Beijing – The Temple of Heaven

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The Temple of Heaven was my favorite excursion of the day.  I enjoyed the Forbidden City, Imperial Garden and Summer Palace.  However, the detail in the Temple of Heaven was just stunning.  It was built in the early 1400s just like the Forbidden City.  The Emperor during that era is regarded as a great leader….according to our tour guide.  He definitely created a lot of jobs for his people.

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My selfies have improved. I still can’t believe this was taken with my phone! My only regret- you cannot tell how crystal clear the sky was during my visit.  You can probably tell it was chilly though!

The temple was used to pray for good harvest.  Now it’s the most famous temple in Beijing.  I took so many pictures of it.  The detail was truly amazing.  We only spent 20 minutes at the Temple of Heaven.  Our whole group definitely wanted more time there.  The Temple of Heaven was the last visit on Day 1 of my Viator tour.  We went to the Forbidden City, Imperial Garden, a pearl factory and Temple of Heaven.  It also included a lunch.  The total was ~$55 US.

I’m really glad I visited some of these sights in Beijing when it was so cold.  It was pretty crowded.  I cannot imagine what it would be like in warmer weather.  If you can handle it, traveling to these sights during the winter months might be ideal if avoiding big crowds is desired.  The Forbidden City was probably the biggest crowd I saw during my three days in Beijing.  It was actually the coldest when we went there too because if was our first stop and we arrived at 8a.

Up next:  Ming Tombs, Tiananmen Square, culture in Beijing, FOOD!, and a visit to a famous neighborhood or hutong of Beijing.

If you missed some of my other adventures in Beijing:

Forbidden City and Imperial Gardens

Great Wall of China

Summer Palace

Thank you and Happy Holidays from Hong Kong!!!

 

 

Beijing- The Summer Palace -Viator tours

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After the Forbidden City and Imperial Garden, we visited the Summer Palace.  I imagine the grandeur of the Summer Palace is much more extraordinary when in the midst of summer.  But the scenery was still picturesque.  The lake had a thin layering of ice on the surface that added an interesting depth to all my photos.

It was blistering cold, however the sun came out which helped.  We had ~2h at the Summer Palace to roam on our own.  Our tour guide said we would need weeks to fully explore the area.  The lake itself is >500 acres.  In the warm months, it was a place of respite for the Emperor and Empress.  They would spend much of their time at the Summer Palace instead of the Forbidden City.

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The Summer Palace origin dates back to the 1100s.  It was named a World Landmark in the 1900s.  Even in the bitter cold, locals were playing games and enjoying the beautiful scenery.  We even saw a man writing calligraphy in the sidewalk.  He was creating a portrait of a bystander in the picture below….it’s not the piglet!  He was using water instead of ink.  It was very entertaining.  It made me think of my father-in-law who is quite talented in calligraphy as well.

There are pavilions, temples, gardens and bridges to best enjoy the landscape.  We didn’t even cover 1/3 of it in the time we had there.

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So to recap, on this day trip with Viator, we saw the Forbidden City, Imperial Garden, Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven.  The Temple of Heaven was my favorite stop and the topic of my next blog post.

I did a 2-day tour with Viator.  Lunch was included on both days.  The first day was ~$55 US.  All entry fees were covered in this price.  I thought we covered a lot and I was pleased with our guide.  I loved that our group was small (4 people) and talkative.  I would recommend traveling to these locations in the cold weather because it’s less crowded.  Just wear layers!

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Beijing- The Forbidden City and Imperial Garden

It was a chilling -2 degrees Celsius (and windy!) and I was visiting the Forbidden City and Imperial Garden.  The Forbidden City is >150 acres.  It was built from 1404-1420 and housed up to 3000 concubines, the Emperor and Empress and the Imperial Guard.

Everything about the complex followed the principles of Feng Shui.  For instance, the Forbidden City had mountains protecting the entrances.  The entrances were facing a certain direction that is evading me right now.  The main thing I remember is the dragon outside the door of the Emperor’s living quarters.  The Chinese dragon is different than the Western dragon that breathes fire.  The Eastern dragon has horns and water comes out of its mouth.  It never goes to the bathroom.  The significance there is that whatever enters the dragon doesn’t leave it.  So at an entryway of a home, the dragon should be facing the entry.  It will bring money and prosperity into the household (through its mouth–and the money will never leave since it doesn’t use the washroom).  If the dragon’s back is to the door, then the household will squander monies and good fortune instead of collecting them.

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male dragon

Another significance of the dragon, is the dragon stepping on a ball (it’s a pearl which designates power) represents the Emperor and the dragon stepping on the cub represents the Empress.

The male is the yang and the female is the yin.  Yin and Yang are very important aspects of Chinese culture and required for balance.  They are displayed throughout the Forbidden City.  I couldn’t retain all that was shared, but our tour guide was very informative.

I again used Viator for my tour of The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven ,The Great Wall of China and Summer Palace.  It included a pick-up at my hotel and lunch.  There were four of us on this tour–a brother and sister from South America and young lady from Switzerland.  Between them, the oldest was 24.  I’ll explain in a bit how I knew their ages.

We arrived at the Forbidden City right when they were opening at 8:30a.  So we didn’t wait long in the line nor was the line very long.  It was frigid.

Here’s a picture the tour guide took of me before we entered.

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I’m wearing so many layers (leg warmers too if you can’t tell!). The only things cold were my nose and hands….my gloves weren’t wind proof

And the Imperial Garden:

There were trees in the garden with either red or green tags.  Red tags meant the tree was over 300 yrs old.  Green tags meant they were over 100 yrs old.

After the Forbidden City, we drove to the Temple of Heaven.  I’ll discuss that in a separate post.  We also stopped at a facility where they were practicing acupuncture, cupping and holistic healing.   We received an assessment on our health and a foot massage.  This is how I knew the ages of my fellow tour-goers, by the way.

The trained Herbalist looked at my tongue and used my pulse on my wrist to give his assessment.  He said that I don’t sleep well.  He said my mind never turns off and I’m stressed out.  This could really fit anyone but, I hardly slept the night before.  He wrote me a prescription for herbs to aid in sleeping but it was 800rmb for a 30 day supply.  That’s ~$130 US for a 30 day supply.  Yowza.  We couldn’t take a picture or I would’ve asked Qi to translate the herbs for me.  I also heard his assessment of my peers and according to them, he diagnosed them properly.  None of us purchased the herbs though.

There is a book I plan to buy (to Qi’s chagrin!) to study herbs and their healing power.  It parallels my work in a way and I find it fascinating.  I also bought a ton of tea while in Beijing.

old versus new stone floors

I’m fascinated by the dragons.

I have much more to share on Beijing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beijing- The Great Wall- Mutianyu section

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Last week I was in Beijing.  I went there because of all the history in Beijing and to visit all the iconic sights– the most iconic being the Great Wall of China.  The Great Wall was built in 1404.  There were several sections available for tours.  I decided to visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

The weather was supposed to be cold and cloudy.  The day before I visited the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven.  It was gorgeously clear, albeit frigid– but more to come on that in a separate post.  I mentioned it because I figured my quota for good weather had been filled already.  I cannot believe my luck.

I planned tours for a couple of my days in Beijing.  I used a website called Viator.  I was scheduled with a tour guide who called the night before to confirm pick-up in my hotel lobby.  His English was good and his enthusiasm could not be faked.  Our tour group was a total of 4 people.  There were two gentlemen from Melbourne and the third man was from Florida.

We arrived at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.  I chose this section because it’s considered to be less crowded than the Badaling section (very popular for tourists) and a bit more scenic and steep.  It’s further from Beijing and a less traveled part of the Great Wall.

To get to the wall, we had to ride up a ski lift.  This ride was not part of the cost for the pre-paid tour.  Alternatively, there’s an option to walk up the mountain.  For the return, there’s also the option to take a toboggan down the mountain.  Unfortunately (or fortunately– I cannot decide which!) the toboggan option was unavailable.

Prior to getting on the ski lift, our tour guide told us we needed to be back in 2.5hrs.  So climbing the mountain was not an option– although, I definitely wouldn’t have chosen that regardless.

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All the cars were marked letting us know that former First Lady of the USA, Michelle Obama, rode up to this part of the Great Wall

The ski lift dropped us off between watch tower 14 and 15.  We could only walk to watch tower 20, after that, the wall was restricted from tourists.  There is a simple explanation for this.  The Great Wall is >13,000 miles and only parts are maintained for tourists.  Walking from tower 15 to 20 was still quite a trek.  I had several layers on because I thought I’d be cold.  I was sweating from the exertion.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the day I burst into tears.  On the next day, when I visited Tiananmen Square, I was overcome with emotion and gratitude that released itself in tears.  To have the opportunity and means to visit so many amazing places….I cannot believe how blessed I am!!  I tear up just thinking about it.  I was at the Great Wall!  Unreal!

If you missed other beautiful sights I’ve visited in Hong Kong and Japan, please visit these other posts on Mount Fuji and Victoria Peak.

Otherwise, please enjoy these pictures of the Great Wall- Mutianyu section.

By the way, the wind had died down but most of the smog was already eliminated.  Thank you wind for providing the most amazing views!

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my legs were wobbly after 2.5 hours but I walked the whole section

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I was there!!!!

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it was a workout!

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Please stay tuned.

Up next:  Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Ming Tombs, Forbidden City and more adventures in Beijing.

Thanks for traveling with me!

 

 

 

 

 

Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery

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I just returned from Beijing where I visited The Great Wall, The Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, a famous hutong, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Ming Tombs, etc.  I cannot wait to share my experiences!  Before I left Hong Kong, I went to Nan Lian Garden and the Chi Lin Nunnery.  They are near the Diamond Hill MTR stop and ~45min from Wan Chai.  It cooled off to 65F and I actually wore jeans.  It was the perfect sightseeing weather.

Entry into both the garden and nunnery is free.  The gardens are known for their traditional Chinese landscaping.  I had to seriously edit myself from posting every picture.  I got carried away with its beauty.

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I probably walked around for two hours.  It was so serene.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t very crowded either.

Immediately north of Nan Lian Garden is the Chi Lin Nunnery.  Chi Lin Nunnery, other than being a part of a monastery campus, is known for its beautiful bonsai.  WOW.

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The nunnery was built in 1930.  You couldn’t turn a corner without seeing a bonsai tree.  I wish their age was listed along with the descriptions.  They were amazing.  Bonsais are not easy.  The care that’s needed to maintain them all is incredible.  Here are some other historical landmarks we visited in Wan Chai:

Blue House and Pak Tai Temple

Afterwards I intended to go to a very famous vegetarian restaurant that’s nearby for lunch.  However, it was already 3p.  Time had gotten away from me– more importantly, the vegetarian restaurant closed at 3p.  Luckily, the MTR station nearby also housed a mall with many restaurants.  I had fun window shopping at a mall that didn’t have stores like Armani, Gucci, Chloe, Prada, etc.

By the way, if you compare the prices of Western stores in HK to the prices in the US, the US prices are much cheaper.  The only reason Hong Kong has such a reputation for shopping is there are many nearby countries that don’t have these stores due to tariffs.  So people come here to shop because it’s their only option.  If you are visiting from the US, shopping for US brands should only occur if you are in dire need of something or don’t mind spending the extra cash….it’s a lot of extra cash too.  I did a comparison of one high end jacket.  It was a 20% mark-up in Hong Kong compared to the USA cost.

Stay tuned for adventures from Beijing!

Wan Chai & Tsim Sha Tsui

Hong Kong Bird Sanctuary and Night Market

exploring our neighborhood- the grocery store and dim sum

 

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong Bird Sanctuary and Night Market

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Qi has been working crazy hours and weekends.  It’s not really different than at home except at home he can work from home–so he’s physically present.  Well Saturday, I thought he could use a break.  He hasn’t even been to the Hong Kong Park yet!  So we took a trek to the Hong Kong Bird Sanctuary and later went to Kowloon to check out the infamous Night Market at Jordan.

Remember how our first week here, I went to the Zoo and Botanical Garden and commented on the limited number of birds?  That’s because I didn’t go far enough into the gardens.

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beautiful mango tree!

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hello cutie
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If you knew how many pictures I took of this parrot eating!
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(s)he likes mango and dragon fruit!

There were over 600 birds in the sanctuary.

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some were lovers

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Hornbill

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We also walked around Hong Kong Park.  That park just never gets old to me!  And it was Qi’s first time.  I was really excited to show him around.

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That night we visited the famous Night Market in Jordan.  It was such an adrenaline rush to barter with the vendors.  Although, I didn’t purchase a thing…

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there’s a slight chance he knew I snapped a picture…

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Eating street food is a bonus.  I mentioned these bubble waffles in a previous post about food in Wan Chai.  They still taste like waffles.  We’re glad we had them but we’re not going to open a stall selling them in the US or anything.

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Some things to note about Hong Kong that I keep forgetting to mention:

  1. The doors to most malls and public buildings can either be pushed or pulled.  It’s really nice not to have to think about it.  Although, I foresee this biting me in the ass when I get back to the States!
  2. In public buildings, sometimes the escalators going up are on the left hand side (LHS) of the escalators going down (I consider this a British influence- akin to driving on the LHS of the road).  However, we’ve seen (in the same building!) escalators that follow the same standard as the States- where the escalator on the left is going down and the escalator on the right is going up.
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    going up on LHS

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    going up on RHS
  3. Along the same line, in the MTR stations, there are some stairs with arrows pointing up on the LHS and some where the stairs on the LHS point down– good thing they’re labeled!IMG_20171206_174656
  4. Lots of the buildings have a huge overhang over the sidewalks below.  This is because in the summer there are tsunamis in Hong Kong and a lot of rain.  You almost don’t need an umbrella if it’s raining.

We’re here!

Tea Ware Museum and Fruit Market

 

 

Lumieres Hong Kong- Central Hong Kong

Qi worked on Saturday but thought I might be interested in the first Light Festival in Hong Kong, called Lumieres Hong Kong.  It was located near his office so I met him there.
Saturday was the last day of the festival.  There were different locations all throughout Central and TST in Hong Kong.  The first location we visited was at the garden right outside Qi’s work.  It was called Bamboo Square.  There was music playing.  It alternated between traditional Chinese music or nature sounds.  The “bamboo” lit up depending on the choreography or intensity of a note in the songs.

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unlit bamboo
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partially lit bamboo
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partially lit bamboo
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fully lit bamboo

We were surrounded by it in the park.  It was like the fountain at Bellagio in Las Vegas is choreographed to music.  However, instead of the fountain, these lights were choreographed to the music.

It was stunning!  It’s so hard to portray the beauty in this post.  It’s like taking pictures of fireworks.  They’re never quite as vibrant and as extraordinary as they were in person. I think it’s because audio is such a huge part of that sensory experience, so without it, it’s lacking.

Then we saw these two dancers perform wearing dresses of lights.

The next exhibit we attended was called Over the Ocean.  There was rippling water reflected on the wall.  And in the body of water directly in front were little origami boats–candlelit.  Kids were adding them to the water.

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The symbolism was very lovely although the pictures didn’t really translate the reality.

Next was one of my favorites!  It was called Fish Tank.  They transformed the Former French Mission Building into a giant fish tank.  They even “drained” the water at one point and refilled it with new water and different fish.  It was marvelous.

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And then my second favorite (and Qi’s favorite) was this animation that used a whole building as its interactive “movie screen”.  They were very “minion-like” characters called Anooki and the sound effects were super cute!  At one point the floor of the building was a trampoline and at another it filled with water and they went swimming.  I felt like a little kid!  It was really cool!

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The back drop was the General Post Office.  I’ll post a video (of course I took several) on Instagram.  They were too cute not to share.

There were other light shows on buildings.  The next two pictures show the Mandarin Oriental as a giant photo booth display.

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photo booth pictures displayed on the side of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel
isn’t that the coolest?
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called E-Motion- it looked like a kaleidescope

And then the Wishing Tree at Lumieres.

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a wish can be whispered into the pipe near the bottom of the tree

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Lastly, the human-sized snow globe and Christmas tree. I don’t think this was part of the Lumieres festival.  It was just a nice diversion.

Hong Kong really knows how to throw a light party.  Nice job with Lumieres 2017!

If you’re looking for other entertainment in Central Hong Kong, please click on this link and this link to see what we’ve been up to.  Thanks!

Tokyo Musts- Meiji Shrine – Sushi

I went to the Meiji Shrine and of course I had sushi multiple times while in Tokyo.  In Chicago, Qi and I have a ritual where we have sushi every Friday for dinner.  We love sushi!!

The Meiji Shrine was dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken.  It was enormous and so tranquil.  I have a video walking up to the shrine and you can only hear the crunching of footsteps in the gravel and the birds chirping.  It was so calming and peaceful.  Neither Emperor Meiji or his wife were buried at the shrine, but it would be the perfect resting place.

Meiji Shrine
this is made of vegetables…even the mast!
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another boat made entirely of vegetables

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Meiji Shrine

The shrine closed at 5p.  I had a couple hours to walk through everything and appreciate the beauty.  There were trinkets and charms to purchase.  There were sachets for good luck in school, or good luck with having a baby or good health, etc.

Sushi, Sushi, Sushi

Throughout my whole trip to Japan, the sushi I had was pretty good.  I really wanted to go this famous stand-up restaurant but every time I passed it, it was packed.

In Hong Kong and Japan we haven’t had any fish that wasn’t good….even Genki has been good to us as we went there previously.  Interesting observation– there was no wasabi served with the sushi in the Japanese restaurants– as a side, like ginger.  The sushi chef would apply wasabi where he (I’ve never seen a woman sushi chef!) deemed it appropriate.  That was all the wasabi we received with our meal.

One thing I haven’t mentioned about Japanese etiquette is that prior to a meal, patrons would receive a damp cloth to wash their hands.  They are typically fragranced with lavender or jasmine–just another example of the Japanese and their astounding cleanliness and thoughtfulness of mankind.

Shibuya and food-Street food, Ramen and Crepes

Mount Fuji – Sunrise Tours- bus tour

 

 

Sights near Mt. Fuji-san

In my post on Mt. Fuji with Sunrise Tours, I had only discussed the actual trip to 5th station on Mt. Fuji.  However, this was a day trip.  We saw many other sights near Mt. Fuji-san, including Lake Kawaguchiko.  This is the lake where we ate our lunch.  It was gorgeous although the clouds and rain were rolling in!!

restaurant where we ate a very traditional Japanese meal
the restaurant is in a little touristy town where lots of bus tours visited for lunch

We did not see Mt Fuji again that day.  Gosh, I still can’t believe how lucky we were to see it in the morning!!

And here was our view from the restaurant and our lunch:

From here we drove through the most beautiful fields of grain.  They look like wheat!

We arrived at Lake Ashi.  We were taking a 15 minute ferry boat ride to the other side of the lake.  Lake Ashi is the highest elevated lake in Japan and a result of volcanic activity….like that time we went to Crater Lake, Ma and Dad!

inside the ferry

Our last destination before the bullet train back to Tokyo, was Hakone.  Hakone is known for its hot springs and beautiful views of Mt. Fuji.  We were taking a ropeway (looks like one big ski lift – pictured below) to the top of Mt. Komagatake.

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Unfortunately, our views were not unobstructed.  The clouds had taken over the landscape.  For this ride, I didn’t worry about the weight limit like I did on the Peak Tram.  Ha ha– maybe because I couldn’t see how high we were?

views from the tram as we were climbing up the mountain

view at the top- from the observation deck

Can you see the tram/ski lift in the below picture?  Many apologies for the quality.  It was raining so I put the camera away.  This picture was taken with my cell phone….and I zoomed in quite a bit.

There had to be at least 90 of us packed on that tram.  It took some maneuvering on my part to even get pictures!

And below is what it would look like on a clear day.  I’m pretty sure every one of us purchased the souvenir photo!

The views on the ground were still lovely and it was an enjoyable trip.

As I said before, I really only wanted to see to Mount Fuji.  The rest of the day was a bonus and I had a great time!  The total for the trip (including Mt. Fuji-san) was ~$100 US.  We took a bullet train back to Tokyo.  The bullet train runs up to 320km/hour and that ticket alone was $30 US.

Below is a video of the bullet train passing through the station.  It’s my first video.  I know– I’m getting fancy!!  If for some reason this has back-fired, and you have any technical difficulties, please leave a message in the comment section.  Thank you!

See links below for more on what we’ve been up to in Hong Kong or if you missed the post about Mount Fuji.  I received my Chinese visa today so I’m off to the Great Wall in the next couple weeks.

Mount Fuji – Sunrise Tours- bus tour

exploring our neighborhood- the grocery store and dim sum

High Tea at Grand Buffet in Hopewell Centre

Wan Chai Hills and Escalator/Travelator

 

Hokkaido Ice Cream and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Hokkaido is the 2nd largest prefecture of Japan and the main source of dairy for Japan.  It’s like the Wisconsin of the US, but the milk is creamier (with a gloriously high fat content).  I was on the hunt for the best Hokkaido ice cream in Japan.  And I had the most beautiful visit to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.  It is the garden known for the display of cherry blossoms, or sakura, in the Spring.

I have mentioned Hokkaido ice cream before in a post.  In Hong Kong, there’s a place we went to called Calbee.  It’s a Japanese company known for potatoes and Hokkaido ice cream.  I can’t believe it, but I found something better!  I went to Silkream and had the most luxurious lunch/dessert.

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Ma-isn’t their décor so charming? I took the pics because I thought you’d really like it!

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And on the way there, I saw the Mario Karts again and they WAVED!

Mo, I didn’t try it….and I have zero regrets!  I’m sure I could do this in the US if the need arises.

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Is the caboose texting and driving?

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And then I went to the Shinjuki Gyoen National Garden.  It was 200yen to enter or less than $2.00US.  This is not the time of year for the cherry blossoms, but it was still gorgeous.  It was rainy early in the morning and then cleared into a beautiful day.  There were still some drops on the leaves and puddles throughout.  It added to the ambience and beauty of the garden.

see all the cherry trees that have already lost their leaves?
another of the cherry trees
barren cherry trees again- you’re welcome!

this is a tea house

This is only the second place I’ve visited since we’ve been in Asia, (for this trip) where there were no Western style toilets.  This park and when we went to Lan Tau Island Trail only had squatting options for the ladies.

It was a lovely visit.

I also stopped at Don Quijote in search of some souvenirs.  It’s open 24h and very entertaining.  I found a flashback to my college days– Zima!

And I found my favorite– unsweetened Jasmine Tea….but a Japanese brand.  It was slightly less brewed compared to the one in Hong Kong and a more delicate flavor profile.

I took a picture of this interview but I have no idea who it was nor what they were saying.  There was a huge crowd so someone famous, I’m sure!

More on my Japan visit soon!