A Travellerspoint blog

London: Next Stop - Africa

semi-overcast 15 °C

As another sun-filled summer slips gently into a soggy autumn we are once again getting ready to leave our paradise island. We, like all voyageurs, travel to exotic places so that we can marvel at all the wonderful things we simply ignore at home: wonderful things like the spectacular vistas of ocean, mountains and forests that we see daily from our cliff top home...
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In a few days time we will be roaming the Serengeti plains and Great Rift Valley of Tanzania in search of lions, zebras, giraffes and a host of other wild creatures. But we too have a wild side in British Columbia and this summer we explored a number of neighbouring islands. British Columbia is four times the size of the United Kingdom but it has a total population of less than 5 million - more than half of whom live in the Vancouver area. It is not surprising therefore that most of our province looks like this...
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Cougars, elk, moose and bears of many kind rove freely through the numerous thickly forested mountain ranges and islands of Canada’s west coast, while the surrounding Pacific ocean is home to whales, sea lions, seals and fish of many species. The sea lions have returned from their summer fishing grounds and, while we frequently spy the sea life from our home, we rarely spot other wildlife - apart from the many doe-eyed deer that thrive on everything in our garden, and the raccoons and squirrels that raid our birdfeeders,

We’ve had a busy year starting in Sri Lanka, Thailand and China. We then spent a few weeks in the spring visiting the stately homes of southeast England where we spotted this magnificent wild pheasant...
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There is nothing wild about the manicured gardens of England’s aristocrats. Lush landscapes surround many of the great mansions that are now administered by the National Trust, like these at Wakehurst Place...
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We also visited Winston Churchill’s home at Chartwell; the boyhood home of General Wolfe (the man who trounced the French on the Plains of Abraham to secure Canada for the Brits); the famous gardens of Sissinghurst; and the splendid rhododendron groves of the 600 year old Scotney Castle...
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The endless blue skies and warm ocean winds of summer drew us back to Canada’s west coast and we wiled away the days with visits to Victoria and Vancouver. Here we are on the ferry to Vancouver..
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Every year we attend Shakespearean performances and the International firework festival in English Bay, Vancouver...
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Now we are back in London en route to our next adventure, but anyone visiting London at present will be disappointed to see its most recognizable icon swathed in scaffolding...
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Internet connection is not great on the Serengeti Plain but we hope you will be able to join us shortly as we take a walk on the wild side of Tanzania. .

Posted by Hawkson 05:22 Archived in England Comments (8)

Zaijian China

sunny 22 °C

The sun has come out to welcome us back to Hong Kong as we make our way home...
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While Hong Kong may have officially been part of China for the past 20 years there's still plenty of reminders of its days in the British Empire. There is a Marks & Spencer's store in every mall; ancient trams bearing ads for Holland & Barrett rattle along the streets ; and you can take a double-decker to the seaside at Aberdeen or Stanley...
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Hong Kong is bursting with deep-pocketed tourists and wealthy Chinese who've slipped over the border in search of genuine luxury goods. However, in this part of the world you can't be certain that anything is the real McCoy. One Hong Kong retailer very seriously offered James a “Genuine handmade fake Rolex.”

As this is our last blog of this trip we thought we would mention a few things that might really surprise you about China.

Unlike one recently elected president, most Chinese are very environmentally conscious and are well aware of the need to improve air and water quality. Electric cars, scooters and bikes are fast becoming the norm...
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China's public toilets, which used to be as sanitary as typhoid fever, are now spotlessly clean, easily found and always free. The Guangzhou Metro service even posts maps showing where to find the loo at each underground station...
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All transportation is fairly inexpensive in China. There are thousands of miles of multi-lane toll highways with impressive bridges and tunnels, but don't expect anyone to stop for you at a pedestrian crossing. The cars and buses are as good as anywhere in the West, although some of the farmers' vehicles were kicking around in the days of Mao...
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The vast network of high speed rail lines is truly impressive, with world class stations and sleek bullet trains – be prepared to be wowed at more than 300 kilometres an hour.

China is generally a very clean country with an army of roadsweepers and garbage collectors keeping public spaces spotless. As for hygiene: The food isn't always appealing to us westerners, but the food handlers certainly are. Plastic gloves, hairnets and sneeze-guards are the norm and the chefs' uniforms are usually spotless...
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While some food prices are lower than in the west they have increased considerably since our last visit. You might still get a bowl of noodles or some dumplings for a couple of bucks in a local cafe, but you can easily pay upwards of fifty dollars a head for dinner in a classy restaurant...
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China isn't cheap today, (unless you are willing to rough it), and hundreds of millions of nouveau-riche Chinese have embraced the soft life. Hotel rooms and beds are huge and very comfy and the luxurious bed linens the envy of all. But when it comes to coffee the Chinese are getting hosed. The smallest Starbucks drip coffee will set you back some $7 Cdn and local coffee shops aren't much cheaper.

Despite English language being mandatory in schools most folk aren't willing to give it a go in public. Luckily for us Sheila had enough Mandarin to get us through, but almost all Chinese have a smartphone with a translate app so communication is rarely a problem today – although the results can sometimes be a little confusing...
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In short: today's China is clean, easily navigated and a fascinating country populated with friendly, helpful locals who will almost certainly want to be pictured with you. The Chinese are, in general, a happy, noisy, fun loving bunch who adore their families and are kind to strangers and want nothing more than world peace and a comfortable life. In short – the Chinese are just like us.

So, zaijian to China. We will be back. And goodbye to our friend Christine and to you dear blog reader. We look forward to your company next time on Blissful Adventures when we hope to introduce you to yet more beautiful and amazing places in our wonderful world.
Farewell for now from us and from our many Chinese friends...
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See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 21:33 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (13)

Dinner on the Orient Express

overcast 27 °C

It is no surprise to us that China is full of surprises, but even we were amazed to be having a full blown haute cuisine dinner on board the Orient Express in Guangzhou...
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When we left our 'family' on the banks of the Yulong River in rural Yangshuo for the modern city of Guangzhou we entered a sophisticated world of bullet trains and futuristic railway stations, of snazzy shopping malls and fancy hotels.
However, in the midst of this bustling ultramodern city of 16 million on the banks of The Pearl River in southeast China there is an island of calm. The island of Shamian is home to many historic buildings erected by banks and foreign trading companies during the early part of the 20th century when Canton, (as it was then known), was a conduit for trade between China and the rest of the world..large_1-P1110829.jpg.
And nestled in a mansion's tropical garden, surrounded by orchids and banana palms, is an original Orient Express railway coach that once carried well-healed passengers from London and Paris to Venice...
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The food served in this historic dining car is absolutely superb. We had breast of duck, cassoulet and grilled prawns – all so superbly cooked, exquisitely presented and professionally served that we would have sworn that we were dining in the most exclusive Parisian restaurant...
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Guangzhou, like many Chinese cities, is a conundrum. On the one hand it is as modern and chic as any western city. The young Chinese professionals dress elegantly, dine extravagantly, and leave their Mercs, BMWs and Audis lining the streets...
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But just across the road from the Orient Express is a vast hospital devoted entirely to treating people using traditional Chinese methods and it is surrounded by a teeming market of hundreds of stores selling ingredients for traditional remedies...
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Herbal medicines by the sackful may appear out of place to us in the 21st century, but judging by the amount and variety on sale here here there are no shortage of believers...
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There are huge amounts of dried fruit, flowers, leaves and bark, but most popular seem to be dried fungi and mushrooms, along with all manner of antelope horns which have been sliced, diced and pulverized in a dozen different ways. Dried seafood of many kinds may cure any number of ailments but we couldn't figure out what we should do with a few thousand seahorses...
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Guangzhou is still known as a major trading centre and this is where the world comes to buy all manner of manufactured Chinese products in bulk. Today is our last day in China so we will be hitting the shopping malls in search of a Chinese trinket or two for our friends back home – anyone need a genuine plastic back scratcher or two?

Posted by Hawkson 18:46 Archived in China Comments (8)

Farewell to Yangshuo

sunny 20 °C

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This tea plantation in Guangxi Province is the last stop on our trail of tea in the Orient. Here, high in the limestone karst mountains above the River Li, only the tenderest new leaves are plucked from the camellias to produce oolong tea – both black and green.
The scenic tea plantations also provide an excellent backdrop for the wedding photographers and their entourage of dressers, make-up artists and lighting crews. It takes at least half a dozen professionals to take every wedding photograph in China...
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These are our final few days on the banks of the Yulong River surrounded by a fascinating landscape of karst mountains and by our adopted Chinese family. But, as much as we have adopted them – they have adopted us. These are our adopted 'daughters' Suzy and Amy, the receptionist and manager of the Tea Cozy Hotel...
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We gave Suzy her anglicized name a few years ago and it stuck. So now we are officially considered relatives and their children call us Uncle and Auntie.

Although we are now beginning our journey home via Guangzhou and Hong Kong we will miss our Chinese 'family'. We will also the miss the fabulous views of the river and the mountains from our balcony at the Tea Cozy...
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Our week here is at an end, but before we leave we must take you on a tour of the new Tea Cozy Resort in a nearby village. James's newly trained staff are hard at work preparing the boutique resort for their first guests and this is Lulu, Annie and Anna getting to grips with a fancy Italian cappuccino machine...
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Our friend Curry and his business partners have taken 'boutique' to a higher level at their new resort hotel. Each room features enormous beds, the very latest Japanese style toilets, and many of them have round wooden ofuro soaking tubs – being modelled here by Amy...
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The entire resort is nestled into the foot of a mountain within an ancient village, and it is housed within a number of refurbished village homes together with some authentically designed new buildings.
No expense has been spared in the creation of this resort hotel, from the handmade furniture to the enormous swimming pool and the beautifully landscaped gardens with fishponds and a giant waterfall...
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This is Curry treating us to the delights of hotpot style dragon fish – absolutely delicious...
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Our next stop is the bustling modern city of Guanzhou, but we cannot leave before we have taken a final look at the beautiful River Li landscape and the mountains of Guangxi...
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Now we know that we will return to this beautiful land. And we know that our Chinese 'family' and friends will be waiting to greet us with open hearts and open arms – just as we will greet them.

Posted by Hawkson 04:47 Archived in China Comments (10)

Schooldays in the Yangshuo Mountains

semi-overcast 18 °C

Today there is very little difference between our lives and the lives of most Chinese. Many live in comfortable modern houses and apartments; they drive Fords, BMWs and Audis on excellent multi-lane highways, (with lots of speed cameras); they travel 1st class on super high speed trains; their stores are stocked with everything that we would expect at home, (somethings at astronomical prices); and they are very keen to learn about the world. Perhaps the most striking difference is in the way that we eat. Eating in China is always a communal affair so all dishes are meant to be shared...
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Everything is cooked fresh when ordered and it comes to the table when it is ready So, while you may think that you are going to start with a soup or an appetizer, if the main course vegetables happen to be the fastest to cook that is what will appear on the table first. These might be followed 5 minutes later by some chicken or pork and, just as this is getting completely cold, with some rice or noodles. Now, just as you are beginning to think that the soup has been forgotten it will turn up. If you happen to get your food hot it is more by luck than judgment.

We are currently staying with our 'family' at the Tea Cozy hotel where we have stayed before, but our host, Curry Chen, is opening a new boutique resort hotel in the mountains nearby and James offered to train his staff in the ways of the Western world so that they can help foreigners. Here's James with thirteen of his 'students' ...
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And here they are doing practicals...
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But, as Anna so rightly said to Yul Brynner in 'The King and I' “It's a very ancient saying, but a true an honest thought, that if you become a teacher by your pupils you'll be taught.”
And so it is that here in the countryside by the Yulong River in Guangxi province we are both teachers and students. Everyday we teach them English and French and the weird ways of westerners and they teach us Chinese customs and dumpling making. Here is Erica, the hostess of the Mountain Nest Hotel in the next village, teaching us to make Chinese pork dumplings from scratch...
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We soon got the hang of it and made enough dumplings for all of us and for many of the hotel's guests including a young family from Mumbai...
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Throughout this trip we have been hot on the trail of tea – following it back from the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka to the mountains of Yunnan and Sichuan on the Tibetan border to here in Guangxi Province where the local tea is made from the sweetly scented flowers of the Osmanthus tree. Tea originated in China thousands of years ago when a traditional doctor discovered the restorative effects of the dew dripping from the leaves of the camellia trees in the Yunnan mountains. Nowadays, tea is made from many different leaves, fruits and flowers, and here at the Tea Cozy Hotel on the banks of the Yulong River Amy is teaching us the rituals surrounding the making and drinking of Chinese tea...
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Here's Amy showing us the proper way to drink chrysanthemum tea...
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The weather has not been overly kind to us for the past week or so, but the skies are clearing and we are off to visit the mountains. See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 21:45 Archived in China Comments (6)

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