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History

    Asia Travel

    Surprising China – World Heritage Sites Hold a Special Place For Me

    Location: Chinaa

    (Note – this is a repost of a blog from my last visit to China in 2014.  I am currently traveling in China again, but unable to blog until next week.  So please enjoy this post again about Surprising China, and watch for a new Surprising China World Heritage Sites post next Friday!)

    I managed to see two sites on my Asian trip that were bucket list items.  Being in China of course means seeing the Great Wall, easily accessible and visited by most American’s who travel here. It was astonishingly beautiful on the clear and cold, crisp day we stood upon it.  A site even better than you ever imagined it.IMG_6975

    But it takes a bit of an effort to get to Xian, China, the location of the second bucket list item.  Xian is a six-hour train ride from Beijing.  Xian is home of one of the most amazing things I have had a chance to see in my life, the Terra Cotta Warrior Army of the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

    How is it that this mind-boggling 2000-year-old relic of ancient Chinese history was only discovered 40 years ago?  The accidental discovery by a local Chinese farmer has transformed this community as well as the understanding of Imperial China.

    The Terracotta Army is a collection of hollow terra cotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. The vast discovery includes thousands of warriors from archers to generals and everything in between.

    Seeing it first hand was worth the effort it took to get here.  Photos no way do it justice.

    I’ve always been fascinated to see nineteenth and twentieth century discoveries; items of lost treasures and photo10civilizations where years of exploration or half hazard circumstance have unearthed.  My travels have provided me the opportunity to see some of these treasures first hand; Ephesus in Turkey, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Forum in Rome and Mesa Verde in Colorado are things I have stood next to and asked how?  Additionally I’ve stood with wonder at other sites never lost but yet still flabbergasting in particular Stonehenge in England and Lalibella in Ethiopia.  It’s that feeling of awe and amazement that inspires me to travel.  The Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian gave me the goose bumps I crave.

    My first question is why were they lost to start with?  In the case of the Terra Cotta Warriors, it was done on photo8purpose.  The superstitious Chinese culture, both then and now, have strong beliefs in preparing for the afterlife, while here in this life.  Afterlife preparation of Emperor Qin Shi Huang began years in advance of his death, when he was as young as 13.  Emperors spent as much time preparing to go into battle in the afterlife as they did in this life here on Earth.  Tens of thousands of warriors, each different down to the fingerprints, would go in to the afterlife battle with him.  And that is where the hollow, life size, each unique terra cotta soldiers are going.  For 2000 -years they waited, buried anywhere from 12 to 30 feet underground (depending on rank) for battle.  Until the day a Chinese farmers decided to drill for a well.  His unexpected discovery made him a local and national figure.  But, being this is China, it didn’t make him rich.  He continues to live in Xian and spends most his days signing books for tourists.

     

    The discovery was made in 1974 and by 1976 Xian was welcoming visitors to see the soldiers.  Immediately photo7upon discovery the oxidation began and the pigment on the soldiers began to disappear.  Today the soldiers you see standing just as they were placed 2000 years ago, have no color due to the unfortunate oxidation.  In fact, the lacquer covering the paint can curl in 15 seconds once exposed to the dry air of Xi’an and can flake off in just four minutes.

    The soldiers have been restored piece by piece in a painstaking and remarkable process. The gigantic exhibit at Xian shows the restored soldiers and horses, then progressively a section showing how most of the relics were found in hundreds of pieces, then finally the still covered tomb where additional soldiers wait their turn to see the light of day.  The Chinese government has continued restoration efforts on many additional pieces.  However, it has been determined that thousands more soldiers remain buried.  And that is where they will stay; until research can provide an answer to preserve the colorful paints those soldiers still bare.

    In my fabulous fifties I have an insatiable appetite to see, learn and be inspired.  My travel list is long, but at the top are such sites as Easter Island, Victoria Falls, Camino de Santiago, Angkor Wat, Jordan’s Petra, Melrose Abbey in Scotland and the Pyramids of Egypt.  All places with a rich cultural history and connection to lost civilizations.

    Will I get to all of these?  Damn right I will.  Ask me where I have been we can talk for an hour.  Ask me where I am going we can talk for days.

    Let me inspire you to go. See. Do. Live.  It’s now or never.

    (Note:  Our time in China was made special by the first class service we received from Beijing Champagne International Travel Service

     http://www.tour-beijing.com/about/#.UvwxvP1sj1o.

     I cannot recommend them highly enough.  Our drivers were conscientious and safe.  But our tour guides are what made us enjoy our travels so much.  Lucia was our guide in Xian and Rogin was our guide throughout the rest of the trip.  I would welcome them both into my home; this is how highly I regarded their care and expertise they provided.  We could not have possibly enjoyed our time in China to the full extent without the help from all of these people. If you are going to China check out Champagne and personally request Rogin.  Shi Shi.)

     

    Europe Travel

    Berlin for First Timers

    The Grand Adventure

    Location: Berlin Germany

    Click on any photo for an enlarged version.

    I have wanted to go to Berlin for years. I’m not sure why it took me so long. Since we have traveled to Germany, France and Italy several times, we haven’t made those countries a priority on the Grand Adventure so far. But Berlin was different. I had to go. Berlin for first timers was a whirlwind. And worth it.

    We arrived on the Deutsche Bahn train from

    Berlin for First Timers

    Deutsch Bahn

    Brugge via Brussels on a Sunday afternoon. It had been a very long journey involving three trains and  4:30am wake up.  We checked into our Airbnb and headed out to the neighborhood market only to find everything shuttered on a Sunday. So we ate delicious Turkish food for dinner in our very Turkish neighborhood and then fell fast asleep.

    With only three full days in Berlin we hit the ground running on Monday morning. Literally.  We got up and did an early morning run through our neighborhood park. Refreshed, we stopped at the now open market for supplies before heading back to our apartment to get ready for our day.

    Since we are training for the Camino we walked everywhere in Berlin, but Berlin for first timers is easy by subway, elevated train and bus system accessing most of the greater Berlin area.  There is also a wonderful taxi system and Uber.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Brandenburg Gate

    Berlin for First Timers

    The wall

    Our first day we walked and walked enjoying the Tiergarten, Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and several sites where you can see and touch old remnants of the Berlin Wall.  These included the Topography of Terror, Checkpoint Charlie Black Box Cold War Interpretive area, and Potsdam Plaza.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Currywurst with beer

    Since we had already eaten one of Berliner’s favorite fast foods (Turkish kabob) we tried the also famous Currywurst . The invention of Currywurst is attributed to Herta Heuwer in Berlin in 1949, after she obtained ketchup (or possibly Worcestershire sauce) and curry powder from British soldiers in Germany. She mixed these ingredients with other spices and poured it over grilled pork sausage..  You can have Currywurst with skin or without (skin being the casing for the sausage before cooking ).  We tried it both ways and I preferred with the skin – a nice crunchy texture.  That said, Currywurst was not my favorite.  On another day we also had Bockwurst.  Served with potato salad and I really liked that.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

    Berlin for First Timers

    Checkpoint Charlie a recreation

    Day two began early with a visit to the Holocaust Memorial, officially titled Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  This controversial memorial encompasses 2711 concrete blocks of different heights taking up an entire square block of the city.  Underground is a very poignant and somber, yet interesting and thoughtful museum that focuses on families and the humans who lost their lives during this evil period of history.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Black Box Cold War Interpretive Panels

    On day two we also signed up for a Free Walking Tour, always one of the things we search out in any city.  Of course Free Walking Tours aren’t really “free”.  You pay the guide at the end what you think the tour was worth.  And our Free Walking Tour in Berlin was the best one we ever did.  Our guide Georgia was exceptional.  We loved it and I highly recommend New Europe Tours.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Brandenburg Gate

    On our tour we visited a lot of the same places we had seen the day before, but seeing them with Georgia our guide was a whole different experience.  We learned amazing history starting with ancient history of the region right up through the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin wall and of course a great deal of history about Hitler and WWII.  It was fascinating.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Car park over the bunker

    By the way, throughout Berlin there is almost no reference to Hitler. That is by design.  There is a point to not have his name included in most things.  In fact, we stood on a car park that is on top of the bunker where he committed suicide.  There is only a simple sign, added only recently when Berlin hosted the World Cup in 2006.  Did you know Hitler’s remains were dug up from the original burial site in East Germany and dumped in a river?  This is so there is no final resting place for this horrible human being and so no one can ever have a place to go and glorify him in any way.  The Nazi Swastika is outlawed in Germany.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Eisbein

    Berlin for First Timers

    Weiner Schnitzel

    Following our tour we headed for lunch.  We wanted some good hearty German food so we ended up at Augustiner am Gendarmernmarkt.  More Bavarian than Berliner but it was delicious.  I had Wiener Schnitzel and my husband had a gigantic Eisbein (pork knuckle).  No dinner was necessary after the delicious lunch!

    Berlin for First Timers

    Site of the Book Burning

    Next we walked to Museum Island, just over the river you’ll find a gathering of Berlin museums.  We stopped at the Bebelplatz, where famously the Nazis burned all the books.  Here a unique memorial to that fateful event lays underground.  Then we visited the Alte National Gallery – Berlin’s best regarded Art Museum.  This is certainly no Louvre or Uffizi, but the museum is compact and easy to tour with a lot of German artists as well as nice collection of Impresionist from Renoir to Monet.

    We ended our day taking a narrated boat ride on the river Spree.  It was a beautiful day and it was fun to see the city from the water and enjoy the narration providing us even more interesting facts about Berlin.  There are numerous locations around the city where you can start these boat tours.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The west side of the East Side Gallery Wall

    Day three was a walking day.  We had over the past couple of days enjoyed seeing some of the remains of the Berlin Wall that are in the city, but the longest remaining part of the wall is actually about six miles from the main city area.  So we walked.  It was hot, but we enjoyed the walk which took us through Alexanderplatz, where Berlin’s TV tower stands – an iconic modern soaring spire that includes a restaurant on top.  You can see the tower from anywhere in the city.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The most famous mural at the Eastside Gallery

    Our destination, the East Side Gallery is the name of the mile long portion of the wall, consisting of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, painted in 1990 on the east side of the Berlin Wall. According to the Künstlerinitiative East Side Gallery e.V., an association of the artists involved in the project, “The East Side Gallery is understood as a monument to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful negotiation of borders and conventions between societies and people”, and has more than three million visitors per year.[1] This was something I had seen so many times in photos and I really wanted to see it for myself.  It was amazing.  A highlight of our time.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Eastside Gallery

    You don’t need to walk the six miles to the East Side Gallery.  You can take the subway, busses, taxi or Uber as well as several local tours include it.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Pretzel

    We wandered back along the river and stopped at the Tiergarten Biergarten to enjoy a couple of German beers as our amazing time in Berlin was coming to an end. The Biergarten in this beautiful park sits on a tiny little lake and you can enjoy pizza and pretzels, gelato and beer.  You can also rent a little row boat and row around the lake.  Such a pleasant way to spend a sunny day in this fascinating city.

    Berlin for first timers could include a few
    more things that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do, mainly going up into the observation dome at the Reichstag.  You need to make a reservation to do this, and we just didn’t know that with enough advance notice.  I wish we had because I understand it is really amazing.  Do it if you can.

    With a few more days we also would add some live performances.  Berlin has a thriving theater and musical performance scenes including outdoor theatre, symphony and opera.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Biergarten

    Finally, a great way to see the area would be by renting a bike.  Berlin is as flat as it possibly can be, has literally hundreds of miles of bike lanes and paths, including beautiful paths through forested parks and along rivers.  On a beautiful day seeing the city by bike would be a lot of fun.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The view from the River Spree

    So there you have it, Berlin for First Timers.  I really loved this gritty, indomitable city. Even with all the tourists it felt real and raw.  I can’t think of another European city that has witnessed so much history and hosted so much strife and animosity and come out shining on the other side.

    Berlin for First Timers.  I highly recommend it. Fabulous. Fabelhaft!

    
    

     

     

     

    Africa Travel  --  Food & Drink

    The Rainbow Nation

    Colorful South Africa and it’s Colorful Cuisine

    Location: South Africa

    They call it the Rainbow Nation.  A country with an extraordinary political and social background, with a kaleidoscope of ethnic Peoples, blended into one nation.  Shaken not stirred.

    But here it is – amazing South Africa.  Hundreds and hundreds of years of slavery and oppression, colonization and apartheid but surprisingly today

    Nelson Mandela

    together.  A mere 25 years after the end of apartheid (meaning apartness in Afrikaans) people of all backgrounds seem to get along here, quit happily.

    But despite equal rights it’s clear to see the economic difference still between white South Africans, “non- whites” and colored. These terms are from the apartheid era, when every person fit into one of these three categories and laws kept groups separate in all aspects of life.  Today you’ll still find people living separately in historically separate neighborhoods such as the

    Colorful Bo Kaap

    Muslim Bo Kaap and the Black Townships, but progress is slowly changing this.

    There are nine South African native tribes who lived as hunter gatherers and pastoral people for thousands of years before the Dutch East India Company arrived 1652. As the Dutch entrenched (and later the British) they used indigenous people as slaves and began bringing in slaves from Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar, Malaysia, Indonesia and India as well as others.

    Today’s South Africa is made up of the ancestors of all of these races, a colorful mix of cultures truly

    Cooking on the Braai

    making it The Rainbow Nation.

    The gastronomic effects of such a blended nation cannot be overstated, and luckily for visitors the reward is superb.  Taking the foods of these groups and combining it with the wide variety of fresh produce, local seafood and game you get a melded and delicious South African cuisine.

    Pumpkin Pap curried cabbage

    I am no expert, but I sure like to eat, and during my time so far in South Africa I have joyfully discovered wonderful foods and flavors and also took a fun cooking class to delve even deeper.

    Let me share with you some of my favorite discoveries;

    Pap – for breakfast or anytime, pap is a staple food with a long history.  It is very much like fufou that we ate in Burkina Faso (made from plantain) and when made from maize (the most frequently used grain) it tastes much like grits or polenta. We have enjoyed pap several times and my favorite by far was the Pumpkin Pap we made together at our

    Smoked Snoek

    cooking class with Nadege Cuisine.  It was served with a curried cabbage and delicious smoked Snoek.

    Snoek – is a very popular (and very ugly) locally caught white fish that can grow very large.  It is of the mackerel family and is known as barracuda in other parts of the world.  One of the favorite ways to enjoy this fish is grilled on the Braai (see below) or smoked.  Smoked Snoek is available in grocery stores.  It tasted very much like smoked sturgeon to me.  The smokey and salty mixed with the sweet pumpkin pap was a real winner.

    Seasoning for the Braai

    Braai – the local word for BBQ is as much a social function as a food.  Most anything can be thrown on the Braai, but most meats and fish are slathered with a spicy rub mix of chili, salt and herbs.  Braais happen frequently where neighbors and friends gather to enjoy each other’s company around the Braai.  The host provides the salad and the guests bring their own meat and drink.  It’s very popular to cook Snoek on the Braai slathered in apricot jam.

    Bobotie – my favorite of all the foods I have tried so

    Bobotie

    far, this is the unofficial national dish of South Africa.  The dish likely has its roots in Indonesia and it is a savory mix of ground spiced meat with a custard topping and usually served or combined with rice.  We had this at a famous Bo Kaap restaurant called Biesmiellah and it was fantastic.  Always served with chutney.

    Chutney – Nearly every meal in South Africa is served with chutney, a sweet preserve usually of fruits but it also can include onions or savory produce.  Mango chutney is very popular and usually served with the Bobotie.

    Breyani

    Breyani – we also tried this dish at Biesmiellah and it was great.  The masala spice noted the heritage of this dish as Indian or Malaysian.  It can be made with different meats, we enjoyed it with chicken.  The dish is a fragrant mix of cumin, corrrinder, cinnamon, cardamom,lentils, rice and sometimes hard-boiled eggs and is served with a yogurt sauce on the side.

    Crayfish – I ordered this item at a nice restaurant we

    Crayfish

    went to in Cape Town called Aubergine and it was fantastic.  It’s nothing at all like what I think of as the small crayfish we sometimes eat at home.  It actually is a small lobster.  Lucky for me this appetizer dish was perfectly cooked and served with a luscious squid ink pasta.  Perfection.

    Ostrich – a very popular red meat all over the

    Nadege pan frys the ostrich

    southern parts of Africa you will find ostrich on menus and in grocery stores everywhere.  It is a very dark red meat, best prepared and served simply, and we enjoyed it flash pan-fried and medium rare at our cooking class with Nadege. Ostrich is farmed in South Africa and all parts of the animal are used including the skin for leather, the feathers for down, the beak and bones for jewelry and the egg shells for jewelry and decorative items.  It’s not as easy though to find a fresh ostrich egg.  Each egg is the equivalent of 24 chicken eggs.  I still hope to buy and cook one soon.

    Mealie Bread – I love this delicious bread, similar to cornbread we make at home but lighter.  My favorite preparation I’ve had so far was at Aubergine where they added a hint of caraway.  Delicious.

    Cape Malay Curry – Sweeter than other curries I’ve had, Cape Malay curry once again uses the favorite apricot of South Africa as well as cinnamon and ginger and makes a delicious not to be missed meal.

    Game – much of the game meat is farmed and

    Malva Pudding

    available and shows up on restaurant menus including Warthog, Impala and Springbok, which is small deer-like animal we saw a lot of in Namibia.  We enjoyed the Springbok at Aubergine where it was perfectly cooked medium rare and served with a nice black mushroom sauce with a hint of walnut.

    Malva Pudding – using the word pudding in the British way for cake, Malva pudding is one of several popular dessert and sweet dishes uniquely South African.  This dark spongy cake made from butter, vanilla and apricot jam (there it is again) tastes much like a bread pudding and is usually

    Potatoe pudding with peach compote

    served with a warm custard or ice cream.

    Potato Pudding – similarly this lovely cake, also much like custard or bread pudding, is made from potatoes, coconut oil, cardamom, almond extract and condensed milk and is served with a stewed fruit sauce of dried peaches and cinnamon.  A perfect end to the meal we had at Nadege Cuisine.

    Through out the Cape Town region you will also find many offerings that reflect the British, French and Dutch population as well as other African nations.  We enjoyed a fabulous Ethiopian meal one afternoon for lunch at Madam Taitou’s and a

    Eggs Benedict

    beautiful Eggs Benedict the next day for breakfast at the historic and gorgeous British colonial hotel Mount Nelson.  However, you won’t find a restaurant calling itself a “South African” restaurant.  The cuisine is just really coming into its own as a stand alone fare, and rightfully so.  Hopefully soon, South African will be as common as Mexican or Italian.

    It certainly is just as delicious.