Searchings for locations: Oreti Village – No two sunrises are the same – 1

Oreti village, Pukawa Bay, North Island, New Zealand

On the southern tip of Lake Taupo

Our first morning there, a Saturday.  Winter.  Cold.  And a beautiful sunrise.

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This was taken from the balcony, overlooking the lake.

The sun is just creeping up over the horizon

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It gradually gets lighter, and then the sun breaks free of the low cloud

It lights up the balcony

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And the trees just beyond, a cascade of colorful ferns.

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It looks like its going to be a fine day, our first for this trip, and we will be heading to the mountains to see snow, for the first time for two of our granddaughters.

Searching for locations: An old country homestead, Canungra, Australia

Or to be more precise, the homestead at what is now O’Reilly’s vineyard, where there is a pleasant lawn out back running down to the river for picnics, an alpaca farm next door, and the homestead plays host to functions, and wine tastings.

My interest was that we had assumed there was a restaraunt, and we were going to have lunch. There might be one, but not the day we visited, it was just cafe food or a picnic available.

I was more interested in the old homestead, because it was a fine example of the homesteads built in the ‘outback’.

Today we are having lunch in the Platypus room, in the O’Reilly’s vineyard farmhouse, which, if you close your eyes and let your imagination run free, could see it as the master bedroom of a homestead.

Certainly the building is old, made completely of timber, inside and out, with the traditional high ceilings to keep the heat at bay.

At one end, a large bay window, which would be ideal to sir and view the outside, past the sweeping verandah.  There is a small lawn and a rotunda, but beyond that what might have been extended gardens, is the vineyard.

The homestead is in an ideal position midway between the main road and the river, has the traditional surrounding verandah, and shows signs of being extended on almost all sides.

On the other side of the wide corridor that leads you to the bar, and, coincidentally, down the centre of the house, is a smaller bedroom, also used as a dining room, and ubiquitously named the library.

It may be small but it does have a fireplace.  Which the assumed master bedroom does not, but now I’m thinking that room might have been the morning room.

Behind the room we’re in is another bedroom, or perhaps this might be the master, because it does have a fireplace and is quite large.  And a name, the Ambassador room.  Now it serves as the pick up place for picnic baskets.

There is another room on the opposite side of the corridor called the Drawing Room, but is not open to the public.  But, going into the room with the fireplace adjacent to it, you can sell the aroma of pizzas, so it’s probably an extension of the kitchen, and, walking around the outside that side of the house proves it to be case.

After all, they do catering for weddings and need a very large food preparation area which I discovered runs down the whole of that side of the house.

At the end of the corridor I’d the bar and spare space, and running off that and behind that is where there is a large dining area, perhaps prior to COVID, the restaurant.

It’s not hard to imagine that area as a very large entertaining area, either for very large dinner parties, or dancing.

As for the food, it’s either a picnic basket, or pizzas.  We chose the latter, not realising the bases were not home made, but bought in.  

The toppings however were both plentiful and tasty.  It could have been hotter, because it was a cold day, and it was cold in the room.

As for something to do other than taste the wine, and buy a few bottles, you can get up close to the vines, which, at this time of the year gave been pruned back and look quite dead, look at or walk an alpaca, even feed it, or all of them, or go down to the river and see if you can spot a Platypus.

Perhaps next time we’ll have a picnic down by the river.

Searching for locations: The Silk Factory, Suzhou, China

China is renowned for its exquisite silk, so naturally, a visit to the Silk Spinning Factory is part of today’s tour.

After that, we will be heading downtown to an unspecified location where we’re getting a boat ride, walk through a typical Chinese shopping experience, and coffee at a coffee shop that is doubling as the meeting place, after we soak up the local atmosphere.

The problem with that is that if the entire collective trip a deal tourists take this route then the savvy shopkeepers will jack up their prices tenfold because we’re tourists with money.  It’ll be interesting to see how expensive everything is.

So…

Before we reach the silk factory, we are told that Suzhou is the main silk area of China, and we will be visiting a nearly 100 years old, Suzhou No 1 Silk Mill, established in 1926.  Suzhou has a 4,700-year history of making silk products.  It is located at No. 94, Nanmen Road, Suzhou, Jiangsu, China.

Then we arrive at the Silk Factory, another government-owned establishment with a castiron guarantee of quality and satisfaction.

The look and feel of the doona cover certainly backs up that claim

And the colors and variety is amazing (as is the cost of those exquisite sets)

We get to see the silk cocoon stretched beyond imagination, and see how the silk thread is extracted, then off to the showroom for the sales pitch.

It isn’t a hard sell, and the sheets, doonas, pillows, and pillowcases, are reasonably priced, and come with their own suitcase (for free) so you can take them with you, or free shipping, by slow boat, if you prefer not to take the goods with you.

We opt for the second choice, as there’s no room left in our baggage after packing the Chinese Medicine.

Searching for locations: The Henan Museum, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China

The Henan Museum is one of the oldest museums in China.  In June 1927, General Feng Yuxiang proposed that a museum be built, and it was completed the next year.  n 1961, along with the move of the provincial capital, Henan Museum moved from Kaifeng to Zhengzhou.

It currently holds about 130,000 individual pieces, more of which are mostly cultural relics, bronze vessels of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, and pottery and porcelain wares of the various dynasties.

Eventually, we arrive at the museum and get off the bus adjacent to a scooter track and despite the efforts of the guide, there’s no stopping them from nearly running us over.

We arrive to find the museum has been moved to a different and somewhat smaller building nearby as the existing, and rather distinctively designed, building is being renovated.

While we are waiting for the tickets to enter, we are given another view of industrial life in that there is nothing that resembles proper health and safety on worksites in this country, and the workers are basically standing on what looks to be a flimsy bamboo ladder with nothing to stop them from falling off.

The museum itself has exhibits dating back a few thousand years and consist of bronze and ceramic items.  One of the highlights was a tortoiseshell with reportedly the oldest know writing ever found.

Other than that it was a series of cooking utensils, a table, and ceramic pots, some in very good condition considering their age.


There were also small sculptures

an array of small figures

and a model of a settlement

20 minutes was long enough.

Searching for locations: The Longjing Pearl Factory, Beijing, China

The Longjing Pearl Factory is located at:
No.2 Zuoan Gate Inner Street, ChongWen District, Beijing 100061 China.

This Pearl Center specializes in both freshwater and seawater pearls, with a reputation backed by the government of China, with a big selection and of the highest quality.  There were all kinds of jewelry made of pearls in different colors, shapes, and sizes.

They also had, as an interesting sideline, famous Chinese traditional cosmetics such as pearl cream and pearl powder, reputed to make your skin smoother, tendered and most importantly, younger.

We were advised of all of this well before we arrived at the factory, and of course, one suspected the glowing review, with emphasis on the fact it was a government operation and therefore trustworthy, suggested we should buy, meant the tour guide would receive a commission on each sale.

This is nothing new, it’s the same the world over, so it’s up to the visitor to buy or not to buy.

As soon as you get in the door you are taken to the group’s guide for the tour (and afterward, available for help on making purchases). who gives you a rundown on the different types and colors of pearls.  This briefly is,

Pearls come in two main categories: freshwater cultured pearls and saltwater cultured pearls. Various types of pearls are the result of the environment in which they live, and different cultivation techniques used by the pearl farmers. 

Freshwater cultured pearls are grown in lakes and rivers, whereas saltwater cultured pearls are grown in bodies of saltwater such as bays.  The most commonly used pearls are Freshwater pearls. 

Freshwater Pearls come in various pastel shades of white, pink, peach, lavender, plum, purple, and tangerine.  
South Sea cultured pearls come in shades of lustrous white, often with silver or rose overtones. 

Black pearls are known as Tahitian pearls and come most often in shades of black and gray. While a Tahitian pearl has a black body color, it will vary in its overtones, which most often will be green or pink.

Then there’s a demonstration, where one of the tour group is selected to pick an oyster out of the tank, and then there’s the guessing game as to how many pearls are in the shell, with the winner getting a pearl.

Guesses ranged from 1 to 23 and the answer was 26.  Nearest wins, and one for the person who picked the oyster out of the tank.  After this demonstration, we move on to the ways we can tell the difference between real and fake pearls.

It seems strange that they would, but we were guaranteed by both the tour guide and the lady delivering the lecture that the pearls we were about to buy were real, so how could we suspect there was anything dodgy about them?  Besides, now we could tell real from fake!

We then move onto the showroom floor where there are casements of pearl products, in the form of necklaces, earrings, and any number of variations and uses.  And, just to let you know, the prices are very, very expensive, even if they say they have a special.

Perhaps the best products, and those that found favor with many of the women on the tour, was the pearl cremes and powders.  These were not expensive, and, as we discovered later, actually worked as described.

Searching for locations: We’ve just arrived in Beijing International Airport, China

Instead of making a grand entrance, arriving in style and being greeted by important dignitaries, we are slinking in via an airplane, late at night.

It’s hardly the entrance I’d envisaged. At 9:56 the plane touches down on the runway.  Outside the plane, it is dark and gloomy and from what I could see, it had been raining.  That could, of course, simply be condensation.

Once on the ground, everyone was frantically gathering together everything from seat pockets and sending pillows and blankets to the floor.  A few were turning their mobile phones back on, and checking for a signal, and, perhaps, looking for messages sent to them during the last 12 hours. Or perhaps they were just suffering from mobile phone deprivation.

It took 10 minutes for the plane to arrive at the gate.

That’s when everyone moves into overdrive, unbuckling belts, some before the seatbelt sign goes off, and are first out of their seats and into the overhead lockers.  Most are not taking care that their luggage may have moved, but fortunately, no bags fall out onto someone’s head.

The flight had been relatively turbulent free.

When as many people and bags have squeezed into that impossibly small aisle space, we wait for the door to open, and then the privileged few business and first-class passengers to depart before we can begin to leave.

As we are somewhere near the middle of the plane, our wait will not be as long as it usually is.  This time we avoided being at the back of the plane.  Perhaps that privilege awaits us on the return trip.

Once off the plane, it is a matter of following the signs, some of which are not as clear as they could be.  It’s why it took another 30 odd minutes to get through immigration, but that was not necessarily without a few hiccups along the way. We got sidetracked at the fingerprint machines, which seemed to have a problem if your fingers were not straight, not in the center of the glass, and then if it was generally cranky, which ours were, continue to tell you to try again, and again, and again, and again…That took 10 to 15 minutes before we joined an incredibly long queue of other arrivals,

A glance at the time, and suddenly it’s nearly an hour from the moment we left the plane.

And…

That’s when we got to the immigration officer, and it became apparent we were going to have to do the fingerprints yet again.  Fortunately this time, it didn’t take as long.  Once that done, we collected our bags, cleared customs by putting our bags through a huge x-ray machine, and it was off to find our tour guide.

We found several tour guides with their trip-a-deal flags waiting for us to come out of the arrivals hall.  It wasn’t a difficult process in the end.  We were in the blue group.  Other people we had met on the plane were in the red group or the yellow group.  The tour guide found, or as it turned out she found us, it was simply a matter of waiting for the rest of the group, of which there were eventually 28.Gathered together we were told we would be taking the bags to one place and then ourselves to the bus in another.  A glance in the direction of the bus park, there were a lot of busses.

Here’s a thought, imagine being told your bus is the white one with blue writing on the side.

Yes, yours is, and 25 others because all of the tourist coaches are the same.  An early reminder, so that you do not get lost, or, God forbid, get on the wrong bus, for the three days in Beijing, is to get the last five numbers of the bus registration plate and commit them to memory.  It’s important.  Failing that, the guide’s name is in the front passenger window.

Also, don’t be alarmed if your baggage goes in one direction, and you go in another. In a rather peculiar set up the bags are taken to the hotel by what the guide called the baggage porter.  It is an opportunity to see how baggage handlers treat your luggage; much better than the airlines it appears.

That said, if you’re staying at the Beijing Friendship Hotel, be prepared for a long drive from the airport.  It took us nearly an hour, and bear in mind that it was very late on a Sunday night. Climbing out of the bus after what seemed a convoluted drive through a park with buildings, we arrive at the building that will be our hotel for the next three days.  From the outside, it looks quite good, and once inside the foyer, that first impression is good.  Lots of space, marble, and glass.  If you are not already exhausted by the time you arrive, the next task is to get your room key, find your bags, get to your room, and try to get to be ready the next morning at a reasonable hour.

Sorry, that boat has sailed. We were lucky, we were told, that our plane arrived on time, and we still arrived at the hotel at 12:52.  Imagine if the incoming plane is late.

This was taken the following morning.  It didn’t look half as bland late at night.

This is the back entrance to Building No 4 but is quite representative of the whole foyer, made completely of marble and glass.  It all looked very impressive under the artificial lights, but not so much in the cold hard light of early morning.

This the foyer of the floor our room was on.  Marble with interesting carpet designs.  Those first impressions of it being a plush hotel were slowly dissipating as we got nearer and nearer to the room.  From the elevator, it was a long, long walk.

So…

Did I tell you about the bathroom in our room? The shower and the toilet both share the same space with no divide and the shower curtain doesn’t reach to the floor.  Water pressure is phenomenal.  Having a shower floods the whole shower plus toilet area so when you go to the toilet you’re basically underwater. Don’t leave your book or magazine on the floor or it will end up a watery mess. And the water pressure is so hard that it could cut you in half.  Only a small turn of the tap is required to get that tingling sensation going. It’s after 1:30 before we finally get to sleep.

As for the bed, well, that’s a whole other story.

Searching for locations: On the road to Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China

One the first things you notice when driving around Beijing, other than the roads are congested with traffic, is the number of trees and flowers that have been planted, in the median strip as well as along the edges of the road.

What you also notice is the large number of multi-story apartment blocks, which are needed to house the millions of Beijing residents.  What we have, so far, rarely seen, is single-story houses.
These continuous areas of trees and rose bushes are, every now and then, broken up by very colorful garden beds:

Nearer to the square we are able to get up close to the flowers.  These, we are told, are a variation on the rose, one that flowers for nine months of the year.

They come in a variety of colors.

And they are literally everywhere you go, on the side of the roadway, often blotting out the concrete jungle behind them.

Searchings for locations: Oreti Village – no two sunrises are the same (1)

Oreti village, Pukawa Bay, North Island, New Zealand

On the southern tip of Lake Taupo

Our first morning there, a Saturday.  Winter.  Cold.  And a beautiful sunrise.

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This was taken from the balcony, overlooking the lake.

The sun is just creeping up over the horizon

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It gradually gets lighter, and then the sun breaks free of the low cloud

It lights up the balcony

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And the trees just beyond, a cascade of colorful ferns.

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It looks like its going to be a fine day, our first for this trip, and we will be heading to the mountains to see snow, for the first time for two of our granddaughters.

Searching for locations: The Yu Gardens, Shanghai, China

The Yu Gardens or Yuyuan Gardens

The Yu Gardens (or Yuyuan Gardens) are located at No. 137, Anren Street, Huangpu District, very close to the Old City God Temple, in the northeast of the Old City of Shanghai at Huangpu.

Yu Garden was first built in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty by Pan Yunduan and finished approximately 1577, created specifically as a private garden of the Pan family for Pan Yunduan’s parents to enjoy in their old age.

Yu Garden occupies an area of 5 acres, and is divided into six general areas:

  -Sansui Hall which includes the Grand Rockery was originally used to entertain guests,

  -Wanhua Chamber is a delicate building surrounded by derious cloisters,

  -Dianchun Hall, built in 1820, includes Treasury Hall and the Hall of Harmony,

  -Huijing Hall which includes Jade Water Corridor.

  -Yuhua Hall which is furnished with rosewood pieces from the Ming Dynasty, and,

  -The Inner Garden with rockeries, ponds, pavilions, and towers; first laid out in 1709.  As the quietest part of Yu Gardens, it includes the Hall of Serenity and the Acting and Singing Stage.

The Mid-Lake Pavilion Teahouse, within the gardens, is the oldest teahouse in Shanghai.

A centerpiece of the gardens is the Exquisite Jade Rock, a 5-ton boulder that was originally meant for the Huizong Emperor (Northern Song Dynasty from 1100-1126 AD) but was salvaged from the Huangpu River after the boat carrying it had sunk.

These gardens house a lot of buildings that seemed to be a perfect blend of the old and the new, and if it was up to me, I’d keep the old.  Both the building and the gardens they are set in are like an oasis in the middle of an industrial complex, and perhaps impractical for the number of people living in Shanghai.

All of the ponds had a lot of fish in them

It was a pleasant afternoon, for both a stroll through the gardens

In and out of the rockery on narrow pathways

And to look inside the buildings that were sparsely furnished

There was even an area set aside for entertainment.

Searching for locations: The Bund, Shanghai, China

The Bund

The architecture along the Bund or Waitan is a living museum of the colonial history of the 1800s.  The area centers on a section of Zhongshan Road within the former Shanghai International Settlement.

The word bund means an embankment or an embanked quay.   It was initially a British settlement; later the British and American settlements were combined in the International Settlement.

The Bund is a mile-long stretch of waterfront promenade along the Huangpu River. There are 52 buildings of various architectural styles, including Gothic, baroque, and neoclassical styles. The area is often referred to as “the museum of buildings”.

Building styles include Romanesque Revival, Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival, Baroque Revival, Neo-Classical or Beaux-Arts, as well as a number in Art Deco style.

Having seen these buildings initially the night before, mostly lit up, our viewing this morning was from the land side, and particularly interesting in that the colonial architecture was really fascinating considering their location, but not surprising given Shanghai’s history.  A lot of these buildings would be more at home in London, that out in the far east.

The Bund waterfront is about two kilometers long and impossible to cover in the time allowed for this part of the tour.

There was just enough time to get photos of the waterfront and the old buildings.

Some of these buildings had odd shapes, like one on the far right that looks like a bottle opener.

And, for some odd reason, a bull.

On the other side of the water, the sights that had been quite colorful the night before, were equally impressive though somewhat diminished by the haze.