Thursday, June 15, 2017

Adventures in China

My friend, Jody Dean, convinced me that running on the Great Wall of China should be on my bucket list!  I'm thinking it really was on her bucket list but then she tried to think of a friend that would do crazy things (like go to China) with her and she thought of me...I'm totally on board with any crazy trip anyone wants to throw out there!  Jody was a fantastic travel planner and we were soon on our way to China.

May 1-2: Travel days.  It was sort of sad to leave Hyrum on our anniversary (May 1st) but this was the cheapest ticket price so I went with it.  Love you Hyrum!  We flew from Portland to Seattle and then onto Shanghai.  It was a very long flight but there were lots of movies to watch and we both slept a little so that was good

On the to China

May 3: Exploring Shanghai
The view of Shanghai from our hotel room

The old Shanghai Tea House. 

Exploring the Yuyuan Gardens

The bridges are made in this zig zag form because they believed evil spirits could only travel in straight lines.

The best part about this photo is how much we were making the people laugh that were taking our picture!

Same thing with this pose.  So many people stopped to take our picture...too funny!

Stopping for a visit with Bilbo Baggins in his Hobbit home

I loved this little lion, she looked so friendly

After the gardens we walked over to the Old City God Temple.  This was a Taoist temple with many statues in 9 different buildings.

One of the Taoist patron saints

Petting the lion outside the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank

I wanted to stop by the bank because I had read about the incredible mosaic inside.  This was just an amazing piece of artwork representing the zodiac signs.  This picture was taken on the sly...I guess you aren't supposed to take pictures in the bank??

After the quick stop at the bank we walked along the Bund.  This is one of the best things to do in Shanghai.  You walk along a beautiful waterfront.  You see old city building on one side of the river and newer high rises on the other side of the river.  It was a beautiful day for a walk along the river.

We took a ride on the very tourist trappy "Bund Sightseeing Tunnel" which was an underground subway that went right under the river to the other side.  There were little laser light shows on the wall and some psychedelic music playing...but mostly just an odd experience.

Once on the other side of the river we went up the 88th floor of the Jinmao Tower.  This is a shot looking down the 88 floors to the city below.

From that vantage point we also got a fantastic view of the city!

To end our evening we went on a short river boat cruise.  They say that Shanghai lights up like Las Vegas at night and it was super fun to see all the fun building lit up.

Beautiful Shanghai at night

May 4: Suzhou and Zhouzhuang

Visiting the Humble Administrators Garden

I liked the bat symbol mosaic found all around the garden.  We were told the bat symbolizes "long life"

Wandering around the Lion Fortress Garden.  They named it the Lion because all the rock formations in the garden reminded them of lions.  This was once a Buddhist monastery.

I kept thinking about how much my boys would have loved exploring the caves and tunnels in the garden.

After the gardens we got to take a tour of a working silk factory.  Suzhou No. 1 Silk Factory.  Here are the silk worms eating away the mulberry leaves they love.

Once the worms form a cocoon around themselves they are put in boiling water (to soften the cocoon) and then tossed into this machine to harvest the silk from the cocoon.  It was a fascinating experience to see how they got the silk from the cocoon.

My Chinese sign is the Snake because I was born in 1977.

It wasn't the best weather, a bit rainy and windy, but it was sure making these cool spinners come to life!

After seeing the gardens in Suzhou we traveled to the town of Zhouzhuang.  This was sort of like the "Venice" of China.  The whole town was built around a series of canals.  It was so much fun to wander the alleys and look at all the fun shops.  I wish we could have spent more time here!

Along the canals

It was so beautiful here 

We briefly toured a few of the old homes in the town.

An old school room in one of the residences

A narrow servants hallway in one of the homes.

We got to take a little canal tour on one of the boats.  They steer and paddle just like in Venice with a person standing on the back of the boat doing all the work.

Had to take a quick photo of the workers using these neat old brooms.

May 5: Shanghai

On our last day in Shanghai we visited the Peoples Garden.  It was a big, beautiful garden with museums and fountains.

Inside the Shanghai museum

Some cool jade artifacts

Funny translated signs in the garden:)

That night we hopped on a train to Xian.  We bought tickets for a "sleeper" car but there wasn't much sleep happening because the bed was as hard as a rock and oh so small!  Life experiences!

The next morning the train attendant (who spoke no English) approached Jody and I with his phone.  He showed me the phone and it said "Take a group photo to mark the occasion"  It was so funny but Jody and I obliged and got a group photo with him to "mark the occasion"

May 6: Xian

Things you don't see in America...that's a lot of wire!

Old men playing mahjong on the sidewalk

We visited the old Bell Tower in the center of the city.  Every morning the city would ring the bell to tell people it was time to start their day.

Beautiful artwork inside the bell tower.

View from the top of the bell tower

We also visited the Drum Tower across the square from the Bell Tower.  The city would beat the drums each evening to let people know the work day was over.  This is how they told time back when no-one had clocks.

While at the drum tower we got to see a short performance of the different musical instruments they use in China.

Having fun in Xian!

We walked around the Muslim quarter which was filled with lots of shops and food vendors.  It was a neat, place to visit with all the sights and sounds...and smells.

This guy was pulling taffy at a candy shop...that's one way to do it:)

There were some very interesting foods for sale.  Deep fried octopus on a stick?

No thanks, I'll stick with the mango ice cream!

We rented a couple of bikes to ride around part of the wall in Xian.  The whole wall is 14 kilometers around but we only biked half of it.  It was a fun way to see the city and the wall was nice and flat and wide so we had no trouble riding bikes up there.

We finished our day in Xian with a traditional dance performance.  It was fun to see all the costumes and dances from China's history.

May 7: Terra Cotta Army

THIS is the real reason people come to Xian.  The first Emperor of China had these soldiers built to protect him in the after life.  They stand in fighting formation right in front of his tomb.  Scientists estimate it took 700,000 workers 30 years to complete the entire complex.

This is what things look like when they are first uncovered.  It's like looking at a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Here is where all the work goes in in the restoration of the soldiers.  It looked like a hospital surgery room.  It can take up to 3 years to restore one of the soldiers.

Originally the soldiers would have been brightly painted signifying their rank or standing in the military.  You can see a tiny bit of red remaining on this soldier.  Unfortunately once uncovered the color disappears from the soldiers almost immediately.  They are waiting to uncover more soldiers until they have the technology available to preserve them in their original state.

Back in Xian we wanted to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda but it closed only 5 minutes before we got there.  So we had to take a photo from outside the gate.  

Since we were waiting to get on our train we had time to kill.  So we wandered around Xian interacting with sculptures.  Here I am honoring my Elders.

Jody gossiping with the ladies:)

We walked and walked until we found this cool group of statues.  The start of the "Silk Road" trade route was in Xian.  The park commemorates that history.  By the time we got to the park it was really dark so I stole this image off Google.

Back on another sleeper car train for our trip to Datong.

May 8: Taking a break

Our train arrived in Datong at 3:00 pm.  We were tired, and hungry.  We checked into our hotel, had a yummy dinner and went to bed.  Even on vacation you need some days that you just take a break.

Goodnight Datong from our hotel window.

May 9: Hanging Temple and Yungang Grottoes

Our first stop of the day was to visit the hanging temple.  The monastery in this town kept getting washed away by the spring floods each year so the people decided to put their monastery up on the side of a cliff!

Doing some yoga in the monastery

Some of the walkways were very steep and narrow.  I was glad I didn't have my crazy boys with me.  It was a long way down!

Our next stop on the tour was to visit the Yungang Grottoes.  I loved this pathway of elephant columns.

This tree has peoples prayers hanging in the branches.  Trees are associated with Buddhism.

This place was amazing!  There were caves that had been carved out specifically to carve giant Buddhas.  Some of the caves we weren't allowed to take photos but I would recommend this destination to anyone traveling to China.

Giant stone Buddha

Trying to get in touch with my inner Buddha:)

Datong isn't a super touristy city but it does have one of 3 remaining Dragon Walls in China.  This wall was built in the front of the Princes residence as a symbol of his power.  There are 9 dragons made out of ceramic tiles.

It was neat to see how the colors were still so vibrant after all these years.  You could see how each individual tile was placed to create the design.

We knew we had a long train ride the next day to Beijing so we needed to stock up on some food for the train.  Look what we China!!

Guess what part of this statue people rub for good luck?  Kind of creepy

May 10: Off to Beijing!

We passed some beautiful scenery on our way to Beijing.  We had 6 hours on the train from Datong to Beijing.

Another view from the train window.

Very sadly I had to say goodbye to my friend Jody in Beijing.  She went straight from the train station to the airport to catch a flight home.  Her father was in the hospital and he passed away soon after she got home.  It was definitely the right decision for her to go home but it was so sad to loose my travel partner and be on my own in Beijing!

After checking into the hotel I hopped on a subway train to start exploring Beijing.  It was super easy to get around on the subway but kind of crazy to be hanging out in Beijing alone.

I took a little walking tour around and found some cute little alleyways

Saw this beautiful carving by peeking into someones courtyard

The sun was going down over this pretty little river.

Beijing was a super fun city to walk around.  More modern and clean than any of the other cities we had seen.

May 11: Beijing

I decided to pay for a tour to take me around to some of the main sights of Beijing.  We started the day riding in these Dragon Boats out to the Summer Palace.

How cool is this beautiful bridge?

I couldn't resist taking a photo of this cutie!

We walked across this bridge to an island in the middle of the lake.  You can see the summer palace up on the hill to the right.

Enjoyed seeing the buildings on the island.  Unfortunately we couldn't go up to the palace because the lake was too choppy to take the boats further but it was neat to see the palace from the island.

After the palace we went to a pearl factory.  It was neat to seesaw pearls are grown and harvested.

Our next stop was to visit the Temple of Heaven.

The interior of the Temple of Heaven.  It was so beautiful.  The Emperor would come to this temple twice a year to pray for a good harvest.

Me with the other people on my tour group at the Forbidden City.  It was nice to tour around with other people but not have such a huge group.

The Emperors throne room in the Forbidden City

I loved these kneeling elephant statues in the gardens of the Forbidden City.

At the end of the day we got to enjoy a traditional tea ceremony.  Some of the teas were yummier than favorite was the fruit tea.

May 12: More Beijing

Hanging out with Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square

A cool sculpture outside the resting place of Mao Zedong

Went to visit the Buddhist Lama Temple.

They really like their giant Buddhas!  This one was carved from a single White Sandlewood tree and is over 60 feet tall!

I love that this is still a working monastery.  I tried to not be rude by taking pictures of the monks but I liked how this one was framed by the doorway.

I tried to find my way to a park that I had read about.  Unfortunately I didn't have a good map and I totally got lost.  But I did find this nice walkway along a river...

...and I also found a homeless camp.  Sometimes it's just all about the experience and not really the destination.  I never found the park I was trying to get to but I had a great walk.

May 13: Race Day

This is a topographic map of what I had to run!  It was only a 10K but it felt like 100 miles!!

Wake up at 4:20 AM to catch the bus to the wall.  The bus ride was 2 hours and the race started around 7:00AM.  I was tired before I even got to the wall!

I have to admit, even though I was tired and this was a very rough course to run it was a BEAUTIFUL day and it was awesome to be on the Great Wall of China!  I felt like I had the whole place to myself because they closed the wall to tourists during the race and I was so slow I was by myself at the end of the pack:)

This was not just a leisurely stroll around the wall, this was steep and then even more steep!

The wall was crumbling in some places so you had to be very careful where you stepped.  A bunch of people had bloodied up hands and knees at the end of the race.

I made it to the halfway mark!

Another shot of how steep some of this course was, but such beautiful scenery.

Enjoying my time on the Great Wall of China

I did it!  I finished in 4 hours 20 minutes without any broken bones!  It was fun but I don't think I would sign up for that again.  It was tough!

May 14: Last of Beijing

I felt a little sad that I missed seeing the Summer Palace due to bad weather so I decided to make my way back.  I'm glad I did, this place was so fun to wander around.

The lake was man made and the hill was also man made.  The Emperor had these made for the feng shui aspect.

Peeking inside some of the rooms

The main reason I wanted to go to the Summer Palace was to walk down the "Long Corridor" which was the covered walkway that the Emperor used.

Each of the beams in the "Long Corridor" had an original design painted on it.  It was crowded but it was still amazing.  I loved looking out over the water and enjoying the cool breeze as I walked along the path.

The palace at the top of the hill

The marble doesn't actually float:)

Relaxing in Beijing...tired of walking everywhere!

The beautiful Wangfujing Catholic Church.  I went inside to check it out and actually sat through part of a mass that was going on.  Nice way to spend my Sunday afternoon.

I needed to do just a bit more shopping before leaving the next day so I went to South Lougu Lane which was filled with fun shops...and you can see!

I found gelato!  Life is good!

My last destination in China was Jingshan park.  A very beautiful park and I was happy to be there at night when all the locals come out to perform or exercise.  I'll tell you one thing, these stairs were pretty tough to take after running the Wall the day before!

Such a beautiful, well taken care of park

So the whole purpose of going to Jingshan park is because you can go to the top of a hill and have a fantastic birds eye view of the Forbidden City.  The sun setting made for some great light and it was neat to see the city from up high.

People out enjoying their city park

I met some friendly ladies and they invited me to have some tea with them.  It was fun to chat with them.

Walking around the city at night is so fun.  This guy was out just practicing his calligraphy and if you look in the background there were people on the side walk dancing to someones radio they had brought out with them.

May 15: Time to fly home

One last awesome breakfast at the hotel.

Getting on the airplane in Beijing...

...Finally back in Portland.

What an adventure!  I feel like I was able to see so many amazing things and had so much fun with Jody.  It was a bit rough being on my own in Beijing and running the race was brutal but all in all I had a fantastic trip!  Where to next?

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