Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Shanghai Family Reunion!

It's a Krehel family reunion, Shanghai style!  What better way to see Shanghai than from the top of the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower? While this is by far my first trip to the Pearl, I always have fun and see something new every time.  It wasn't the best day weather wise, but there wasn't any rain, or crowds, and the view was as always, amazing. After enjoying Shanghai from over 200 meters up, we headed down to the History Museum, where we walked through the "streets" of Shanghai.  No matter how many times we go, the kids always have a good time.  I think they enjoy walking through the different scenes.  After our abbreviated history lesson we walked over to the Super Brand Mall for lunch before heading to Tian Zi Fang, a funky little collection of alleyways with shops and restaurants.  The guys took the kids and headed to a pub for a drink while Mom, Holly, and I got to do some kid free shopping. Before heading back home I did check to see if anyone was interested in dinner at More Than Toilet, but I didn't haven any takers.  (See previous blog from October)

Next on the Chinese experience... an ancient water village. Since mom and dad had already visited Zhujiajiao they opted to stay home and pick up the kids from school and take Liliane to gymnastics for me.  I've been to three water villages since moving here, Zhujiajiao is by far my favorite.  It's beautiful, clean, has lots to see, and most importantly, is easy to navigate. The shinny new Starbucks set at the edge of the village is a nice touch too.  Holly and Steve got there shopping on and seemed to really enjoy bargaining for their souvenirs.  I think Steven may have enjoyed his candy dragon the most though. I've seen these candies many times, but had never tried one.  It tasted a lot like honey, not bad at all.  We visited a both a Taoist and Buddhist Temple, Qing Dynasty Post Office, Apothecary, and the Kezhi Gardens.  The gardens, which are beautiful, were scene at a very brisk walk as it had started to rain.  Of course we all had umbrellas, we just hadn't brought them with us!  Luckily, it was the end of the day when the rain did decide to start so we were more than happy to call it a day and head back home.

While mom took Charlie to pick strawberries with his class, the rest of us had a quiet morning before we all headed to the Yu Yuan Gardens.  The market outside of the gardens are all modern buildings with the exception of one, that are built to look like typical buildings from the early 20th century.  At the market you can find artists selling portraits or engravings of your name in Chinese, tea sets, silk and many other typical souvenirs.  The gardens though, were built in the mid 16th century and were renovated in the 1950's after being damaged by both the Opium War and the Japanese.  The garden, a private home for Pan Yunduan, a former government official, is extensive and has a lot of history. We had a lot of fun walking around enjoying the gorgeous weather and scenery. Once again the guys waited it out, this time at Starbucks, while we wandered the gardens.

That afternoon we did a guided tour of the Bund with Daniel from Newman Tours.  While I've walked the Bund many times, it was great to hear some of the history behind the buildings and the Bund, which is a hindi word.  We got to see which building the Japanese used when they took over Shanghai, and hear stories about the origins of the Peace Hotel and its owner.  We also got to see many of the ways the Chinese "rebranded" the Bund by removing or replacing images and artwork that were Western.  We finished the day off with a yummy Italian dinner at Good Fellas.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Guilin, China

Over the Qing Ming or Tomb Sweeping holiday we visited Guilin, China.  It was SO worth the trip!  Gorgeous mountains and scenery everywhere.  According to the locals, the mountains are at their best when it is overcast and foggy.  I have to admit they did look pretty spectacular.  The mountain range is huge, everywhere you looked you saw these amazing "piles" of mountains.  Our guide picked us up at our hotel and drove us to the Li River where we took a bamboo boat ride and got an up close look at the mountains.
All along the Li river are breathtaking views of mountains, waterfalls, and bamboo.  Like most, we took one of the smaller boats down the river, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the views.  As we went along our guide pointed our certain mountains and the names the locals have given them.  As he spoke no English, it was kind of like an impromptu vocabulary quiz.  At the end of our boat ride we got to view the scene painted on the back of the 20RMB.   It was hard to get a good family picture as the dock was very crowded with both locals and tourists both coming and going.

 After our boat ride we got to see a local village by bicycle.  Charlie absolutely loved the bike ride, especially sitting in front and ringing the bell, telling me to go faster, faster!  Easy for him to say, thank God for spin class!  With Lucas and Lily sharing a tandem bike it was a great way to see the area and get a bit of exercise.  At least until we got to the mud road.  We all hoped off the bikes, and Andy our guide, carried the kids across while Lucas and I tippy toed our way carefully across.  I had a vision of us falling face first, ah la Lucile Ball, into the mud.
On our last day we visited Elephant Hill, which has a huge park and elephant carvings everywhere.  We all had a lot of fun posing with the elephant statues along with some of the more unique ones in the park.  We headed to Fubo Hill next, and climbed... a lot of stairs to get to the top.  It did give us a great view of the river and city, so it was worth the climb.  After an amazing lunch at a local restaurant we made a stop at a silk factory.  The kids got to see how the silk worm cocoon is taken and stretched and then turned into silk comforters and other things like scarfs and dresses. Unable to resist the the temptation, and I will admit, it was on my list of things to bring home from China, we got a comforter and two silk covers.  Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, silk doesn't bunch up and will way out last cotton.  Now that we'd spent lots of money, it was on to the Reed Flute Cave.  The cave is huge and has amazing stalactites and stalagmites that have formed over the Milena.  The government put in a tiled floor, steps, and lighting to make it easily accessible.  They even show a movie on the wall to explain how they cave came to be.  We took a ton of pictures, but they don't come close to showing you the awe inspiring beauty of the cave.  Such a great weekend!