China and Cambodia: Part 4

The following day was our day trip to Hangzhou. It’s a city about an hour by train from Shanghai. The attraction there is West Lake, considered one of the most beautiful sights in China. Naturally, we had to go.

To get there, we had to get to the Hongqiao train station on the other side of Shanghai. It was about a forty minute train ride. I love riding the public transit of cities; I feel that I get a better sense of the city that way. I love seeing the people; I love the advertisements you see in the stations.

Once we got to the train station, we had to figure out how to buy tickets. Unfortunately, since we were not Chinese citizens, we could not buy tickets from a kiosk. We waited in a long line and eventually got tickets to take us to the Hangzhou East Train station. It’s further away but it had more frequent trains. Soon we boarded our train and were zooming through China to our destination.

It was pretty cool to see the area outside of Shanghai. I had never been anywhere else in China. I saw people working in the fields, I saw large towns with amazing architecture. It was rather lovely. The train was pretty awesome too. Somewhere there was a hot water spigot for tea or soup preparation. That’s amazing. I wish we had something like that in more common areas in Chicago or the US at large.

Once we got to the station and waited in the cab line, we debated where to go. The guidebook was surprisingly vague about where to go in West Lake. We ended up choosing something randomly that we thought we could ask the driver to take us to.  It may have been the farthest point on West Lake from Hangzhou but that’s okay. It was neat to see tiny glimpses of the area as we drove to it. Mountains surround it on three sides.

And then we were finally at our destination. We understood why it was so popular with the Chinese. The combination of the lake, the mountains, pagodas in the distance. This was a marvelous place. We bought some popcorn with the intention of feeding it to creatures we saw. However, we would soon learn that none of the fish or birds were interested in the popcorn. Very strange. But we saw this amazing pond with 100s of koi, swimming in bulk. We walked along the causeway taking in all of the nature. Lotus blossoms, trees, occasional astonishing birds. We watched the boats go out on the water and saw the amazing party boats shaped like dragons and other mythical creatures.

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We decided to hire a boat to take us out on the water. We climbed into a wooden boat where we tried to talk to our boatsman/captain. He paddled us out and around. We got an even better view of the area including a pagoda that is apparently on the RMB bills. Very neat! I’m not entirely sure if we were ripped off. The ride was only a half hour instead of the expected hour. But the language barrier made it hard to figure out what was going on. Then again, it was a small amount of money. It was still worth the brief excursion on the water.

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We continued to wander around the lake. I saw lots of people eating fresh watermelon so I naturally desired it. For about a dollar, I got a container of fresh watermelon with toothpicks. It was absolutely refreshing.

On our journey, we came across the Tianfeng Pagoda on the water. We decided to check it out since we were there. It was a very tall pagoda. There were several flights of stairs just to get to the base of it! There were seven more floors to get to the top. But it was worth it. (Every tower must be climbed!) The view was astonishing. You could see the mountains, the lake, and the actual city of Hangzhou! What a glorious place!

As the day continued, we realized how hungry and hot we were. We hadn’t really seen places to sit for food. We did have some walking lunches but we sometimes elected for sit down meals because of the heat and humidity. We studied the insufficient map to figure out where we were. We had planned to walk to the nearer train station to go home since it was about .5 mile from Hangzhou (supposedly). We learned that the lake is really really big. But we eventually figured out where to go and found a little place offering coconuts. And air conditioning. We went in and had the most refreshing coconut of our lives. It wasn’t coconut water; it was a jellied coconut served in the shell. It was what was needed after hours of walking. And we had WiFi.

That’s when I got messages about the impending super typhoon that was on its way to Shanghai. Not something you necessarily expect on a trip. We had been alerted to it a few days before by my mother but hadn’t gotten a lot of information. All I could determine was that it was going to hit Taiwan first and make landfall on mainland China at some point. Shanghai would get the last wave of the storm. I was a bit worried that we might have some issues leaving for Cambodia but that was the extent. Still it was strange to get messages about the typhoon from concerned family members while in a coconut shop in Hangzhou.

After our stay at the oasis, it was time to get to the train station. I was concerned about getting tickets on a train back since it seemed to be filling up per the website. We tried walking but the map got very difficult and ended up taking a cab.

The experience in the train station was something out of Monty Python. A sign told us that the foreign friendly line at teh station was aisle X so we dutifully stood in line. Just as we got to the front of the queue, the woman at the front put up a sign in Chinese and waved us away. Apparently, it was closed. Very frustrating. We waited there for about 5 minutes hoping she (or her replacement) would help us but to no avail. So we waited in another line. THen it closed. Another line. Same thing. Eventually we got in a fourth line. This time as we stood at the front, a Iranian adult son and father asked if they could cut in front of us to get a ticket thing figured out. We obliged (common bond of travelers in foreign lands). The ticket lady helped them reprint tickets. THen it was our turn. She took one look at us and said, “No, you have to go to the FOreigner’s line.” (At this point, it had reopened). We were spitting mad. So my friend pointedly said, “You helped the Iranians. You can help us.” The woman didn’t respond but took our passports and eventually gave us tickets. However, we had 15 minutes to get to our train. We had to get through security, find our gate, and get on the train. And we did. The train was once again a smooth breeze, easy, air conditioned and hassle free.

Once we got back to the hotel, I decided to venture on alone for some dinner. I was hungry and keen to find some good eating. It was tricky since a lot of the places around the hotel were open during the day. They were not many sit down places. I found one but it served American style food that was not for me. I was in China and I was going to each Chinese food.  After a little walk, I found a place with a crab on the logo. It was sit down place. It was perfect. The menu was a placemat where there were pictures of animals. You chose the type of animal you wanted. The waitress tried to help me through it. Through miming, we decided the size (small). She even creatively asked me how spicy I wanted it. Thanks to the guidebook, I indicated a small amount of spice.

And then I received the most magnificent plate of crabs, chicken feet, and tofu. It was amazing. More food than I had hoped for but totally worth it. I wasn’t sure how to eat the small crabs so I watched people around me. After a few minutes, I realized I was gnawing on the distinctly wrong part of the crab. But it was still delicious. The sauce was amazing. The crabs (once I figured them out) were succulent. The chicken feet were a nice complement and the tofu was delicious. I did accidently ate a pepper that made my face go completely red. One of the waiters rushed over with cold tea that helped a bit. That’s when I used the phrases in the guidebook to order white rice! It was honestly the best meal of the trip despite or even because of my misadventures. 🙂

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That’s all for now!

NYC Spring 2016: Part 2

The next day started with a trip to the Union Square Green Market. It’s a favorite of my parents and we always try to go when the weather is nice. It was a little brisk and early in the season so they weren’t many vendors out. But there were waves of beautiful fragrant flowers. Goodness, winter makes me miss nature so much! We had breakfast nearby at the Coffee Shop where I had delicious omelette. I love the entry walls to the place are covered in crushed up chinaware. Very cute.

I spent sometime wandering around the Strand bookstore, one of my favorites in NYC. Not only does it have a fantastic collection of books, it always has an amazing literary/nerdy selection of socks. There I said it.

Afterwards, we decided to walk up from Union Square to Macy’s. We briefly stopped into Rizzoli, a fancy bookstore, on the way. There used to be Rizzoli in Chicago but the chain contracted. Now it’s got a lovely bookstore near 26th street but it’s high end with lots of beautiful books. We continued our walk, watching as the neighborhood changed over and over. There were fancy boutique shops, then costume jewelry shops, and then to giant stores like Macy’s. The Flower Show was going on, which is one of my favorite retail events each year. While I prefer Chicago’s Macy’s Flower show, the one at Macy’s flagship was nice. The windows were fine but the interior is exciting. Throughout the first floor, there are flower displays that are out of this world. The theme this year was America so there were displays for the Midwest, the Pacific, NYC, and more. One display had mannequins modeling hats that I wanted to steal. Alas! There were some very patriotic flower displays as well. Good times.

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Macy’s. I want the hats.

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Macy’s

I continued my walk back to the hotel in midtown. I had a special mission to go to a coffee/chocolate shop on Park Avenue called 2bean. It was one of the few shops carrying a new spectacular chocolate bar called Marou, which was written about in the NYTimesThe bars are colored coded due to the color of the beans! They had just gotten a shipment the day before (I called) and were already out of two or three bar types by the time I got there. I was getting a birthday present for my best friend. The shop reminded me a lot of Hannah’s Bretzel because it is covered in different kinds of fancy candy bars. But it has even more than Hannah’s Bretzel. So cool.

I then walked up to Momofuku for my favorite truffle balls. There was a fairly healthy line but the balls are totally worth it. I got three packs of “Birthday Cake,” “Dulce de Leche,” and “Mint Chocolate.” I didn’t love the “Dulce de Leche” ones but they are still good.

Then I ran off to meet my husband who had just arrived in NYC. We decided to walk through Central Park to the Museum of Natural History and have tea at Alice’s, an Alice in Wonderland themed tea shop. I’ve been in Alice’s before but I had never stayed. It’s near the museum. We got there just in time as we were the top of a long line to get seats. The place was charming but not overwhelming in Alice in Wonderland mania. That was a bit of a disappointment. There were murals (especially in the bathroom) that made me very pleased. There were doors to the kitchen with keyhole windows in them, which was cool. But it could have upped the theme. We decided to keep it simple with tea and scones. (High tea seems to be too much for me these days). We had the Alice tea and I had the pumpkin scone. Both were delicious. So that was nice. It’s a tad pricey for tea and scones but it was nice to do once.

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Alice’s

I was excited about taking my husband to the museum since he had never been before. The last time I went was in graduate school when I was visiting my best friend who worked at school nearby. I had spent the entire time in the Ancient Americas’ rooms. When we got there, there was a line. Thankfully, it moved quickly so we were in the ticket line inside within about 10 minutes. Once in, we wandered accidentally into the Carl Akeley Hall, which was amazing. I had read a biography about him. He’s basically the man that made taxidermy into what we think of today. Many of the dioramas and specimens at the Field are his work. (The two elephants in the entryway were shot by him and his wife. She shot the larger of the two). So the hall at the NYC museum was wonderful. There was a herd of elephants in the middle (Possibly all shot by him though). Around the first floor were beautiful scenes of animals in the wild. Magnificent.

Then we made a beeline for the dinosaurs, both of our favorites. There was a dinosaur, titanosaur, that was so big that it couldn’t be kept in a single room. It kinda looks like a giant brontosaurus. Very neat. They had a good collection of dinosaurs including many triceratops skulls.

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We imagined this dino was a lot like my husband

We also wandered into the Ancient Americas to say hello to old friends. They have a giant Olmec head, which most would recognize as Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple. Of course, the people who made the head are actually the Olmecs…but anyway, it was nice to check out their collection. It’s smaller than the Field but I love checking out the pottery and stone carvings.

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Possibly Moche pottery

Before we left, we did check out the famous blue whale, which freaked me out as a kid. It’s still kinda insane. The museum has moved away whatever used to be beneath it and now you can lie down and stare up at it.

On our way back to the hotel, we strolled through Central Park. It was a really wonderful walk as nature was beginning to wake up. Budding trees, tiny daffodils pushing their heads up through the dirt. There were plenty of rocks to climb (though I never seem to wear the right kind of shoe for that kind of thing). We even shared a pretzel while walking through the Poet’s Corner. So classic NYC movie, I feel. But fun to do, nonetheless.

That night, we ate Italian food in a nearby restaurant named Teodora, that had food from Reggio Emilia. It feels like they took someone’s home and converted it into a restaurant. I had a wonderful plate of gnocchi, my favorite. Afterwards, we met a friend in Union Square for a drink. The place kinda had a speakeasy feel since there weren’t any signs. Inside, it was richly furnished with deep wood and low lighting. The cocktails were wonderful; I had champagne with raspberries, which made me happy. My husband got a wonderful drink of prosecco, sorbet and a third ingredient that I have forgotten. Very tasty. It was a lovely place to end the day.

That’s all for now!

 

Chicago Botanical Gardens

Pfui. Blasted! I’m bummed out. Why, you might ask? I was hoping to see Spike bloom.

For those of you who haven’t heard, for the past few weeks, Chicago has been waiting to see when a Titan Arum or Corpse Flower was set to bloom for 24-48 hours. And it was set to stink somewhere between Limburger cheese and a corpse. The Chicago Botanical Gardens were going to stay open until 2am the day it bloomed. Sadly, the Chicago Botanical Garden reported Saturday night that Spike’s not going to bloom. Not enough energy. Boo to this fall weather. Yeah, you fall weather.

I hadn’t set out to be obsessed with Spike. I had read reports of it with some interest but that was it. However, it so happened that we decided to go to the Chicago Botanical Gardens since I had never been. I’ve been to the parking lot because of Ravinia but that’s it.

I loved it. I can’t believe I waited as long as I did. It’s a treasure and I can’t wait to go back. I’m even contemplating going out there for some awesome shots  in our wedding outfits after the wedding.

It all began by walking through the beautiful bridge onto a vista with a giant pond and weeping willows. Everything was humming with late summer joy. The lily pads were in full bloom with magenta and purple flowers. Monet surely would have painted these flowers.

Water Lillies

There was even a bonsai tree show. One exhibit was a tiny forest! Inside there was an exhibition of Japanese flower arrangements. Some arrangements had poems and sayings next to them. Here’s an illicit photo of one of my favorites. (Illicit since I missed the sign about not taking photos until after the fact).

Bonsai ForestFlower Arrangement

Then we found Spike in the greenhouse. When we visited him, he was already taller than me. He was also fairly wide too. He looked like something out of The Little Shop of Horrors. He was magnificent. And thus began the obsession. While I didn’t get to see Spike in his (her?) stinky glory, I’m pretty happy to have seen Spike. He really rocked my world for a little bit.

Spike!

Then we decided to go off to check the outdoor gardens. The rose garden was our first stop. We just missed the peak of the summer; the roses were on their way out. But there were many still in full bloom. One rose was the closest I’ve ever seen to a Tudor rose; well, it’s yellow and red. We also stopped by the English walled garden with its manicured hedges and little ponds.

Almost Tudor Rose

The best was the Japanese gardens. There are three gardens, two for people and one restricted to the Immortals (and staff). To get to the gardens, you have to cross a picturesque bridge. There was even a little Shinto house that you can look into. We couldn’t have chosen a better day to wander the gardens.

Island of the Immortals

And there’s a wonderful waterfall on a hill. You can wander up and down the hill with vistas of the Japanese gardens. Amazing.

I can’t wait to go back. I feel that I need to go several times of the year to see how it all changes. And see the next Titan Arum bloom.

That’s all for now!