New US Passport Laws go into effect June 1, 2009!
“Riding on a horse to smell the flowers” describes how fast-paced this journey has been. We had a taste of some of the many highlights of China and we definitely want MORE! Leaving Beijing, we flew to Xi’an, home of the Terra Cotta Warriors and countless other amazing archeological finds. We were granted special access to the vaults of the art museum where we saw some beautiful paintings that were 2000 years old and younger. The paintings were done on a material like the plasterboard we use for walls in our homes. We also visited a very old mosque (Who thinks Islam in China—they have 30,000,000!) and were all surprised with a gift of reflexology-style massages when we returned to the hotel.We flew from Xi’an to Chungqing (China’s largest city when you include the population of the outlying area) to board the Yangzi Explorer, A & K’s new deluxe riverboat. We cruised the Yangzi River for 3 nights and stops included a visit to a rural farm, a country school, and floating journey down a tributary by sampan. We disembarked in Yichang and flew to Shanghai.
We love Shanghai! It’s East meets West, old Victorian and Art Deco meets Post Modern, knock-off Heaven meets edgy, emerging designers, New York meets London meets Hong Kong. We toured the Urban Planning Museum that houses a complete model of the existing layout of Shanghai. Remember the days of toy electric trains on miniature landscapes? Now, take that image and multiply it times a zillion! This was the largest and most intricate 3-D model I’ve ever seen. It even includes models of the upcoming World Expo 2010 which will be held in Shanghai. From that museum we went to the Shanghai Museum. We only had 1 ½ hours there and we easily could have spent 3-4 hours or more. It houses the best exhibits of all things Chinese—art, bronzes, silks, textiles, jade, currency, clothing, and ceramics. We walked along the Bund (from the Indian word for Quay), visited the historic Shanghai bank building with a breathtaking mosaic domed ceiling depicting the major world cities of the 1920’s. We shopped at the Knockoff market, did hotel site inspections, and last night we went to a show of the Shanghai acrobats. My body ached watching their stunts! Picture doing a one-handed handstand, slowly lowering your body parallel to the ground. Now picture doing this while balancing on the edge of a wooden chair. Take this pose and add another one above your chair, continuing upward until you have a 7-Acrobat skyscraper. In Shanghai we stayed at the Grand Hyatt on the Pudong side. The city is divided by the Huangpu River. The Pudong side, developed since 1992, is the financial and business center of Shanghai, featuring a myriad of modern skyscrapers, one more architecturally amazing than the next. The Puxi side (pronounced Poo-shee) is where vacationers should stay. It has the Bund, shopping, history, museums, markets, culture, dining, etc. Do NOT stay at the Grand Hyatt! Although they have some lovely suites, the basic rooms are worn, have filthy carpeting, and the oddest room lighting system any of us have experienced. Yesterday we moved to the Portman Ritz Carlton, totally divine! It overlooks the former Sino-Soviet Center (a gift from Stalin to Chairman Mao in 1953) and is on Nanking Road, a famous street in Shanghai. We were told the other top hotel here is the Four Seasons. We visited the St. Regis and it is absolutely lovely; however, it is in a remote area on the Pudong side, near nothing. A good choice for moderate hotels would be the Westin, near the Bund. The Fairmont bought the famous, old People’s Hotel and is in the midst of renovating it. It sits close to the Bund and should be wonderful.Tonight we head home flying from Shanghai to Chicago to Kansas City. We will take the new magnetic train to the airport and we take off at 6:00 PM tonight Shanghai time. We arrive in Chicago ½ hour before we leave, 5:30 PM Central Standard Time. The 14 hour time difference makes us true time travelers.