I am finally back with part 2 of our amazing trip to China!The details are almost starting to fade, so I really have to get into gear and record this. For my own sake (and my children as well). As for you kind readers...well, thanks for hanging around to share this journey, too!
So, I last left off when we got to sleep in the amazing Fairmont hotel in Shanghai. Only one night? That is some sad stuff. I wanted to spend my lifetime there. But, alas - we had some serious Shanghai-ing to do!
We were up early and ready to spend a bit of time walking along the Bundt and enjoying the gorgeous buildings and skyline. These buildings used to be Embassies, but have now be turned into hotels, etc. I found the buildings to have a very European feel - not something I expected to find in China! Oh, and it was a great chance to snap some family pics :)
One thing that I quickly noticed in Shanghai (and every place we visited) was that the Chinese take great pride in their architecture and you will find very few buildings that resemble each other. We saw so many unique designs - it was wonderful to see.
We also got to see the beautiful "new" Shanghai skyline across the river. See that really tall building with the square "hole" in the top? Yeah, we were going there next.
BUT, not before posing with the cousins for a few silly shots. I just have to say how impressed I was by how well all of the kids got along the entire trip. Whether they were riding for hours on a bus or train or plane, or walking from this place to that, or eating at restaurants, or just hanging out - they were having way too much fun together. It was so fun to watch and made me miss living closer to them.
So, after a brief morning enjoying the Bundt with the Boyds, we headed back to the Fairmont to meet up with everyone else and load back onto the tour bus for a Shanghai excursion! I knew we were famous, because we had Indiana Jones himself as our tour guide :) A very tall, very red-headed, chinese speaking Indiana :)
Off to see the Shanghai World Financial Center! This is a super tall skyscraper located in the Pudong district of Shanghai. It also boasts the worlds highest observatory. The elevator to the 100th floor was so fast our ears popped. Crazy how tall this building was.
JJ got a bit queasy from the height, but she still took a chance to look down. A few of us took pics by the window - which was difficult to see because of the grey smoggy day, but the height was unbelievable. Everything below looked like toy models. I wish I could convey the height in pictures.
Like I said, the cousins just enjoyed being together - hardly noticing where they were. “Oh, are we on the top of one the world’s highest buildings? Sorry, Owen was telling a great joke...excuse me...” I, for one, enjoyed the fancy toilets, one with a view, heated seats, and a crazy complicated bedee.
After the World financial Center adventure, we headed on to a wonderful market. This antique market in Shanghai was called "Tianzifang" and it was amazing to see. Unique arts, crafts, and antique items (as well as new items) for blocks and blocks. I could have spent all day just browsing the booths and visiting with the people. One woman in particular spoke incredibly good english and we had a wonderful conversation. We didn't have a lot of time here, but I did end up buying a gorgeous tea pot and some T-Shirts for the girls before hopping back on our bus to continue the Shanghai adventure :) This was also our first lesson in bargaining. We learned never to pay asking price for anything. You can always get your item at least 50% less than they are asking. I learned to be a great bargainer by the end !
We popped by Blaine and Yuan Li's new house that is still being renovated. They bought in a trendy neighborhood with fun cafes and shops right in their back yard! Most people in China do not have the luxury of living in a house, never mind having a little backyard of their own, so this was neat to see. I can't wait to see what they do with the house inside. Sounds like they have some fun plans, and Blaine is designing most of the decor himself. Awesome!
We were going to eat lunch in one of the cafes near his house, but with 24 of us, it would have been a tight fit. We opted, instead, to enjoy a lunch of Subway and McDonalds in a local park where the elderly go to exercise. Who knew? I guess when everyone lives in apartment buildings, you need to have space set aside just for getting some exercise. It was a beautiful park and the kids loved having a chance to run around a bit.
Then we headed straight to the Shanghai train station to board our first overnight train to Xi'An. It was super packed, but the kids didn’t mind waiting. Luckily Yuan Li hooked us up with the VIP entrance and we boarded right away.
Traveling on an overnight train in China was a first for me (and most of us) and it wasn’t the most luxurious experience. Mostly because of the squatting toilets (people have a hard time aiming in a moving train – go figure) and the smoking. People in China smoke..everywhere. Even where they "technically" aren't supposed to. We were lucky enough, though, to travel in the first class cabins with beds,tables, TVs, and (most importantly) doors. Even with all of that, we didn’t sleep great – except for the kids who zonked right out! I enjoyed our dinner on the dining car, though, and found the experience sort of thrilling. Except for the toilet situation. I could have done without that.
We woke up after a so-so sleep on the train, with a couple of hours until our arrival in Xi'an. The scenery was amazing as we traveled along. I even caught glimpses of the famous rice terraces! We also had some time to just "hang" with each other. Yuan Li looked gorgeous even after a terrible sleep!
Getting off the train was an experience, too. It was crazy busy at the station, and we were warned about pick-pockets. Tamber was a victim as her iPod was swiped sometime during our trek from the train to the Hotel where we would have breakfast. It was crazy packed. I think we all held on to our kids a little tighter until we reached the hotel for breakfast. We also took a cousin's school project "Flat Baylie" along for a few snapshots :)
We had a glorious buffet breakfast at a super swanky hotel. Lots of bacon, veggies, and fruit. My fave was a pastry with chocolate in the middle. Glorious chocolate!
People in China eat like people in much of the world (except North America). They fill up on grilled veggies, breads, meats etc. for breakfast, eat a similar lunch to ours, then eat a lighter supper. I could get used to breakfasts like these!
After breakfast, we hopped on another tour bus to see the Terracotta warriors - maybe 45 minutes outside of Xi'An. So excited! We had a phenomenal tour guide, “Minnie” who spoke excellent English and entertained us during the ride out to the warriors.
Once we arrived at the Terracotta warriors, Blaine and our tour guide, Minnie, were trying to explain about the different buildings we would be going through, but SOME people just can't help but be silly!
The warriors themselves are something you have to see. Each one (of thousands) is designed after an individual soldier, so each and every one is unique. The Terracotta Warriors represent only a small portion of the eight thousand strong underground army buried in front of the Emperor Qinshihuang's tomb (r. 221-207 BC) to defend him in the afterlife. Several were smashed by rebels when there was an uprising years later. Some farmers discovered the broken warriors while digging a well years later, and one of them is still alive and signs autographs at the museum. I can't imagine the work it took to piece the broken figures back together. They are awesome.
I enjoyed the scenery at the Terracotta Warriors exhibit as much as the warriors themselves. I adore the blossoms on the trees and the sort of ethereal look of the grounds. Everywhere we went there was hundreds of years of history...China has a way of soaking into you and leaving a permanent mark on your soul. It was like being in another world.
Back on the bus and into Xi'an for a muslim-style lunch. A big hit with me and Lyndon - not so much for the girls :) I really loved dipping the dense, unleavened bread into the noodle soup – it reminded me of Vietnamese Pho Soup. So yummy.
I had no idea that there were so many different Chinese ethnicities, either. The "Hui" people are the predominantly muslim or Islamic ethnicity in China and have been in China for over 1,400 years. They resemble all other Chinese people - the only real difference in looks is their style of dress. Isn't there an incredible history in China?
Our last stop was the wall of Xi'an city. Most major cities and towns in China have their own city wall (for the 'old city' - the new city now extends far beyond the city walls).
First we had to pass the "sentinel" guard - oh, and snap a pic or two. The wall was incredibly wide - enough for 3 or 4 chariots to ride side by side along it.
The setting sun was the perfect light to take some photos along the top of the wall. With so much smog in the larger cities, it was a rare treat to see some blue sky and sunshine. It was the perfect evening.
We took a little time to take some fun sunglass pics ;) How I love these girls!
Lots more photos. I really went overboard here, I know. The light was so beautiful and everyone had had a shower and a delicious meal earlier in the day, so we were all feeling wonderful. I also loved the gorgeous buildings on top of the wall, and the glorious mix of old and new China that we could see from our standpoint above.
A few more shots of our group. I love the one of the two "JJs" They were the best of best buds on the entire trip - not to mention they look like siblings, instead of cousins! And Lily loved to pose like this for photos – when she wasn’t sick of being asked to be in them.
We were getting used to having people ask to photograph us, or take pictures with us - but this was the first non-chinese request we had. This was a nice couple from Kenya who wanted pics with the cute white girls :)
As I said earlier - the view was amazing, and it was a nice mix of old and new Chinese architecture. So fun to see.
We had just enough time to pose for a nice group shot in the setting sun. I wasn't in this one, but everyone else was (I was taking the shot). Looking back, I wish I had asked someone to take the photo for me so I could have been in it - we never did get one with absolutely everyone from our group in it.
Back to the train station to board one more overnight train - this time to Beijing! We had a little “let’s see the foreigners” incident at this train station, but (after a drunk guy got rowdy) we got a police escort to the train station, which actually helped us to board the train...just in time! Funny how a bad situation turns into a blessing, isn’t it?
I think we were all grateful that this train was a bit newer, cleaner, nicer than the previous one, and we were all even more grateful it would be our last overnight train on our trip.
Well, that's the end of "part 2", are you still with me? :) I'll be back with one last installment of our time in Beijing (which was where we spent the remainder of our trip). It was a trip for the record books!