Category Archives: Travel

Shanghai on my own

(This post has been sitting staged on my blog – too busy relaxing to push publish 😉 )

I admit, I was a bit worried if I would be able to manage getting around in Shanghai without my local “tour guides”. After all, my Chinese does not go beyond “Hello”. But Shanghai public transport is easy. Everything is also labeled in English, maps everywhere, and once you learn to move with the flow of people it is fairly stress free. Payment is done with a pre-loaded card – thus also no issue with getting tickets – easy!

And I chose the perfect day. Even the paper said so the next day:

perfect day: above, the day I had in Shanghai. Below: same view in late December.

My first stop was Yuan Garden. Once I fended of the scammers that acted like fellow tourists and tried to tell me the place was closed (my cousin had warned me of this …)  … I made it through the shopping mall with to the entrance of the garden. Getting there early enough was good – it was quiet for most of the time I was there. I took A LOT of pictures, some of them below.

woman on bridge mirrored

I am actually here!

I am actually here!

Had to throw in a selfy ;)

window art

red and grey house

Most fascinating was the contrast between old and new. Beautiful old buildings and gardens and just above them, shiny new skyscrapers.

Shanghai old and new

Shanghai old and new

After the culture portion of the day, I went up on one of the skyscrapers to see the city from above: Oriental Perl Tower. An “interesting” piece of architecture with a lot of pink … Judging from the queueing facilities, it is a lot busier usually. For the few people in line I was clearly the main attraction. I was very politely asked to pose with them for pictures. Which I did.

View from Perl tower

View from Perl tower

Shanghai Skyline

Once up on the tower, I learned that I could not make myself stand on the glass floor at all. 250 something stories above ground – by survival instincts denied me this photo opp.

Oriental Perl Tower selfy

Oriental Perl Tower selfy

Time for some shopping: I went down the main shopping road: Nanjing. In one of the department stores, the sales assistants seemed to have to wear the latest sales items. Winter coats were on sale … I felt for them in the overheated building. And am wondering if they also have to present swimwear when it is on sale …

Also stopped in a multi level store for food – both local and international specialties. Dried crab snack for the road anyone?

dried crab to goOr rather a smiling doughnut?

smiling doughnuts

There were a number of restaurants at the top floor and I went for some Indian curry.  Felt like being back in East Germany, I have to admit, when in the totally empty restaurant I asked to sit by the window, but was simply told “No” and appointed a table by the entrance. Guess they wanted people to see they had customers … even though this one was not very happy now.

Next on my agenda was people square. Big, impressive buildings … and a Starbucks. They are literally at every corner in Shanghai. Along with KFC – I have never seen so many KFC outlets anywhere. I actually started to take pictures of them 😉

s_KFC

I admit I did take a break at Starbucks. Sometimes the known and used to is relaxing. Then I did the math … a medium Starbucks coffee costs as much as about 10 subway rides in Shanghai or one entry to the Yuan Garden or in fact one curry lunch.  In summary. I should not have been sitting at Starbucks as People Square taking these notes …

The next day, the weather was not as nice … I took a walk in the area cold French Connection, with lots of old colonial villas and  now a lot of design shops. Had lunch in the hip new part of town … I actually had pizza ;). Then headed north for a walk along the water and the Bund.

sky and water with tower

Behind the main Bund is the “Rockefeller Bund” – named for the Rockerfeller Foundation that is funding the remodelling,

Rockefeller Bund

When the rain set in, I had tea at the famous Peace hotel.

That evening we had my farewell dinner at a very hip restaurant – so hip, it did not allow pictures. Even though I would have loved one of the huge geisha paintings – geishas with Mickey Mouse ears!

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Many Posts in One

Welcome to China – but no access to Facebook or WordPress for me.  Guess I knew this, but it did not really register until I tried to access my blog. But I am writing my posts anyhow and my cousin will show me a way to post them later –more updates will then follow when I am in Hong Kong and Thailand.

Only been away for 3 days, but – as you will see – I already saw a lot and thus time flies. Feels more like a week or more. And already only one more full day in Shanghai before I fly to Hong Kong. The plan is to spend tomorrow strolling through the old French quarter, the hip shopping area and maybe I will take some more photos of the Bund at night and I guess I have to go on the Transrapid.

 But here they are – my different posts, all in one:

 TRAVELING OBSERVATIONS

       Traveling with a cold, not much fun. Only upside, once your ears are blocked on the plane, you hardly hear the children around you screaming …

2.      Jan 3rd was travel day for (what felt like) all ex-pads returning to Shanghai from their Christmas break at home. I have never been on a flight with that many children.

3.      I guess my annoyed look is pretty scary. At least the little boy next to me convinced his mom to swop seats with him after I glared at him when he kept kicking me – I ignored it the first 50 times … but there is a limit.

4.      Warnings were given to me about Chinese being very pushy (and a little rude) when in line … no one told me the German ex-pads at immigrations are worse!

5.      Someone wise – you know who you are – gave me the great advice to look at things that might look like a challenge in a more playful way. In short: I am having great fun playing my very own “scavenger hunt” (only in my head) and rewarding myself points for achievements:

Actually finding ATM at airport would have been 100 points, but I granted myself 50 for exchanging cash before even collecting my luggage

Maneuvering around unofficial taxi drivers: 10 bonus points

Noticing scammers that try to lure you away from tourist attractions, telling you they are closed, only to direct you into their stores: 100 points (I had been well trained for this one by my cousin Markus!

      Not many tall red heads in China. I had my picture taken countless times today.  A few times I was even asked to pose with people. Slightly feeling like a celeb, but the effect is wearing off quickly!

AMAZING FOOD

Staying with my cousin Markus and his wife Mona has many advantages – free housing, local tour guides, great company and as an extra bonus, they are foodies, and have taken me to some amazing places for meals.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Within three hours of arriving in Shanghai I was at Din Tai Fung the dumpling place I had read so many great reviews about. So good!!! And since really close to where I am staying, I might go back for more before leaving. But day 1 got even better: My hosts had made reservations for us at Lost Heaven a traditional Chinese restaurant with great design and great food.

My highlight so far was dinner at Mr. and Mrs. Bund – right on the famous street Bund. What a place: charming name, great design, amazing view and good service and delicious food. A bit hard to describe, but a bit like French cuisine meets tapas meets China. Am so glad, Mona and Markus know the manager of the place, she got us a table (hard to get) and even one with an amazing view. And then she treated us to desert: tarte tatin and strawberries with coca-cola sorbet. Life can be pretty good.  Someday I will come back without a cold … when I can appreciate the full flavor of every dish!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tonight we have reservations for a Korean place. For lunch I had Indian. Culinary tour through Asia in Shanghai!

Had my Indian curry at a foodhall – more like a huge department store for food. Many levels of local and international food. Including shrimp in snack size packages …

crab snack

crab snack

When we shopped for breakfast, I was surprised by the choice of bread (fresh whole grain rolls!) as well as all the international brands at the shop just across the street from my cousins flat. Literally – a shelf full of German jam (all imported with German labels), various types of regional German bratwurst 😉 and a larger German beer selection than in my local supermarket at home! The explanation I got: More and more people here think that foreign products will not have been tempered with … a lot of people lost trust in local products after the baby milk powder scandal a few years ago.

Rows of German beer

Rows of German beer

SIGHTS

 My travel theme this year seems to be: go to a city for a few days but spend the first day there traveling someplace else. Helsinki for 2 days – first day in Tallinn. Shanghai for 4 days – first day in Hangzhou. Mona and Markus came with me to visit the famous Westlake. And while the train station in Shanghai was super modern and run like an airport, I was glad I had my personal guides that speak the language! (And I will likely continue the trend by spending my first day in Hong Kong … in Macao).

Foogy Westlake

Foogy Westlake

Back to Hangyhou: The modern highspeed train only takes a little over an hour for the 200km trip. And along the ride it got more and more foggy – I thought. I soon learn the fog was smog. With air pollution levels at over 300 in Hangzhou. Thanks to my cold, I could hardly breeze anyhow, so I did not notice much difference.

Boat on Westlake - ours was slightly bigger

Boat on Westlake – ours was slightly bigger

We took a boat on the Westlake – fog / smog can be very mystical! Then went to see famous stone carvings – I just love the budda’s smile! We visited one of the largest temples in China and took a stroll through an old Chinese village that has been turned into a luxury hotel.

Temple moment

Temple moment

budda

budda

Mona and Markus exploring the caves

Mona and Markus exploring the caves

Today I ventured out on my own. Subway system is great here. I will not understand why only backpacks need to be ex-rayed before entering the subway – but since there has never been a wait, I don’t mind being checked.  Some random pics below. It got late and I need to go sleep. Will add and update when in Hong Kong.

Westlake zigzag bridge

Westlake zigzag bridge

Shanghai old and new

Shanghai old and new

I am actually here!

I am actually here!

Colorful Shanghai at night

Colorful Shanghai at night

View from Perl tower

View from Perl tower

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short Auckland visit

Seems like the North Island does not agree with my travel focus on the South … While it was beautiful and sunny when I left Queenstown this morning, it is pouring rain since I landed in Auckland. Luckily my hotel is nice, I have a great view of the harbor, just had really nice room service food and will continue to play with my pictures. Such a difference seeing the pics on a big screen and not just on the small camera display!

Did pick up my laptop at the Auckland office today and downloaded a bit over 1000 emails. I will definitely not get bored on the flight to San Fransisco tomorrow. So far I have mostly looked at the coverage around 5 years of Firefox. Am a bit in awe how great it was and really proud of my PR agencies in Europe! But back to this trip …

Doubtful Sound view

The weather gods where on my side when I took the tour to Doubtful Sound yesterday. The ocean was calm, the sky was blue and we got to see rare penguins, seals and a group of dolphins put on a show for us that made me wonder if I had ended up at Sea World.

school of penguins

dolphin show in the wild

The view from the plane was also great. Definitely a view that make me want to come back and climb a few more mountains!

Queenstown to Christchurch

Note: nice hotel BUT in the party area of Auckland … and it is Friday night. Might be first time I will need my earplugs on this trip!

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tramping over – and my feet are happy about it!

Tramping is nothing else but hiking – but they have their own word for it here in New Zealand. And I am done with tramping now. My last hike, one of the Great Hikes in New Zealand was the Routeburn Track – and it was great. Ok, the weather could have been a bit nicer, but we did not get soaking wet … The views were great, the group nice enough to hang out with for meals and in the evenings. The group was also small enough for me to manage to walk alone most of the time. It is so much easier to enjoy nature and its sounds if no one is talking next to you!

mountain views

lake + red jacket

And since I was walking alone no one saw me falling … This last hike was an assortment of “firsts”: my first fall (I saved the camera, but my knee is pretty blue), my first blisters (after 3 weeks in the hiking boots my feet seem to go on strike) and my first kiwi guides (was glad to find out that now only Germans and British work in this country!).

But it is also good when someone is around to take your picture!

Another first: catch your desert. Last night we had pancakes for desert – but you had to catch yours with a plate. The guides threw them. When Neil landed my pancake on the ceiling they had mercy and I got mine with any further throwing activity …

It was definately a delux version of a hike. Three guides for 17 hikers. Hot tea and toilets (!) along the way. And the “huts” we stayed in are full grown lodges, but build well into nature. This was my bed last night:

lodge bed with a view

We got a three course meal every night. We could buy wine and beer, had hot showers and a drying room for wet clothes. The generator went off at 10 pm and on again at 7:30 am. If you did not want to read with your torch light … you got a lot of sleep!

And this was not a bushfire but the sunset two nights ago. Guess you only see lights like this when you are miles away from the next city!

sunset kiwi style (always a little bigger!)

And now I am back in civilization. They even warn you at the end of the track:

back in the real world

Am a bit worried that I will hate the very touristy bus / boat trip to Doubtful Sound tomorrow. Hope my ipod will save the day for me!

just one of the many waterfalls

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Met a Kiwi today

Today was the one day I could have slept in on this long vacation – and then the fire alarm goes off at 8 am in the bed &breakfast … so much for sleeping in! Had a leisurely breakfast, handed over my laundry to the B&B for washing, strolled through a park into Queenstown – supposedly the adrenalin capitol of the world. I did not opt for bungee jumping, jet boating or the likes though, but went and got a massage. What a treat after three weeks of walking with a backpack! Then I had the pre-hike briefing for my last hike: the Routeburn Track. Looks like I will be walking it with a group of about 20 – all couples … No Russians as far as I could tell.

The day in Queenstown was sunny and really warm. But we were warned that there is plenty of snow up where we will be hiking. Only last week were the first hikers able do the full length of the trip – before people had to be helicoptered over the snowed-in areas (for fear of avalanches). Am really hoping for some clear weather. The views are supposed to be spectacular. So stay tuned for pictures of either stunning alpine views or … fog. Will be back in civilization on Wednesday night. Off to Doubtful Sound for a day cruise on Thursday and then back to Auckland on Friday. I had a great time … but why did it go by so fast?

My Russian friends filmed most of our tours and promised me a DVD. They are actually planing to show part of their material on Russian television – too bad I did not have a Firefox jacket or backpack! Will be fun to see it though. They will dub my version with music only though – they are afraid I might find someone that will do the translation for me.

Ahh – almost forgot: Crossed one more item off the to do list today. I went to see a Kiwi. They are really rare, shy and only out at night … thus I had to go to a bird house. I got a deal because it was late in the day and only half an hour until they closed. The good thing about it:  I was the only person in the Kiwi house. No pictures though – they did not allow that. My summary: Kiwi’s are pretty big and look really … funny. Most of the time their long beak is in the ground looking for food and to me they look like a feathery soccer ball on two legs … the size is about right.  The Kiwi lady I was watching lay and egg four days a ago. The egg is huge! Compared to a human it would be like giving birth to a two year old!!!

Will hike back up the hill to my B&B now, pack for the track and go to bed early. Need to be at the meeting point at 7 am. More soon …

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sleet, sandflies, scenery and speed

New Zealand weather in the spring is about as changeable as you can imagine. We flew into the Siberia Valley via helicopter yesterday morning in great sunshine. After claiming a bed in the hut with throwing a sleeping bag on it we headed out to Lake Crucible. After an hour nice walk along the valley … with only a few river crossings and thus wet boots (once more!) we started to go up. Our guide had not told me that we were up for a 600 to 700 meter hike up hill (and down again). It was really steep and slippery since it had started to rain. Luckily my Russian co-travelers are real gentlemen and offered to take my backpack – s0 nice!

giant buttercup - with hikeing pole to give a perspective!

We saw some giant buttercups on the way – the largest in the world. (Taking pics is always a nice excuse for a break).Well we went up for about 4 hours with a short lunch stop in the rain to finally reach a lake of snow.

snowy lake crucible

I guess we all had expected a bit of impressive blue clear water and not a mass of avalanche dirty snow – and not the sleet that was blowing with force into our faces once we started the decend …

 

Inspired by what I call the “Putin”-pose by the Russians, I managed a little peak pose though.

We had a fun evening in the hut and woke up to sunshine and a visit of the biggest New Zealand pest of all: Sandflies. This little back flies bite and those bites itch and hurt like hell. And they like my blood! The tale is that the Maori had such a good and easy life in New Zealand that God introduced the sandfly to prevent them from getting lazy and sitting around all day. If you move, they supposedly do not bite. Does not work for me though! Neither do the various types of insect repellent that I have tried …

view from Siberia hut in the morning

Over breakfast the Russians told me that they have a very good influence on peoples lives and that I should expect to soon find a husband. (Guess they can”t cope with a single woman not in desperate search for a man that provides for them 🙂

jet boat fun

After a two hour hike we reached the jet boat pick up point. It was fun – even though I got really wet again.

jet boat view

But I just learned to accept that being wet (or at least  to have wet boots) is part of my New Zealand adventure! The day continues to be beautiful.

lunch spot (not pictured, the sandflies!)

We had lunch at a great view point on lake Wanaka. Drove along a few other lakes (where I had a short stunt as photo model for the Russians) and finally made it to Queenstown. We had a farewell beer and the Russians are a bit disappointed I do not plan to go bungee jumping with them tomorrow … No worries! I will not!

model for a minute

along the road ... impressive scenery

 

 

 

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if you have a plan, change it!

Hardly anything on this adventure tour is going as described in the plan – but we are still having fun. Kayaking had to be canceled due to heavy wind yesterday and we also chose not to do the traditional hangi (food cooked in pit on beach Mauri style) since we would have swallowed mostly sand. Nice walk up to a trig (measurement point) and a walk on the beach were a great plan B. This is the view of the mountains we are now in from the trig point:

Mount Cook (and friends)

Today we started our daily work out at 6:30 in the morning with a sunrise walk around a lake.

early morning lake views

Had the weather gods been really kind, we could have seen the entire mountain range mirrored in the lake … we at least got to see the foothills!

After breakfast we headed to the glacier and walked up more than 800!!! steps before reaching the ice. 3 hours hiking to be on the ice for 45 minutes … Got to earn your photo opportunities in this country!

Barbara on Fox glacier, wearing the red jacket :-) and happy that I remembered to pack hat and gloves in the morning!

Barbara on Fox glacier in the new red jacket and happy that I remembered to pack gloves and hat that morning

Fox glacier impression

Not sure when I will be able to access the internet again – most likely not until Sunday in Queenstown. Hope the weather will stay “friendly”.

PS: updated previous post with some pictures including river crossings

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