Fall 2022 – Buon Giorno, Italia!

Everything is predicated on the world normalizing. However, assuming it does, we are planning a blockbuster Italian journey for the fall of 2022. We will be traveling from Venice to Rome with a variety of stops in between.

We have high hopes that we’ll be able to travel to and throughout Italy by next fall. Our intention is to visit many different towns with unique cultures and charm. Iconic cities such as Venice, Florence and Rome, plus Alba in the Piedmont region, Brescia and Bergamo in Lombardy, the five towns of the Cinque Terre in the Ligurian Riviera, Gaiole in Chianti, Montepulciano in Tuscany and Orvieto in Umbria.

The intended path.

The destinations we’ve picked will give us a great mix of everything we like – history, architecture, art, wine, food, and wine. Yes, we really, really like wine!

As for traveling, we’ll be using planes, trains, boats, cars, buses, subways and heaven forbid – walking. Lots of details to be worked out, but so far, so good.

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Summer 2021 – Took me out to the ball games!

The plan was simple – enjoy ourselves, see a few baseball games and relax this summer. While the summer isn’t over yet, we have so far attained those goals.

For phase one, we started with some home town games. We managed to see the Toronto Blue Jays, who were nesting in Buffalo as a result of the COVID pandemic. Watching Major League Baseball in Buffalo was a great experience. Really, it didn’t matter who won the games. It was exciting just to see the “star” players and to enjoy the time at the games with Sue. We saw the Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox and really enjoyed the games – we even ran into some old friends at the ballpark.

I’m not saying that Sue would win a baseball quiz show. Then again, neither would I. But it’s fun to be able to talk a little strategy, join in singing during the 7th inning stretch and to watch her throw out her player signs for her favorite players. The X goes up for Xander Bogaerts, the mini finger dance for JBJ – that’s Jackie Bradley Jr and don’t even get me started when Mookie Betts is up to bat.

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So phase two was a weekend trip to Washington, DC to see the Nationals and the Cubs play. Three games with excellent seats, plus a little bit of sight-seeing was planned as a perfect way to finish off July and start August. It was fun, but it wasn’t without some drama.

Let’s start with the easy one. A week before we were scheduled to leave, there was a shooting outside of the stadium. Nothing like a little urban action to shake up the area. We were watching the game on TV, so we were watching as panic and confusion hit the crowd. Not enough to scare us off though – one week to go!

Friday, July 30th was the MLB trading deadline and it would remove a few of our favorite players from the line-ups. Life goes on: we’ll catch them again somewhere down the line. Three days before that, however, word would come down that 12 people within the Nationals organization had tested positive for COVID, with four of them being players. So our first concern was: would the games be postponed or cancelled?

As we sat waiting to hear any updates, we had to check in for our flights and hotel. We decided that we would head to Washington and if the games weren’t played, we’d just be tourists for a few days. We’d see some monuments, eat some seafood and enjoy the change of scenery. Oh yes, I forgot but won’t whine… my back pain flared up again.

Off we went…

This was our first trip in almost two years and I forgot how much I enjoy the airport experience. The Buffalo airport was “jammed” with tens of people. We were literally able to walk right up to the desk to check-in and then walk straight up to the TSA Check-in without having to wait behind anyone.

We flew into Reagan National on a direct American Airlines flight and then hopped a cab to the hotel. The hotel was only a fifteen minute ride from the airport and there wasn’t any traffic to speak of.

We stayed at the Residence Inn – Capitol Hill / Navy Yard and it was not only convenient, but was also a nice hotel. We had a corner room on the sixth floor and it was both spacious and quiet. It was also very clean and well maintained, nicely appointed – including a kitchenette with microwave, refrigerator and stove. Everything for check-in and check-out was handled over the Marriot Bonvoy phone app, which really made things easy.

Since our flight was in the late afternoon, by the time we checked in, it was dinner time. We decided to try one of the restaurants near the hotel called Circa at the Navy Yard. Inside was crowded and noisy, but we wanted to sit outside – which was much more civil and relaxing. Plus, we felt better not being crammed in with so many people.

We just wanted something light and tasty, and the menu had just what we wanted – a nice scallop risotto and a pasta primavera. Coupled with a nice bottle of Rosé, we enjoyed our meal and relaxed while doing a little people watching. The best part was the fifty foot walk back to our hotel. We grabbed a couple bottles of water and some snacks and then relaxed for the remainder of the evening – watching to see who was going to be traded.

You’ll see the word relax many times, as that is exactly what we wanted and what we did. No running all over the place, no chasing down tour buses and no worries!

A post-pandemic change we encountered was the hotel only serviced the room if you asked for the service. You could use the phone app if you needed towels, amenities or toilet paper to be sent up, but otherwise it was hands off. While some might complain, we took the opportunity to sleep in without being disturbed. The system worked fine, especially since they didn’t skimp on the supplies to start.

So Friday morning comes and most of the dust has settled from the trade deadline. Final inventory had eleven players that we enjoy and hoped to see being traded away from the two teams. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t a little disappointed, but we made the best of the situation. We went for a later lunch and then returned to the hotel to get ready for the game.

The walk to the ballpark took about ten minutes. It would have been five, but we were walking slow. The security line was short and in the blink of an eye we were in. Nationals Park is a great venue to watch a baseball game. Before we headed to our seats, we went over to get our Victor Robles bobbleheads, which happened to be the giveaway for tonight’s game. We kept one and gave the other one to a guy and his daughter who wanted an extra for their uncle (sort of reminded me of the Charlie Brown Halloween Special).

Not quite ready to head to our seats, as the highlight of the trip for Sue was about to take place. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you George, Abe, Tom and Teddy! Mount Rushmore coming to life !!!

Finally, we made our way to our seats. We had what they call ‘Diamond Club’ seats for the game, which meant we had really good seats, plus we got free snacks and drinks delivered right to our seats. Inside they were slicing rounds of beef, turkey and ham for sandwiches, plus they had pizza, hot dogs, nacho chips, ice cream and peanuts. Soft drinks and Budweiser beer was also available for free along with other adult beverages and beers that you could purchase. Not a bad deal at all.

Despite the absence of many of the star players, the game was enjoyable and it was a beautiful night for baseball. The Nationals won the game and Thomas Jefferson won the Geico Presidents Race.

The race was on and Tom took the victory. Great entertainment between the innings.

It actually took us longer to get out of the stadium than it did to walk back to the hotel. Lots of people were stopping at the bars around the area and there was much joy in Muddville.

We relaxed back in the room for a while, watching the game highlights before heading off to bed. All that relaxing left me tired!

Saturday was a repeat of Friday. We slept in, then went for a late lunch, cleaned up and then off to the ballpark for game two. We had seats four rows behind where we sat the night before, but they were still Diamond Club seats so we knew what to expect. Nice sight lines, good snacks and another good ball game. The winners on this evening were Abe and the Cubs.

Another nice stroll back to the hotel. Since the Cubs won, their fans were a bit louder but it was all in good fun. We cleaned up and went to bed a bit earlier as tomorrow’s game was an afternoon game starting at 1:05 pm.

So our first mission upon waking was to check the weather. The forecast called for some potential rain showers, and the dark clouds were a reminder that sometimes the forecasters are correct. Though the skies looked ominous, we took a nice walk to the ballpark with the sun actually peeking out at times.

Our Sunday seats were our best. We had field level seats and entrance to the National Club. While the Diamond club was nice, the National Club was even better. There were food stations with some delicious choices like grilled shrimp over rice, roast chicken, sliced beef, macaroni and cheese, chicken tenders, a big selection of desserts and beverages. Before heading to your seats, there was a selection of snacks to take with you as well as the bar and beverages. At your seats, you could request beverages and snacks to be brought to you whenever you wanted them. Wow!

Any closer and I could have turned in the starting line-up.

So we settled into our seats and it started to drizzle. By the second inning it was no longer drizzling – it was pouring! Before the heavy rain started, the ushers came around and distributed plastic ponchos that kept us reasonably dry. The shower didn’t last too long and the grounds crew was working very hard to try and keep the field in playable condition. Once the rain stopped, the sun came out and the remainder of the day was beautiful.

There was some good action and plays at home plate that made for a good game including a game winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Nationals the win. It was a perfect way to end our baseball weekend.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a restaurant and made dinner reservations for the evening. We had some time to take a shower and change clothes before heading off to dinner. It was a little muggy and a little warm, so since the restaurant was not crowded, we decided to eat inside and make use of the air conditioning. We had an enjoyable meal along with some nice wine to complete our holiday.

Checking out in the morning was a non-event. We dropped off the room key and then went down to have the valet hail us a cab. Our cab driver was an older guy, who looked like a Deadhead and drove a compact Kia. Despite first impressions, we hit minimal traffic and arrived at the airport in fifteen minutes. The airport was empty and we were able to get our boarding passes, get through security and find a place to sit by our gate in no time at all.

Crowd at the Washington airport?

The flight home was good and seemed to fly by (yuck, yuck). We grabbed the car from the parking lot, stopped for a bite to eat and arrived home before it even got dark outside. All in all, it was a perfect way to get back to traveling. Now we just need the world to calm down and next year we can step up our travels.

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Summer 2021 – Take me out to the ball game!

While we’re not traveling abroad this year, we decided to dip our toes in the travel pool by catching a couple of baseball games. It should be simple, easy travel without many frills, but still fun.

We’ll start by cheating and seeing a game right here in Buffalo. We managed to get tickets to see our current “Home Team”, the Toronto Blue Jays as they battle the Baltimore Orioles. It should be a fun Saturday afternoon at the ball park.

Next, we’ll venture out later in the summer to see the Chicago Cubs vs Washington Nationals in Washington, DC. It’s a nice ball park, we like both teams and Sue hasn’t been to Washington, DC.

A couple night games would allow us to do some sight-seeing during the day or a day game would give us a chance to see the monuments at night, which is supposed to be quite the sight. Whatever the case, it’s a chance to get away for a few days and test the travel waters.

Since we’re on the topic of travel, next year’s travel plans for Italy are shaping up nicely. Locations have been chosen, a few reservations have actually been made and the excitement is building. We’ll talk about that later though.

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Travel 2022 – If The World Cooperates – Buon Giorno, Italy!

So when we last left our intrepid travelers, there was sadness in the air as 2021 was a pandemic washout. Now that we have been fully vaccinated, we once again have hope. And with that hope comes a renewed travel spirit. Bring on 2022!

We’ve written off 2021 – maybe there is the chance of catching a baseball game if things open up. But if not, that’s ok, we’ll save up for a couple of nice future travel dinners.

Having evaluated our choices, we have decided that our first international trip will be a return to Italy. Understanding that there are many factors to consider -like Italy is not open to American travelers- we have begun the planning process by laying out an itinerary and talking with our travel specialist from Audley Travel. So while we’re excited to travel again, the excitement is only at Volume 3 for now. (Spinal Tap reference)

Where to go? So many choices!

Airplanes, fast trains, boats, cars – maybe even a Vespa will move us where we want to go. The real question is where do we want to go? I think we will see some new places along with some places we’ve been to before. Looking at the map of Italy is like walking into a Gelato Shop – so many choices and we like them all.

That’s the sneak peek. Now on those nights when there are only hockey games on television, I’ll have something better to do.

My travel guides are on their way from Amazon, I’ve dug out my maps, my spreadsheets are updated and it’s showtime!

I’ll update the blog as we firm up our plans. For now, that spring in my step is not from my new sneakers but from having travel to look forward to in the future.

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Travel 2021 – Anything New on the Horizon?

2020 is finally in the rear view window – Good riddance! Everyone has had their issues, so I won’t gripe. To say 2021 has started off on shaky ground would probably be a bit of an understatement, so let’s go with Yay – It’s February!

It’s encouraging to see that vaccines are becoming available, but by no means do I think we’ll be doing much, if any, traveling this year. This is shaping up to be a “go for a ride and pack a picnic lunch” kind of year.

Though we won’t be traveling, we have been doing some talking about where we might be going when we are ready. We have been keeping a couple things in mind while talking – how can we maximize the credits we have with the travel company and Air Canada.

So just for the sake of conversation, here’s what we have tumbling around where our brains used to be:

Return to Italy:

Not to just retrace our steps from previous trips, but this time we’ll do a little more exploring. To tie in with the genealogical research I’ve been doing, we would like to start in Sicily. There would be plenty to see and do there, plus a visit to my paternal grandmother’s family home in Vicari would be interesting. After Sicily, we could travel north- perhaps catching a little more of Rome, before hitting Orvieto, Tuscany and perhaps, even another visit to Piedmont.

We love the small Italian towns and there are some pretty ones in Tuscany. Most of the places we are interested in would be accessible by train, so we could minimize or eliminate the need to rent a car.

Burgundy Wine Region:

A visit back to France is high on our list. This time, we would visit the Burgundy wine region and include a Canal Cruise and Tour. This is very enticing – food, wine and relaxation, plus a “cruise” where I wouldn’t be afraid of getting lost at sea.

We’ve been to the area just enough to get acquainted, so there would be many things to see and plenty of splendid wines to drink. We could include the champagne region, the chablis region and the Côte de Beaune. And of course, a few days in Paris at the beginning or end would be soul-soothing.

Christmas Markets in Germany:

Having never been to Germany, this would be a completely new experience. This could again be tied in to my genealogical research or it could just be fun to get away and enjoy the holidays in Germany. We enjoyed the Christmas Markets in Austria, so this definitely has some appeal.

I’m not sure how easy it is to get around by train in Germany, since driving in the winter is definitely not on my to-do list. Giant pretzels, roasted nuts and Glüwein while walking around in the lightly falling snow paints a very nice picture in my mind!

There are a few others, but those are our top three for now. There will be so many factors to take into consideration, but a guy can dream – right?

We did have one really “out of this world” discussion. Space-X is said to be aiming for 2022 to begin trips on the Space Express. A thrilling space flight with two orbits of the planet would definitely be a once in a lifetime experience. The only drawback is the $250,000 per person price tag. Think of the wine we’d have to give up, Honey! Honey wants to keep an eye out for a coupon.

So that’s the mindset here in Buffalo. If we could only get COVID to cooperate! “Poke me, Dr. Danno!”

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China 2020 – Staycation Pt 5 – Shanghai

It’s hard to believe how quickly three weeks passed by. It seems like we were just talking about Beijing and here we are finishing up in Shanghai.

To get to Shanghai, we would have once again navigated an airport and an airline. While we’re always up for an adventure, I must say that I didn’t miss the stress of getting to Shanghai.

Shanghai, China’s largest city, is well known for its combination of history and modernization. The many skyscrapers light up the skyline at night with their glowing lights, but day or night the skyline is quite impressive. At the same time, the waterfront area known as “The Bund” offers a delightful contrast with its historical buildings, many dating back to the 1800’s with some art deco architecture to admire.

There are also many great international restaurants to tempt your taste buds, and for shoppers, you can find shops for just about every luxury and non-luxury brand you could want.

We had planned a day trip to visit to the beautiful cities of Suzhou and Tongli. There are so many quaint places to visit and we were looking forward to seeing them. Some of the many highlights are the beautiful UNESCO gardens, the Pagoda on Tiger Hill and the Tongli Ancient Town.

I happen to know someone who lives in Suzhou and was hoping that we might be able to meet while we were there. Sorry Marta, it was going to be a surprise.

Our last meals were just as tasty as first ones. I can’t say enough about how much fun we’ve had trying the different recipes and tasting real, freshly made Chinese food. Our past experience has always been Americanized versions of the foods and there really has been no comparison. Our final meal was Kung Pao Chicken.

Our flight home would have been direct from Shanghai to Toronto. As the flight was scheduled for just over thirteen hours, we were counting on snoozing a little bit; since when we returned to Toronto there would be another couple hours of getting home via shuttle – but that was not to be.

We’ve had fun on our little staycation. We hope you’ve enjoyed the ‘highlights of the highlights’ that we would have shared. Hopefully, the next time we’ll be talking about someplace we are actually visiting.

Wei Wei says:

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China 2020 – Staycation Pt 4 – Chengdu

Our trip from Xi’an to Chengdu would have been on a Chinese Domestic airline. From everything we’ve heard, it may have been an adventure in and of itself. Getting people to line up and sit in the right seat is supposedly a challenge. I guess we’ll never know.

A few days in Chengdu are well warranted- there are many wonderful things to see and do in this ancient area. While we planned to see many of those sites, we’re going to focus on the PANDAS! I know, gripe all you want, but we’re tourists, thousands of miles from home – Show me the Pandas!

While there are a couple places you can visit, the gold standard is the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. It is a non-profit facility with the goal of breeding, researching and conserving giant pandas, as well as other rare animals – including red pandas.

Hey, Buddy. You happen to have any bamboo on you?

There are thought to be about 1,850 giant pandas in the wild, plus another 200 in captivity. In collaboration with partner facilities and zoos worldwide, they are working to increase the population.

These little pandas are just adorable.

So, since we couldn’t be there to see them in person, we went with option number two and we just got our own. Meet Pen Pen – our very own giant panda.

Pen Pen joining in on the fun.

Wei Wei says: When life brings you bamboo, chow down!

I know it’s not bamboo in the picture; it’s also not a real panda.

So after our Panda fun, we would have spent some time checking out some of the area sites. Which ones, you ask? I don’t know, because our plans grew sketchy with the tremendous rains and flooding in southern China. In fact, we likely would have had to change a good portion of the itinerary. Take a look at the photos below to see just how much flooding we’re talking about:

This is the Leshan Giant Buddha. It was carved into the hillside in Leshan between 713 and 803 AD (during the Tang Dynasty) and is 71m tall. Notice the water level in the right picture, the water is actually covering part of his feet.

Flooding in Guilin Photo: Xinhua

The entire area suffered from similar flooding. From news articles, it seems that there was much damage and clean-up from all that water. We wish the people well in their efforts.

However, since we are not in the area, we didn’t have to work around those issues. Instead, we just had to come up with a few new recipes for our dinners. And come up with recipes we did!

Our culinary treats included Egg rolls with a dipping sauce made with Chinese five spice powder and Hoisin sauce, General Tso’s Chicken meatballs with Lo Mein, Roasted BBQ pork, and Mongolian beef and noodles. All of the meals were gong ringers and delicious.

While our movie selection is limited, we did sneak in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Also, while not a real depiction of Chinese people, I indulged in “Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum” on a rainy day.

So we’re off again, our final stop would have been in Shanghai. It’s another one of those must see places when visiting China. We’ll see you there.

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China 2020 – Staycation Pt 3 – Xian

The next part of the journey would have been the area around the city of Xian. To get there, we were to take one of the new, sleek, fast bullet trains. They travel between Beijing and Xian at a speed of 300kph and the ride is supposedly very smooth.

Photo by David Dibert on Pexels.com

Xian is said to be a very nice city. There are ancient walls that surround the city, a beautiful city-center with a lovely old Bell Tower and restaurants serving up some delicious meals.

But let’s cut to the chase: Xian was on the itinerary because of the Terra Cotta Warriors. I have been fascinated by the Warriors since I first learned about them twenty years ago. The story behind them being found accidentally, by farmers digging a well, is just incredible. Even more incredible is Emperor Qin Shi Huang, sitting on his throne and thinking that he would need protection when he departed the physical world. So he said to his advisors: “Craft me an army of terra-cotta warriors to protect me in the afterlife, and make sure to add in some entertainment for the troops. You know… maybe a couple of musicians and some acrobats to keep the warriors’ spirits up”.

Knowing that the tomb of the Emperor is nearby and not going all-out to find it is also intriguing. There is the respect factor, but I’ve always heard that the Chinese Government is not so excited about unveiling the past as it has the potential to make people not so interested in the communist party’s teachings. I’m sure they know more than they are willing to share with the world, but that’s just conjecture on my part.

A few years ago, friends bought me a set of terra-cotta warriors that I absolutely love. I really wanted to see the full size ones, but you can’t win them all.

My guys hanging around the new gong!

Once again, while we aren’t in China, we try to make the best of the situation. My friends, meet our newest friends = Mai Nie, Zhuo and Mei Nei (he asked us to call him Steve).

We originally met them while visiting the Great Wall, as they asked if we could take a photo for them. Since then, they’ve been a part of our adventure.

Ok, back to the excavation. The site is officially known as Emperor Qinshihaung’s Mausoleum Site Museum. The Emperor’s Tomb is located there, as well as several excavation pits where the warriors, chariots and bronzes have been uncovered. In the photo below, you can get a feel for just how big the excavation area is. The enclosure was built to protect the warriors from the weather while the restoration goes on.

The Terra Cotta Warrior Excavation site.

To date, there are 8,000 known warriors that have been found and are being restored.

Wei Wei Update: Recently, 200 more have been discovered.

Close-up of some restored warriors. (Photo from our Audley Travel Itinerary)

Wei Wei Fun Fact – Did you know that the warriors face east? That is the direction that the Emperor’s enemies came from.

There is a very good documentary from the Smithsonian Institute that talks about the tomb, the warriors and shows the restoration process. It’s available to view on YouTube.

All that imagining makes me hungry, so we also managed a couple more tasty dinners. This time Sue made Chow Mein with Shrimp and a Cabbage and Pork Stir Fry. Both were delicious and full of healthy vegetables – we may need to slide in a taco night just to offset the healthy food.

So after some fun, it’s time to move on again. For the next few days, we would have been enjoying the city of Chengdu. See you there soon.

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China 2020 – Staycation Pt 2 – More Beijing

Over the past few days we would have been exploring all around Beijing. The number of historical sites and UNESCO sites, as well as more modern sites throughout the city, is staggering. Around every turn is a new adventure, especially the hutongs or small alley neighborhoods, with shops, tea houses and restaurants.

Our journey was to begin at the Summer Palace. Our hotel was located just outside of the gates and it was a peaceful place to start. The Summer Palace was built back in the mid 1700’s by Emperor Qianlong and is a vast complex of gardens, palaces, lakes and hills. In fact, it is the largest and best preserved royal garden in all of China. It was actually destroyed by the British during the war of 1860, and was then restored on its original foundations in 1886. It is just a short distance from the center of Beijing, but feels like you’re out in the middle of the countryside. (At least that’s what the brochure says!)

From the Summer Palace, we would have next moved to the center of Beijing. Our plans included a tour of the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and a few other sites, including a day visiting the Great Wall.

The Forbidden City is in actuality a palace complex that dates back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It was continually used from 1368 through 1911. Commoners (that would have been us) were “forbidden” from entering without prior permission. Only Imperial families and invited High Officials could enter. All of the buildings were painted red and yellow, which were the Imperial colors, and those were the only buildings painted that color. I hope everyone else was good with beige and brown!

Tiananmen Square is a big public space that the Chinese Government doesn’t like to talk about, so neither will I. However, there are many temples and museums around the city that we’re told are ‘must sees’. So much for that. Speaking of ‘must sees’, being a tourist or a resident of Beijing likely means that you are part of “Must See TV”. There are over 1.2 million CCTV cameras located throughout the city. Big brother is watching – so is big daddy, big uncle, big auntie and probably big cousin.

Hutongs are narrow alleys with residences, shops, restaurants and tea houses. They are the places to visit to get a real flavor of life in Beijing. We had a motorcycle sidecar tour planned, as well as a dinner at a restaurant called the Black Sesame Kitchen.

The highlight of this portion of the trip was to be our visit to see the Great Wall. We were planning to drive a little farther and visit a section that is not as crowded as some of the main points. This incredible world wonder was originally built more than 2,700 years ago to protect against the invading Mongol Hordes. All together, it stretches over 13,170 miles, with the main portion of the structure coming in at 5,500 miles. It was built at an average height of about 20 ft and an average width of 21.3 ft. Over 1 million laborers worked on its construction over many years.

Wei Wei Fun Fact – More than 1,000 bricks and stones were used to build the wall.

Unfortunately, it didn’t really work to prevent the invaders – it just slowed them down. In my mind, I just picture Genghis Khan’s Mongols getting mad and having to send someone to get a sack of coins, as in the toll booth scene from “Blazing Saddles”.

Not being in China was not going to stop us from enjoying the Great Wall. We managed to enjoy a little picnic and glass of wine while gazing across the miles. Imagination is a wonderful thing!

So this week wasn’t spent just imagining things about China. It was also spent enjoying some wonderful meals, made by my lovely Chef, who also happens to be my wife. Sue put some of those wonderful ingredients we bought together and turned out some delicious dishes – Sesame Chicken, Pork and vegetable dumplings, Hunan Beef and Vegetables, and Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry.

We enjoyed these Chinese dishes with some nice wines too. A little malbec from France, a California zinfandel and a delicious Napa Valley red blend. No Chinese wines, but we did finish up our evening with a nice cup of tea. My favorite has been the Oolong tea and Sue’s has been the traditional green tea.

Hard to believe but the first week of our trip would have been over and we would be moving on. So we shall do the same here. A quick journey to Xi’an is up next. Hope to see you there.

Beijing West Train Station – Off we go!
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China 2020 – Staycation Pt 1 – Beijing

The Mid-Autumn Festival has passed, as has the National Holiday Week, so you would think everyone would be happy after eating all those Mooncakes and dancing in the streets, but it isn’t the case.

Mooncakes – these little beauties can pack a punch depending on their filling.

My understanding is that there are pockets of people who are not happy after finding out we won’t be traveling to China. Sorry folks, blame it on the virus!

I’m not proficient in Mandarin, but I think the signs say: “Please come visit us, Tom”.

We were to travel today and it would have been a lovely day to fly, however, we were even more comfortable and less stressed watching Netflix and sitting on our comfy den chairs. Instead of our fold flat seats, we were forced to sleep on our spacious king-sized bed with our fuzzy comforter. So far I’m not too put out!

And so today we are officially kicking off our Chinese Staycation! That initial nervousness of landing in a foreign country and hearing a different language needed to be a part of our adventure, so we went to the Chinese Market to pick up a couple of last minute supplies. As some of you know, I was using Duolingo to learn a few phrases, so I was excited to use them.

With my best pronunciation skills I said: “Nǐ hǎo. Wèishéme shānyáng shì lǜsè de?” Instead of showing us where the Oyster Sauce was located, the woman just burst into laughter.

Once she stopped laughing, she asked me to repeat my question in english. Apparently, using my new language skills, I said “Hello. Why are the goats green?” So much for that skill set. That’s why we would have had a translator with us in China. We should have brought Wei Wei along.

At least we got the oyster sauce, along with many other tasty ingredients for some good eating ahead. One of the days will be our joint cooking class, so we’re looking for some items that I can’t mess up. If only the Chinese were known for their outdoor grilling of hamburgers.

Wei Wei approved our purchases, but thought we should have bought a couple bundles of bamboo.

The Chinese market also provided us with access to many different varieties of tea to try. No Red Rose or Lipton on this trip. We’ll be trying a few different green teas, black teas, oolong teas and white teas. We were also able to obtain some jasmine tea, which smells delightful.

Driving home, we were surprised by the lack of ancient structures and interesting architecture along our route. Many were probably rebuilt as a Walgreens or Tim Hortons. We thought we saw a Buddha in the distance, but as we approached we realized we were just passing by a Jenny Craig’s. Oh well – Peace, Brother!

Once we were home, we sat down to enjoy some beautiful and tranquil music. Here is a sample for you to enjoy too.

Later, while Sue was making dinner, I was listening to a podcast about sports and recreation in China. Two gentlemen, Mr. Wat and Mr. Hu talked about the love of table tennis, gymnastics and basketball throughout the country. Additionally, baseball has gained some popularity in both Beijing and Shanghai. I’m still not sure I believe what they said however, as in the introductions they said Mr. Hu would be on first and Mr. Wat would be on second. Hmm?

Tonight we had a simple dinner and began planning for some of the upcoming activities. We’re looking forward to the many sites that lie ahead during our stay in Beijing.

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China 2020 – Staycation

Yes, we’re a little bit odd at times, but odd can be fun. We decided that since we can’t go to China, we would bring a little bit of China to Williamsville. A little taste of the cuisine, a few videos of the sites we were going to see and maybe a surprise or two along the way.

Our preparations have changed from obtaining Visas and buying hygiene products to looking up recipes and buying spices, which I might add has been an enjoyable endeavor. We can’t wait to cook and eat some of the goodies – I’ll be sure to share some pictures and a review or two.

Let me start by introducing you to our travel companion and guide. Ladies and gentlemen, this is “Wei Wei”. Wei Wei will be helping us with commentary, historical facts, menu choices, a little philosophy and just looking cute and fuzzy (which was my former job).

Wei Wei says: Life is not a problem to be solved, but rather a reality to be experienced!

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Sue is ready. Wei Wei is ready. My irreverent humor is stockpiled, and I’ve found plenty of photos to document our tongue-in-cheek Chinese journey. I guess that means that I’m ready too. The trip starts on Saturday, October 10th. Hope you’ll join us and have some fun along the way.

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China 2020 – Epilogue

So I’m better now…still disappointed, but better. All of the follow-up items have been taken care of; not exactly the way I had hoped they would, but at least for now we’re not out any money.

So first, a little bit on the airline tickets. As I have previously mentioned, we had found non-stop flights on Air Canada from Toronto to Beijing and then back from Shanghai to Toronto. Not cheap, but definitely more convenient. While the airline canceled our first flight, they didn’t cancel our second flight, which means we would have to cancel the reservation instead of them. The significance of that is that since we were canceling the reservation, their cancelation policy would kick in and our options would be a flight credit or a travel voucher – no refund.

While I understand, I still don’t like the policy. Once they cancelled the first flight, that should have made us eligible for a refund. Though I like Air Canada and Pearson Airport, it will mean that any recommendation I would offer up to folks will come with a caveat.

That said, we did get a travel voucher, which is essentially a gift card that we can use for any future flights. I don’t think they’ll be going out of business any time soon and they do fly to locations we like, so we’ll get to use that up eventually.

As for the travel agency, here’s where my bias towards doing things myself proves out once again. The trip is cancelled. They can not send Americans to China, however the best we can do is a travel credit. Our three choices were to postpone the trip until a future date, take a travel credit that we could use towards another tour (both with a two year expiration period) or just cancel and walk away – giving up the 25% we’ve already put down.

We took the travel credit and are hoping that we’ll be able to use it towards another trip when things settle down. Hopefully, they’ll go somewhere we want to go and somewhere that we’ll need help with.

So our next step will be to think about where we might want to go if life normalizes. Wherever that might be, it will be somewhere that Air Canada flies and Audley provides services, so we can recoup the money we have tied up in credits.

生活仍在继续 Life goes on…

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China 2020 – Cancelled due to Everything

So our trip of a lifetime is not going to take place. After holding out hope that things would get better, it appears that that hope has faded away. COVID-19, flooding and political tensions have changed excitement and anticipation into sadness and disappointment.

The reality of the situation is that we no longer feel comfortable and safe traveling to China. A thirteen hour flight wearing a mask is not in my plans. Of course, we still don’t know what the rules regarding quarantine will be and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take.

As of now, the Canadian border isn’t open for us to even catch our flight from Toronto to Beijing, but they say it will likely be open sometime in July. However, there is talk of a pre-trip fourteen day quarantine. Then there is the question of what happens when we arrive in China. A fourteen day quarantine period on a twenty-one day trip is unacceptable. Then traveling throughout the Chinese provinces adds another layer of concern, as there have been outbreaks of the virus in different areas.

Then we fly home with the possibility of another fourteen day quarantine when we arrive back in Canada? And what about then returning to the US? It truly is one big cluster.

So during my working days I was an Accountant and the Accountant in me always considers risk aversion. Without even weighing the plusses and minuses – the buzzer says ‘NO!’. The remotest possibility of being quarantined for forty-two days is not even a consideration.

So after hundreds of hours of research and planning, my remaining tasks are to complete the cancellation of the trip.

Since the airline has not cancelled our flight, we will only be eligible for an airline credit. Two business class tickets to China will leave us with quite a large credit to use up. Hopefully, things will settle down and we’ll be able to travel again in the not-to-distant future.

Then there is the question of what happens with the travel agency. We booked with an agency because China presented so many obstacles with the language differences and amount of travel we would be doing. They also provided many different features that would have made our trip more enjoyable. After a brief conversation, we’re on hold for a little while but it looks like we’ll be able to postpone going to China or perhaps receive a credit to be able to go to another location. A cash refund is not going to happen though.

So I’m currently mad at the world. With all the contradictory information currently circulating, I don’t know who to believe and I’m leaning towards believing nobody.

The hopeful side of me thinks that things will get better and we’ll return to some semblance of normality. The less hopeful side of me just thinks and doesn’t say much!

So the remainder of 2020 will include trips to the mailbox and maybe a few car rides to get away from all the hubbub. Such is life…

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Shanghai

Our final area to explore will be the city of Shanghai and the surrounding region.

Last stop – Shanghai

From Guilin, we fly to the east coast and the city of Shanghai. It’s a 794 mi / 1278 km journey and the flight should take between 2 and 3 hours.

We should not feel lonely in Shanghai. With a population of over 24 million people, we should have plenty of company wherever we go. I believe it is the second most populous city in the world, trailing only Dehli, India.

We will be staying four nights at the venerable Fairmont Peace Hotel. It is located in the area known as the Bund, which stretches along the shore of the Huangpu River and lies across from the modern Shanghai skyline. The area is renowned for its art deco styling and tree lined streets.

The city is considered very upscale and international in nature. Lots of financial institutions make their home there and we’re told that every luxury brand is represented in the shopping district. You can also find food choices from all over the world! We’re definitely looking forward to the mix of old and new and Chinese and International throughout the city.

The surrounding region will also provide a chance for some day trips. Two areas in particular are Suzhou and Tongli. Suzhou is known for its beautiful gardens and silk production, while Tongli is referred by many as the Venice of China. Both look like beautiful places to visit. Once we have a chance to look at train schedules, we can decide how adventurous we will be.

Shanghai is our last stop, so after what we hope is an amazing experience, we will be flying back to Toronto and then shuffling back to Buffalo.

So that’s a look at our itinerary. Hopefully this little peek will give you an idea of what we’re looking forward to and whet your appetite to also visit or at least follow along with our blog updates. What do you think of the itinerary?

All that’s left is to cross your fingers and hope for sunshine to accompany us on our journey.

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So here we are in mid-March and a pandemic has been declared. While the virus seems to have peaked in China, it is now spreading like crazy worldwide. Italy, South Korea, Iran and the US seem to be the hardest hit areas, with others close behind. But that may just be because so many others haven’t tested their people yet – like the US.

We’re still hopeful, but definitely not stupidly so. There is so much to consider. First and foremost on our minds is if the Chinese even issue a Visa when the US is in the middle of an outbreak. Why would they want to re-introduce the illness from abroad?

Then there is the issue of being quarantined. Will we have to be quarantined when we arrive and what about when we get home? Since we’ll be leaving from Canada, we may have an issue there as well as when we return to the US.

Watching the illness map change daily, I think that our “Plan B” has been changed to staying home. With the whole world a little crazy right now, we might be better off waiting and just enjoying a so-called “stay-cation” and then venture out next year. (Did I really just say that?)

Cross your fingers, say a prayer and most of all — Stay Healthy!!

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Guilin, Yangshou & Longji

Continuing on, we next head southeast to the area around the city of Guilin.

Our itinerary locations are indicated by the stars. Hubei Province and the city of Wuhan are inside the circle.

We will be flying from Chengdu to the city of Guilin. The distance between the two is 855km or 531mi and the flight should take about one and a half hours. The trains between the two take about 7hrs, so that wasn’t a good choice for this leg of the trip.

Over the next four days, we will be moving through a picturesque section of southern China in the Guangxi Province. This region is famed for its beautiful scenery – green fields, caves and interesting rock formations – which border the Li River.

We start off in the city of Guilin where we will be staying at the Shangri-La Hotel for one night. We won’t have much time to really see a lot of Guilin as we leave the next day on a river boat cruise on the Li River to Yangshuo. The cruise is about 4.5 hours and will give us views that promise to be photo-rific! We’ll be staying for two nights at the Li River Resort in Yangshuo. On the fourth day we will drive to the rice terraces of Longji and will stay overnight at the Baike Hotel, before heading back to Guilin.

Guilin has a cultural history of over 2000 years. The city was founded during the Qin Dynasty and was made the provincial capital by the Ming Emperors until 1914.

Guilin and the Li River

Yangshuo rests along the Li River and is described by the Chinese as ‘the most beautiful place in China’. The town is supposed to be very charming with many western-style shops and cafes. While in Yangshuo, we will be partaking in a cooking class at a small, culinary school – which should be interesting and provide a few laughs as I hack my way around the kitchen.

Yangshuo – Photos from Klook

Longji will be our final stop in this region. Longji, the ‘Dragon’s Backbone’, refers to the region made up of five local Zhuang villages set amongst steep rice terraces in the mountains to the north of Guangxi province. The views from Ping An village stretch across the mountains, offering stunning views of the rice terraces.

Longji and the rice terraces – (Stock photos)

After a day in Longji, we’ll be heading back to Guilin by way of a drive through the beautiful countryside. From there, we’ll be off to Shanghai.

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So the novel coronavirus is still expanding as of the middle of Feb. 2020. Many more people have been confirmed to have the virus and there are many people waiting to be tested. While the outbreak is centered in China, the virus has spread around the world with cases in many countries.

We are still hopeful that things will get better in time for us to travel to China in the fall, but my hopefulness is dimming. Most of the airlines have suspended flights to China as have most of the cruise lines – although they are talking about re-opening the casinos in Macau. They are hoping that the warmer weather will help to kill off the virus, as it doesn’t appear to handle heat well.

We have until July before we need to make our final payment. If the travel bans are still in place, we have been talking about possible “Plan B” or “Plan C” destinations and we’ll postpone visiting China until next year.

Cross your fingers for us, and say a prayer for the people in China. Let’s hope this doesn’t keep expanding and threatening everyone in the world.

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