Saturday, October 30, 2010

A turkey goes to Turkey

One of the best things about Turkey was that it was not China. I am only kidding. I think me, my sinuses, and my case of athlete's foot are over China for the time being. Turkey is a neat place that we enjoyed. I'll break down this entry into three parts since we based our time in three different cites and areas of Turkey. We spent our time in Istanbul, in the central Cappadocia region, and in Kusadasi on the Mediterranean coast.

To start off with our time in Istanbul we first had a little excitement just getting there. We arrived at the airport in Hong Kong about nine hours before our flight. The reason being was that we were going to spend the afternoon in one of the lounges relaxing and getting caught up on things. Well we found out upon our arrival that our carrier Royal Jordanian only operated one flight a day which was our flight and their check in agents wouldn't be available for several more hours. We had to have our boarding passes to get through security and immigration. We actually were told by the first customer service agent that our flight was canceled but found out quickly that it wasn't canceled and was actually going to board early but only about 15 minute early. We ended up killing time in the large lobby area. The airport has free wi-fi and plenty of food options before you check in so it wasn't too bad. The next interesting part was that once we boarded we noticed there were a lot of people of Asian decent lining up to board the plane. We thought this was unusual since our flight was headed to Amman, Jordan then Istanbul, Turkey. We began to notice the sign at the boarding gate occasionally flash up Bangkok. There was no announcement and nothing on our boarding passes for the Amman flight that gave any indication we were flying to Bangkok first. We found out when we were boarding that our flight did indeed stop in Bangkok which is only 2.5 hours from Hong Kong. We stayed on the ground and about 2/3rds of the plane got off and a full compliment of passengers got on after about 45 minutes. We then took off for the 9 hour flight to Amman, Jordan. The flight was uneventful. We got in to Amman around 5 am. We made it through the transit area and up to the lounge. In the lounge which was pretty nice we found a quiet room and took about a 3 hour nap before getting up and having breakfast before boarding our two hour flight. Nothing too bad just a few extra steps to get to our first stop of Istanbul.

We arrived at in Istanbul around 3 pm in the afternoon on Monday the 18th. The first stop when entering Turkey is to get your visa. It is pretty much a money trap. You stand in line and get a stamp at the airport. It costs $20 US. They don't ask any questions. They take a quick look at your passport and put in a stamp which is good for 90 days. I paid in US cash but they do accept Visa and MasterCard. After getting your visa you then have to clear immigration. The immigration officer makes a quick check of your visa and quickly stamps your passport. They didn't seem to take to much time to check your credentials but who knows maybe they check it more closely than I give them credit. After we cleared immigration and customs we met both our driver to the hotel as well as Althea's mom Diane and her husband Ronnie. They toured with us in Istanbul and for the first three days in Goreme before heading back home. It was nice that they came. I know I enjoyed their company. In our nearly three months of travel we haven't spent really any time with Americans.

We spent the remaining part of our first afternoon in Istanbul checking out the area around our hotel including the Spice Market area before eating a pretty good meal at a local Turkish restaurant that was patrolled by multiple cats. We ate outdoors hence the cats. The next day we covered all but one of the key areas that I wanted to check out. Those were the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Basilica Cistern. They were all close together and a short walk from our hotel. All were pretty neat in their own way. The Blue Mosque was the first place we went. The mosque was built in 1616 and is one of the grandest in all of Islam. It was free to enter. You just had to take off your shoes and women are supposed to cover their head and shoulders with a scarf. A lot of women did this but there plenty inside that did not. I was a little surprise by this since they were checking at the front door. It was pretty crowded although it was several women that I noticed were doings this. It was actually the first time I had been in a mosque before. I enjoyed our brief visit. The designs are simple but intricate. There were no prayers and services going on and a large portion was roped off. We went into two other mosques over the next two days. One had some type of service going on. Of course it was in Turkish so I couldn't tell what was going on. It would have been nice for some type of English translation to get a better understanding.

After the Blue Mosque we decided to go to the Basilica Cistern which is an underground water storage area. It was built in 532 AD by the Romans. The water came in via aqueduct 19 km away. Those Romans were some good engineers. I know some of their work is still used in Rome to this day. Next stop after the Cistern was the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia was also built or at least started in 532 AD. I think it was finished in 537 AD. Must have been a good time to build large projects. They probably had a lot of stimulus money to spend that year :-). Hagia Sophia is currently a museum but when it was built it was the largest church in the world and remained so for 1,000 years until a larger one was built in Seville, Spain in 1520. It was also became a mosque around the same time and remained one for around 400 years until the 1930's when it was converted into a museum by the new secular Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. It is a massive old church/mosque. There are multiple mosaics that have been restored with some 1,000 years old. There are also several Islamic markings alongside or covering Christian pieces of art. Historically the church is pretty important. Several Byzantine Emperors were crowned there plus there were several church councils that met and determined Christian doctrine that is still in use today.

The next day we spent the morning exploring the Topkapi Palace. The palace was the home off the Ottoman rulers from the 1400's to I believe 1850's. It is a large complex with many different administrative and living rooms. The architecture is of Islamic influence. I didn't realize this until we got there but it also contains important religious relics that are important to Muslims. So important that they often make pilgrimages just to see these relics. The relics on display in the crowded rooms that had decent size lines were a staff from Moses, a sword from Davis, a piece of the Kaaba stone from Mecca, foot print of Muhammad, piece of Muhammad's beard, one of his teeth, and one of his cloaks. It also had and I am not making this up a saucepan from Abraham which actually rhymes. Who knows if any of those items were real. I am sure the piece of the Kaaba from Mecca is real because that can easily be traced but I am not so sure on the other stuff since there is no way to prove the authenticity of most relics.

We spent the remaining part of our time exploring different neighborhoods and markets including the Grand Bazaar. We had some good meals including the one the night before we left. I think we covered all of the key areas that we wanted to see. Alethea had been to Istanbul before but it was all new to Ronnie, Diane, and I although Diane may have flown into Istanbul before when she was working as a flight attendant. Feel free to correct me Diane :-).

My thoughts on Istanbul are that I think it is a pretty neat city. You can definitely identify the European influences since it is partially in Europe. However, it is distinctively different being in a country that is mostly Muslim. You first notice the difference in that some of the women are covered up but only a few were completely covered from head to toe which I personally do not like. You also hear the call to prayer throughout the day and notice minarets and mosques everywhere. The people on the street especially the people in front of restaurants can be very aggressive. Some would touch you and stand in front of you to block your progress. I didn't experience that in China. I actually gave one gentleman a pretty good shove to get out of my way. I wouldn't let that detract you from visiting Istanbul. I definitely would recommend it especially if you have already visited Europe because for me it wasn't all that different from other large European cities.

Next stop in Turkey was the Cappadocia region. Cappadocia is in the middle of Turkey a little over a hour by plane from Istanbul. It is an ancient area. Some of the research I did indicates people have lived there continuously since 3,000 BC. The Cappadocians were actually mentioned twice in the bible in the book of Acts per Wikipedia. It is a somewhat dry arid area that sort of looks like the American West. We decided to visit this area because of its uniqueness and history. We had read good things about it on travel blogs and noticed it on the Rick Steves' Turkey itinerary. We spent a total of 4 nights in the town of Goreme. Goreme has a population of 2,000 residents but they get about 10,000 tourists a week per one travel guide. Goreme was a little over a hour drive from the Kayceri airport that we flew into. We rented a car to get around here since the bus service is not as robust as it is other parts of Turkey. It was pretty easy to get around. The roads were in good shape and gas stations were common.

For the first two nights and really three full days Diane and Ronnie accompanied us to Cappedocia. We stayed at a small pension called the Cave Life Pension. It is built inside of a hillside with parts of it being a cave. It was pretty decent. Alethea and I had one room while Diane and Ronnie had one room. It included free wi-fi which was spotty the first couple days and free breakfast. The breakfast was pretty good. It contained olives, breads, boiled eggs, cheeses, and some fresh tomatoes. We had some difficulty with hot water in Diane and Ronnie's room. Our was fine except the last night when I had no hot water for my shower even though Alethea had plenty for hers. The rest of our first day in Goreme we spent hiking by the mushroom rock formations just outside of the town. They were unusual but look to be created by the usual culprits of fire and ice. Only the pictures will be able to really described it. After our hiking around we returned back to Goreme and had a pretty decent meal at a local restaurant. I believe we all had local Turkey\Ottoman dishes except Diane who had a pizza. I don't blame her. I was craving some American food too by the second or third day in Goreme although everything we ate was good. I really like the quality of the bread but again everything was tasty.

We spent the next day traveling via our rental car. We stopped first at the underground city of Kaymakli. It is a large complex of rooms that were used hundreds of years ago. Some of the tunnels were quite small. There were food storage, kitchens, plenty of wineries, and living room areas. On the way in we were somewhat pressured to hire a local guide but we decided to do it on our own. There were very basic one or two word signs to describe what type of room we were in plus Alethea overheard a French tour guide give description of rooms. For those that don't know Alethea is fluent in French and has a degree in French plus she flew international routes throughout Paris for Delta airlines for a few years. This is isn't the first time we've used her French to eavesdrop versus paying for something. It's like having a secret weapon :-). It was an interesting place. It is pretty deep underground. Can't really believe people lived there. I believe they lived here to flee or hide from various conquerors. You definitely would have to have some good torches to live in that place. We actually all had our head lamps with us which was a good thing since the power went out briefly and some areas were not well lit when the lights were on.

After Kaymakli we drove about a hour to the Ihlara Valley. We stopped at the town of Belisirma where we had a quick bite to eat on some huts that sat out in a shallow creek. We then hiked the southern part of the Ihlara Valley. We hiked up to one church and saw some old frescoes. We could make out paintings of Christ, some angels, and the twelve apostles. We then hiked down and along the valley looking for some more churches. We ended not hiking far enough even though we thought we had per our primitive map before encountering a nice gentleman who was about to walk home for the evening who showed us where the churches were at. He took his time and showed us each church. It turns out I was real close to them but didn't go quite far enough. These churches once spotted were a little easier to get to and nicer than the first one we encountered. We went to a total of three in this section. I had a clumsy moment while climbing down some rocks on the way to one church and twisted my ankle and scraped it up pretty good including my toes that are infected with athlete's foot. It hurt pretty good for the next 24 hours but was fine after that. Ronnie ended up tipping our spur of the moment tour guide and then we hiked about 45 minutes back to our car. The scenery in the valley was nice. We hiked along a creek with plenty of greenery and trees which aren't all that common in this part of Turkey. We wrapped up our Ihlara Valley trip by driving north for a few minutes and stopped at an old hillside monastery in Selime before driving the hour and half back to Goreme for the night.

The next day we went to the Goreme Open Air Museum. The museum was located only about a kilometer or so away from our hotel. We paid the 15 Lira a piece to enter the gates of the museum. Here there are a cluster of churches in the hillside built in the caves. There are frescoes and structures. In most of the churches you could not take any photos which is why most of the pictures for this section are of the area or just show the entrance. The churches of this area range for the most part from the 11th and 12th century AD with oldest being from around the 10th century AD. From what I've read there are no signs revealing the exact date of these churches. What is most commonly used to date them is the style of iconography used in the frescoes which has features that became common in the 10-12th centuries. Even though the churches may only be a 1000 years old this region's history involving Christianity goes back a lot longer. As I mentioned earlier the Cappadocians are mentioned in the book of Acts and some of the founding theologians of Christianity came from this region in the 2nd century AD and played a part in developing some of practices still in use today according to some of the literature I read.

After the museum we went back into Goreme and shopped for souvenirs for a little bit before grabbing a bite to eat. We then went back to our room and took Ronnie and Diane to the airport about a hour away in Kayceri. There was a shuttle from Goreme to the airport but it was by far cheaper to take them to the airport. I am glad they came and enjoyed their company. Hope they had a good time. Alethea and I decided to spend another two days in this region before flying to the city of Izmir (Smyrna) on the west coast. We looked into going to Konya or some other cities but either the cost of lodging was too high or the distance was too far to drive considering we had to return our rental car by 10:30 am on the day we flew out. We spent a little time in Mustafapasa where Rick Steve’s tour groups stay and drove to Celim and back through Ugurp. In all I would recommend the Cappadocia region if you are visiting Turkey. It is definitely a contrast to Istanbul and is rather easy to get around. The scenery is pretty in its own way as well as the churches.

The next part of Turkey we spent time in was in the Kusadai region on the Mediterranean coast. To
get to Kusadasi we flew from Kayceri (cost only $80 person) to Izmir which was a little over a hour. We then took a taxi for a hour from the Izmir airport to our hotel in Kusadasi. We stayed at the Villa Konak for 4 nights. The first day we got there we did not get out until the afternoon. It rained off and on in the morning so we spent time lounging outside on the terrace catching up on stuff while working on travel research since we had decent free wi-fi internet access. There is not really too much to see in Kusadasi. It has a population of about 50,000 but about 5 million tourist come through the city each year because it is a port of call for the cruise line industry. It is also close proximity to Ephesus. Ephesus is only about 12 miles away.

The next day was the highlight day of our time in this region. We toured the ruins of Ephesus and went to the town of Selcuk which is only 3 kilometers away from Ephesus. The first interesting part of our trip to Ephesus was getting there. Instead of booking a tour through an expensive tour company or taking a taxi we took one of the public buses which are shared taxis that run frequently and our cheap. We obtained info on how to use them via some previous trip research. We also got some information from a tourist office in Kusadasi the night before and verified it with our hotel staff the next morning. The cost was only 4 lira ($2.80 USD) per person one way. We ended up catching a bus in the city center. It was about a 30 minute ride to the Ephesus site. A 10 to 11 year old girl threw up in the van on the way but luckily I was sitting behind her instead of beside her. Once we were dropped off at Ephesus we took a taxi to the top of the Ephesus preservation site. It is recommended but not required to start from the top of the hill and then walk your way down but you can actually enter from either way. Once we got out we were approached immediately by touts wanting us to buy a book of the site and ponchos since it was threatening to rain. We made our way over to the entrance and purchased our 20 lira ($14 USD) per person entrance ticket. We then rented one audio guide headset (10 lira or $7 USD). Alethea had been to Ephesus 8 years ago while on a cruise so we decided to get just one headset. She actually was the spotter for the numbers to punch in to listen to since it was so crowded. I would then listen and tell her the function & a couple other facts about what we were seeing. They were dropping tourist off by the truck loads while we were there. The audio guide person said some days they have 45-50 full sized coach bus drop offs per day. Not sure we had that many but it was busy. It is kind of hard to go into detail about all the ruins but they were pretty neat. A lot of stuff is from the Roman era when the city hit its peak. It was actually the second largest city in the Roman Empire at one point. The highlight for me was probably the main amphitheater. It has been used for 2,000 years and is actually still used occasionally today. Paul of Tarsus once preached there against paganism and then was run out of town by the silver merchants who made statues of all the idols he was preaching against. In all we spent almost three hours checking out the columns, statues, library of Celsus, and even the latrines that the Romans built in the 2nd century AD. Although it was a little crowded it was worth it and I would recommend it.

Since we were still in the mood to look at ruins we headed into the town of Selcuk. We caught a mini bus for 2 lira a piece for the 3 kilometer ride back into town. The real purpose in Selcuk was to go to the Basilica of St. Jean and the Isa Bey Mosque. When we got off the bus we walked into town a little before seeing the signs to the attractions and started to walk that way. We were cutting through some of the residents which looked a little cramped and not in the best condition when a group of three girls who were about 12-13 years old asked if we could take a photo of them. Since Alethea already had her camera out taking pictures we obliged then showed them the picture on the camera. It was kind of cute although I was waiting for some type of request for money or to sale us something but they didn't. After a few more minutes of walking we ended up at the entrance to the Basilica of St. John. The entrance fee was 5 lira per person. The basilica is actually the ruins of the church. Several churches have been built on the spot and the one that was built around 530 AD by emperor Justinian was one of the largest churches in the world at that time. Over the years it fell into disrepair. I believe it was burned down and multiple earthquakes took its toll. It is still a worthwhile visit. You can walk through the remains and easily make out where the church was. At the front of the church by where the pulpit would be is the tomb of the apostle John. According to the site info he came here about 4-6 years after the death of Christ and spent most of the remaining part of his life here. Per the site information it is believe he wrote the gospel of John as well as the book of Revelations here too. This is somewhat more controversial but also he allegedly brought the Virgin Mary with him and she ascended into heaven after the end of her earthly life which is marked by a church 7 kilometers away. There are different accounts amongst denominations and religions. Islam considers Mary a saint too by the way. There is also some frescoes and a couple old baptisteries on the site that date back to 6th century AD. Upon completing the basilica tour we walked down the street to the Isa Bey Mosque. It was built in the 13th century AD. There wasn't anything too spectacular about it. It was built using some different types of architecture so there was some differences from the other mosques that we had seen. After the mosque visit we walked back into town and ate lunch. We then walked down to the bus station and caught a mini bus back to Kusadasi. No one got sick on the return trip but we did have to stop at multiple places before we got back to the town center to drop people off and pick them up from different hotels.

The last full day in Kusadasi was a trip research, laundry, and toiletry resupply day. We dropped off our laundry after eating breakfast. It actually cost us quite a bit. It was 50 lira for two large loads to wash and dry (~$35 USD). We washed everything including fleece jackets and towels. We haven't actually been charged for laundry since Yangshuo, China and are heading to Egypt on a tour for the next 10 nights. We may not have easy access to laundry when we need it. We also went to a local grocery store and stocked up toiletries we think we might run out of over the next month while in Africa. We then spent time researching some of our next places to visit in Israel, Jordan, and South Africa. Kenya and Tanzania are already booked. Alethea even manged to squeeze in a haircut back at the place I got my haircut at a couple days before. We were a little concerned that the traditional male run local barbershops wouldn't cut a woman's hair but he was eager too. He was very nice and offered us along with other customers your choice of tea or coffee as you waited or you could hang out afterward to finish your beverage. I had the apple tea. It was pretty good and like all Turkish coffee or tea quite strong. He did a pretty job with both of our haircuts. He even gave me his business card so if anyone who reads this needs a haircut in Kusadasi, Turkey please feel free to visit Aydin Filiz at Arslanlar Cad. Keskin Sk. Tornunoglu Apt No: 1 :-).

That wraps up Turkey. I don't really like to compare countries but I do like to compare what I thought a country would be like versus how it actually turned out to be. Turkey for me was better than the expectations that I had for it. It is a different culture than what I have been exposed to before which is a good thing. The country is relatively modern with English being spoken at least to the point where it wasn't too difficult to communicate. Istanbul pretty much felt European but obviously a little different than the Europe I have seen with all the mosques and call to prayers. The touts were more aggressive than I expected or liked. They were less aggressive in other parts. The infrastructure of the Cappadocia area was better than I expected as there were nice roads, gas stations, and ATM’s in the towns we visited. Turkey is very rich with history and culture which is always a positive with me. It was also good that Alethea's mom and Ronnie met up with us for a few days. I cannot really think of too many negatives. Smoking is pretty common in Turkey. I don't recall coming across any indoor smoking but it was very common in cafes and outdoor restaurants. Only other real negative was how aggressive the people were trying to sell you stuff. The people that were the worst were the for restaurants in Istanbul. They were more aggressive than the Chinese in this regard. I would highly recommend Turkey for a 1 to 2 week vacation. It is pretty easy to get around and filled with interesting historical sights. I almost forgot to mention another positive. The Turkish food we ate was pretty good. Breakfasts were the Mediterranean version of meat and cheese but included olives and different breads. The kebabs and doner plates and wraps we had were great too. The beef meat is usually flavored with local herbs. Not spicy but flavorful. One of the things I liked the best was the bread. At every place the bread was fresh and tasty. I know I ate plenty of it each place we went. I also enjoyed drinking the local Turkish beer Efes. It is a simple pilsner but tasted pretty good.

As far as I go I am holding up pretty well. A couple pieces of my gear got a little banged up in Turkey. The sunglasses that I am using which are Alethea's and very expensive fell a part on one side but Alethea and guy with a knife at the Cave Life Pension in Goreme fixed them. My backpack suffered two small but complete puncture holes at the top. I only store toiletries there so I am not too worried. Alethea said she might be able to patch it. Time to pack up and try to check in. We're headed off to Egypt and the Middle East. Neither one of us have been to these areas so it should be interesting. We just heard over the intercom that the flight to Baghdad just had a gate change. Don't think we'll be on that one as we are flying direct into Cairo. It is interesting though that you can catch a flight to either there or Tehran from here. Everyone take care!

Link to photo albums:

Daily Log:

Monday October 18th
Flew from Hong Kong to Amman via Bangkok, Thailand.
We got in to Amman around 5:30 am and checked in to the Royal Crown lounge where we napped for about 3 hours before eating breakfast and then catching our connecting flight to Istanbul.
Made it in to Istanbul. Ronnie and Diane met us outside of customs. Their flight was late and arrived only a hour before us. Originally they would have arrived 4 hours earlier.
Walked around area of hotel. Ate dinner at a nice local Turkish restaurant surrounded by cats and smokers.
Came back to hotel and took showers.

Tuesday October 19th
Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmed Mosque – built 1616, surprised at how many women were not wearing scarfs.
The Basilica Cistern Yerebatan Sarnici – 532 AD.
Hagia Sophia – started 532 finished 537. Largest church in Christianity until 1520
Grand Bazaar
Two other mosques
Walked over Galata Kpr Bridge

Wednesday October 20th
Spent hours walking around the Topkapi Palace. It was the home of the Ottoman Sultans 1465 to 1856. Contains many religious relics which included sword of David, Abraham's saucepan, rod of Moses, Muhammad’s cloak, foot print, tooth, and hair from his beard. Beautiful palace.
Walked over to old wooden house section of Istanbul
Toured mausoleum of Sultan ???
Diane bought some spices near the spice market
Ate dinner at hotel restaurant which is an Ottoman Restaurant – very nice

Thursday October 21st
Alarm went off at 5 am. Caught airport shuttle @ 6:15 am.
Flew from Istanbul to Kayceri. Arrived around 10 am. Had Turkish coffee @ airport. Tasted nasty
Picked up rental car and left around 10:50 am
After a couple short stops drove about a hour to Goreme.
Staying at Cave Life Pension.
Drove around to mushroom top rock formations.
Drove to Ugurp. Hike up to viewpoint.
Made brief stop at winery
Ate dinner in Goreme at nice local Turkish restaurant.

Friday October 22nd
Awaken sometime after 5 am by the first call to prayer from the mosque located in front of our hotel.
Alethea woke me up after 7 am to watch all the numerous hot air balloons flying over Goreme. It was pretty neat. Watched them for about 30 minutes or so.
Ate breakfast and left hotel around 10 am.
Drove to Kaymakli. Hiked in underground city for a hour. Pretty neat and massive. Numerous chambers to walk around in. Some tunnels were very small. Had to use head lamp lights
Drove through Ihlara to Ihlara Valley to Belisirma. Ate lunch in Belisirma in the creek.
Hiked through valley to ancient churches. Churches had frescoes that depicted Jesus, angels, and 12 disciples. Need to research to see how old these churches are.
Almost didn't find some. Nice young man walked with us down to where the churches were at. These churches were nicer. We saw three additional larger ones. Very impressive. Frescoes were made with pigeon egg shells. I tripped and fell cutting up my left foot and maybe spraining some toes while hiking to one church.
Hike back to car. Drove to Selime and walked around a monastery.
Drove back to Goreme and ate dinner at local restaurant.
Cappadocia is old. People have lived here since 3000 BC. Cappadocia is referenced twice in the book of Acts.

Saturday October 23rd
Open air museums of Goreme – many old churches with frescoes dating back to the 10-12th centuries
Shopped in Goreme
Ate lunch
Took Ronnie and Diane to the Kayceri airport
Came back to hotel and ate dinner and got on the internet.
Decided to spend another night at a our hotel in Goreme

Sunday October 24th
Slept in a little bit until 9 am.
Ate breakfast. Decided to spend another night at our hotel in Goreme. We looked at other places but they were not within our budget.
Surfed the internet after breakfast for a little bit since we were now able to access Gmail and some other sights were couldn't before after the power outage earlier in the morning.
Hand washed some underwear since it might be a few days until we do laundry again in Izmir.
Drove to Ugurp and stopped once along the way at an overlook
Drove around Ugurp until we figured out to get to Mustafapasa
Walked around Mustafapasa for about 30 minutes.
Drove to Celim and spotted an old abandoned church. We believe it is from 1902.
Drove back to hotel. Stopped and bought a bottle of local Turkish. Sat in room and drank the wine, ate pumpkin seeds and mulberries that we had bought earlier.
Edited pictures in Picasa
Walked into town to eat at a local restaurant
Called home via cell then Google Talk and spoke with mom and dad for about 30 minutes.

Monday October 25th
Checked out of hotel around 9:15 am.
Drove to Kayceri to turn in the rental car.
Rental car was due back around 10:30 am even though our flight wasn't until 3:35 pm. Waited in the Kayceri airport for several hours. It is real small. Only two gates. Caught up on picture editing and writing my blog entry for Turkey before flight.
Flight was uneventful except had two small holes punched in my bag at the top courtesy of Sun Express Airlines.
Took taxi to hotel. Took one hour and 100 Turkish Lira
Hotel Konak is pretty nice.
Ate dinner at local Turkish restaurant in Kusadasi.

Tuesday October 26th
Slept in a little bit (prob 8:30 am)
Ate breakfast at hotel (pretty good & included in room rate)
Hand washed underwear in sink to stretch out laundry date until next to last day before leaving.
Raining\Thunderstorming – decided to catch up pics, expenses, research on out door port by the wireless router. All caught up on picture posting. Need to keep writing on blog.
Got haircut from local barber. Cost 13 lira or $9.13
Walked around Kusadasi.
Got back to hotel and enjoyed free wine for referencing Turkey Travel Planner web site.
Ate dinner at local restaurant. Had pizza, wings, and bread. Very good.

Wednesday October 27th
Toured ruins of Ephesus – took public bus for only 4 TL per person. Took around 3 hours to tour. Very good. Highlight was the amphitheater.
Toured St. John Basilica and saw tomb of the Apostle John.
Toured Isa Bey Mosque which is next to St. John's - 13th century mosque.
Checked out local supermarket for our toiletry supply run tomorrow. Did pick up 4 pack of Efes for only 9 TL. Cheaper than buying individually in local markets.
Server complementary Turkish Tea by hotel.

Thursday October 28th
Took laundry to local laundry mat. At first they were closed but our hotel called them & they opened back up.
Went to grocery store to buy toiletries before heading down to Africa
Researched Jerusalem, Egypt visas
Alethea got a haircut
Ate dinner
Worked on blog for Turkey

Friday October 29th
Alarm went off at 4:30 am
Caught taxi at 4:50 am (he was 10 minutes early)
Took 45 minute flight from Izmir to Istanbul
Sitting in airport because Egypt Air's check-in desk isn't open yet.
Working on finishing up blog entry for Turkey
Listening to senior citizens cough up lungs in the lobby as a result of decades of smoking.

This blog entry covered 10/18 to 10/29

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hong Kong

The best way I can think of to describe Hong Kong is that it is feels like a mixture of New York, Europe, and China. It definitely is different than mainland China which is easily understandable considering it was governed by the British for 150 years before being turned back over to the Chinese in 1997. Despite obviously knowing this I was expecting Hong Kong to be more similar and much more integrated into China since it had been 13 years after the hand over took place. For all practical purposes it feels like a different country. Hong Kong has its own currency, legal system, and police force. When traveling to Hong Kong from mainland China you have to go through immigration to leave China and once again as you enter Hong Kong. The different areas we explored were less hectic and a little more civilized than the rest of China we experienced. However, you could still come across sights that are not normal for a US or European city.

Hong Kong skyline at night
In Hong Kong we pretty much toured it at a reduced pace. Since the temperatures were much hotter than the previous places we had visited we didn't get out until the afternoon/evening. I had also developed a nasty case of Athlete's Foot that didn't go away and had gotten worse by the time we arrived in Hong Kong. Keeping my foot dry and medicated with Lamisil were also somewhat of a priority for me. It helped not to overdue it in all the heat and humidity. We used the morning time to catch on things and do some trip planning for Turkey, Israel, and Jordan.

Hong Kong is also an expensive city too. Our small hostel room in Hong Kong was I believe the most expensive one on our trip to date but it did come with free wi-fi and we had our own bathroom/shower which is always a nice perk. They also didn't charge us for doing our laundry even though the sign said it should have been 40 Hong Kong dollars ($5.16 USD). They said to just leave them a good review on Hostelbookers which is the site we used to book this hostel. I think it was a pretty good place to visit as we wound up our China and Asia part of the trip. However, I wouldn't only visit Hong Kong if you want to experience China because you would be short changing yourself. Hong Kong was quite different than Beijing but not all that dissimilar from Shanghai. Of course it depends on what parts of these cities you stay and hang out in. Also, to properly visit China you need to get out in some of the more rural areas like we did in Guiling and Yangshuo.
Densely packed Hong Kong street

The highlights for me was just checking out the city and noticing the similarities and contrasts between Hong Kong and mainland China. We checked out different parts in the area in which we stayed as well as Hong Kong Island. On our last full day we took a couple ferries over to Lamma Island. We hiked across the island and ate dinner in the village of Sok Kwu Wan at a seafood restaurant called Rainbow Seafood. Since we ate dinner there we also receive a complementary ferry ride back to Hong Kong Island. However, we got off too soon. The ferry actually kept going and would have dropped us off over in the Kowloon area where we stayed but there were no announcements in English. We ended up taking regular ferry back over to our area for only 2 Hong Kong dollars which equals about 26 cents US.

Well that pretty much wraps up our stay in Hong Kong. It was a nice city to finish up our China and eastern Asia portion of our travels. We were able to rest, catch up on blogging, photo editing, and make progress on our travel itinerary. We pretty have our next stop of Turkey planned out as much as we want to plan it out. I am also looking forward to Alethea's mom and husband joining us for part of our Turkey adventure. It should be fun! 

Link to Hong Kong photos:

Hong Kong

Daily Log:

Tuesday October 12th
Arrived in Hong Kong
Checked into hotel
Walked around southern tip of area we are staying at which is called Tsim Sha Tsui

Wednesday October 13th
Slept in after traveling for the previous 48 hours by bus, subway, and overnight train from Yangshuo.
Caught up on pics and blogging.
Purchased two Octopus transport cards to use on the various transport options
Took the subway about 4 stops to an area north of where we are staying and walked around the Mong Kok area before back tracking through Temple Street Night Market. It was pretty neat. You could buy all sorts of junk. Alethea actually bought me a Chairmen Mao watch!
Ate at a local place. I had sweat and sour pork :-)
Walked all the way back to our hotel.

Thursday October 14th
Turkey planning
Went to Hong Kong Island and walked around for a few hours
Botanical/Zoo Garden

Friday October 15th
Explored the area north of where we are staying
Ate dinner at good local place. Mostly meat dishes which were pretty good. 
Saw the 8 pm HK light show. Pretty neat. Lasted 20 minutes.

Saturday October 16th
Lamma Island - took two ferries to reach the island. Hike from one side to another for a little over a hour.
Ate dinner Rainbow Seafood restaurant - pretty good
Took two ferries back to where we were staying in Hong Kong
Bought some supplies at a Watsons department store.

Sunday October 17th
Check out of hostel
Take bus to airport
Had to kill several hours in the check in lounge area before being able to check in for our flight. We are flying Royal Jordanian and they only have one flight per day which is our 9:30 pm flight. The problem is that since we cannot get boarding passes we cannot go through security and enter the lounge that we have a membership too. Not a big deal but not the comfortable wait we were expecting which is why we got to the airport this early. Oh well.

Mid-level escalators 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Here's the final edited version of our trip to mainland China. I accidentally posted this entry while still writing it offline. In China you cannot easily access Blogger but you can email your blog which is what I was testing out. I thought I had it set to save an email to the blog in draft status instead of posting it automatically . I was looking for a way to save drafts without back it up to my USB drive every time I made a change. If you read the first posting you probably have read 60% of it. I cleaned up some areas and added other cities we visited after the first posting. Anyway, below is my entry for our 3 weeks in China......

Wow, what a country. I decided to wait until we were at least a week into the country before starting to write my China entry. China is probably the most foreign country that I've been to. I think my brother Doug summed it up pretty good in an email when he described China as a wild ride. I'll write here for a little bit about the experience of visiting China for the first time then list some of the highlights, observations, and my daily log.

I am not exactly sure where to start. China is somewhat of a different beast than other countries I've been. For me China was kind of difficult at first and probably only moderated slightly throughout our time here. I was expecting to have issues with the food or water or some type of serious language barrier problems but actually what bothered me was just the daily life in China. To start with the people were pushy. People will jump in front of you in lines or seemingly try to walk through you on the street. It is by no means personal. It is just part of their culture. Old women will run into you and I saw them cut people off in wheelchairs. You learn pretty quickly that you cannot be timid. You will do better if you are aggressive at all times. Within a couple days I was running into people and somewhat looking forward to the daily combat of walking in the streets but it does wear on you after a while. It just gets kind of tiring pushing people aside as you walk through crowds when you aren't used to it. If people in China walked around cities in the US like they do here, especially in the south, there would be some serious confrontations.

Now that I described walking down a street in China. The next thing to discuss is crossing the street. In China the fact that you have a green light to cross the street only means you are maybe less likely to get hit by cars and bicycles. It does not necessarily mean that you have the right of way. I remember the first time I was in the Netherlands I was amazed that bicyclers with a green light would zoom through an intersection without looking because they knew cars would stop and they were right about 99% of the time. In China you wouldn't last a day doing that. Needless to say at this point I learned quickly to always be very diligent when crossing the street. I don't recall us being the first ones to cross and I intentionally wanted someone between me and oncoming traffic so they could take some of the blow if a vehicle didn't stop. In Beijing it was kind of bad. In Shanghai it was better. Cars actually slowed down and even stopped at busy intersections for the most part. I did notice that cars were a little more timid if police/military were present at intersections.

Another common thing you will experience in China are the smells. We're in to our second week and pretty much every day you'll run into some type of sewer smell or a decaying roasted meat smell that is quite nauseous. It not often over powering but it is common even in nice areas of the large cities. It was even present at the Shanghai Expo which is a major event that China is putting on to showcase itself on the world stage. I don't think I need to go into much detail on this one but trust me it could be unpleasant at times.

On top of the daily grind type challenges another thing that wears on you a little bit is that if ones stray a little bit from beaten path you'll see some not so pleasant living quarters. You will see very small apartments which are really rooms with a bed and sink. In Beijing we stayed in a older Hutong area. It was quite common for there not to be a toilet in an apartment so there would be shared community bathrooms. I saw this a couple times in Shanghai but we were in a nicer area and didn't get too far into a place were ordinary Chinese live. You'll also see that pretty much anything goes. We'd be walking down a street in Beijing and all of sudden you would come across someone welding something on the street despite kids or other people walking by. Around the corner you could see someone roasting chestnuts in conditions that didn't look to be that sanitary.

After a little while I pretty much got used to these unpleasant day to day experiences. I pretty much decided that there isn't much you can do to change the environment you just have to adapt to it even if you don't like it. China hasn't been all bad. There has been some nice people who have been helpful either at the airport or helping us order at restaurants. The places we have stayed at so far have been pretty good and we have also we have had some pretty good food.

Now that I have vented for a little bit I can go over some of the highlights of the places we visited starting with Beijing. Beijing was our first stop in China. We spent 5 nights there. The first full day we were there we walked to a park called the Temple of Heaven. I had never heard of it before Alethea pointed it out on a map. It was a pretty big area. The central part is the Prayer for Good Harvest building. It may have actually been called a temple. This building is pretty important to the Chinese and has been for quite some time. The next day in Beijing Alethea talked me into renting bicycles for our trip to the Forbidden City and Tianamen Square. Our hotel was only a couple of miles from these areas but we walked quite a bit the previous day and these area themselves are quite big. I'll probably never forget this experience. It was something else. The whole day we had to constantly dodge people, other bicycles, cars, and buses. I almost was taken out on a couple of occasions. I have sky dived twice before and that was by far safer than riding a bike in Beijing. The Forbidden City was really neat though. It is massive to say the least. There are numerous gates, halls, and areas to explore. It took us a good 2-3 hours we didn't explore multiple sections. After the Forbidden City we made our way around to Tianamen Square which is the largest square in the world per the Chinese. I haven't independently verified this but I'll take them at their word on this one. The square is obviously very big and open. It is surround by some government buildings, museums, and the mausoleum of the former ruler of China, Mao Zedong. I read later on Wikipedia that Mao was rated one of the worst leaders of the 20the century but is apparently still admired in China despite all the people he killed via purges and famines. I think over 40 million died in the 1960s due to famine alone as a result of his agriculture policies. After Tianamen Square we drove around for a little bit before heading back to our hotel. Some of the streets we drove on weren't always that bike friendly so naturally I had some more opportunities to cheat death. Once we got back to our hotel we calmed down with a couple of big beers from across the street. The good news is that they were only the equivalent of 45 cents US a piece. We also stopped in and got haircuts. It had been a little over a month since our last haircuts in Melbourne and we were due for a trimming. The haircuts were a little over $5.25 a piece. I actually saw them cheaper elsewhere in China.

The next day was another highlight for me. We went on a day trip to the Great Wall of China. The most interesting part of the trip may have been the drive up there. I felt like instead of being on defense we were now on offense since we were in a passenger car versus being on foot or on a bicycle. We booked our trip through our hotel and quickly found out when our driver met us at 6:30 am that we were the only people going. We also found out we would be in a car versus a touring bus. The drive to the section of the wall that we toured was about 1 hour 40 minutes north of Beijing. During the trip up our driver provided a lot of excitement. He constantly weaved in and out of traffic. He crossed several lanes of traffic in front of cars and buses to get off the interstate. On some of the more rural roads we would pass cars and buses with little room to spare plus come dangerously close to hitting pedestrians either crossing the street or walking alongside the street. It didn't matter if the pedestrians were old, young, male or female. He didn't discriminate. Anyway, we eventually made it up the wall on a beautiful sunny day. We took a cable car up to the top and spent a hour hiking to the west and about a hour and a half hiking back to the east. We actually hiked as far as we could to the east. The part of the wall we were at has been refurbished. We could see sections that were in disrepair and were overgrown with shrubbery. It is kind of sad but the wall is thousands of kilometers long and over a thousand years old. It was would cost a fortunate to maintain the entire thing and there is other things the government needs to spend money like the military or their space program :-). From what I read it appears there are only three main sections around Beijing that you can visit and one of those is currently closed. The scenery from on top where we hike was pretty. It was actually a steep hike in certain parts. I am glad we went and were able to see it in person. The drive back was not as adventurous as the trip up. It wasn't exactly smooth though either. It was mid day on a Sunday and there was more traffic which limited our driver's ability to effectively pass several cars at once and to take out pedestrians that happened to be in our path.

I'll briefly touch on the next city we traveled too. The next stop was Shanghai. We never really planned on going to Shanghai but when trying to book rail tickets out of Beijing we ran into a problem since it was the annual Chinese National Republic 7 day holiday. We weren't aware of the magnitude of the holiday before we left the US. We were aware of that there was something around the 1st of October but not that it was a week long and that a lot of Chinese travel during it. Since all trains leaving Beijing were booked for the next 5 days we decided to fly to Shanghai. We ended having a delay of over 6 hours at the Beijing airport but also ended up getting compensated 400 yuan per person in cash for our delay. In Shanghai the highlight was that we spent one day at the Shanghai Expo which is what world's fairs are now called. We spent the day touring different pavilions for different countries and cities including the US pavilion which in my opinion was pretty good or at least the part we saw was.

The next stop after our 4 nights in Shanghai was the city of Suzhou. Suzhou is a small city west of Shanghai. I am somewhat kidding by calling it a small city. Suzhou actually isn't that small. It has around 6 million people. It is known as the Venice of China because of all the canals in the city. To get to Suzhou we took a train that topped out around 170 mph to make the 30 minute journey. I think it is sad that China along with most other countries I've visited has a better passenger rail system than the US. Wonder if that would be the case if Boeing made trains instead of airplanes. I digress. In Suzhou we essentially spent a couple days strolling around the canals and different parts of the city. We actually stopped in a watch repair shop and had a link taken out of my watch for no charge. My watch was feeling a little loose since I've now lost about 45 pounds over the last 18 months. It feels perfect now.

After Suzhou the next stop was the city of Guilin. We ended up taking a 21 hour overnight train from Shanghai to Suzhou for around I believe $80 USD. It wasn't necessarily easy but wasn't too bad either. We stayed in the city of Guilin which only has a population of just over 600,000 making it similar in size to Nashville and to date was the smallest city in China we had been in. We were only there for two nights. On our first and really only full day in the city we decided to book a day trip to the Longji terraced rice fields. I almost decided to skip this activity because it didn't appeal to me at first plus I was tired from the overnight train. I'm glad I went though. We drove for 2.5 hours to get up to the terraces and ended up hiking for around 4 hours. We hiked up and saw numerous fields and went through little small villages. Also, on our trip was a French couple who are living in Shanghai for a year named Pierre and Georgine. They were staying at our hostel and booked the same trip as us. Pierre is a PHD student doing a year abroad and Georgine is his wife. They are from Marseille, France. It was a pretty good hike and adventure overall. Our driver who we hired for the day did a decent job too. Don't get me wrong he constantly passed other vehicles around blind curves and honked at people the whole way as the Chinese do but he was a little more conservative than our Beijing driver. I even started to fall asleep on the way back.

Next stop for us was our boat trip and subsequent tour of Yangshuo. Yangshuo is the smallest town that we traveled to in China. It has a population of 100,000 but is a popular tourist destination and receives 15 million visitors a year. In order to get to the town of Yangsho we decided to book a boat trip from our hostel versus taking the bus. We were picked up at our hostel by one mini bus then transferred over to a big bus. After our 45 minutes of bus riding we departed on our boat trip down the Li River. The trip down was peaceful and contained some pretty scenery of the limestone mountains that the area is known for. The boat trip took a little over 4 hours and included a buffet lunch. We also signed up after for a tour of rural Yangshuo after we arrived. We went to a rural village about 20 minutes outside of town and saw how people live in a small village. We saw the Dragon Bridge which is a small stone bridge in a small village but it is almost 600 years old. We then rode on bamboo rafts for a little over a hour. At the beginning of the ride we got to see a cormorant fishing demonstration. The cormorant birds are trained to catch fish which obviously comes naturally to them. They are kept from swallowing the fish by a wire that they have around their necks. The birds then are gathered by the fisherman who takes the fish out of their mouths. The birds are allowed to eat some of the fish to keep them motivated. After our two hour rural tour we headed back into town and then to our hotel the Li River Retreat. Our hotel was about 2 km outside of the town along the Li River that we had traveled on earlier in the day.

We pretty much spent the next two days at our hotel. We did a lot of planning for Turkey and walked around our general area one day. On our last day in Yangshuo we actually signed up for a cooking class. It was only about $24 USD and included them picking us up from our hotel, going to a market to buy the groceries, the class itself in which we ate what we cooked, and a ride back into town. It was pretty interesting. In the market we saw some unpleasant sights. There was a section in the back where there were some dead dogs. There were also dogs in cages waiting to be slaughtered. It was Ok for us to walk over there and check it out but I didn't have the stomach to do so. I could see enough from a distance of about 25 meters or so. After our class and lunch we roamed around Yanghshuo and killed some time at the Buffalo Bar before taking a hour long bus back to Guilin. In Guilin we took an overnight train to Ghuangzhou. It was a shorter ride than our previous trip. The train left at around 9:20 pm and arrived at 8:30 am the next morning. I actually slept pretty good on the train. When we arrived in Ghuangzhou we transferred over to the East Station via the subway to where the Hong Kong bound trains depart from. We actually ended up purchasing the last two tickets for the 9:50 am train. There were plenty of seats available but they stop selling tickets 20 minutes before the train departs. The ride to Hong Kong lasted about 2 hours. One interesting thing is that before we boarded we had to go through immigration. Even though Hong Kong has belonged to China for the last 13 years it is still treated as an independent special district and will be for another 37 years so you have to be cleared to travel there. We received a departing stamp in a our passports for leaving China and received another stamp when we entered Hong Kong.

This pretty much wraps up our China trip or at least the mainland China portion. Since the Chinese still treat Hong Kong as pretty much a different country, I will too for blogging purposes. Hong Kong even has its own currency still. China was defiantly an interesting experience. I think I was little shocked to begin with but gradually sort of adapted. I realize the first part of the blog was probably a little negative but it wasn't all bad. There were a lot of nice helpful Chinese people who were curious about us and really helped us along on our journey. It is definitely a place I'll remember for some time and am glad we came. I think I was a little worried at first because I knew I wasn't reacting all that well and that I knew we were traveling to places that will be worse but that is all part of the experience. Visiting China isn't easy but I think it is worth it. There is nothing like visiting a place in person no matter what it is like versus reading about it. We'll spend 5 nights in Hong Kong before traveling over to Turkey to start the Middle East and Africa portions of our trip. That's all for now. I'm looking forward to Turkey especially since we've been doing planning for it over the last few days.

Links to China photo albums:

Social websites are blocked: Facebook, Twitter, Blogspot, Picasa Web Albums
Smoking is more common including indoors.
English not that prevalent but a few understand a couple words.
Frequent sewer smell.
Roasted meat smell that smells like the sewer too.
Riding a bicycle is an experience. Potentially dangerous.
Cars will drive through crosswalks even if you have the light. It was better in Shanghai than in Beijing.
Street vendors, rick shaw, and taxi drivers trying to sell you items or a service is quite common.
People are aggressive and pushy in any type of situation involving a line or queue.
Shanghai is a little bit more modern. Cars don't automatically drive through crosswalks. People are still pushy and if you get a few blocks away from downtown then the areas are not too good and smell nasty
China cities seem to lack bars just to sit down and have a beer. Lot of walk away or small places to eat.
Frequently have to have your bags scanner & walk through a metal detector at subway and train stations but the people manning these area are quite often not even looking at the screens.
In Beijing they rate some of their public toilets in tourist area on a 1 to 5 star system.
China has one time zone for the whole country.
China is pretty much a cash society with few places taking Visa\Mastercard
Hong Kong is still pretty much treated like a separate country despite the fact that it was turned back over to the Chinese 13 years ago. You have to go through immigration to get to it and they still have their own currency. I knew about the 1 country 2 systems policy but I thought it would be more integrated than what it is today.

Daily Log

Friday 9/24/10 - Beijing
Temple of Heaven
Haircut (35 yen per person)
Booked tour to Great Wall for Sunday (cost 310 yuan per person)

Saturday 9/25/10 - Beijing (Forbidden City, Tianamen Square)
Rented bicycle (400 yuan deposit plus 20 yuan for 2 people). It was scary. Cars would turn into crosswalks. Had to constantly watch out for cars and keep from being hit. Almost was taken out by double bus.
Forbidden City or Palace Museum as the Chinese call it. Took hours to explore
Walked around Tianamen Square after going through a security checkpoint.
Got a haircut. Barber understood a little English and understood that I wanted a 1 blade. Cost was 35 yuan or $5.22 USD

Sunday 9/26/10 - Beijing
Great Wall of China @ the Mutianyu section – took 1 hr 40 minutes to drive there, spent 3.5 hours hiking the wall. The drive up there was exciting and dangerous. Driver constantly passing people, nearly hit people in the road, cut people off in traffic regularly.
Actually saw blue skies and the sun shine in Beijing

Monday 9/27/10 – Beijing
All day travel planning day. No train tickets available for 5 days due to 7 day national holiday week in China.. Had to purchase air tickets from Beijing to Shanghai. Will stay down there for two nights before moving on (we extended it to 4 days).
Did a lot of research on Turkey. Not going to be pretty since the sights we want to see are spread out.
Dinner was at a Chinese restaurant that has been in business since 1785. We had a hot pot which is similar to eating at a Melting Pot restaurant back in the US. We even chatted briefly with some Chinese men next to us who asked us where we were from. One man gave me a shot of his rice liquor. It was quite strong.

Tuesday 9/28/10 – Beijing to Shanghai
Made it airport relatively easy by walking to subway and taking it to the airport express. Rode airport express train to terminal 3.
Fight was supposed to leave @ 1:55. There was an announcement about a flight delay to technical reasons but no other details given. Alethea went to Air China lounge while I walked around the airport for 30 minutes. She then called me on her cell phone to come to the lounge because she was trying to get us on another flight since there was no communication regarding our flight. I sneaked in to the lounge because of all the confusion with passengers trying to re-book at the front desk. We stayed in the lounge until our flight boarded @ 8:00 pm. We had sandwiches, dumplings, noodles, beer, water, and orange juice over the next 6 hours. We almost considered going to the hotel they were going to put us up in or fly to another city but eventually took our flight.
Right before we boarded a Chinese gentleman asked us we got our money from the airlines due to the delay. We ended up getting 400 yuan per person for our troubles which is about $120 USD.
We sat on the ground for another 40 minutes after we boarded. People in front of us immediately put their seats back and the guy behind crunched up in a ball and put his knees directly into my back. When we got in the air I reclined my seat all the way back forcefully to knock his knees down.
Took taxi from airport. Cost 220 yuan. Had to call hostel on my cell phone and hand to driver to guide us for the final little bit of our journey.
Made it to hostel a little after midnight. Took showers and went to bed around 1:10 am.

Wednesday 9/29/10 – Shanghai
Slept in
Discussed travel options for trains and flights
Toiletry shopped @ Watsons
Ate dinner @ a Burger King
Walked around People's Square
Bought beer and breakfast noodles
Came back to hostel to do laundry
Spent hours trying to plan our itinerary for the rest of China.
Extended our stay by another night

Thursday 9/30/10 – Shanghai
Shanghai Expo – It is what used to be called the World's Fair. It is massive. Two tickets costs $47. We walked around and saw pavilions for the Iran, Netherlands, and USA. We also saw city exhibits of Ningbo, Osaka, and Alsace (region). Saw a 30 minute Kung Fu demonstration. USA exhibit was pretty good or at least better than I thought it was going to be. Wanted to go to others but the lines were very long. Could have taken a couple hours to get into the Italy, France, or England.

Friday 10/1/10 – Shanghai
Walked to the Bund area
Purchased train tickets for Suzhou and then to Guilin
Walked too far to find old section of Shanghai.
Walked through some not so good parts of town trying to find our way back to old section of Shanghai that we had missed. It wasn't pretty and smelled nasty.
Old city area of Shanghai was absolutely packed. We walked through it and made the long walk back to our place.
A lot of walking among very crowded streets today. A lot of the walking was unnecessary and could have been avoided. I was drained by the end of the day.

Saturday 10/2 – Suzhou
Took high speed train from Shanghai to Suzhou. Train reached top speed of 282 km/h or 175 mph. Took less than 30 minutes to get there.
Waited in Taxi line to take to hostel. Taxi dropped us off before hostel. Had to walk rest of way to hostel down by a canal. Only a couple hundred meters.
Checked into Ming Town Hostel Suzhou. Only costs 450 yuan for 3 nights or $22.43 USD per night. Room is the smallest that we've had on our whole trip but in the old part of town next to canal.
Walked around for a little bit but it was raining. Fell into Southern Cross where they had happy hour from 1200 – 1900. Ate Mexican dinner from there with beers. Total 234 yuan or $34.98.

Sunday 10/3 – Suzhou
Walked around Suzhou for a few hours
Got one link removed from watch @ watch repair shop. Person didn't charge me.
Tried to buy train tickets but couldn't buy any from Guilin to Ghaunshouz (sp). You pretty much have to buy a ticket in the city you are departing from and not book ahead. We've ran into this here and in Beijing but were able to do it in Shanghai.
Ate dinner @ a good traditional style restaurant. Costs only 61 RMB or a little over $9 USD.

Monday 10/4 – Suzhou
Roamed around city streets for a couple hours
Stopped at grocery store and bought breakfast noodles and some toothpaste
Stopped at pharmacy because my athlete's foot is not getting better and it looking worse. Described situation to a worker at the pharmacy who showed us one type of medication then took my shoe and sock off to show it to her and she immediately switched to something else. I'll need to spray it with something a little stronger for the next two weeks.
Came back to hostel and drank a couple beers and ate snacks while we did laundry.

Tuesday 10/5 – Overnight train
Checked out of hostel @ noon
Took taxi to Suzhou train station
Took train from Suzhou to Shanghai – fastest train speed was 332 km/h
Took Shanghai Subway from Shanghai train station to Shanghai South Train Station which is the brand new large station. My backpack got caught in the bag scanning equipment.
Boarded train from Shanghai to Guilin – 21 hour train, traveled over 1500 km or ~900 miles. Had trouble sleeping for a while. We shared our soft sleeper cabin with another man and a brother/sister who shared one of the top bunks.

Wednesday 10/6 – Guilin
Arrived in Guilin little after 2 pm.
Walked about a half mile to our hostel.
Walked around mall across the street. Ate dinner at hostel and made arrangement to go on a day trip to the rice terraces tomorrow with a french couple from Marseille named Pierre and Georgine (sp).

Thursday 10/7 – Guilin
Took a day drip to the rice terraces of Longji. Started @ 7 am. Returned back to hostel around 4 pm.
Spent most of the day hiking with a French couple we met the night before. Pierre and Georgine. We got a little lost but made up to the Golden Buddha Point we were aiming for.

Friday 10/8/10 – Yangshuo
Took boat from Guilin to Yangshuo: Took 2 buses for 45 minutes to boat, took 4.5 hour boat ride to Yangshuo, Signed up for Yanghuo tour after boat trip – consisted of touring an old village and going to the Dragon Bridge which was built in 1412, took bamboo ride and saw birds (cormorant) that are trained to fish along with going down three small “rapids” which took a hour.
Will spend three nights at the Li River Retreat. Rooms are the nicest we've had in all of China from first glance.

Saturday 10/9/10 – Yangshuo
Spent the day relaxing at our hotel.
Did Turkey related research most of the day.
Scrubbed Teva's and washed money belt since they were dirty.
Hotel did the laundry

Sunday 10/10/10 – Yangshuo
Worked on Turkey planning activities.
Booked some hostels & intra-Turkey flights.
Walked around hotel area. Saw some buildings under construction, water buffalo, chicken, & dogs

Monday 10/11/10 – Overnight train to Ghuangzhou
Yangshuo Cooking School – went to market in Yangshuo then cooking school. There dead dogs and alive dogs waiting to be butchered.
Walked around Yangshuo.

Tuesday 10/12/10 – Hong Kong
Arrived in Guangzhou around 8:30 am. Slept real good on train
Took Guangzhou Metro to East Train Station
Purchases last two tickets for the Hong Kong train @ 9:50 am. There were plenty of seats but they quit selling tickets 20 minutes before the train departs.
Train to HK took almost 2 hours
Found hotel, walked around HK a little bit, relaxed with a couple of beers overlooking the HK skyline.
Ate dinner at good Indian restaurant.

Blog entry covered from 9/23 to 10/12.