a full day of traveling by multiple modes of transportation which was stressfull but we got to experience the kindness of many Chinese people who helped us along the way, meeting a wonderful young Chinese couple on a train, seeing the sci-fi like skyline of Shanghai, and spending a few days in the wonderful ancient walled city of Pingyao.

The Asia chapter of our trip is at an end. Its been a good run. Tomorrow we will be off to Europe and our first stop is Greece. We are very excited! That is someplace I've always wanted to visit since I was a kid, ever since I wrote a report on the Greek gods in the 4th grade.

We'll let you know how it goes.

Dave
dbuck242@yahoo.com
&
Lynette
lschimpf@gmail.com

Posted by schuckley 18:50 Comments (2)

China - Picturesque Bike Ride & Yangtze River Cruise

sunny

So there we were in Yangshuo (southern China) after the long 15 hour bus ride. We were standing there on the side of the road, groggy headed and smelling like cigs. We hadn't booked a hotel and didn't know which direction to go to get to the main part of town. A guy came up to us and asked if we had a place to stay. He was supposedly the "manager" of a hotel in town. Its very common for solicitors to approach you at bus stops and stations. We usually just ignore them or tell them we are already booked, because we usually are. Besides we don't like to take offers for hotels from people on the street because there's a good chance it's a shadey deals. But in this case we figured we would take a look at his place and if we didn't like it then at least we would have had a ride into town. So Lynette hopped on the back of his motorcycle and I onto a buddy's bike, and with our bags tightly held, we zoomed off. The place ended up not being that bad so we booked two nights. After that we stayed two nights in another, slightly nicer hotel.

Over the few days we were there we enjoyed the area. The first day we just got our barings and checked out the local shops and restaurants, taking it easy. The next day and the day after we took bike tours through the countryside. There are a lot of women walking through town offering to give bike tours. We found one woman who seemed really nice so we booked with her. We rode out through the farms and small villages, with the huge rock karsts jutting up out of the ground all around. The views were spectacular. Our guide Wendy was awesome, probably the best tour guide we've had on the trip so far - very friendly and real. We had a great time. Along the way we stopped to hike up Moon Hill, a huge karst hill with a gigantic hole through it. At the top you can look through and view the entire magnificent landscape. It was really hot so the hike up was tough, but we had two "volunteer" women following us up fanning us as we went. Half way up we stopped for a rest and they offered us cold water, of course at a hugely marked up rate. But we gladly purchased some to prevent passing out from dehydration. Afterward we ate at a little restaurant at the base of the hill with a great view looking up at the rock formation. Our pork stuffed peppers, tofu, and dumplings were delicious.

Starting our bicycle ride, heading out of town:
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Later, after riding through some picturesque old villages Wendy took us and our bikes on a boat across a river. Once on the other side we then peddled to a local market which was off the beaten path so it was very un-touristy. We didn't see any other westerners there so it was a great rare authentic experience.

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Herbal medicines at the market:

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Lynette enjoying a refreshment back in town after the day's long bike ride.

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Once our time in Yangshuo came to an end we flew to Chongquing to catch our cruise down the famous Yangtze River, which is the third longest river in the world. I was a bit skeptical of the cruise due to the rough 3 day boat trip we took through Halong Bay in Vietnam. But my worries were squelched the moment we walked on board. The cool air-conditioned air hit me in the face and my body immediately went into a relaxed state that it stayed in for the four days on board. The small cruise ship was understated but quite nice and charming. Our room was cozy with a balcony and soft beds. (The Chinese love hard beds, but they are learning that Westerners differ here and they are slowly changing to please their Western customers.)

The Yangtze River has been big news for the past few years because the Chinese government decided to build the massive 3 Gorges Dam (the largest in the world) to improve navigation and generate much needed electricity for the country. This decision is highly controversial however because it would flood the river, therein submerging hundreds of towns as well as archeological sites, and displace millions of people. What this could potentially do to the environment is also a big concern. There are many pros and cons but the dam construction went forward and is now complete. The river level has already risen a great deal but is scheduled to be at full height in 2009. Supposedly the rising river level has detered the grandeur of the surrounding mountains, but not knowing what it was like before we were not disappointed. On the contrary, we were quite taken by the beautiful views.

We met some great people during the cruise, most of which had been to the Beijing Olympics. Its great to meet so many wonderful people from different countries and sometimes our own, all with interesting travel and life stories.

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From a few excursions during the cruise:
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Our last excursion was to view the 3 Gorges Dam:
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We were sad when the cruise was over. We liked being pampered for a few days. But we were off to the airport and took a plane to Shanghai where we are now. We arrived last night and checked into our hotel. We aren't sure what we will do here yet, but we have a few ideas. Once we figure it out we'll be back to share the experience.

Dave and Lynette
dbuck242@yahoo.com
lschimpf@gmail.com

Posted by schuckley 18:10 Archived in China Comments (3)

Our Eventful Introduction to China

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Hello, this is Dave. Our introduction to China was a challenging one. We had it so good in Hong Kong and Japan, but now it is back to roughing it. We had read that China was tough but we weren't quite ready for it.

To tell you about it, here is my journal entry from August 24th that I wrote during our overnight bus ride:

What a crazy ride we are on now - China! Holy shoot, I'm not ready for this! We left Hong Kong on a train this morning. After a short ride we arrived in mainland China where we were hit with probably the biggest challenge of the trip so far. We had to find out where to buy tickets for the over night train we wanted to take up to Guilin. But none of the signs, directories, or schedules were in English. Just a bunch of Chinese characters that, of course, made no sense at all to us. There were masses of people and at least 12 queue lines leading up to various ticket counters. We didn't know which one we needed so we decided to just get in the shortest line and hope that the salesperson at the counter would know some english and be able to help us. The man at the front of the line next to us was shouting and arguing with the sales woman and she was yelling and shouting back. They were in a huge disagreement about something. While waiting in line Lynette turned to the young man behind us and asked if he spoke english. She pointed in our guide book to the city we wanted a ticket for and asked if we were in the correct line. The guy didn't understand but he took off running and brought back a woman who spoke some english. After telling her what we wanted she directed us to the last queue line at the far end of the room. So we headed that way. To our dismay it was a really long line and after about 10 minutes of waiting the line didn't move an inch. We thought luck was on our side when a security guard came up and pointed us over to yet another line that was much shorter. After a short time waiting we got up to the counter and pointed to the book and asked if there were tickets available to Guilin. But unfortunately the sales woman shook her head telling us there were no train tickets availabe for tonight or the next night. We were not happy because we knew this meant we were going to have to take a dreaded overnight bus.

We had some trouble finding the correct bus ticket office, but we eventually got our tickets. We waited around outside for a few hours then went back to the office at 5:00 PM to catch our bus. After a few minutes a somewhat official looking man came and got us and motioned for us to follow him. Clueless, we did so and walked a bit through the station, and oddly away from the bus area. Then out of no where he stops and motions for us to keep following some kid who appeared at his side. This didn't seem quite right to us, but we've learned that you never know how things work in these other countries. The process is not what you think it is or are used to back home, but somehow it works out. So we followed. We walked a good ways down a busy road and Lynette and I became more and more apprehensive. "Why were we leaving the station?" We came to a minivan where a guy jumps out and opens the trunk. He and the kid direct us to put our stuff in the back and get in the van. Our minds are racing and before we get in Lynette says to me, "Are you sure about this, this doesn't seem right?" I pointed to our tickets and asked the kid, "Bus...bus?" He nodded his head and pointed off into the city somewhere and says, "Bus." (Well we wanted an adventure right?) We decided to get in and trust and see what happens. We take off in the minivan and get onto the highway. After a few minutes of heading across town Lynette and I are still worrying. We keep coming up with possible positive scenarios for why we are leaving the bus station in a minivan with two non-English speaking strange Chinese men to find a bus somewhere across town. Not many reassuring scenarios were coming to mind. But one was that Lynette had read that there was another bus station in a neigboring city, and that maybe we were heading there. We drove a bit more then came to stop along a city street. "Is this where the guys try to coax us into some shop to buy stuff," we wondered. We said, "Is this the bus?" and started to get out. But the driver shook his head and gestured some hand signal that looked to us like the sign for "time-out." We assumed this meant to stay put. The kid got on his mobile phone and started chatting with someone. We had stopped at what looked like some kind of bus stop. Some busses came and went but we just sat there for about 5 or 10 minutes. Finally a bus pulls up that the guys seem to have some interest in. We figured they'd now tell us we can get out. But instead, as the bus drives past us our driver pulls out behind it and starts to follow the bus back onto the highway! After about a mile or so we get off the highway and eventually pull up and park behind where the bus had stopped. They get us out of the car and show us over to the bus. The kid pats me on the back reassuringly as if to say, "You can stop worrying now, I told you we were going to the bus." We didn't know yet if this was a tipping country, but after the ordeal I didn't feel like offering up any extra money to anyone. My fight or flight adrenaline was still flowing but at least we could now relax - a little.

We loaded our bags under the bus and boarded. It was a sleeper bus, the first for us on the trip. We'd had been on sleeper trains before, which I'd give mixed reviews, but we'd heard horror stories from other travelers about the busses. But unfortunately we had no other options to get where we were going. Getting on board we were instructed to take off our shoes and put them in a plastic bag that we were handed. We went down one of the 2 narrow corridors between the 3 rows of steel tube frame bunk sleepers. The beds (if you can call them that) are not fully flat but reclined. You can stretch your legs out fully, fitting your lower legs into the compartment underneath the reclined torso of the person in front. That is of course unless you are a near 6 foot tall person like myself. At full stretch my feet are wedged at an awkward uncomfortable angle inside the steel compartment. There were only 2 other people on board so we had the pick of most the beds. It took us a while of sampling to decide where we'd stay. Lynette chose the top bunk on the right side of the bus and I took the one below her. The smell of stale cigarette smoke and sweaty armpit (maybe my own) hovered in the air. Its very bumpy right now so I can't imagine I'll sleep much. I just took 2 Dramamene to prevent motion sickness so hopefully they'll also make me drowsy and help me sleep. Right now the young Chinese fellow next to me who boarded a ways back has been staring at me for several minutes. At one point he leaned over to read what I was writing. I showed it to him but because he could not read the English he poo-pooed it as jibberish. Its going to be a long night. I'm just hoping at this point that they stop a few times along the way for pottie breaks.

End of journal entry.

Well we were on our way, and the rest of the bus trip was also quite eventful. The front of the bus which was mostly full of women was quiet and restful, while the back, where we were, seemed like a frat party. The mostly male group was talking loudly, shouting, and laughing. One guy two bunks over had his radio playing at full volume and was whistling along to the Chinese dance music. I was amazed that nobody seemed bothered by the rudeness and noise of the group and no one, not even the driver, said anything to them. Even though we took a pee and smoke break every couple of hours a few people decided to light up on the bus in the middle of the night. Besides the smoke being annoying, I kept imagining the possible dangers. Lynette and I were surprised when around midnight the bus stopped for a dinner break. We got off the bus and entered a run down and dirty old restaurant. The front of the place, as with most low-end restaurants in Asia had a big metal roll up door on the front like a mechanic's shop and was left open. It was hot and muggy. The one oscilating fan in the place barely moved the thick air and was left pointed at the table where the driver and his assistants sat. Lynette and I didn't want to eat, we just wanted to stay on the road and keep going. But we sat down at a table. While everyone else was munching away, no one served us and eventually I realized that you had to order your food up front at the counter. But we were too tired and not hungry enough to care so we just sat there.

My Dramamene pills were at full effect at this point and I felt half asleep and could barely keep my eyes open. My head was in a fog. This worked great to my advantage though when we were back on the bus. I couldn't believe how well I slept, given how rough and bumpy the roads were. It was pretty uncomfortable but I was able two find two positions I could sleep in for a while before alternating.

I actually slept most of the way, waking every few hours when we'd stop to use the facilities. The restrooms so far are the worst we've experienced anywhere on the trip. They are absolutely disgusting. I can see why the bus driver made us take our shoes off before getting on. At one place the men's room was next to the pig shack and I could barely tell the difference. If it were not for the squatting men's heads and shoulders poking up above the 3 foot stone stall walls as they did their business I might have thought I was in the wrong place.

What was supposed to be an 11 hour train ride ended up to be a 15 hour bus ride. We finally arrived at our destination. However, getting off the bus and standing on the side of the road we became very aware that we didn't have a booked hotel, nor did we know what part of town we were in or where to go. But the rest is for another story.

dave & lynette
dbuck242@yahoo.com
lschimpf@gmail.com

Posted by schuckley 20:28 Archived in China Comments (0)

"night of excitement"

Dave and I made it to Hong Kong this morning after quite an ordeal. Our plane was supposed to take off from Tokyo to Hong Kong at 6:30 p.m. yesterday but we found out earlier in the day that a tropical storm named Nuri was heading right for Hong Kong and was expected to hit Hong Kong in the afternoon. We kept checking the status of our flight online and it kept on showing that it was on schedule although other flights to Hong Kong were being cancelled right and left. We even called NWA right before we had to catch the bus to the airport (which takes 2 hours). The rep said that there has been no delays. We get to the airport and go to check in and sure enough our flight has been delayed till 9 p.m. No big deal we find a restaurant eat dinner, hang out watching other planes take off, etc. Our flight ends up taking off just as expected at 9 p.m. but the problem comes when we try to land. The pilot tells us that the winds have not died down enough for us to land in Hong Kong so we are going to hang out in the air for about an hour waiting for the winds to subside. An hour later the winds have not subsided and the plane needs more fuel so the pilot tells us that we are going to have to fly to Taipei to refuel and hang out until the landing conditions in HK improve. Taipei is only a little over an hour from HK so we landed there in no time. Unfortunately the Taiwan gov would not allow us to get off the plane since technically we were not supposed to be there - the jerks! They should of shown a bit of sympathy for us I think. We end up spending over 3 hours sitting at the gate in the plane in Taipei. It was around 2 a.m. in the morning at this point so although the thought of spending 3 hours on a plane sitting still on the tarmac has filled me with trepidation and worry, I told myself that we were actually still moving in the air headed to our destination that takes 8 hours instead of 4, and it worked because I fell completely asleep and woke up hours later. Finally after 3 hours in the very inhospitable country of Taiwan, the pilot tells us that the winds have died down in Hong Kong and a few airplanes have successfully landed and we were going to take off but it was going to be a bumpy descent into Hong Kong. We did experience some strong turbulence on the way down but it was over quick enough. We successfully landed in Hong Kong around 6 a.m. Hong Kong time. This whole ordeal from take off to landing was about 10 hours long. The original flight was 3 hours and 45 minutes. However, we were duly compensated for our unfortunate situation with several gift certificates including $25 off our next round trip flight with NWA. The flight ended with the head flight attendant coming on the intercom and thanking us all for basically not rioting and for showing extreme patience in this "night of excitement." We were just thrilled to be on solid ground again.

Posted by schuckley 02:50 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (2)

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