10 hours and 10 minutes – that is how long it took to reach Emirates. Again, we could not rely on our phone watches; we had to “eat” some extra hours on our “journey to the West”. Once we landed, it took some time with the visa paperwork so our luggage was one of the last to be picked up from the belt at the almost deserted airport. It was middle of the night, or better said around 3.00 am. Of course we could not afford ourselves to sleep, although watching movies in the airplane kept us awake most of the time during the flight.
So we checked in a super hotel and got a room at 47th floor. We watched the dawn breaking from huge windows and Dubai with its modern architecture in the middle of the desert waking up. Feeling was unreal. We felt pretty much like in the twilight zone, mostly because of jet lag, that we up until today (our 2nd day back home in Oslo) still have not cured properly. Yes, still wide awake at 04.00 am and very tired by 08.00 pm. 🙂
After breakfast in a restaurant on the 42nd floor (you get pretty high in Dubai!:), we decided to see the city before our eyes betray us and brains fall asleep. We went to Burj Khalifa, the biggest building in the world. 828 metres in height and 163 floors! Wow! You can imagine the view from there.
Even more amazing is to look at it from the outside, compared to the other small buildings of only few hundred metres. It was a giant! Worth visit. Forgot to mention the temperature. It was 45 degrees, give or take. We survived but do not know how.:) Take into account that we were “walking zombies” that day. But we did enjoy our stop over there. We also got one-day-metro tickets and took a long ride to the other side of the city. Dubai Marina was nice to discover with its promenade, harbour and boats, but the heat sent us soon back to the metro and its A/C.
We actually wanted to see much more of Dubai, but time was limited and we took this as a small bite that will motivate us to come again and enjoy the city`s night sights as well. We did not see much of those this time, as we were fast asleep the rest of the day and all the way until 02.00 am again, when the taxi took us to the airport and another flight of 7 hours++ that took us home to Norway.
We arrived safely, full of impressions and pretty proud how well it all went. This was a great adventure and we want to visit these countries again and again:
-Hong Kong with it`s perfect clear and organized enviroment!
-China, a special place where we met for the first time, has thousands of places yet to show us!
-Korea – we want to see more of you and enjoy your great food! Yes, we will learn more of the language next time:)
-Japan- Mt Fuji, gomen nasai, we could not wait for the fog to go away and to finally meet you in person-next time!
-Dubai- this was a short and sweet visit and you still owe us those night lights!
So, like so many times before, we have to close these travel door in order to open new ones. Thanks for keeping up with us and the good comments that we discovered during the trip.:)
During our stay back in Kyushu and Shikoku we used to check some Japanese TV channels. The most frequent programmes seemed to be sumo wrestling contests (non stop on Channel 1!) , TV dramas with samurai and elegant Asian ladies and – weather forecasts. Tokyo played the main role in the last mentioned; extremely hot temperature in the capital made lots of people search for refreshments in the swimming pools or city fountains and it was regularly broadcasted as such, to prepare us for the Tokyo`s heat. Once we stepped on the platform, extremely hot air immediately replaced AC fans that we felt on our faces during the chilled and pleasant trip.
Again very good directions from our Japanese host took us quickly to the appartment we were goin to live in. It was situated in Tokyo East, with a nice view on a river from the 7th floor. We decided to start «feeling the city» the same day and headed for Shinjuku. Well. We can say that we came to be a bit ignorant about the area, almost innocent.:) Someone called it Tokyo`s Red Light District: Girl Bars, fishy karaoke closed clubs, men standing outside and saying it to your face: «…(something in Japanese)….blah blah..it`s a beer garden!» Or «tatata…English menu»..hmm menu for what?:) We ate in the neighbourhood and ended up in a sports bar, small but full of foreigners (same devastated souls like us, have no idea where to go) and Japanese eager darts competitors. We sippped our beer and looked at the darts flying here and there and listened to the cheers of the excited locals. We also went to check where our «ROBOT RESTAURANT» was, as we would be having a dinner and a blast there the next evening. It was in the same area, very colourful, with pictures of manga ladies with guns and underwear, really awesome haha.
Our first Tokyo morning started with a breakfast in the neigbouring zen park, opened for people back in 1930-ties and visited by local joggers and pensionists. Quiet morning there with some proteins, carbos and coffee was a great start of another hot day in the city.
We were soon heading for the Imperial Palace Park with our subway one-day-pass in hands. Extreme heat was really unbearable, but we manage to fight it with cold C vitamine and ION drinks from those awesome automats, where you put your few hundred yen coins in and get your treat by the juice robot. Traditional fans were also helping a lot. The park is huge, nice, clean and green and Palace- invisible for the average non-royal mortals. You can see the old palace walls and ruins of the fortress from before.
Soon it was time for…»just like honey»…the famous scramble street crossing of Shibuya (you probably watched «Lost in Translation») with millions of people around made us swim forever to reach some shore on the other side. But which side? Tokyo made us often stand by the road as people and cyclists were rushing by, wandering where to go, taken away by all the huge buildings, billboards, lights and buzz! And then at some point you decide, ok let`s go there, and then you simply need to throw yourself into that people stream that flows forever in all directions (scrambled, indeed!). As the dusk was slowly covering city and all in it, we went back to Shinjuku and bravely joined the excited robot show crowd…
Ahhh what to say about theee ROBOT RESTAURANT! Crazy thing! First, you are put in some golden, extremely golden and bright coloured waiting lounge, and they sell you beer and popcorn and kids stuff (yes, it is a children-friendly Shinjuku show:). In the beginning everyone around was whispering «wtf» with mouth and eyes wide open as it has been a while since this kind of surrounding was cool. Like, «Power Rangers» cool. But do not let screaming Indians with rainbow hair and Oriental music take you back; soon it will start to be – hilarious! All kind of huge animals and robots filled the stage and fought with their heads and tales and fire and smoke above our dinners and beers and popcorn! And its all screams, and loud music and a real circus! And yes, you do get a light stick! Soon you find yourself crying to tears and laughing. You have your blast. And robots, the are really cool. They are huge and they dance and have funny scary faces. Some guys with a T-shirts saying «Robot staff» where manually controlling some of them with radios. Yeah, robot show!
We really needed to have a good rest after the robot show:) The next morning started in the same good manner: we got our breakfast and coffee in the local «Life» supermarket, where we and pensionists shop every morning. These older people are amazing and it is no wonder this country has so many 100-year olds! They cycle and hang out with friends and do shopping and are so active! Wanna be like them when I grow up!:) Some smiled to us in the shop; maybe they recognized us from the morning before? We became a part of the morning shopping team, it seemed.
Our next stop was Akihabara, the Electronic City. We spent there a few hours and Kjartan got his camera and we saw some robots and played video games. Lots of tourists, but fun to see. The afternoon was spent in another blinking and fancy area: Ginza. We experienced an extreeeeme rush in the subway in Ginza. It is 24 rush hours per day over there! Crazy! Don`t get lost! We had a lovely dinner on the 15th floor of a building looking down on the small people and small cars, wonderful ambiental music surrounding us as we sipped our shochu cocktail. We managed to hide in the building during the afternoon rain shower and discovered this oasis. That is when we actually completed the previous post.:)
Last night we went to the cool Tokyo area: Omote sando. We had beer and tortillas with parmesan cheese in the hippy outside student garden of a place called «Commune 243». What a wonderful ending of a relaxing day, we thought.
And then we received an email from Emirates welcoming us on board. Cool, we can check in online already now. And then we found out how much this summer made us carried away. We forgot to apply for the UAE visa! Darn! Drama started, calling here, checking there. Little sleep and forever- long train ride «as early as possible» to the Narita airport. Calling again, scanning passports, checking new flight companies in the meantime. Terribleeee. And 2 hours ago Emirates called, confirmed that we are eligible for visa and issued boarding tickets! We got happy and relieved like never before!! We can get on board tonight and spend a few hour in Dubai after all! It will be a short stop in UAE before we come home to Norway in 2 days. Greeting from Narita airport! k&d
Strolling to the tram with all the luggage, heading for the train-station in Kumamoto, this surely felt like to be another hot day, maybe even with a few more surprises? It started well, the tram from last century was punctual as usual. Arigato gosaimasssss.
Our plan was to head for the scenic route over Mt. Aso to Beppu before heading by ferry to Shikoku and a ryokan in Dogo Onsen. Mt. Aso is a gigantic volcano with 100km circumference and 5 active peaks, while Beppo, located quite close, has a vast array of onsen spas with hot water. The train was full, only 1 seat left later in the day. Replanning in 2 seconds, next stop Matsuyama and Dogo Onsen via Okoyama. The train network in Japan is amazing. We had a short stop in Okoyama, so we quickly grabbed an ekiben for lunch as the landscape was flying by towards Dogo. Ekiben is a railway lunchbox with various combinations of pickles, rice, cold meat or fish dishes. It comes ready with chopsticks and wet tissue, excellent on the go!
Dogo spa is about 30 minutes ride from the train station in Matsyama, again with trams that would be in museums anywherelse in the world. Our ryokan was a bit hidden behind large spa’s and hotels, but only a few minutes walk. Very cosy and extremely friendly and helpful staff. The room was traditional as it can be, large and spacious, covered with tatamis and with covered balconies. Kjartan’s head discovered that the roof was quite low a few places in the room (sturdy low hanging wooden beams). Hopefully no permanent damage. On a positive side, these beams and all wooden interiour gave a pleasent cypress scent to the room. This smell has followed us all over Japan, in ryokans and ancient temples and castles.
In Dogo there is a famous spa, Dogo Onsen Honkan, which was the model bath house in Studio Ghibli’s “Spirited Away”. It looks really nice, but we chose to go to our ryokan`s private onsen instead. Quite small, but very warm and pleasant. You have to make sure to take pauses with some cold water not to get a heat stroke.
This onsen was a perfect refreshment as we had visited a beautiful Matsuyama Castle Museum the same day when the temperature reached around 35++ degrees!
During the night we experienced some vibrations that resembled a fast train passing, only to find out in the morning that there was two minor earthquakes. Actually, the host did not even notice as it is so common, but other guests confirmed.
Next stop Kyoto! The traditional ground pillar of Japan, historically the capital for more than thousand years before Tokyo took its turn. Arriving, it was quite straight forward to find the hostel, great directions from our host. It was a shock to find that Kyoto was so full of foreigners. First impression was that it felt like the least Japanese city so far. People were very frequently walking on the “wrong” side of the street (right side) compared to the rest of Japan. We headed out for dinner in the direction of the Nishiki fish market. Most of the stalls had closed down, so sampling the remaining scraps was not very tempting. However, just at one of the entrances to the market, we found an excellent restaturant/bar playing Japanese hits from the 80’ties. Full of locals and families enjoying udon, takayaki and other grilled foods. Apart from a few smokers, the place had a very nice athmosphere and is highly recommended for anyone happen to be in the area.
Smoking in restaurants and bars is actually quite common in Japan and there are many public smoking areas and rooms. This is a big contrast to the rest of the world these days. Another thing we noticed here is that are very few garbage bins in public. Surprisingly, the streets are very clean and there is a big recycling awareness.
The next day, inspired by a very good Norwegian newspaper article, we wanted to see the more traditional Kyoto (“as Japanese as it can be”) and headed for the hills dotted with temples and shrines. We climbed a mountain with thousands of torii’s (red gates used as entrances in Shinto temples).
It was special even if the place was full with tourists. However we found a nice path exiting the torii and lead up to the peak through the forrest instead. This was a highlight, walking through a mix of cypress and bamboo forrests. There were lots of shrines along the way and very few people. At the very top, we entered the torii galore again and strolled down the mountain.
The rest of the day we where walking alongside the eastern hills, visiting temples and the Gion district where geishas live and work. It should be said that this area is full of geisha wannabees that takes selphies and say “Waah!” (“Wow!”) here and there. We did manage to spot one real geisha in an alley that prepared the street in front of a very discreet entrance as the evening approached.
The next day we headed for Osaka on a one day trip. Osaka can’t be accused for being a beautiful city. However it seems to have been growing fast for practical purposes. It has several interesting areas for different merchandise. Small businesses are thriving and people are very friendly.
Osaka was once the capital of Japan and plays a very important role for trade, culture, handicraft and other merchandise. We went to Den Den Town, Osaka’s answer to Akihabara (Tokyio`s “Electronic City”) as well as Namba, probably one of the busiest commuting and shopping areas in the world. Even if the place was bustling with people walking here and there, the extremely kind and helpful station officers light up on the chance to help a lost foreigner on their way. Our officer jumped and reached for something in his little square pocket purse. We thought he was reaching for his reading glasses, but instead he produced a map neatly folded in many layers to eagerly show us the way.
By chance while looking for a big temple in Osaka, we found a smaller one called Isshinji Temple. It was actually very interesting and worth to see. It had thirteen Bhudda statues made of ashes of more than 200 000 people. We entered the temple during one of the ceremonies and saw people that came here and got calligraphy prayers written by monks to pay tribute to their buried ancestors. Really special place, both cemetary and sanctuary.
The next day we finally took a train between Japan`s most famous cities: Kyoto – Tokyo. We are writing this on a top floor restaurant in the bustling capital that never sleeps. We are a bit delayed posting this due to temporary loss of Internet connection (who would think that in Tokyo!), so a new story is coming in the next episode very very soon! Photos as well.
Greetings from k&d in Tokyo, the Power House of Japan! 🙂
Fukuoka – Nagasaki – Kumamoto (July 18th – July 23rd2015)
Our «Beetle» ferryboat transferred us from Korea to Japan in an exciting and safe manner. This was something new for us to experience, a ferryboat that «flies like a fairy» over the shared seas. The biggest waves happened however at the very departure at Busan, when we realised why the safety belts really were necessary to have on. But it was fun – we are now both generally used to be on board, so we took this as a simulation of a «perfect storm set on pause».:)
Fukuoka (福岡) welcomed us in a beautiful sunset and Kyushu`s (third biggest Japane island) tropic temperature called for aclimatization. We took a bus («wrong side» in the traffic again), listened to the relaxed bus driver talking non stop to his passengers on a mike, calmly, friendly, like he just needs someone to talk to, that is, to listen to his monologue. Every sentence was ending something like «massss» or «desss» and it seemed like he was saying «eeeh, this is where I went to school desss…», «now we turn, hold to your seats, here is a good restaurant to it masss»..Really interesting and completely different world! I mean, teenagers that look like anime characters and shower toilets with remote control on a side and all that stuff (->check our other post about funny signs and photos). It is like being in a movie!
We soon learned that Fukuoka is a really easy, relaxed place and seems to still be somewhere in the 90-ties; old local trains, telephone boots, like they really are in no hurry to catch up with the rest of the hi-tech buzz and finishing stuff yesterday-attitude. It was actually so cool to sit on the SOFA (!) in the local vagons, floor and walls covered in wood and looking at the passengers that talk to each other or reading books – paper covered, real books! Good old life! A really big Japanese bow to Fukuoka who takes its time, really. People using mobile phones while transporting were a minority in these trains. By the way, everyone seems to be really tidy and has his/her own style, that sometimes might work out and sometimes not, but at least they have an enduring attitude to carry out their fashion choice. Moving on the seat to make place for others, not talking on the phone when surrounded by people, thousands of «thanks» («arigato gozaimas») and kind bows (event foreigners bow to each other when they meet in the street, it is contageous:), civilized behaviour and smiles make everyone very comfortable when in public. This is a developed country and that is shown in every corner.
In Fukuoka we ate perfect udon noodles in a traditional, low table, restaurant, visited Tochoji Temple with the biggest Buddha statue in Japan and went through the «Hell of Buddhism» under this 10 m statue until we finally saw the light, purified and blessed. Shofukuji Temple was a place with a beautiful garden where we took some time and Kjartan made some really nice photos of local dragonflies (two black males trying to conquer one red girl). We had unusual matcha (green tea) icecream and rested our eyes on an old wooden temple. Following advices from our tourist book, we took a metro to the old Hakata (other name for Fukuoka, previously separated city) castle, where we firstly hid from the big rain shower in a nearby cafe and then took a good walk through the area that was previously castle and now a nice park with lake.
Visiting Fukuoka cannot pass without having a dinner at yatai (movable food tents), says our book. We decided to first spend 45 minutes in the onsen (spa) close to the place we stayed and then head head back to the centre and eat at yatai. So we did that. Feeling rested, warm and pleasant due to the healing onsen waters, we had ramen noodles, sake, dumplings, grill-skewers and beer together with bunch of locals and tourists, got some nice tips about food and spoke our mastered broken- Japanese. Haha- it is so funny when everyone is friendly and everyone wants to talk but the only thing that is missing is ability to speak one language that everyone involved is familiar with!:) In that way we were taken by mistake as a 4 member family at the onseni hotel that need to pay 10,100.00 yen for overnight stay, when we got there to book an one-hour-bath! Jeez:) We got lots of bowing and «gomen nasai» (aplogize) after that. The girl working there aplogized like 20 times in tiny winy voice and bowed 200 times as she took tiny winy steps in front of us, smiling all the time. 🙂
Our next stop was Nagasaki (长崎). The green (montains) and blue (sea) harbour that survived a disaster 70 years ago, but has kept its open and welcoming attitude. We saw many foreigners living here, following the steps of Portugese that first internationalized Nagasaki back in 16th century!
We took traditional manually driven trams, called streetcars and dating back to 1911, to important and lecturing historical sites: The Atomic Bomb Museum, Peace Park and Glover Garden and learned a lot about Nagasaki`s past. The past before and after the bomb; it is really hard to shake off the feeling of a sudden catastrophe that once erased everything in this place in three seconds! And now…it is simply beautiful and green and blue and peaceful. Do take a walk to the Peace Park; it promotes harmony and best conflict solutions by avoiding nuclear weapons and their disastreous consequences. The Museum also gives good lectures on both history, health and physics topics.
We stayed in this nice place for two days and then had to make a further plans that finally include our JR Pass tickets purchased earlier. We use these a lot now and will last us 7 days. Yesterday (July 22nd) we arrived to Kumamoto (熊本) and saw the old castle (the third most popular in Japan) dating back to 16th century. But before we could even enter this magnificent wooden royal building, we were stopped by royals! Ah, so many guys tried to stop us and tell us something and we thought they were guides that vibe money loaded tourists! And besides «VIP» they said no word of English. Finally one mentioned «Prince, princess!» and soon we had to stand in the line and welcome the prince and princess with the rest of the crowd. What a timing!
And now we are sitting on the fast train that will eventually take us to the smallest of the four big islands – Shikoku. A ryokan (Japanese guesthouse) is waiting for us by the end of the day and we plan to stay two days on this island before starting to explore the huge Honshu with all the famous cities: Kyoto, Osaka and finally Tokyo.
Beijing – Qingdao – Seoul (July 12th – July 18th 2015)
Beijing welcomed us with sun and a scorching heat > 40C. Our directions to the hostel were good. No difficulty to find even though it was located inside a Hutong area with narrow alleys. It was a cosy hostel, rooms where facing the yard (traditional Chinese “siheyuan” courtyard) which was a renovated Hutong with roof. Quite pratical for drying our laundry (finally washed and clean). Our first dinner was the traditional Beijing Duck, great restaurant in our street, then we had a stroll around the Qianmen area. It has changed a great deal, modern walking street full of fashion shops and souveniers for tourists. Several of the traditional Hutongs still stand, but most have been renovated a bit and clearly have higher standards than earlier. The area still has charm. Kids play and families are having their late night barbequed snacks with beer. The occasional card game can also be witnessed, the streets are well and living. It is good to see that good things stay the same.
Next day after booking a trip to wall, we headed for the Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Mausoleum of Mao. The Mausoleum seemed closed, but the Forbidden City was crowded, hot and noisy. It very different to visit in the summer in holiday season compared to the winter out of season. It is beautiful regardless, but with so many tourists and heat, several places felt cramped. Wintertime is recommended!
Beijing has several large gardens and palaces. We decided to go to two of these, the Old Summer Palace (Yuanming Yuan) and the Summer Palace (Yiheyuan). Both are easy to access by Metro now and both beatiful. However, the (New) Summer Palace is clearly the best. It has several large large lakes with causeways lined with trees and hanging leaves. It is very peaceful and you can see people fishing and even swimming at some locations. Take good shoes if you plan to walk around the lakes, the park is huge.
On the way back we tracked down the location where we met 9 years ago! The “Feiying” Youth Hostel had now changed and become a business hotel. The neighbourhood was not changed much so we recognized the sights. Very special!
Back at Qianmen we met a friend who took us to a Laoshe Tea House. It was about closing time, but we still managed to get some excellent tea before heading back to our hostel.
You can’t go to Beijing without taking a hike at The Great Wall of China. At the hostel some backpackers had just come back from the Jinshanling – Simatai hike and were telling us it was great. We agreed saying we did that almost 10 years ago 🙂 This time we took an advice from friends from Fujian and went to Mutianyu. Something to note is that even though the trip is slightly cheaper, you will likely not manage to walk the whole stretch including the stairs up to the wall, unless you take the cable car. Time on the wall is about 3 hours before you have to head back to the lunch and bus ride back. When including the cable car ticket, this trip is the most expensive one, but it is very special experience. Towers up to 23 are renovated. However past the tower no. 23 you can see old parts that are untouched. The wall is overgrown with trees, bushes and has only narrow paths that are walkeable. In the summer it is not easy to keep the pace up to reach the remote towers, as the ascent is straight up the mountain, but the reward is great when you gaze down the mountain on the “ants” walking below. Only few tourists bother to go beyond tower 23 when coming with a tourist bus, but we did meet a few that had hiked a couple of hours from the other side of the mountain. With more time and devotion, going on longer hikes and stops in villages on the way is clearly possible.
With sore feet and after the long walk whole day a traditional Beijing Hot Pot can’t be recommended enough. It gives you both strength and nutrition and if you are not careful with the spices, it gives yourself and the whole restaurant an itch and a cough. Our neigbouring table, maybe from Sichuan, got the comment “What kind of fuel did you put in that burner?” (even the waiter had to run out on the street to clear her throat!) 🙂
Next stop Qingdao, the home of Tsingtao beer and a port city. We were welcomed by a local friend Wenwen, that Dragana knows from Oslo. After checking in, we had an excellent lunch/dinner with all local specialities and of course fresh unrefined Tsingtao beer in a pitcher. Later we walked through the night market (夜市) and walking street Taidong, looked in shops and had some iced coffee. Refreshing! Qingdao is one of the smaller cities we visited, has around 10 million people and a bit too much smog in the air, but all in all is quite a cosy place.
Next day we grabbed some breakfast and headed for the airport. The female taxi driver was very cool and had decorated the car with stitching. You have to be pretty tough to drive in a city like Qingdao, the traffic is terrible and there is no metro yet (to be finished in 2017).
Seoul welcomed us after a short double decker plane trip from Qingdao. This gigantic city has more than 10 million people + another 15 million in the suburbs and surroundings. Added with the media coverage of MERS outbreak recently, we were careful. Very few people wore masks and it seemed like people where quite relaxed now. Hand sanitizers placed around entries/exits of shopping centers and free masks in the hotel showed that the situation was taken seriously.
As we arrived quite late, our options for food were limited, but with the help of some local girls in the street, we found a great place for Korean soup and something similar to Hot Pot. Clay pot on a gas burner with well boiled meat, vegetables and assortments of kimchi served with Korean rice wine. Excellent! It was fun using the language in Seoul – it turned out that it went much easier once we used Chinese instead of English! The city namely speaks Korean, Japanese and Chinese.
The next day we headed for the palaces and the folk museum. Not so crowded, but very peaceful and serene instead. The Folk Museum was great, much information in English and with multimedia shows depicting peoples lives and livelihood in different seasons and times. The South Korean culture is quite specific. With later influences from China and Japan, it has an origins from long lasting and quite stable monarkies that were established by the tribes that settled and divded the land. The similarities to clothes, tools and similar used in Balkans, Russia and even by Norwegian indegenous people is striking.
The evening was spent in the more modern areas of Seoul, the Damdaeamun clothes market and Dootsa shopping mall. Contrasts are large in Seoul as well. Climate is pleasant, breeze from the sea and quite green with parks and well kept palaces.
Today we boarded the KTX (Korean Train Express) to Busan where our flying ferry is waiting to take us to Japan! It speeds through whole South Korea in only 2 hours and 30 minutes, impressive. There is not a city without some adventure. Kjartan read about the Yongtsan Electronic Market the day before. It is said to be as large as the electronic market in Hong Kong and Tokyo combined and was rebuilt due to the construction of new KTX lines (2004). Seoul has several train stations and it seemed quite logical that our train was to depart from Yongtsan station. We arrived in very good time and yes, there are KTX trains leaving from here. However not OUR KTX train, that one leaves from Seoul Station. Ok, jump in another taxi and head for the Seoul train station. At least we got to see the Yongtsan Electronic Market in the end 🙂
Thanks to our friend’s help, we could easily pick up the train tickets Xiamen-Shanghai. During the trip through China, we have widely enjoyed the benefits of WeChat application (微信) functions: if you have a friend with Chinese mobile phone and WeChat account, he/she can pay the ticket online for you and you can give them money afterwards! It was enough to show passport and a picture of a receipt and many train tickets were soon in our hands! In this way, we have also just picked up our Beijing-Qingdao tickets for 15th of July, while we wait for the train to Beijing on 12th! Cool!:) Not to mention that the huge Nanjing train station, where we are now, seems even bigger as the typhoon stopped many trains towards the south and east and it is only like a million people around us! That’s nothing! 🙂
We arrived to Shanghai on 7th of July, and got on a metro with our new purple SH metro card. We found our hostel pretty easy and were happy that day although the room was terrible. Luckily we do not stay too much in rooms and the guys in the hostel were ok, so it went ok in the end.
The first evening we had a spicy Sichuan dish for dinner in a restaurant nearby and immediately headed for the famous Bund (外滩). We took some really nice photos of the area, both banks of The Huangpu River and curious, veeery curious, people passing by.:)
We strolled down the walking street, Nanjing Road (南京路) before heading back. The next day we started with a lazy morning and decided that it is time to slow down a bit. The typhon news started to arrive and we gave up on Hangzhou and Suzhou and made plans for Nanjing instead – not really being aware how big the typhoon will be and how lucky we will feel afterwards!
After breakfast we walked all the way to The Bund again and met The Pearl Tower (东方明珠) in its morning outfit. This famous landmark of Shanghai broadcasts TV programme that one can watch directly in the SH metro trains. We also visited beautiful and traditional Yu Yuan Garden, felt the atmosphere of an old Shanghai and had a nice rest in this place that is a real food for the soul…
Afterwards we also experienced the first raindrops, while sitting on the bench on The People’s Square, an area neatly arranged by the city government.
This is my (Dragana’s) third short visit to Shanghai and I can say that every time is so different and unique, it’s like coming to three completely different cities. Not only due to the ten year change and development but the city size! It is huuuge and it takes ages to see everything.
Shanghai is a city of contrasts. As you stand next to an old temple with the red dragon-shaped roof, a growing skyscraper from the temple’s neighbourhood is unavoidable on that picture you are taking. Old, traditional spirit is easily being mixed with high-tech places, full of neon lights, “dum dum” music and those shopping centres where people stand in line to open one of those little boxes on the sale. Ok, they look stylish, but what is in them? We barely managed to see some pieces of fake jewelry. As people in Serbia say, “even the god loves it if it is for free”. Or on sale, I would guess.
We went through The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel (fun for kids mostly) to reach the modern Pudong area and take photos of The Pearl Tower in the night fog. It was like a dream! Really nice experience. We could not climb the tower as it disappeared with its neighbouring sisters in fog and clouds, but went to a good and cosy Shanghai history museum which is located at the bottom of the tower and got an evening history lecture.
We would also like to recommend one of the Lanzhou noodles places, where Chinese muslims make huge portions of a various delicious food and you can see them as they “la mian” – strech dough and make noodle soup. I remember watching this in Putian-flashbacks from the previous life in China.:)
Our next stop was Nanjing and it was a pearl to discover. The green capital of Jiangsu province and an ancient capital of modern China that housed six Chinese dynasties!! We were so happy with this place! Our friend Charlie took really good care of us every minute and we are looking forward to welcome him and his family in Norway.
Two days in lovely Nanjing went fast but we managed to see ancient gates in the city, entrance to the Confucious museum, old city area where we had our first stinky tofu (臭豆腐）experience (it is really true: the stinkier this soya cheese is, the more tasty it gets!) and modern night-life area 1912 (the year of founding of the first China Republic).
K&D – First time stinky tofu experience
The next day we spent hours in a big Nanjing museum which we absolutely recommend as it gives a thourough lecture on Chinese and Jiangsu history. If you wonder which city to visit in China and want to know more about its culture and history, Nanjing is number 2 place to go (after Xi’an, the first capital ever, previously known as Chang’an). Nanjing is the city of green: bridges and roads are literally covered by green plants and leaves and as we go through and leave Jiangsu province now, the green is saying hi to our 310km/h bullet train.
Our next stop, Beijing, promises sunny weather and we hope that our friends in the south and eastern provinces will soon experience the same.
After arriving at Xiamen train station, the adventure to find the bus to Putian is beginning. It was raining so people were quite nervous and running here and there. We easily found the way to the bus-station by crossing a bridge. Not exactly sure where to buy the tickets (on board or at the counter), we had to go back to the station and line up in the queue. With tickets in our hands again we were told to hurry. We crossed the bridge to get on the bus, but where was the bus? It was not there, so again we ran back to the station. Asking some people it seemed we where on the right way. No, wrong again. Asking here and there we finally found out that the tickets was for the “dongche” (bullet-train) and we had missed it! Bullet train line in Fujian was something new to us, China is developing very fast. Again line up in a different queue to change tickets, no problem. This time we had good time to find the terminal and we where first in line when it was time to check in. Standing in the line was like getting ready to a race. Clock counting down and guard asking to check if machine works. Red light, no, wait WAIT, the guard is shouting. Now, hurry, try again, green, lets go!
Xiamen to Putian is close, it was a smooth ride in around 200 km/h. Once there we were welcomed by friends, Martha and Faye, who helped us with the hotel and treated us with an excellent dinner together with the whole family of three generations!
The next day we went by ferry to the Meizhou Island. Of course, the ATM did not work on the mainland, but there was plenty on the island! To make sure things should go smooth this is where we headed first. However, it turns out most banks and ATM, even with Visa and Mastercard written on them, do not work with foreign Visa or Mastercards. The machine just entered maintenance mode and did a reboot (windows sounds and all)! All the machines we tried “went to sleep”, so guess we crashed down the whole island`s ATM system! 🙂 Perfect, not enough money and where to get it? Friends stepped in, pulled some connections (“guanxi”) and, after taking a one-motorbike-taxi-ride, we could borrow some RMB from – an island government official! Finally our sightseeing could begin!
Mazu Temple is a beautiful and lively sight, crested on the green hilltops and with lots of people who go here to pay their tribute, burning hell-money and insense.
An occasional monkey (dressed up person) gives the impression that this could be a scene from the Jungle book. Dragana explained that the monkey character is Sun Wukong, one of the heroes from the Chinese classic “The Journey to the West”.
On the very top, the Mazu goddess surveys the sea and protects the land from the typhoon. From the hill close to the big Mazu statue one can see not only colourfull dragon-shaped roof tops, but also islands belonging partly to Putian and partly to Taiwan!
A bag full of lyche (Putian fruit) protects us from hunger. Perfect refreshing snack in hot weather. Chinese ladies use a different method: everywhere we have gone so far, we say thousands of big and small, bright and dark-coloursed – umbrellas (!) that protect the people from the sun! Not parasols- umbrellas! Guess it is because many people simply run dramatically from the streets when it begins to rain, so “rain umbrellas” are here pretty much useless as we know them. 🙂
Back on the mainland we head for the downtown Putian. Much has changed here in 10 years. The little town (of 3 million people!!!) has become a city with skyskapers everywhere. The cozy walking streets with “holes in the walls” with excellent local food turned into a little highway and the modern fashion and electronic shops were lined up side by side. Some areas are still the same though; looking behind the modern facades and digging into the alleyways, we found the school where Dragana lived and worked 10 years ago!
Next day, the journey continues to Xiamen. This is a rapidly evolving, partly mainland (suburbs), partly island (the real thing) city that attracts quite a large amount of locals, as well as a few foreign tourists. You reach the island by going through the underwater tunnel. It has lots of Western colonial architecture and was a well known port for foreign trade at the time. Xiamen has managed to keep some of its old charm with traditional narrow alleys, street sellers only few steps from modern walking streets with modern fashion.
One can experience different things in this growing city; while those prefering “food for the soul” head for the Zhongshan park and enjoy singing of a gathered Chinese choir in one of the traditional resting places (亭子), qigong, taiji and dancing groups or simply close their eyes and drift, those hungry for a speedy speedy life, shoping and modernization stroll down the walking Zhongshan road and get one with the crowd! Our local friends thou showed us something alternative: we saw the old railway track and went through the very nice tunnel that used to be active many many years ago. Now this place is called the Railway Cultural Park and our hosts explain that the tourist seldom find this place by themselves. Worth visiting and experiencing!
Gulangyu Island, a short ferry ride from the city, has well preserved architecture, beautiful beaches and several museums. It is CROWDED, especially at the ferry, but well worth a visit to get out of the city for a day. Don’t forget to sample local fish soup and grilled sea food in the streets! We tried those huge grilled squids in the street, our faces became orange and all that stuff, but we ENJOYED it as we finished it all with a can of Qingdao beer! Healthy food can wait a bit! 😀
As you can see, we had a short, but lovely time in a beautiful green Fujian province! As we are writing this draft, we are sitting on another “dongche” bullet train (not bus!:), this time crossing Zhejiang province and heading to Shanghai. We got up at 04.45 am, and before this “dong che”, took a local Xiamen`s blue BRT bus (not train!) which is elevated above the city and takes in anyone who can push, be pushed, squished and breathe in a most crowded possible vehicle!
Well that`s it for now. We are staying in Shanghai for the next three days and plan also to visit the neighbouring Hangzhou and Suzhou.
(Computer shop. Dragana bored; uses the golden opportunity to write a draft for the blog on this miracle of modern life called “smart phone”, while Kjartan has his IT blast.:)
Yes, it has been a long flight Oslo-Moscow-HK. In Moscow, during transfer, we had an interesting time-experience and would like to share a small tip: DO NOT believe your phone when it is telling you the time between the flights; we were all right and lucky, but one man missed his flight as his phone obviously had not adjusted to the local time fast enough. Just look at the airport clock or something like that. That’s the tip.:-)
Hong Kong. The city of the “wrong” side of the traffic, three official languages, surprisingly good organization, tall buildings and trees and – lots of people! It welcomed us jet-lagged and mouth wide opened, amazed by the green hills that end up in clouds and all that super-tall architecture!
It was Sunday when we arrived-the day when migrant workers gather traditionally in the streets and enjoy the time together promoting their working services and rights. This was kind of the first thing we experienced – ending up in a crowd of bunch of jolly Indonesian ladies on the way to the hostel!
We asked and got a recommendation to try local noodles for lunch in the Jardine`s Bazaar. They were pretty good and we ate with locals, just like we prefer: “When in Rome…” or “入乡随俗”;-) When we asked for paper however, we heard in broken Mandarin “M’you zi!” No paper. Luckily, one kind older lady that works there gave us some from the kitchen cabinet (hope she was not scolded by her strick lady-boss!) and we learned a lesson. We guess that it is due to the virus threats recently, everyone takes responsibility for their own paper. Local supermarket sells tissues as a six pack and it is win-win for everyone as these are pretty cheap. You buy your tissues from them and just head for the restaurants that save their own paper and skip to have responsibility for your health by not transferring virus via restaurant napkins. Fair enough.
We realized that it was an absolute must for a power nap, after we thought/felt that evening was approaching at – 1 pm!
After the sleep everything felt much better and we had some dim-sum and watched the popular Symphony of the Light from the Victoria harbour. The show is a nice experience but one thing even nicer was the meeting of Jupiter and Venus in the sky that night! We were informed about this happening before and knew what was going on when we saw two particularly bright dots above the lights and skyscrapers.
After visiting The Boulevard of Stars (Asian Hollywood), we headed back to Causeway Bay and the Jardine`s Bazaar (area close to the hostel), where we enjoyed an excellent shaomai in a small “hole in the wall”. We talked in Mandarin/broken Cantonese with the grandpas (“yeye”) working there to make them a bit more relaxed with these strange foreigners entering their cosy restaurant. And it WAS cosy: people were dropping by for take off and students and workers were enjoying their food after the hard working day.
The second day in Hong Kong started early, when we got our croissants from the local supermarket (“Wellcome” with two l’s:) and headed for the picturesque Hong Kong park. The place is famous for the newly weds, that is they can register their marrige on the top of the park hill. We got our tickets for the Victoria Peak tramway and started the adventure: climbing up the hill (太平山) and leaving the skyscraper tops below our feet, enjoying the view of all the green around us and -click click click- using our cameras, of course! We had our croissants and coffee (breakfast) once we arrived at the top and started the walk tour around the peak. Now, that was funny. There were almost no people when we started – at the end of the track! Turn the right, folks!:) It is really amazing how our organism is used to start from the left. Even the dogs, coming our direction with their jogging owners, were looking at us like there was something wrong since we walked on the left side of the road haha!
The forest is really something- it is hard to forget the smells and the sounds of cicada singing/fighting and the air really cleaned our lungs! And the trees – no, someone really needs to invent some technology for all the five senses! A big recommendation to experience the forest!!
Afterwards, we went to the hostel to fetch our suncream and then took the ferry to Lantau Island. Kjartan has been here before so he showed me the biggest Buddah statue in the world! Then we took the bus no. 2 to the Tai O fishing village where we had an excellent lunch at a seafood restaurant! We saw some “laowai” (non-Chinese) here as it is possible to get a B&B room on this genuine village! The restaurant we ate at had bunch of notes on the wall, written in many languages by satisfied customers that tried seafood grill prepared in the shells, covered with cheese, bacon, chilly papper and other yummy stuff! Really cool and excellent meal with had and left a Norwegian-Serbian-English-Chinese happy note on the wall!:)
Tai O. Little pearl among the hills. The evening was approaching as we walked down the narrow roads between the many huts, as the locals enjoyed with their families sitting in the street, watching series from outside as the door was open and it was so hot to sit inside, and slowly preparing for dinner. We got some local street snacks (Tai O sesame cookie) and these were really good!
By now we should mention that the draft is being written at Shenzhen North Station as we are waiting our high speed train (gao tie, 207 km/h!) to Fujian province!
We arrived here two days ago (June 30th) by crossing the border between HK and mainland China on foot! That was really cool experience:-) We even wanted to test e-check but it only work for locals. Thus we had to stand in the standard long queue with others and – even fill out arrival and departure card! Shocking haha, what were we thinking, getting into the country just like that!
Shenzhen is a city that develops 24/7. One can literally see the welding process with sparks falling in the middle of the night as the skyscrapers are growing! Really! Imagine that happening in Norway! The distances are large, as one can imagine in a city of a population of two Norways. So it is good to use metro when commuting, just like we did both in HK (“Octopus card”) and Shenzhen (colour metro card). The trains in both cities are very well organized, broad and with a good air-conditioning. The people however act differently in Shenzhen that in HK; they push in as soon as the train arrives, so be ready to push out!
Getting to the SZ hostel was a real adventure! We arrived close to the destination around 4pm, rang them few times, made people around ring them few times, went left, right, right again, back to where we started, then right, right again, back again and straight forward, then we found the Rainbow bridge, we crossed the bridge, went left, some guard talked with the hostel on the phone, then went straight, then the guard called us back apologizing for sending us off in the wrong direction, then we went back to the Rainbow bridge and finally found Block A! All of that to discover that the 14 floor does not exist, so we took the elevator to the floor 15A (the between 13 and 15) with 20kg luggage on our back.
The hostel “Wanderer” truly lives up to its name- we wandered and wondered in 35 degrees (common temperature in HK and SZ this time of the year). The people working there did not know what “hostel bookers” (the site we had booked the room from) was, but we managed to get private dormitory accomodation with shared bathroom. The place was an improvisation of a hostel business- we definitely do not recommend this place, unless you speak the language or do not mind hostel workers being too casual with their guests (there was no key to the rooms, so I saw a hostel worker opening the door without knocking when one foreigner was in his underwear). Ask for the key otherwise.
The second day in Shenzhen went fast as we met our friends living in the city and spent hours commuting by the metro. We saw the Sea World, close to the harbour Shekougang (蛇口港), where they have colourful water shows in the evenings. Many bar and foreign restaurants are in this area as well. The place is located by the end of the orange metro line. Be aware that it might take a few hours from one side of the city to the other-by the metro which is quite new (a few years old!) and – extremely developed! We would like to thank our friend Cyprian for showing us around. 谢谢, Cy!:)
This blog entry is being published on the train Shenzhen-Xiamen. The plan is immediately to take a bus to Putian, a Fujian town where Dragana lived 10 years ago! Staying there for the next three days. Stay tuned.:) k&d