A Travellerspoint blog

Independence Day 2011

Manhattan View

sunny 25 °C

Weehawken is one of the best locations to view the NYC firework on independence day. Since Chris' apartment is right by the Hudson river, we secured a really good spot for the night.
Compliments to Chris for taking all the pics.
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The last picture is the view from my office when I got back to work from the long weekend - a wall and file cabinets, brought me right back to reality.
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Posted by suevasil 13:35 Archived in USA Tagged 2011_independencec_day_firework Comments (0)

"艾瑟兰"圣诞之旅

冰岛之恋

overcast 0 °C

圣诞的假期有点像老太婆的裹脚布-说长不长,去其他大洲在飞机上的时间就将近一半,实在不合算;说短也有一个礼拜,呆在北美也实在不甘心。前年在古巴的两个礼拜把我们俩去加勒比的兴趣都给打倒了,于是索性一不做二不休,往北走去冰岛。怎么说也算出了“北美大洲”了。

Chris从小就被妖娆的极光迷惑了心思,而我因为从来没有泡过天然温泉一直耿耿于怀,对于冰岛之旅我俩各自“心怀鬼胎”。我一直一厢情愿地认为倚天屠龙记里的冰火岛就是以冰岛为原型的,所以一直感觉这个“小岛”有些野性的神秘感。由于金融风暴,使得冰岛的货币贬值了50%,相对2年前来说可算是超值了。

23号晚上的飞机,飞到冰岛首都Reykjavik刚好是24号早上。Chris同学在飞机上一直跟我说“‘艾瑟兰’什么什么“,我因为困的要命,就没有搭理,心里却直纳闷-为什么他去冰岛却老提伊斯兰啊...直到一觉醒来才猛然意识到,这是冰岛的"英译“啊!唉,和文盲怎能计较太多?

落地时是早上10点多,可是因为维度很高,所以太阳还没有完全升起。我们在后来的几天内也渐渐的习惯了每天4个小时全日光,1个小时日出,1个小时日落的太阳作息.

从机场开到市中心,高速的两边都是平地,白皑皑地被薄薄的雪覆盖着,再往远处眺望,在暮光之下恍恍惚惚看到很多雪山。时不时地出现零零星星的小矮房,真象到了北寒的农村。

我们住在hilton,离市中心大概步行20分钟。被前台贴心的安排在最拐角的房间, 拉开窗帘便望见远处的大海和雪山。让人感觉好像就躺在泰坦尼克,快要撞上冰山。软件虽好,硬件却实在寒碜。我家85年的电视都比那个大!

下午没有什么大的打算,除了去租车,顺便在市区逛逛。

租车行- 放在门前的车子让了看了就想跑,后来事实证明车子的质量还是可靠的。
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有趣的街道名字-人如街名
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街上有很多可爱的涂鸦-典型的欧洲风格
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冰岛人圣诞节的传统是吃自助。秉承我们一贯的传统-吃就要吃本地正宗的。找了一个小小的家庭作坊式小饭馆,可是食物一点都不含糊。如果可以天天这么吃,Chris都决定改名叫"ke五盘“了!我最爱的是他们的烤猪肉,连皮一起抹上海盐,鲜嫩原味!
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吃饱喝足,该是时间出动了。冬天晚上1到3点是看极光的最好时间,而最佳地点则是远离城市光污染,周围没有遮挡物的高地。据天气预报,这几天连续阴天,卫星图片则显示首都郊外往东的上空的云层会稀薄些。可惜折腾了3个小时,开着车兜了一大圈,除了看见一轮弯月,毫无收获。接下来的几天连续的阴雨,我们也便没有再徒劳了。

虽然没有看见极光,但是第二天的间歇泉却让我们大开眼界。两个小时在暴雪中行驶实在有些惊险。如果没有在雪天开车的经验,我建议还是跟团。租车行的老板后来告诉我们,那天有两辆吉普翻车了。一路上除了雪山还是雪山,看惯了这些,还去买门票看什么玉龙雪山阿?
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废话不说,上间歇泉。
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这是我在找到的间歇泉录像。
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=169EvbL1xiY&feature=fvw

沿路还有一个景点就是瀑布,虽然没有的雄伟,但是完全冰冻的瀑布还是第一次见到。不过瀑布周围的“妖风”实在吹的让人无所适从,胡乱摁了几下快门,赶紧躲进车内。
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剩下的时间实在冷的没有勇气在野外瞎折腾,就在市内晃了。
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Blue Lagoon,(蓝池)便是冰岛最有名的温泉了。全年水温保持在38度。室外零下的温度,天上飘着零星的雪花,泡在粉蓝粉蓝的水,累了找块火山岩靠着,天上的琼池也不过如此了。
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回到纽约,车子已经被大雪埋了。。。
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曼哈顿元旦的夜景
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Posted by suevasil 07:25 Archived in Iceland Tagged christmas trip 2011 Comments (0)

Update Dec 29-Jan 1 - Hekou and Kunming, China

4 entries away from being done with the blog, by my reckoning.
While having more free time I find myself with less motivation.
Also - the map is updated, and tells me that by the time I'm done travelling we'll have had intercity travel of 77,471 km, or 1/5 the distance to the moon or 10 times the length of Canada or twice around the world (makes since since we went around the world and took some detours).

Posted by chrisvasil 05:16 Comments (1)

Kunming - Shrinking old town, Jiuxiang caves, stone forest


View Around the world ın 8 months on chrisvasil's travel map.

After several months of travelling with just Sue, Sue's mom joined us for the rest of our travels starting in Kunming. It was a bit of an adjustment to take on another person who was used to a different sort of travel, but with a bit of compromise on all sides things went quite smoothly. In Kunming we stayed at a business hotel, which had the distinction of having a fully transparent glass wall between the hotel room and the bathroom. We did a pretty good job of always keeping the curtain closed, but it was annoying. I can't imagine business travellers prefering a glass wall instead of the regular type. Also after the first day one of our drinking glasses (which we didn't use) had a crack in it when we got back home. It took Sue about an hour of arguing with reception for us not to get charged for that damage that we didn't cause. In conclusion, the Enjoying Business Hotel in Kunming is no good.

Kunming is a big city of several million people, and though Yunnan is one of China's poorer provinces, Kunming is modern and looks like a Western big city, with high-end shopping and fancy office buildings. The most striking aspect of the city is the area around the old Bird and Flower Market, where a neighborhood of old run-down houses and shops literally borders new fancy malls. As we were walking there we passed one street that seems to be condemned for demolition, and I suspect that 10 years hence there will be no old Kunming. All these pics are taken around this area (equivalent in location, say, to the new Ryerson business school building in Toronto that backs onto the Eaton Center). I like the third pic, showing a second floor of a building that's falling apart, and a ground floor that's a modern jacket shop.
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The other interesting historical feature is two pagodas across from each other 2 blocks apart, with temples and sculptures between them. One of them was rebuilt because of damage suffered several years ago - according to China due to an earthquake; according to the West the damage was due to Muslim citizen unrest.
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Watching a game of Mahjong. The old guys sure take a long time between moves.
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Sue with a horse, and me admiring the jockey
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Another unexpected feature of the Kunming skyline is what appears to be a flat 30-storey billboard but is in fact a 3-dimensional 3-sided hotel. Here is a view where we can (barely) see the second side. From most of the city the hotel seems 2-dimensional.
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From Kunming we took 3 day trips: the Yunnan Nationalities Village, the Jiuxiang caves, and the Stone forest. The Yunnan Nationalities Village features mini-villages (with a few buildings, a few people, and small cultural performances) from about a dozen ethnic minorities living in the province, which itself has the most minorities among Chinese provinces. In comparison to Mini-Asean and Mini-Malaysia, this is much more varied and much less well laid out. To take the best of both, it would be nice if the Kunming one had less gift shops, a consistent layout of mini-villages (some houses are gift shops, others are museums, others are furnished houses - and it's sometimes not clear which it is - whereas in Malaysia they are all furnished houses), better labelling, and if there were a clear circuit between them (in Malaysia they are side by side in a circle, whereas in Kunming they are sort of anywhere).
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While the Village was just OK, the highlight is an hour-long music and dance show which is worth the hefty price of admission and would not be out of place in Toronto, London, or New York (probably similar to the Africa one that was advertised aggressively in Toronto a few years ago). The cast is about 100 people, and at one point it rains on stage (for about 5 minutes there is actual water "rain" for about a foot wide along the entire length of the stage. The floor retracts so that the water lands in a foot-wide area under the stage).
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Our other two day trips were with the same company, and included peripheral stops in the same gift shops, temple, and health center where we got a slightly painful foot message (the first and last definitely pay commissions to the tour company, and the temple might). The daylong tour including extra stops, lunch, transport, and guide is actually cheaper than admission alone to the main site.

One of the gift shops had a line of employees at each of the entrances, presumably there to make me feel like special as I walk past them and to justify the inflated prices.
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Jiuxiang caves

Jiuxiang caves are incredible - not only for all that one would expect from caves - the spikes from the ceilings and floors and the large spaces where the ceiling is natural rock and seems not to be supported by anything, but also for the amount of work that has been done to make the natural site tourist-accessible. Everything is colorfully lit up, there are very few narrow spaces and some large areas of polished floors, making me wonder how much the site was changed from its natural state. Either way, the size (over a kilometer across, with the 'ceilings' generally about 5 stories high) and variety of things in the scenic area are amazing.
Our tour started with a boat ride on a river that cuts through a gorge. It was a good gorge, very cliffy, but not as fun as the gorge in Turkey.
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Here is a polished floor inside the caves. It is massive and must have taken a lot of work to go from cave floor to this.
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Colored lights make the conic formations all the prettier.
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At some points the top ones meet the bottom ones, forming columns.
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Inside another cave are layered pools, caused by water overflowing from the pool above. Similar to the ones we didn't see at the calcium rocks in Turkey, but bigger and fuller of water.
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Indoor (sort of) waterfall
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Reflecting water pool
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View from the cable car to get back to where we started
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Taoist/Buddhist complex

Here is a temple that was important during one of the dynasties. As the story goes (as told by Sue and half-forgotten by me), the emperor gave one of his trusted generals principality over this district. That general was power-hungry. In China, temples are built in a straight line and the one furthest back belongs to the emperor (symbolizing the emperor presiding over everything). So this temple complex was built, and afterwards the general had another temple - his own - built beyond the emperor's. A monk, sensing that the general was bad and trying to usurp power, foiled the general's plans to become emperor by building another temple. This new temple caused a change in the orientation of the straight line of temples that ends with the emperor's, and thus made the general's temple not be part of the line (let alone at the top of the line). As such, that general never became emperor.
Now I personally don't really like how symbolism, mythology, and facts blend in official Chinese history, but it makes a good story.
The actual temple complex has a bunch of Buddhist temples at the front, and Taoist temples at the back. The first time we went the guide said non-Taoists can't go to the back temples, but the second time I went almost all the way up and saw a bunch more temples and 2 big buddhas.
Many of the people on the tour paid to have their fortunes read, which possibly pays commissions to the tour company - that's the only reason I can imagine that both tours included the temple.
Here is a view of part of the line of temples. Because of trees blocking the view from the top of the mountan and temples blocking the view from the bottom, it is hard to get a good view of the whole complex.
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Here are all of us in front of a fountain
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I think these are some Taoist happy men. There are supposed to only be 3, so maybe these are just Taoist men.
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A modest Taoist temple
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Big Buddha
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Roofs of some of the temples in the fancy line of temples
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Another Big Buddha
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Stone Forest

Complementing the caves and not too far away is a 'stone forest' composed of tall, narrow rocks that were formed as coral when the area was under the sea.
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Views from above
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In front of an area that's landscaped to look like a golf course
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Huang's Health Systems

Here is the gift shop that was the last stop in our tours both days, offering free foot massage, many products which among other things cure cancer and make Western cancer treatments unnecessary (according to the doctor), and a shopping area that's shaped like a maze so that once you go in you have to walk through all the aisles. If you didn't know better you would think it's a legitimate health center.
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Posted by chrisvasil 05:14 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Hekou - Border town in the second-deliciousest country


View Around the world ın 8 months on chrisvasil's travel map.

As slaves to overnight bus and train schedules, we found ourselves with a day to spend along the Vietnam/China border of Lao Cai/Hekou, and decided to spend it on the China side, as China has the world's second-best food after Thailand.

Here is Sue on the bridge between the two countries, enthusiatically about to enter China.
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As a busy border town in the developing world, we see a lot of cool stuff - long lines of people with huge full bamboo bags being balanced on bikes and open shipping containers, cheaper alternatives to truck transport.
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An assortment of chickens, ducks, geese, bunnies and puppies can be yours for dinner.
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Or, if you're feeling high-end and patriotic, you can have a jade Chairman Mao for a few thousand dollars.
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I love the baby backpacks in Asia. So much easier than carrying them in front. My only concern would be forgetting, and leaning on the baby when I'm sitting on a chair.
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A restaurant serving only the freshest donkey. Glad it's not me.
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Posted by chrisvasil 05:11 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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