If You Only Have One Day in Beijing…

The Great Wall

Beijing has a lot to offer, but if you only have one day there, here is a solid itinerary: Start the day as early as possible with a quick, simple breakfast of traditional pastries, bread, or cake and milk tea at 85°C. Take a taxi or bus ride to the Great Wall (Mutianyu Section). If you get there early, there won't be many tourists and you can see it and go. Take the cable car to Tower 14 and then walk on the Wall back to Tower 6. Then ride the toboggan to the bottom, buy your "I climbed the Great Wall" t-shirt, get back in your taxi and head back to Beijing. Read More

Trans-Siberian Railway Official Start: Beijing (Part 2-The Great Wall)

All of us at the Mutianyu Great Wall

Our trip to the Great Wall started with an early morning pick up from our drivers. Unfortunately, they turned a 45-minute ride to the wall into a 2-hour tour of the outskirts of Beijing. I was under the assumption that since the Great Wall stretches for thousands of miles, you could just drive north and you would eventually hit it. Apparently these guys didn't get that, and they had quite a time locating it. Once we got there, though, it was about as incredible as I had imagined it would be. The Wall itself is built along the top of a mountain range, so not only did the ancients build a really long wall, they hauled all of the materials to the top of a mountain to do it. Read More

Trans-Siberian Railway Official Start: Beijing (Part 1)

The Forbidden City

The highlight of Beijing, aside from the Great Wall, is undoubtedly the food. Sara's sister, Sophia, and her family met us in Beijing and any time Sophia is along, it is guaranteed to be culinary bliss. None of us, including Sophia, had been to Beijing before, but you wouldn't know it based on our itinerary. We saw most of the major sites and had some pretty amazing meals in three days. Sophia hired a driver for us for the three days, so we were able to move fairly quickly around the city without having to wait for taxis or public transportation. While this goes against our 'Minimize Costs' philosophy, we were able to split it amongst six people, so it was not too bad. The driver did not speak English, but in our case, this was not a problem as half of our party spoke Mandarin. It should be noted, though, that most taxi drivers do not speak English, so it will be necessary to carry pre-printed note cards of where you would like to go. Be sure they are written in Mandarin and not the pinyin form of the language familiar to English speakers, but totally foreign to the Chinese.  You can print out the addresses at the bottom of this post and hand them to the drivers. Read More

The Cheapest Way to Buy Trans-Siberian Train Tickets in China

Walked to the back of the train for this picture

Shortly after our Egypt trip, Phil and I made a decision to go on our dream trip - the Trans-Siberian railroad.  The timing was perfect.  My brother-in-law, Daniel was finishing up his two-year assignment in China.  That meant we would still have a place to stay in Shanghai, and Sophia and her family would be able to join us in Beijing for a few days.  Now the decision was made, I went on to do research.  It surprised me how little information there was on how to buy the Trans-Siberian train tickets for independent travelers.  There were plenty of agencies and sites selling tickets at a premium.  But to get the absolutely cheapest price was not an easy task.  The best resource I found was The Man in Seat Sixty-One. The site has a lot of information.  I do recommend travelers read through the section on the Trans-Siberian.  However, there was no information on how to buy international train tickets in China.  You can't just walk up to a train station and buy the tickets at the counter.  All the information I found seemed to tell me that the only way was to use a travel agency.

I don't remember what was so funny, I just remember laughing hysterically...

Obviously, I was not going to take that for an answer.   Read More

Xi’an: So Much History!

  • xian_2010_01
  • xian_2010_02
  • xian_2010_03
  • xian_2010_04
  • xian_2010_05
  • xian_2010_06
  • xian_2010_07
  • xian_2010_08
  • xian_2010_09
  • xian_2010_10
  • xian_2010_11
  • xian_2010_12
  • xian_2010_13
  • xian_2010_14
  • xian_2010_15
  • xian_2010_16
  • xian_2010_17
  • xian_2010_18
  • xian_2010_19
  • xian_2010_20
  • xian_2010_21
  • xian_2010_22
  • xian_2010_23
  • xian_2010_24
  • xian_2010_25
  • xian_2010_26
  • xian_2010_27
The ancient legend, passed down from generation to generation, told of the first Chinese emperor who was so afraid of the afterlife that he arranged to bring thousands of warriors to guard him when he passed on. It was not important that they had not yet died. They were buried alive with him when he died, along with gold, food, livestock, clothing and anything else he would need in the next world. This was a legend that every Chinese child was taught as historical fact in school for thousands of years. It was something they all believed as much as we Americans believe in Washington crossing the Delaware. Thousands of people buried alive just to appease one man's ego. It seems difficult to believe, but was it true? No one knew for sure, until about 35 years ago. Read More

Huangshan: The Most Beautiful Mountain in China

About five hours into our six hour bus ride from Shanghai to Huangshan, the bus driver pulled off into an area that was obviously not our final destination. He turned and announced something in the local dialect, so even Sara could not understand what he said. Whatever it was, though, it pissed off two-thirds of the people on the bus, because they suddenly erupted into angry shouts. Apparently, he wanted them to get off the bus immediately. This was not their destination. The driver matched their angry words with shouts of his own. He was tough and he wasn't going to take any crap from these people. The shouting intensified and Sara whispered to me to watch out. We were in the front seats of the bus, between the driver and the masses, not a good position in a riot. Read More

Trans-Siberia Video 02 – Huangshan

The second leg of our journey took us to the most beautiful mountain of China, Huangshan, the Yellow Mountain. Read More

Trans-Siberia Video 01 – Shanghai

We finally have our first video ready to reveal to the world. Please be gentle, it was literally the first time we have ever shot and edited video to show to anyone other than the immediate family. I think they will get better as the trip progresses, but here are 6 minutes of our 4 days in Shanghai. Please enjoy... Read More

The Attraction of Shanghai

In September, 2010, Shanghai, China is a city that attracts people. The Las Vegas-style neon that lights up the night, the business that flows through the ports and the factories, the opportunities for Chinese nationals to attain more wealth in one month than their parents attained in their entire lives, the opportunities for foreigners to start or expand their businesses not only to the 1.3 billion Chinese, but also the world, and KFCs on every corner, all combine to form a city unlike any other on Earth.  
  • Shanghai House Sign
  • A Cool Looking Bike
  • Charles & Vina Having Tea
  • Inside a Shikumen, Old Shanghai Style House
  • Inside a Shikumen, Old Shanghai Style House
  • Inside a Shikumen, Old Shanghai Style House
  • Inside a Shikumen, Old Shanghai Style House
  • Inside a Shikumen, Old Shanghai Style House
  • Shanghai Street
  • The Bund at Night
  • The Bund at Night
  • The Bund at Night
  • The Bund at Night
  • Daniel, Charlie, Sophia, Phil, Vina & Sara
  • Zhujiajiao, Shanghai, China
  • On a Gondola in Zhujiajiao, Shanghai, China
  • Zhujiajiao, Shanghai, China
  • Locals Selling Vegetables
  • Zhujiajiao, Shanghai, China
  • Zhujiajiao, Shanghai, China
In March, 1949, Shanghai was a city that attracted people. The Communists had taken over most of the country and anyone with any personal wealth needed to get out of China. Shanghai was the best option, with the most ships on which to hide. Mr. & Mrs. Cheung had fled from the north to Shanghai with all of their belongings and their four little girls, the youngest of whom was less than five months old. Mr. Cheung escaped first with most of their things and made it to Hong Kong, which, at the time, was a British territory, where he set up residence and sent word to his wife that it was safe to follow. Mrs. Cheung found a captain willing to hide her and her children on his ship. The city had not yet been taken by the Communists, but their boats still patrolled the waters looking for emigrants. Before they left their home, the youngest girl had become sick and frequently cried. The couple's friends knew they were planning to escape and warned them that they should leave the baby behind. If the baby cried on the ship during their escape, the captain would make them throw her overboard. And besides, it wasn't like it was a little boy. It was just a girl and they did not matter so much. Now it was time to board the ship and her baby was still sick. This was her last chance to ensure that the child would live, albeit without a family. Mrs. Cheung had no choice. It was she and her four girls against too many men; men who were afraid for their lives. Her fear was almost overpowering. What could she do? Read More

Trans-Siberian Railway: Trip Overview

Sara and I have just returned from our 36-day Trans-Siberia trip and we had planned on it being an epic adventure, so our expectations were high. The actual journey far surpassed anything I could have imagined. I had very high hopes and not only was I not let down, but my hopes were blown out of the water. Do you know how sometimes when you are doing something, it doesn't seem great at the time, but when you look back on it, you realize that it was, in fact, really cool? Well, this trip was not like that. It was really, really cool the entire time and we knew it.
  • Shanghai, China
  • Huangshan, China
  • Terracotta Warriors, Xian, China
  • Great Wall, Beijing, China
  • Yungung Caves, Datong, China
  • Charles & Vina, Dining Car, K3
  • East Gobi, Mongolia
  • Shambhala, East Gobi, Mongolia
  • Terelj National Park, Mongolia
  • Bath in a very cold river, Terelj, Mongolia
  • Vina & Sara with a drunk Russian Man
  • Phil in ice cold Lake Baikal, Listvyanka, Russia
  • Phil & Sara on a platform somewhere in Russia
  • Kungur Ice Cave, Russia
  • Tea at Alsu\'s, Kazan, Russia
  • Vina & Sara on the Ural Express, Russia
  • Red Square at night, Moscow, Russia
  • Run Moscow 2010, Russia
  • Catherine Palace, Tsarskoe Selo, Russia
Sara and I were joined by our two very good friends, Charles and Vina, whom we have camped with and even traveled to Hawaii with for a week several years ago. This trip was a bit longer than that, so I was nervous that we would be at each other's throats by the end. Over the next several months we will be posting about the trip, so we will have to wait to see how that all turned out. I will say that politically Sara and I lean to the left, while Charles leans to the right. Vina did not share her opinions until 15 days into the trip when she finally unleashed how she really thought. The trip began in Shanghai, China and through many trains, a few buses and one short airplane ride, we arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia a little over a month after we began. We climbed mountains, visited ancient burial and religious sites, attended a festival and a Buddhist religious ceremony, camped in the desert and the steppes, bathed in a very, very cold river, rode horses and camels, ate lots of sheep, mastered the squat toilet, put our feet in a very, very cold lake, visited an ice cave, stayed in a log cabin, stayed in a 4 star hotel, stayed in several youth hostels, the girls got kissed by several drunk Russian men, had tea with a real Russian family (friends of Vina) using their family heirloom Samovar, almost went to a Russian banya, saw Red Square at night and during the day, stumbled upon a 5K run which we tried to crash, and met many, many interesting locals and fellow travelers, including the writer of one of the guidebooks which we were using who gave us lots of tips and even translated the tour of the ice cave for us. Being gone for so long makes you change your habits and some of the things that I have noticed since our return include: Read More