Saturday, December 29, 2018

Merry Christmas!

A few days late, but Happy Christmas!  Funnily enough, I don't typically get travel themed gifts from people.  I have relatives who always get me things that are stuck in a certain theme, but they haven't latched on to the fact that I am travel obsessed.  A few years back, my brother/sister-in-law got me and my husband an awesome travel map that's worth its own post sometime, but this year, my stepfather takes the prize for most enjoyed gift.

He got me a book of transit maps of the world.  And to be honest, it sounds boring when you type it, but I LOVE IT.  It has the rail/metro/subway/etc. maps from about 250 cities worldwide, including some places I've never heard of before (note to self: learn more about Brazil, what is there outside of Salvador, Brasilia and Rio?).

I think the reason that I love it so much is that when I travel, figuring out how to get around is part of the fun. Then, when your plan works seamlessly and you are transiting around with ease in a foreign city, it's even more satisfying.  There's also something artistic about the design of some of the cities with all the different colored lines laid out. Actually, there are a few maps that were taken a redesigned by an artist in the front of the book
Take a look here at the publisher's site: Transit Maps of the World
I also enjoy the description of the author's background: "Mark Ovenden is a transport historian, broadcaster, design consultant, and the author of the bestselling Transit Maps of the World. He currently resides in London."

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Back! Hong Kong Kung Fu and the art of revisiting

It's been a long time since I last posted ! My life schedule has been allowing only a sliver of time daily in a jam packed schedule.  One of the fun things that contributed to that hectic time was our trip to Hong Kong and Bali!  It was the first time to visit either destination and Hong Kong officially marked off 60 different countries that I've been to around the globe.
Cheers to me! A drink called a Mulan at the Chin Chin bar

Before I get into the main part of the post, I'm reminded of something a friend said to me at a holiday party last week. I was talking about visiting new countries versus revisiting places around the world and she asked "Why would you ever go back to any place you had already been?". As much as there is the thrill of conquering a new country I do LOVE going back places that I've already been.
There are of course places that I would not really want to revisit, but most places I've gone to I can find a reason to go back. Travel for me is not just the monuments and ticking them off the list (not that there is anything wrong with that - I appreciate anyone who is getting out there and traveling).  Travel for me is made by the human element of it.  While the major sites might remain exactly the same for hundreds of years, the human element of a destination changes how you see it.  I've been to London about 8 times, wouldn't hesitate to go back and still love standing on the opposite side of the Thames to take a picture of the Houses of Parliament in any weather.  Blend that feeling with exploring new restaurants, shops, museums, people watching and BANG!  You've just made an old destination new again.

Anyway, back to KUNG FU.  When I am home, I practice martial arts in the form of boxing and kickboxing.  My kickboxing training has some nods to karate and Muay Thai styles. This is to say that I thought my husband & I would have limited success with the basics of Kung Fu and we would get by. WRONG. We were awful. Don't get me wrong, we tried and weren't completely unfortunate during our hour session, but it was a struggle.
I just realized this says "Not Quite" Kung Fu...what?!

I'm glad that we tried.  We signed up with a Wing Chun Master Sam Lau who trained under the same instructor as Bruce Lee: Grandmaster Yip Man.  Master Sam Lau was amazing! 72 years old and lightning fast.  For that alone, it served as inspiration to me.  I started martial arts later in life and fell in love with it.  I worry that I won't have much time to do practice the sport because of age, but I see that there is opportunity if you keep yourself sharp for all those years.  I'm also happy to understand more what Kung Fu is all about compared to other martial arts.

The particular discipline of Kung Fu we did was Wing Chun, which is a Southern style of Kung Fu.  There are hundreds of subcategories of Kung Fu and Southern styles put more emphasis on the hands in general. The legend starts with a woman during a time of war in China.  She was propositioned by a warlord to marry him. She refused and it was agreed that if she beat him in a martial arts contest, he would leave her alone.  She then began to train in a style of boxing with a Buddhist nun (Sisters are doing it for themselves!).  We wouldn't be telling this story if the outcome was anything other than her defeating the warlord and Lim Wing Chun was free to live her life. She married a different man later on and when she taught him the style of fighting that she had learned, he named it after her.

Perhaps practicing Kung Fu with a master is my "ticking monuments off the list" moment because I don't think it is a discipline that I will be taking up anytime soon and definitely not flying back to Hong Kong to practice again.  Time to find some Tai Chi I guess ;-)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

China: Chinese Hot Pot

The cold weather has me thinking about my trip to China 4 years ago.  It was for work and I am glad it was because it meant it was a short trip with purpose.  I didn't enjoy China like elsewhere I've traveled but that's a story for another day.  What I DID enjoy was the Chinese hot pot meals I had.
Chinese hot pot dates back over 1000 years when the Mongolians invaded.  This just shows  how much food transcends borders since the Chinese built a wall that can be seen from space to keep the Mongolians out, but absolutely love their hot pot. My colleagues could not stop talking about it and ate it multiple meals while I was in Beijing.
It's not hard to see why it's such a star of Chinese cuisine.  I was in China in November and it was colder that usual with a strong, biting wind.  After a 14 hour flight, I met my local colleague for my first taste of it.  He and I had met before, but hadn't worked together extensively.  The hot pot served as the perfect icebreaker (especially given the jetlag).  When there was a lull in the conversation, you could focus on what was going on in the pot.

SO - what is a hot pot?

It's a simmering metal pot placed at the center of the table with raw ingredients (meat, veggies, etc) to be cooked placed around it. Part of the fun is trying to fish out the food you put in and potentially lost after it starts to boil. There are of course regional variations with what the broth is made out of and what you put into it. I tried the Beijing mutton hotpot and the Sichuan hotpot.
First experience was the mutton hot pot in a restaurant near my hotel in Wangfujing. This area has a lot of students in the area so it was a more modern vibe in the restaurant. The hot pot was a very simple metal pot with bone broth and spices such as shallots, ginger, loganberries, and dried shrimp.  We asked for extra spice so they threw some peppers in there, but it didn't add too much heat.  Thank god for Chinese Fire Water. ;-)
The last hotpot I had before leaving Beijing for Shanghai was the Sichuan hotpot which embraces the spicy flavors of that region. I was with my colleague and a partner from another company.  I had been fortunate to visit during a time when foreign dignitaries were in Beijing which significantly reduced the traffic. This was huge. It means I finished two days of supplier visits and meetings in one day.  That meant I got to visit some different areas that tourists visit and in effect, seeing some tourist sights.  With this, I went to three different sections of the Great Wall of China.  Recall that I said earlier in this post that it was November and colder than usual.  While I loved seeing these different areas, I was frozen and wanted nothing more than to take a hot shower and go to bed.
My colleague said we were going to lunch about 2 exits in the opposite direction to go to a town that was known for their hotpot. I was irritated, but didn't say anything.  We pulled up to a place that looked like a banquet hall from the 1980's with cars parked haphazardly in front of it.  We went inside, the host eyed me up suspiciously but I kept my mouth shut (OK, it was frozen because I was so damn cold).
My colleagues graciously asked what I wanted and I said "hot" because my bones were frozen at this point. They were delighted! One of them was a little nervous about the spice so they decided on a split pot to have half with the Sichuan hot pot and half with something milder.
This was definitely authentic. Children (as well as adults) STARED at me as the only Westerner in the restaurant. We got to our table and it was filthy.  Food from the last customers were cleared.  No one seemed bothered by this. We were served new chopsticks and the hotpot was placed there with plates of thin sliced lamb bits and vegetables to cook.  The interior was delightfully humid where I could warm up and shed some layers.  All the windows to the outside were fogged up from the hot pots.
I wish I remembered the name of the town because it was well known for that, but not something tourists would ever find.  I also wished I wrote down all the different things we put into the pots, plus the sauces etc.  But these were the days before Instagram for me so the below is all I have of my hotpot culinary adventure.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Travel Planning - International date line

I'm really shocked that I don't hear about more people getting lost on the international date line.  I haven't been posting much here trying to figure out where we're going to travel next year.  Take this with the knowledge that I am still not done planning all the details for our trip to Bali & Hong Kong in about 6 weeks.  I like a little bit of pressure to really get my focus on planning all the details plus starting to get excited about the upcoming trip.  The other, less emotional part of it is wanting to have the most current info since I plan everything down to the restaurants that we eat at to the shops, the time to visit the museums to exact hour.  I realized that one of the tours that I had planned time around in Hong Kong (Kung Fu in the park) is no longer available and now I am desperately trying to find an equivalent replacement.

The other version of planning is the FAR out planning.  I found this to actually be more difficult because I get so excited about a trip and then realize that I still have to wait a really long time for it to come to fruition.  Then I start to think, what if I want to change my mind?  What if there is a better deal?  Last year I actually had to change 2 sets of our airline tickets to not only different dates but different gateways. 

Yet, future planning is unavoidable.  I have to have some semblance of a plan as Mr. Thief and I do have actual jobs and can't just jet off whenever we want (though we have been accused of this frequently).  It takes a lot of man hours just to figure out how much I can cram into seeing a destination in a short amount of time, how likely I will be to go back, etc.  Then I have to compare the seasonality to when we can get to these places.  THEN I have to figure out how to actually get there.  Take the example of FIJI.  Mr. Thief lets me dictate where we are going, but I badger him until he picks something or keeps saying "I don't care.  I don't care. IdontcareIdontcareIdontcare..." and so on.  Or Germany.  He always picks Germany.  Color me delighted when he sent me an email out of the blue and said "Here is a bird-watching resort in Fiji that popped up in my feed.  I'd like to go here".  I was incredibly happy - A week in Fiji!  Great!  I can so do this!  And then I started to look at how to get there.  There are like a bajillion islands that make up Fiji and there are basically zero ways to easily get there from the US...or I should say few ways that don't include a hundred connections, layovers or a bunch of $$$.

Which brings me full circle to my international date line comment.  I am so confused about what days the flights operates and arrive to the US - I think there's one that departs Fiji on a Friday early AM and then arrives to the US on the previous Thursday night.  Then, trying to move the flight a day later, there's a connection through Seattle back to Honolulu and then the US.  I don't even know what day that got back because it was all "I before E except after C" and I tried to use PEMDAS that I learned in match class to puzzle it out.  If my flight plans work, it is going to be super crazy, but an affordable adventure with a lot of things.  More content coming soon. At the very least, some exciting trips on the horizon!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Feeling Squirrel-y? Airline emotional support animals

Not even going there about the emotional support squirrel bit (OK, in posting this I guess I AM going there ;-)) but how emotionally fragile are you if you are flipping people off after being kicked off the flight?
Personally, I think there are probably a small subset of people that desperately need these animals because of some trauma, but most people are just trying to get their pet on the flight.  Someone even tried to get a PEACOCK on a flight in Newark.  I am an animal lover, and if the squirrel was properly contained, it's less offensive than other animals...
....Such as the small furry dog that was jammed under my seat by the woman behind me on my flight from Athens to Crete this Summer.  The dog was generally fine except its owners: Wealthy grandma who kept blabbing about chartering a private jet and yachts blah blah blah AND bratty teenage granddaughter who whined the entire time and was super rude to Grandma and the flight attendants.  Then SuperBrat proceeded to drag the fluffy dog out of the terminal after we landed as it peed all over the floor and didn't tell anyone.  She did notice it and I went to look for someone...and then a cab driver stepped in it. Ugh.
Woman Kicked off Flight For Emotional Support Squirrel
Let Me See Your Peacock

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Newark: United Polaris Lounge

OK, the Thief is having serious travel envy right now as Mr. Thief travels for work to Prague. He gets to fly business class because he is a VIT (Very Important Thief). Only kidding, he just works hard and is lucky. We do tend to travel from Newark Airport on United and have visited the lounge a few times. This is the first time visiting since United redid its business class lounge in Terminal C. The prior United lounge there was comfortable, but underwhelming compared to other carriers and airports globally. Previously, the only real pros were the staff and the actual size/layout of the lounge space. The places where it really showed a lack of polish were the bathrooms and the food offerings. It's been going under a major overhaul for what I think was a year and it finally opened this June.  Actually, Newark airport had undergone it's own renaissance recently and with an array of nicer restaurant options available, the United lounge was lagging behind.  You can find some more of the details here.

Take a look at some of the pictures below to see the new lounge in action!  The Hubs was very impressed with the new food and it definitely is an improvement to have a proper buffet now.  He was also very excited that there was craft beer instead of the previous options which were limited as far as included beers. It also seems like the seating has improved from comfort, style and availability of options for solo travelers to keep to themselves. And, I am happy to see that the bathrooms no longer look like you are visiting a high school locker room.  I can't wait to visit for myself though I think my next flight is on a different airline alliance.  I, of course, know what my next scheduled flight is, but that doesn't mean that I won't sneak something else in before then. ;-)



Thursday, September 27, 2018

Could this be more Irish?

I say this in an bemused sort of disapproving sort of way of how stereotypes come about. The fact that this guy got out onto the tarmac to chase a plane (Like it was really going to stop) is ridiculous in itself.  THEN after being charged and leaving court on bond, he moons the press and takes a swing at them with his suitcase.
I feel my Irish heritage (many generations removed) identifies with this sort of bad behavior and I find it on the humorous rather than horrifying side of things.

Oh, and it was a RYANAIR flight from Dublin to Amsterdam  What did that cost him anyway?  like 20 Eur?

Morocco: Bahia Palace Marrakesh

You cannot visit Marrakesh and not visit the Bahia Palace. It is a massive complex with over 160 rooms built for Ba Ahmed over 100 years ago in the late 19th century. It is ornate with Islamic patterns though they are a little simple compared to other Moroccan palaces. What is most impressive is its sheer size. My pictures don't do it justice because I was so tired at this point from the morning touring. Even with all the space, it was still pretty crowded and make sure to leave enough time to see it.
The name "Bahia" translates to 'Beautiful/Brilliant" which is a bit insulting to Ba Ahmed's wife when you consider this was built for his favorite mistress and concubines. I mean the wife got an expansion on her residence with him for her and the kids but she would probably like her own space too - like an ancient day She-Shed? ;-)
The same French general that discovered the Saadian tombs also made this palace his residence while he was in Marrakesh.  He added fireplaces, heat and electricity.  See what I meant by saying that my favorite thing about the Saadian tombs was that they were hidden away from human interference for so long?
Enjoy a few of the pictures from the palace and make sure to wear good walking shoes to explore the extensive rooms and walk over the tiled floors.  It's open daily from 9AM - 5PM (17:00) and the entrance is very affordable - converts to about $1


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Morocco: Saadian Tombs Marrakesh

The Saadian tombs are another must see when visiting Marrakesh. What I most adore about their story is that they were sealed away for 300 years.
As the name suggests, they are in fact a burial site for members of the Saadian dynasty. Headed by Sultan Ahmed el Mansour in the 1500 and 1600s, there are something like 200 members of his family group buried here.  In the late 1600s, Moulay Ismail had taken over Morocco and went about erasing all the evidence of his predecessors to solidify his own power.  However, he didn't destroy the tombs and respected the sanctity of the dead intact by instead sealing them off.  There was one entrance still available from inside the Kasbah Mosque, but it was largely forgotten about. In 1917 a French general located the tombs and they were restored from that point.  Why I like that they were sealed off from the public for that long is that there wasn't the opportunity for anything to happen to them over the years, whether it be actual vandalism or well meaning restoration gone wrong.

If you locate the Kasbah Mosque, you'll find the tombs.  It's really quite peaceful and the decoration of the tombs and mausoleums is amazing.  There's also some greenery with roses, citrus, palms and rosemary.  If I remember correctly, there were some bats nesting in one of the corners of the walls, but that might be something that only appeals to me :-).  Enjoy some of the pictures from my visit below.
Kasbah Mosque



Thursday, September 20, 2018

No one gives an F...

 What do you think of the Cathay Pacific spelling mistake on their own plane; mistake or publicity stunt? It's possible someone was lazy, then someone else overlooked it especially considering Chinese and English share 0 letters in common. Buuuut the fact they have someone on social media draped in fairy lights in their first class it is possible they thought it was a way to generate buzz.
I really don't care, I'm still excited to fly them this year when I go to Hong Kong and Bali!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Morocco: La Jardin Majorelle Marrakesh

Taking a little break from Egypt posts, but staying in the Middle East / Northern Africa neighborhood, I'm shifting gears to my trip to Morocco in this past year.  Morocco is one of those wondrous places that blends multiple cultures while maintaining its own identity. It's a little French, a little Arabic and a little African but totally Moroccan.
I'll start with one of the last things I visited on this trip. It's one of my favorite sites, the Le Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh also known as the Yves Saint Laurent garden. It's a main place to visit but maybe not one you immediately think of for visiting in Morocco. The 'Majorelle' comes from the name of the French artist who originally created it on his property that he lived on. Yves Saint Laurent came on to the scene when he purchased it in 1980 after it had fallen into disrepair over the 30 years that Majorelle no longer owned the villa and grounds.
I love gardens, but what was really striking is the use of the bright cobalt blue paint. It's actually a patented color bleu Majorelle inspired by the tiles on Berber houses. There is a small museum of Moroccan/Berber items that were curated by Majorelle.
The plants themselves are also quite beautiful. Typically, I enjoy foreign gardens that are full of native plants, but this garden has a contained amount of plants suited to the environment but not from Morocco.  Bamboo is what you'll see immediately upon entering the garden and it sets the mystical tone.  Cactus play a big role as there are something like 1800 different species in this small space.  Other botanical beauties include yucca, bougainvillea, hibiscus, cypress and water lilies.

More Cactus
Bleu Majorelle paint & Bougainvillea
I went later in the day and it was still very crowded even shortly before closing. The grounds are small, and paths narrow, for the amount of people that visit it. The part that was especially hilarious for me was that most of the visitors were SO CLASSY.  Not because they were classy, but because I was in attendance at a place of such high fashion. I said "so classy" in caps because I am obviously not classy evidenced by my friend S and I acting like four year olds while we were in the garden. We had a great time making sophomoric jokes and falling over giggling but we definitely did not fit in with the polished crowd that was there. To the credit of all the well-heeled Europeans in the garden, whose quiet solace we interrupted, they didn't judge us more than a polite 'excuse me' or a sympathetic smile of "Oh those wacky tacky Americans."
If you plan to visit, it's open daily from 8 to 6 with a break for lunch.  Early and late are probably the best times to visit based on visitors and being there an hour before closing during a winter months definitely worked.