Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Las Vegas and LA

The weird thing about flying around the globe is that at some stage you have to cross the time line. In our case flying from China at 14:00 on the 21st caused us to land in the United States at 10:00 on the 21st... After a 12 hour flight! So somewhere in the time warp we gained an extra day (to Wiets this did not make one little bit of sense, so we physically had to take a world map and trace the sun, it turns out that its just how it works, weird, but true :)

After confirming the date with passport control (which, by the way, America seems to be seriously lacking in efficiency, and we can say this because we've been around and have never spent more time in queues than in the USA) we headed to the the car rental company in Los Angeles. A yellow convertible Mustang - yes please! So we hit the streets of the City of Angels with the top down :)

LA; glossy, glamorous, hip and happening... Not so much. This was probably our least favourite city... Ever. Yes, we got to walk on the stars, yes we drove Mulholland Drive and yes we saw the Hollywood sign, but LA is a widespread city with small pockets of interesting sights and $10 parking. We meandered along Venice Beach up to Santa Monica Pier and did some serious people watching, but after losing our appetites because of all the overtly overweight locals and scraping the tar off our feet we concluded that 2 days are more than enough in the city.

Driving our Mustang through the desert up to Las Vegas was a treat! We even stopped at a 50s themed diner on the way, filling up on burgers and curly fries in one of their classic booths. We've heard millions of stories about Las Vegas, some love it and others loath it. We absolutely loved it. Bright, loud, unapolagetically pleasure driven and over the top - fabulous! We fed off the energy of the city, and for three nights we didn't get to bed before 03:00! We watched the sun set over the themed hotels from our bedroom window, tapped to Elvis as the Bellagio fountains danced, walked for miles up and down The Strip, stuffed our faces at a seafood buffet, spent some time lounging by the pool and even watched a (relatively) naughty show.

Part of our road trip plan was to visit Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. One is a magnificent engineering feat, and the other a grand natural wonder - two epic sites in one day, wow! It was quite a drive (part of it on a dirt road), but with the wind in our hair and the sun burning down it was a fun day in the desert :)

Vegas was just fabulous, and we left feeling like we didn't even scratch the surface... We'll be back!


Cool tar pits in the middle of Los Angeles.

Oh yum!! The Farmers Market was such a great place wi

Santa Monica Pier.

Tar feet after walking on the beach, ewe!

"Ys koue Sauvignon Blanc!" South African nogals :)

We found Charlize! This, by the way, is no easy feat as there are thousands of stars - most of which we didn't even recognize...

The Hollywood sign! This (and their local radio station) was my favourite part of LA.

This is supposed to be a salad... In a giant nacho, covered with cheese... Right.

Road Trippin to Vegas! Stopping for diner food is essential, and we loved Peggy Sue's 50s style diner.

We could see The MGM Grand, New York New York, Excalibur, The Luxor and Mandalay Bay from our window on the 18th floor - awesome!

Hooters buffalo wings and a bud, super spicy and super tasty! Especially with the blue cheese dip and celery sticks!

The Strip. Its MUCH longer than it looks or than we anticipated... There was some running involved.

OMG, after this amazing seafood buffet of Crab legs, Oysters, Prawns, Sushi (and much much more) I vowed that I would never eat again... That only lasted to 2am when:

Krispy Kreme! Best doughnuts. Ever.

The insides of the casinos are elaborate and often have stunning aquariums like this one at Caesars Palace.

We watched 'Fantasy' at The Luxor. Pretty girls with very little clothing that know how to shake it. Nice.

Road tripping to the Grand Canyon, Vegas style :)

Hoover Dam.

Grand indeed! The Canyon was seriously impressive... And nerve wracking!

It's shear size and awesomeness will never translate onto a photo.

Now it's off to sunshine and beaches in Miami, time to kick back and relax!

Location:Los Angeles, California, Las Vegas, Nevada and Grand Canyon, Arizona

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spoilt in Suzhou and Shanghai

How do we summarise a country like China? Everything in super-sized, everything is super efficient, everything is tasty and everything is drenched in centuries old history. Old buildings next to sky scrapers, super rich and extremely poor, unaffordably expensive and dirt cheap, fabulous local cuisine and terrible western food attempts... China is a country of contrasts... And we just LOVED it!

After a few days in Beijing, we took an overnight train to Suzhou where Wiets' cousin Irene, her husband Rihann and their three daughters have been living for the past three years. They spoilt us rotten; driving us around the city, taking us on a boat trip on the canal, taking us to the best local restaurants, treating us to a roast duck dinner and quenching our craving for good red wine. Thanks you guys, we had an absolute blast and we hope that we can return the favours one day :)

Our last nights were spent in a splendid hotel in Shanghai... What a city! This is one metropolis that we would go back to in a heart beat. We meandered along the Bund as the sun set over the famous Shanghai skyline, wondered the bustling streets at night, dined on world renowned dumplings and shopped up a storm. It's a concrete jungle with personality. We adored the wide sidewalks, greener-than-green parks, amazing food, cocktails in the sky and classy locals.

Here is to our imminent second trip to China :)

Our cabin for the overnight train from Beijing to Suzhou. We were super relieved we got a private cabin (buying the tickets was a challenge) and that we didn't have to share with a spitting Beijing local (a terrible habit they seem to have taken up as a sport).

Finally! Luxury after a night in a tent and a night on a train :)

Noodle feast!! Rihann and Irene showed us the ropes on local Suzhou cuisine. Bowls of steaming broth filled with noodles topped with a fatty beef (or pork?) slice and served with condiments like sticky eel, pickled veggies, fresh ginger in soy sauce, nuts and preserved fish - yum!

The Humble Administrator's Gardens. Beautiful pebble walk ways, begodas, Mandarin Ducks paddling on lakes and moon windows :)

Boat cruise on one of the many water-ways in Suzhou.

Roast Beijing Duck dinner with the Marais/Koekemoer clan. The food, wine and company was delightful!

Twins! Rihann gave Wiets some much needed new T-shirts, thanks R!

One of the best meals we've ever had! Irene and Rihann took us to a Sichuan restaurant - numbingly spicy and flavorsome, we gulped down bites of peppered bullfrog, dry fried beef, lotus roots and silken tofu with local beer - wow!

After relentless spoiling and too much wining & diniing, we boarded the high speed train to Shanghai - Wiets likes this pic because it looks like I'm being blow away by the train :)

The concrete jungle that is Shanghai, a city of contrasts that we just loved!

Delicious feast to celebrate 3 weeks of wedded bliss in an old historical French Concession building.

Local Chinese markets are a feast for the senses! Loud, colourfull and overwhelmingly smelly at times, it always amazes us how fresh all the produce is! Not for the squeamish though... Live animals in cages and mesh bags awaiting the boiling pot...

Just one of the stunning parks amongst the skyscrapers.

Dumpling feast! Din Tai Fung serves up some of the most delicious xiaolong bao.

Cruising the streets at sunset with some of the most epic buildings in the world as our backdrop.

Cocktails at Cloud 9 in the Yin Mao building... On the 87th floor! What a view!!

Room service and red wine (thanks Rihann) in our fabulous hotel. Ps We've got the chopsticks thing down!

Boys and their toys :) Wiets was super stoked that we got to travel from Shanghai to the airport in the MagLev at 431km per hour!!
Next stop, Los Angeles America :)

Location:Shanghai, China

Beautiful Beijing

Wow, what can we say about Beijing... Ancient Temples, amazing food, fantastic atmosphere - definitely one of our favourite stops so far! Unlike Russia, it's much easier to get around, and even though many people don't even understand English, they are very willing to help and generally we got along just fine.

We visited some of the most famous sites in the world - The Forbidden City, Tian'anmen Square and the Great Wall - wow! We went on a private tour to a non-touristy part of the wall, and we ended up being the only people there! We even spent the night in a tent (indoors because the wind was quite hectic) but still with a view of the wall and got up early to watch the sun rise over this ancient landmark - unforgettable!

The food... Y.U.M.! We ate dumplings, hot pot, weird sosatis and the BEST Peking Duck ever! Definitely some of the most memorable (and cheap) cuisine we've eaten on our trip thus far :)
Colourful, loud, smelly and amazing, we have a feeling this is a country we'll have to visit again!

Jet lag is not just a theory... Ok, maybe it was just too many sleeping pills...
Conquering another Metro!
Just after this pic we got lost... Badly... With a broken suitcase wheel... Ouch feet!
Finally in our hotel, after 24 hours of traveling!
Creepy creatures on sticks! Touristy night market Donghaumen, anything you can imagine skewered, boiled or fried. Basically good for a photo op, not great for good dining.
Live scorpions on sticks! Didn't like seeing the Sea Horses :(
Chinese beer in a Hutong restaurant.

Jing Shan Park, amazing views and vibe! People of all ages dancing and singing in the gardens. We even saw elderly people skipping with jump ropes!

The moat of the Forbidden Palace.
Temples in the park on man-made hills - hundreds of years old!
Hot pot! Delicious - but we're almost certain we ate donkey...
Mao's tomb on Tian'anmen square.
BEST Peking Duck ever at Bianyifang.
The Forbidden City - epic!
Loved these lion statues everywhere!
Imperial Gardens.
Little bustling streets selling everything from live food to computer goods.
On the Great Wall - it's 6000 km long!!
Yes we climbed this! And we were the ONLY people on this part of the wall :)
The view of the snaking wall.

Next stop is Suzhou to visit Irene and Rihann - the only family we'll see during our six wee trip :) Onward to the rest of our Chinese adventure!

Location:Beijing, China