Friday, 23 April 2010

Deutschland. Tag 2

The second day in Berlin took me to West Berlin, started the day walking from Potzdam Platz through Tiergarten to the presidential palace called Schloss Bellevue, from there to the victory column Siegelssaule, continued the walk till I got to a subway station, discovered on my way that Berlin has a branch of Hooters :) then rode my way to Charlottenburg palace and gardens.

It's beautiful and def. great efforts have been made to restore it after the war, this used to be the summer house of the first Prussian queen Sophie Charlotte, who was basically living there full time in the old palace, later on a new wing was added by her grandson (I think) as well as an orangerie making the place huge! The gardens are very nice as well, the first in Prussia to be designed in Baroque style. These gardens contained a tea house, which now acts as a porcelain museum, and a mausoleum for a number of the royal family members.

I thought this would be the "sight of the day" until I got to Keiser Wilhelm's Gedachtniskirche, a beautiful church (although pretty small) that's been bombarded in the 2nd world war, the ruins are still standing and a huge modern church is built around it, I love churches and this one was really nice with a pretty dramatic story to tell.

Finished my west Berlin itinerary and took the subway back to the east, specifically to the East side gallery which is really just the old Berlin wall left for artists to paint on it, seems as well that paintings remain for a period of time then new painters get the space, a looooooooong walk took me to alexander platz, where I sat down, took some photos of the TV tower, red city hall and fountain, then just got myself a Mac and went to relax my feet in my hotel room :) (Written on 26Sep09)

Deutschland. Tag 1

First day was spent in Eastern Berlin (where my hotel is as well), had a long itinerary that I hardly covered half of, before my camera's battery died, my feet almost dies & my stomach's dinosaurs started their symphony.
Managed to do the Reichstag, which is the "parliament house" of Germany, nice view of Berlin from the top :) Then Berlin's most famous Branderburger Tor, the gate that was originallt part of the wall has become the symbol of Berlin (together with the bear :)). From there a walk down Unter Den Lined street and Friedrich strasse, where check point Charlie is located, a lot of reading on the walls, didn't read all but what I have read and the photos are enough to really make me feel how bad it was with two Germanies and separating walls.

Started feeling really tired and hungry there, but still walked around and got to Gendarmenmarkt, took a look at the concert house and the two almost identical cathedrals standing on both sides of it, the German Deutscher Dom to the left and the French Franzosischer Dom on the right, the three buildings looking pretty grand together, you can get inside the German cathedral which contains pretty much the full German history, but beware! Everything is only in German! Grab that free audio guide at the entrance. You can also enter the French cathedral which has a Ballustrade open from where you can get a great view of Berlin as well.

Up there my camera died, and I decided to call it a day, now just dinner, tea, and general relaxation :) (written on 25sep2009)

Deutschland. Tag 0

Out on the road again, more new places, new faces, etc... This time it's Berlin, never thought I'll actually visit Germany. Was never on my list really. What's so interesting about Germany? Nothing much.

Now I'm spending 3 days there, and until this moment i have no clue what i want to see but where the wall separating east and west Berlin once stood. Internet just left me more confused, it's just s***-loads to see over there, I guess I'll trust the professionals and go with the 3 day tour plan I found on visitberlin.de.

So far I'm sitting onboard a Lauda Air plane taking me from Sharm el Sheikh to Vienna, first leg on my way, and can't stop wondering about the Egyptian fly i just shooed away that is going to Austria right now, without a visa! You think it'll follow me to Berlin? :D

See you when i get there. (written on 24Sep09)

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

I've been to China!!!...to BeiJing

YEAAAHH!!! I'm in BeiJing!
was how i felt although i arrived very late, had like 2 hours of sleep only and couldn't keep the hotel room till the evening to have a shower before i leave :(

The start was not very encouraging, taking into account the lack of a proper map, and the limited english of the average chinese.

Stop1 was the Summer palace, which we reached after a detour thanks to the guy that took us to the wrong place, but we got there eventually and as a lot of Imperial things in China the place was huge, we probably didn't cover half of it, it was very nice though, it's these palaces and pagodas built around and on a lake, some small islands connected with bridges etc... It was really sweet, romantic even, all in lush green, and colorful architecture. Had to cut the visit though if we had any plans to get to the next destination.

Since stop2 was the Great wall at MuTianYu. That was a good 40 minute drive out of the city, and it IS amazing, the moment it comes into view, your heart skips a beat, on the top of a green beautiful mountain, this section is really special, it's also one of the most preserved ones, with the further advantages of less people on it and no hand rails and stuff, looks more ancient and has more space for photographs that way :) (without strangers in your background). You go up and down on a cable car, but there's a more fun down option, a little kart down a half tube, don't remember what they called it but it was loads of fun! :D

A warning though, this thing is very tiring, steps up and down all over the walls, nobody followed the architectural rules for staircase building there, it's very steep and the way back up is not easy...But still, this was the highlight of my trip to China, I've seen the Great wall, one more addition to my 7 wonders of the world list :) (one of them).

Back into the city stop3 was TianAnMan square and the forbidden city. I have to say that BeiJing seriously exceeded my expectations, although China is considered a 3rd world country, it's heading straight to the top, the city is clean, organized, well connected, easy to get around and really beautiful and welcoming. Now the Forbidden city used to be where the Emperor stayed, it has different main buildings or halls, each has a specific purpose at a specific time, the place is again very big, with a lot of rooms around those main halls, and the main palace. The chinese did a great job preserving and restoring the place, it looks like new. But to my opinion, that's exactly what takes away from the glory of the place, i didn't feel the history, it was like something built yesterday.

Stop4 was for food, extremely tired and pretty hungry, we had to stop for a good meal, it was about time, after which i headed to the Temple of Heaven but i reached too late and didn't make it into it, took a couple of photos from the outside, walked in the gardens but that was it.

And that was also the end of my day in BeiJing, i managed to get a shower after all in the hotel's gym :) Then all fresh and happy headed for the airport to fly home...sweet home :)

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

I've been to China!!!...to Xi'An

This should have been posted about 5 months ago, but me and constant blogging don't come together as you've probably noticed by now :) But here's what i wrote on the spot, there...at the time :)

"Phew!!! That was close!! Just made it to Haikou airport where my journey in China starts. After an “interesting” crew change day with a change in plans followed by a lot of changes in the schedule of the new plan, we finally got off the boat in SanYa, the only problem was … It was too late! Too late for me to catch the bus that’ll take me to Haikou because if I did, I would have never caught the plane.

But thanks to a great shore representative and a great agent, and thanks to the drivers I got, I was driven in a car to Haikou airport and arrived there quite ahead of what I was expecting, and here I am sitting by the gate writing this waiting for my plane to Xian to start boarding. I’m so looking forward to see those warriors …


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Landed in Xian with no clue how to get to my hotel, but that turned out to be a very easy thing, took 2 walks down the street to find the building but all was good, and the hotel turned out to be nice as well.

Next day my tour began at 8 in the morning, and I saw them! The warriors! Cool! Can’t stop thinking how much work that must have been and can’t stop thanking God I wasn’t Chinese living in the Qin dynasty (or the Ming dynasty for that matter, who wants to build a great wall?!) They’re very impressive, all different faces, and there’s loads of them! The site consists of 3 pits, basically building erected on top of the excavation sites. Pit 1 contains the infantry soldiers, pit 2 has the cavalry and archers, and pit 3 contains the headquarters, you can notice the difference in clothes, armoring, and even age as the rank of the person grows. The rest of the museum is a hall containing two bronze chariots with decorations and details of gold and silver, these were made in half real size (unlike the warriors who are in real life size), the 2 are different, it is believed that the first was protecting the second, it’s a standing chariot with loads if built-in weapons, the most impressive of them is the umbrella (yes, you got that right!), it has 2 locking mechanisms, if you open one, you can tilt it around to protect yourself from the sun but if you open both, you can take it out and use it as a spear!"


At this point something stopped me writing about the rest of the day, i can't remember what it was, but the rest follows nevertheless...

The visit included a lot of walking and lasting till noon was therefore followed by lunch, although the restaurant was a bit europeanized to suit the tourists, the food wasn't bad at all, i actually enjoyed it. On the way back into the city we passed by a jade stone factory and i bought myself some very nice silver/jade jewelery and a great looking dragon! Was very happy with it, one of my top 10 souvenirs of all times, and i also got to drink chinese tea in the factory, i love chinese tea :)

Next stop (of course) was the Big wild goose pagoda, and as the name suggests, there is actually a small wild goose pagoda... Not as impressive anyway. It's the biggest and most famous pagoda in the city, built in 6 stories with windows on each side, so you could face north, south, east or west from any floor, nice view of the city from there. The story of the place i can't remember but it was a nice visit nonetheless. One thing i learned though, every city in China has a Bell tower and a Drum tower, normally closely located (this pagoda had them too), you may already know this. But! What they're used for is the news, they were actually built to indicate time, one of them is used to announce midday, the other midnight. Which is sad given the fact this was so long ago, people probably went early to bed anyway since there was no electricity and hardly anything to do. On the other hand, you never know, maybe Chinese liked partying till late...
The next stop is my favorite, the Great mosque, the reason being how different it looks from a normal worldwide used design of a mosque. This one (as many other in China) is actually built in the architectural style of the Ming dynasty (which most of us simply refer to as Chinese, the curved up edges of the roof, etc...), and apart from the mosque itself, it's got rooms for workers there, probably some classes among those, gardens, and it looks very serene and calming, you feel it's a worship place. The only place that looks typical is the prayer hall itself, saying so, I was really impressed by the wood work on the walls, it was like WOW! They have 30 tall boards of wood around the walls, each is carrying one part of the Quran's 30, beautifully carved in that wood, awesome!

The muslim quarter where the mosque lays is not very impressive though, tight streets, street markets, crowded...well...And the mosque was only for men, so i couldn't even pray there.

My day at Xi'An was drawing to an end, i was taken to the airport to catch my flight to Beijing (which was delayed like for 5 hours or so!), i enjoyed it and haven't regretted a bit that i decided to come here after everyone else pulled out, it was well worth it.