Thursday, July 24, 2014

Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park

First, a fun drive up the canyon beside the Big Thompson River (and some flood damage is still visible from last summer). It's nice that it is only an hour from Fort Collins. Then a quick picnic lunch in the city square.
 Followed by lots of window-shopping.  Estes Park is a fun, touristy city.
Wading in the river as it goes through town.
 We had an extra for the day, but she was fabulous!  Everyone was genial and game.
 The reward of an ice cream cone might have had something to do with that.
While one van went back to Fort Collins with little ones who needed a nap,
Our van ventured into Rocky Mountain National Park, even though the forecast was not
great.  (And especially since a couple of people were hit by lightning there recently.)

Vacation is just not complete until I've been in the mountains.  My soul is nourished!
 We were at 12,005 feet at the top of this little walk. The air was quite thin and I huffed and puffed up the stairs, but it was still easier than climbing on the Great Wall. And it was SO cold!  Tundra!

As we came down in elevation, the warmth returned (and so did the sun).

Monday, March 03, 2014

A surprising taste of spring...

     The past couple of weeks in Tianjin have been rather dreary.  Lots of fog.  Air quality index numbers in the 200-400 range (for comparison, the World Health Organization recommends daily levels of 20 or less).  Still, it's only been 3 weeks since we returned from Bali and I didn't feel the need to go on another long journey.  

     Ever since Alice auditioned and was accepted for the AMIS High School Honor Orchestra, 
I've quietly lobbied for just skipping the actual trip.  Isn't it good enough just to know that you ARE good enough?  We could skip those 19 hours of traveling. I'm perfectly fine staying home! But here we are:  Dusseldorf, Germany.  

     Officially, Alice is on a "field trip" as far as her school is concerned.  She had to get all her school work done before coming, and they didn't fuss when we decided to come a few days early so we could do some exploring and sight-seeing on our own.  Once the AMIS group starts on Wednesday, Alice will have all-day rehearsals culminating in a concert on Saturday night.  

     Alice has been very excited to come visit Europe, to see the continent where she was born.  And I have to admit, now that I'm here, I wouldn't have missed this for the world.  We will be here for 8 days, leaving next Sunday afternoon, and arriving back in China on Monday afternoon.

     We arrived after dark on Saturday night with a light rain falling. My first observation:  not many skyscrapers--in fact, hardly any.  And the buildings are not garishly lit the way Chinese city buildings are.  Still, with it being dark, we couldn't get much idea of how things looked.

   Our adventure commenced as we set out on Sunday morning to go to church.  This was our first viewing of what this city was like.  And what a shock!  It wasn't winter here.  We hadn't gone a full block before we noticed yards full of spring flowers. (I've always wanted to have crocuses in my lawn.)  And LOTS of birds were singing.  Since China has so few birds, I almost forget what a chorus they can put together.
     We used to have primroses when we lived in France and haven't seen them much in the US.  So many memories of our time in France have come rushing back!
Since the temperatures here have been roughly the same as we've had in China,
I expected it to still be winter as well.  What a pleasant surprise!  Early spring!
 New, green grass lining the city canals and lawns.
 Alice and I both decided this could be our ideal cottage. As we strolled along (in-between changing buses), we were struck with how neat and orderly the streets and yards are.  How quiet everything was--no horns honking, no buzz from a mass of humanity, no chaotic living.
It felt SO comfortable and familiar.
 In the afternoon, we took a walk along the Rhine River.  Crocuses were in the grass everywhere!
 The sun was out and although the breeze was chilly, lots of people were out strolling. (And engaging in the festivities of Carnival, but that's a topic for another post).
We watched several barges move past, some moving upriver and others going down.
And this is a river that flows northward. 
I loved the quaint old buildings along the river front.
I don't know how many times the word "quaint" floated through my head on our first day here.

We walked the 4 kilometers to the city center and back, and now I can add another city's River Walk to my memories. Each River Walk has been completely unique (San Antonio, Guiyang, and now Dusseldorf).
Then, a beautiful tree in blossom as we returned to our hotel.  
Ah!  The hope that spring brings!  
My soul feels so nourished after spending one day in this beautiful land and I think it is 
the orderliness of everything that is so soul-satisfying.
Alice is already lobbying to move here.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Last days of Bali...

We finally made it up early enough to catch low tide.  The reef stretches out
a hundred yards or more from the shore, and with the early morning calm,
 it was perfect for looking for fish.  We went back to the hotel and got the girls and our
swimming goggles--not as nice as snorkeling masks, but better than nothing!
 At low tide, someone came and set down a Hindu offering:  flower petals, some fruit and a stick of burning incense.
 Many Chinese tourists come here, so the grocery store had special apples--
"congratulations making money" which is the ultimate best wish for the Chinese.
We also saw many Russian tourists.
 We fixed our own breakfast in our room's little kitchen, but ate out for other meals.
I wasn't sorry about ordering the King Burger, but did it really need a fried egg?
The meat patty was different--not really sure what kind of meat it was,
but it was tasty.
 Indonesian money is the rupiyah.  These were 50,000 rupi notes, worth just under $5.00 each.
It was kind of handy that the exchange rate with the dollar was 11000 to 1.  
Just drop off 3 zeros and you have the approximate value.
Steve is holding over 1 million rupi (100 dollars). 
When we got money out of the ATM and it gave our bank balance (in rupiyah)
we were suddenly millionaires!  It was like playing with monopoly money.
 There were flowers everywhere.  Our hotel lobby, which was open-air, always smelled like lemon blossoms.  Stores had basins with flower petal art.
Plumeria blossoms littered the sidewalks.  I'd always pick one up just to smell the scent.
The tropics are wonderful!
 The hotel pool was large, with little islands, a volleyball net, a basketball hoop and 
lots of lounge chairs to relax on (or in Kevin's case, study Chinese).  
And it wasn't chlorinated water.  It was salt water. 

 Our last evening, we went to dinner with Jinny.  We met her at church and wanted to get to know her better. She is Indonesian, went to Hong Kong for education, met the missionaries, joined the church, served a mission, and is back on Bali working.  What a lovely young woman!

Then it was back to reality.  It IS still winter, not summer.  
(Funny how I had a hard time remembering what month of the year it was!)
We do have work and school and responsibilities!
It's good to be home.
It's good to have my hair under control again (with the humidity it was so curly 
and out of control no matter how much gel or spray I used).
It's good to have dry clothing.
I feel more fit after all the walking (and walking on that sandy beach was WORK!  
The sand looked like bird seed and each step would sink in several inches).  
And biking.  And lots and lots of swimming. 
Yes, it was a good vacation.  But I wouldn't want to live there.  
We talked with our driver--"have you done the river rafting?"  No, never.
Many of the people we talked to never went to the beach.
Normal life just doesn't include too much leisure.
And that's probably a good thing.

Biking in Bali

After the river-rafting, we spent one day on the beach, playing in the boisterous waves 
as the tide came in.  No pictures!  Just memories. 
(And sunburns despite slathering on 100-SPF sunscreen).
The next day, another adventure.  This time, biking for $40 each including pickup and drop-off at our hotel, breakfast and lunch.
First stop:  a coffee plantation
 which also grew cocoa beans.  (Now those are what I was interested in!)
 These are coffee beans.  Bali produces the most expensive coffee in the world, 
I think it is called Luwak or something.  
Not interested in tasting it, not only because I don't drink coffee as a Mormon,
but because this is cat-poo coffee.
The beans are eaten by wild civet cats (an example below),
then the poo is collected.  The bean husks have been digested off the beans and they are
fermented by the stomach juices, but remain whole.
They are collected by pooper-scoopers and then cleaned, roasted and brewed into a special flavor of coffee.  I just wonder who was the first person to try this?!
I'm sure the tour's hope is that we will purchase a lot of high-priced coffee.
I did get some ginger tea.
 We stuck to the hot chocolate and herbal teas they offered.
 Back up to the volcanic area for our breakfast overlooking the scene.
 A banana pancake, served with a honey syrup.  Fabulous!!!
 I finished mine off and didn't even give some to Kevin!  Our guide, Gede, is helping Steve
with his omelet.  Gede was great!  His was a story of how learning English helped him
rise out of poverty.  He has such a happy countenance!
 With the building clouds, the 2nd volcano looked like it was erupting.  The lake is part of  an ancient caldera that has collapsed.
After breakfast, on to our bikes!  They told us that we would be going downhill for 90% of the 27 kilometers we were going to ride.  They weren't kidding.
For the first half-hour, I think I only pedaled to start off.  
From then on, I was trying to figure out how to rest my hands as they began to cramp
from using the hand brakes so much!
Since we were up in elevation, it was cooler, and the breeze in our face so refreshing.
 We stopped at a Balinese home (a friend of Gede's) to see how they live.
I'm sure I was looking at a bird or the clouds--I really was listening to what Gede was saying!
 Dirt floors.  Wood cooking stove.  Thin pad on a wooden platform for a bed. No running water.
There was a single light bulb hanging on a wire in the center of the small room--a CFL bulb!
Very primitive living conditions.  This is the cabin for the 1st wife.
 As we traveled along, I noticed many yards with roosters in cages.  Yup, they are for cock-fighting.  It used to have religious significance in the Hindu tradition, but nowadays,
it is for gambling.  The fights are to the death, but as Gede noted,
then they have chicken for dinner.  The fights usually only last a few minutes
since the roosters have knives attached to their feet.
 This particular family had two wives.  Who lived in separate quarters about 15 feet from each other, and who never talked to one another.  

 We rode back roads through fields. 
  We rode through villages. And despite being downhill most of the way, there were a few uphills that were so steep we had to walk up.
 We stopped by a village Hindu temple and Gede explained more about the religion.
It is integrated into every aspect of their lives.  Each village has a temple.
Each home has a small temple--a corner with space for an offering.
Offerings are given multiple times a day (in a woven-palm small basket, with fruit, flowers and incense).  We could almost always smell incense during our time on Bali.
 The route was spectacular!  Watching people working in the rice fields,
or herding large numbers of ducks.  We really felt like we got to know what Bali was really like.
As we descended and the time moved toward afternoon, it got a lot warmer.
 By the time we finished, we were ready for the lunch (and it was 2 pm!).  The owner of the coffee plantation is the organizer of the bike ride, and lunch was at his home.
We especially appreciated the cool, wet washcloths to wipe our faces and hands.
It was a great meal--delicious!
Then they gave us the opportunity to play some of the instruments of the gamelan.
Even when we're the ones doing it, the sounds are still hard to listen to.
But the instruments themselves are so beautiful! 
(This one has xylophone-like keys that you hit with a mallet.)
Then off we went on the hour-drive back to our hotel.
What a great day!