Author: marina

China Travels: Dali & Lijiang

China Travels: Dali & Lijiang

And back to the October holiday travel recap …

Dali

Our next stop was Dali, a two hour high speed train ride from Kunming. It has a beautiful ancient town, is close to Erhai Lake and mountain ranges and home to the 3 Pagodas. We spent 2 days exploring and loved it.

Three Pagodas

After lunch on our first day, we headed to the Three Pagodas, which are within walking distance from the Ancient Town. We found out soon that the Pagodas are just a part of the attraction – they belong to the Chong Shen Monastery, which has several layers of temples, pavilions and Buddha statues. At the top, the view of the temples with Erhai Lake as a backdrop is breathtaking. Really worth the trip!  

Dali Ancient Town

The rest of our time in Dali was spent wandering around the streets and drinking tea while reading. It is a beautiful place and we especially enjoyed it because it was not so crowded yet, maybe due to us staying there before the official start of Golden Week. The bright blue skies didn’t hurt either 🙂

We also really enjoyed trying different local foods (and many more rose cakes) and listening to live music, which almost every place had in the evening.

Lijiang

Another 2.5 hour train ride later, we arrived in Lijiang, the most famous town in Yunnan. As I usually do on vacation, I got a cold, so while the rest of the crew explored nearby Shuhe Old Town, I stayed at the hotel on the first and most of our second day in town.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is one of the most famous attractions in Lijiang. It’s a mountain range with several peaks, the highest is at 5,596 m. There a many things to do, such as taking a cable car to different view points, watching a show by Yunnan’s ethnic minorities or seeing the Blue Moon Valley.

Yak Meadow

We opted for the least crowded cable car option and took one to Yak Meadow. Yak Meadow is at an altitude of around 3,700 meters and has a beautiful view of the mountain peak on a clear day. Unfortunately, we had a cloudy day, so the mountain stayed hidden in the clouds. We did a hike around the meadow, saw some Yaks and a small temple.

Blue Moon Valley

Also located in the scenic area is Blue Moon Valley. The White Water River flowing through the valley looks very blue and makes for great photo ops. We saw several brides and grooms getting their pictures taken. Despite the clouds and drizzle, it was still beautiful.

Lijiang Ancient Town

Lijiang Ancient Town, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is over 1000 years old and has lots of pretty buildings, alleys, waterways and bridges. It’s quite commercial with lots of not so traditional shops and crowded with tourists. Nonetheless, it is beautiful and we were able to get away from the crowds sometimes to enjoy the scenery, flowers and restored buildings.

Black Dragon Pool

On our last day, we went to Black Dragon Pool. You get a picture perfect view with a reflecting pond, pavilion, temple, white bridge and the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the background. It was much more quiet than the Old Town, so a great spot to stroll around or just sit down and relax. Probably my favorite spot in Lijiang.

China Travels: Kunming, Yunnan

China Travels: Kunming, Yunnan

October = Golden Week = Time to travel!

Due to the current circumstances we couldn’t leave the country, but thankfully, travel within China is still pretty unrestricted and China is huge with many beautiful regions. For this year’s October Holiday we picked Yunnan, a province in the Southwest of China. It’s a mountainous region with beautiful landscapes, home to different ethnic groups and borders Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. There is lots to see and do, so we planned a 2 week trip covering Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-La. The first and last stop of our two week trip was Yunnan’s capital Kunming.

Green Lake Area and Yunnan Food

A taxi ride, a 3.5 hour flight and another taxi ride later, most of our travel crew arrived at our hotel, close to the Green Lake in Kunming. We started the trip right – by trying lots of delicious local food at Heavenly Manna. Mashed potatoes, eggs, mushrooms, goat cheese, beef … exactly what you need after a day of travel. After that, we walked around the Green Lake to make room for dessert, which we found at our designated Kunming Hangout spot, Salvador’s, where we went for breakfast, tea, snacks and drinks pretty much every morning and night we were in town. Can’t go wrong with Snickers ice cream and bagels!

Wild Animal Park

The Wild Animal Park was recommended to me by a local guide as a quiet place with lots of nature and animals. We spent a few hour wandering around and getting sunburned (that was mostly me). Some areas looked like the depressing parts of a zoo, others were quite nice with lots of space and well taken care of animals. My highlights were feeding a giraffe and some very hungry raccoons. They also had pandas and red pandas, which are so fun to watch 🙂

Yunnan in a Bowl

All that walking made us hungry, which was perfect, because for the evening, we had a food tour on the agenda. Our guide Joy from Yunnan in a bowl took us around town, showed us some sights and most importantly, made sure we tried lots and lots of local specialties.

We started with Bridge Noodle Soup, picked up spicy pickled fruit at our second stop and sweet mystery dessert plus fried potatoes cakes at a little stand in a market street. Our next sit down stop was a bit more adventurous: besides sprouts, beef and lotus root, we also tried stinky tofu (not as bad as it smells) and pig’s brain – surprisingly small and actually pretty tasty. Next up: Fried tofu, thankfully not stinky, and a yummy rice cake dish.

After a bit of a walk, seeing 2 pagodas and part of the city wall, we went for noodles and wontons, one of the best things on the tour, which we went for again on our last night of the trip. Our final stop was at a busy local place, where we had veggies with ham, grandma’s mashed potatoes, beans, fried goat cheese and some maggots and grasshoppers. The maggots just tasted like oil and the grasshoppers were not too bad actually 😉

Dessert is not pictured but was delicious: Kunming rose cakes! It was a challenge to find room for it but we managed 😉

Shilin/ Stone Forest Scenic Area

About 90 km from Kunming is an area which has a lot of limestone formations called Shilin or Stone Forest. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, so we took a day trip to see it. In the beginning it looked a bit like Disneyland for stones with nicely manicured lawns and wide, paved paths.

When we wandered more inside, it became a lot more quiet and rugged with lots of small trails and things to explore. It was really cool to see the different stones and formations (spot the elephant, the mushroom and the phoenix!) and besides getting a lot of steps in, we also took many cool pictures. Really worth the drive!

After some more ice cream at Salvador’s, we headed to our next stop Dali in the morning.

Summer Vacation 2020: Hello again Sanya

Summer Vacation 2020: Hello again Sanya

Like most people’s summer vacation stories this year, ours also starts with “Well, I wanted to do X, but Covid …”

In my case, I wanted to fly to Germany and spend 2 weeks visiting family and friends but Covid didn’t let me. China still has a 2 week mandatory quarantine for anyone coming back plus (until the end of the month) all visas becomes invalid when leaving China. Therefore, we had to stay put and decided to go to Sanya again. While I would have loved to go home, relaxing by the pool and beach for a week is not a bad option 🙂

Dadonghai Bay

The first part of our trip was spent at Dadonghai Bay. We loved our hotel, private little patio and having happy hour and breakfast with an ocean view. The pools were amazing as well, one had sand on the bottom and there was always shade thanks to lots of palm trees. It was pure bliss.

Haitang Bay

For the second part part of our vacation, we went back to Haitang Bay. Our room had an amazing view and walking along the beach in the morning and evening was just as nice as it was in May. We also had fun playing at the arcade in our hotel. Not pictures: me losing at whack-a-mole against a maybe 5 year old adorable Chinese girl. We had a bit of rain some afternoons, but overall we still got lots of nice pool and beach time – I think I read 4 books during our trip.

A Moganshan Wedding

A Moganshan Wedding

on 8/8, a lucky date in China, our friends Kwaki and Jason got married in Moganshan. Due to the current situation, their family and friends from abroad couldn’t come to China, so they turned it into a full weekend with the Shanghai crew.

But first things first, of course before a wedding there needs to be a Bachelorette party – so that’s what we did the weekend before in Shanghai.

The Bachelorette Party

Brunch

Kwakis bachelorette Party was an all day affair. We started early with decorations because who doesn’t want a gigantic diamond helium balloon at their party? Also, a champagne brunch, matching shirts and photo props are clearly a must.

Korean Spa

Up next: relaxing and getting pretty! We headed to Koreatown to go to New Star, a Korean Spa. Sauna, soaking in different temperature pools, a scrub that took off at least 2 layers of skin, followed by face masks and chilling made for a great afternoon.

Dinner in Koreatown & Dancing

When in Koreatown, do as Koreans do – to fuel up after an exhausting afternoon of doing mostly nothing, we ate lots of Korean Food and drank soju 🙂 We had a nice seafood dinner, followed by a stroll through a night market. The night ended back downtown with more drinks and dancing – a really fun day!

The Wedding

All dressed up with somewhere to go

A week later, we headed to Moganshan for the big day! The color code of the wedding was beige and sage, which meant a trip to the fabric market for Thorben and some intense taobao shopping for me. The effort was worth it I think, the group pictures turned out really cool.

The first 4 pictures are from Thorben’s camera, all other group, couple and party pictures are from the very talented https://nicolasderouge.com/.

Ceremony and Party

Our friend Ben did the ceremony (he got ordained on the bus ride over), there were some games, videos from the bride and groom’s families and of course food and dancing. Our first wedding in China was definitely one to remember.

The rest of the weekend

Having traveled all the way to Moganshan, almost everyone turned the trip into a long weekend. We stayed from Friday to Monday and had a great time. The weather was mostly very nice so we had 2 barbecues, lots of pool time, played games and I got eaten by mosquitoes – an almost perfect weekend getaway 🙂

12 weeks in Suzhou

12 weeks in Suzhou

It looks like summer is officially over in Shanghai. This week, temperatures dropped below 30 degrees, even below 20 yesterday, so it’s time to catch up on all of the things that happened in summer over here. Soon, it will be Golden Week / October Holiday here so I’ll try to finish before then.

A lot of my summer was spent in Suzhou. I had a project there from late May to mid August, which meant that I was away every week Monday – Thursday. Suzhou is about 100 km west of Shanghai and easily reachable by high speed train. It is famous for its canals, watertowns, gardens and silk. People from Shanghai like to call it small given that it only has a population of 11 million 😉

Somehow, we never managed to find a weekend to stay in Suzhou and properly visit all the tourist things. Between birthdays, cooking classes, dinners, GGI events, a bachelorette party and a wedding, Shanghai just kept us too busy and entertained all summer. That means I have yet to see the gardens and watertowns, but I at least managed some walks on the shore of Jinji lake and along some canals.

During my last week, we had a nice team building event and dinner together. This is my attempt at making a bowl – turns out, I am not very talented at pottery. Eating is still more my thing and the local Suzhou fish, noodles and other food is really tasty.

Overall, Suzhou looks like quite a nice place to live with all the comforts and services we have in Shanghai. Also, it’s cheaper and people seem much nicer. Still, my heart belongs to Shanghai and I was always excited to get on the train back home on Thursdays 🙂

Now, I have started my next project, which is in Wuxi. Hopefully, I will manage to see more there in the coming 3 months.

Cooking Classes at CieCAS

Cooking Classes at CieCAS

For my birthday, Thorben got me cooking classes at CieCAS. CieCAS, or the Center of innovative and entrepreneurial Culinary Arts and Services, offers professional training courses for people working in F&B but also team building and small, private cooking classes. We did 3 evening classes and they were all super fun and tasty. Each time, it was just the 2 of us plus the awesome chefs Francois and Evo. The last one was yesterday and we just received the pictures, so here is all the yummy food we made.

Homemade Pasta and Sauces

For our first class, we made our own pasta. We made the dough by hand, put it through a pasta machine roughly 458 times and then cut half into tagliatelle and turned the other half into ravioli. It’s quite a process, but really fun and rewarding.

To go with it, we made 4 different sauces: tomato, vegan Bolognese, meat Bolognese and mushroom & cream. All of them were delicious. After 3 hours of work, we got to sit down in their dining room and got served all the food we made. Well, not really all of it. We got to take the rest home and in fact made so much that after eating pasta twice, we still have some in the freezer 🙂

I have since used some of the tricks we learned to make the best tomato sauce I have ever made, so it was definitely worth it. Now all we need is a pasta machine …

Vegetarian and Vegan Superfoods

Our second night was all about meatless cooking and using some superfoods. We made a total of 4 courses: a foamed potato and leek soup, stuffed mushrooms over mini ratatouille, risotto with spirulina and berry muffins on acai sauce with ice cream.

The soup was quite heavy on the butter and cream because we put it into one of those things you use cartridges of nitrogen to foam things. My mom has one at home for making whipped cream and now I learned it can also be used on soup that has enough fat content 🙂

For the mushrooms we used Z-Rou, a plant-based meat alternative. Not quite the real deal but pretty tasty. I have since seen Z-Rou on 2 restaurant menus, looks like it’s gaining popularity. The mini ratatouille worked well with it and Thorben got to show of his chopping skills, which are much better than his flipping things in the pan with his wrist skills 😉

Our main dish, the risotto, was completely vegan, using spirulina for a seafood taste and nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor. I may look sceptical in the picture, but it was really tasty! Important lesson from the cooking classes so far: White wine goes inside everything! Soup, sauces, ratatouille, risotto – just add wine!

The berry muffins made with almond and coconut flour, soy milk and coconut oil with acai sauce were also vegan – but the ice cream wasn’t 🙂