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Frederick and Saul, Contact Me!

Beijing, China

We had a great last few nights in Beijing! Met some neat people (Thanks for a great few days Frederick, Ida, Saul, and Christian!!!) and saw and experienced some truly memorable moments. I will wait to post the pictures until I hear back from the folks above.
Hosteling this trip has turned out to be the best, cheapest, and easiest way to meet folks from around the world. The folks mentioned above are among the best! I sure hope Ida is feeling better as well.
Frederick and Saul, please contact me when you are able so I can post some of the wonderful photos from the insect/arachnid/Lassie/pigeon night. Please send photos as soon as you are able! Email to akstoltzy@gmail.com.
I am in Vancouver now but will post pics and stories very soon.

permalink written by  akstoltzy on June 23, 2010 from Beijing, China
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Beijing Zoo

Beijing, China

Hopped on the train and railed over to the Beijing Zoo. We went the wrong way after we caught the transfer train but recognized our mistake quickly and so we only went one stop before getting off and taking the train the other way. We saw the most rude and funny thing before we got to the zoo. I've written many times about the lack of personal space and that people will literally run you over to get somewhere. That's exactly what happened. At one stop, there were many more people that wanted to get on than get off. So, as the train doors opened, the few that needed to get off did and then the stampede to board was on. These two Chinese girls, each of whom could not have been more than 5' tall on their tippy toes, were standing in front of me when this good-sized man just bowls them over, the one girl much harder than the other. If the train had been less crowded, she would have ended up on the floor of the train. Instead, she got moved back along with the people behind her a good three feet. I couldn't believe this guy! Then, after the one girl got creamed, she starts laughing and continues to do so with her friend for a good 10 seconds. That cracked us up! It was like someone on the show 'Biggest Loser' stomping a munchkin from The Wizard of Oz. It was quite funny and a head shaker both at the same time.

We arrived at the zoo and bought our passes for the aquarium as well. As you walk in, there is a fairly large moat that has many different types of aquatic birds. Here are a few:

We walked around the entire zoo and finally came to the pandas!

Like my friend Jason says in his best Forrest Gump voice, this bear was taking a nayyyyyaaap.
Here is another shot of a different bear:

I had more but they didn't turn out since the glass reflected the flash and whited out the images.
This sequence of signs is pretty funny:

We also saw the bad part of the zoo:

This guy is being fed by the public. they throw him parts of sandwhiches, popcorn, and whatever they have. You can tell by his fur how poorly he is being cared for. Then there is this bear:

What was even worse is there was no water ANYWHERE that we could see. It's almost 100 degrees and no water.
Here are the rhinos (notice their ribs showing):

Nothing else really has to be said as these pictures I think tell a thousand words.

Here are some other photos that are better:

Here's one that resembles the aforementioned Jason:

Oh wait, this guy has hair.

We also went to the aquarium and the dolphin show but that's when the batteries died in my camera. It was a short show. In any case, no one puts on a water mammal show like Sea World. This was the minor leagues compared to Sea World.

We're winding down our stay. These next days will be filled with eating foods that were not meant to be eaten by people (ay least in the west). I am still having major stomach problems so eating insects, arachnids, and God knows what else shouldn't make it any worse. More tomorrow...

permalink written by  akstoltzy on June 20, 2010 from Beijing, China
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Hard Rock Cafe and Hooters

Beijing, China

Still having some problems with connectivity and the internet....

We woke up fairly early today. It's another scorcher today (about 97) and so the walking turns out to be a good workout, especially when you get as lost as frequently as we do!

We sat around for a while this morning as we are about traveled out. We left about 2:30 PM and actually got to our target (Hard Rock Cafe) in just under two hours (applause applause applause)! Here is proof we got there:

The food was hugely overpriced as we paid American equivalents for our meal and drinks. The only other Hard Rock I've been to is in Los Angeles (or somewhere in Orange County where my sister used to live). I knew it would be expensive but the shock was a little greater because we have been paying, on average, about $4.00 each meal. This one was over $40 bucks! It was good to go though and of course I bought the t-shirt but not the black one.

We then headed down the street about two Miles with the intent of watching the World Cup at a Sports Bar/Restaurant. However, the place was absolutely packed and there wasn't a seat available outside. As we looked around to see if another place had the first match on, lo and behold there is a Hooters right above us! So we went in and watched the first match. Just like only reading the articles in Playboy, we only watched the soccer match. Honest.

The past two days, we have walked well over 20 Miles. Exactly how much I don't know but I'm sure it is the most I've walked on consecutive days.

Tomorrow is the Beijing Zoo. I'm not a fan of zoos but they do have Pandas.

Until tomorrow....

permalink written by  akstoltzy on June 19, 2010 from Beijing, China
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Walking Like There's No Tomorrow

Beijing, China

The internet has been funky, to say the least, over here the past few days. Now that it's working again, I can fill you in on the weekend.

Today (Friday), we went back to Tian'amen Square. So, we left the hostel and started walking thinking that making two lefts would be easy and therefor, allow us to walk due south and right to the square. That was our first mistake. We stopped at a store:

to get something to eat thinking it was only a four mile walk. I decided on some yogurt (cherry/coconut):

mainly because it was such a large container.

As we walked, and walked, and walked a bit further, we came across embassy row (this is where we figured out we had to have made three left turns instead of two because we were walking way to the east and north of the square!). We never did find the US Embassy. I'm kicking myself for not taking the Swedish Embassy's picture but we were pretty tired by then since we essentially ened up further away from Mao and Co. then when we were at the hostel. We decided to find the first train that we could since we had walked for more than two hours and on the way, we found these soldiers practicing marching:

We tried to give them tips on how to walk aimlessly, far, and without direction but it was probably good for us that they didn't speak English.
We almost stopped for a slushy:

but decided to keep truckin' on for the train. BTW, first 7-11 I've been in with owners that were not Pakastani or Indian! Go figure!
So we get to the train and after a transfer (yes, we had walked so far from where we should have that it required TWO trains to get back to Tian'amen Square!) we made it. Unfortunately, the tiny three-delay in arriving meant that the mausoleum that we had come to see WAS CLOSED! When it gets hot like this (each day has averaged about 98 or so) they are only open from 8:00 AM to noon. We might go Wed or Thu but who knows.

On the way back to the hostel (we walked since we thought we had the left-turn problem taken care of; wrong), we passed a Catholic Church:

It's called The Catholic East Church, or Wangfujing Catholic Church, and is one of the best-preserved religious sites in the middle of Beijing. The East Church was originally called Saint Joseph's Church, and was built in the 12th year (1655) of Emperor Shunzhi during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). We went in and I would have taken pictures but it was very dark and the few I took did not turn out. It's just neat being inside a building or at/on/in any historical building whose history dates back so many years.

As I mentioned before we walked for a while. We left at about 11:30 AM, took the train to Tian'amen Square and got off at 1:50 PM, and then proceeded to walk until after 6:00 PM. Conservatively speaking, we walk between 3-4 miles an hour. So that means, for the roughly five hours we were walking, we had to have walked close to 15 miles. We never stopped walking! It was 99 today so I figure we lost any bloating problems as well.

Tomorrow, we go to the Hard Rock Cafe, Hooters, and maybe a nightclub. Should be an adventure in walking again as we refuse to admit defeat to the poorly written maps!

permalink written by  akstoltzy on June 18, 2010 from Beijing, China
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Hard-Sleepers vs Soft Sleepers

Beijing, China

Took the overnight train from Xi'an to Beijing last night. It wasn't a bad ride. However, we were in the carriage that is the last sleeper with the 'sitters' (they only have small chairs and tables to sit at) right next to us. The smoke in that car is incredible and of course drifted into our car. We were also the last bunk section in our carriage and so were the closest to the smoke and the occasional bathroom smell. It was a ride that lasted a little under 12 hours. We arrived at the hostel, ate breakfast, and crashed. I woke up at 2 PM so I must have been tired.

The overnight train is the way to go when traveling here. Leaving at night and arriving whether it be in the morning or early afternoon is a great way to avoid wasting days if you are here for a limited schedule/time. This is what I have learned regrading train-travel in China (hard sleeper only):

1. If you are nimble or even in fair shape, the top bunk is the way to go. It's the cheapest and you don't have to worry about anyone stepping on you. The middle bunk isn't bad (medium price) but if you have a person above you that gets up a lot, you will undoubtedly wake up every time they need to do whatever they do in the night. The bottom bunk is the most expensive and unless you are unable to climb a small ladder, I would stay away from it.
2. Bring a good book to read. If you are traveling with a friend/mate/spouse, bring a deck of cards or a small game like Yahtzee. Backgammon even works. These are great time killers. If you are not Chinese, everyone will stop and eye you over. Don't take it personally. Chinese are fascinated at western people, especially if you have blond or red hair (NATURAL, not bottle). The greater the difference between your appearance and their's, the longer and more detailed the look will be. Smiling (important when greeting others here), saying Ni Hao (nee how with the accent on nee), waiting, and if no comment then throwing in a 'hello' usually entices a reply at most and a look elswhere at the least. Bring a booklight as well since the lights turn off at 10:00PM sharp.
3. Find out as much info about your ticket as possible if someone from the hotel/hostel gets it for you. Find out the length of the trip, which bunk you are in, and what type of transportation you will be taking to get to your final destination after arriving in the city. It is sometimes easier to jump on the subway then it is to take a taxi or bus. The subway system is very easy in most metro places and there is usually at least one 'Chinglish' speaker at each station to help you get your ticket
4. This now leads us to the train station. This will be your most interesting experience of the trip. The staging areas are easily identifiable as the have the train letter/number posted on a large board in the front of the station. When you get to your 'area', look to see where the entrance to the platform or door you will go through to get to the platform is located. Get as close to the front of the line as possible BEFORE the train begins boarding. I recommend at least 60 minutes before departure time (boarding begins 30 minutes prior to departure). When boarding is announced, you will know this becuase everyone will stand up and try to get to the front of the line. They will walk through you, around you, and by you if you give an inch. I am not kidding here. There is no such thing as turn-taking here or maintaining an orderly line. You literally fight for every inch you make. The best piece of advice is to get as close to the person in front of you (not to your side as that changes too much) and walking as much in lock-step with them as possible. This is the time where all your valuables better be locked into your most secure bag or place. You will be pushed and bumped and possibly have your feet stepped on but that is how they do it here. If you want to get through the gate, you need to be prepared to do the same. You must have your train ticket in hand as there is a person that will punch a small hole out of it to allow you access to the platform. After you pass this ticket-checker, the line thins a bit but that's only because the area to the platform has enlarged again. Now, you should make your way to the train as fast as possible. Look up at the board and see how the carriages are organized. If you are in carriage 12 or higher, you will usually go the right. Anything lower and you will probably go to the left. But double-check anyway. The carriage numbers are in small numbers (English) on the side of the train but if you are walking fast you may miss them. Find your carriage and be prepared to show the lady your ticket once more in order to make sure you are getting into the right carriage. If you are on a top or middle bunk, make sure you stake your overhead space as soon as you get there. This is what you have been fighting for ever since you arrived at the station! Have your book, board game, water, snacks, TP, and toothbrush easily available from a bag. However, do not have them out yet. Leave them in the bag/suitcase you have and put them up top so you don't lose your precious space. If you are on the bottom bunk, stow what you can underneath your bunk and put the rest up top.
5. Bring your own toilet paper. MOST public places do not provide toilet paper. To go one step farther, carry TP with you in your bag or in your pocket wherever you go since when the need arises, you do not want to be environmental and paperless!
6. Bring a few snacks with you on the train and a quart of water (at least). The running water they have on the train is not drinkable so you must brush your teeth using bottled water. Meals are not necessary since they have a constant flow of vendors going up and down the aisles offering decent meals (rice, beef or chicken, and veggies for 10-20 Yuan ($1'25 - $2.50). You ight want to have your own spoon/fork if you haven't a clue about chopsticks). You can get these easily at Cabellas or any decent sporting goods store.
7. Bring earplugs!
8. If you are asthma sensitive, make sure you have your inhalers packed. Plan on using one each week here as the pollution and smokers here are beyond anything you can imagine (unless you have visited India or Gary, Indiana). If you are really sensitive, bring a mask. You will see many people wearing masks so don't think you'll stick out any more than you already do.

One final word: taking a soft-sleeper is an option but getting tickets are pretty difficult. Ask the person at the desk to inquire when the earliest date you can have a soft-sleeper for your destination. They do not have one 'central' booking center to get reservations. You usually must get the tickets at the city in which you are visiting. For example, if you are traveling from Beijing to Xi'an and then three days later will travel from 'Xi'an to Chongqing, you can only purchase the Beijing to Xi'an ticket. You will have to wait until you get to Xi'an to buy your Xi'an to Chongqing ticket. Go to theses website to find excellent info on train travel in China:
This website is great! It explains all of the different types of trains as well other useful info.
This site supplies exact train info as well as current cost and length of travel from city-to-city. Note: you MUST include the 'Special:CNTrainSearch?method=1' into the url at the end. I'm not sure why the website here has not highlighted that part as well.

With the soft-sleeper, the advantages are the following:
1. Only four per sleeping unit (basically bunkbeds)
2. You have a door that you can close. This may be an advantage if your asthma is really bad or you have a very sensitive nose.
3. The bed is a bit softer with about a three-inch pad vs the one-inch pad on the hard-sleeper.

The cost difference between hard-sleeper and soft-sleeper is fairly significant so if you are on a more constricted or tight budget, hard-sleeper is the way to go.

The weather here in Beijing is T-storms right now. Hoepfully it will clear overnight. We're going to see Mao tomorrow in his mausoleum as well as a repeat of Tian'amen Square and maybe another site or two. The weather calls for more rain so we'll see if we get to where we want to go. Next week we will hit the Beijing Zoo. I'll be looking up a few other places to go before we leave China on Thursday.

Until then....

permalink written by  akstoltzy on June 17, 2010 from Beijing, China
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The Second Wall

Xi'an, China

We tried to go walking yesterday around the city at about 1:00 PM. It was a tad warm. 100 degrees warm. So, our walk only lasted about a mile. I took these pictures during our short walk.
This first one shows a sentry point on top of the wall around the 'old' city. This wall is not the original wall built arojund the city in 194 BC. This one was built in the 14th century.

The moat in the picture below surrounds the entire wall and stands as a barrier to invading soldiers:

Eric and I decided to go back in the evening so we could bike the entire wall. The top of the wall where we began our bike ride looks like this:

Here is the bike I used:

It's not your average mountain bike as it has only one gear (pretty low). They also don't adjust the seats so it turned out to be quite a nine mile ride.

That's Eric in the background:

He's taller than I am and so he was even more uncomfortable on his bike than I was on mine.

This picture:

shows a park on the other side of the moat about a mile into our journey.

And the wall just keeps on going and going....

Here is an area that actually connects the wall with the other side of the moat:

You can see how narrow the walkway is. This was to prevent invading troops from being able to assault the city wall in great numbers. By backing them up in thin lines, it was easier to pick them off with arrows, cannon shot, and fire.

Here's a shot from one of the sentry points:

This is a shot of the train station that we arrived through and will leave through this afternoon on our way to Beijing:

There are many people that beg for donations by either coming right up to you or, more passively, singing or playing an instrument. We caught this woman singing below near the train station:

Don't know what she was singing but she did have a pleasant voice. Many people were donating to her and her partner. The box on the edge of the banner is pretty full of Yuan, China's currency

These next two pictures show what traffic is like here in Xi'an:

If you look carefully, there is nothing but chaos. It's a battle to cross the street and frequently cars and taxis are passing by you with inches to spare. We have gotten pretty good at stepping in front of busses and cars and hoping they slow down enough to allow us to cross. I've found that more often than not, if the driver makes eye contact with you, you're 'safe'. But if he doesn't, then it's much wiser to wait to step in front of the next vehicle behind him. It's quite maddening to be honest with you but it is also a little fun playing the ultimate game of chicken.

Here is a picture of the small road leading into the area of our hostel as well as a picture from the outside of the hostel itself:

This is a very large hostel with three floors, a restaurant, and a bar. They also have several washing machines that cost 10 Yuan per load which includes soap (about $1.50). They have drying racks but they were all full so I had to hang my clothes on the railings overnight. Traveling by hostel is the most affordable (ok, cheapest) way to travel and the people are usually very friendly and honest. As long as you don't leave things laying around (money and electronics) you're things are safe. That includes my shorts, pants, and undies hanging on the rail all night. Everything was nice and dry this morning!

Yesterday, our four-bed (two bunks) room was filled by a couple from Belgium. She is a research psychologist who was here for a conference in Beijing and then had her boyfriend meet her after it's completion. They had a poor experience on the train from Beijing and so were a little tired last night. They each can't be more than 25 or so. What this Kyle lacks in age he more than compensates with his snoring. I started with ear plugs but that was no match for his accoustical tremors (he literally rattled the bunks and he wasn't even in mine!). So, I had to put my MP3 in to try and counter his noise. My volume maxes out at 20 which is very loud and probably ear-damaging if done so frequently. I finally settled on a setting of 16. I am very tired today but since our trip to Beijing is a little over 12 hours and all at night (we leave here at 6:42 PM), I imagine I will sleep like a rock and arrive in Beijing ready to go. Weather is iffy for Thursday and Friday with rain predicted and highs in the 70's. After this heat, however, I welcome the change.

I'll write more Friday (Thursday to you guys). We will be staying at the same hostel I stayed at when first arriving in China. They were great there and instead of rolling the dice with another hostel, we are going to stay there instead.

Hope all is well. More later....

permalink written by  akstoltzy on June 16, 2010 from Xi'an, China
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Xi'an, China

Added a new blog entry (the one directly after this one) about our arrival in Xi'an. It explains about arriving safely but not safe.

  • *********************************************************************************************************

  • Yesterday (Monday) we went to the famous terra cotta statues. We first visited an old settlement from 6000 years ago. Here is the plaque as you enter the building:

    Here is a pit that contains the remains of a woman (top) as well as some clay pots. The pots are believed to have been buried at the same so she could use them in her next life:

    Here is another burial site with the same idea with the pots:

    This is what the inside of the building looks like as they have preserved the site:

    It was pretty hot yesterday. Our tour guide said that, "It's only 35 C today." Yeah, well 95 F is pretty dang hot for a couple of guys from Alaska. It's even hotter today. I suppose that it's only 38 C today (100.4 F) so I probably shouldn't complain!

    After we visited the old settlement, we were taken to a site that shows what the inside of the Emperor Qin's tomb looks like. It's a reproduction as they have not officially opened that to the public. It's pretty tacky looking so I didn't take any pictures.

    To read about the terra cottas themselves, this is a good website to visit:

    After we visited the tacky 'museum', we went to lunch. We were trying to figure out if we were going to ACTUALLY SEE the terra cottas or not. Our guide spoke English well but it was still not certain (at least that was the consensus inside the van) whether we were actually going to see them or not. So after lunch, the seven of us piled back into the van and headed through traffic to the drop-off point. The drop-off point is probably a half mile or so from the actual statues. It is common here for the tours to start well in advance of the actual place you are visiting. They do this so that you have to walk through a labrynth of shops and vendors. Neat marketing ploy but it does get bothersome.

    In any case, we have to take an electric cart that holds about nine people to the actual museum. Here is a picture of what the line looked like:

    Just like with traffic and the train station, there are no 'lanes' to follow. You just pack yourself into the crowd and fight for position as you move forward. I was a little testy yesterday as the heat was frying my patience. Plus, all those darn umbrellas kept hitting me in the face. When it was time for our group to get on the cart, people were pushing me from behind so they could get on the cart themselves. I'd had enough by then and so I blocked the left side of the line as these two guys are saying 'GO! GO!' I replied in my best Chinese, 'NO!' It was crazy just to get on the cart.

    We finally make it to the site where the statues are being excavated.

    This first picture is rather dark but if you look carefully, you can see in the right upper portion what looks like bent logs. Well, that's what they are. The statues were placed in the bottom of the pit and then covered with a roof of sorts made from fabric and logs. This was then covered with dirt in order to keep them hidden. The statues were built in order to protect Emperor Qin in his next life. He was in power from 221-206 BC. When he came to power at age 13, he immediately had work started on his tomb and so these statues were being made as early as 221 BC.

    These next pictures show chariots that were excavated and then displayed on the main floor of the museum.

    The chariots are made of bronze, copper, and gold. I can't remember their significance.

    These next shots show what the warriors looked like back then.They had archers:

    Cavalry Men:
    High Ranking Officers:
    and other fighting warriors.

    Here is a kneeling archer:

    You can see the color on his back armor. This is pretty rare to find a statue with color still intact.

    These next pictures turned out dark. I tried to fix them with a program I have on the computer but they didn't turn out real well:

    This next one:

    shows the actual brick flooring. There are also many heads missing. They are not sure why the heads are missing. One theory is that the site was possibly looted more than a thousand years ago. However, that's just a theory.

    Here's a bunch more:

    This next picture shows a lady spraying water on the statues:

    The site is an active archeological dig. The building that was built over the site is built like a green house in order to keep as much humidity inside as possible. They need to keep the statues moist so they don't crack. So with the greenhouse effect and the misting spray the statues are being preserved as best as possible.

    Here's more:

    This last picture is with a Japanese student and new friend that was with our tour:

    Her name is Toshimi and she is going to school in Beijing I believe.

    This museum was very cool. Seeing how distinct each face and body of every statue is quite amazing. All of this was done 2200 years ago and so that makes it even more impressive. This was an awesome experience!

    Tonight we ride around on a bike on the top of the wall that surrounds this city. Xi'an (zhe ann) is one of the first capitals in China. They built a wall around the city as well as a moat in order to keep enemies out. The wall is about 14 kilometers long (though shaped in a square) or about 9 miles. We'll do this in the evening when it cools down to ONLY 30 C or so. I hope we get some good pictures.

    permalink written by  akstoltzy on June 15, 2010 from Xi'an, China
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    Arrival in Xi'an

    Xi'an, China

    Arrived in Xi'an (zhe ann) Sunday night after a 29 hour train ride. We were late by two hours. We left the train station in Xi'an for the hostel hoping to find a taxi. Well, we found plenty of taxi cabs, however, none wanted to charge us by using the meter. They wanted from 50-80 Yuan for the ride. So instead, we started walking. We walked and walked and since we were fairly tired from our long train ride, we were not in the best of moods. So, after walking for a while and trying to figure out the scale on the map we had, we figured we better get a ride. So, we took a motorized rickshaw. With our bags and our size, we were pretty crowded. In fact, the driver took my big bag and put it on his lap.

    So we are driving in this rickshaw when it dawns on us that this guy is playing Chicken with every car, bus, and motorized vehicle on the road. He goes the wrong way on the highway, pulls u-turns right in front of busses, and drives straight for cars expecting (knowing?) that they will honk but eventually move. If we had them, it would have been smart to change into a pair of Huggies before getting on this motorized suicide machine. He has to stop three times to ask other rickshaw drivers where our hostel is, one time pulling directly into the path of a police car. The police car honks and then drives by close enough to my side that I do not think I could have fit my thumb between his side door and the tire on our rickshaw. We get to the hostel in one piece but have found that our exhaustion has been replaced by an overdose of adrenaline. We are up for the next three hours and go to bed at 3:00 AM.

    permalink written by  akstoltzy on June 13, 2010 from Xi'an, China
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    Observations From The Albino Panda

    Guilin, China

    I feel like an albino panda here. That's not a racist statement so don't even try. Most people I walk by here (and that's a lot of people because the population is very large) stop and stare or just follow you with their eyes until you pass them. It's quite interesting to walk down the street and have just about everyone observe you. It's not done in a rude way at all. Mostly, when I notice someone observing me, my cargo shorts are looked at first, then my shoes, and then my face. Because the order in which I am observed, I have noticed that I am one of the only people wearing shorts (they are cargo shorts with many pockets) designed like mine. And of course my funky-looking sandals don't help either. I have not seen one pair like them anywhere in China. The younger generation here in China (age 16-40ish) is very fashion conscience. I have never seen so many shoe stores in all my life! The shoes that the women wear here are amazing. Not being a 'shoe-guy', I am amazed at all of the different styles. The roads here and sidewalks are filled with cracks and crevices, steep and regular inclines/declines, and slippery areas from all the oil (from cooking; many vendors right on the street). Even with all these obstacles, women are wearing 2"-4" heels! Some of the shoes are a little over the top but are obviously considered normal here since I see so many women wearing them.

    No pictures from yesterday. I went out to just observe. We leave this afternoon for Xian and so this is likely to be the last post until Monday your time. The train ride is 27 hours and so we don't get in until Sunday evening at about 8:00 PM if all goes well. On Monday we head to the terra cotta statues. I'm sure I will have a lot of pictures from their and from within Xian.

    I saw a car wreck happen last night. Actually, I didn't really see it happen straight away but I caught it happening out of the corner of my eye as well as with my ears. A cab driver wasn't watching when he was making a right turn from the middle lane and so he got struck by another taxi. They weren't happy with each other. There were a lot of gestures and probably bad words but I can't be sure. The one taxi driver couldn't get out his door and so he is climbing over the middle console and yelling at top volume while trying to get out the passenger-side door. His passenger gets out of the taxi, walks over to the other taxi (while he is yelling as well) and then spits on the windshield. I stood there and just watched but needed to get out of the street because cars were honking at me to move. So I moved.

    I have met three people here at the hostel in the past two days. Here they are:

    The first picture is of Janina (Yeah Nee Nuh) from Hamburg, Germany. I learned today that Hamburg is where the name hamburger came from. Anyway, she is 20 and has been traveling for 8 months! She heads back to Germany for a month in August to work at her parents' shoe store and then she'll take off again to destinations unknown. She has been all over SE Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. She is very free-spirited and refreshing to talk to because of her positive attitude and quest for seeing as much as she can of the world. When I took this picture, she was planning her next month with stops in Tibet, SW China (Dali City) and Shangra-La, and Mongolia. She'll take the trans-siberian railway to Moscow and then get to Germany in a way she has yet to determine.

    This is Tom from Wales:

    He's 22 and has been traveling for six months. He started in Sri Lanka and was there for a month and then flew to Singapore. He then made his way north through Malaysia and Thailand by bus and train (he has a fear of flying). His next destination from here is Hong Kong to visit his aunt. He has no obligations and so he may go work in Australia or may stay here and teach English. He'll make up his mind when he is ready. As of now, he is not ready and will continue to be a vagabond.

    It amazes me almost daily the variety of people that I meet in hostels. It's a different blend of people but most are free-spirited and have a zest for life and exploring that we don't normally see in the US. There are no worries and no time-tables for most of them to meet. We have sat downstairs here in the hostel for many hours the past few days just talking. No poitical talk but just life and travel experiences. Talk about no stress! This entire trip so far, with staying in hostels, has been like a big dose of Xanax but with only positive side effects. Being married and having children would preclude you from this lifestyle unless all your kids were out of the house. At the same time, though, I have seen families (one from Germany and another from Canada) with kids traveling here and enjoying the hostel experience. If you want to travel for a good price and don't mind sharing a bathroom and paying 1/10 the price of a hotel room, hostelling is the way to go. My room here costs my 30 Yuan a night. That's $4.41 each night. the beds are comfortable, the public areas are all very clean, and each serves authentic and western food. What more do you need?

    Well, it's off to the train station for our 27 hour ride. We are going to head to the department and grocery store before going to the train. Might pick up a dice game of some sort or a regular deck of cards to help pass the time. We also need to have munchies and water. Each carriage has a hot water (drinkable of course) station and so with tea and noodles packed, we should be set for the journey to Xian.

    I'll be in touch as soon as I can. If any of you can download Skype onto your computer (you need a camera and microphone), I would love to talk to you! My username is akstoltzy. Look me up and give me a ring!

    Until Monday....

    permalink written by  akstoltzy on June 12, 2010 from Guilin, China
    from the travel blog: China
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    Guilin, China

    BLACKHAWKS RULE!! How exciting to have a champion again! Trivia: Chicago is the ONLY city in the US that has had a championship in each of the four major sports (bball, baseball, football, and hockey) in the past 25 years! Take THAT NY and LA! HAH!

    OK, now to some travel news and the real reason we are here. It's been a rainy few days here in Guilin. Let me back up a bit. We found our hostel in Wuhan after a little trouble. First off, the bus driver dropped us off in downtown Wuhan. He said something in Chinese and after trying to tell him we didn't understand, he obviously felt that if he said the same thing but 100 decibels LOUDER that we would understand him. So, we shook our heads yes and said thank you. We found a young lady who said we needed to find a cab. I think that's what she said because she immediately started trying to flag down a taxi. It is raining buckets and she is standing under her umbrella and is unsuccessful for about 15 minutes. We 'She uh She uh her (thank you) and decide to flag a cab ourselves. We felt bad that she was trying to help us but was standing in the rain (though she did have the umbrella) and probably had better things to do than flag a taxi for a couple of Americans. So, after another 15 or so minutes in the monsoon, we are finally able to flag a cab. The card we had for the hostel had instructions for the driver written in Chinese. It helped but not exactly. He drops us off on the other side of the street and starts pointing and saying something. We obviously have a dumb look on our face because for the second time in less than an hour he begins hollering in Chinese what he just said at conversation levels. The rain had lightened a little but it was still raining pretty good. We see the sign for the hostel but can't figure out how to get into the building where the sign is. We walk back and forth and then out of the blue, an elderly Chinese man looks at us, says something at deafening tones, and points to a different building. We obviously looked like we were staying at a hostel. As it turned out, he was the only person we never talked to first who actually could tell us where to go. Very ironic. Most of the hostels are tucked into little alleys and way back off the main road where only scooters and bikes can get through. The same was true of this one. After a zig here and a zag there, we found it
    When we zigged the first time, we were left with this site:

    After the zag, we found it:

    You need a bloodhound to find this place. Anyway, it was pretty nice. We camped for one night and then picked up the train for Guilin (gwee leen).

    This is the scene at the train station in Wuhan:

    If you look carefully, you will notice that many people are looking at the lady in white with the ponytail (just to the right of middle). She and two other ladies are yelling at each other loudly. We seriously thought a cat-fight was in the making because one of the ladies got right into the other one's face and was screaming at her. It was fun to watch actually because we obviously had no idea what they were yelling at each other but you just knew that there were some bad words being exchanged. Quite the monotony-breaker.

    All of the people are not going onto our train. Six stayed back (at least it seemed that way). The line forms to walk to the platform and people will run you over if you don't move forward. Leave an inch between you and the person in front of you and there will be three people fighting for the space. It's like one gigantic mosh pit. Anyway, Eric and I each are in the same carriage and in the middle bunk on either side of each other. Eric is probably 6'3 and a pretty big guy. The middle bunk is probably the worst one he could have. Neither of us slept well. It was a long 14 hour ride between the old guy below me vibrating my bunk with his snoring and the eight plus hours of the guy above me and the guy above Eric talking. Honestly, those two talked non-stop for more than EIGHT agonizing hours. It was like an all day Kung Fu movie with only audio listening to these two. If they had been Americans, I would have sworn they were on crack. Instead, over here, they must have been on tea. A LOT of tea. It was unbelievable.

    When we arrived in Guilin at 5:40 AM, I looked at the map on the hostel's card and can see we are very close. We decide to walk and we are glad we did. The hostel, Flowers (peace, maaaaaan), is tucked back, around and then up a few flight of stairs. Here is the sequence of how to get there from the main street in front of the station. Each picture represents either a turn, bend, or flight of stairs:

    This is the train station from the side of the street the hostel is on.

    Heading in the right direction down an alleyway.

    Head right between those two buildings.

    Ok, bewteen the two buildings now. care to stop for a meal?

    At the end of this alley so now turn right:

    Now, go up the stairs:

    One more set:

    Now follow the arrow:

    Go through the ivy-vine thingy (don't know how to spell trellace or trelice or, well, you get the picture:

    Go down the long entryway:

    You've made it!

    Now to the room:
    Go up the stairs and follow the signs:

    Our room is on the right next to the bathroom:

    Here's a squat toilet if you really need it:

    Not much privacy but if you have to go you have to go!
    These are the showers:

    So here we are. We are heading to Xian on Saturday (a lovely 27 hour train ride through central China; it will be a ride anyway with middle bunks again) to see the terra cottas and then go on a tour of the wall that was built around the city for protection some eons ago. I'll get more accurate info when we get there.

    Both Eric and I ate something that did not agree with us and so all day today and last night we have been alternating using the bathroom. We don't have one in our room. It's shared with the whole floor. Eric is upstairs now with a little worse case than I have. I'm eating a monster plate of rice and hope that will help.

    Don't know what's happening tomorrow. Hopefully our bellies will let us stray more than 10 yards from a working bathroom.

    Until then...

    permalink written by  akstoltzy on June 10, 2010 from Guilin, China
    from the travel blog: China
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