Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 20, 2010

Today I went on the bumpiest car ride of my life. We drove about 3 hours outside of Dali to the Shi Boa national park to check out a temple and some wild monkeys. The best part of the experience was the ride there and back....On the way there we passed this morning market. Women in traditional Bai dress selling chickens, rice, corn, etc. The commotion with the market, the traffic and the people was just nuts.
On the way back we were poised to take pictures of the market and the commotion and poof there was nothing! Just as fast paced as the rest of the country - it's there and then it's gone.
September 19, 2010

What a magical day! We woke up early to a big (free!) breakfast at the hotel in Kunming and then met the driver for the five hour drive to Dali. Right away you could see the difference between Xi'an, Pingyao and the Yunnan province. There were rolling green hills and rice fields; the sky was a perfect blue with just a few white puffy clouds.
After we checked into the Laughing Lotus and made a much needed trip to the supermarket to pick up the stinkiest smelling bug spray ever and a picnic lunch of supermarket snacks. We strolled through the East end of town and kept walking to the three pagodas and the Chong Shen monastery.
We really thought it was just the pagodas, little did we know there was a massive monastery complex behind them! Mom had dropped her ticket and as we were distracted looking for it, we managed to miss the giant diorama of the site that explained we were going to be walking half way up the mountain through temples.
Each temple was more magical that the last, with giant statues of Buddha, chanting monks, and pipped in relaxing music. I thought the place was closing at 5 so we were rushing to head up the hill through the temples. We finally got to the lake view pavilion and what a sight! Beautiful. As it was a bit after five, it was clear the place wasn't closing down any time soon. So we really took our time in getting back. It was 6:30 before we made it out of the place and strolled back into town for a pizza dinner!
September 18, 2010

The hottest overnight train ride ever!! Ok so I didn't take this particular picture, but I did take loads of other ones this day. We caught the overnight train to Xi'an, about a 10 hour journey on the hottest train ever. The train was split with mostly tourists from Europe and Chinese. Our particular six bunk section was two other Americans from Boston and two travelers from the Netherlands. I think you're forced to make conversation and friends in such tight quarters.
After the really hot night we spent a really hot day in Xi'an. Gary, our tour guide, and our driver "Mr. Rich" drove us to the walls for quick bike ride, out to the terra cotta warriors, the Banpo museum, then back to the Big Wild Goose pagoda, and finally the Muslim quarter.
Most people travel to Xi'an only to see the warriors, I think there is loads more to see. I could easily go back and take in some of the temples in the surrounding area!
September 17, 2010

Our first day of temples in China, why didn't we start with these!? With the brightly colored ceramic tile roofs in green, yellow and teal, they are so much more colorful than the drab gray of the rest of Pingyao. For a walled city they sure could fit in some large temple complexes! We were able to cram in the Temple of the City God and the Confucian Temple (because they were across the street from each other) in the morning before a lunch at our now favorite, Tai Yuan Kui, on South street.
After lunch we headed back to our hotel to meet our driver to take us to the Wang Family Compound which is a massive complex of courtyard houses. It's almost like a little village it's so large. And the whole thing is set on a hill so not only is there a lot of walking, but its up hill walking!! Another blazing hot day in China had us both pooped for the ride home! I'm sure we'll get an excellent night of sleep on our overnight train to Xi'an.....riiiight.
September 16, 2010

Our first full day in China. We explored the city walls and a few of the historical banks and homes in Pingyao. Even though we were exhausted after such a big day we still managed to get out and see the lights at night. Even more decorations than normal in advance of the big moon festival the next week.
September 15, 2010

Today was probably the biggest travel day of the trip. We landed in China just 13 hours after we took off, but with the time change it went from mid-day Tuesday to Wednesday afternoon. We left straight from the airport to the Beijing West (BeijingXi) train station.

The place is massive! I don't know if we can adequately describe the chaos. Fortunately the departures board was in both Chinese and English. We found our train quickly and just had to wait a bit before it boarded and took off.
We perused the shopping and eating options which included both McDonalds and KFC as well as a few convenience type stores before heading into our waiting area with two trains worth of people. Though there was plenty of seating, all the chairs were taken. It was loud and warm wait for our train to board which happened only 20 minutes before departure - 16 cars worth of people all rushing for the entrance at once!
A great train trip on the fast train to Taiyuan and then an hour and a half car ride to Pingyao and we were at the Yide hotel at 11:30 at night!
September 14, 2010

View from the top of the world:
Today we caught our flight to Beijing. The very reasonable mid-day departure led to light outside the window for nearly the entire trip. This wasn't too bad as we had a chance to take in the North Pole scenery as we traveled. The downside was that it was very difficult to sleep - even with the help of Ambien!

Monday, September 27, 2010

September 13, 2010

Off to adventure land! Well, DC at any rate. The first leg in the big trip to China is a short (relatively) flight to DC. I thought the sunset out the window had some really nice Monet qualities to it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

September 12, 2010

Are we getting tired of Zoe pictures yet? I hope not. A bit better today after 24 hours of stepped up steroids. I hope my peanut does OK with the nanny while I'm gone :(

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September 11, 2010

Tough day! After a good start and workout, I came home to discover that the Zoester had a setback in the back recovery department. Off to the see the vet for a Saturday morning emergency appointment! Thankfully we were able to get in. Worryingly Zoe has developed a weakness on her right side. This is new because she generally shows a limp on her left side when she injures her back. The one bright spot is that she doesn't seem to be in much pain.

I'm treating her with her medication and me with some Home Slice pizza....and a rice krispie treat.

September 10, 2010

More in the series of dog photos.....this time Ginger is the victim. We spent Friday night chillaxing on the sofa and catching up on the DVR.
September 9, 2010

Sometimes I run out of thins to take pictures of.... so when that happens I take pictures of my dogs. I was trying to get on Zoƫ's level to take a picture. Unfortunately she views that as an invitation to come over and lick my face. Ugh. Breath of death! But a cute photo of her.
September 8, 2010

Semi annual dentist appointment today. I can never seem to find my way to the stairs on the way in, but I always use them when I leave. Right before you exit there is a candy machine. I think it's just the funniest thing that I'm walking out of the dentist with shiny clean teeth and there's candy at the door.
September 7, 2010

Out of seemingly nowhere tropical storm Hermine formed in the Western gulf and raced up to Texas. We had heaps of rain for about a 24 hour period - we sure did need it! About 7" fell at my house in south Austin, but Cedar Park bore the brunt with over 12"!
The ride home on Tuesday was a bit of an adventure on 360, but all in all, not too bad.
September 6, 2010

Labor Day lunch with Jack (oh and the rest of the CP Howards too). To celebrate the holiday we were all too tired to grill out so we decided on Chuy's for a lunch meet instead. While we waited for our food, Jack indulged in one of his favorite restaurant pasttimes - working mazes made by Daddy.

Monday, September 6, 2010

September 5, 2010

Yesterday as I flew home we skirted over the southern tip of Greenland. It was beautiful to see the ice flows headed to the sea! I could even see the trails of a few boats making their way inland - what a clear day.
September 4, 2010

Highland Games! We couldn't turn down the opportunity to check out the annual Braemar Gathering in Braemar, Scotland. The heather was in full bloom as we drove the 2 hours to Braemar to check out the games.
Tug of war with Queen's box in the background
The traditional caber tossing
11 pipers piping! Well, 11 piping bands that is! Really awesome sound in person.
We took in the games for about 5 hours including the dancing, running races, piping, tug of war, and "heavy events": caber tossing, stone throwing, throwing a stone over a bar, and hammer throwing.
On the way back to Aberdeen, we paused for a picture of the heather near Balmoral, the queen's summer home. Beautiful!
After passing a sign that said "Welcome to the Highlands" I was pretty annoyed that we kept seeing only regular cows and no Highland Coos. But finally on the way back, we saw some! Here they are, they didn't want to get near me at all....

Here's a video of the pipers piping - impressive!
video
September 3, 2010

Work, work, a castle and dinner with friends.

Meetings for today fell through so we "worked from home" in the hotel room. That gave us a bit of time to pop out in the the afternoon before all the castles closed to take one in. We toured Drum castle but didn't make it to Crathes Castle before it closed for the evening.
Luckily the castle gardens are open until sunset so we got to tour those. Famous for the Yew hedges, these were some really cool gardens!
Then back to the hotel to meet Heather and Harry for dinner at the Old School House pub. A few drinks on the town afterwards were the best way to end the week!
September 2, 2010

Fish and chips!
You know it's not on my must do list for the UK but it's on Jeremy's! So we stopped at Ma Cameron's for a massive piece of fish - I had a salad :)
September 1, 2010

Happy birthday to me! I celebrated by working :) After a full day we did dinner at one of my favorite Aberdeen spots - the Jewel in the Crown Indian restaurant. Of course you can't go anywhere in Aberdeen without running into someone you know - so we bumped into Harry & Heather. They helped the celebration by sending over a bottle of bubbly - my favorite! Here's the cork sitting in our after dinner mints and candy coated anise seeds - yum!

Friday, September 3, 2010

August 31, 2010

I can't *imagine* why Kevin thought this sign was so funny. But after seeing it in traffic to our hotel, we had to go out looking for it later that night. It is a bit of an odd combination.
August 30, 2010

Did you know that Monday was a holiday in Great Britain? Well for most of it - not Scotland. But it meant that we had the SLOWEST transfer through London ever. It took every bit of two hours to get through customs and onto our next flight at Heathrow which didn't leave us any time to change into work clothes (as we were headed straight into meetings).

This left me changing clothes in the ladies bathroom at the Aberdeen airport. I'd just gotten set and was going to shove everything back into my bag when the power went out. I'm talking no emergency lights, no windows pit of darkness. When was the last time you repacked your bag by the light of your iphone? It can be done.

An important tip for followers. Electronically sensored sinks don't pour out water when there's no power. You'll likely realize this after you've put soap on your hands. But that's OK because you can dry off the soap with the use of a paper towel.....if you could find such a thing in a bathroom full of electronic hand dryers. So I recommend toilet paper and a stumble toward the exit.
We're all queuing here because the electronic door that opens so the baggage handlers can put luggage on the electronic belt wouldn't open. Now there is an ACTUAL door located NEXT to the luggage belt door (see the light coming in?). It took the airport authorities 30 minutes before they determined they could simply carry the baggage in.
August 29, 2010

Oh cruel Amazon!! How dare you deliver this big box BEFORE my birthday! Now should I open it or not?? I mean I'll be GONE on my real birthday so if I don't open it early, I'll have to open it late.
I was going to open it.....but then 11:30 on Sunday came way to fast and I didn't think it was right to stab into it when I'm running out the door to the airport! Guess it will be there when I get home :)
August 28, 2010

Oh delicious food, how I love you.
A great cooking class today with the Thetas at Whole Foods. Jay, our chef instructor was super nice and so helpful. We had a great time cooking in his kitchen! We enjoyed a menu of

Goat Cheese Galette with Spring Herb Salad
Grilled Flank Steak with Avocado Chimichurri
Roasted Poblano Potato Salad
Strawberry Shortcake with Grilled Pound Cake

Look for some of these coming to a party at my house soon!!
August 27, 2010

Zoe on the mend. After a week of treatments, the Zoester is on the mend again. Hopefully she doesn't get too jumpy again any time in the future! As much as we love seeing Sandra, we like it when Zoe is health even more :)

August 26, 2010

This evening I indulged in one of my favorite summer time pastimes: night mowing. It's what happens when you *think* you have enough time to finish the lawn before the sunsets and then realize when you are so close to being done that it ain't gonna happen. It's what it looked like when I finished.
Of course you really can't judge it until you see it in the daylight tomorrow!