Searching for locations: Murano, Italy

The first time we visited Venice, there was not enough time left to visit the glass-blowing factories on Murano.  We saved this for the next visit, and now more comfortable with taking the Vaporetto, boarded at San Marco for the short journey.

The view looking towards the cemetery:

The view looking down what I think was the equivalent to the main street, or where several of the glass-blowing factories and display shops were located:

Looking towards a workshop, this one costs us each a Euro to go in and observe a demonstration of glass blowing, and it still surprises me that some people would not pay

The oven where the glass is heated

And the finished product, the retail version of the horse that the glassblower created during the demonstration:

Then we bought some other glassware from the retail storefront, a candle holder

and a turtle.

Searching for locations: Off to Philadelphia

We are up early and I mean early because we decided to take on Philadelphia the next day, and instead of taking public transport because all the fares I could find were ridiculous, we hired a car.

Again the words ‘or similar’ foiled us.  All charged up and excited its quarter to eight in the morning we arrive at the Avis center just a five-minute walk from our hotel.

Shock number one.  We finish up with some crappy Nissan the desk lady was using as her personal car.

She lied about the car being full of petrol, it was not.

We asked for a GPS and all it was was a glorified phone.  She switched it on, the first didn’t work but the second displayed a screen and that was enough for her to say it was set up and working.

You guessed it, another barefaced lie.

We put it in the car, switched it on, and it was in French.  She hadn’t checked the language of the last user.

We took it back and she had the audacity to call us ‘stupid’, blaming us for breaking it, and then she couldn’t fix it so she gave us another one which I’m sure she checked for English.

The question, if she could set these things up, why couldn’t she instantly fix it?

Sorry, the woman was arrogant and very nasty, and not a good advertisement for Avis or the U.S.A as a place to visit.  I shall never use Avis in America again if she’s the best they can put at the front desk.

Still seething from that encounter it was a good thing I wasn’t driving.

I remember when I was writing Echoes From The Past I had a sequence of events starting in Lower Manhattan and ending up in Philadelphia.  In that narrative, I was not sure if the main character used the Lincoln tunnel, which, on this occasion, we did.

As it turned out the drive was reasonably accurate in that we also followed the i95 turnpike and a number of tolls along the way.  Unfortunately, our mode of transport was not quite as luxurious as my characters.

Once in Philadelphia, we managed to find the Swann Memorial Fountain at Logan Square…

and parked the car outside the Free Library.

From there we walked to the city center, what some might call City Hall, a rather large and impressive stone structure, and then ended up at stop number six of the big bus tour.

Big bus tour

There are 27 stops of which we got on at 6 and got off at 1, managed by a miracle of fate to get back on at 1 and got off at 8 where our car was parked.  By then we were frozen solid.

But…

There’s always an intervening adventure with our outings and the quest was to find the best place to have a Philly Cheese Steak.

Between stops 1 and 6 when we were not on the bus, we hailed a cab, deciding not to wander around the city looking for a Philly Cheese Steak place ourselves.

We had a side mission to the side mission and got the cab driver to take us back to the car so we could lengthen the parking time.  This done, he took us to what he believed was the best Philly Cheese Steak place.

It was a long and convoluted ride that showed us the real Philadelphia, where the citizens live, not the showpiece tourist attractions.

It was somewhere in little Italy. A place called Geno’s steaks, a new and shiny restaurant where there was only seating outside.  Mid-afternoon, it was cold.

But were they the best Philly Cheese Steaks.  I’m not an expert so I don’t really know.  What I do know is the cheesy steak in a roll was absolutely delicious.  Freshly cooked in front of you, the steak slices were still dripping juices as they were put on the roll with a layer of cheese and onions which you have to ask for.

And at ten dollars each, it turned out to be less than the cab fare to get there.

Of course being dropped in Little Italy in America on the 20th Anniversary of the Sopranos, conjured up too many nightmares to be walking the streets in the fading afternoon lights.

Two boys on bikes who looked like thugs in hoodies scared us into a cab and back to the bus stop to do the last eight stops before going home.

All in all, a very interesting if not at times scary adventure.

Searching for locations: The Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Now we’re walking to the Forbidden City, and it seems like we’re walking for miles and we’re practically exhausted before we get started on the main tour.  I’m not sure if we received a map of the city, but one is certainly needed so that you can navigate the many features, buildings, and walkways.

There are tour groups everywhere in the large courtyard outside the gate, most likely getting a lecture on the last of the Chinese emperors about that time Sun Yat-Sen proclaimed the new China around 1912.  We were no exception, and it was an interesting way to spend the time waiting to get in.  It was a tale of intrigue, interwoven with a 3-year-old emperor, and a scheming concubine who becomes the Emperor’s favorite, enough to bear him a son and successor.

Bribery and corruption at its best.

But its history runs something like this:

The Forbidden City is was once the imperial and state residence of the Emperor of China, as well as the center of government, from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, or 1420 to 1924.

It was built from 1406 to 1420 when the Yongle Emperor moved the capital from Nanking to Beijing and consists of about 980 buildings, and 8,886 bays of rooms (not the 9,999 as prescribed in myth) and covers 180 acres.  Over the 14 years, a million workers used whole logs of wood from the jungles of southwestern China, marble from quarries near Beijing, specially made golden bricks from Suzhou

Since 1925 it has been a museum and is the largest number of preserved wooden structures in the world.

The city is surrounded by a wall 7.9 meters high, and a moat that is 6 meters deep and 52 meters wide.  A tower sits at each of the four corners.  Each side has a gate, the north is called the Gate of Divine Might, the south is called the Meridian gate.  East and west are called East Glorious Gate and West Glorious Gate respectively.

But, back in the courtyard, we are ready to go in and follow the tour guide who has switched from her amplified microphone to a whisper device we all wear in our ears.  She talks and we listen.

We all make it through and regroup on the other side. This is where the fun begins because we are about to meet a large percentage of the 80,000, they let for the day.

It seems to me they have all arrived at the same time, although by the time we get to the entrance gate, it is very well organized, bags are scanned, people are scanned, and you’re in.

After crossing one of the seven Golden Water bridges, you begin to get some idea of the size and scope of the City, and in the distance, the first of the buildings, The Gate of Supreme Harmony.  On a hot day, that could be a long and thirsty walk.

From there it is one pagoda after another with buildings that surround the edge of the whole Forbidden City, as does the moat.

By the time we get to the second courtyard, it was time to have ice cream as a refresher.  Others head up to another exhibit, and it’s just too many stairs for us.

After this, it’s a walkthrough another courtyard, heading up and down some more stairs, we go and see the museum, with priceless relics from past emperors.

There are areas like the outer courtyard, the inner courtyard, yet another courtyard, and the gardens where the concubines walked and spent their leisure time.  It is not far from the emperor’s wives living quarters, though there’s precious little left of the furniture, other than a settee and two rather priceless so-called Ming dynasty vases.

We get into the bad habit of calling all of the vases Ming dynasties.  Above is one of the inner courtyards there were living quarters, and that tree is over 300 years old.

Out through some more alleyways and through an entrance that led to the area where the concubines lived, very spacious, bright, and filled with trees, plants, and walkways through rocky outcrops.

The whole area was made up of living quarters and waterways, rocks and paths, all very neatly set out, and it looked to be a very good place to live.

This is an example of the living quarters, overlooking the gardens

And there were several pagodas

From there its a quick exit out the northern entrance, and another longish walk to our bus, which arrives at the meeting point shortly after we do.

That done, the Beijing tour guide has completed her section of our China experience, and we’re ready to move onto the next.

Searching for locations: The Great Wall of China, near Beijing, China

This is in a very scenic area and on the first impression; it is absolutely stunning in concept and in viewing.

As for the idea of walking on it, well, that first view of the mountain climb when getting off the bus, my first question was where the elevator is?  Sorry, there is none.  It’s walk on up or stay down the bottom.

Walk it is.  As far as you feel you are able.  There are quite a few who don’t make it to the top.  I didn’t.  I only made it to the point where the steps narrowed.

But as for the logistics, there’s the gradual incline to the starting point, and what will be the end meeting place.  From there, it’s a few steps up to the guard station no 7, and a few more to get up to the start of the main climb.  The top of the wall is guard station no 12.

Ok, those first few steps are a good indication of what it’s was going to be like and it’s more the awkwardness of the uneven heights of the steps that’s the killer, some as high as about 15 inches.  This photo paints an illusion, that it’s easy.  It’s not.

If you make it to the first stage, then it augers well you will get about 100 steps before you both start feeling it in your legs, particularly the knees, and then suffering from the height if you have a problem with heights as the air is thinner.  And if you have a thing with heights, never look down.

This was from where we stopped, about a third of the way up.  The one below, from almost at the bottom.  One we’re looking almost down on the buildings, the other, on the same level.

It requires rest before you come down, and that’s when you start to feel it in the knees, our tour guide called it jelly legs, but it’s more in the knees down.  Descending should be slow, and it can be more difficult negotiating the odd height steps, and particularly those high ones.  You definitely need to hang onto the rail, even try going backward.

And, no, that rail hasn’t been there as long as the wall.

While you are waiting for the guide to return to the meeting place at the appointed time, there should be time to have some jasmine tea.  Highly refreshing after the climb.

Searching for locations: Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia

It was topical some years ago because of the Commonwealth Games, but we have been to the Gold Coast on many occasions and nearly always stayed at the Hilton.

Nearly all of the photos here are taken from floor 13 through to 45, some close to the ocean, others facing north, and west, towards the hinterland.

Below is one of the main beaches, where the typical sun, sand, and surf pretty well sums it up.  Been ion the water a few times myself, and it is amazing how warm it can be on some days, and how cold it can be on others.

And a surfer’s paradise it sure is!

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At the bottom, the start of the shopping centers and eateries.  The is more different types of food there that can be counted on the fingers and toes together.

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The beach just to the north, and where the market stalls set up at night.

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Further north, through the highrises, and far, far into the distance towards Brisbane.

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North, again, looking up Cavill Avenue.

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South, showing highrises and the Q Tower.

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South, taken from the Q Tower, the coastline to Coolangatta dotted with high rise apartment blocks.

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The two towers behind the Grand Chancellor, are the twin towers of the Hilton Hotel.

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From the Q Tower, looking towards the canal residential precinct.

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Yes, we were looking for whales, no we didn’t see any.  The ocean, though, was unusually calm.

Searching for locations: Innsbruck, Austria

On this occasion, we drove from Florence to Innsbruck, a journey of about 500 kilometers and via the E45, a trip that would take us about five and a half hours.

We drove conservatively, stopped once for lunch and took about seven hours, arriving in Innsbruck late in the afternoon

The main reason for this stay was to go to Swarovski in Wattens for the second time, to see if anything had changed, and to buy some pieces.  We were still members of the club, and looking forward to a visit to the exclusive lounge and some Austrian champagne.

Sadly, there were no new surprises waiting, and we came away a little disappointed.

We were staying at the Innsbruck Hilton, where we stayed the last time, and it only a short walk to the old town.

From the highest level of the hotel, it is possible to get a look at the mountains that surround the city.  This view is in the direction we had driven earlier, from Florence.

The change in the weather was noticeable the moment we entered the mountain ranges.

This view looks towards the old town and overlooks a public square.

This view shows some signs of the cold, but in summer, I doubted we were going to see any snow.

We have been here in winter, and it is quite cold, and there is a lot of snow.  The ski resorts are not very far away, and the airport is on the way to Salzburg.

There is a host of restaurants in the old town, and we tried a few during our stay.  The food, beer, and service were excellent.

On a previous visit, we did get Swiss Army Knives, literally, from a small store called Victorinox.

And, yes, we did see the golden roof.

Searching for locations: Queenstown, New Zealand, from the top of a mountain

You take the gondola up to the Skyline and get some of the most amazing views.

Below is a photo of The Remarkables, one of several ski resorts near Queenstown.

You can see the winding road going up the mountainside.  We have made this trip several times and it is particularly frightening in winter when chains are required.

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In the other direction, heading towards Kingston, the views of the mountains and the lake are equally as magnificent.

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Or manage to capture a photo of the Earnslaw making its way across the lake towards Walter Peak Farm.  It seems almost like a miniature toy.

Searching for locations: Shanghai, China, by night.

When we arrive at the embarkation site we find at least 100 buses all lined up and parked, and literally thousands of Chinese and other Asians streaming through the turnstiles to get on another boat leaving earlier than ours.

Buses were just literally arriving one after the other stopping near where we were standing with a dozen or so other groups waiting patiently, and with people were everywhere it could only be described as organized chaos.

Someone obviously knew where everyone was supposed to go, and when it was our turn, we joined the queue.  There were a lot of people in front of us, and a lot more behind, so I had to wonder just how big the boat was.

We soon found out.

And it was amusing to watch people running, yes, they were actually running, to get to the third level, or found available seating.  Being around the first to board, we had no trouble finding a seat on the second level.

I was not quite sure what the name of the boat was, but it had 3 decks and VIP rooms and it was huge, with marble staircases, the sort you could make a grand entrance on.  The last such ornate marble staircase we had seen was in a hotel in Hong Kong, and that was some staircase.

But who has marble staircases in a boat?

We’re going out across the water as far as the Bund and then turn around and come back about 30 to 40 minutes.   By the time everyone was on board, there was no room left on the third level, no seats on the second level nor standing room at the end of the second level where the stairs up to the third level were.

No one wanted to pay the extra to go into the VIP lounge.

We were sitting by very large windows where it was warm enough watching the steady procession of the colored lights of other vessels, and outside the buildings.

It was quite spectacular, as were some of the other boats going out on the harbor.

All the buildings of the Bund were lit up

And along that part of the Bund was a number of old English style buildings made from sandstone, and very impressive to say the least.

On the other side of the harbour were the more modern buildings, including the communications tower, a rather impressive structure.

I had to go to the rear of the vessel to get a photo, a very difficult proposition given here was no space on the railing, not even on the stairs going up or down.  It was just luck I managed to get some photos between passengers heads.

And, another view of that communications tower:

There was no doubt this was one of the most colourful night-time boat tours I’ve ever been on.  Certainly, when we saw the same buildings the following day, they were not half as spectacular in daylight.

I never did get up to the third level to see what the view was like.

Searching for locations: Shanghai, China, by night.

When we arrive at the embarkation site we find at least 100 buses all lined up and parked, and literally thousands of Chinese and other Asians streaming through the turnstiles to get on another boat leaving earlier than ours.

Buses were just literally arriving one after the other stopping near where we were standing with a dozen or so other groups waiting patiently, and with people were everywhere it could only be described as organized chaos.

Someone obviously knew where everyone was supposed to go, and when it was our turn, we joined the queue.  There were a lot of people in front of us, and a lot more behind, so I had to wonder just how big the boat was.

We soon found out.

And it was amusing to watch people running, yes, they were actually running, to get to the third level, or found available seating.  Being around the first to board, we had no trouble finding a seat on the second level.

I was not quite sure what the name of the boat was, but it had 3 decks and VIP rooms and it was huge, with marble staircases, the sort you could make a grand entrance on.  The last such ornate marble staircase we had seen was in a hotel in Hong Kong, and that was some staircase.

But who has marble staircases in a boat?

We’re going out across the water as far as the Bund and then turn around and come back about 30 to 40 minutes.   By the time everyone was on board, there was no room left on the third level, no seats on the second level nor standing room at the end of the second level where the stairs up to the third level were.

No one wanted to pay the extra to go into the VIP lounge.

We were sitting by very large windows where it was warm enough watching the steady procession of the colored lights of other vessels, and outside the buildings.

It was quite spectacular, as were some of the other boats going out on the harbor.

All the buildings of the Bund were lit up

And along that part of the Bund was a number of old English style buildings made from sandstone, and very impressive to say the least.

On the other side of the harbour were the more modern buildings, including the communications tower, a rather impressive structure.

I had to go to the rear of the vessel to get a photo, a very difficult proposition given here was no space on the railing, not even on the stairs going up or down.  It was just luck I managed to get some photos between passengers heads.

And, another view of that communications tower:

There was no doubt this was one of the most colourful night-time boat tours I’ve ever been on.  Certainly, when we saw the same buildings the following day, they were not half as spectacular in daylight.

I never did get up to the third level to see what the view was like.

Searching for locations: Hong Kong Park, Hong Kong

After arriving in Hong Kong early in the morning, we were taken to the Hong Kong Conrad Hotel where we were staying for several days.  We had a short sleep, then I took the grandchildren for a walk and we found Hong Kong Park, with a Fountain Plaza, waterways, a waterfall, and turtles.

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Part of the fountain area.

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Turtles resting on a rock

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A turtle about to go in the water

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The waterfall.

It was a pleasant surprise to find this park in such a highly built-up area.

Nearby was a multi-story underground shopping center that was huge, and very conveniently accessible from our hotel.