The Flight the Masks Dropped

We were flying to Texas from Charlotte to surprise Stephen’s little brother, Paul, for his high school graduation party. We were able to get pretty good tickets on Southwest, plus you can check 2 bags for free, so off we went! First a layover in Houston, then on to Dallas Love Field. The flight into Houston was going fine, uneventful, like any flight should be. I was reading, Stephen was sleeping. There had been just a couple little drops of turbulence maybe 20 mins earlier. No biggie. Then Stephen gets hit in the face by an oxygen mask.

I heard a noise, and looked up to see oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling up and down the entire plane. Other passengers are looking around, pulling the masks down, putting them on, a little confused. I believe my exact words to Stephen, as he shook the sleep out of his eyes, were, “Oh, huh. I guess we’re…supposed to put these on?” I tried to figure out how to pull the mask down to put on, eyeing my fellow passengers to see what I was doing wrong. Turns out the masks are held up out of the way by a string, and you have to really yank on them to get it to disengage. As I put my mask on, I thought of numerous flight attendants on numerous flights over the years demonstrating how to put it on and pull the side elastic to tighten it. I looked out the window, hoping I wasn’t going to see flames coming out of the engine, or anything like that. The flight attendant came on over the speaker, ordering everyone to put their masks on. Now! We all had ours on by now.

The missing Malaysia flight briefly entered my thoughts before I dismissed it, focusing instead on breathing normally, then switching to my “yoga breathing”. Deep, slow breaths, feeling the air travel though your nose, lungs, expanding your belly. Then pushing it all out again. A simple prayer, “Dear God, please protect us. Please be with the pilots as they are dealing with whatever is going on. Please give peace to the screaming baby behind us.” That baby was NOT happy. He did not like the mask, did not want it anywhere near him. Finally a flight attendant made her way back to us, and she shoved the mask on his face.

Eventually the captain came on and told us we had descended down to 10,000 feet, and no longer needed the oxygen masks. The cabin pressurization system had failed at 36,000 feet, so the masks were deployed. The back-up pressurization system kicked in and worked, but since the masks had already dropped, we had to use them and then land. So we made what I am calling a semi-emergency landing in Birmingham, Alabama. That plane was obviously done for the day, so we all got reassigned to other flights. We were able to get on a flight directly to Dallas from there, so that was nice. While we were waiting for our flight to Dallas, I decided to check out Twitter to see what other passengers may have said about previous flight that forced us to land in Birmingham. I found only one person who had tweeted about it, a girl who said something along the lines of, “worst flight ever, oxygen masks dropped, I’m never flying Southwest again!” I guess she doesn’t realize that all major airlines use pretty much the same kind of plane, just with a different paint job. Also, we figure the odds are in our favor every time we fly now!

UK and Berlin, part 4 (FINIS)

Lesson: bring an actual alarm clock when traveling outside the country, rather than relying on your cell phone.

A couple of the hotels we stayed in didn’t have alarm clocks in the room. This was only a problem when we needed to be somewhere early, like Heathrow to fly to Berlin. Oops. For some reason it was my job to get us up and moving that morning. I set an alarm on my phone, which would have worked fine, had I hit snooze instead of turning the alarm off. It is clearly a flaw of design that on my phone, it is much easier to turn off the alarm than snooze it. Who has the presence of mind when jolted out of sleep to find the little button that says snooze?! So much easier to just swipe down and make it stop!

Luckily, we only ended up missing breakfast, and made it to the airport with time to spare (and buy breakfast). We bought a one-way pass on the Tube to Heathrow. Heathrow is much like any other large international airport, with the exception that when we arrived, there were two guards with large guns standing on a walkway keeping an eye on things. It was a little unnerving, as the only time you see something like that stateside is if there has been an incident, like after 9-11. When we were checking in, the airline agents also actually asked us all the questions that you usually just skim over and hit “yes” on the screen in a US airport. Like, “Who packed your bag?” “When did you pack it?” “Has it been out of your possession at all?” “Has anyone asked you to carry or transport anything for them?” We made it through security with no problems, and then found some food. Something that drove Stephen crazy was not knowing what our gate was until it was time to start boarding. I guess they don’t want people clogging up the gate area, but you better hope you are on the right side of the terminal when it pops up on the screen, otherwise you better truck it.

A little over three hours later, we were in a cab on our way to the Abion Spreebogen Hotel. Since Stephen was working most of the time we were in Berlin, this hotel was on Siemens’ dime and recommended by Stephen’s manager, who was also staying there. It was a wonderful change from our tiny London room – big windows, a king size bed, and room to spread out!

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We had a late lunch at an Italian place close by, then walked across the Spree River for a bit, just to see what there was to see. After that it was of course nap time, until we met up with Sam for dinner. Sam (Stephen’s manager) has been to Berlin before, so he showed us how to buy tickets for the train. The trains in Berlin are kind of on an honor system – there is no turnstile to go through, or system for punching or scanning your ticket as you get on the train. But if you get caught travelling without a ticket, there is a hefty fine. So it is better to spend the 6.7 euros for a day pass (good on trains, subway, and buses) than get caught without one. We went to a Turkish restaurant for dinner, where the waiter tried really hard to sell us some fancy dinner package. We said no, but ended up with free anise shots anyway! After dinner we walked to the Brandenburg Gate, which was not as close as Sam thought it was to where we had eaten. Ha, oh well. It was neat to see the Gate lit up at night.

If I look English, Stephen definitely blends in with the German locals. Must be the beard. We were waiting for our train back to the hotel neighborhood after seeing the Gate, and were approached by a little old lady asking about which train she needed (we can only assume). Sam knows a little bit of German, and was able to tell her where the train we were waiting for was going, and that it was the correct one for her. She then proceeded to go on and on, telling us her life story (we can only assume, again). Somehow Sam got in that he only spoke very little German. She asked him what we spoke, and replied, “Oh! Englisch! Mama mia!” And then continued to go on in German. Somewhere in there it also came out that Stephen and I were married, and Sam was a colleague, and not my father. When our train arrived we got on, I assured her it was the correct train for her (I dearly hope it was) and we all continued on our merry way.

The next morning I slept in while Stephen went to the office. He decided to take the afternoon off though to see the major sights with me. We grabbed a lunch of Currywurst at a mall food court, just because it seemed like the thing to do. It was pretty much just sausage (wurst) with tons of bbq sauce dumped on top, sprinkled with a generous amount of curry powder. Lets just say I will not be re-creating it at home.

The first landmark we wanted to check off the list was the Berlin Cathedral. We rented audio guides, which were very informative. Stephen pointed out the vast difference in information between the Berlin Cathedral audio guides and the Westminster Abbey ones. The Cathedral guides were full of the religious symbolism and theology behind the architecture, art, and history of the building, which the Abbey was all about who was buried here and memorialized there. The Berlin Cathedral is a gorgeous building. We followed the arrows for the self-guided tour as best we could, and ended up going round and round up narrow sets of stairs that said they led to the roof. Surely they don’t go all the way to the roof, we thought, as we kept climbing and climbing. There is no way they allow you to traipse around up on the roof. Wrong, they do.

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After the Cathedral we went to Checkpoint Charlie. There is not a whole lot to see there, they do have some sections of Wall, and an informative display of it’s significance, with stories of people sneaking though, successfully and unsuccessfully.

From Checkpoint Charlie we walked to the Topography of Terror, the site of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters. The buildings have long been razed, and the lot covered in grey gravel as a bleak reminder of the horrors committed during the Nazi regime. It is also the site of the longest stretch of Berlin Wall still standing in its original location.

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The next day Stephen went to work all day, and my feet and legs were getting very tired of walking. I decided to ride Bus 100 around, which goes by all the major sites, and do as little walking as possible. The day was dreary and was not helping my runny nose or slight cough. I was suffering from a bit of a cold and running low on cough drops. So I mustered up the courage to go into one of the pharmacies that seemed to be on every corner of the city. After once around the little store, I found the Ricola bags right by the door. The pharmacist had started talking to me, probably asking what I needed, so I said, “Ah!” and held up the bag of cough drops. There were many different flavors, none of which I could read. I picked the one that said “Zitronenmelisee” thinking that “zitron” sounded like “citron” which was like “citrus” and the bag was yellow, so maybe it was lemon? I took it to the counter to check out, where the pharmacist said something else to me, and I just stood there sniffling. She had probably figured out by then that I did not sprechen sie Deutsch, as she pulled a little pack of tissues out from behind the counter and looked at me questioningly. I smiled and nodded, and said, “Danke!” Success! I now had cough drops and tissues. Unfortunately I did not have the same success when I stopped at a kiosk in the train station for breakfast shortly thereafter. I ended up with a latte and a soft pretzel. I was going for a latte and a soft chocolate covered pretzel, but the chocolate part was lost in my zero understanding of the German language. Oh well.

I made it to the bus stop outside the Berlin Zoo, hopped on and climbed the stairs to the second floor of the double decker. From there I happily shot photos through the window of all the significant things we drove by, no walking required. Once done with my ride and back on the hotel side of town, I did walk down to see the Siemens turbine building, which anyone who has taken an architectural history class will recognize. That night we had dinner again with Sam, a night-cap at the hotel bar, and then the next morning it was time to head home!

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Last thoughts: Berlin was rather dreary and damp when we were there, I would love to see it again in the spring or summer. Shout-out to our Land’s End Squall jackets for keeping us warm and dry the entire trip! Stephen kept on commenting, “Why didn’t we buy these before we went to China?!” And froze our bums off. Travel lessons learned the hard way.

 

UK and Berlin, part 3b

Our second full day in London we had a few things we needed to check off our list – Westminister Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and at least a walk-by of the Natural History museum. Since our hotel was so close to the Natural History Museum, we walked by it and admired its architecture and size while keeping an eye out for a possible breakfast place. We soon found Le Pain Quotidien, where Stephen got porridge and I had a soft-boiled egg with bread. I have never had a soft-boiled egg before, and didn’t quite know where to start, but I managed to enjoy it without making too much of a mess or getting bits of shell everywhere. Stephen thinks I’m silly because I have told him I don’t really like eggs, but then I persist in ordering them, or eat them when he fries a couple on Saturday mornings. I would have rather had a scone with berries and cream, but knew that the protein in an egg would stick with me longer than the sugar and carbs of a scone. And really, I just don’t like scrambled eggs. Once again, not super speedy (ie. American) service, but there was really no rush, and it was nice to just sip our coffee and take in the dreary London morning.

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From Le Pain Quotidien we hopped on the Tube at South Kensington station and off again at Westminster. This time we went straight to the Abbey, where there was already a line queue to get in. It was outrageously expensive at £18 each, and you weren’t allowed to take pictures inside. Westminster is significant architecturally, but the real draw for some visitors (not us) are all the famous people buried or memorialized there. It is more shrine than sanctuary. Don’t get me wrong, it is pretty neat to be able to say we saw where numerous former monarchs (including my ancestor Mary, Queen of Scots) are buried, and notables such as Charles Darwin (ironic), Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Dickens. But Stephen and I both agreed that the hundreds of memorials and plaques marking burials took away from the sanctity of the place.



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After spending a couple hours at Westminster, we walked along St. James’s Park to Buckingham Palace. On our way, I was stopped by a middle-aged Indian man with a camera. I thought he was going to ask me to take a picture of him and his mother. No, he wanted to take a picture of me with his mother. I have no idea why but now some family in India has a picture of me with their grandmother. Perhaps he thought I was a typical English girl, but I was very much playing the tourist though, with my big fancy camera around my neck, so I didn’t think I looked like a local…

Buckingham Palace was a quick stop, as tours of the Palace were not available. There is only a short time when you can actually go in Buckingham Palace, in August and September, when the Queen is out of town. Snapped a couple pictures, and continued on our way. At this point in time we were on the look-out for a late lunch, which is pretty much how all our lunches went this trip. Popped into the gift shop at the Royal Mews for some royalty-themed paraphernalia, and just past that found Bag O Nails. It had food, which was good enough for us. We aimed for a light lunch as we were planning on dinner with a friend later. I had their fish finger and mayo sandwich, which is exactly what it sounds like, and just ok. The chips that came with it made up for the so-so sandwich.

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After eating we wanted to get on the Tube to make our way back to South Kensington to see the Palace there. Such a simple goal was made difficult by the fact that there was major construction going on around Victoria Station, and we had to take a rather circuitous route to get to an entrance. We made it though, passing Westminster Cathedral on the way. We got off at High Street Kensington, a short walk from Kensington Palace and Gardens. The Gardens were pretty in February, so I can only imagine how lush and beautiful they are in the spring and summer. Kensington Palace itself was a little anti-climatic. Really, it just looks like a huge brick house that lots of history just happened to occur inside. Queen Victoria grew up there, which is the main reason I was interested in it. William, Katherine, and baby George live there now, but we did not see them. After checking out ticket prices (£16) and calculating how much time we had before needed to get ready for dinner, we decided against actually touring the museum portion of Kensington, and settled for just peeking in the few rooms we could without actually paying anything.

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On our way back to the hotel we walked though Kensington Gardens and past the Albert Memorial, Queen Victoria’s tribute to her beloved husband, Prince Albert. I told Stephen when he died I would try to do something similar for him. We also swung into the Victoria and Albert Museum, home to a vast collection of decorative arts from around the world. It is huge, but also free, so we didn’t feel about walking quickly though just a couple exhibits. You could easily spend 2 days seeing everything in the V&A.

 

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Our plans for dinner were to meet up with my college roommate, Molly. She actually lives in Harrogate, which is very close to Leeds. Unfortunately, she was traveling when we were up there, but was back and house sitting for her parents in the south while we were in London. It was close enough that she was willing to come into London to meet us. Sadly, our plans were thwarted by the flooding affecting the south at the time, and she couldn’t make it. I already know we will be visiting England again (there is still so much to see!), so until next time, Molly! Stephen and I decided to continue our tour of London pubs and went to the Princess Louise, another place Rick Steves-approved. It is a Victorian-era pub with a bar downstairs and informal dining room upstairs. It looked much like someone’s living room, with a fireplace, couches and coffee tables, and smaller tables for eating at. Very cozy. The service there was excellent. There was one waitress manning the small bar and room. We told her we wanted to eat dinner, and she encouraged us to grab a seat at a coffee table until an actual table was ready for us. The food was good English comfort food, and we lingered for a bit, enjoying the local atmosphere and our last night in London.

 

UK and Berlin, part 3a

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The Grange Strathmore Hotel. The only indication it is a hotel are those brass plates on the columns with the name. South Kensington is very posh.

We arrived at the Grange Strathmore hotel around 6pm on Saturday, Feb. 15. I picked the hotel because it had a good location (South Kensington) and a neat back story – it used to be the Earl of Strathmore’s London home (maternal grandfather to the present Queen). We checked in and rested a bit before breaking out Rick Steve’s England guidebook to find a place to eat dinner. Did I mention that he became my best friend during this trip? Stephen would often ask me how I knew something and I would reply, “Oh, Rick told me.” It didn’t take long to pick out a Rick-recommended pub (The Angelsea Arms) that we thought was fairly close to where we were staying. However, it was dark when we arrived and we knew the general area where we were, but not exactly how to get to the pub. Since we hadn’t paid for internet yet we couldn’t just look it up online to make sure we knew where we were going. (First world problems). But that is what the hotel concierge is for, right? Well, kinda. We went downstairs and the concierge was not at his desk. We went to ask the front desk lady what the cross streets were, so we could orient ourselves on the map in the guidebook. She looked at us blankly, and indicated we should ask the concierge, who had just walked up. So we asked him what the cross streets were, and he also looked at us like he had no idea what we were talking about. It was fairly obvious that English was not his first language. I was trying to figure out a different way to phrase the question – does the term “cross street” not translate in the Queen’s English? Stephen asked him what the main streets were. Finally the concierge pulled out a map and marked the hotel on it for us, which was perfect and really all we needed.

It was only a 10 minute walk to the Angelsea Arms. It was obvious that is was a very popular neighborhood pub. It was very crowded and it seemed like we would never find a table. Luckily Rick had told me there was a dining room in the back corner, so we headed straight for that and were seated right away! Stephen had their fish and chips and I had some other grilled fish with couscous, I don’t really remember, but it was very good!

After dinner we just headed back to the hotel to relax and figure out our game plan for the next couple days.

As you can see, our hotel was quite close to the Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and Kensington Gardens.

Sunday morning we walked to the closest Tube station – Gloucester – to get a day travel pass and hopefully spot a place to get breakfast. There were a variety of restaurants across from the Tube station, including a Burger King. We did not eat at Burger King. But because the goal is always to prevent a hangry Tori (that goal was not met that afternoon) we stepped into The Patisserie for coffee and protein to fuel our morning, before navigating the Tube station. Now, in the US we are all about customer service. Speedy service, attentive service, the customer is always right. Not so in the UK. It is important to learn this before dining in the UK, or else you will be sitting around for a very long time waiting for your server to come check on you. Because they won’t. One of Stephen’s colleagues, originally from Liverpool, explained this to us, and it is a good thing he did, or we would have never eaten breakfast. There were a few waiters at The Patisserie, and it seemed that they would stand in the middle of the room, just observing, until you called them over. The only reason our waiter ever approached our table was because I caught his eye and gave him a little smile and nod. Stephen did not realize I had been doing this, and commented on the slow service later. I told him the only reason our waiter came over at all was because I caught his eye.

We bought two day passes and traveled by Tube the entire time we were in London. The rest of that morning and part of the afternoon was spent at the Tower of London, until I was starting to get VERY hangry (sorry Stephen). We practically ran into the first likely restaurant (The Minories) we saw for a late lunch around 2pm. It turned out to be a neat place, made up of brick tunnels tucked under a train bridge. Every so often the whole place would rumble with the sound of a train going overhead. And it wasn’t too expensive either!

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After lunch we made for the Churchill War Rooms, which were very neat. It is so incredible to think that those rooms were just sealed up as-is after the war, until the past decade or so. There was sooo much information, not just in the War Rooms, but in the included museum chronicling what seemed like every single year of Churchill’s life.

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The sun was setting as we emerged from the War Rooms. At 5:45 every Sunday evening there is an organ concert at Westminster Abbey. It was just starting by the time we got there, so we ended up having to sit on the floor. It didn’t matter though, as it was simply awe-inspiring to listen to the organ music soar through the vaults of the church. After the short concert, we were not that hungry yet (remember our very late lunch?) so we found another Rick-recommended pub (The Blackfriar) for a pre-dinner drink. For dinner we tried a Chinese place in Chinatown. I think it was our only disappointing meal the entire trip. It was just average. After eating Chinese food in China (I guess it’s just food there), nothing else can compare.

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We are not real big night-life people, so after dinner we once again headed back to our tiny London hotel room to rest and plan our last full in London.

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UK and Berlin, part 2

The morning after my little trip to York, Stephen and coworkers had some stuff to finish up before we left to head back to Manchester, and then on to the rest of our trip. Wonder of wonders, the sun was out! I took the camera and wandered around the golf course that is part of Hollins Hall country club. It was closed for the winter, so no danger of being hit by a golf ball.

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I had lunch at the hotel restaurant, and by the time I was done the guys had returned from work and we headed back to Manchester. I just took a nap during that car ride, because my head and stomach still didn’t agree with the driving.

We were all staying in the same hotel in Manchester that night (Thursday) before heading our separate ways. We were going on to Bath, Stephen’s manager was flying to Berlin, and other coworkers were either going home or on to Germany. For dinner we all went to an Indian restaurant that they had discovered on one of their previous trips, and now make a point to visit every time they travel through Manchester. A leisurely three hours after sitting down, we were all stuffed. The night was finished off with a “night cap” at the hotel bar. We did this every night traveling with the Siemens guys.

The next morning we took a taxi to Manchester Piccadilly train station and caught the train to Bath. We just stayed one night in Bath, at the Holiday Inn Express. Because Stephen is a Priority Club member, we got free wi-fi! Woot woot! Internet is generally NOT included at hotels in Europe. We spent the rainy afternoon in Bath seeing the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey.

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The next morning we checked out, left our luggage with the front desk (so nice that they let us do that) and took a bus down to Wells. Wells is a tiny English town with a beautiful Cathedral. That was the only reason I wanted to go there. In my architectural history textbook, there is a picture of the stairs leading to the Chapter House of Wells Cathedral. The stone steps are worn with the footfalls of hundreds of people over hundreds of years. Part of the steps branched off halfway up, leading to some place not visible from the angle of the picture. I loved that picture so much, I told myself that I would go there whenever I traveled to England. And so I did.

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After returning to Bath and picking up our luggage, we bought train tickets to London Paddington. We rode in a London taxi to our hotel for the next three nights, Grange Strathmore in South Kensington.

UK and Berlin, Part 1

Stephen had the opportunity to travel to Leeds, England, and Berlin, Germany, for work. I wasn’t about to let him have all the fun, and since Siemens would be paying for Stephen’s airfare and most of the hotel nights, it seemed like a good time to squeeze in a little Europe trip. First step, fly our personal house-and-pet-sitter in from Texas. It was cheaper to fly Meredith here to watch the dogs than to pay to board them for 2 weeks. And I’m sure they were much happier being at home with Auntie Meredith than cooped up in a kennel. Thanks Mere!

We flew from Charlotte to Philadelphia, meeting Stephen’s manager there before boarding our flight to Manchester. We left Philadelphia over an hour late (sick passenger had to be removed from flight, along with her luggage which had already been stowed in cargo) but still made it to Manchester right on time, thanks to a very strong tail wind. The flight was scheduled for 8 hours, we made it in 6. Of course, we left Philly at 9pm, and arrived in Manchester at 8:45am the next day, but we did it in 6 hours! I guess that is as close as we will get to time travel.

Stephen’s manager had rented a car, so we rode with him out to Leeds, about an hour and 15. It snowed as we were crossing over the hills (not sure if they can be called mountains…) By the time we arrived at our hotel, I was feeling a little car sick and glad for the chance to lie down. I think it was a combination of driving on the opposite side of the road, the jerky motion of the stick shift, and riding with someone I haven’t driven with before.

We stayed at Hollins Hall for two nights. The first full day we were in country Stephen had to work (that is why he was there, after all) so I ventured north to York. I took a taxi from the hotel to the Shipley train station, bought a ticket to York via Leeds, and off I went!

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After touring the York Minster, I emerged to not just rain, but a howling wind. I knew it was supposed to storm that afternoon, but had forgotten while immersed in the history of the Minster. I darted across the square into a bistro I had noticed earlier (their sign said, “What you could really use now is some homemade soup and crusty bread.” It worked for me.) I had some of that homemade soup and bread, and then walked back to the train station, the wind pushing at my back the entire way.

Our hotel, Hollins Hall, is part of a country club, which has an indoor pool, spa, steam room, and sauna. Since I had about an hour before Stephen got back from work, I decided to partake of the luxury of a heated indoor pool. And when I say heated, I mean heated. It was like bath water, and amazing. The relaxation factor was ruined a bit by the local kids having their swim lessons, but it is hard to beat sitting in an indoor hot tub while the rain and wind outside lash against the windows.

We had dinner at The White Hart with Stephen’s coworkers and the vendors he was there to meet with. I think they were all impressed I went all the way to York by myself. And made it back. One of the local’s commented that I must be rather adventurous. I suppose I could be called that, but I pointed out to him that it is easy to get around when you speak the language!

A China Christmas, Part 5: Beijing (2 of 2)

On New Year’s Eve we went to check out Olympic Park, site of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Highlights were the Bird’s Nest Stadium (currently playing host to a winter-wonderland) and the natatorium, which I refer to as the Bubble, but they like to call the Water Cube. We were unable to actually go inside any of the buildings. Meredith was beyond excited to be there, she LOVES the Olympics.

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Then it was on to the Lama Temple, the largest Buddhist temple outside of the city of Dali, I believe. It also has the largest statue carved from a single tree – a Buddha 26 meters tall carved from a single white sandalwood tree. The air was scented with incense burned by people offering prayers to Buddha.

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After the temple we headed back towards our hutong, stopping for a late lunch at one of the many restaurants there. After nap time, Mere and Dad wanted to head back out to find the night food market again. I was not keen to leave my warm bed unless I knew exactly where we were going. Since they were pretty sure they knew now how to get there, but not 100% sure, I passed on the excursion, as did Mom, Kelsey and Stephen. We four eventually rolled out of bed around 6pm to go to WuMart for the rest of our NYE supplies. While we were out, we ate dinner at…McDonalds! It was a nice break from all the Chinese food.  Meredith and dad eventually returned after finding the night food market. So everyone was happy. Let’s just say we had no problems polishing off that bottle of rum.

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After our little NYE party, we all slept in until around 9:30am. Breakfast was toast and instant coffee in the common room and then it was off to view Mao. We younger folks weren’t too interested in seeing a dead Chinese dictator’s body, but Mom and Dad thought it was important for the historical aspect. Well, in the end no one got to see him because his tomb was closed for the holiday. So, it was on to the silk market, very similar to an American mall, but the stores are much smaller and there are tons of them all selling the exact same thing. We ate lunch in the food court, but made the mistake of not asking for the price before hand. 6 noodle bowls were 220 kuai, which was a total rip-off. For comparison, the Beijing BBQ place we ate at and loved was only 98 kuai. Meredith is sure they gave us the “foreigner’s price” at the food court. While we were shopping, some girls ran by us, pushing through the crowds, their arms loaded with bags and purses. Looking around, we saw a couple police officers walking down the row of shops. It was surmised that the bags they were running off with were counterfeit and they were running from the cops! After shopping we decided to see if the Summer Palace was open. Apparently the only way to do that was to actually go there, and it was a 45 min subway ride away. Luckily it was open, or else there would have been a few cranky members in our group, including me. However, it was totally worth the 45 min subway ride. It is a large complex made up of multiple buildings built on and into the side and top of a mountain. Even though it was so cold, it was so beautiful. The view from the top was amazing, and the buildings themselves were fascinating.

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We made our way back to the hostel where Stephen and I hung out in the common room while everyone else napped and rested. Then we bundled up again and headed out into the ever-colder night. Our destination was the night food market that Meredith and dad had finally found the night before. Once there, you could purchase almost anything on a stick – spiders, snake, starfish, lizard, scorpions, squid, centipedes… We stuck with some yummy chicken, hot pear tea, and sugar-glazed strawberries. Those strawberries were one of the best things we ate all trip. By the time we had walked up and down the row of stalls once, the temperature had dropped from the high of 28 to around 20. It was steadily getting colder, so we practically ran home. The high the next day was 23, so I was glad we were home-bound that afternoon! We spent our last morning packing up, doing a tea tasting, and then making our way to the airport. We did have to take two cabs, but since this time we knew where we were going, it was ok!

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