Sunday, April 22, 2012

You know that Great Wall? Well, It’s pretty…Great!

(ok…I stole that line from Kirk…couldn’t help it) – and as always…hit up the pics..they are the most fun part of this and I know it

OK…the one thing about having…literally 48 hours in Beijing is that you CAN NOT waste a minute.

Mary Ann and Stewart were meeting their ship on Saturday morning so we had all of Thursday and Friday to get as much done as possible.  Corey and I had Saturday to pick up any “misses” 

We met Doyle in the lobby promptly at 9. 

WHAT A FIND.  I am not kidding..A lovelier person has NOT been put on this planet. 

We were whisked into a Van for our first stop…and here it is

THE GREAT WALL @ MUTIANYU (and by the way…I’m sitting outside with no computer internet access so used my phone for the spelling…I love that…information on the fly!)

We pull into the parking lot and it is COLD…well…I thought it was.  It was also windy.  The weather forecast really had me pondering switching our plans and doing The Wall on Friday.  I had been hoping for a clear day.  I didn’t do it…the view was NOT great…but all things happen for a reason.

IMG_3439Here is Mair and Corey.  Stewart was off buying a hat b/c of the wind…

Because we are so stinking healthy (eh) and b/c we could…we decided to forego the two different ways you could ride UP to the wall.  Doyle liked this idea…so off we go.  We were working to get our 10,000 steps every day…and, surprisingly, it was HARD to get!


You can see the wall behind us…we were almost there!

And then…we were !!



OK  Trip can end…well, not really.

SO…you EVER see that ESPN commercial with ALL the Steelers fans and their Terrible Towels?


But wait…if you have seen my FB post…you know that NOT only were we there, but we met six kids FROM Pittsburgh that we let borrow The Towel to for THEIR moment.  They were stoked…and even if they weren’t they were nice enough to humor us!!!

IMG_3471 Steeler Nation.  One country can not contain us.

So, we trekked and trekked.  Sections 8 to 14.  Some places were SUPER steep. IMG_3458IMG_3474 

IMG_3466 Corey…40 pounds lighter!

Here are some snaps of Doyle with us.

IMG_3461IMG_3462 Doyle was great because he was present when you wanted him to be…and then would fade back to let us have our moments.

Here’s Mair and Stew.  I had bought a frame for a "Great Wall” pic back in November and Corey had the presence of mind to get a great shot!


We were just a little tempted to go all the way to 21…but, if you walk up you need to walk back…and it WAS steep at the last point (I had been warned, Thanks Diane!)…so we will leave that for the next time!

Here’s what I mean about the view.  Our day was pretty gloomy. 

IMG_3457IMG_3459IMG_3477 Corey says he liked it that way though…because it added to the mystery and the fortitude of it all.  I guess he’s right! (see that 3rd picture…that’s what I mean about steep!)

IMG_3481IMG_3483 Can you even imagine being an army trying to approach let alone scale this thing!  It IS a true wonder!

We took the sky buckets back down the hill and did a little shopping.  Stewart wanted a shirt…Mair and I got a couple stitchings (more things for the wall!)…Everything started @ 600 RMB.  We bartered… I’m sure we paid WAY too much…but hey…whatever!

We had MUCH more day to our day to come!  Next stop…SHOPPING…and better yet…BUYING!

Off to Beijing

Needless to say, this entire 16 months of my life has been a dream come true.

Well, only part of that is true.

I NEVER dreamt of living abroad.  Ever.  Travel?  Yes.  Living? Not even in my wildest dreams…

However, when this job came through for Corey, we literally had a “why not?” situation on our hands.  Kids in Uni  We were young enough.  The job was a GREAT fit for my amazingly talented husband. 

So, when the move came, I guess my dreams were of NOT having a nervous breakdown, of  finding new friends and then, travel. 

Up until March, I think my “dream come true” place was St Petersburg. It was SUCH a dream of mine, we took Part 2 of a cruise we took in 2006 because I could convince NO ONE in my family that this would be an amazing destination. Persistence, and we got to go there in 2010!  It was worth the wait AND proved to be a better fit for the kids as they were older and could appreciate it more.

SO…when the opportunity came around to meet my Mary Ann and Stewart in Beijing before THEIR dream come true trip…How could we NOT go?  It’s less than 4 hours from Hong Kong and one of those places you tend NOT to get to unless you are there on business because so much of your travel happens on business! 

The WONDER of the American Women’s Association is the amount of knowledge 950 members brings to the table.

We needed a plan.  My friends Susan and Carol helped me here…both gave amazing (and similar advice) about the “must” see areas.  Corey and I are much more likely to be back there, so my itinerary setting was focused on Mary Ann and Stewart.

NEXT – we needed a guide AND driver.  Again, in step AWA members.  We have a list serve that we post to, and this question had been asked before.  Three emails later I had the addressees of 3 different guides.  I chose the guide who had coordinated a trip for a “family” AND for a “couple”  I figured if he was a good find for these diverging interests, he would be great for us!

A few emails, a couple backs and forths and voila.  An itinerary and a plan were born.

So, the day has arrived to fly to Beijing.  Hot knife through butter…kinda.  The Taxi line at the airport has a sort of “interpreter” to help the driver if the communication is lost.  I’m not sure if we really needed this, but he was there and we used it.

Less than an hour later we are checked in and down to the lobby to await Mair and Stew’s arrival!


They had been flying forever…so I’m not sure they appreciated the pictures

IMG_3434 IMG_3435IMG_3438

They almost got to unpack before we met in the lobby for drinks (like THAT wasn’t going to happen)

To bed…and then….The adventure was to begin!

Malacca–last day…last night…How I wish we had more time

The day after our FABULOUS  massages…we were on our own…WHAT a treat.

Diane and I woke later…. had breakfast and a walk …then wandered back to the hotel to pack….what a lovely and leisurely way to start our day.

This was the view from our window


Before we hit the road to Malacca we had lunch at this lovely inn.



Every time I saw the flags I thought they were American! Even after four days!!

It was time to get on the buses and move…

Our drive from the Cameron Highlands was a nightmare.

I say this as a Los Angeles and Dallas veteran.   Holy Heck. The tour company in Hong Kong was fed a bill of goods when it came to the drive time form the Cameron Highlands to Malacca.

As Diane gave her bag to one of the bellman, he asked where we were going. When she told him, he said, casually, “oh, that’s a 6 hour drive.”  WHAT?  Our itinerary said 4….well it turned out to be 8!  WHAT???????  Good thing I didn’t’ need to use the bathrooms…much….

Take into consideration school holidays….traffic…wrecks…Friday night traffic and storms…yep….8 to 9 hours…..of driving…it made us reconsider the beauty of the Cameron Highlands….was this traffic worth it??  I’m still not sure.

I had my IPod…my book….friends…so we chatted and made the best of what could have been a bad situation.

We got to Malacca LATE.  We were supposed to have time to shop and then enjoy dinner and the night market.  NOPE

As we walked to the restaurant, this beautiful Dragon greeted us.

IMG_3354It was huge and hung over an entire intersection:

IMG_3349The night scene is quite lively.  There are carriages to give a tour, and it seems the crazier and louder, the better.  It was like Christmas on wheels!


We were scheduled for a super late arrival. SO….I volunteered Diane and I to do reconnaissance on the night market….We would go and scout the situation while the rest headed to dinner…this way, we would know IF we were missing anything decent…I am always one to take one for the team.

The night market was very night market—ish.  We have one right near our house in Kowloon…but it is always fun to shop.  The group ate and some went out to shop and some did not.  That is also the beauty of an Asian Tour. 

Some found treasures to take home

IMG_3361 Susan with her elephant bank!

We spent the night in a lovely hotel, and then had half of the next day to tour Malacca.

IMG_3365 This is our hotel!  It was set back off of the street.  What was cool was the canals right across the street.  It reminded me of Venice, CA!


We had a walking tour of Malacca.  My favorite part was the statue at the top of a hill. It was of St Frances Xavier.  He was responsible for bringing Christianity to Malaysia. 

When he was being considered for Sainthood, the Vatican needed to see that his body was not deteriorating, so his right arm was cut off and sent to Rome.  Years later, his body was moved, and the statue erected.  As fate would have it…a tree limb struck the statue and hacked off…you guessed it…the right arm!

IMG_3390 Crazy huh?

IMG_3381 The view from near the statue

IMG_3400Our guide peaking out the doors of the temple and Voila!

IMG_3401 Here he is!


IMG_3409 Some of the sights from the city!

After our tour we had one hour (this stunk) to do some shopping.  The area our tour ended in was in the art district.

Corey laughs at me b/c I tend to bring home wall hangings and pictures from every trip…He says we are going to run out of wall space!  We always have the guest bedroom! 

Here are Carol, Diane Susan and I with our Batik finds!

IMG_3411 Susan was our negotiator!

Diane and I also bought pieces from Mr. Titi!  To prove himself he showed us the “Art in Malacca Book” Sure enough he was there!


Our shopping and time in Malacca came to an end much too quickly…also the problem with group tours…when the bus is pulling is time to go!

Here are a few group shots as we gathered for the bus



Monday, April 16, 2012

A Massage to blog about!

No pics…I wouldn’t do that do you!

The night we reached the hotel at the Cameron Highlands, Diane and I had decided not to do arranged dinner, but instead we booked massages. 

The spa @ our hotel had a small staff, so they could not manage our entire group, thus our decision..

From the last post it is fairly obvious that strawberries are the specialty of the area, so we chose the Strawberry Package.  This was to be a 2 1/2 to 3 hour treatment all centered around strawberries.

As we walked into the spa area we caught a glimpse of large claw-footed tubs.  We were given (and shown how to put on) sarongs.

Next we were directed to one of these tubs (each of course – together would have been TOO weird).  The bath water is the color of tea.  Floating in the water are sliced strawberries and tea leaves. The strawberries are perfectly sliced…I mean…EVERY slice of strawberry is cut to the exact same width.  I had never seen anything like it and spent a ridiculous amount of time inspecting them!   We are given a tray with honey-sugar to exfoliate.  Lime wedges are used to soften elbows and heels.  Warmed tea leaves are provided to wash our faces and lastly there are cucumbers for our eye treatments.  Headphones are an option that pipe in great music.  On the wall in front of the tubs are TVs with video that matches the soothing music.

After an amazing 15 minute scrub and soak, we are escorted out of the tubs to large beds.  We are given heated pillows and told to rest…b/c that bath was just EXHASUTING.  After a rest (??), we are taken into the treatment room.

I was a little nervous that the treatment bed had a plastic sheet on it (think Mafia murders…plastic sheets are normally NOT a good thing)…however, not to worry…all would be revealed soon enough.

The first step is a body scrub. The treatment begins with a yummy smelling concoction of …wait for it….strawberry (gasp!) yogurt, and oatmeal.  This is slathered ALL over and then the plastic is wrapped around.  Next large warm towels are placed and I am baked.  Diane said it smelled so good she was tempted to taste the mixture…err…no. 

As the body scrub…scrubs…there is a head and neck massage…this just keeps getting better and better.

After 20 or so minutes, the scrub gets showered off, and then…the eighty minute massage starts.

Bath, rest, scrub, head and shoulder massage, shower,  body massage…all to the soft aroma of strawberries…for the all in price of $140 USD. 

Diane had the brilliant idea of taking our room robes down so we could just pad upstairs.  To finish off the evening, our tour guide arranged to have a dinner tray brought to our room.

We ended the night with sandwiches, a glass of wine, and completely content with our choice to change the plan. 

Group travel is AMAZING because of all the choices available to us…but sometimes, it’s ok to break away from the group (as long as there is not wandering away). 

SO…travel…travel with with strangers…enjoy and look for those opportunities that will make your trip unforgettable!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Malaysia offers many different scenic opportunities and climates.  Today we were riding to the Cameron Highlands which would offer us views of Rainforest and at the same time, tropics!

IMG_3189 IMG_3187

The Cameron Highlands is known as the last place designer Jim Thompson was seen before he walked out a door in the 1960’s and was never heard from again…No trace!  Some say he perished, some say he just walked away from his life.  It’s a true mystery…and one I kept in mind on our walk the next morning!

Our trip was long enough to warrant a rest stop where local produce was being sold. BABY bananas and different types of mangos and melons were abundant


IMG_3177  IMG_3178

Can’t have a trip w/o the obligatory “cat” picture!

IMG_3183 IMG_3185 

Cats are the same everywhere I have decided!

The Cameron Highlands are really known for two things however….Tea and Strawberries.  We were going to get the opportunity to see and better yet….taste these items! (for Diane and I…there was one more indulgence I will get to…)

At one of our stops we had the chance to buy some fun snacks…many based around strawberries.  You could tell blood sugars were plummeting because there was a beeline to these items.  The stop also had a pretty nifty bakery!


All based around THIS beautiful fruit!


Diane bought one snack to share!  Oops!  I think I caught them in the act!


Back to the bus and off again.  We all felt MUCH better after that stop! Chocolate, strawberries and tea…nothing could be better!

I had NO idea how tea was grown.  The walking trip through Vietnam got us close up to rice…and now this staple.  We visited the BOA Tea Plantation.  They own thousands upon thousands of acres all covered with tea.  The tea leaves grow on a bush, and in the case of the plantation, are pruned to a specific level for ease of harvest.  We had to take trucks to the Plantation.

We made a stop for pictures…the color was such an intense green!

IMG_3212 See how the bushes are terraced?  Much like rice!


Here are Carole and Carol! 

IMG_3215IMG_3217 It was a great place for pictures! 

Next we went to the facility where tea is processed.  There are many steps..from drying to pulverizing to packaging.  We had a “spot” of tea…I had iced…and YES…it was available to purchase and once again I did NOT take advantage and I’m bummed about that!

Strawberries are SO big in the Cameron Highlands…that you can buy ANYTHING with strawberries on it…slippers, clothes, hats, and yes umbrellas!



Next we went to a Cactus Valley…where it is said some of the cactus is over 60 years old.  I found this place a little sad because people decided to graffiti on the plants… read that right!  ON THE PLANTS!

IMG_3258 Even the fake cactus that heralded the name of the place seemed sad and old to me…IMG_3265

However…this stop did allow us a nice walk…as I was ready to move after the many hours on the bus…AND we got to walk up to the flower section of “cactus world” and see some very pretty things!

IMG_3266IMG_3272This orange flower comes from the most unattractive bulb thing…IMG_3264 You would never know it! This place even had :

IMG_3274OK then!  You learn something new!

More pretties:

IMG_3280IMG_3295IMG_3296     IMG_3298You are all VERY indulgent of me while I desperately search for my next “great” picture!!

This however, was my favorite flower. 

IMG_3288IMG_3290IMG_3292 Jane says they look like little dancers..and the DO!

Pretty soon were back to the bus for our drive to the Cameron Highlands Resort where we were assured ALL of our rooms would overlook the golf course.  Little did anyone know…especially our guide..that the course is under renovation and was completely torn up!  He actually gasped “OH MY” This did NOT take away from how great the resort was though! 

Diane and I decided to skip dinner and do massages that evening.  The resort had very few spots…I will talk about that separately because quite honestly…it was a REAL highlight and an amazing bargain!