Staying inside during these cold winter days and nights has given me plenty of time to think about our upcoming trip. Most of the thinking has been: “Will we be able to go and safely enjoy ourselves ?”, but other thoughts about where we’re staying and what flights will be available have also crept in. So I have been trying to focus on that which I can control.
With our itinerary confirmed, we have the dates locked in to book our flights. As you may know or might have surmised, there are not as many flight options as there used to be. The airlines have cut back the number of flights on many of their routes – our routes included. We are spoiled and picky (it’s a fact) when it comes to flights; we prefer direct flights from and to the US.
After looking at many fare compare tools and airline websites, we narrowed the list down to Delta and United. Most of the others that were eliminated were due to multiple stops on the way over, with short layovers. After comparing flight times and layovers, we decided on the friendly skies of United!
We were able to book Buffalo to Newark to Venice on the way over, with reasonable layovers and flight times. On the way home it will be Rome to Washington DC to Buffalo, again with reasonable layovers. Not quite the Holy Grail, but we were glad to book now and save a few dollars.
We’ve also been in contact with our travel consultant in Piedmont to help organize some activities while we’re staying in Alba. Valerie Quintinella, proprietor of the Girl’s Gotta Drink website, helped when we were last in Piedmont to coordinate winery visits and tastings, a cooking class and made suggestions for dining choices. We’re looking forward to seeing and working with her again.
While in the midst of a house renovation, my desk papers are scattered between numerous boxes. Some days, just trying to find my folders is a challenge. However, my real challenge is searching through Italian websites looking for some entertainment while we are there. Their system of listing things like concerts, operas or shows is confusing, at least to me, in that they typically list by venue. I’m searching for the magic website that is all inclusive, but so far it has proved elusive.
We are also looking at the offerings from Daytrip. They provide transportation between locations and provide opportunities to stop for some sightseeing along the way. We have a couple of longer train journeys that we can replace with Daytrip rides. It would save us a few hours and also allow us to stop and see some things that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to see, since they are not near train stations. I also like the idea of sitting in a comfortable vehicle and not having to haul luggage on and off trains multiple times. It’s definitely more expensive than taking the train. However, there is a significant time savings, backache-saving and door-to-door factors to consider. And, the ability to stop for a little sightseeing along the way.
Currently, Italy is open to vaccinated travelers. There is no quarantine necessary upon arrival or in any of the locations we will be visiting – but that can change quickly. To fly home, we’ll have to get a Covid test in Rome, but my understanding is that they are easily available.
Everything is still on track to visit Italy next fall – fingers crossed. Reservations have been made for the hotels and now we’re just waiting until the new year to start watching air fares.
It’s revitalizing to be planning out travel once again. I’ve been reading and watching videos about the various places we will be visiting and some of the history of the regions. I have also started taking my Italian lessons once again. “La ragazza indossa un vestito rosso.” (I think it’s the same girl in the red dress from my french lessons).
I have had a few questions from, and chats with people about the places we will be visiting, so I thought I would share a little bit about them. Maybe it will inspire some folks to plan a visit too! To those who have heard the stories, skip this post. For those interested, let’s start!
We have decided on ten main places that we will be visiting this trip, plus a few side trips to enjoy sites near those locations. Each place will provide different experiences and we’re looking forward to checking them out,
We will be flying into Venice to start the trip. Venice is one of my favorite cities in Italy because it is so unique. I love the fact that there are no vehicles to deal with – just boats on the canal. While some people complain about having to walk and cross bridges, I think that is what makes it special. You can just wander around anywhere and if you get tired, you can hop on a boat and get to where you want to go.
As far as things to see and do – what are you interested in? The most visited site is Piazza San Marco. The Basilica is gorgeous and the Doges’ palace is intriguing. The islands of Burano and Murano are beautiful. Burano has its colorful houses and Murano has its glass production. Art galleries, churches, theater and delicious seafood. Oh yes – there are also the canals that wind around and through the city.
We are also planning to take a day trip to Vicenza, home to the Palladian architecture of Andrea Paladio. If you are wondering about Palladian architecture, just take a look at the Jefferson Memorial, Jefferson’s home Monticello or the Capitol Building. It’s only an hour’s train ride and will be a pleasant place to visit for a day.
We’ll be staying in a hotel called Hotel Antiche Figure. We’ve stayed there twice before and love it. It is literally right across the canal from the train station and the vaporetto lines.
Heading west from Venice, our next stop will be the town of Brescia. The allure of Brescia is its Roman ruins.
We will be staying at the Hotel Centro Paolo VI. It was originally a monastery and looks nice. It’s not a fancy place, but it is convenient to the sites we want to see and there are many restaurants nearby.
Some people have called Bergamo a double-decker city. There is the newer town below and the historic old town up on the hill. They have a funicular that takes you to the upper town if climbing steep steps (and lots of them) is not something you enjoy.
Our hotel in Bergamo is called the Gombit Hotel and is located in the old town right off of the main piazza. It’s centrally located and the piazza offers up some great people-watching while sipping a beverage.
Piedmont – Alba
Piedmont is one of Italy’s finest wine regions. It is home to the Nebbiolo grape, which is used to make Barbaresco and Barolo wines.
The last time we were here, we had a wonderful time visiting wineries and visiting some of the hill towns. We are hoping to do a little more of the same, plus visit some little towns nearby.
We will be staying in an Airbnb property in the town of Alba, which will provide us with a nice relaxing place to spread out while there. It’s in a great location near the train station and also the main street that leads to everywhere you need to go in Alba.
The Cinque Terre is located along the Ligurian Seacoast and is considered part of the Italian Riviera. Its name translates to the ‘five lands’ and it is made up of five individual towns – Monterosso, Vernazzi, Coniglio, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each town offers gorgeous views, Italian charm, seaside relaxation and delicious seafood.
Many people love to hike between the towns using a dedicated trail that runs above the towns. We will be taking the train or boats that also run between the towns – no sense clogging up the trail.
We will be staying in the town of Monterosso al Mare at the Hotel Pasquale. From the north, Monterosso is the first of the five towns and has sandy beaches to enjoy. The hotel is located just off the harbor / beach and is a short walk from the train station.
Florence brings back the Renaissance – with its art works, churches and architecture. This will be our artsy stop with visits to the Uffizi Museum, the Accademia to visit Michelangelo’s Statue of David and to see some of the beautiful artworks in the churches.
Sue and I are also fans of the Dan Brown novel ‘Inferno’. Much of the story takes place in Florence, so we are planning to take an ‘Inferno Tour’. We took an ‘Angels and Demons’ tour in Rome and enjoyed it very much, so we’re hoping this one will be equally fun.
For our accommodations, we decided to rent an apartment. I had read about the Kairos By Florence Art Apartments and when I checked the reviews they were recommended by many others – not just a magazine list. It is located three blocks from the Uffizi Museum and two blocks in the other direction to the Piazza de Santa Croce. The location is great, there are many restaurants nearby, and it was just remodeled in 2020.
Tuscany – Gaiole in Chianti
Gaiole in Chianti is a small town located in the Chianti wine region. Just picture vineyards of plump, purple Sangiovese grapes everywhere you look.
For this next part of the trip, we are using the credit we have from the China trip cancellation. The travel agency will provide much of the daily itinerary of tours and winery visits. We will be with them through our time in Orvieto. Included in our plans are winery visits, walks in Siena and San Gimignano and some free time in Gaiole.
We will be staying at the Castello di Spaltenna, just outside of the town of Gaiole. It is a resort hotel with many amenities and a wonderful history. We’re hoping it turns out to be as nice as it sounds.
While Montepulciano is technically still in Tuscany, the area surrounding the town is called the Val D’Orcia. When you see pictures of the winding roads lined with Cypress trees, you’re looking at the essence of the Val D’Orcia. Calm, relaxing and lots of great wine.
We will be staying at the Palazzo Carletti. The Palazzo Carletti is a Noble Palace with five rooms that are available for guests. It was originally a medieval building that was transformed in the 18th century into an aristocratic residence. It sounds like an interesting place to stay and it looks beautiful.
Continuing to the south, our next stop will be the ancient town of Orvieto. The area around the town is known for its link to the Etruscan civilization and delicious wines. Besides the delicious wines, there are many things to see in and around the city.
In Orvieto, we will be staying at the Hotel Duomo. It is located across the piazza from the Orvieto Cathedral.
Rome, the Eternal City, is our final location. When we visited the last time, we were overwhelmed by how much there is to see in Rome. History, art and culture can be found everywhere – it just depends on what you like. If food and wine is on your list of ‘likes’, you’ve come to the right place.
We’ve been to the Vatican before, so this time we plan to spread out a little and see more of the city. There are a couple of sites that we have on our wish list, so there will likely be a visit to a church or two, as well as an art museum. The Spanish Steps are also on the list, as well as a day trip to Tivoli to see Hadrian’s Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este. The villas are both UNESCO world heritage sites and are said to be lovely.
We will be returning to the Hotel Albergo del Senato in Rome. It is a wonderful hotel that is right next to the Pantheon in the Piazza della Rotondo. The highlight for us during our last visit was throwing open the windows and listening to the music coming from the buskers in the piazza below. Everything from Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’ to Puccini’s ‘Nessum Dorma’ was on the playlist the last time, so who knows what we’ll be listening to this time.
From Rome, we will be flying home after what we hope will have been a fabulous journey.
So that’s what we’ve included in our itinerary and some of the reasons for the choices. If you have additional ideas, please pass them along. Once we have the airfare taken care of, my very favorite part of the planning process takes place – checking out restaurants!
Thanks for following along and until next time… Arrivederci!
And a special ‘Arrivederci’ to “La ragazza indossa un vestito rosso.”
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wei Wei says: When life brings you bamboo, chow down!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…