Thursday, September 18, 2008

slow tourism day

I dunno if it was jetlag, or just general fatigue, but we slept in until 2pm today, so not much tourism will get done doing that! We walked to the Temple of the Good Harvest (I hoped to cast a blessing for my brother's crops) but it was closing when we got there. The park surrounding it is nice though. The temple is where the emperor used to come to pray for good harvests. It's quite elaborate with a 500m long 'road' for him to walk.

We're aiming to sample food from main areas of China: had contonese the other night (basically normal chinese food), then some Sichuan (not big fans of it but the face changing performance was cool) and finally Mongolian (which was good).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gulay Gulay Turkiye! Ni Hau BeiJing!

When I first saw "Turkish Airlines" on our itinerary I was a bit skeptical, but am totally changed now. Our overnight flight from Istanbul to Beijing was pleasant. Out of the 8hr flight I ate & drank for half of it! Then watched Indiana Jones and then fell asleep during the video of Beijing. Most other people were sprawled out across seats almost immediately after take-off, but Julie figured they actually had timetables to keep upon arrival. Ha! Suckers...
Istanbul's Ataturk airport is one of the nicest I've been in, and Beijing airport is definitely the biggest but nice and shiny new and both are easily navigable.
We got from the airport to our hotel's area with no problem, and then ran into cabbies who refused to take us the rest of the way. Partly language barrier, part them insisting upon ripping us off. We found an Olympic volunteer who showed us the place on a map and said the cab ride should be ~¥10 vs. the ¥50 that the cabs wanted. So we took the subway instead.
I'm glad we're here just after the Paralympics as the volunteers are still out and about, and all of the infrastructure is fresh. The subways are the cleanest and newest I've been on and are easy to use with english signs on them.
Our hotel is tucked away in a "hutong" neighborhood. We haven't explored it yet, but it's a unique place. Old men walk around in pajama bottoms and no shirt or sit in groups playing cards, old women sit and fan themselves, and kids play everywhere.
So, recall during the Olympics how the skies were sunny and blue on TV? Yeah, not the case anymore. At 5'o'clock you can stare directly at the sun without it hurting your eyes at all. It's just a red ball in the sky. Looking up with your arms straight above you, the area between your hands is sort of bluish. Anything out of that is turning dirty brown. It's gross. We walked around tonight and our eyes were starting to hurt. It's no wonder people hork and spit all the time here.
Julie noticed a couple days ago that the Paralympics Closing Ceremonies were today. We took a chance at just going to the Bird's Nest to see if we could score tickets even though the volunteer people said it was sold out. But we could not get near the stadium since police had the whole zone cordoned off. So we went for dinner at a nearby restaurant and watched the remainder of the ceremonies on TV. I'm pretty sure I noticed a discrepancy between seeing the fireworks on TV and hearing the booms outside. So we were this close -- but still this --------- far away. Neat anyway.
And the food was good and tasty. I've got a little Chinese phrasebook on my palm that's working quite well at helping us communicate. So I can say "beer" in another language (pi jiĆ¼).

Monday, September 15, 2008

il Melliore! il melliore!

I can now cross "attending an F1 race" off of my life's to-do list. It's definitely a cool experience, but oddly enough it wasn't as crazy as I had expected, although the Finnish fans of Kimi Raikkonen were certainly doing it up.
A former coworker from MacDon Testing days Rod Petersen met me in Milan to attend the race since he's currently residing in Danmark [sic].
Neither of us were wearing the bright red of Ferrari unlike the legions of fans that we followed onto the metro, onto the train, onto the bus and finally onto the circuit grounds. That was the joke - you're never lost, just follow the Ferrari's!
Oh, and for the record, I cheaped out and reneged on spending the €50-70 on a Ferrari T-shirt. no surprise there eh? :)
The weather sort of sucked - rained all weekend. But I rather enjoyed the sight of the water spraying off of the tires, billowing behind the car like a jet trail. The extreme wet tires that they were all running can displace 15 (or 50?) litres of water per second! On Saturday when we were watching the qualifying, when the first car came up to our viewpoint at an unfathomable speed we thought for sure he was going to slide right off of the curve into the wall. But no, with a loud pop of the engine/gearbox for a downshift the cars stuck to the pavement like glue, zipping around the parabolic curve - no problemo!
We watched the race on TV once we got back to our hotel room. In some ways it's far better to watch the race on TV as you can see the whole race (not just the 200m in front of you), there are replays and the views are better. But to appreciate the speed at which these cars are going, you have to be there. It's crazy fast. And so loud. Ear plugs (thanks MD!) are mandatory. Standing in the porta-potty the sound from the cars downshifting rattles the entire thing.
I never saw another friend there - Clint - failing to coordinate meeting places. But we ran into a nice couple from SK 3 times over the 2 days. Strange how it works in big crowds.
There's so much to say about this weekend - how the track in Monza is tucked away amongst the trees of a nice park, how we'd rather eat a pizza at BP's back home instead of a fresh Italian one, and how Italian women attend car races in high heels and mini skirts. Fantastico!

Currently I'm at 11,900m above Sarajevo, flying back to Istanbul to meet Julie to continue our journey to Beijing tomorrow.