Posts Tagged With: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

On our final day, Viking had contracted with another company for a tour out to Mt. Fuji and Hakone National Park. While we had the option to return on the bus, almost everyone opted to pay the few extra dollars to return via Shinkansen, the high-speed bullet train.

We were blessed with a beautifully sunny day which made the drive out to Mt. Fuji more enjoyable. We stopped along the way near Lake Kawaguchi-ko for a traditional Japanese lunch at a local restaurant. There was a wide variety of foods so even if you didn’t like everything that was offered there was certainly something else you would like.

Our lunch had lots of dishes!

What lurks beneath all the covers!

From the restaurant we could see Mt. Fuji in the distance. The rain that we’d endured the day before had brought the first snow of the season to the mountain, giving it a gorgeous topping.

Mt Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi-ko

Mt. Fuji

If you were to hike Mt. Fuji, you’d find a series of stations along the way. These are places where you could camp for the night before the next day’s hike. The fifth station is the highest one reachable by car or bus. At first we weren’t sure we’d be able to reach it as the road had been covered in snow, but by going to lunch first and giving crews more time to clear it we were fortunately able to reach it.

At the fifth station was all the usual tourist stuff with t-shirts, pins, postcards, etc. There was also this small Shinto shrine. But the biggest attraction was the close-up of Fuji-san. We’d been told the best view was on an outdoor raised viewing platform but unfortunately that was closed due to the snowfall.

A small shrine at the fifth station

A view of Fuji’s peak from the shrine. We were just a little too close to be able to see the top clearly.

Konagatake Ropeway

After milling around for awhile the bus took us down to Lake Ashinoko where we boarded a boat and cruised along the lake a bit until we reached the Konagatake Ropeway.

Boat that took us to the base of the ropeway (tram)

The small building at the top of the hill is the top of the ropeway.

With a name like that I had visions of doing some sort of ropes course and wondered how some of the older folks in the group were going to manage. But the ropeway was really just an aerial tram. They do try to squeeze every last person in and I actually felt claustrophobic enough to exit the tram and wait for the next one (10 minutes later) where there were only about 15 of us on it instead of 75 people crammed on the previous one.

The ride to the top provided some scenic views of the immediate area, the lake and as we got higher, Mt. Fuji. Once up top we had the option of hiking up a little further to a Shinto shrine.

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Shinkansen

The bad part about taking the bullet train after dark is that you can’t really convey how fast you were going. The lights are left on inside the train and on board it doesn’t feel like you’re moving all that quickly but when I could see us moving past buildings, I knew we were indeed going quite fast. The drive that had taken us two hours (including lunch) on the outbound leg of the tour only took us about 35 minutes to return. As expensive as I’m sure Tokyo is, it seems to me it would be much more economical to live further out and take this train in to work each day.

We wrapped our trip with dinner at one of the restaurants inside the hotel’s shopping area with some of the folks we’d been with for over two weeks now. I really liked Tokyo and would like to come back when I have more than two days to see things.

Categories: Asia, Japan, Tours, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Lhasa: Potala Palace

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

We had been at altitude for two nights and now it was time for our big test. Could we survive the climb to the Potala Palace, home to Dalai Lamas for centuries? For some of us the answer was no; some did not even go visit the palace at all. Others went and climbed to the main entrance but did not actually go inside the palace walls. For the rest of us we took our time and made it without issue.

The palace is named after Mount Potalaka, the mythical residence of a being that embodies compassion. Construction was begun in 1645 on the orders of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The walls are an average of 3 meters thick – 5 meters thick at the base. The building stands thirteen stories tall and contains over 1000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and 200,000 statues. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

We had the chance to take some photos from a favorable spot at street level before starting our journey upwards.

The Potala Palace from street level

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Categories: Asia, China, River Cruise, Tibet, Tours, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Of our two full days of touring Lhasa, the first morning was spent at the Jokhang Temple and the Barkhor Market area that surrounds it.

We were let out on a street corner not far from the pedestrian-only entrance to the market and made our way up to a large plaza. The Jokhang Temple is a Buddhist place of worship and is the spiritual center of Tibet. The oldest portions of the buildings date from the mid-650s. As with most buildings this old it has served a number of purposes over the years, been occupied by different religious and secular groups and has undergone a number of renovations. The most recent renovation wrapped up in the early 1980s.  It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.

But well before we got anywhere close to the temple we saw worshipers like these folks who were praying outside the entrance to the plaza. If you’re familiar with the exercises called “burpees”, that is very similar to what these folks were doing: they’d stand up straight, often with their arms over their head, kneel down on both knees and slide their hands forward on the ground until the were completely prone, then slide their hands back toward their knees until they were kneeling and then stand up again. The had either knee pads or something soft to kneel on and pads with straps on the top that they could easily slip their hands in and out of to make the sliding a bit easier. The whole time they did this they were quietly praying.

Morning Worshipers just outside the gates of the plaza

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Categories: Asia, China, River Cruise, Tibet, Tours, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Our day in Xi’an was a beautiful one. Still a little cool but sunny skies were plentiful. Today was one of the highlights of the tour for me. I moved to Memphis in 1994 and the next year there was an exhibit at the convention center called Imperial Tombs of China featuring some of the terra cotta warriors. I talked a friend into going with me so it was a thrill for us to see the warriors in their “natural habitat” some 22 years later.

Qin Shi Huang (chin shee hwang) was the first emperor of China. He took the throne in 246 BC at the age of 13 and that’s when this project began as an appropriate burial spot was found using feng shui. As was noted with the Ming Tombs, the tomb is at the base of a mountain which extends around it in a curving fashion, almost as if the emperor is in a chair with arms on either side for protection.

Emperor Qin says hi

By the time Qin died in 210 BC at the age of 49, the project had grown to approximately 38 square miles and it is estimated that there are over 8000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and another 150 cavalry horses contained in three large archeological pits. Most of these figures have not and will not be uncovered until technology advances further. The figures were painted when they were buried yet in as little as 15 seconds after exposure to the dry air the colors begin to peel and fade. A fourth large pit was found but is empty. Outside the main necropolis were a number of smaller pits containing non-military figures such as bronze carriages, terra cotta acrobats and strong men, stone armor suits and burial sites of both horses and laborers.

After going through the gates, it’s a bit of a walk to reach the pits. It’s not a difficult walk but it is perhaps a kilometer away. Alternately you can pay to ride the tram (as was included with our Viking tour). I found it amusing that here among ancient tombs, the presence of McDonald’s was on display.

Trams, I’m Lovin’ It!

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Categories: Asia, China, River Cruise, Tours, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beijing: The Forbidden City

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

We approached the Forbidden City from Tiananmen Square via a tunnel that crosses under the busy street running between the two sites. After seeing the way people drive in busy sections of China, I was very glad we didn’t have to dodge any cars!

The Tiananmen Gate faces the square of the same name and is the main entrance

The palace is the former seat of the throne of Imperial China which began with the Ming Dynasty in 1420 and lasted through the end of the Qing (“ching”) Dynasty in 1912 – nearly 500 years. It was both the home of the emperor and his household and the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government. If you’ve seen the movie The Last Emperor starring John Lone, it was the first feature film ever authorized by the PRC to be filmed inside the Forbidden City.

An ornamental column with the dragon facing out, waiting for the emperor to return

The name “Forbidden City” is a translation of its Chinese name that literally means “Purple Forbidden City”. The purple would refer to the North Star which in Chinese astrology refers to the heavenly abode of the Celestial Emperor and thus the emperor’s residence is its counterpart here on earth.

It is a massive complex of over 980 buildings covering over 180 acres. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

The moat is diverted to create a stream running through the grounds.  This stream is called the Golden Water:

A view from one of the bridges over the Golden Water

Though the design of the walls and the buildings were different, the general flow of the buildings reminded me a bit of the Topkapi Palace complex in Istanbul: Entering via a gate into a courtyard, then through another gate into a courtyard and so on until finally reaching the family quarters at the far end. I guess it’s not surprising as Topkapi was built a few decades after this palace so it’s very possible this was a tried-and-true style of the times.

The Meridian Gate is now the site of the ticket counter

This is the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest surviving wood structure in China. It was here that the Emperor held court though in its later years as court was held more often, a less grand location was used instead. By then this hall was used mostly for ceremonies including coronations and imperial weddings.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony

This is throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony, which was used for rehearsing ceremonies and was where imperial examinations, to see who was qualified to become members of the bureaucracy, were held.

Throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony

There were several interesting sculptures around including Cranes and the Bixi Turtle like we’d seen the day before at the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs:

Crane Sculpture

Bixi Turtle

And we saw at least a few things that we didn’t know what they were for but they looked interesting:

Maybe for keeping water hot?

I have no idea what this is for!

The corners of most of the roofs have a line of statuettes featuring a man riding a phoenix followed by an imperial dragon. The number of statuettes indicates how important the building is. The Hall of Supreme Harmony had 10, the only building permitted to have so many during imperial times.

Statuettes on the Roof

This is the throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity, which was initially the residence of the Emperor but during the Qing dynasty became the Emperor’s audience hall.

Throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony

Toward the back of the complex was the residence of the Empress.

The Dragon (Emperor) and the Deer (Empress) outside the residence of the Empress.

A glimpse into the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, the residence of the Empress

In the Imperial Garden were a number of rocks worn by water over time, making for some interesting art pieces.

A pagoda in the Imperial Garden

The moat is 171 feet wide and 20 feet deep.

The Tongzi Moat

The walls are 26 feet high and over 28 feet wide at the base though they taper to just under 22 feet at the top. Their core is rammed earth with layers of baked bricks on both sides.

Walls of the Forbidden City

We were thrilled that the rain finally let up when we were about halfway through the tour. We didn’t get to visit any of the internal exhibits of jade, porcelain or artwork but it was enough to soak in all the parts we did see. My pictures don’t come close to doing it justice – it’s just a vast, amazing place.

Categories: Asia, China, River Cruise, Tours, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Our next stop was a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs. The tombs are a collection of mausoleums built by thirteen of the emperors of the Ming dynasty. The third emperor of the dynasty was the first to have his tomb constructed here in the early 15th century. The last emperor buried here was the 17th Ming emperor who committed suicide in 1644. The tomb site was selected based on the principles of feng shui which indicate that bad spirits and evil winds come from the north, so the tombs are built on a south-facing slope of Tianshou Mountain in an effort to deflect them.

I don’t feel we really got a good feel for this attraction but it was due to the weather. It rained steadily the entire time we were there, which meant we hustled through it faster than we likely would have otherwise. There were no vendors out either which no doubt saved some of us some money but it would have been interesting to see.

The Sacred Way is named as such because it leads from the valley to the foot of the mountain where the tombs are found. This map of the site illustrates the Sacred Way and its relationship to the tombs.

Sacred Way Map – The tombs are in the red area and the yellow line indicates the pairs of statues that we walked past

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Categories: Asia, China, River Cruise, Tours, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beijing: The Great Wall

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

Monday was the first official day of the tour and we met our Viking guide, who went by the English name Jack. All the Asian Viking staff both on the tours and on the boat all had an English name which was so helpful to us. We later learned there was another group, led by Leo, doing the exact same tour we were so our groups were often at sites at the same time.

Our groups were kept to reasonable sizes: 31 for our group and probably 26 for Leo’s group. This made it easy to fit one guide’s group on a motorcoach (except in Tibet but that’s a story for later). We got to know each other over the course of the next two weeks and all-in-all we had a pretty good group. While there were certainly some folks we got along with better than others there were no really obnoxious folks in our little band.

After an early breakfast we boarded the motorcoach and drove about 1.5 hours northwest of the city to the area of Badaling where there’s a well-preserved section of the Great Wall as well as all of the tourist shops. It rained the whole time on our drive out and it rained most of the time we were climbing the wall and I do mean climbing. I was surprised at how steep it was in sections – and some without stairs so it meant walking up steep inclines on slick, centuries-old stones. The only good thing about the weather is that it kept the tourist traffic down. I’ve seen photos where the walkways were so crowded you could barely move but that was not the case during our vist. Unfortunately it meant our photos didn’t come out great but it was definitely a thrill to get to see it.

I didn’t realize that different Warring States had built different sections, some as early as between the 8th and 5th centuries BC, continuing all the way into the 12th century AD. It was apparently Emperor Ming who stitched the various sections together in the 14th century to help prevent Mongol raids.

This display welcomes visitors. It’s along one side of the walkway up to the entrance.

Welcome sign at the Great Wall

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Categories: Asia, China, River Cruise, Tours, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

We awoke the next day expecting to board motorcoaches that would take us into Budapest.  However when we look out from our cabin the fog was so thick we couldn’t see the riverbank!  Viking decided that it was pointless for us to wend our way along a beautiful drive if we couldn’t see anything, so they announced we’d be staying on board until we docked in Budapest around mid-day.  That also meant that our city tour was postponed until the afternoon and any optional tours we had scheduled for the afternoon were canceled – though of course the refunds wouldn’t be processed until after the cruise was complete.

bud-foggy-morning

The view from our cabin. The Danube is not THAT wide – where’s the riverbank?!

After busy days of touring it was actually kind of relaxing to have a morning to ourselves where we could linger over breakfast and catch up on emails (thanks to the free wi-fi).  Gradually the fog lifted and we had a sunny day, though it was a bit cool on deck. Continue reading

Categories: Cruises, Europe, Hungary, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

Our penultimate stop was the place I most wished we could have spent more time.  Of course, that just gives me a reason to return to Vienna.  Included with our trip was a morning tour of the city and the afternoon brought optional excursions to the Schönbrunn Palace, the Fine Arts Museum or accompanying the chef, Marcus, to the Farmer’s Market.

The first part of our tour was a motorcoach ride along the Ringstraße, the boulevard that encircles the city, and gaze at the gorgeous architecture.  From our bus windows we viewed many of the city’s famous buildings, like the Opera House and the Parliament building.  We also cruised by the Hotel Imperial, the grande dame of hotels in Vienna.  Its presidential suite is typically the home of visiting US Presidents.  However, in 2006 the Rolling Stones had that suite booked so when George W. Bush came to visit, he had to stay elsewhere!

We eventually stopped at Maria-Theresien-Platz, named in honor of Maria Theresa, who was the last of the Austrian Habsburg line.  Though she died in 1780, her influence is still widely felt.  She reigned for 40 years and was the ruler of 10 regions on her own and by marriage was the Holy Roman Empress.  Naturally there was a statue of her at her namesake plaza.

Maria-Theresa Statue

Maria-Theresa Statue

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Categories: Austria, Cruises, Europe, River Cruise, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

When you’re cruising on the ocean or a large sea, it’s common to have a “day at sea” which gives you a chance to catch your breath between ports of call.  A river cruise typically doesn’t offer one of those but may offer a day with fewer planned activities, which can be welcome in the middle of a busy trip.

By Wednesday we were a bit tired so it was rather refreshing to have a morning where we could take it easy.  Of course since our longship could not move to the next town, we had to take a bus for a couple of hours to Melk, where we boarded a sight-seeing boat for a lunch cruise through the scenic Wachau Valley, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A church in the Wachau Valley with vineyards in the background

A church in the Wachau Valley with vineyards in the background

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Categories: Austria, Cruises, Europe, River Cruise, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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