Last two days…

Yesterday, we got up in the morning and flew to Weihai and drove to the CCT plant to have a business meeting and the tour the factory/warehouse at CCT… The facility is impressive, and incredibly neat and clean… And getting to see the warehouse full of Roadmasters was interesting also… The CCT team was great, and the hospitality was, as it had been all week, wonderful… Then a drive to the hotel, clean up, and another incredible dinner… After dinner, we went to the karaoke bar, and after a few too many shots of JD, I actually participated for the first time… We stayed there until pretty late, and had a blast… Hoban did his usuals, and pretty much everyone joined in at one point or another…

This morning, up again to drive to the airport, and then to Shanghai… Stopped at the pearl market (basically a massive amount of shops with knockoffs and jewelry…) and picked up a few things to take back. Then a short drive to to the hotel, and dinner in an hour or so… Then off tomorrow morning to the airport for a long, long trip back…

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The Great Wall…

Got up around 7, had a nice breakfast, and then on the bus for a 1.5-2 hour trip to the Great Wall… As on all the other bus rides, our guide talked incessantly about pretty much anything that he could think of on the way… Must be something that they teach in guide school, that you have to talk about something all the time… When it is on topic, it is interesting… when not, not… And either the average person needs to hear the same point 5-10 times to have it stick, or the guides use that technique to fill the time… anyhow, he is entertaining for the most part, and I even got a short video of him in the Forbidden City just so that I could remember the experience…

The Great Wall is impressive… easily on par with anything I have seen yet… Just trying to imagine how it could have been built in the mountains, where just climbing up to the site where it is located would be incredibly difficult, in the time that it was built is hard to get your head around… We took the cable car up to the entrance point, and decided to go as far as we were allowed… I think the marker numbers they had there were from 14 to 20… We were on the Mutianyu section of the wall, and I don’t know how far the stations were, but everyone seemed to think it was at least a mile… Longest, hardest mile I have ever done… period… The last section, which was around 450 steps, was over 45 degrees up… and on top of it, my lack of liking heights came up often where you could have easily slipped and broken something at the best… and God knows how long you would wait, or if anyone would ever get there… But I did make it to the top… (couldn’t stop even at the last 25 steps or so that literally went up at 80 degrees, since a 70-80 year old chinese woman did it…) And going back was almost as hard, since station 20 is not much higher than 14, but it just keeps on going up and down, and not gradually… Took a lot of pictures since I’m pretty sure I won’t get back there again… But even though it was incredibly tiring, it was one of the most enjoyable sights I have ever had the opportunity to see…

Then a quick lunch at Subway at the entrance (yeah… Subway…) and then the bus ride back… Instead of going to the shopping tour in the afternoon, about half of us decided to go back to the hotel, clean up and rest before dinner tonight… And we will be shopping at least one more time this week…

So now off to dinner… Peking Duck…

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First Day of Sightseeing…

Today was a pretty long day… up at 7 (well, up at 1,3,5, and then finally 7…) and then a light breakfast (not that it had to be light… anything and everything that you could want was there…) and then off to Tiananmen Square… Interesting, and people everywhere… (well, there are basically people everywhere all the time… 20M in Beijing means that…) and then off to the Forbidden City… Long, long walk (I think he said about 4 miles…) and it just seems to go on forever… The Emperor was one ambitious guy… 300,000 workers for 14 years to get it done… Took lots of pics (will post when I get back… too much of a pain to do with the phone…) and learned all about that part of China’s history…

Then on to the bus, and a short ride to lunch beside the Bird’s Nest (Olympic stadium…) at a TGI Fridays, of all things… Then another short ride to the Summer Palace (as if the Forbidden City wasn’t enough for the Emperor… he apparently needed a summer retreat for him and the wives (loosely used term there…) We climbed up to the top (in which everyone had to take a breather after…) which had to be a few thousand steps… at least as hard as 20 min on a stairmaster… and then down and a ferry across the lake to the other side… All of the tourist attractions are pretty much one entrance and one exit, and they are miles apart… Very nice there, but it was also very much like the Forbidden City… (big surprise…)

Then a ride to dinner at a very interesting restaurant… “Classic” chinese cuisine… Not what we are used to for chinese food… I tried -almost- everything, and was one of the few that did… the abalone and the sea cucumber not that bad (at least that is what I thought… needless to say everyone else didn’t feel the same…) but the best I can say about the rest was that it was interesting… not bad, just different… very different…

Then finally a short ride back to the hotel, a shower, and off to bed to get ready for the long day tomorrow on the Great Wall… Beijing is a fascinating place, and the people are incredibly nice and polite… Other than the typical peddlers outside the hot tourist spots trying to sell anything and everything (postcards, hats, food, Rolex watches, etc…) it is very nice to walk around… and some parts are very much like a chinese NYC… very crowded restaurants and shops in some areas, and traffic is pretty much a mess… but generally clean and I guess if you knew what you were doing wouldn’t be that bad to get around…

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Location:Beijing, China

30 hours and out…

Got into the hotel around 4 Beijing time ( which is 12 hours of of EST… ) and cleaned up and went to a nice dinner, but am beat from the long day… Should easily sleep soundly through the night and should be ready for tomorrow… Forbidden City, TSquare should make a good day…

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Flight to Beijing…

Figured I might as well type a bit… Flight left 6 hours ago, and the map shows that we have gone 3282 miles so far, with 7 hours and 3620 to go… Fortunately, business class is incredibly nice, and I didn’t have to rent so many movies, since there are at least 100 to choose from… Watched Captain America (yeah, wanted to see that for a while… okay, not great…) and Devil Wears Prada (yeah, yeah… I seem to watch it every time I have the chance to…) and then listened to a bit of music to try to sleep… Since it is only 7 pm, I’m really not tired enough to sleep now, so I think that I will watch a movie or a few tech videos on the iPad and then maybe try to get a bit of sleep… I thought that maybe the great dinner (shrimp cocktail, salad, a nice cabernet, wonderful steak with asparagus and potatoes, cheese and crackers and finally ice cream… God it’s nice flying this way…) would make me tired, but it just made me full… even with about a half bottle of the cab…

A few movies later, and finally after a bit of on and off sleep, we are almost there… Really not that bad considering it was such a long flight… Just hoping that I’ll be able to get some decent sleep tonight for the walking around tomorrow…

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Getting ready to leave…

Heading off to China tomorrow morning… Long flight (almost 15 hours…) but looking forward to the trip… All packed (I think it is the lightest I have ever packed for a week, thanks to the suggestion of getting a RedOxx carry on bag and watching some good packing videos…) and for the first time, I won’t be dragging a laptop along… Just using my iPad 3 with a Bluetooth keyboard if I have a lot to type…

Now just to watch the rest of The Open on a great father’s day, and the off to Beijing…

JH

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Greek Cruise – Day Ten

Day 10 – Friday

The day started with the alarms going off at 4… Showers and final packing, triple checking drawers, checking for passports and other documents, and to the checkout at the gangway… Had our passports stamped, everything loaded onto the bus, and about 8 couples were headed to the airport… about a half hour trip to the airport, and then we got the bags sorted out and went through the first security check at the Istanbul airport… then to the baggage check in, where we got all of our boarding passes (some of the others only got the first one…) and had our passports looked at and scanned again… then down the hall (literally…) and through bag and body scan number two… then a long walk down to the gate and we sat outside the gate area, where there was security scan station number three… These were all luggage on scanner, laptops out, through a metal scanner stations… don’t know where they thought we were going to get anything along the way, but I guess it’s good to know they are careful… I had to explain to one of the security guys what my iPad stand was… he sort of thought it could be a weapon… Time passed pretty quickly and soon we were on the plane… Turkish Airways… Needless to say I wasn’t expecting much, but other than the fact that the guy in front of me almost immediately reclined his seat and my knees were in my face the rest of the time, the service and food on the plane were great… Now one interesting point… we get scanned three times for weapons, get on the plane, and right away the pass out a meal with metal knives, forks, and spoons… far more dangerous than the iPad stand that was questioned, but whatever… And I have to hand it to Turkish Airways on two other counts… One is that I can’t remember the last time that I had a meal (that was actually edible…) on a 2.5 hour flight… and Two (and at least as important…) it was the first flight that I have been on in years where the stewardesses were all actually attractive, young, and slim… Turkish Airways… who would have thought…?

Landed in Munich right on time, and it is a really nice modern airport… as opposed to the Istanbul one, which is sort of a mess and not labeled that well, at least for non-Turkish folk… Got our passports checked when we got off the plane, and then the first (you can probably guess that there was more than one…) scan of everything about 100 feet later… Guess they thought that we might have picked something up on the plane that we didn’t use… Then a long walk through the shopping district in the Munich airport, and down to our gate area, and (of course…) full scan number two… And the security guard there picked up on the iPad stand also and needed it to be explained… although he got it pretty quick… Either all of the US airports know what it is when they see it in the scanner (doubtful…) or they just don’t give a crap… (more likely…) Then a short walk, another passport check and a bunch of questions (do you have any weapons, anything illegal with you, stuff like that that of course someone that is going to do harm would just have to say “damn, you caught me… I give up…”) and finally to the gate… Passed the time talking to Bob, the Cooper regional BDM from the western region, and then they started to board…

The plane was an Airbus 330… We had seats right in front of the wing, and I really wasn’t looking forward to the flight, since the one over on US Airways was cramped, hot, and pretty miserable… but this was way different… The seats were much larger, very comfortable, and each had a screen on the back that you could choose from a whole bunch of movies, tv shows, or some other stuff… very modern and looked almost new… If I fly overseas again, I’ll be checking to see what kind of plane, and this isn’t bad…

The 9.5 hours to Philadelphia went by fairly quick… The plane had small monitors on the back of all of the seats, and a great selection of movies and tv shows to pick from… After a nice lunch, I watched Soul Surfer, The Lincoln Lawyer, and a few tv shows from the list (and they didn’t cost a thing…) and then finally watched The Company Men that I had rented on my iPad… Landed on time in Philadelphia, and getting through customs and security (for the umteenth time in one day…) went fine and then a shuttle to the gate for the puddle jumper back to Harrisburg… A 20 minute flight later and we were finally home… Only problem was that my checked on suitcase never made it… Ann’s did, but somehow, after getting the bag from Istanbul to Munich to Philadelphia, our home team at the Philadelphia airport somehow screwed it up and it never made it to Harrisburg… Not a huge problem, since it didn’t have anything in that I needed that night… (they did get it to the house by noon on Saturday…)

Got home, and forced myself to stay up until about 10 (which was basically 24 hours from when we got up in the morning…) and then pretty much collapsed…

What a great trip… Better than I expected on all counts, and I can’t believe that I am actually looking forward to doing something like this again… (anyone who knows me understands that…) But it is good to be back home with the kids, and it will be good to get back to work on Monday…

Greek Cruise – Day Nine

Day 9 – Thursday

It was very stormy during the night, and even though our tour wasn’t going out until 1:30 in the afternoon, I had talked to Chris last night and wanted to get together and talk, and he suggested 7:30 so I sat my alarm for 7 and got up then… When I woke up, it was raining outside (the first time during the trip…) and it was very rocky on the boat… so much that the shower door kept sliding open and shut and the water was sloshing all over the place on the floor…

Anyway, got dressed and met Chris in La Veranda for breakfast, which actually turned out to be only coffee and juice for the next two hours… Great talk, and after I went down to the room where Ann had her breakfast that she had ordered through room service (which is what I should have done…) so I threw a load of laundry in and went up to get some actual food… Then after I got back to the cabin, we just sat around for the next few hours and relaxed, watched a movie and some shows, and then around 1 started to get ready to go on the trip to Istanbul…

The day started out by going to the Blue Mosque… When we got down to the meeting area for the trip, some friends mentioned that Ann had on shorts above the knee and that I had on shorts… We forgot to read everything, and the rules of the mosque were that women have to have shoulders covered, a skirt to the ankles, and men can’t wear shorts… So we ran back up to the cabin, and Ann put on the longest skirt she had (without going to a dinner dress…) and got a rain jacket to take along (since it was a rainy day…) and I changed into khakis and a better shirt for the day… which didn’t bother me since it was actually a bit cool out with the overcast day and the rain… We got on the bus, and took a short (distance) but long (time) ride through Istanbul to the mosque… Traffic in Istanbul is as bad as anything I have seen… Like Greece, traffic lights seem to be totally optional, and I couldn’t believe some of the places that the driver got the bus into and through… Finally got to the mosque, and even though Ann had a skirt below the knees, they gave all of the women coverings to act like a skirt to go to the ground… Everyone had to take off their shoes and put them into a bag, and then we entered… The mosque was beautiful inside… I got quite a few pictures and it was one of the few places on the trip that I wished I had my Nikon along with some good lenses for pictures… the iPhone takes nice pictures, and I’m pretty sure that they will come out well, but getting closeup shots of the art on the walls would have been nice… then we went outside, put on our shoes and the women took off the skirt things, and we went to the Topaki Palace…

The palace tour was nice, and there were four rooms with all kinds of artifacts from the Sultan’s era, and a room with the Sultan’s clothing… Ann liked it more than I did, mostly since a) she likes things like that more than me… and b) there were huge diamonds, emeralds, and rubies there… Actually one of the things that surprised me quite a bit was the lack of faces on the gems, even the large ones… most looked more like they were tumble polished, and quite a few of the large ones were very uneven… And all of the vases, bowls, and other stuff that were covered with rubies and emeralds looked like they were covered by red and green glass blobs, instead of what I would have thought for jewels… But 80+ carat diamonds and emeralds are still impressive…

After about an hour and a half in the palace, we made a long walk back to the bus and then a bus ride to the Grand Bazaar… The traffic was horrendous this time (about 4:30 in the afternoon…) and we ate quite a bit of time up that we were supposed to have in the Grand Bazaar… finally got there and the guide gave us 1 hour until we had to meet for the drive back to the ship… It was about a 10 minute walk to the bazaar, so that left us only about a half hour to see 4000 shops and give us a buffer to get to the bus… First thing that you figured out is that if there were actually 4000 shops, there would have been hundreds that had the same exact stuff in them… Ann wanted to get a few scarves for friends, and there must have been 10 shops in a few hundred feet that looked like they had 90% the same merchandise… Which immediately make one suspicious of the “made in Turkey” claims and I’m figuring that they are more than likely made in China or some other Asian sweatshop like everything else and shipped in… Also the jewelry shops, all of which claim to have 18/20/24 carat gold, have to be in question since if that was actually true, and the value of gold being over $1700 an ounce, there would have been hundreds of millions in gold at the bazaar… and some of the shop owners really didn’t look like they could have backed a few million in gold… It was an experience that I’m glad we had, although I would seriously question anyone going there expecting to get anything of substantial value for a great price… I had one of the shop owners get downright pissed at me while Ann was looking for scarves… I was looking for a small travel bag (shaving bag…) and thought if I could find a leather one I might get it… found one that was pretty much exactly what I wanted, and very similar to one that I saw in Lancaster for $60… Asked what he wanted for it… 170 euro, which is over $250… I sort of laughed, and said not a chance… he then dropped immediately to 120 euro, and I said maybe half that… then he dropped to 85 euro, telling me he hadn’t sold anything so far today and I had the special half price first sale deal… I told him I understood why he hadn’t sold anything so far, and then he picked it up, started putting it in a bag, and putting it in my hand for 80 euro… when I told him $80, not 80 euro ($130) he got really mad, threw it down, and started spouting in Turkish… and nothing nice from the tone… I left and went over and found Ann and got 3 scarves for a few euro less than the guy wanted originally, but I really didn’t feel like pissing off another vendor…

Trying to get out we sort of got turned around and lost for a few minutes until we asked a guy where the main area was so we could get back… It was nice to know though that almost every leather coat dealer we walked by told us that they were they only store at the bazaar that had jackets for “a very large man like you (me)…” Good to know if I ever go back there…

Finally found our way out and down the street to the bus… The intersection is apparently one that all of the cruise busses pull up to to pick up shoppers, and the street vendors descend on you like flies… Scarves for 1 euro (best in town…), all kinds of perfumes, top brands, for a euro or two a bottle, all kinds of other crap, and my favorite, the “Genuine Fake” watches… After what seemed like forever, the bus finally got there, and I had a guy come up with a pair of watches (Gucci I think…)
for the low price of 30 euro… two steps toward the bus later the price was 15 euro, two more steps down to 10 euro (all the time telling him no…) and finally when on the steps of the bus (he was coming on with me…) the price hit 9 euro for the pair… I definitely have not seen anything like it before, and it was entertaining if nothing else…

Then a long (traffic was still bad…) ride to the ship, and we decided to not change and just go to dinner… Had yet another nice dinner, just Ann and I, and talked a bit before going back to the cabin and packing everything up for tomorrow… got everything packed up, (large bags were getting picked up around 11…) set a wake up call for 4 (bus leaves at 4:45 am) with a backup on the phone, and then just watched tv for until around 11 before going to bed… Ann had the door open around 10 or so and we got to hear all of the calls to prayer from the mosques… Got to give them credit… they are a religious bunch, and very devout… Tomorrow is all travel… about 20 hours of it… :)

Greek Cruise – Day Eight

Day 8 – Wednesday

Got up around 7 or so, and as is usual practice by now we went to the deck to get breakfast… The breakfast menu on this cruise is great… bagels and lox, all kinds of normal breakfast stuff, and lots of unusual breakfast items that make it different enough every day to keep it interesting… Anyway, we got on the bus to Ephesus, and arrived 30 minutes later or so… I was expecting the worst, since our guide from yesterday told us that it would be blistering hot and much worse than the yesterday… but when we got out of the bus, it really wasn’t that bad, especially in the shade… The other nice thing was that the bus drove to the top of the hill, instead of us having to climb yet another hill to see the tour…

Ephesus is pretty amazing… A huge archeological dig, said to be one of the largest in the world, and most of the ruins are very well preserved… A long walk down the path that historical figures from 2000 years ago walked, looking at the same things that they looked at is fairly awe inspiring… Okay, much more than fairly awe inspiring, and I was impressed by the ruins and the tour much more than I thought that I would be… I can’t imagine how magnificent it must have been when all of the columns, statues, streets, and buildings were new, and gleamed of polished white marble… We took a tour through a section that was uncovered of 4 residences on a hill, and the mosaics on the floors and tiling on the walls were amazing… Also, interesting was the fact that they had running water in the residences, as well as a sewer system for bathrooms (at least in this level of residence…) Then to the library, and the amphitheater, which was huge and held something like 30,000 if I remember what the guide said correctly…

We walked around a bit more, took a bunch of pictures, and then got back on the bus to go back to the port… Our guide (and this was unexpected…) took us into a rug shop, in which they proceeded to show us how the silk thread was made, how the rugs were woven, all which was extremely interesting… I don’t know if it will ever do much good, but at least I know what to look for in hand woven rugs, what the counts mean, and the difference between single and double knots… After the demonstrations, they started throwing out rugs of all types, sizes and designs… Yep, it was turning into a full-on sales presentation… Should have seen that coming… We hung around after a bit, and I was actually considering getting a rug for the living room, but Ann made the right decision and bagged the idea… it was time to leave anyway and we needed to get back to the boat… although the salesmen that had been working on us were a bit miffed that we walked out… The ship was leaving at 2:30 today, and I really didn’t want to be left in Turkey without any way to get to the next stop, and it was 2 at the time… The ship had a very long cruise tonight, and wouldn’t be getting into port until around 9:30 tomorrow morning…

Ok… back to the ship, and we grabbed lunch by the pool and Ann went to the pool to swim and (as was getting usual by now…) I went to the room to relax, catch up on the previous blog entries, and watch a movie… Then took the obligatory nap and got ready for the final Cooper cocktail party of the week… Had a nice talk with Greg and Nancy at the cocktail party, and then went off to dinner at the Compass Rose restaurant… First night eating there, and I had lobster and filet, which was very nice… Then to an early bed to get ready for the final touring day in Istanbul…