Monday, December 30, 2013

we take a side trip

we had long meant to get up to Tarpon Springs and finally decided last week to do it today before we had busy year end financial work to do and beginning of the month work for Phil.   It isn't that far- about 90minutes away...

so off we went this afternoon planning to arrive for lunch- see the town- do the sponge diving thing and go to the local (and world famous in Florida) wine store B-21... then do dinner and head home.

we left a bit late so our lunch was late- the excellent gyros sandwich and souvlaki sandwich at Plaka - where they make their own gyros... then on to the sponge diving boat where we learned the history of Tarpon Springs and sponge diving and the different kinds of sponges- (wool can last up to 12 years!- who knew?)

on the boat, we also had an opportunity to purchase post cards of the diver and various photographs of the boats and industry... LOL

anyway- after the lunch and the boat trip what was left was mostly shopping opportunities for sponges, tee shirts, soap (a lot of soap- LOL) and tons of Greek restaurants (kind of like Greek Town in Chicago but with better weather!)

so we headed over to the wine store and were done quickly (bought Italian wines- can't believe we didn't bring any Italian down in the multi cases we brought here for the "season") so since it was too early to eat dinner - having had a late lunch- we headed home and went to dinner much later in Bradenton Beach at the Blue Marlin.

so here are our $1 post cards (all of them for $1!!!)

the various kinds of sponge- best and most expensive is "wool"- moderate priced and quality "yellow"- finger are just decorative, wire is abrasive and used in industry but not generally sold to the public... and the vase one called "grass" below can be used to grow things in without any dirt - just put a seed in and keep it wet!

our diver gave us an autograph in addition to modeling the "hip" suit - despite the 7 for $1 postcard deal you got the autograph thrown in!!! such value!!!

the final post card - the local Greek orthodox church-

cheap parking $3 all day- of course that was equivalent to 21 postcards in this town so maybe given the currency conversion - not as good a value as one might think - LOL


hand-rolled cigars for sale...

hand-made soap for sale-

on to the fish market-

and then the wine store- where they had some pretty impressive inventory!

back home to work and then later to dinner- all in all a very nice day and Phil was extremely happy with the gyros - he said it was the best one he had since that Christmas Day in Athens!!!!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

another brief digression

to give you an idea of the kind of art I have been accumulating for the new place- you can see the colors and style- although this is not to scale - it is a collage of some of the works I have found over the last year to decorate the condo-

blues and greens and turquoise... not at all like the ORD place which is navy and rust for the most part...

we leave lijiang

so I know you thought we would never get out of lovely Lijiang- and quite honestly we didn't want to leave... it was so beautiful.  Our guide Anna had told us on the night we arrived from Hong Kong that we would say "despite the fact that China has declared Zhongdian as Shangri-La that the real Shangri-La was Lijiang"... well not to give away the punch line- but - she was correct- we did end up saying that. 

but first the saga of getting from one place to another.... you may think that the way I write up these posts that everything always goes smoothly- it does not.

an example - the bizarre marathon through the Kunming airport on the late night of our arrival because passport control in Lijiang wanted to go home on time and the flight had been delayed out of HKG... another example- the train attendants in Guangzhou who refused to let us into the car where we had seats reserved...

this is all part of travel-it builds character as my dad would have called it...LOL but in reality it helps keep your mind flexible - currency conversion (practical math skills being refreshed in a way they aren't at home) delays (ad nauseum- in China not one single flight took off on time- LOL) help your learn patience and that is one of Americans issues in the first place... in a lot of ways travel opens up your mind and not just with language and local culture- I could go on and on but that isn't the point...

the point is - LOL- we had a horrific driver in Lijiang... he was always late- made us wait for him - always left us off so we had to cross busy streets to get where we were going...once we were done with lunch and had to wait for him because he had gone shopping... in all the travel I have done I think I can safely say that so far he was the least professional driver I have ever had (this is quite a distinction!)

but all of that would be just one of those travel things except for the transit day to Zhongdian...

we left the fabulous Banyan Tree and headed out to the first bend of the Yangtze River... which looks - unsurprisingly - like a bend in any river any where LOL---
we stopped in a small town nearby and walked around- Shigu Town (Stone Drum Town.) Stone Drum Town is famous for the First Bend of Yangtze River, but it was also a transportation hub, trade center and military strong-hold in ancient time. It is a stop for the Tea and Horse Road (a trade route over 2000 years old and the silk road in southern China).

it was a cute little town which was mostly arranged as a bathroom stop I think- LOL

we ran into these guys on a side street-LOL

on to Tiger Leaping Gorge where we will drop off Anna and pick up our new guide Tashi... keeping the same driver and vehicle (or at least that was the plan...) - do you hear foreboding and ominous music in the background yet?????

anyway- back to the story of our day- we did the exchange of guides and made a tearful goodbye to Anna (who by the way turned out to be the very best guide of many good ones on the trip)- and headed out of the transfer point town to TLG (Tiger Leaping Gorge) made famous in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon....

note the size of the people across the river - gives some perspective...

the actual rock to rock point where the leap is alleged to have taken place- LOL- and note the folks in the lower right hand corner who are overlooking the river to put it in perspective!

we left there and headed to lunch at a local place where you pick your own food to be cooked and then served to you-

the lunch was excellent- and we were having a pretty good day overall...Tashi was very nice and sat with us for a bit and helped us out on ordering etc...  during lunch we complained to him a bit about the driver and he told us- he doesn't like to drive to Zhongdian and he NEVER wants to stay overnight there (which is what our itinerary called for- since his vehicle was what we were scheduled to use in Zhongdian as well as Lijiang)

so after lunch and bathroom stop- lunch was very nice the bathrooms not so much... Tashi tells us that we are going to be switching drivers and vehicles on the way as our driver has been "called back" to Lijiang (yeah sure, that isn't at all what happened... he just didn't want to go up there...) so the driver has arranged another person to come and pick us up at a point further along the road which will be determined by the place where they cross- since the guy is just leaving Zhongdian it will be a while - so we pile into the car and Phil and I discuss the issue of the driver - now no longer vying for bottom of the list but really has fallen off of it...

and we start up the road to Zhongdian- it is "on top of the world" so it is all uphill and I have to give the second driver credit- because he extracted quite the sum from the Bad Driver in several ways- charged him to come down - didn't come down as far as he could so he could save the gas b y stopping earlier and making Bad Driver drive further up the mountain road to him - charged him for the two days he would end up driving us to and around Zhongdian- and made Bad Driver buy him lunch. 

All of which would have seemed pretty funny to us since we didn't like the Bad Driver anyway EXCEPT we ended up in a crummy old van where you had to lean over to see out of the windows and instead of a four door SUV style vehicle we ended up in one of those ones with only one side door and so we were always crawling over into the back seat which only really had one actual window seat - so I was pretty steaming about that- a WAAAAAY less good vehicle even though we had paid dearly for decent transportation. 

but as I said about travel - you have to learn to be flexible - so off we went... heading towards 12,000 feet above sea level - on a road along side a stunning clear blue stream with the brightest blue sky I have seen since we were in Bhutan. 

the hand over point was at a rest-stop where they sold dried meat of some sort- seriously I had no idea what it was and probably don't want to know- LOL

in the next post we will get to Zhongdian/Shangri-La and that whole story but for now we are wending our way upward for a late afternoon arrival into town and our hotel. 

This was not a sign for our hotel- we are going somewhere else to REAX....LOL

here are photos of our hotel - the Songstam Retreat -  western bathrooms and all!

overnight lows are around 35* and the air is thin thin thin- every step is an effort to us as we climb from our conveniently nearby room to the restaurant(s) of the hotel where we have an excellent dinner and meet Casper (from Taiwan working here and married to a woman from Harbin- see what travel brings) - Casper had visited 36 states in the US while he was going to school in America - more than many US citizens I am sure!

Below is a photo of the view from our room - we look at the backside of the Temple-

and if this looks familiar - there is a very good reason why.... but that is for the next post - when we visit the town and the Temple and have a long day's journey to our next stop (Chengdu)---- so stay tuned!

OH! but one last thing- and you will love the universality of this- the reason no one can complain about Bad Driver- LOL- he is married to the office manager who makes the driving assignments!!!!!! so even though Anna understood our complaints and was frustrated by his  lack of service and professionalism (she had to get water for us - he never could be bothered even though this is almost universally the driver's job) she could do nothing and even though Tashi knew Bad Driver hated to overnight in one could do a thing about it- because he was "wired" as we say in Chicago style politics!!!!