Las Vegas to Phoenix Spring 2020

I first visited Las Vegas in 2018 – it was August, crowded and the average daily temperature was 38C. It would be no understatement to say I was not taken with it all. Yet, I had the feeling that I could have had a better experience.

This year I had the lucky opportunity to go hiking in Utah and Arizona in spring (and just before the Covid-19 virus impacted all our lives – so lucky indeed)

As my daughter was already in the USA we agreed to meet in Las Vegas and stay a few days.

To my surprise Las Vegas is so much nicer in the spring.

We stayed at Caesar’s Palace (https://www.caesars.com/caesars-palace) which is the size of a small town and an experience in its self. Our room overlooked the fountains at the Bellagio, a very nice view.

I take no enjoyment in gambling away my hard-earned pension and do not understand Roulette or Blackjack so the casinos had no real draw for me. Although we did try our luck on the ‘Slot Machines’ – so much more complicated than the old ‘one-arm bandits’ at the end of seaside piers. We played with a very small amount although can see how players can be drawn in for the possibility of a big win.

This visit was more pleasurable, not only because it was quieter and cooler, but due to what we did. We became tourists, eating outdoors in pavement-side bistros and visiting tourist spots such as The Mob Museum (https://themobmuseum.org/ (real name The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement). This was an informative and interesting presentation of an area of modern history. Normally my tolerance of museums is 60 minutes yet here I was, happy to spend the afternoon. Plus, the shop actually sold items that were both useful and reasonably priced.

Famous Neon Sign of ‘Vegas Vic’ in Fremont Street

 

We also booked ourselves on to a walking tour of the Downtown area ( https://lasvegaswalkingtours.net/) Kelly, our guide was so knowledgeable as well as entertaining and  I would fully recommend booking this tour if you visit. Kelly shared so many insights that only a ‘local’ would know and his presentation style was fun and easy to follow. I could relate many facts that explain the nature of Vegas – but that would spoil the story for you.

 

 

In no time at all we were heading to Springdale, Utah in our hire car for 2 days hiking in the Zion National Park.

We stayed at the Desert Pearl Inn (https://www.desertpearl.com/en/homepage) Again we were lucky with the view from our room – we overlooked a river and the distant hills. The gentle river became a raging torrent one morning after an overnight storm.

The national park entrance was only a 10 minute walk which meant we had no parking issues. The entrance fee was only $36.00 for both of us for 2 days and included access to the Shuttle Bus service.

(https://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm) The Trails ranged from flat and wheel chair accessible to strenuous as well as The Narrows which required specific waterproof gear and courage.

If you do not want to hike but still wish to view the scenery you can board the shuttle bus at the Visitor Centre and do a round trip gazing from the window. Or, perhaps alight the Shuttle at selected stops, view the area then hop back on the bus (they seem to run approx. at 10 minute intervals).

We arrived in the evening on our first day so just walked a short distance along the Pa’rus Trail. The next morning we were up early and travelled on the Shuttle route to the end stop (Temple of Sinawava) . Before we set off on the Riverside Walk we watched an early group wading through the water to hike the Bottom Up Narrows.

Walkers disappearing into The Narrows

We had taken provisions and spent the day walking the trails, using the shuttle occasionally to travel between trailheads. We lunched amongst the rocks at Emerald Pools and gradually made our way back to the park entrance. The day was dry and sunny – and of course, we were so awestruck by the scenery we did not notice our necks were burning!

We had to change our plans for the next day as it had rained heavily overnight and continued to drizzle throughout the day. So, on with the waterproofs, we walked the Pa’rus Trail to Canyon Overlook – it certainly looks different in the rain. Once at the Trail Junction and having walked over 5Km we decided we were too wet and cold to walk another trail so hopped on a shuttle and went for a warming lunch.

Then it was a short drive to the next adventure – Glamping (https://www.undercanvas.com/camps/zion/) This was more comfortable than I had thought it would be and the tent, once the log-burner was lit, became very cosy. Then the rain worsened and I lay awake for hours listening to the thunder and wondering where we would be in the morning if there was a landslide!. We woke in the morning to calm – and cows grazing in nearby fields as if nothing had been amiss.

Following breakfast we packed up and headed towards Antelope Canyon. We had already been informed that our pre-booked afternoon tour of the Lower Canyon was cancelled so thought we would head to our hotel in Page and sightsee along the route. Whilst on the drive we were contacted and informed the Upper Canyon tour booked for the following day was now cancelled and the area closed in order to reduce transmission of the Covid-19 virus. Very understandable, although disappointing. ( https://antelopecanyon.az/)

A swift change of plan and re-booking of hotels and we decided to head to Sedona, Arizona which was our final stop and stay an extra night.

To break the journey we stopped at Horseshoe Bend – nature at its most magnificent! It almost made up for missing out on Antelope Canyon.

 

 

Emma at Horseshoe Bend overlook

Although we spent 6 hours in the car the scenery and wide roads ensured it was not the painful experience it would have been on the cramped roads in the UK.

Arriving in time for dinner in Sedona we ‘googled’ the eating possibilities and discovered an Italian restaurant within walking distance. Called Gerado’s Kitchen (http://gerardositaliankitchen.com/) They do not take bookings so we decided to go straight away – and so glad we did. It was Saturday night and the queue grow very quickly. Luckily we did not have to wait long, nor were we rushed once seated. Great food and atmosphere and hidden off the main road it had a very authentic atmosphere, fully recommend a visit.

View from hotel (Sky Rock Inn at Sedona)

Next morning we were up early and soon hiking in the hills. Parking at the trailheads can be a problem as the car parks are fairly small so parking along the roadside is common (although not popular with the those who live there).

There are a large number of trails to chose from, with a variety of difficulty, so we focussed on two main areas. A selection along the Soldiers Pass Road where I especially liked the Teacup Trail – not too strenuous, fairly flat with well laid paths. On our second day we headed to Long Canyon Road and were at the trail-head for the Devils Bridge Trail by 7.30.

Starting out on the Devil’s Bridge Trail

This hike was more challenging and there was a section near the Bridge that I filmed from a distance whilst my daughter courageously jumped the bridge and waved back. Truth be told I was so far back that the photograph was actually taken by a kind Australian lady.

Emma on Devil’s Bridge

Heading back to the car at 10.30 we noticed the crowd had grown and the sun was warming so being out at dawn had been a good choice. After a second breakfast back in Sedona we headed out looking for a trail that had been recommended to us – we never found it but did spend the afternoon walking short scenic trails amongst trees that were showing signs of spring and on the ground flowers were starting to bloom. Occasionally the land widened and we would find ourselves back among the Red Rocks mountains.

Again, we were lucky with the weather which helped as we constantly had to change plans as the impact of Covid-19 being more evident. We had booked a night hike which involved Star-gazing and a Hike/Yoga afternoon both of which were cancelled. So, we just walked – the large spaces made social distancing easy to manage.

The city of Sedona is in a beautiful setting, was spacious and clean. Everyone was friendly and unhurried. I would certainly like to visit again.

We had planned to spend the final morning staying in the city itself before heading to Phoenix and our evening flights, unfortunately my flight had been cancelled and I was re-routed via Dallas leaving on a morning flight so instead we had a dawn drive to the airport.

Despite the constant changes to our plans the holiday had been totally enjoyable and of course – I will need to return so I can visit Antelope Canyon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another side to Stockholm

I first visited Stockholm in Spring 2018, practically the same dates as this year, although this time we were there for a very different reason.

In May 2018 we did the usual tourist trips ( http://perpetually49.com/stockholm-in-the-spring/). We were lucky again with the weather and this time we spent the majority of the time walking in the easily accessible parks and riverside trails seeing a different side to the city.

We stayed in the suburb of Aspudden, the local Metro trains made travelling around the city very easy.

lake at Vinterviken

A new find was the park known as Vinterviken (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinterviken).

Originally the site of Alfred Nobel’s dynamite factory it now hosts really good cafés and a restaurant area, parks, small lakes, gardens. Allotments, attended to by local inhabitants, in the park are open to the public (as long as they do not pick the produce and remember to keep the gates closed to keep the deer away!). In our 10 days we must have visited 4 times, it is a very popular area for family gatherings and walks yet never appeared crowded.

My tourist guide (Lonely Planet) had an 8Km walk along the water’s edge in the city which we followed one evening, it was not difficult although had a couple of ‘uphill’ sections. It meandered through historic houses and views of the city, then alongside the water’s edge of Gamla Stan, passing the Royal Palace, the Medeltidsmusset, over the Noroboro (north Bridge) to Steppsholem. This is one of the many small islands that are part of the city and it led onto the islet of Kastelholmen to view the Kastellet Fortress.

All the time enjoying the panoramic views across the water. Once we had finished we realised – the walk was not a circular route and we then had a 4Km walk back to our restaurant for dinner (‘could have thought that one through’ I said).

Now, my husband loves a museum and is always determined to read every printed word on every display and I always have to ‘manage’ such visits in order not to be the last visitor at closing time. The museum of choice for this visit was the Medeltidsmusset (https://medeltidsmuseet.stockholm.se/in-english/). This small area of the city’s history was only discovered when the site was being prepared as a car park – the diggers unearthed preserved city walls! A museum depicting medieval life was constructed and opened to the public. We invested in the audio guide – which was very informative so I would recommend it. The cost was small and as entrance to the building is free I felt we had contributed. The added bonus of the audio guide was that my husband had to keep up with me as we had one machine with a dual set of earphones (!). We were in and out in just over an hour – a small but very interesting museum.

Nearby was an outdoor café with seating overlooking the water so purchasing coffee and cake we sat to watch what we thought was a local festival –  it was the mid-point of the annual Stockholm Marathon. So we leisurely watched both energetic runners and the strollers before moving on.

Whilst we did see plenty that was that was new to us we also re-visited areas that had impressed us on our previous visit and one of those was ‘Meatballs for the People’. As suggested by its name this restaurant’s focus is the national dish – meatballs. Again, lunch was tasty and I suspect this is somewhere we will visit every time.  http://meatball.se/en-se I would recommend going at lunchtime, evenings are very popular and the queue is literally out on the pavement.

Another re-visit was to the Fotogrfiska, the photography museum in the city https://www.fotografiska.com/. The main exhibition was a selection of the work of Jesper Waldersten – not known to me although I did find it interesting https://www.fotografiska.com/sto/en/news/jesper-waldersten-all-over/. There are also smaller exhibitions and visiting the museum café is very worthwhile, try to obtain a seat near the windows and watch the boats pass as you eat delicious traditional foods.

Stockholm is very much an island city so you will not be surprised to find that sight-seeing by boat is very popular and readily available.

Last year we took the short trip to the royal palace at Drottningholm and this year we decided to travel further afield taking a 2.5 hour round trip along the Stockholm Archiplelago to Vaxholm. The day was sunny and the water calm so even ‘seasick’ husband managed to relax and enjoy the journey, helped by listening to the guide using the Tannoy, pointing areas of interest and snippets of local history. It was possible to leave the boat at Vaxholm and return later in the day.

 

From what we could see the area certainly looked worth a visit – we have added it to our list for next time.

 

 

As well as the many parks easily accessible from Aspudden there were also the small islands to explore and one that we all enjoyed was the island of Langholmen. An easy walk from the Hornstull metro station the island once housed a large prison (currently a hostel and museum) although now a popular site for both locals and tourists.

There are walks, water, bathing, boats and cafes. On a warm sunny day there is nowhere better, and I am guessing that a brisk walk along its shores in the winter is also a joy.

 

 

 

Sweden’s National Day is June 6th and is celebrated with parades, displays of national dress and the Royal family attending a public event in the open-air museum at Skansen. The city was busy that day but in a good humoured and friendly way.

 

 

And the main reason we had dashed to Stockholm – our first grandchild – and with no bias (?) I can say he is an absolute cutie.   

 

 

Busy visit to Portland Oregon 2019

(a long post, you may need coffee)

Our trip to Portland (Oregon) did not start well. Storm Gareth delayed our flight from Newcastle to Schiphol and we only managed to board the connecting transatlantic flight by running. Luckily the departure gate was in the terminal we had landed in, so we did not have far to go.

Naturally our luggage did not make the flight so, once landed and out of the airport, we had a stop-off at a shopping mall to collect a few minor requirements (I always carry some basics in my hand luggage – husband, not so prepared)

Well, there is always an up-side and for us it meant waiting in the apartment the next morning for delivery of the luggage. I think the enforced slow start really helped cope with the time-change. We are visiting our eldest daughter and her partner who have recently moved to Portland for 12 months. Waiting for the courier in the ground floor lounge-area near the gym and ‘doggy parlour’ (and pretending to read my book) I was able to casually observe normal life. A busy and popular area for the young professionals, there was a lot of activity – many dogs being walked, runners with various tracking devices and earphones, the occasional ‘elderly’ couple (by that I mean over 50) and the non-stop delivery men. Although the building has nine floors – each with approx. 8 apartments – it really felt like a village.

In the entrance area (beside gym etc.) there are 3 seating areas where residents can meet. I sat near the Cribbage table which is used in the evening by a group of enthusiasts. There are also a number of ‘interest’ groups – Running, Book Club etc. On the top floor is an open area with BBQs, tables and fire pits. An indoor area provides a meeting area with TV, a kitchen, dining area and games room (with, of course, a Pool table) As I said – a little village, communal living at its best.

Once unpacked and feeling refreshed we wandered out of the building to view our new surroundings.

As we expected the area was a mixture of new apartment blocks, old original wooden houses and many restaurants, coffee houses and quirky shops.

 

 

The next morning, after a hearty USA style breakfast (I really should start asking for child portions) we walked the first half of the Lower MacLeay Trail. I was constantly surprised, throughout our stay, how soon you could be ‘in the wild’ by just stepping off an urban pathway.

A good stretch of the legs and we were off to conquer Mount Hood – well, in a small way. We stayed in a cabin near The Meadows ski area https://www.skihood.com/the-mountain the ski area was busy with plenty of snow to enjoy. The cabin, in reality a 4-bed detached house, was set in a small forest along a bumpy track. As you can imagine, waking up on a morning to watch deer grazing in the backyard was magical.

Having skied on Saturday (well, they did, I walked) we headed to the Timberline Lodge for Sunday morning coffee. A hotel worth a visit, if only for its  history, www.TimberlineLodge.com and www.friendsoftimberline.org have more in-depth information. It was built as part of the Works Progress Administration project in the late 1930s offering work to many following the economic depression. It not only provided employment but an opportunity to maintain/regain skills and crafts. The building, inside and out, is a tribute to the high level of ability of the craftsmen, apprentices and their families. Many of the replacement fittings and repairs are undertaken today by local craftsmen using the same hand worked techniques.

Aside from the historical features the hotel itself is set within a popular ski area with picturesque tree lined runs – but, today we were hiking so off we went to the Mirror Lake Trail. Walking through woods and over many bridges (some with snow higher than the safety rails!) was both calming and exciting. We didn’t reach the lake, deciding after an hour we would have to turn back – will try again in the summer.

In the car once again, we headed back to the city stopping at Skyway Diner for lunch and then – a seat in the sun to recover. I would fully recommend a visit – a diner as I imagine them to be and the food was really good. https://skywaybarandgrill.com/

Although we had only travelled for 2 hours from the ski area back to the city, once home the evening temperature was so warm, we took our ‘cuppa’ to the roof to bathe in the sun.

Next morning the workers were up and off at dawn returning at sunset to catch up on paperwork, domestic chores and finding time to eat – oh, I remember those days! We spent the next 4 days looking after ourselves in the city. We had considered visiting Seattle and other nearby towns, but our purpose was to spend time with Emma and Chris, so we stayed put. It did help that the weather was sunny and warm – which is not typical of Portland, so I’m told. Apparently it normally rains, it would have felt like home I guess.

Portland is not what I would call a touristy city – in the manner of London or Edinburgh – there are no obvious historical sites or buildings. Yet, there is plenty to do, many walks to follow and nearby trails within easy reach. (e.g. Walking Portland, Becky Ohlsen Wilderness Press). The transport system was easy to use, although we mainly walked as the city is not big.

Walking meant we became familiar with the layout and also noticed more than if we had been in a car. Homelessness, especially of young men, is an obvious social problem. I did notice ‘Walk-in’ Social Support centres as well as ‘Social Services Support Workers’ in Hi-Vis jackets so perhaps this is a concern the authorities are attempting to address.

When shopping we were frequently asked how we were coping with Brexit – apparently there is a lot of genuine concern for us Brits and how we will manage in the future!

Our average daily walk was 14Km so I will just pick out the highlights. We set off one day to walk to the Willamette River following one of the walks in our book. It took us past the Union Station (a Victorian red brick building) built to accommodate the growing availability of railway travel and an increasing internal migration.

Street art, definitely not graffiti, was tastefully done on the sides of buildings – representing events and charities. We noticed many as we walked the city.

The first ‘surprise’ was the Lan Su Chinese Garden in the Chinatown District. https://lansugarden.org/ We were not going to go in at first, it looked small and our walk had many other points of interest. As we walked towards it we noticed that, whilst there was not a queue, there was always someone at the gate so decided to ‘drop-in’ – and so glad we did. An oasis in the city, beautiful set out in a traditional style with explanations of the motifs and selected plants. And joy of joys- the Teahouse was real and so naturally we had to stop and sample the mooncakes and one of the many varieties of loose-leaf tea.

As well as the street art we noticed many sculptures placed throughout the city – some representing events although many seemed to represent values and aspirations of the citizens.

Lunch was another highlight of the day – nearing the river we came to ‘Huber’s’, one of the oldest restaurants in the city and famous for its Roast Ham as well as its Chowder. https://www.hubers.com/ I chose a small bowl of the Chowder (yes, I’m learning about portion size) and a Caesar salad. Both were very good; in fact the salad was the nicest Caesar salad I have ever tasted. Huber’s setting and deco reminded me of ‘Betty’s Tearooms’ in North Yorkshire. We then walked along the riverside and back to the apartment passing many of the micro-breweries and coffee-roasters that Portland is renowned for.

Another day we ventured on a tram towards Washington Park, a comparison to NYC Central Park would not be out of place. Our first stop was Oregon Zoo, https://www.oregonzoo.org/ which is currently undergoing a major renovation. At times it was like being in a building site. All will be complete and re-opened in 2020 so a visit then will be worthwhile. The Zoo’s involvement in a variety of conservation programmes is encouraging. We walked from there to the Japanese Garden https://japanesegarden.org/

The route took us further into Washington Park through the Hoyt Arboretum along the Wildwood Trail. The Garden, once we arrived, provided a sense of tranquillity which, in a way, prepared us for what we next witnessed. Walking back to the city we walked through the Holocaust Memorial, sculptures of abandoned belongings telling their poignant story.

The following day we walked the rest of the MacLeay Trail and up to Pittock Mansion. It was a tough uphill 3 mile walk and, compared to the lower section, not for the weak-hearted. You can drive to the Mansion and park outside the door!

The Mansion itself is worth a visit especially if you are interested in history – the building and it’s artefacts tell the story of Portland’s early days using the life of Henry Pittock, publisher of The Oregonian http://pittockmansion.org/ Take a camera as the views from the garden are fantastic.

Our final day of city walking was forecast to be rainy, so we had planned indoor activities starting with a visit to Powell’s City of Books – it is reported to be the largest bookshop in the world. https://www.powells.com/locations/powells-city-of-books/ Accept the store map on entering – you will need it! I am an avid reader and really looked forward to this visit. To be honest there was just so much to see, read, digest I was overwhelmed. I think visiting regularly and having some idea of what you are looking for is the better way to understand the content.

We then moved on to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry https://omsi.edu/ There were so many schoolchildren (I mean – hundreds!) on a City Educational Day. So, there was only one thing to do – jump straight in and attempt all the tasks in the exhibitions. Mixed successes, truth be told the children had a much better idea than us, although I did manage to build a boat that sailed and James used cogs and cables to generate enough electricity to power one house.

The main challenge of the day was to collect a birthday cake and deliver it to the restaurant we would be dining in that evening.

Walking and using the tram whilst carrying the cake-box was successfully achieved – despite bumps, sudden turns and bizarre ‘spaced out’ fellow passengers on the final tram ride.

 

The second weekend of our trip was spent on the Pacific Coast and our luck with the weather ran out, although not too wet the sun disappeared and the stormy clouds rolled in. this was disappointing as it was national Whale Watching weekend and we learnt that whales do not come as close to the shoreline in such conditions. That said we did see ‘shadows’ and the water ‘blows’ so we knew they were there. Emma was lucky enough to see the tail end of a dive. https://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=thingstodo.dsp_whalewatching The State Park Rangers based at ‘Lookout’ points were very friendly and informative so do stop by and ask them questions (and look at the footage on their webcams).

We visited Newport, Depoe Bay and Canon Beach in our search for the whales and each stop had its own charm.   Depoe Bay had the feel of an English Seaside resort and our Fish and Chips lunch confirmed my thoughts – freshly caught and cooked with crispy batter, yummy. We had a late afternoon walk along Canon Beach, so picturesque with the sun setting and the sea, at last, calming.

Then it was back to the city and packing of suitcases. Portland is not the easiest of cities to travel to from Europe as there are few direct flights (and not a daily event). Our return journey required 3 flights with a total of 7 hours sitting in 2 airports so learning that Delta are commencing daily direct flights from London is good news. We left Portland midday Sunday and arrive at Newcastle upon Tyne at 6.00pm on Monday (even allowing for the time difference it was long and exhausting). We collected our luggage, met the minibus to the car park, collected the car keys and placed suitcases into the boot. Turned the ignition key – nothing!  You just have to laugh.

(PS – we arrived home at 8.00pm thanks to the RAC and their jump leads)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Las Vegas to San Francisco 2018 (Part 2)

Heading north after 3 days activities at Lake Tahoe our next destination was San Francisco airport to collect the final member of our party and to swap our vehicle for two others. To the eldest daughter’s delight, one was a Soft Top Ford Mustang, which was a pleasure to travel in and much suited the ‘ladies’ in the party rather than the men – or so we argued, commended the vehicle and headed to Napa Valley/Sonoma County looking for Kenwood town.

Once at Kenwood and following the directions the first thing that we all noticed was the number of building sites, the number of mobile homes and tents on those sites – our first view of the devastation left by the fires in 2017. It was quite amazing how quickly the land had been cleared and the re-building commenced. The house we had rented was one of very few in that locality to survive. We heard of the efforts of the community to save the property’s – how people, when realising their own house was doomed immediately moved to assist elsewhere, truly the neighbours we would all wish for.

We stayed in a beautiful house on the outskirts of the town. The house was well equipped with games and activities for both indoor and outdoors. The swimming pool, hot tub and BBQ area were well used, as was the indoor Pool table. There were also seating areas along the creek which ran through the large garden. These were peaceful areas to sit although the creek itself was dry. Outdoor games were evident – especially the Baseball practice area although these had been damaged during the fires of 2017 and repair work was in progress during our stay. The house and grounds were a joy and we all agreed that we had not utilised the facilities due to the sightseeing we undertook – should we ever return I will table in some ‘stay at home days’ to have fun. https://www.homeaway.com/ There was a small group of deer that appeared to live in the garden, as well as a flock of turkeys that appeared every morning – both of which added to the ‘countryside’ feel of our surroundings.

As we hear from news bulletins, such fires are not uncommon, and we quickly became aware of the preventive measures taken by the residents. For example, each building has numerous external taps with hoses attached and each house is spaced well apart from the neighbours. Jason, the caretaker of our house, had used the hoses to soak the nearby trees as well as the house itself for many hours, although he gave the credit to the neighbours coming to assist and that the wind direction did not change.

The focus of this section of the holiday was, of course, wine tasting. I am not a connoisseur, nor an experienced drinker of wines so a lot of what I heard went over my head, although it was all interesting and good to see. I had not appreciated the passion of wine producers, nor the skills required to produce a high-end product. My real surprise was the Chardonnay. A wine I avoid in Britain – I think it has a ‘tinny’ taste with a bitter aftertaste. In Napa it is a smooth buttery liquid that lingers pleasantly on the tongue. It was explained to me that this is due to the soil and production methods. Just – if you are there, tasting wines, do try the Chardonnays. (Now that is a sentence I never thought I would write). The biggest shame is that these wines are not exported.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are plenty of other activities in the area and we also managed a morning hike in the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Must admit I did not make it to the top although I did return back down to the car park on my own through Mountain Lion country!! It is said that you should do something everyday that scares you – think I had enough scariness to last the rest of the year. 

Our final change of scenery was Sans Francisco, driving over the Golden Gate Bridge is a well documented spectacle and we were lucky with the weather, so we had a good view on the day we arrived. Unfortunately, after that it was always foggy so no photographs.                                                     

 

 

There is plenty to see in the city – using one of the ‘Hop on, Hop off’ tourist buses is a good way of getting about. Cycling is another although do you need a good set of legs to climb the hilly streets – I left the biking to the boys.

The waterfront (Fisherman’s Wharf & The Piers) is a must – if only for the ‘street food’ huts offering plenty of fish dishes.

Alcatraz is another tourist attraction not to be missed, although its gruesome history may put some people off visiting, the boat trip offers a different view of the Bay area and there is more to the island than just the prison. It was a surprise to discover that the families of the prison staff lived there too. The children travelling to the mainland each day for school. The island itself has a lengthy history of its various uses, a shame we only think of it as a prison. www.nps.gov/alcatraz

The Golden Gate Park deserved more than the 60 minutes we allocated – a day with a picnic would be better https://goldengatepark.com/

And, whilst we are mentioning food – we found the best ever Dim Sum restaurant in Chinatown (another place to visit – busy, busy but fun) We had hopped off the tourist bus as lunch time was approaching, I opened the Tourist book looking for guidance/recommendations and ‘City View’ was rated highly and nearby so thought we would try it. What a find – It was everything we had read, the best choice of tasty Dim Sum ever. The advice in our book was to arrive early to ensure a table and I would repeat that (we were there towards the end of the lunch period so there were a few tables although could have been risky if you are in larger groups). Also, useful to note it has short opening hours.   http://cityviewdimsum.com/

Despite following the ‘tourist trail’ in San Francisco a lasting memory for me is the number of young beggars and ‘spaced out’ addicts in the streets of the Tenderloin and Waterfront areas. Perhaps legalising marijuana was not such a good idea.

Walking the streets around Union Square there are plenty of opportunities to call in at the small art galleries – my favourite was the gallery on Greary Street displaying the work of Dr Seuss http://www.dennisraefineart.com/artists/dr-seuss/. The curator was fun and informative – just like one of his characters.

I felt that there was a lot of the city that we didn’t see, perhaps it needs more than the 4 days I was there. I had not visited California before although had researched the areas we were visiting and formed an ‘uninformed opinion’ (as you do) from the websites and books I had read. Needless to say, having experienced it, my thoughts are different. Las Vegas surprised me and I would re-visit it again. San Francisco did not live up to my expectations. Perhaps because we were there on the Labour Day weekend and it was so crowded. Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley deserved more time than we had – and again I would re-visit, just stay longer.

The purpose of the holiday had been to gather the family together for major birthday celebrations – but mainly just to ‘gather the family together’ and that I think was a success.

 

 

 

 

Las Vegas to San Francisco 2018 (Part 1)

The family were celebrating 3 ‘significant’ birthdays this year and instead of 3 big parties it was decided that we would have a Family Road Trip. California was the chosen destination – we would travel from Las Vegas to San Francisco via Yosemite and Napa Valley. This route would enable each of the birthday people to visit an area of interest to them whilst providing adventures for all of us. The eldest daughter undertook the role of ‘Project Manager’, and a great job she did – even coping with a last minute change of route and accommodation as a result of the fires ranging through the Yosemite area as we left Britain.

I had never travelled to this area of the USA before, so it was to be an adventure for me – I was especially looking forward to San Francisco as it always looks good on travel programmes and in travel guides.

Our first stop was Las Vegas, this I was not looking forward to and glad it was at the beginning of the trip. But – what a surprise. Yes, it is all noise and ‘razzmatazz’ yet there is so much more – you just have to set aside reality and join in the spirit of the city. The casinos are open 24 hours and you do not have to walk any length to arrive at one. The machines are all computerised – even the roulette – so images of weary gamblers holding onto cups of coins or leaning expectedly over tables whilst the ball spins are out of date. I could see how easy it would be to lose your life savings.

Another thing I was not expecting was the heat! It remained over 40C all the time we were there, stifling. I had been aware that August is a hot month so was prepared for it being in the mid-30’s, no one told me that there was a heatwave.

The day trip to the Hoover Dam did not offer any relief from the heat although it was good to be away from the city and see some of the surrounding area. The low water mark demonstrates the level of drought in the state and their worries are understandable, apparently there is only enough water for the next 2 years so rain (and snow in the hills) is needed desperately.

The Las Vegas hotels themselves are worth a visit – and we walked through many of them to see what all the talk was about. The Wynn is quieter than most and has an air of class, we had Sunday Brunch there which I would recommend. The Bellagio is well known and a visit to the Fountains in the evening is a tourist must. We stayed in The Venetian which offered a true Las Vegas experience. You could, in fact, arrive there and not leave the building for your whole trip. As well as good sized and decorated rooms there is a gym, swimming pools, restaurants and cafes, shopping mall and of course, the casino. And, not forgetting the canal and gondolas. https://www.venetian.com/

Outside the hotels there is plenty of entertainment – from street buskers to world renown performers, a huge variety and everyone’s tastes are catered for. We went to see La Reve ‘The Dream’ at the Wynn.  https://www.wynnlasvegas.com/Entertainment/LeReve

An amazing mixture of dance, acrobatics and diving. The circular setting meant the action was visible irrespective of where you were sitting. The use of a water pool as both a scene set and exit/entry portals for the performers added to the fantasy of the story. The trust the performers had in each other and the technicians is obviously high.

Overall Las Vegas was busy, busy, busy and hot, hot, hot.

I would visit again, having had my ‘rabbit in the headlights’ experience I would be more prepared, so able to visit museums etc. Just avoid July, August, early September.

Our next stop should have been to Yosemite to hike in the hills, due to the residual smoke and smouldering fires we had to change plans and instead headed to Lake Tahoe. Leaving Las Vegas, we first headed north to the town of Bishop, (having calculated the length of the drive an overnight stop had been planned).

The drive was straight forward on easy roads (well, it was for me as I sat in the back gazing from the window). The countryside, I noted, was dry and dusty with only occasional siting of homesteads, bringing home the realisation that you are in a desert.

 

 

Grass, cattle and farming became more common as we climbed upwards. 4,700 feet was the highest reading I noticed, then descending on windy roads making it more interesting for the driver – I just closed my eyes at the scary bits.

 

 

The town of Bishop was a nice surprise. As we drove into town we noticed a small diner, then even more interesting as we parked – it was also a small brewery. So, alongside our very nice lunch of typical American fare there were new beers to quench some thirsts (I had soda as beer is not my drink).

I had anticipated a small motel, similar to the UK style Travelodge, so the Creekside Inn was a pleasant surprise and was exactly as it looks on its website. Once checked in we found the swimming pool where we were joined by a group of hikers resting their legs after completing one of the many trails in the area and we had a relaxing time listening to their adventures.

The motel is a popular ‘stop off’ point for many – hikers and tourists alike. I was also impressed that breakfast was included as this is uncommon in the USA.   www.bishopcreeksideinn.com   

The town itself is small and with its picket fences and vegetable patches looks how ‘Smalltown USA’ is depicted in films. There is a good-sized public park and swimming pool along with a Coffee Roaster, cafes and shops. As well as being popular with walkers the town was the main route north from Nevada and Death Valley for truckers and I enjoyed watching the large trucks – gleamingly clean and individually adorned – as they drove up Main Street.

The Inn did not do evening meals so we ate at a family run Italian/Pizza restaurant, very friendly, good service and the pizzas were excellent (and enormous!)  http://www.uppercrustpizzabishop.com/

We were up bright and early next morning and back on the road. As much as I had been looking forward to hiking in Yosemite I think Lake Tahoe Vista worked out very well. There were plenty of watersports on offer. Paddleboarding and Kayaking were popular with the family. We enjoyed the ‘Street Food’ stalls at the Truckee evening market (held weekly during the summer). The weather was still hot enough in the evening to be out in the garden enjoying BBQs and the Hot Tub.

We did manage a short hike to Cascade falls. Although at the height of summer it was more of a trickle. (Go in Spring is the advice if you want to see the Falls in full flow).

All too soon it was time to pack up and travel on.

 

Stockholm in the Spring

One of the joys of having children living in far flung places is that you need to visit – check that they are really ‘doing fine’, using sunscreen, wearing a coat in winter etc. etc. To date husband and I have ‘had’ to undertake parental visits to Calgary (including Banff and Lake Louise), Berlin, Venice, Nuremberg, and Cologne – as well as London, Somerset and Edinburgh. Crossing the Border usually involves paintbrushes and screwdrivers – the border crossings easy, it’s the chores that are required once we arrive ? although great to see the ‘home improvements’ taking shape.

Our latest trip was to Stockholm in Sweden. This coincided with an unusually warm spring, so it really was ‘sunshine all the way’.

Although husband had visited the city as a child it was my first visit and I was looking forward exploring.

I found it a city of contrasts – old and new buildings, many parks and museums amongst the mainland and the islands. Water was a constant presence, either in lakes and rivers or the sea. All linked by the numerous bridges. It reminded me of both York and Venice.

 

The buildings are well maintained and there is little damage from any previous conflicts – although many of the government/royal buildings had tales of major fires in their history. ‘Careless with matches’ I thought.

Despite the weather we did not sit on the beaches, although they were sandy and inviting. We behaved like real tourists and visited ‘the sights’.

The Vasamuseet is a must. I was not expecting such a spectacular sight as ‘The Vasa’. Its size alone was a surprise and that it is intact is a credit indeed to the excavators and restorers.

The Royal Palace – Kungliga Slottet – is very impressive to walk around. We did not go inside although I understand it is worthwhile, so perhaps next time (if it’s raining)

Skansen is an open-air museum displaying a history of Swedish culture using original buildings, tools and exhibits from many centuries.

 

 

 

Traditional skills such as carpentry and pottery were evidenced as well as a fully functional glassblowers workshop – a skill which is always amazing to watch. The Zoo housed many of the native wildlife and was an interesting walk. As it was midday and hot most of the animals were hiding in the shade.

 

We took a boat trip to the royal residence of Drottingholm. It is not a large palace, yet the grounds are extensive and well worth a walk. The boat trip provides an opportunity to view the outer-city landscape and some of the surrounding islands. Lunch at the small restaurant was traditional fayre – which of course included a cake. The boats sail hourly and appear to finish around 5.00pm so check your return times or you may have to use public transport to return to the city.

 

We ate a lot, especially joining in the Swedish tradition of ‘Fika Time’, a break involving cake. 

I would recommend all the places we ate although my favourite was ‘Meatballs for the People’ at Nytorgsgaten 30 (http://www.meatball.se/) A traditional Scandinavian restaurant, may not look pretty but the best meatballs and mashed potato ever!

The Fotografiska (Photography) is another place to call – for both the exhibitions and the lunch. The walk along the waterside added to the experience.

Whilst walking in the city, in the sunshine, the tourist can view the renown buildings and many of the museums we called in were those we just came to on our walks – such as the Nobelmuseet. More interesting than it sounds. At the time I was reading ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ whose author Gabriel Garzia Marquez was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature in 1982. I picked up a copy of the book in the literature room, found my page and sat to read a chapter – how amazing was that?

 

The area we spent a lot of time in was Gamla Stan (think York and the Shambles). Full of history, little alleys and delightful cafes. Even though it was hot we still managed to call in to Sunbergs Konditori for a cup of their famous Hot Chocolate.

 

Stockholm, like many cities, is divided into urban areas (suburbs) interspersed with parks and museums. So much to see and explore – looking forward to our next trip already

 

China 2017 (Part 2)

Boarding the small boat that would take us along the River Li from Guilin to Yangshuo was a pleasant surprise as reviews we had read implied the boats were old, not very comfortable and not to expect very much for lunch – not the case at all.

 

Very modern boats and lunch was very fresh indeed, I photographed it arriving.

 

 

The scenery along the river was spectacular, I did take some photographs although mostly just stared in awe.

 

 

Each mountain is named after its appearance – Horse’s Head, Elephant Trunk etc. – some were easy to spot and others we struggled to identify. The river meanders through the hills and the sway of the boat encourages relaxation, it was a struggle to keep awake.

Yangshuo itself is a small town and the gateway to Guangxi Province. Arriving after lunch our guide and driver whisked us up into the mountains to the nearby Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. I was so excited that I would be sleeping in the same bed for two consecutive nights. Once we had deposited our luggage we were off on a two-hour bike ride (we were offered the option to walk but exercise to wake us up sounded a good idea).

It was good to see the local culture close up as we both rode and walked along the river watching the fishermen, bathers and rice farmers enjoying their day.

The Retreat (https://www.yangshuomountainretreat.com/) is set on the banks of the River Yulong amongst hills and fields away from the bustle of normal life. The rooms are simply but elegantly furnished, with no Telephones or TVs (hurrah). The hotel is committed to ecological sustainability and remains rooted to its original mission. Providing training and employment for the local population – as well as Ex-pats with skills to share. It is possible to join in classes during the stay – Yoga, Meditation and Basic language skills were on offer and appeared popular. Below is the view from my room.Whilst at the retreat we went to see a performance of the Impression Liu Sanjie on the River Li. This is an amazing production on the river using the mountains as a backdrop. It is directed by Zhang Yimou, who produced the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening show. The cast are mainly local farmers, fishermen and ethnic family groups alongside a few national stars. It tells the story of local folklore aided by lighting and moving platforms. My photos do not do it justice (taken very quickly at the end). Go, if you ever have the opportunity.

Next day we had no scheduled events and it was good to laze about in the morning exploring our local area. After lunch we decided to be brave and chanced the Yulong River Bamboo Rafting experience. Well, it was not as scary as it first looked although I did spend more time making sure I stayed on board than enjoying the passing scenery! We decided to walk the 3km rather than use a taxi – had not considered the temperature, the traffic or the narrowness of the road – added to the adventure I thought.

We ate in the Retreat Restaurant in the evenings to enjoy the quietness – would certainly recommend the food.

Soon our little respite was over and we were back on the road, this time heading to a real adventure. Ahead of us was a 4 hour drive then a 30 minute hike up a steep mountain path that had no vehicular access. The drive was picturesque as we made our way to Longji and the Dragon’s Back range of rice terraces. We were to stay in the village of Ping An at the Longji One Hotel.

Bamboo was much in evidence – everything from buildings to cooking utensils appeared to be made of this local resource. The rice is grown and harvested today just as it was hundreds of years ago, with each family having an allocated space. Initially I thought the village had a medieval air about it and worried that the young generation would be left behind their peers in other cities and countries – a wasted thought I soon discovered. Looking in houses as we walked by I noticed TVs and many other electric appliances alongside the ‘mobile phone’ in constant use with some interesting Apps. Alongside Apps for translating languages I also discovered that there was an App that identified flowers and fauna from your photographs (now on my phone and used regularly)

We walked through the mist and drizzle ever upwards to view the terraces. As we were early in the year the rice was being planted and the individual terraces and paths were very visible making it easier to understand how it all worked.

 

 

Although informed by our guides of the ‘minority’ groups in this area of China it was interesting to actual meet the people who have worked hard to maintain their regional cultures. Such as the ladies of the Miao, who we referred to as the ‘Silver Ladies’ because of the locally made ornate silverware that they decorated their costumes with.

On the way back down the mountain, the next day, we passed through a small market where we purchased some silverware and tea as gifts and persuaded a lady of Yao culture to un-braid her hair. It is their culture to only cut the hair twice in a lifetime – once as a very young child and again at the age of 18. The cut hair is saved and is incorporated into the ‘up-style’ bun daily.

Onto Sanjiang and the regional centre of the Dong Minority group. Again, the first impression is of a bygone time – but oh my – the beauty and history of the ‘Wind and Rain Bridges’.

Again Bamboo was the commonest material for buildings and furniture. Having left behind the rice planting we were surrounded by tea bushes and it was a joy to walk leisurely along the paths, although some paths were rather steep (good that I had ‘trained’ before leaving UK).

Tea is not a drink I choose although here I felt it would be impolite not to and what a delicious drink when the ‘two leaves and a bud’ travel such a short distance from plant to pot.

Up and out to catch a train and car to Zhaoxing and to see rice grown in small fields and irrigated by centuries old water wheels and ….

 

 

…..the majesty of the ‘Drum Towers’.

 

 

We attended a theatre production explaining local culture and history, walking back to the hotel in the dark with the bridges and towers illuminated was a joy (no way is my camera good enough to reproduce the sight – just take my word it was worth seeing)

Having spent a day swapping trains and spending a night in Changsha we were soon on our way to Zhangjiajie (or Avatar country as we referred to it) and two days trekking in the stunning UNESCO World Heritage park. Although I must admit – we returned each evening to our rather smart hotel. There is only so much ‘roughing it’ my husband is prepared to do. Both up in the mountains and following the river lower down was just beautiful and despite the huge number of people also visiting the area it so vast it accommodates us all easily.

The first day was the toughest – at some points we had to walk sideways through very narrow passages between the mountains or crouched low to pass under overhanging rocks. ‘How do you manage bringing overweight people here?’ asked my husband. 

 

 

Our guide replied ‘Oh, we don’t. We put them in the cable car’ ‘There’s a cable car!’ we both shouted in mock (real) horror! We used the cable car to descend – adding another opportunity to view the landscape and to escape the rain which had been with us all day. Second day the weather was dry and warm which made the river side walk even more special.

All of a sudden we realised that we had reached the end of this adventure, we intend to visit again –  going north to visit the Terracotta Army and the Wall.

It was amazing.

 

China 2017 (Part 1)

China 2017 (Part 1)

We left Hong Kong early Sunday morning from Hunghom Train Station. I had expected the process to be like that of travelling from England to Scotland. That was not the case at all. Despite HK now once again a Chinese territory there were border controls and passport visa checks.

It was interesting watching the scenery and noticing that Chinese towns, like many countries worldwide, have a typical skyline. That of high rise buildings.

My arrival into China did not start well, in fact, I thought I was going to be refused entry.

The night before, whilst in HK, we had purchased some fruit. One orange and apple were not eaten so I had dropped them into my backpack. How was I to know that taking fruit across the border was illegal? I didn’t even that the border still existed.

Anyway, once I understood the error of my ways, had apologised profusely and signed the required documents we were on our way. (Annoying as the oranges had been sweet and juicy and I could have eaten it on the train)

We were met at the designated point by our guide. A lovely young lady who spoke English fluently. On the way to our hotel she suggested we stop for lunch. We were informed that it was ‘National Children’s Day’ so many families would also be eating out, a good way to gain a sense of the family culture.

We assured our guide that we could manage ordering food etc as she appeared to prefer not joining us. Looking at the menu and associated photographs was a little more difficult than we thought, eventually selecting Peking Duck. We understood that dish and what could be easier?? We expected shredded duck, wanton pancakes, hoisin sauce etc.

What we received was a Whole Duck!

Apparently, this dish is for the table (usually 8) rather than for individuals. We ate what we could – our guide coming to tell us how the kitchen staff had been greatly amused – brought with her some small plastic boxes to gather up what was left. We ate this as a prelude to dinner and it was just as good cold.

We spent the remainder of the day with guide and driver sightseeing in the district. We visited the Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family, now an educational facility. https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/guangdong/guangzhou/chen_family.htm

 

Although at one time neglected it has recently been restored and it is easy to identify the old from the new.

 

 

 

We had a whistle stop tour of the Nanyue King Mausoleum, only discovered in 1983 it had laid quietly for centuries underneath buildings. It was ‘whistle stop’ as our guide quickly realised my husband would have stayed all day so demonstrated how to keep him moving whilst missing nothing (wish she had taught me, I still struggle to move him quickly through museums, usually take a book and meet him at the café)

https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/guangdong/guangzhou/nanyue_king.htm

An unexpected sight was the Sacred Heart Cathedral in the city centre. https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/guangdong/guangzhou/sacred-heart-cathedral.htm

Reminiscence of the Notre Dame, it demonstrates not only the skill of the craftsmen who designed and built it in the mid-19th century but also the Catholic Heritage in the city. Unfortunately, we could not enter as a service was in progress, although assured it is worth a visit.

On the way to our hotel we stopped to stretch our legs as we walked around the grounds of Dr Sun Yatsen’s Hall. Although built in 1930 it’s architecture gives it the appearance of a much older building. From what I could read Dr Sun Yatsen was a democrat supporter of a one party state and is spoken of highly and still held in great regard. https://www.chinahighlights.com/guangzhou/attraction/sun-yat-sen-memorial-hall.htm The building is still in use today, entry is free and although, other than the internal architecture, there is nothing to see it is worth calling in if you are nearby.

 

Shamian Island, where our hotel was situated, had been built in the mid-19th century for the English and French merchants who were based in the region. The gothic and baroque style buildings are still there today. Despite being a busy area there was a tranquillity amongst the parks, riverside paths and many statues portraying every day scenes.

The hotel (White Swan Hotel Guangzhou) was excellent and listed the Queen amongst its many important visitors. It was wasted on us to be truthful as we were only there one night and had little time to explore nor make use of its facilities. We decided to ‘wander out’ for dinner so I cannot comment on the food although I defy anyone not to breakfast well at the morning buffet. Such was the array of foods I could have sat all day and still not have tried all the options.

We sat and had a leisurely breakfast looking out onto the Pearl River. Different from our breakfast 30 years ago on that date which I recall was full of the last minute preparations and ‘comings and goings’ natural on a Wedding Day.

Following check-out from the hotel we had a leisurely walk around the local park with our guide. It was surprising to see the group activities that were taking place – dance classes, Tai Chi, Chess – amongst the trees. All too soon we were heading on a train to Guilin.

Arriving at Guilin we were met by our new Guide – another young lady who spoke English fluently. Although the British are noted to be commonly poor at speaking foreign languages in our defence we find it difficult as others which to practise their use of English with us. We did make attempts to learn basic words – Hello, Goodbye, Please, Thank You etc – in fact husband mastered approx. 12 and considered himself practically a Master!

Guilin was very busy as there was a public holiday and festival happening. Our hotel (The White House Hotel) was situated alongside the river and so, to avoid the crowds, we walked around the 4 lakes and 2 rivers before eating in the hotel. Obviously the lakes were small although it was all picturesque especially as we returned to the hotel in the dark – very clever use of lighting added to the festive atmosphere.

Whilst on our walk – and to give an example of the keenness of the locals to speak English – my husband was approached by an elderly gentleman. He asked very politely if it would be possible to have a word with him. I wondered what it would be about although stepped away as I felt the approach had not involved myself. 20 minutes later they said goodbye and the gentleman continued on his way. Turns out he was a retired University Professor of English and whilst still able to read books, journals etc in the language he worried about losing the ability to converse so took any opportunity to practise – English tourists not being common in this part of China. They had a good conversation – ranging from literature to politics (we were in the middle of an election at the time so the men compared the styles of Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May). I whiled away the time posing for photos with the locals, most likely my only experience of what it would be like to be pursued by the paparazzi.

Heading back to the hotel we had to cross the road – a terrifying experience. Standing at a zebra crossing meant nothing to passing drivers and the Pelican crossings did not work no matter how many times we pressed the switch. Following a few aborted attempts to cross we noticed a group of local people, so quickly attached ourselves to them and ran when they ran!!

Again the wonderful setting of the hotel was wasted on us as we were up and out early the next morning and on our way to the Li River for a gentle cruise to Yangshuo. Such a delightful few days that I think they deserve a ‘post’ of their own.

 

 

36 Hours in Hong Kong (2017)

36 Hours in Hong Kong

To celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary my husband thought it would be good to spend the day on the Pearl River in China (very appropriate)

Although I had always had a desire to visit the Terracotta Army the Pearl River is very much in the South, so we planned a more rural tour of the country. First stop was Hong Kong from where we would take a train to Guangzhou and start our adventure, but that is a different story.

First, I had 36 hours to show my husband where I had spent a period of my childhood. We did the tourist things – funicular train to Victoria Peak, night markets, street food and ‘real’ Chinese restaurants.

I had anticipated that the territory would be different, when I was there as a teenager it was a British Colony, American Soldiers spent time here away from the conflict in Vietnam and the poverty amongst refugees from other countries was much in evidence. Now returned to China the islands and Kowloon were bound to be different – surely?

Well, yes there were visible changes – so many more high rise buildings around the harbour, more modern buses, even more shopping malls yet so much was not changed – the crowds, noise and bustle were as I remembered, as were the small tea houses, crammed markets and street traders (my husband was nearly persuaded to be fitted for a new suit ‘ready in 24 hours, Sir?’ before I intervened). And the Star Ferries – our commonest form of transport in 1967 and in 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our first evening we decided to eat in a restaurant on the Kowloon side near our hotel as we were slowing down due to ‘jet lag’. We were reminded that Hong Kong is known as the most vertical of the worlds cities when entering the restaurant of our choice and realised that the ‘front desk’ was just a doorway – we were heading for the 7th floor! A real traditional eating house with great views over the harbour, we were the only tourists which was encouraging – always a good sign if the locals eat there too.

We had forgotten an electrical adaptor and whilst not needing one in Hong Kong we thought we would need one as we travelled through China so decided to risk a purchase at a night market. A great experience if you ever have the chance. Noisy and chaotic yet very business-like. We were not overly jostled by the traders and found it simple to explain what we were looking for.

Once at the correct stall we were offered a variety at various prices. I choose a multi-country one which cost approx. £20.00 – no haggling was encouraged as I was informed it was a high-quality product and the price was already fair. I took the risk and bought it – turned out a very wise investment and has proved useful back in the UK when foreign visitors have arrived without an adaptor for their iPhone chargers etc.

Next day we went over to HK Island and travelled the Peak Train up to Victoria Peak – I swear I had been on that train ‘back in the day’ as it looked so old and so familiar.

The Views from the Peak have not overly changed although it is a much more organised tourist area with pathed walkways, tourist stalls and more eating opportunities than I remember. Even though it was busy on the paths it was not crowded and so worth the time in the queue waiting for the train upwards. We were there on a Saturday, I understand it is not so busy on weekdays.

 

 

 

 

 

We had a quick lunch then headed back down to lower levels and began looking for the ‘oldest tea house in Hong Kong’ which our guide book recommended. On the way to Lin Heung Tea House we walked through many small but busy markets. Amazing how many stalls can be fitted into the tightest of spaces, sell an enormous number of different items yet each be so visible, it was easy to identify fruit from flowers from vegetables, from fish etc. On such a small island space is obviously at a premium and every nook and cranny utilised. Below is a photo of my mother walking through a market placed on a set of steps near Aberdeen Street in 1967 – the market is still there today.

 

Entering the Tea House was like entering a different world, nothing like an orderly British Tea Room at all. You are sat at the nearest table which has the vacant number of seats you request so we were sat at a table of 8 – lucky for us our new companions seemed to know what to do so we could copy them.

Basically, you help yourself to the Dim Sum passing by on trolleys and have your card marked so that you can pay the correct bill as you leave. Our difficulty was not knowing what each of the Dim Sum were, my mistake was leaving the first purchases to my husband – he arrived back with Chicken Feet! I appreciate they may be a delicacy, but I could not put something in my mouth that needed a pedicure. Anyway – they were only a few and not filling so he managed to eat them all. The next choices were much tastier although I did not know what it was I was eating, then finally we had Lotus seed dumplings – gorgeous and so worth the trauma at the start.

I am not noted to be a tea drinker and, as you would expect the tea came regularly throughout the meal so, all I can say is I enjoyed it. Fresh, hot, not strong yet full of flavour.

I have since heard the Wellington Street/Aberdeen Street area on the island is marked for redevelopment, so the Tea House is threatened with closure – go before it is too late.

We finished off our manic run around by having dinner at a Street Diner – literally sitting on small chairs at a small table (think nursery furniture) on the street whilst cyclists and pedestrians whizzed by. Drinks were kept chilled in vast open chest fridges swimming in ice and food arrived quicker than you could say ‘instant’, there was an atmosphere of pure chaos yet there was also a sense of order. It all tasted fresh and wholesome and I felt that I belonged.

We stayed at a hotel in Kowloon and one of the first things I noticed was the sculpture in the Lobby.  There were also smaller sculptures and art works nearby, although to be truthful I was more interested in checking in then heading out to really pay attention.

Arriving back at the hotel on our first evening we were late so used a short cut through the lower ground level that during the day is a Coffee shop/Bar. As we walked through the area to the lifts I noted that the walls had some noticeable works of art displayed.  ‘The walls look like an art gallery’ I said to my husband, then noticed that is exactly what it was. Further investigations revealed that the hotel does house established and emerging artists.

http://origin-hongkong.eatonhotels.com/enews/art/mobile/index2.html
Follow the link for some examples of art on show or call in for a drink and see for yourself. The hotel is called The Eaton Hotel and is on Nathan Road, Kowloon

 

My favourite is a Statue by Chen Wenling called ‘Childhood’, I thought it so expressive of fun that despite its size I knew it was a representation of the joy that childhood should be even before I discovered its title. I said ‘hello’ every time I passed.

 

 

 

There was more to Hong Kong than I recall, although I was young and spent most of the time at school I guess. So much had changed and yet, so much was the same – the same could be said for the girl on the statue.

 

And so on to the main part of the adventure…

Bangkok to Singapore 2016

Bangkok to Singapore 2016

After a crazy 24 hours in Bangkok accompanied by monsoon rains we looked forward to a relaxing journey back to Singapore aboard the luxurious Belmond train. The itinerary would take us through Thailand and Malaysia. We would be travelling for 4 days, spending 3 nights on board calling at River Kwai and Death Museum, Kuala Kangsar and Kuala Lumpar before arriving at Singapore Woodlands Station for a short car trip into Singapore city.

The purpose of the journey had been to celebrate my retirement. We started the holiday in Singapore attending the 3-day Formula 1 Grand Prix prior to flying north. Away from the noise and bustle of fast cars and large crowds – we obviously had never visited Bangkok before!

We knew we would only have a short time, so by pre-planning, we did manage to visit a variety of Temples, Palaces and markets. We used the popular local mode of transport – Boat/ferry – to move up the river then walked back towards the city centre stopping at places of interest. Well, most of the way, we did eventually give up and caught the boat back. They are very regular and behave like buses – you wait some time then two come at once.

Luckily the day we arrived was dry – and, again, luckily the next morning a monsoon arrived which changed our plans. Looking for ‘indoor’ pursuits we discovered the Jim Thompson Museum, him of Silk and architecture fame. I would recommend a visit to view the building itself alone – plus lunch in the restaurant was good. (http://www.jimthompsonhouse.com/)

Boarding the train at Hua Lampong station was interesting – meeting fellow passengers with who we would be spending the next 4 days could have been an anxious time but it was easy to see that everyone else was as excited about the coming adventure as I was. www.Belmond.com/trains

The cabins were comfortable and reasonably spacious, although not sure how someone of a larger size would negotiate the shower. We avoided the need to toss a coin as to who would climb up to the top bunk as we had twin beds. That said we did have a ‘bunk bed’ arrangement when we travelled on the Orient Express to Venice and coped well.

It is obvious that a lot of planning is undertaken by the train team to ensure everyone has a good experience – down to rotating seating plans and settings for meals. No panic if you were seated with anyone difficult to engage with as the chances were you would not see them again. We were lucky in that our fellow passengers were friendly and fun yet not encroaching when we wanted to sit quietly in the Observation Car etc.

The Observation Car was popular – it was the only place to obtain access to Wi-Fi, although few people were observed using it and then only for short periods. I used it for a few minutes daily just to send updates and photos to our children. Other than sitting peacefully watching the world go by the main source of fun in this car were the passing Palm Fronds and low hanging trees that would ‘whip’ anyone lost in a daydream – much to the entertainment of others.

For me the highlight, if I could call it that, was the trip to the River Kwai and the visit to the Death Railway Museum and Research Centre. Disembarking from the train we travelled on a slow boat along the river. The original bridge is no longer there although some iron sections of it were used when the bridge was re-built. During the boat journey an Australian expat related the history of the bridge and the many nationalities forced to suffer dire living and working conditions whilst it was built. The focus at the museum is to demonstrate the grisly events and conditions in realistic terms. Although not a vast exhibition I found it very emotive. ‘Man’s inhumanity to man’

Followed by a visit to a WW11 Cemetery, beautifully maintained as they always are, added to the poignancy of the day and it was a rather sober group that returned to the Train to continue our journey towards Malaysia.

The excellent dining experience soon lifted the mood and many found their way to the Bar to enjoy the piano playing and local traditional entertainment.  

The train also stopped at Kuala Kangsar where we visited local Museums, a Mosque and finally a Royal Palace (that was closed for renovation, so we only could walk around the perimeter)

Although a stop at Kuala Lumpar was planned our train had had to wait in a siding for a national express that was delayed, consequently we did not arrive in KL until late and so were restricted to a walk along the platform.

The train journey is a way to see local scenery and village life at a leisurely pace, providing an opportunity to gaze on paddy fields and the many uses (and abuses) of scooters as a mode of transport.

Nowadays the train terminates at Woodlands Station in north Singapore, so a short Taxi ride is required to travel to the city centre. For us this meant a journey to Raffles for a 4 night stay before our flight back to the UK.  The reputation of exceptional service and friendly staff is well deserved in this traditional hotel.

Returning to the office to render my resignation and to commence working three months’ notice did not go as planned – due to events in my absence I found myself agreeing to stay another 9 months.

Back to earth with a bump you could say.