Travels in China 2012: Overview

The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu Section, Beijing, China

The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu Section, Beijing, China (2012)

Our 2012 journey to China was a private tour arranged by Great China Travel. We customized our tour so that we could learn more about the minority cultures, Buddhism, and historic sites; and try the local cuisine.

Following the Southern Silk Road (or, Tea and Horse Road), the journey began in Sichuan province. At the capital – Chengdu, we learned about the ancient Shu people in the Sanxingdui Relic Museum and how the Giant Pandas were cared for at the reserve. Then, we learned about Buddhism in Leshan and Mount Emei, one of the four holy Buddhist Mountains of China. After the enlightening experience, we went further back in time with the dinosaurs of Zigong and the Buddhist carvings of the Dazu grottos—both reminders of a world beyond us. Our final stop at Kunming was short, since it was the halfway point of our journey. Of course during our stay, we tried the spicy Sichuan food (at the mildest level as possible) and tried a herbal hotpot meal, despite the humid weather. The tour in Sichuan was organized by a single tour guide, Cathy, and driver.

China 2012

From Beijing to Sichuan province to Yunnan province (courtesy of Google Maps)

Next, we toured Yunnan province—home to the 55 minority groups of China (56 total including the Han (Chinese) people), which make up one-third of the country’s population. The Bai people are the largest group. During the time we visited, the Bai people were celebrating the Torch Festival on August 10-12, which we were lucky to witness and welcomed to join in the revelries. Here we visited several Buddhist sites, including the holy Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang and Meili Snow Mountain in Shangri-La and Deqin. We also explored natural wonders, such as the Stone Forest and Tiger Leaping Gorge. As a grand finale, we returned to the capital—Kunming—and marveled at the Peacock Dance by the minority groups at the theater. It is to note that in Yunnan, we had several tour guides; one at each city so gratuity must be organized as such.

Our final stop was in Beijing, where we revisited famous sites: the Great Wall and the Forbidden City to see how much changed since our visit in 1998. Then, we visited the Olympic Stadium (the Bird’s Nest) and saw a Peking Opera show at Liyuan Theater. We were lucky to have organized a few things with a tour guide, who had picked us up at the airport on August 4th.

Overall, the journey was enjoyable and a great learning experience. The only concern was that we were not able to choose the food dishes; most likely this was due to the budget our tour guide had to meet. For future trips, we plan to explain to the tour coordinator that we would like to choose dishes that we would like and would meet the said budget. This would be the most ideal course to make a trip worthwhile.

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London: A Week of Adventure

Buckingham Palace Gates, London, United Kingdom

Buckingham Palace Gates, London, United Kingdom

During our week-long stay in London (June 27 to July 2, 2011), we resided at the Crowne Plaza London-St. James hotel, which is conveniently located near the Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. The rooms were of reasonable size and fairly comfortable. We paid for two non-smoking standard rooms that included continental breakfast, costing about $500 U.S. per night. It was worth the price.

Also, we bought the Oyster Card so that we could travel limitlessly via the underground metro. The Oyster Card is used like a debit card; one puts a certain amount of money on it and then adds more as needed. This avoids buying multiple tickets each time the metro has to be used.

Attraction List:

  • Buckingham Palace (June 26-27)
  • Changing of the Guard at the Palace (June 27)
  • Westminster Abbey (June 27)
  • Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament (June 27)
  • Piccadilly Circus (June 27)
  • Horse Guards (June 27)
  • Trafalgar Square (June 27)
  • National Portrait Gallery (June 27)
  • M&M Store, London (June 27)
  • Soho District – China Town (June 27)
  • Kensington Palace and the Orangery (high tea) (June 29)
  • Diana’s Memorial Playground Park (June 29)
  • River Thames (June 30)
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral (June 30)
  • Tower of London (June 30)
  • London Bridge (June 30)
  • British Museum (July 1)
  • Shakespeare’s Globe (July 1)

Continue reading

Puerto Lápice, Castille-La Mancha: Ordained as Don Quixote

Visited June 25, 2011. Located in the Castille-La Mancha region of Spain.

Puerto Lápice, Spain

Souvenir shop, Puerto Lápice, Spain

Attraction Checklist:

  • Venta del Quijote Inn
  • Windmills
Venta del Quijote Inn, Puerto Lápice, Spain

Venta del Quijote Inn, Puerto Lápice, Spain

Tribute to Don Quixote, Puerto Lápice, Spain

Tribute to Don Quixote, Puerto Lápice, Spain

Located in La Mancha, this village has the famous inn, Venta del Quijote, where it was believed that Don Quixote– the titular character of Miguel de Cervantes’ classic, Don Quixote— mistook the inn for a castle and was dubbed a “knight.” We stopped here to have sandwiches for lunch on our way back to Madrid.

After lunch, we took pictures of our surroundings and visited the souvenir shop conveniently located across the street from the inn.

Windmills in Puerto Lápice, Spain

Windmills in Puerto Lápice, Spain

When we were back on the road, we passed the white windmills that were turning with the breeze high in the mountains. It brings to mind the scene from the novel when Don Quixote was “fighting” the windmills.

Acknowledgments

Resources

Virtual Tourist. (2012). Puerto Lápice Travel Guide. Retrieved http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Europe/Spain/Castilla_La_Mancha/Puerto_Lapice-257269/TravelGuide-Puerto_Lapice.html

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Córdoba, Andalucía: The Jewel of the Guadalquivir Valley

Córdoba, Andalucía

Visited on June 24, 2011. Located in Andalucía.

Mihrab in the Mezquita (mosque) portion of La Catedral de Córdoba, Spain

Mihrab in the Mezquita (mosque) portion of La Catedral de Córdoba, Spain

Attraction Checklist:

  • Roman bridge across the Guadalquivir River
  • La Catedral (Mezquita) de Córdoba
  • Calleja de Las Flores
  • Jewish Quarter
  • La Sinagoga (Synagogue)

A few hours after midday we arrived in Córdoba—a city that was founded by the Romans in 169 B.C. and became the capital of Baetica or Lower Hispania in 152 B.C. Later, it would fall under the hands of the Visigoths in the 5th century A.D. and then the Moors in 711. Under Abd ar-Rahman I of the Umayyad dynasty, Córdoba was the capital during 756-1031—its most prosperous and rich period rivaling the wealth and power of Constantinople and Baghdad. Today, the old city retains many architectural wonders from the Romans, Moors, Jews, and Christians.

Roman bridge entering Córdoba, Spain

Roman bridge entering Córdoba, Spain

We crossed a Roman bridge from Emperor Augustus’ era across the Guadalquivir River to enter the old city. At the end of the bridge, there is the Bridge’s Gate (also known as the Arch of Triumph) built by King Philip II 1572. Continue reading

Carmona, Andalucía: Of Olives and A Roman Fortress

Carmona, Andalucía

Visited on June 24, 2011. Located in Andalucía.

Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción, Carmona, Spain

Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción, Carmona, Spain

Attraction Checklist:

  • Olive Farm
  • Roman Fortress with La Puerta de Sevilla (entrance)
  • Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción
  • Plaza de San Fernando

Olive oil production exhibit at the olive farm, Carmona, Spain

Olive oil production exhibit at the olive farm, Carmona, Spain

Ice cream with olive oil tasting, Carmona, Spain

Ice cream with olive oil tasting, Carmona, Spain

In the morning, we went on the optional tour to Carmona, where along the way we visited an olive farm. At the olive farm, we went to an exhibit on olive harvesting and olive oil manufacturing. The local farmer explained how he used the tools to harvest the olives and what was considered ripe olives for picking.

Then, we were allowed to taste the olive oil in a scoop of chocolate ice cream sprinkled with a little salt; to my surprise, it tasted delicious! For cooking, the farmer recommended that we use light olive oil due to the less fat content present in it. Continue reading

Seville, Andalucía: Port to the New World

Visited June 22-23, 2011. Seville is located in the Andalucía region of Spain.

Seville, Spain

Seville, Spain

Attraction Checklist:

  • Flamenco Show at El Palacio Andaluz (June 22)
  • La Catedral de Sevilla (also called Catedral y Giralda) (June 23)
  • Corpus Christi Procession (held on a Thursday after Trinity Sunday) (June 23)
  • Plaza Nueva (June 23)
  • Palacio Arzobispal (June 23)
  • Alcázar de Seville (June 23)
  • Plaza de España (June 23)
  • Murallas (June 23)
  • Basílica Macarena (June 23)

June 22, 2011

Monument to Christopher Columbus, Seville, Spain

Monument to Christopher Columbus, Seville, Spain

After a long day’s drive, we arrived in Seville—the capital and largest city of Andalucía and province of Seville— along the Guadalquivir River. Our bus took us through the city past the bull ring and ornately decorated buildings and into the heart of the city. Seville was founded by the Romans who called it “Hispalis” and later taken over by the Moors who called it “Isbilya.” As a result, the city contains evidence of several cultures as noted by the architecture. In the past, Seville was an important port of departure and commercial when the New World was discovered in 1492 and through the 16th century. At this high point of Spanish history, many people from Flanders, France, Italy, and other European countries would pass through this port and further influence the culture, especially during the Renaissance period. During the 17th century, renowned painters, such as Diego Velazquez, Bartolome Esteban, and Juan de Valdes Leal, were born in Seville and whose masterpieces would be inspirational to the rest of the world. Continue reading

Gibraltar, UK: One of the Legendary Pillars of Hercules

Visited June 22, 2011. Gibraltar is now a part of the United Kingdom.

Scenic oceanview of Gibraltar, UK from the Rock

Scenic oceanview of Gibraltar, UK from the Rock

Attraction Checklist:

  • Rock of Gibraltar
  • St. Michael’s Cave
Map of Gibraltar, UK. Courtesy of Mappery.

Map of Gibraltar, UK. Courtesy of Mappery.

Located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula of Spain is Gibraltar that is now held by the United Kingdom. In ancient times, Rock of Gibraltar was considered one of the Pillars of Hercules by the Greeks in the B.C. era. It was not disturbed until Tariq Ibn Zeyad conquered it and gave its name—Jebel Tariq (“Mount of Tariq”)—in 711. A military fortress that was built and held by the Moors from 1160 until it was conquered by Juan Alonso de Guzmán, 1st Duke of Medina Sidonia, in 1462. Throughout its history, Gibraltar was held by the Spanish, French, and eventually the British via the Treaty of Utrecht on July 13, 1713. Continue reading

Costa del Sol: Mijas, Malaga, & Torremolinos Part II

June 20-22, 2011 Costa del Sol Part II

Málaga

Visited on June 21, 2011. Located in Andalucía.

View of the City from El Castilo de Gibralfaro, Málaga

View of the City from El Castilo de Gibralfaro, Málaga

Attraction Checklist:

  • Alcazaba Teatro Romano
  • Gibralfaro Castle/El Castillo de Gibralfaro
  • Fundación Picasso/MuseoCasa Natal de Málaga
  • La Malagueta Beach
Roman Amphitheater (Alcazaba Teatro Romano), Málaga

Roman Amphitheater (Alcazaba Teatro Romano), Málaga

The following day (June 21) we visited Málaga, the hometown of Pablo Picasso with several museums, parks, and centers dedicated to him. The city is currently developing and hoping to develop a metropolitan transportation system. In ancient times, the Romans populated this area. Today, the city of Málaga was built upon these Roman ruins; a reconstruction of the amphitheater (Alcazaba Teatro Romano) can be seen in the center of the city. Arabic and European influences can be seen throughout the city, such as the Baroque-style churches and cathedrals. Continue reading