Monthly Archives: September 2014

Italy Blog Numero Uno

(Ed. note: In a return to our roots, Terry has written this blog and Geoff is adding his comments and the photos. He is doing his part at 9:30 Sunday morning overlooking – well you can see for yourself what he is overlooking from our villa.) (Ed. note #2: BTW Faggots are the English version of Haggis)

Our view of Positano on the Amalfi Coast

Our view of Positano on the Amalfi Coast

This is our second trip to Italy and what can I say? I LOVE Italy! Just when we thought we were saturated with stunning views, we head somewhere new and are inundated with luscious landscapes. We are also playing a game with our travelling friends, Karen and Mal, about value–$1-$10–adjectives so had to throw in the alliterative description there. Sorry about that but I can’t promise there won’t be more to come. Italy is so beautiful!

Things I have noticed about Italy hotels: they scrimp on the amenities. Not one hotel or agritourisimo farm-stay has provided body lotion and all offer only a modicum of shampoo and soap. Except for the last night of seven did we have a hairdryer that blew more than a warm breeze. It was safe enough to dry a baby’s bottom but my arms were tired long before my hair was dry. Shower stalls also seem to be inordinately small, even in the newer places we stayed. Need a tissue? Forget it.

On our first trip, we rented three different private residences through VRBO. One was an old farmhouse in the Tuscan hills, one a renovated servants’ quarter near Venice and the third, an apartment in an ancient walled city, called Viterbo, near Rome. This trip we didn’t want to retrace our steps but returned to Venice and stayed two nights in a “real Italian hotel” which was an adventure: a three-storey walk-up in an old building with old fixtures but lots of character and a fantastic location, just down from San Marco. We missed George Clooney’s wedding by a week. Sorry, George. We would have loved to be there but alas, one can’t do everything.

Positano, Amalfi Coast

A ceiling with character – the one in our shower didn’t have beams – it had mold.

Amal and George

Amal and George

Our next stop was to an agro-tourism farm south of Florence in San Gimignano: great rooms, fantastic hosts and ridiculously good and cheap organic wine. We ended up staying three nights, eating their home-cooked meals and drinking copious quantities of birra, vino, red and white. Really, it was silly. I lost count of the bottles that were brought in the wink of an eye. We all heartily recommend Poderi Arcangelo! Our hostess, Tiziana was wonderful and we had nothing but fun there after spending our days in San G. and then Florence. (Ed. note: For those of you who enjoy wine and tours: Tiziana provides a great tour of one of their 4 cellars with great explanations followed by a plate of antipasto and enough wine “tasting” to put you at 1.6 – and leaves the bottles on the table for you to finish. Mamma Mia!)

One of the views - they were the same for 360º

One of the views – they were the same for 360º

This stay in Tuscany proved once again how amazing Italy is. It doesn’t matter where you go, you will find some fantastic site. Case in point, I looked to the east from Poderi Arcangelo and spotted a walled city that wasn’t San Gimignano! We headed up to Centraldo and had a quick look before heading off to the ‘real’ walled city of San Gimignano.

Terry atop the Bell Tower in San Gimignano - yes it was a "little" windy!

Terry atop the Bell Tower in San Gimignano – yes it was a “little” windy

In Florence, we explored the San Lorenzo markets for leather (I bought) and fabulous food in their central market, then had a quick look at the main sites, including the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi (from the outside only), and the David. You’ll be happy to know that David is still stunning.

Michelangelo's David

Michelangelo’s David

 

(Ed. note: Oh yes, before we left Poderi Arcangelo, we enjoyed a steak dinner. Tiziana had been talking about their top red which was called Gran Baccano and how it was best served with Steak Florentine. What is Steak Florentine? – See below)

Bifteck Florentina - 1 kilogram or 2.2 pounds of pure heaven

Bifteck Florentina – 1 kilogram or 2.2 pounds of pure heaven. (Ed. note: Eat your heart out Shawn)

We left Tuscany and drove to Umbria to explore another walled but additionally interesting city, Perugia. After 300 years under the thumbs of a group of cruel monks, the town’s people finally overthrew them and were still so angry, they sealed off the entire city and built another on top of it! It’s true and amazing, even if you can’t see much of the underground city at this point, although they are working on exposing more of it. The early city dates back to the 10th century; the new, to the 13th, in feudal times. They have what sounds to be a great chocolate festival, which we unfortunately missed by coming one week too early.

"Cover over the evil monks and build on top, I say!"

“Cover over the evil monks and build on top, I say!”

Who plays a Harpsichord  as a street instrument????

Who plays a Harpsichord as a street instrument????

Terry gets new glasses

Terry gets new Happy Birthday, Chocolate, Sun Glasses

Next stop, Todi, another walled city (see what I mean?) south of Perugia but smaller. We didn’t do much there because pretty much as soon as we went in to a place for lunch, the skies opened up and a deluge fell for the next hour. Fab pizza though! At this point, even Karen and Mal were starting to sense that if you’ve seen one walled city…

Having no plans for this leg of the trip, we studied the map and chose a place down the road, Rieti, also relatively unknown and also having a vast underground city. We booked ahead at the Park Hotel, a former summer home of an Italian Prince. The place sat vacant for 30 years from the time of his death to when it was reopened in 2000. It was somewhat creepy, I must say. It is definitely a period piece with the former ceiling paintings, furniture and draperies all intact. The lay out reminded us of the Biltmore home in North Carolina—one passes through various parlours and meeting areas before emerging into a corridor. The road in is totally innocuous and easily missed but the long drive takes you up a hill into a beautiful forested park, hence the hotel’s name. We didn’t explore much as it was foggy the next morning.

Villa Potenziani

Villa Potenziani

What self respecting villa wouldn't have a hand carved ceiling an matching chandelier in it's ballroom cum dining room?

What self respecting villa wouldn’t have a hand-carved ornate ceiling and matching chandelier in it’s ballroom cum dining room?

Is there anything more Italian than painted ceilings and chandeliers of dubious attractiveness?

Is there anything more Italian than chandeliers of dubious attractiveness and painted ceilings?

The next day, we drove to Pitigliano, a destination Karen chose because of a painting we saw in a Northampton museum! True story. On our way, we stopped at Civita di Bagnoregio, a place Geoff and I had seen before. It is—guess what—a walled city, BUT it stands alone on a narrow hill and is approached only on foot via a long, long narrow walkway (Mal says Grouse Grind). Very cool little spot which has recently seen a resurgence in tourism as evidenced by the large number of Asian people. Geoff launched into his usual photo-bomb mode and made them all laugh. (Ed. note: Civita di Bagnoregio goes back 2500 years to when the Etruscans built it)

Grouse Grind 2?

Grouse Grind #2? First you walk from here DOWN to the footbridge then you walk way UP to the top THEN you walk way DOWN and then UP to get back here. I’m exhausted just remembering!

Next stop, Pitigliano. We were driving through the town and wondering where the actual site would be when we rounded the corner and saw it. Amazing! The walls of the buildings came right down into the cliffs and appeared to have grown full blown from the rock. It was in terrific shape and fully inhabited. We wandered the narrow streets and alleyways and marveled at the houses stuffed into every nook and cranny. Not much fun to haul in groceries but it must be fun to live there.

The impetus for our visit - Roy Holding's painting.

The impetus for our visit – Roy Holding’s painting.

One comes around a corner and there it is - Pitigliano. How steep a drop is it?

One comes around a corner and there it is – Pitigliano. How steep a drop is it?

This steep.

This steep.

One of the multitude of little passageways in Pitigliano.

One of the multitude of little passageways in Pitigliano.

Next to a scooter, this would be the best way to get around Pitigliano.

Next to a scooter, this would be the best way to get around.

Our end destination for the day was Artena and another agri-tourisimo hotel, eventually found at the end of a narrow, long and quiet country road. But it was well worth the trip! Called La Rocca Bei Gigante, it was new, clean with friendly staff, and good food in the restaurant. What more do you want? We woke up in the morning to the sound of bells on the sheep in the field and a rooster crowing, signaling the beginning of a gorgeous sunny day. Wonderful.

They really do put one bell on the "head sheep". That is to either a) let them know where they are in the hills or b) let the other sheep know who they should follow or c) wake their guests for breakfast.

They really do put one bell on the “head sheep”. That is to either a) let the shepherd know where they are in the hills or b) let the other sheep know who they should follow or c) wake their guests for breakfast.

Today, after a long and somewhat harrowing drive, we arrived at our destination, just outside of Positano. What a place! We are all drained and have decided to do nothing for the next day or two save watch the golf on TV (Ed. note: Sadly they don’t have SkyTV so no golf, just relaxing) and take advantage of the local delivery service for groceries and pizza. Eventually, we’ll work up the steam to drive to Pompeii and Vesuvius, the island of Capri, and a few other places on our list. Meanwhile, we’ll enjoy our gorgeous views of the yachts and sunsets.

Mediterranean at Sunset

The Mediterranean at Sunset

Sunset on the Mediterranean

Sunset on the Mediterranean

The Shoe Blog

For a man with a supposed fetish for shoes and chocolate, what could possibly be more successful in fulfilling a fantasy?

AND they come in other colours and flavours as well! Can you say HEAVEN?

AND they come in other colours and flavours as well! Can you say HEAVEN?

 

 

 

 

 

Ever Wonder?

Between our canal cruise and leaving for Italy, we had an afternoon in London. If you have ever wondered why the world has become what it has, I give you four examples.

We first visited the Coulthard Gallery – known widely as the finest small gallery in the world.

Art has been replaced by...

Art has been replaced by…

Art?

Art?

As we walked the streets we saw a number of confusing sights.

Dignity has been replaced with...

Dignity has been replaced with…

 

a man standing on his head in a bucket.

a man standing on his head in a bucket. (Ed. note: And generally being ignored by the people around him)

 

The British Lion has been replaced

The British Lion has been usurped…

with a giant blue rooster in Trafalgar Square.

with a giant blue rooster in Trafalgar Square.

And finally

one of the most iconic tourist attractions ...

One of the most iconic London tourist attractions …

is replaced with the London Eye.

is replaced with the London Eye.

The Shoe Blog

Now, before you get all disappointed with the photo, please let me explain. This fits into the theme of this blog – Ever Wonder? We were all waiting to catch the ferry from “downtown Venice” to the mainland on our last day and I was sitting at a small cafe enjoying another wonderful cup of espresso when the woman in the middle of the photo walked by. In the olden days women would not be caught dead doing major make-up work outside of the bathroom/washroom/make-up room. Not this Venetian woman. She stopped – not once but twice, to pull out her mirror and apply whatever she applied and then striding off to work – it was 8:30am.

A Woman On a Venetian Street

Woman On a Venetian Street

 

Cruisin’ on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday Afternoon

First, let’s get the negative stuff all out in the open.

  1. We booked a five day canal cruise. We were told to pick up the boat at 3:30 and expect an hour or so of instruction. Then we had about a two hour sail until we should dock since you can’t sail after dark. This include 45 minutes though the 2018 metre Blisworth Tunnel, the third longest in the UK. Then we docked for the night. That constitutes Day One. Let’s skip to Day 5 when you have to be back at the marina by 9am and have all your stuff off by 9:30. So two of the 5 days are very, very short.
  2. Hard beds which are the width of a double and have a ledge on one side where one can easily break the orbital bone around one’s eye when one rolls over. (Ed. note: Okay, maybe only Geoff could do this and he didn’t really break it, just hit it.)
  3. There is nowhere to sit if you are outside.
  4. Some people have difficulty adjusting to their land legs once the trip is over.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff.

  1. Mal is a fantastic captain.
  2. Terry is a great sub-captain.
  3. Karen is a great meal organizer and “scullery maid”.
  4. Geoff is a great rope catcher.
  5. The quiet pace is incredibly relaxing.
  6. The opportunity to find a fantastic Indian meal or pub meal was readily available.
  7. The beer in the pubs is great
  8. The scenery of bucolic, rural England was very special
  9. Boat renters are very friendly and helpful as are the people walking the towpaths (Ed. note: Boat owners maybe not as friendly)
  10. Opening and closing the locks is a great physical workout.
  11. The wine in the pubs is great.
  12. The towpaths are great places to go for runs in the morning and walks in the afternoon.
  13. It is kind of like Venice – everyone should see/do it once in a lifetime.

A pictorial and captioned review of the cruise:

The narrow boat is narrow - but it is 65 feet long!

The narrow boat is narrow – but it is 65 feet long!

The Blisworth Tunnel

The entrance to the tunnel. In the olden days at this point the horses were unhooked from the barge and led overland to the other end of the tunnel. The workmen then laid on their backs and pushed their feet against the roof of the tunnel to "walk" their way to the other end. This also just one hour after you take possession of the boat and have a one hour lesson.

The entrance to the Blisworth Tunnel. In the olden days at this point the horses were unhooked from the barge and led overland to the other end of the tunnel. The workmen then laid on their backs and pushed their feet against the roof of the tunnel to “walk” their way to the other end. This also just one hour after you take possession of the boat and have a one hour lesson.

Roughly in the middle of the tunnel - the light is not a train coming at you, although we did have to pass another boat 200 metres from the end.

Roughly in the middle of the tunnel – the light is not a train coming at us, although we did have to pass another boat 200 metres from the end.

Mal is pleased as punch at the completion of his first major test as Captain - getting us through the tunnel!

Mal is pleased as punch at the completion of his first major test as Captain – getting us through the tunnel!

The Locks

The gates of the locks which have to be pushed open and closed.

The gates of the locks which have to be pushed open and closed to raise or lower the water.

Mal and the Audoin Gull are in the first lock, waiting for the level of the water to drop.

Mal and the Audoin Gull are in the first lock, waiting for the level of the water to drop.

So this is what you have to do. Push that HEAVY wooden beam 90º to open or close it. If you try even if there is one inch of water more on one side or the other, no luck. The surface of the water has to be absolutely equal.

So this is what you have to do. Push that HEAVY wooden beam 90º to open or close it. If you try and there is even  one inch of water more on one side or the other, no luck. The surface of the water has to be absolutely equal.

Terry navigates her first lock. You have to get the boat to just the right position in the lock. They are 70 feet long, which doesn't leave much room at either end.

Terry navigates her first lock. You have to get the boat to just the right position in the lock. They are 70 feet long, which doesn’t leave much room at either end.

Life on the Canal

A look of the view we had many, many times - water and narrowboats.

A look of the view we had many, many times – water and narrowboats.

We say many swans, cygnets and coot like birds. The "coots" would walk up the mooring ropes to get on the deck of the boat.

We say many swans, cygnets and coot like birds. The “coots” would walk up the mooring ropes to get on the deck of the boat.

This was the first aqueduct we passed over. On our way back, Terry tried her damnedest to run us over the edge. Thankfully it was a little too high.

This was the first aqueduct we passed over. On our way back, Terry tried her damnedest to run us over the edge. Thankfully it was a little too high.

The second aqueduct - over the highway.

The second aqueduct – over the highway.

Blisworth - one of about 6 villages we passed through

Blisworth – one of about 6 villages we passed through.

After all the pastoral settings, it was a little disconcerting to pass through Wolverton.

After all the pastoral settings, it was a little disconcerting to pass through Wolverton.

We don't know if anyone actually used this swing. All of the shower and sink water was emptied into the canal - but not the waste water. A good memory of days gone by, I suppose.

We don’t know if anyone actually used this swing. All of the shower and sink water was emptied into the canal – but not the waste water. A good memory of days gone by, I suppose.

There are a lot of bridges over the canal. On some you can see where the ropes of the tow horses have worn deep into the brick corners.

There are a lot of bridges over the canal. On some you can see where the ropes of the tow horses have worn deep into the brick corners.

Just another beautiful scene.

Just another beautiful scene.

It isn't all work. If you aren't opening or closing the locks, you do a lot of this. Geoff is taking this too casually, however. You really need to concentrate or the boat will veer one way or another. Mal doesn't seem too worried though and Terry and Karen are off walking the tow path.

It isn’t all work. If you aren’t opening or closing the locks, you do a lot of this. Geoff is taking this too casually, however. You really need to concentrate or the boat will veer one way or another. Mal doesn’t seem too worried though and Terry and Karen are off walking the tow path.

The Inns and Food

The inveterate trio at the "Sublime India Cuisine Restaurant" at Stoke Breurne. Terry maintains it is the best Indian food she has ever had.

The inveterate trio at the “Sublime India Cuisine Restaurant” at Stoke Breurne. Terry maintains it is the best Indian food she has ever had.

The menu at the New Inn

Terry had the minted lamb chops, Karen and Mal had the pie and Geoff enjoyed the faggots!

Terry had the minted lamb chops, Karen and Mal had the pie and Geoff enjoyed the faggots!

Hmmm. Faggots and mash. (Ed. note: When in an English pub, don't turn to the assembled patrons and ask "What are faggots?")

Hmmm. Faggots and mash. (Ed. note: When in an English pub, don’t turn to the assembled patrons and ask “What are faggots?”)

 

The Barley Mow Pub. I had fabulous fresh duck - can't remember what the others had.

The Barley Mow Pub. I had fabulous fresh duck.

One of the three times Mal had fish and chips.

One of the three times Mal had fish and chips.

The pubs up and down the canal are all advertising Christmas and to book now. Apparently all the suppliers want to know how many turkeys, hams, roasts etc. will be needed.

The pubs up and down the canal are all advertising Christmas and to book now. Apparently all the suppliers want to know how many turkeys, hams, roasts etc. will be needed.

Final meal on the canal - a variation on a theme - Mashed potatoes, bacon, onion rings, fried cabbage and liver!

Final meal on the canal at The Walnut Tree pub – a variation on a theme – Mashed potatoes, bacon, onion rings, fried cabbage and liver!

At the Walnut Tree on Thursday night there was a wedding. Always need a photo of the bride.

At the Walnut Tree on Thursday night there was a wedding. Always need a photo of the bride.

The Blisworth Church

The Blisworth Church

The Blisworth Church

The history of the church.

The timeline of the church.

Gracey's Epitaph

Gracey’s Epitaph

 Signs

Self explanatory - and oh so polite.

Self explanatory – and oh so polite.

In the horse tunnel Geoff cracked his head open. Luckily it was after dinner so he didn't feel anything.

In the horse tunnel Geoff cracked his head open. Luckily it was after dinner so he didn’t feel anything.

There are many weak bridges in Northamptonshire

There are many weak bridges in Northamptonshire

The English are fine mad. They fine or jail big time if you don't catch and release, if you fly tip (Ed. note: putting the garbage in the wrong place) and apparently if you don't close this gate.

The English are fine mad. They fine or jail big time if you don’t catch and release, if you fly tip (Ed. note: putting the garbage in the wrong place) and apparently if you don’t close this gate.

And we Come to the End

Mal and Karen get us underway on the last morning.

Mal and Karen get us underway on the last morning.

Still having a wonderful time.

Still having a wonderful time.

The Shoe Blog

Okay, so maybe I am jumping the gun a bit, but rural England doesn’t lend itself to a lot of good shoe photos. I took this just after we got into London after leaving the north.

Her foot is fairly close to a 60º angle.

Her foot is fairly close to a 60º angle.

Next time –  a day in London.

 

Aahh Moscow – Land of the Cigarette, Home of the Psychotic Customs Agents and Playland for Crazed Drivers

Well the title just about says it all but I’ll write a little more anyway.

We finally landed and get to customs – and we get to deal with two of the rudest, unfriendliest, miserable customs agent we have ever come across. However, to be fair, it actually started on the plane. You know how when you are landing in a foreign country they always give you the little forms to fill out? Well, apparently it isn’t always. No one in Aeroflot Business Class (you know, those who pay more and get off first?) got one, so when we arrived first at the customs wicket we were rudely told to go across the room and fill one out. Now, when entering China we get a two part form – entrance and exit so you only have to fill out one part at a time, if you wish, which is what we did. Oh no, Kemosabe says the second equally miserable agent – fill out both. By now, of course, any benefit of getting off first is long gone and we now have a whole whack of Chinese in front of us as the plebes have caught up. Sigh.

Then we wait for almost 20 minutes before our priority checked baggage comes tumbling down onto the carousel. (Ed. note: If we hadn’t had to fill out that form we would have had to wait almost 40 minutes for our priority checked baggage to come tumbling out.).

From there it was out to the taxi guy and his “Just wait five minutes” which turned into another 20 minutes before we encountered our first “Crazy Russian” (Ed. note: Who remembers Boney M – “Oh those crazy Russians” – great dancing song if you can dance and can dance for oh, an hour or so). In the guide book it recommends you take the subway from the airport to the centre of town since, depending on the traffic, it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 5 HOURS! I was skeptical so we took a cab – until I saw the traffic going the other way. It took us, driving at speeds up to 135 km/hr in traffic about 40 minutes to get downtown. For about 35 minutes of that time the traffic was 4 lanes solid gridlock going out of town. Just to reiterate, we were on a designated highway for only about 5 minutes of that time the rest was weaving through traffic. This guy was out to die I think – and for some reason seemed to be pissed off about having to take us.

Anyway by the time we checked in to the luxurious Golden Apple Boutique Hotel

The Luxurious Golden Apple Boutique Hotel provides you with your choice of EITHER a water glass or a wine glass.

The Luxurious Golden Apple Boutique Hotel provides you with your choice of EITHER a water glass or a wine glass.

The doors - the orange doors and the room numbers gave one a feeling of Lubayanka Prison.

The doors – the orange doors and the room numbers gave one a feeling of Lubayanka Prison.

Terry reclines in the giant Golden Apple in the lobby.

Terry reclines in the giant Golden Apple in the lobby.

and headed off to the Kremlin/Red Square it was almost 7:45. They close the gates to the square at 8:00 so the pictures leave a lot to be desired.

 

The contradiction of the old (The spires of the Kremlin) and the new (the car).

The contradiction of the old (the spires of the Kremlin) and the new (the car).

This is the "Outer Red Square" - the area just outside the Kremlin.

This is the “Outer Red Square” – the area just outside the Kremlin.

This is another very famous building in Moscow. Do you know which one?

This is another very famous building in Moscow. Do you know which one?

The Russians are all on a mission – I don’t know what it was but they all walk quickly as if they are going to a very important meeting – at 8:30 on a Friday night. I am going to suggest that most of them are also either a) highly stressed or b) they have just had sex since the number of smokers was mind boggling – they blow the Chinese out of the water.

Alice in Wonderland comes to Moscow. This woman was being filmed doing some kind of news report, I think.

Alice in Wonderland comes to Moscow. This woman was being filmed doing some kind of news report, I think.

Back to the drivers. We saw a guy in a black Hummer on the MAIN street of Moscow and he had to be going 100MPH – yes mph not km/hr. Since we couldn’t get into Red Square we wandered back to the luxurious Golden Apple Boutique Hotel where we ordered a club sandwich (Ed. note: at 9:10), a beer and a glass of wine – the drinks came well within the first 5 minutes. Terry went up to bed at 9:30. I ordered a second beer and waited for the sandwich – which finally arrived at 9:50. It was excellent, however. I guess it takes a long time to make the special.

We ordered a taxi to pick us up at 6am and were at the airport at – sit down now – 6:17 – remember the guy coming in – up to 135km/hr? That was this guy’s starting speed. Terry asked why I didn’t put on my seatbelt – “Because at this speed it won’t matter!”

After we check in, we go through customs again. There are about 10 windows to go through and 8 of them say that they are for Russian Citizens in both Russian AND English. The other two just say something in Russian and they turn out to be for non Russians but they don’t tell you that in English. If the two coming in to the country were borderline psychotic, these two were well over the line. Man we were glad to get out of there!

As we flew in to London the flight attendants – two of the best ones we have come across gave us an entry card and a Fast Track pass to avoid the long lineups. We get to the customs agent, chat about Canada, Canal Boating and how if he was tell us the nationality of the people he would like to throw out of Britain (Ed. note: “Not Canadians, mate”), he’d likely get sacked.

From there it was off to Terminal 5 to meet up with Karen and Mal. They landed right on time – about 3 hours after us. Unfortunately, the jetway at the gate they were supposed disembark from was broken – so they had to sit on the tarmac for a little over an hour waiting to get off. Anyway we are all here, safe and sound and looking forward to a great time on the canal boat.

Travelling is so relaxing, isn’t it.

The Shoe Blog

Friday night in downtown Moscow – why wouldn’t you want to traipse around the cobblestone streets in these.

Shoes

 

 

Mosgiel to Shanghai to Moscow

What is this all about? See below for the explanation...

What is this all about? See below for the explanation…

Last weekend we were in Shanghai, spending time with my cousin Bruce and his lovely wife, Nicki. Bruce is my cousin from New Zealand, youngest son of my mom’s elder sister, who married Bill and moved to NZ many years ago. Bruce, Nicki and Geoff and I have met just once before, in 2011 when I lived my life-long dream of visiting New Zealand, home to a favourite aunt and uncle. At that time, we met all four cousins, their spouses and kids and had a great time getting connected. We knew Bruce had been in and out of China working and we were really hoping there would be an opportunity to get together. Just our good luck that it happened to be on Moon Festival Holiday weekend. Like old friends, we picked up where we left off and began to show them around Shanghai.

Where to start? Well, after wandering the pedestrian mall, the knock-off market seems to be a natural. Geoff and Bruce bought electronics—Blue Tooth headphones, fake Bose speakers, etc. Nicki and I found some make-up brushes at bargain prices, then headed upstairs with the boys to Chen’s to buy glasses. After lots of fun trying on frames and bargaining, we emerged with new pairs for three of us while one of us bought yet another watch. Two and a half hours later we were done. Costa Coffee for some sustenance and then to People’s Square for the “Meet Market” where parents and grandparents advertise their single adult children as potential mates. Take note, Maddie! Your picture could be going up on a seedy umbrella in the park, along with those of hundreds of other young people.

We dropped off our purchases and headed to Pudong to see the sites. Up the ‘Bottle Opener” which in another year or so will be the second highest tower in Shanghai. Still, very impressive as the day was mostly clear. Strangely, we could see Pudong quite clearly but Shanghai was in shrouds. No matter, a stroll along the elevated walk-way brought us back to the subway and across the river.

You haven’t truly experienced Shanghai unless you’ve had a wild ride in a cab with an insane driver. Nicki and Bruce were sitting in the prime seats to view some of the made-in-China manoeuvers.   Even I was covering my eyes at some of the near misses he made while merging (we might call it ‘cutting off’). More than once, he had to slam on the brakes to void collisions—I could see a shiny new Buick impaled on our bumper. Of course it didn’t actually happen but oh, what could have! Horrifying, really.

Later, we had dinner at Tianzifang, in Lapis Thai. Are you drooling yet, Woohoo Shanghai ladies? Wonderful food and fun shopping in this quaint neighbourhood.

Nicki and Bruce enjoyed the food and wine at Lapis Thai

Nicki and Bruce enjoyed the food and wine at Lapis Thai

Back to the bar in Howard Johnson’s where we talked until the wee hours (at least 11:00 pm!).

I had never had Bowmore Darkest - it is amazing, Scott and David (although David you likely have had it.)

I had never had Bowmore Darkest – it is amazing, Scott and David (although David you likely have had it.)

The next day was spent mostly walking, We started off having breakfast at Starbucks in Yu Yuan Gardens. It was great fun. As you can see, we sat at the window. As usual, people could not stop themselves from first of all staring at us and then subtly trying to get our photos and finally they were almost lining up to take our photos. I couldn’t resist getting a copy for ourselves. But, just like the photo above, we felt just like monkeys in the cage at the zoo.

Three monkeys in front of the camera and one behind.

Three monkeys in front of the camera and one behind.

Then back to pick up glasses (Ed. note: Glad they are working out Nicki!! :-)) then up Nanjing Road and all the way to Xintandi. On the way, we had a few “China” experiences with neighbourhood plumbing off an alleyway (not recommended) and seeing the old juxtaposed to the new. Of course Xintandi epitomizes that aspect of China with its modern restaurants and mall.

We parted ways here, and we headed back to Honqiao and home in Jiaxing. They had a few more days in the city and were then going to Wuxi where Bruce would finish his work, then head home for the last time. It seemed like we were old friends, but old friends who agreed it was good to be part of the same family. Hopefully, we will meet again in NZ or maybe in Canada. It can only be good!

After a LOOOONNNNNGGGG three days at school, we were off to Shanghai for our flight to Moscow to start our European Experience (Ed. note: Thanks for the ride Tim – what time did you depart?). As usual, we got on the plane 25 minutes before departure time (Ed. note: whoops, scheduled departure time). We were sitting in business class – not nearly as expensive on “Aeroflot, the Russian Airline” – and were immediately offered champagne. (Ed. note: THUMP!) And then we sat there – we were (as usual) 1 hour and 20 minutes late departing.

Terry settles in

Terry settles in

We finally took off and soon after the first meal was delivered. The quality ranged from excellent – like this smoked fish and pate salad to less than palatable – my chicken was done to a level only one person I know would have enjoyed and you know who you are, Ria.

This was the best dish of the four meals we "enjoyed" on the flights.

This was the best dish of the four meals we “enjoyed” on the flights.

Terry made a new friend. He wandered up from the back somewhere and stood there watching Terry eat for about 15 minutes. Although she offered him a bite of everything, he very politely shook his head no each time.

He is a very cute little guy.

He is a very cute little guy.

The flight crew was typical of Air Canada on the first leg – not helpful or cheerful. The captain came back through at one point and Terry asked how to get the TV going. He just shook his head no and kept going.

The highllght (?) of the flight was this uhhhh, person (Ed. note: PIG)

I am being kind in the description of him!

I am being kind in the description of him!

First, he topped off this white outfit with white athletic socks and white loafers. Then he CONSERVATIVELY, had 10 shots of what was likely scotch or rye by the colour of it. At one point he had 2 within five minutes, At another point, he had one so he ordered one for his wife and when that one came he downed his and drank hers. He had the flight attendant bring his wife a second piece of black forest cake and ice cream (Ed. note: Dinner provided a choice of one or the other for dessert) and then half an hour later got another bowl of ice cream for her – and this was after getting them to bring her her dinner half an hour before dinner service even started! In the last hour he was “secretly” smoking an electronic cigarette (forbidden), playing on his ipad after being told specifically to turn it off and using his phone as we started the landing run. He played a movie on his ipad – but didn’t have earphones so just turned up the volume and ignored all the looks he got from the people around him. (Ed. note: Luckily we had our own headphones on so couldn’t hear it.)

Enough of getting to Moscow for now – next time we’ll discuss the Kremlin, driving in Moscow, the luxurious Golden Apple Boutique Hotel and “Where in the World are Karen and Mal?”

The Shoe Blog

From Pudong Airport

Built for something other than style - I just don't know what that something is.

Built for something other than style – I just don’t know what that something is.

Variations on Themes

Thursday Terry and Geoff take the big hot, humid walk over to China Mobile so that Terry can get a SIM card for her Telus phone and use it in China. After 15 minutes of gesturing, speaking slowly etc. we are told that yes this can be done, but they need her passport to do it. Now, they already know the number and the account but who cares. Still need the passport.

So Friday, Geoff is back with the passports – luckily he had both since it turned out that somehow her China account is under his name and having Terry’s passport would have been useless. Then it was off to get train tickets for our trip to Shanghai for the weekend. Then it was off to RTMart to pick up two bottles of wine and two big jugs of orange juice and back home. Sadly, when getting off the elevator Geoff realizes that he has lost his house key. (Luckily our neighbours have a key so he was able to drop off the heavy package). After retracing all his steps – no key. So off to school, get Terry’s and then to get a duplicate – one that doesn’t work when he gets home. Discovers his original key in a different pocket.

Friday  night we were off to two of the new teachers for dinner. Now all week Geoff was unsuccessful in getting Terry a bottle of white wine which was palatable. So one of those two bottles he packed home was a delectable $35.00 sauvignon blanc. When we went to Dani and Becky’s for dinner the bottle managed to make the bottom of the Starbucks’ bag wet enough from condensation that it fell through the bag and shattered. Aaaahhhhh… So looking forward to Saturday.

Saturday Mr. Zhao offered to take us out to the country to see a traditional Chinese village. Apparently it is a model village – supported financially by the government to show how people can live harmoniously. There are 70 families who live there – and it is all residential, no stores or shops other than 1 restaurant. Just before we got there the restaurant had served 100 people on a tour. We had tea there before wandering around a rather nondescript but harmonious, village.

The restaurant kitchen with the traditional Chinese stove.

The restaurant kitchen with the traditional Chinese stove.

Prep and Clean-up Areas

Prep and Clean-up Areas

Momma works at the restaurant doing the dishes.

Momma works at the restaurant doing the dishes. She is likely around 73 – 75.

The stacks of wood throughout the village all enjoy thatched roofs.

The stacks of wood are located throughout the village, and are used for heating and cooking. They all enjoy protective thatched roofs.

Then it was off to Walmart to buy the necessary foodstuffs for a BBQ. Mr. Zhao had arranged for us to have a BBQ with one of our students and his parents. Turns out that Johnny’s Mom is a deputy of some sort in the government and has some influence in the district.When we get to Walmart:

  • Mr. Zhao – “What should we buy?”
  • Geoff  – “How about steaks?”
  • Mr. Zhao – “Okay – what else?”
  • Geoff – “Well, what do you think?”
  • Mr Zhao – “I don’t know – I have never done this before.”

OMG – we wind up buying 4 “filet mignons” (Ed. note: See photo”), half a dozen skewers of mystery meat, okra, purple potatoes, beer, water and away we go. Now Terry is wondering what is going to happen when we get to the BBQ place – are there plates? knives and forks? BBQ Tools? chairs? tables? After driving for 20 minutes we get to some kind of park or orchard or something with lots of trees, a lake to go fishing in and lots of overgrown, unkempt, tall grass. There is also some kind of restaurant there so they supply chopsicks, plates and glasses AND they will serve you additional food, plus they get the BBQ started for you – in the back – and then carry it around to the front so you can cook. (Ed. note: See photo). After a little discussion they managed to find a butcher knife with a 10″ blade so that we could slice up the meat once it was cooked as well as the okra and the potatoes so they wouldn’t take forever to cook on the BBQ. (Ed. note: See photo. Guess who did the cooking). The restaurant supplies us with some vegetables, some mushrooms and – get this – a beef and potato dish – go figurre. At Walmart, Johnny’s mom had bought 4 beer and I figured that wasn’t going to be enough so I threw in 2 more (Ed. note: All warm, of course). Guess what – Johnny’s dad is driving – no beer; Johnny’s mom doesn’t drink – no beer; George is driving – no beer; Johnny is only 16 – no beer;  Terry isn’t terribly hot – 1 beer; what was I to do? All in all, though, it was a very pleasant, if unusual evening – I mean we were the entertainment for all the other diners who came to eat at the restaurant.

We had a lovely view of the stagnant pond from our table. Geez, could this be where the millions of mosquitos came from?

We had a lovely view of the stagnant pond from our table. Geez, could this be where the millions of mosquitos came from?

4 Filet Mignon - 1/2" think and 5" in diameter. The BBQ is about 4 feet long and 8 inches wide. No way to regulate the heat, though.

4 Filet Mignon – Chinese style – 1/2″ thick and 5″ in diameter. The BBQ is a 4 foot long and 8 inch wide trough on a stand – large hibachi. No way to regulate the heat, though. They carried the trough and the stand separately. Martha the dog was hopeful.

The Shoe Blog

It is hard to get photos of t-shirts, so I don’t have photos but here are two sayings I have seen recently:

  1. We All Have to Work Together or We Will Make It (Ed. note: See #2)
  2. The Only Sin is Stupidity (Ed. note: See #1)

Strictly speaking this is not a shoe blog, but rather “This is What I Wear to Work to Unload 80 – 100 Cartons From a Truck” Blog

AND you can't even see the huge movie star sun glasses - maybe she didn't want to be recognized...

AND you can’t even see the huge movie star sun glasses – maybe she didn’t want to be recognized …

 

First Week–Teachers work in China!

  1. Xuizhou is one of four districts in greater Jiaxing. We live one block away but directly behind the massive government complex that seats the local government offices and has extensive meeting rooms, an auditorium and, as I saw for the first time, food services for government employees.

About 65 people attended the meeting, which as near as I could tell is like our Chamber of Commerce. The room was relatively small and the seating arrangement allowed all to sit facing one another in a square formation, with two additional rows on two sides. First, I counted the microphones to get a sense of how many would be speaking but was thrown off as they were passed along to the next person. Then I counted the women in attendance: 10, including me.

The district leader spoke last, which is how it generally works in China. In my school meetings with the Chinese Principal, he first listens to all my agenda items, and only then does he comment and open his own agenda. So, we first hear from about 10 reps from different groups. Mr. Zhao translated for me but I managed to remember 6 of these:

1. the ‘No-party’ group–like independents at home?
2. young people–the government gives them grants to get them started in business
3. Chinese ex-pat education parents–people who have sent their kids overseas for education, reporting out on trends, e.g. are they returning to China to live and work? what level of education have the reached? Economic impact?
4. Taiwanese factory owners–not sure but I’m guessing they reported on numbers of business connections locally exist between the two countries. I was curious about this (since Taiwan is blacked out on atlases). Mr. Zhao told me that China wants to invite them to rejoin the country. Hmmmm.
5. private companies (versus government operations)
6. religious groups–a Buddhist monk and a “Jesus man”. Mr. Zhao told me that not many people in China have religion but it seems that there is a growing need and that the government is willing. I asked about reports in Canadian papers that in our province of Zhejiang, they have recently knocked down several Catholic churches and what that meant but he didn’t know about that. Would they be saving the relic of a Catholic Church in downtown Jaixing? The government will do its very best to preserve it as part of a large square.

Finally, the chairman spoke and laid out the goals of this district:

1. grow the economy
2. improve the lives of the common people
3. clean the water (local waterways are heavily polluted)
4. improve education (reading levels) and health care
5. reform policy and working style of government

These goals are absolutely in line with the government of China, as one might expect. Once the meeting portion was over, we were reminded that in the past, we would have had lunch with alcoholic drinks but as the head government has stipulated, there is to be no more alcohol or large parties on the gov’t ticket. Don’t kill the messenger! Off we went to a large lunch with far too much food and a Chinese soft drink or milk with which to toast everyone several times. For our time, each of us was given a certificate for moon cakes at Meilijia, a local chain bakery.

With the first week down, we are looking forward to the Mid-Autumn weekend, a long weekend without having to make up any time. Saturday, Mr. Zhao is going to take us for a drive into the country where we will have a BBQ in an old (traditional) town. (Ed. note: First we must go to Walmart to buy something to take to the BBQ.)  Sunday, we are going into Shanghai to meet my cousin Bruce and his wife, Nikki who are up from New Zealand for Bruce’s work. Can’t wait to take them to Tianzifang where we will hit Lapis Thai for a fabulous meal, then overnight and home again in the afternoon.

(Ed. notes: Some things I have seen this week:

  • We have shown you photos of people on scooters and motorcycles with a shirt on backwards to protect their clothing from whatever is in the air. Yesterday I saw a woman driving a new Lexus with all of the windows up – but with a shirt on backwards to protect herself from who knows what.
  • Last night we were going out to dinner and had the audacity to be halfway across the street in the middle of a crosswalk when another Lexus came barrelling down the street and honked at us to get out of the way so that he could make a left turn through our crosswalk – and he had a 6 or 7 year old kid fully reclined in his lap with feet toward the pedals. I was some pissed off .
  • Starbucks’ baristas are very glad to have me back at the office. They missed my happy smile although a number of them have felt compelled to tell me that I am fat.)

The Shoe Blog

I have made it a practice over the history of The Shoe Blog NOT to use photos of shoes from stores, on the premise that just because they were created did not mean anyone had ever bought a pair. However, a good friend – Dave Mickie – sent this photo to me and how could I not include them.

No caption - they speak for themselves!

No caption – they speak for themselves! (Look closely as I missed it at first)