Friday, November 30, 2012

A trip to Hong Kong

Let me tell you about my recent experience in Hong Kong. I have been to many cities in Asia, but none held the mystique and intrigue like Hong Kong. The "Pearl of the Orient" or "Asia's World City", as it is called.  I have been wanting to travel to Hong Kong for a very long time. Long before I met my husband, who was born there, but left with his family when he was a child.

For him it was the first time going back after almost 25 years. To my surprise he was right at home, and his aunts, uncles, and cousins and nephews were also very enthusiastic towards him, as if he never left. I also felt very welcomed by my new found family, and they are all very warm towards us. So, you can imagine I fell right in love with this city.

Everybody has images of Hong Kong in his head, the enormous skyscrapers, the high population density, the ultimate shopping streets, the beautiful harbor, the peak and other well known landmarks. What I didn't expect was the beautiful nature, almost empty beaches, long hiking trails in lush green surroundings, crystal clear waters and almost rural village live.

We were lucky to stay longer than the typical 3-5 nights that most people do, and I recommend it to everyone to get away from Hong Kong Island and visit some of the surroundings, like the many beautiful islands and the New Territories.

Of course, the food was amazing. In Sai Kung for example, you can buy the seafood directly from the fishing boats and have it prepared at nearby restaurants. The meal we had there was probably one of the best I have ever had.

You can find all kinds regional Chinese cuisines in abundance. We had everything from Peking duck to Shanghainese Xiao Long Bao to Hong Kongs own Dim Sum. If you are tired of Chinese food, which is hard to imagine in Hong Kong, there are still a lot of choices of every international cuisine at all levels. Not to forget the beautiful pastry shops, which you can find in any shopping mall or big name hotels.

I also liked to visit the different temples in Hong Kong, there are big and small ones, old and new, some hidden, some surrounded by beautiful nature, some crowded with people seeking good fortune.

Getting around in Hong Kong was really easy. I have not seen a public transportation system anywhere which was so efficient, modern, clean and all that at a reasonable price. Well, every guide book will tell you this anyhow, but really get an Octopus Card, if you go to Hong Kong. It makes everything very easy, you can use it for bus, metro, ferry, tram and even to get a coffee.

We had a wonderful time, and I hope you like all my pictures. I can't wait to go back soon!

Monday, July 9, 2012

A trip to Tokyo

In a recent post I wrote you about our trip to Shanghai. The second part of our trip to Asia brought us to Tokyo, which was a completely different experience. As with China, it was also my very first time in Japan. Tokyo is incomparable to everything I have seen before. It is very busy, but at the same time calm and orderly. The people are very polite, and the taxi drivers are even all dressed up in suits, ties, and gloves. When you are in a big department store, you will see the the staff bowing at you, sometimes even in formation. If you are used to the chaos in China, it might take you some time to readjust to the almost sterile atmosphere that is in Tokyo.

It is also very hard to find your away around, whether you are Japanese or not. There are no street numbers in Japan, only neighborhoods and blocks. Then add to it the fact that some places are just so huge, you really don't know where you are until it's too late. The biggest train/metro station in Tokyo, the Shinjuku Station, has more than 60 exits, in a huge underground labyrinth. If you end up going to the wrong exit, you won't be able to trace your way back. Sometimes, that's part of the joy in traveling, isn't it.

The food in Japan is well known for its total perfection. Everything is beautifully executed and arranged, and has flavors that are unique to the dish. The sushi is, of course, fantastic, whether you are in cheap kaiten sushi joints, or in more upscale establishments in the Tsukiji area. However, there are also food items I find strange, like the chicken sashimi, which I would not incline to try.

Of course I had to pay a visit to the famous p√Ętissier Hidemi Sugino. I have heard stories from other bloggers, who had to endure long line ups, only to find out their favorite pastries had been sold out. Luckily, it was around the corner from my hotel in Ginza. We went around midday, there was still a broad selection to choose from, and the service was very prompt. I have to say, it was the best pastry I have ever experienced. Everything down to the texture and temperature tasted just right.

Despite being a progressive hi-tech society, the Japanese are also very traditionally minded. They have some of the most immaculate train and communication systems in the world, and yet you see a lot of Japanese, still observing their traditions. It is not uncommon in the metropolis like Tokyo to see women shopping in their elegant kimonos, or people going to temples, keeping in touch with their spirituality. These two seemingly polar opposites exist in harmony, and gave the Japanese people their unique cultural identity. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to see the famous Geisha or Geiko while I was there.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A trip to Shanghai

It was my first trip to China, and I was totally overwhelmed by this city.The city was very impressive and there were many things to see. On one hand it is very modern, with new ultra-chic skyscrapers being built constantly and endless shopping possibilities, but on the other hand there is still a very traditional side, with old temples and people doing Tai Chi in the park each morning. I took almost 2000 pictures, and it took me some time to go through them all. I have included a small selection here to share my experiences with you.
My favorite past time was to stroll around the city in the morning. You can see people practicing Tai Chi on the streets, play cards, ballroom dancing in the park or just meet for a chat. Everybody seemed very relaxed and very friendly and curious to me. It was really exciting to see how energetic these people are and how much fun they have even at such early hours.
The food in Shanghai was also amazing. I love Chinese food and I also know many authentic dishes from my husband and his side of the family. But the choices, variety and quality of the food in Shanghai were simply endless. Whether it is street food or gourmet restaurant dishes everything tasted incredible, and the prices were still very reasonable.
Opposite to all the hustle and bustle you can still find peace and quiet, for example in one of the many temples. It is nice change in scenery and I enjoyed visiting them very much. If you happen to be at the Longhua Temple around lunch time be sure to try their vegetarian noodle soup. It is extremely delicious.
I didn't really know what to expect before we went, but I was pleasantly surprised. I hope to return to Shanghai soon for another exciting visit. But this was not the whole trip; I will tell you about our next destination in another post.