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Sunday, 29 May 2016

Travel Tip #3 Money

Travel  Tip--Money

Here are my tips on making sure you have access to your money all through your travels.

  • have more than one type of credit card so if one isn't accepted you have the option of using a different one.

  • have the bank account that you're using for travelling linked to more than one type of card so you can withdraw cash at ATMs. (For example, I have a regular ATM card and also link an AMEX card to the account.)

  • whatever country you're going to visit, take cash in with you in that country's currency, always have some cash to hand. Keep in mind that not everywhere will take credit cards or debit cards. Last year in Dubrovnik the apartment I stayed in required a cash payment, no credit cards.
  • when visiting multiple countries with different currencies, I keep them separate in little ziplock bags. Nothing more annoying than trying to separate unknown coins to find the ones you need. (To take the picture above I emptied out, 3 ziplock bags! )

  • as well as credit cards, there's now the option of having a card you can preload money in different currencies and use as a debit card. They are also advertised as being able to withdraw cash from ATMs, but personal experience, even in Europe that's not always the case. Very useful to budget with as you know exactly how much money you have to spend.

  • Japan This tip is specifically for Japan, not all Japanese banks will allow you to withdraw cash from their ATMs, you need to find special ATMs or a foreign bank, such as Citibank to get cash out. Learnt the hard way as on my first visit was almost stranded with no access to cash!
  • Another thing to be aware, the keypad on Japanese ATMs is reversed (the 0 is at the top, not the 1) make sure you know your PIN and not rely on muscle memory the way I did and couldn't remember the actual order of the numbers when they were in different places to what I was used to! I ended up being locked out of my account.

  • Finally make sure you know all the contact numbers for your cards incase you need to cancel them due to theft. Bad enough you had them stolen, you don't also want a huge bill for the holiday someone else is having at your expense!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Shanghai, Xintiandi

Shanghai, Xintiandi

A part of Shanghai that I had wanted to visit was the former French Concession, it had been recommended to me as an area to see as there was a strong French look about it.(And I love the whole, west in the east look of a place)  At the tourist information office, when I asked how to get there, (along with Yu Garden) the tour guide suggested The Big Red Bus and marked the area that I later found out was called Xintiandi as close to the French Concession. Technically that was true, but it's the very edge of the French Concession and not the main part that I was looking for! Regardless I was in for another pleasant surprise when I got off the bus at Xintiandi.

The bus commentary explained that the area had been saved from demolition and the old buildings redeveloped. The buildings are mid-19th century shikumen (stone gate) houses in narrow laneways. (Research again!)

Despite the fact that it was raining heavily as I wandered around (taking pictures with a camera and balancing an umbrella was quite a challenge!) I thought the whole area was lovely.

The entrance to Xintiandi from where The Big Red Bus drops you off.

Again surprised by the prominent signage in a heritage area (the Starbucks logo!) The area has many cafes and restaurants, I ended up having lunch in one of them called 'Element Fresh'. Despite its name it is Chinese! It's a chain of restaurants, I had eaten in one in Beijing, but they were founded in Shanghai, the one in Xintiandi was called 'vintage element fresh', perhaps the first one!? They serve a range of food, my favourite is the toasted grilled vegetable sandwich, and it was served with a bowl of pumpkin soup (at no extra cost!) so had a great lunch before venturing back into the rain.

Had it been a sunny day, these outdoor seating areas would have been lovely. It's possible to clearly see on this building the stone doorways that were unique in this area.

I liked this little laneway with the two balconies.

The Xintiandi area is divided into 2 parts, this road separates the older restored part with the new modern buildings that are part of Xintiandi as well.

Parallel with the pedestrian street is a road which has these lanes coming off it, each lane has different restaurants.

This building housed the First Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1921. It's now a museum, although it was closed for refurbishment when I was there. According to what I've read the building was in the French Concession, so there's my 'technically I walked in a small part of the French Concession' Not a very French part of it!

Beautiful old western style building, now a restaurant.

I've since read that Xintiandi is considered one of the first 'lifestyle centres' in China, there are apartments in the surrounding area. It's considered the most expensive place to live in China. For a tourist though, it was a nice place to stroll around in, have lunch or dinner or take a break and have a coffee.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Stockholm, Sweden


I thought I would pause the China posts and return to Europe for this one. Stockholm is one of the favourite places that I've visited in Europe (well OK I have many favourites, but Stockholm is truly lovely!)

I was there mid June and got the most fantastic weather which helped make the city look even more beautiful. What makes the city so special is its location, the city sits on an archipelago, there's water everywhere! At the time I was recovering from a leg injury so was limited by where I could go but still managed to cover a reasonable amount of ground in a few days!

The Royal Palace, Sweden is a monarchy and the Royal Palace is used for official functions, although the royals themselves live in another palace not in the centre of the city.

The palace building is huge, this is only a small corner section of it!

Entrance into the palace with a palace guard in the official Swedish colours of blue and yellow. The entrance leads to a courtyard which is where the public stand to see the King on his birthday and the Crown Princess on her name day.

Not the cathedral but rather the church where the royals were buried, now they're laid to rest in the Royal Cemetery. Called the Riddarholm and it's one of the oldest buildings in Stockholm.

Just next to the palace is the cathedral called the Storkyrkan, this is part of the interior.

The palace and the cathedral are in the Old Town called Gamla Stan, it's a small island with lots of narrow roads and laneways, a really lovely area to walk around in.

A fabulous way of seeing Stockholm is from the water, I took a boat trip tour that went among the islands of the city centre.

This is now an art museum, it had been the residence built for Prince Eugen, the artist prince. When he died in 1947 it was bequeathed to the country and opened to the public.

According to the commentary on the boat, this is a very expensive part of Stockholm to live in!

I visited the Town Hall as it's famous for hosting the Nobel Prize banquet after the awards (which are presented elsewhere) The Town Hall has organised tours that proved to be quite interesting.

This is the Blue Hall where the Nobel Banquet takes place. And it's not blue! When it was built it was supposed to have blue walls but the architect liked the look of the natural brick so much he wouldn't cover it up and so the exposed brick remained, as did the name.

The Golden Hall where the dancing takes place after the banquet, those are tiny gold mosaic tiles, 18 million of them apparently!

The murals were painted by Prince Eugen, the artist prince. (This is a reception area)

Stockholm well worth visiting, in the summer months it just glows. (Mid summer is their big celebration time as well) It does have a reputation as being quite an expensive city (all of Scandinavia is considered expensive) and I know that in my backpacking days I avoided travelling to northern Europe because of the cost. But I discovered that staying for a few days and experiencing Stockholm wasn't horrifically expensive, and it was very enjoyable. (Making it even cheaper was the fact I got really cheap Ryanair flights in and out)

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Yu Garden, Shanghai

Yu Garden, Shanghai

Also seen it called Yuyuan Garden

This garden had been recommended to me as a place to see in Shanghai. I found it among the historic buildings in Nanshi.

I've since done some research on it and found out it was originally established in 1577. Its fortunes have fluctuated over the years, eventually it fell into disrepair, it was extensively restored from 1956 to 1961 when it was open to the public. It's now a national monument.

The garden covers an area of about 5 acres (2 hectares) and it's in a series of 'rooms' you pass through as you wander around.

This is one of the passages to another 'room' or part of the garden.

This tower is a viewing platform from which the original owners could enjoy views of the garden.

A bamboo grove.

A covered bridge to take you to a different part of the garden. Large carp in the water.

That's a dragon tail on top of the wall, separating this part of the garden from another part.

The dragon head seems to be the symbol for the garden since it's used on the entry ticket.

The garden is quite famous for its rockery, I saw it but I'm a bit 'meh' about rockeries as they are common sights in Australian gardens so I didn't take any photos! I liked the Asian parts most with the water and the maples and the bamboo.

Worth visiting along with spending time in Nanshi. Very popular with tourists so be prepared for crowds!

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Shanghai, Nanshi The Old City

Shanghai, Nanshi

The Old City 

This was my first visit to Shanghai and I had limited time, I had noticed all the tourist buses, the hop on hop off variety and thought they would be the easiest and fastest way to seeing some sites.As I was staying close by The Bund, I was closeby the  tourist information office. I wanted to see the Yu Gardens and The former French Concession as both had been recommended to me. The girl at the Tourist office said the "Big Red Bus" would be the one to take, it was 100RMB for the 24 hours (not a lot about $25AUD) and she showed me the stops I needed to get off for those places. The Big Red Bus stop was close by, waited a few minutes and off I went.

The bus has commentary so listened to it while we went down The Bund to the ferry terminal and then to the Yu Gardens stop. Got off and my first sight was the gate of the main road (that most people were walking down, follow the tourists!)

A few metres further down the road I got my first surprise, I was looking for a large garden and instead stumbled across the most beautifully restored old Chinese buildings. 

I've since done some research (nothing like seeing things in real life to get you interested in finding out about them!) The area I was in is called 'Nanshi', the old city but more accurately 'The Southern City'. (Acquiring more Chinese words as I travel, 'nan' I learnt was 'south' thanks to having to catch the train from the Beijing South station. 'Shi' I knew as it's also used in Japanese for city)

This area had originally been a walled city, with the arrival of Europeans they were given their concessions, areas where they could live and do business. The British Concession was north of this area so was known as the "Northern City", thus the original Chinese area was the 'Southern City'.

It's a gorgeous area to walk around in, although main square is packed with tourists!

This building was in the main square, I tried not to get the multitude of people in the photo!

There are small lanes and roads (all pedestrian) which contain a variety of shops for people wanting some Chinese items as souvenirs. Silks, pictures, teasets, decorated chopsticks, the higher quality souvenirs not plasticky and cheap.

The main square also had this canal (?), the building in the centre is a restaurant. This was a very popular photo spot!!

This large building houses a jewellery store at street level, I really liked their windows displays.

Those red balls are Christmas baubles that you put on a Christmas tree. What made this sight unusual for me was that I took this photo in April, nowhere near Christmas. It was something I noticed about China, since it's a country that doesn't have a Christmas tradition as such, what we consider Christmas decorations are used just as decorations throughout the year. (I also saw varieties of Christmas wreaths and other baubles)

Finally, this just made me laugh, here I was surrounded by the most traditional Chinese buildings I had ever seen and i turned around and there was this huge Starbucks sign!! This was in the main square so totally catering for the tourists, I was surprised that the sign could be so prominent. In Europe, historic areas that had chains (Starbucks, McDonalds) have to have small discrete signage so not to clash with the streetscape.

The Yu Gardens are in this area so I did manage to visit them as well. Seeing such a beautiful old part of China was a terrific bonus. There's a lot to be said for not over researching a place before you visit, the surprises are so much nicer!

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Middleton, South Australia


Nowadays Middleton is known as a holiday town about an hour from Adelaide, on the south coast. Originally it was founded as a railway siding. It was the 'middle location' between Goolwa (where cargo was unloaded from the riverboats) and Port Elliot (where the cargo was loaded onto sea going ships). A single track railway line was laid between the 2 towns and loops had to be included in the line to allow carriages to pass, Middleton was the location of a loop. 

Much later it became a place to take on a seaside holiday and what is now the B&B called Mindacowie was opened first as the Temperance Hotel and then a guest house for holiday makers.

Middleton is very much the relaxed and casual Australian seaside holiday town, there are no resorts or high rises, just a caravan park and holiday cabins. Some B&Bs, but mainly privately owned holiday homes that can also be rented out.

Middleton B&B.

The attraction at Middleton is the large surfing beach, which even in April (our autumn) when I took these photos had the keen surfers in the water.

The beach has large deposit of seaweed as the waves bring it in from the Southern Ocean.

It took a while for me to get pictures of the surfers actually surfing! I realised that a lot of surfing is waiting around to catch a wave.

Most of the surfers entered the water from the beach and then paddled out, some took the more dangerous option (to me at least) and went out onto the rocks and from there jumped into the deeper water and paddled quickly to avoid being pushed back into the rocks.

One last historic building, what had been the Middleton Mill, it was a steam driven mill and has now been converted into a private home.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Beijing to Shanghai high speed train

Beijing to Shanghai high speed train

The new experience I wanted to have on this trip to China was to travel on the high speed train from Beijing to Shanghai. I like train travel, I like being able to gaze out the window and watch the countryside go by. 

My journey began with a taxi ride to the Beijing South Railway station which is where the high speed train departs from. The taxi driver was quite friendly and wanted to chat, unfortunately he spoke no English and I know about 5 words of Chinese so conversation was going to be somewhat limited! What really made me smile was that he tried to speak slower and louder, my response was the same, confused expression on my face. At the same time thinking, it doesn't matter how slowly you speak I still can't understand!

The Beijing South Railway station was new and built in an oval shape. This picture makes the waiting area even more rounded as I experimented with a fisheye setting on my camera.

I had decided to catch the 10am train to Shanghai, which would get me there just before 3pm. 

The high speed train at the platform, all very sleek and modern.

I had decided to buy a ticket for the First Class carriage as these tend to be less crowded. This one was full, the most exclusive seats I discovered are actually the Business Class ones. With the First Class seats the stewards give you a free bottle of water and a small bag of snacks.

Review of the snacks, the nuts were nice, the fruit snack ok, and the crackers were fish flavoured and not nice!

I thought perhaps that the trip would pass through some scenic countryside, it turned out it didn't! The majority of the journey was through very flat country and with large expanses of fields. Interesting for someone from a small country not used to seeing large expanses of land, not that interesting from someone who lives in Australia and sees it whenever they travel to rural areas!

Fields close to Beijing.

I tried to get photos of some of the villages but the barriers separating the rail lines from the surrounding areas became solid concrete walls that blocked out the view! So no luck with the village pics!

Around Jinan, we did get a few elevated hills that broke up the flatness of the scenery.

The Jinan West Railway station platform area, it was our first stop. The station was built especially for the high speed train and was opened in June 2011, it's about 20km from the city centre of Jinan.

The second stop was at the Nanjing South Railway station, I think this is Nanjing as I spotted this tall building after we left the station.

Entering the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway station.

The Hongqiao Railway Station, it's quite a distance outside the downtown area of Shanghai, but easy enough to travel in. I caught the subway line 10 train which took me to a station just near (10 minute walk) to my hotel at the top of The Bund. The Hongqiao station was also built for the high speed train, so it's all very modern and easy to navigate, just very big!

My verdict on the train trip was that even though it's not particularly scenic, it is a really pleasant way to travel a large distance across China. The train is comfortable and it's a relaxing ride, the 2 train stations I had to pass through, although vast were easy to navigate (important as I don't speak or read Chinese!). At Hongqiao I decided not to try and attempt the ticket machines and lined up at the ticket window to buy my subway ticket. My pronunciation of the station I wanted to travel to apparently was dreadful as the clerk eventually asked in English "where do you want to go?!" I showed her the written version of the station name and received the required ticket!