A Journal, with Pictures

Happenings

Jordan Revealed

by on Jan.26, 2019, under Happenings


Jan­u­ary 13, 2019


We flew from Cairo to the Jor­dan­ian cap­i­tal of Amman which was an exten­sion of the Wendy Pang­burn’s (PI) YPO Egypt trip. Twen­ty-eight of the orig­i­nal group plus a cou­ple who joined us made our group thir­ty in total expe­ri­enc­ing the Hashemite King­dom of Jor­dan. We were met by our two excel­lent Jor­dan­ian guides, Zak Salameh and Maj­di Saleem. Amman is a clean, more mod­ern city with more order­ly traf­fic than Cairo with one-sixth the pop­u­la­tion. Our first stop was the Citadel which is at the cen­ter of the city on one of the hills upon which Amman was built. The Citadel is impor­tant because it has a his­to­ry of being occu­pied by many great civ­i­liza­tions. There is evi­dence from pot­tery exca­vat­ed of use dur­ing the Neolith­ic peri­od (12000 years ago). Mon­u­ments show the his­tor­i­cal names of Amman includ­ing Philidel­phia. The promi­nent struc­tures include the Tem­ple of Her­cules, a Byzan­tine church and the Domed Umayyad Palace.





Jan­u­ary 13, 2019


We then trav­eled by bus to our hotel the Kempin­s­ki Ishtar Resort on the shore of the Dead Sea. The hotel com­plex is amaz­ing and we enjoyed a lit­tle down­time although the windy cool con­di­tions pre­clud­ed a float on the famed Dead Sea. We worked out in the hotel gym which shocked our bod­ies back to real­i­ty before of course more cock­tails and dinner.



Jan­u­ary 14, 2019


After break­fast, we board­ed our bus with the first stop being the site on the Jor­dan riv­er where accord­ing to the bible Jesus was bap­tized by John the Bap­tist. The Al-Maghats ruins are locat­ed on the Jor­dan­ian side of the Jor­dan Riv­er that includes ruins of church­es, bap­tism ponds, as well as pil­grim and her­mit dwellings. Thir­ty yards across the riv­er is Israel and a bap­tism loca­tion which was in use at the time of our vis­it. There is also a new church on the site for wor­shipers on the Jor­dan side of the river.



We then trav­eled to Mount Nebo the high­est point in this part of the ancient king­dom of Moab. In the Bible, Mount Nebo is the moun­tain where Moses was grant­ed a view of the Promised Land. This is also the place where Moses died and was buried. The Fran­cis­cans have exca­vat­ed the site and in 1993 com­plet­ed the Memo­r­i­al Church of Moses. They have incor­po­rat­ed mosaics from the ancient basil­i­ca that occu­pied the site. There is a cave stone used to close cave dwellings from bib­li­cal times on dis­play on the approach to the church.



From Mount Nebo we con­tin­ued the short dis­tance to the City of Mad­a­ba, known as the “mosaice city”. The city is on the site of a very ancient set­tle­ment. In 1881 set­tlers dis­cov­ered mosaics buried beneath the rub­ble. The most famous is the unique par­tial map of the Holy Land in the Greek Ortho­dox Church of St. George. We vis­it­ed the church pri­or to hav­ing a fun lunch at a Jor­dan­ian restaurant.



After lunch, we trav­eled to the ancient city of Petra and checked into our unique hotel which was orig­i­nal­ly built by the Bedouins. The next morn­ing we got an unau­tho­rized 5:00 AM wake up call with the call to prayer from the near­by mosque.


 



Jan­u­ary 15, 2019


After break­fast, we vis­it­ed one of the new Sev­en Won­ders of the world. Petra is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock faces by the Nabataeans, who set­tled there more than 2000 years ago. The Nabataeans, pros­pered tak­ing advan­tage of the loca­tion at an impor­tant junc­tion for the silk, spice and key com­modi­ties trade routes that linked Chi­na, India, and south­ern Ara­bia with Egypt, Syr­ia, Greece, and Rome. The entrance to the city is through the “Siq” a nar­row gorge, which is flanked on either side by soar­ing cliffs. The Siq has tombs and tem­ples carved on the cliff sides as well as an amphithe­ater and advanced water con­trol and dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem. With sea trade sup­plant­i­ng over­land trans­port Petra fad­ed, but it was redis­cov­ered in 1812 and has become Jor­dan’s num­ber one tourist attrac­tion. The film “The Last Cru­sade” with Indi­ana Jones that was filmed in Petra did­n’t hurt tourism, but the place exceeds its hype. Petra is tru­ly a won­der­ful wonder.



Faces of Petra



 


Jan­u­ary 16, 2019


After break­fast, we left Petra and head­ed south towards Aqa­ba, a city on the Jordan/Saudi Ara­bia bor­der loca­tion of the world-famous Wadi Rum. It is an amaz­ing desert land­scape made up of mono­lith­ic rock for­ma­tions that rise up from the desert floor to heights of 5740 feet. It was made famous by being the place where Prince Faisal Bin Hus­sein and T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Ara­bia ) head­quar­tered dur­ing the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans. This where the movie Lawrence of Ara­bia was filmed as well as the recent film “The Mar­t­ian”. We explored by four-wheel vehi­cle and saw the nar­row gauge train like the one that Lawrence tar­get­ed and viewed the unique land­scape. We had tea in a Bedouin tent and lunch cooked in the tra­di­tion­al Bedouin style under the sand.



After lunch, which got a lit­tle grit­ty when a sand storm start­ed, we began our dri­ve back to Amman. The sand storm inten­si­fied, then turns into a thun­der­storm, then a hail storm and final­ly as we entered Amman a snow storm. We checked into the Four Sea­sons and show­ered the sand out of our hair, had din­ner and then after a lit­tle weath­er based uncer­tain­ty took four-wheel vehi­cles to the air­port to catch our one AM flight back to the Unit­ed States through Paris. What an incred­i­ble adventure!


 

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Egypt Revealed

by on Jan.22, 2019, under Happenings


We trav­eled to Eyg­pt as part of a trip spon­sored by the YPO group and orga­nized by Wendy Pang­burn prin­ci­ple of Pang­burn Inter­na­tion­al (PI). The peo­ple on the trip and the PI team were absolute­ly great, with out­stand­ing guides (Egyp­tol­o­gist), lec­tur­ers and infor­ma­tion resources. This was not just a fab­u­lous sight­see­ing expe­ri­ence it was an in-depth edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ty. We arrived a day ear­ly, and checked into the famous Mena House Hotel. The next day (nor­mal arrival day) we had a bonus excur­sion to the vil­lage of Saqqara. There we saw the old­est stone struc­tures in Egypt, the Step Pyra­mids 2700 BC, the tomb of Pharaoh Zos­er, the Saqqara tem­ple com­plex and a local rug weav­ing school. That evening at the open­ing recep­tion and din­ner the keynote speak­er was Dr. Zahi Hawass, for­mer Egypt­ian min­is­ter of Antiq­ui­ties and world-renowned archaeologist.


Jan­u­ary 6, 2019



January 7, 2019


The next day we vis­it­ed the Pyra­mids of Giza, the Sphinx and got a pre­view tour of the new Grand Egypt­ian Muse­um. We start­ed at the largest pyra­mid the tomb of Pharaoh Khu­fu built between 2560 and 2580 BC. It is 481 feet high and the base is 756 feet square. It is con­struct­ed of 2.3 mil­lion blocks of lime­stone and gran­ite. There are three oth­er small­er pyra­mids in the com­plex, tombs of son and grand­son of Khu­fu, Khafre and Menkau­re as well as pharao­h’s wives.



We then vis­it­ed the Khu­fu ship which is an intact full-size ves­sel (143 feet long 19.6 feet wide) from ancient Egypt that was sealed into a pit in the Giza pyra­mid com­plex at the foot of the Great Pyra­mid. The ship now is pre­served in the Giza Solar boat museum. 



Next Stop the Sphinx



The new Grand Egypt­ian Muse­um (GEM) under con­struc­tion will be 5,000,2000 square feet, hous­ing 125,000 arti­facts. We did a pre­view tour of the con­struc­tion and some of the exhibits under development. 



Final­ly we toured the cur­rent Egypt­ian Museum



The first day end­ed with din­ner Nile river­side with Pro­fes­sor Sal­i­ma Ikram and stu­dents from Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty in Cairo. Quite a first day. 


Jan­u­ary 8, 2019


We checked out of our hotel and go by bus through the chaot­ic Cairo traf­fic to the air­port. On our way, we pass by miles of blight­ed build­ings, evi­dence of a weak econ­o­my and/or failed gov­ern­ment pro­grams. We board­ed our char­tered Jet for the short flight to Lux­or (Thebes in ancient times) on the Nile. We board­ed our home for the next few days, the Sanc­tu­ary Nile Adven­tur­er. After lunch, we explored the Tem­ple com­plex of Kar­nak. The com­plex cov­ers over 200 acres and was in con­stant expan­sion and use for over 2000 years. It is con­sid­ered one of the most sacred sites in Egypt. We vis­it­ed the main restored area, that is con­nect­ed by the avenue of the Sphinx. Oth­er parts of the avenue are being exca­vat­ed that con­nects to a sec­ondary com­plex that we vis­it­ed as the sun sets. The com­plex is across the Nile from the Tombs of the Val­leys of the Kings and Queens. 



Jan­u­ary 9, 2019


We crossed the Nile in local boats for our vis­it to the Val­leys of the Kings and Queens. Specif­i­cal­ly, we will vis­it King Tuts and Rame­ses VI Tomb as well as Queen Nefer­tar­i’s Tomb. We passed by Queen Nefer­tar­i’s Tem­ple and the Colos­si of Mem­non. Where­as the Pharaohs in the north built pyra­mids to house their tombs in the south, they dug the bur­ial cham­bers into the sand­stone moun­tains. There are 62 tombs iden­ti­fied in the Val­ley of the Kings, num­bered in the sequence of dis­cov­ery. For more infor­ma­tion about the Tombs go to http://www.thebanmappingproject.com/ The most famous is num­ber 62 King Tuts, which con­tained a trove of arti­facts, pri­mar­i­ly because it was over­looked by tomb rob­bers. King Tut was his­tor­i­cal­ly a minor king since he lived only to age 19. In the after­noon we cruised south on the Nile to the next stop which is the city of Esna. 



Jan­u­ary 10, 2019


On our cruise to Esna, we got a good view of the Nile riv­er val­ley, two things that strike you is how nar­row the fer­tile area is adja­cent the riv­er and that every vil­lage has a mosque with a minaret usu­al­ly broad­cast­ing. In Esna, we focused on the Gre­co-Roman Tem­ple of Khnum. The Tem­ple was com­plet­ed around 250 AD and fea­tures 24 beau­ti­ful­ly dec­o­rat­ed pil­lars and the walls cov­ered with reliefs. On the west­ern exte­ri­or facade, we saw reliefs show­ing the god Horus (god of Vic­to­ry) as well as Khnum (god of cre­ation). The sur­round­ing site is being dug out and there are mar­kets cater­ing to tourists around the exca­vat­ed tem­ple site.






In the evening its dress like an Egypt­ian night, and after cock­tails and din­ner our boat crew intro­duces us to Egypt­ian danc­ing. FUN!!



Jan­u­ary 11, 2019


Overnight we cruised to the city of Kom Ombo and in the morn­ing vis­it­ed the Tem­ple with the same name. This Tem­ple is for the wor­ship of two gods, Sobek: the croc­o­dile god, and Horus the fal­con god. This is a clas­sic tem­ple design of the Gre­co Roman peri­od but made up of two par­al­lel tem­ples. The design starts with huge entrance struc­tures, open­ing into pil­lared court­yards, lead­ing to the cer­e­mo­ni­al cham­ber at the back of the complex. 




We then had lunch as we sail to Aswan our last stop. After lunch, we go by bus to the Phi­lae Tem­ple, which was res­cued from under­wa­ter. After a cof­fer­dam was built it was dis­man­tled (40,000 pieces) and moved then reassem­bled on near­by Agilkia island. We then expe­ri­enced a sail on the tra­di­tion­al Egypt­ian sail­ing boat called a feluc­ca. After the sail we had tea at the famous Cataract Hotel at sun­set before return­ing to the Nile Adven­tur­er. That evening we heard from Ambas­sador Karim Hag­gag regard­ing Egyp­t’s per­spec­tive of the U.S.






Jan­u­ary 12, 2019


We left our float­ing hotel and board­ed our char­tered Jet to Abu Sim­bel, the site of the Abu Sim­bel Tem­ples. The Tem­ples were built by Ram­ses II one of the longest rein­ing Pharaohs in 13 cen­tu­ry BC. The walls depict the pharaoh in his var­i­ous exploits and next door is the tem­ple ded­i­cat­ed to his favorite wife, Nefer­tari. The tem­ples were orig­i­nal­ly carved out of the moun­tain­side. The com­plex was relo­cat­ed in its entire­ty in 1968, to an arti­fi­cial moun­tain high above the Aswan High Dam reser­voir to save it from sub­mer­sion in Lake Nass­er, once the dam was complete. 




We re-board­ed our jet and flew to Cairo for our last night in Egypt. On the way in from the air­port we had a spe­cial treat, a pri­vate tour of Abdeen Palace. The palace was built in 1863 by order of King Ismail. It was the scene of the blood­less Coup staged by the mil­i­tary that oust­ed the last Egypt­ian king Farouq I in 1952. The refur­bished 500 room palace has been vis­it­ed by heads of state and is not open to the pub­lic. Our group was the first, non-gov­ern­ment group to receive a tour. 



After the tour, we had our last din­ner in Egypt at the U.S. Embassy. The next day some returned home or con­tin­ued else­where on their own and we join the part of the group that con­tin­ues on to Jordan.

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Florence/Tuscany 2018

by on Jun.13, 2018, under Happenings

Since we decid­ed to got to the Cir­rus Own­ers and Pilots Asso­ci­a­tions Euro­pean Migra­tion in Rome we added a week in Tus­cany. We arrived in Flo­rance on Fri­day after a long flight with two stops, so the rest of the day was relax­ing and do a lit­tle sight­see­ing then din­ner at the hotel.  We stayed at a fan­tas­tic small bou­tique hotel right on the Piaz­za S. Maria Novel­la, and a short walk to the incred­i­ble Piaz­za Duo­mo (Reli­gious Cen­ter). We had vis­it­ed Flo­rence before so we did­n’t have to see the must-see tourist sights, so the plan was to soak in more of the cul­ture and of course, par­take of the great Tus­can food and wine. On Sat­ur­day we start­ed the process with a “Culi­nary Tour of Flo­rence”. Our delight­ful guide Bar­bra intro­duced us to every­thing from local truf­fle sand­wich­es, to final­ly Gela­to, with lots of inter­est­ing things in between includ­ing tripe and local wines, olive oil, pas­try, cheese, and on and on. We passed a steak restau­rant where the min­i­mum thick­ness is four fin­gers (three and a half inch­es) and rare is the only choice.  We con­tin­ued our tour through the Medici seat of gov­ern­men­t and viewed the famous stat­ues in the Piaz­za Sig­no­ria then over the famous Ponte Vec­chio, once a meat mar­ket known for its smell and final­ly on to our gelato.  One inter­est­ing site is the Medici Jus­tice stat­ue, no blind­fold, and a sword. The plaque essen­tial­ly says “I’m Cos­mos Medici and jus­tice is in my eyes and I have the sword to car­ry it out”. We spent the after­noon walk­ing off the morn­ing calo­ries doing more sight­see­ing includ­ing the Medici chapel/museum. The evening we dined at Il Cibreo a very spe­cial Flo­ren­tine restaurant.

Our next day adven­ture start­ed with a “Flo­ren­tine Cook­ing Class” with our chef/teacher Lau­ra of www.cookinginflorence.com. This turned out to be great fun and we learned and pre­pared bro­chette, Pici pas­ta, chick­en breast stuffed with moz­zarel­la, and Ter­ra Ma Sue. Then we added a lit­tle Tus­can wine, music by Boclli and we ate the whole thing for lunch. Deli­cious, edu­ca­tion­al and great fun.

A lit­tle more walk­ing off the calo­ries, then a tour “off the beat­en path” by golf cart. Our guide, who was a delight­ful char­ac­ter, enter­tained us with lit­tle-known his­tor­i­cal facts and hid­den trea­sures of Florence.  One piece of Medici gos­sip was the fact that one mar­ried a Haps­burg daugh­ter and they made sure every­one knew by dec­o­rat­ing the city hall with Vien­nese scenes. We fin­ished the golf cart tour high above Flo­rence with a breath­tak­ing view of the city, from S. Mini­a­to al Monte. We then board­ed a boat on the Arno for a sun­set cruise. We fin­ished the day with din­ner at the 100-year-old fam­i­ly run restau­rant, Bucas Mario, fea­tur­ing tra­di­tion­al Flo­ren­tine recipes.

The next day our dri­ver guide Simon picked us up at the hotel and drove us into Tus­cany. We first toured the love­ly medieval hill-town of San Gimignano. We explored this walled town with per­fect­ly pre­served tow­ers and build­ing with a won­der­ful view of the coun­try­side. We then dri­ve to a win­ery for a relaxed lunch and wine tast­ing, (and buy­ing) expe­ri­ence. After lunch, we meet our local guide in the beau­ti­ful city of Siena who takes us on a walk­ing tour of this fabled medieval city, includ­ing the remark­able shell-shaped Piaz­za del Cam­po-home of the famous Palio horse race and Unique Goth­ic-Romanesque Duo­mo. Final­ly, we dri­ve out into the coun­try­side to our hotel/castle, Castel­lo di Casole, where we will stay while in Tus­cany. Our hotel turns out to be a real gem on a hill over­look­ing the beau­ti­ful coun­try­side of Tuscany.

On Tues­day Simon picked us up at the hotel for a day of learn­ing about Chi­anti wine. We Began with an excur­sion to Pan­zano, then a vis­it to a his­toric abbey cel­lar. We then had anoth­er light Tus­can lunch accom­pa­nied by Ital­ian wines.

Wednes­day our great driver/guide picked us up again and we were off to the town of Mon­tal­ci­no. Mon­tal­ci­no is impor­tant in that it is the cap­i­tal of the leg­endary Brunel­lo wine region. We explore the wind­ing streets and medieval walls and fortress with a great view of the Tus­can hills. Brunel­lo is made from Chi­anti grapes, but they pro­duce a very dif­fer­ent wine in this region. We then vis­it a local win­ery for a tour, tast­ing, and lunch. We add some Brunel­lo to our cel­lar to accom­pa­ny the Chi­anti we pur­chased ear­li­er. After lunch we decide to vis­it one last vil­lage in Tus­cany, Pien­za, fin­ish­ing our Tus­cany explo­ration with a cel­e­bra­to­ry Gela­to before head­ing back to our hotel for our last night din­ner of real piz­za and Tus­can wine.

Tus­cany was won­der­ful, Cul­ture, Food and Wine and won­der­ful places and peo­ple. Tomor­row we dri­ve to Rome to meet fly­ing friends and vis­it a great city. It will be hard to beat the unique ambiance and char­ac­ter of Tus­cany. If it’s not obvi­ous by now, we love Italy, Ital­ian food, and Ital­ian wine.

 

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Rome

by on Jun.13, 2018, under Happenings

On Thurs­day, we were dri­ven from Castel­lo di Casole to Rome. It’s a beau­ti­ful dri­ve and we arrived in time for lunch. Our hotel was the Mar­riott Park near the Inter­na­tion­al Air­port since the major­i­ty of those attend­ing the Euro­pean Cir­rus Own­ers and Pilots Asso­ci­a­tion “Migra­tion” planned to fly in. I said planned because only five of the planes end­ed up hav­ing park­ing spots in Rome and the rest of the planes were spread all over Italy. Turns out we could have stayed down­town which would have been much more con­ve­nient. It was a fun three days, start­ing with a group din­ner at the hotel, then the next day was a bus tour of Rome, lunch, then an after­noon to explore the city on foot. We took this oppor­tu­ni­ty to vis­it one of our favorite places the Piaz­za Navona, for a cool bev­er­age and watch­ing the dai­ly spec­ta­cle. Fri­day evening was the Gala Din­ner, then Sat­ur­day there were excel­lent sem­i­nars in the morn­ing and after lunch an option­al walk­ing tour of the city and din­ner. It was great to see old friends and make new ones while vis­it­ing one of the great cities of the world.

Sun­day we flew back to the Unit­ed States in what turned out to be a very long day due to flight delays. We final­ly got home and start­ed the manda­to­ry diet after a great ten days of food, wine, and cul­ture, plus spend­ing time with fly­ing friends. It was a great experience.

 

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Beijing

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

We embarked to Chi­na on May 5th, 2017 for a three week tour of Chi­na. The trip was orga­nized by our friend Tony Huff­man who employed Impe­r­i­al Tours of Chi­na that turned out to be a great expe­ri­ence. We had a Chi­na host, Lotus Qi, who accom­pa­nied us for the entire three weeks and in each city a guide and in some cas­es spe­cial guides for a par­tic­u­lar area. We stayed at great hotels, and had a pri­vate car and dri­ver  in each loca­tion. I do not com­ment in each city about the food, but we ate at the best restau­rants, most­ly Chi­nese, but also inter­na­tion­al cui­sine. We laughed at “anoth­er light Chi­nese lunch”, because every meal was a feast, orches­trat­ed by our Chi­nese Food­ie, Lotus. We had the best Piz­za we ever had in Chi­na (Truf­fle Piz­za) and the best French Toast. We ate our way through Chi­na. We also wit­nessed what has been called the “Chi­nese Eco­nom­ic Mir­a­cle”, which has pro­duced an infra­struc­ture now world class and the largest mid­dle class in the world. I will save my com­ments of what I have learned about the Chi­nese sys­tem of Gov­ern­ing and the “Eco­nom­ic Mir­a­cle” for a sep­a­rate blog that I will post lat­er and just focus on the sights of Chi­na for now.

We arrived in Bei­jing and were met by Lotus and tak­en to the Penin­su­la Hotel. As we were descend­ing into the area the first thing that struck us was the huge  num­ber of high rise apart­ment build­ings and how mod­ern the Air­port and oth­er infra­struc­ture was. Bei­jing is a city of twen­ty two mil­lion cov­er­ing about one hun­dred square miles. We had a good flight, but hav­ing done this many many times, I con­clud­ed I’m get­ting old, won’t go work out right way. Our first day was spent tour­ing Tian’an­men Square, the For­bid­den City and doing a tour of the Hutong dis­trict of Beijing.

Across the street from Tian’an­men Square is the For­bid­den City the Impe­r­i­al Palace of the Emper­ors of Chi­na. This com­plex served as the home and seat of pow­er for 24 emper­ors, their courts and harems from 1420 to 1924.

 

Of course we had a lunch of Peking Duck, which was great, but I said I would not obsess about the food but it was spe­cial hav­ing Peking Duck in Peking. We then did a tour of the Hutong, means alley ways, which was an exclu­sive neigh­bor­hood before the revolution.

On our sec­ond day in Chi­na, which was a Sun­day, we vis­it­ed The Tem­ple of Heav­en. This struc­ture was build in 1420, using no nails, and was where the Emper­or would vis­it twice a year for three days to med­i­tate on the affairs of God and man. On the way to the Tem­ple we vis­it­ed an exer­cise park paid for by the Wel­fare Lot­tery, that’s right, no enti­tle­ments in Chi­na. We also wit­nessed moth­ers in the park solic­it­ing wives for their sons, since the one child pol­i­cy has pro­duced a thir­ty mil­lion man sur­plus. Anoth­er exam­ple of unin­tend­ed con­se­quences when gov­ern­ments med­dle in the peo­ples business.

 

After the Tem­ple of Heav­en we vis­it­ed Bei­jing’s Art Dis­trict that was cre­at­ed from a Cold War arms fac­to­ry. This area was very live­ly and an impres­sive use of Fac­to­ry 798.

On our last day in Bei­jing we vis­it­ed the Sum­mer Palace and then trav­eled out to the Great Wall. The Sum­mer Palace was rebuilt in 1888 by the Empress Dowa­ger Cixi and con­sists of 3000 build­ings, gar­dens and ponds, around the man made Kun­ning Lake.

The Great Wall was built to pro­tect Chi­na from preda­to­ry nomads, and is an impres­sive struc­ture with ques­tion­able effec­tive­ness. This again demon­strates that a gov­ern­ment project is hard to stop once start­ed. We saw the wall and were sur­prised to learn that a pri­vate lun­cheon was catered for us, on top of the wall.

 

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Xi’an

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Xi’an is a mod­ern city  of eight mil­lion peo­ple includ­ing a mil­lion stu­dents attend­ing fifty uni­ver­si­ties. It is an agri­cul­ture cen­ter with both the Yel­low and Yangtze  rivers flow­ing through the area. It is most know for the Ter­ra­cot­ta War­riors, the 8,000 man army that Emper­or Qin had built to serve him in the after life. The Qin dynasty (259 BC) was piv­otal, as he was cred­it­ed with uni­fy­ing Chi­na into a sin­gle nation.  The Tomb and War­riors were dis­cov­ered in 1976 and now have become a major tourist attrac­tion in Chi­na. Xi’an was the place where the Silk Road began and today there remains a sig­nif­i­cant Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion. In addi­tion to the Ter­ra­cot­ta War­riors there is Shaanxi His­to­ry Muse­um, that fea­tures the Tang Dynasty murals. The city itself is inter­est­ing in that the four mile wall around the his­toric cen­tral city remains intact.

We had anoth­er cul­tur­al expe­ri­ence in Xi’an, learn­ing to make dumplings. We love Chi­nese dumpling, and now know that the Chi­nese should make the dumplings, but they are yum­my. We also toured one of the few City Walls to sur­vive the cul­tur­al revolution.

We toured the Mus­lim mar­ket and Mosque, a his­toric car­ry­over from the trade silk road trade route that ter­mi­nat­ed in Xi’an.

The Mosque is in the Mar­ket area and when we vis­it­ed there was a Mus­lim funer­al ser­vice in progress.

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Tibet

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

We vis­it­ed Lhasa in Tibet, which is at twelve thou­sand feet. Our hotel was the Shangri La in Old Lhasa. New Lhasa has been built by the Chi­nese since their occu­pa­tion. As with the rest of Chi­na, they have rebuilt the infra­struc­ture around old Tibet and in this case moved in a lot of Chi­nese. What Tibet is all about is Bud­dhism with  nine­ty per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion prac­tic­ing the faith, and they prac­tice it hard.  We main­ly vis­it­ed monas­ter­ies, the Dali Lama’s Palaces, with some time spent in the mar­ket. Our guide was intent on con­vert­ing us to Bud­dhism, but I flunked cat­e­chism so there was no hope. Our first vis­it was to was to the Jokhang Monastery then the Bark­hor Sera Monastery and final­ly the debat­ing gar­dens, where the monks debate phi­los­o­phy dai­ly. They seem to enjoy it. For me Tibet was most­ly about the inter­est­ing images of the pil­grims and monks.

Our lunch on the first day was served on the moun­tain­side over­look­ing New Lhasa.

Our sec­ond day was spent tour­ing the Sum­mer and Win­ter Palace of the Dali Lama (Cur­rent­ly exiled in India), so it’s for pil­grims and tourist. The Por­ta­la Palace (Win­ter Palace) sits on a hill over look­ing Old Lhasa, the sum­mer palace is in Old Lhasa. The Bud­dhist scrip­tures are are too volu­mi­nous to read, so the faith­ful spin prayer wheels to absorb the mean­ing. The Tem­ples and Palace are lit by Yak but­ter can­dles and there are con­tri­bu­tions of mon­ey at vir­tu­al­ly every stop made by the pil­grims. The sum­mer palace grounds are used for fam­i­ly pic­nics and we were amused to see one fam­i­ly car­ry­ing a case of Bud­weis­er beer of course made in Chi­na. The Chi­nese includ­ing the Tibetans are addict­ed to smart phones and we not­ed even the monks were head down com­mu­ni­cat­ing. The Chi­nese equiv­a­lent to Twit­ter or Face­book is called Wechat and has nine hun­dred mil­lion users.

 

On our last day in Tibet we vis­it­ed the Gan­den Monastery which was my penal­ty for flunk­ing the first two day of Bud­dhism. It is at four­teen thou­sand four hun­dred feet above sea lev­el and involved lots of hik­ing includ­ing a hike on a pil­grims trail (What am I doing this for?). On our way back we past through New Lhasa (very mod­ern) and then in old Lhasa vis­it­ed a typ­i­cal Tibetan mar­ket area.

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Chengdu

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Cheng­du is a mod­ern city although it has been inhab­it­ed for over 4000 years. It is the cap­i­tal of Sichuan Province and is an area of agri­cul­tur­al abun­dance and wealth inhab­it­ed by 14.4 mil­lion. Cheng­du is famous for the Giant Pan­da Insti­tute, which we vis­it­ed while stay­ing at the  beau­ti­ful Tem­ple House Hotel. Our first stop was at a Tauist (also known as Dauism) Tem­ple on the way to the hotel. Dauism is a indige­nous reli­gion to Chi­na and we were treat­ed to an expla­na­tion by one of the Monks, who took us into his liv­ing quar­ters, equipped with com­put­er and TV as well as liqueur cab­i­net. Seemed like a sen­si­ble reli­gion to us.

The sec­ond day we vis­it­ed the famous Giant Pan­da Insti­tute. As our guide said if they weren’t cute they would be long ago extinct. They eat non-nutri­tious bam­boo which means they eat sev­en­teen hours a day. They are not so good at repro­duc­tion, one of the prob­lems being very bad eye sight.

 

 

Anoth­er is being fer­tile two to three days a year.  The  Pan­da Insti­tute has kept them from extinc­tion with 1800 world wide and 400 in cap­tiv­i­ty. To feed the Pan­da’s the Chines grow, cut and truck bam­boo from the high­lands every day. Each Pan­da con­sumes 40 to 80 pounds per day. They are cute.

While in Cheng­du we vis­it­ed the Sanx­ing­du Muse­um which exhibits the relics from a Bronze age civ­i­liza­tion dis­cov­ered near the city. Sanx­ing­du means three mounds, where in 1929 farm­ers dis­cov­ered arti­facts, and was redis­cov­ered in 1986 which led to the exca­va­tion.  This advanced cul­ture exist­ed around 12 Cen­tu­ry BC and the exhib­it dis­plays some remark­able pieces.

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Guilin

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Guilin is famous for the beau­ti­ful lime­stone for­ma­tions that cre­ate the topog­ra­phy around the Banyan Tree Resort where we stay dur­ing our vis­it. We are actu­al­ly out­side of Guilin in the coun­try near the vil­lage of Yang­shou. Dur­ing our stay we vis­it a vil­lage and learn about Tofu mak­ing from a delight­ful Chi­nese woman, vis­it­ing homes and see­ing how the rur­al peo­ple of Chi­na live. Grand par­ents take care of work­ing chil­dren’s chil­dren, so we got to meet a real Chi­na doll. We saw fields being plowed with water buf­fa­lo and cot­tage indus­try of mat mak­ing. The homes were new, con­struct­ed by the own­ers, the peo­ple we met were very friend­ly and wel­com­ing. Despite Chi­na’s eco­nom­ic mir­a­cle 800 to 900 of the 1.35 bil­lion Chi­nese still are peasants.

We then enjoyed the incred­i­ble scenery sur­round­ing the Li Riv­er by raft­ing on a bam­boo raft.

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Hangzhou

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Hangzhou was the cap­i­tal of Chi­na dur­ing the Song dynasty which was a time of explo­sive inno­va­tion in the sci­ences and arts. It retains this spe­cial feel­ing with the city sur­round­ing beau­ti­ful West Lake, where our hotel, the Four Sea­sons, was locat­ed. We start our first day learn­ing about taichi, from a mas­ter, we then take a pri­vate gon­do­la ride on the lake, while being ser­e­nad­ed by Guzheng (ancient Chines instru­ment)  play­er in anoth­er boat.

We toured a tea plan­ta­tion and learned about tea grow­ing and mak­ing. We toured the gar­dens of a wealthy Chines indus­tri­al­ist now a pub­lic tourist des­ti­na­tion. We vis­it­ed a Bud­dhist tem­ple and saw a lime­stone rock face dec­o­rat­ed with more than 3000 Bud­dhist effigies.

The Chi­nese have become the largest group of tourist on earth, both with Chi­na and abroad. In Chi­na they have shared bikes, mil­lions of  bikes that you pay a ini­tial fee ($15), then with your smart phone you locate the near­est bike, scan the code on the bike and use the bike and check out by smart phone and pay a small fee for use leav­ing the bike for the next user.

Final­ly, we were treat­ed to a pri­vate les­son on the “Five Dis­ci­plines”, tea, incense, flower arrange­ment, music and cal­lig­ra­phy, those things a Hangzhou gen­tle­men were expect­ed to excel in.

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