Author: marina

Staycation

Staycation

After most of our friends returned to Shanghai and finished their home quarantine, we decided to do a Staycation together. We hadn’t seen each other much this year, no one is allowed to really go anywhere plus many places are running specials, so it was the perfect opportunity. Two weeks ago our destination was the W Hotel located on the North Bund. This is the whole crew during Happy Hour and again after breakfast:

We booked a special package with happy hour, massages and breakfast the next day and it was amazing. The hotel was not full , so we had the spa to ourselves and we all got upgraded into incredible rooms with an even more incredible view! Being on the Bund, we set an alarm for 5:30 to watch the sunrise … me mostly from the comfort of our bed. I only got up a couple times to take a picture 🙂

Those are all phone pictures, and here is one that Thorben took with the pro equipment. Looking at the Skyline never gets old and seeing it in the morning light was really cool.

It was a great weekend and it was really nice to get “away”, even if only a 15 min taxi ride away. If things stay the way they are and we cannot travel, I think we will be due for another Staycation soon 🙂

COVID-19 in Shanghai

COVID-19 in Shanghai

Shanghai right now

The Corona virus situation in China and Shanghai has been improving a lot in the past weeks and we’re maybe 60-70% back to normal. I thought I’d try to sum up how things developed and what the current status is.

As of right now, schools are still closed but we are back at the office and many places are open. The city is running again, though with a lot of precautions. Everywhere you go, there are temperature checks: you cannot enter malls, restaurants, parks or our building without having your temperature taken first. To go to our office, we have to fill out a form everyday which asks about travel and symptoms. Many places also want to see a QR code which shows if you have been in a high risk area in the past 14 days. If the code is green, you’re good to go. Most places have hand sanitizers and everyone wears masks … like me at the park yesterday, or pretty much everywhere I go that is not our apartment.

So overall, life has returned to fairly normal here. The metro is busy again, there are some traffic jams and you can meet friends and go places. Last week, we went to a birthday party, I went to the first GGI event of the year and we met friends for dinner.

The only big impact on us at the moment is, that we can’t really leave Shanghai. I was supposed to spend the weekend in Singapore with my sister, nephew and parents, but many countries, Singapore included, won’t let anyone who has been in China (and now also other high risk countries) enter. Our company has the policy that if you leave Shanghai, you have to quarantine at home for 14 days before coming back to the office. All business trips are cancelled, which means we are staying put for the time being. Not having a vacation planned or even knowing when our next trip will be is definitely something new.

Starting at the beginning

People in Shanghai first started the talking about the virus the week before Chinese New Year. I left for India on January 23 and the days leading up to it, I heard about it more and more at the office and the number of people wearing masks on the metro increased daily. We were not really worried about it then. Life in Shanghai wasn’t affected and the night before I left, I went out with friends. We were still making jokes, drinking Coronas and and had a blast at the bowling alley.

The next day at the airport, EVERYONE was wearing a mask, and in India, passengers from China had to go through a temperature screening. While I was on the trip, things got really serious and we got more and more bad news. It was announced that schools would stay closed, we heard masks were difficult to get, and whole cities went into lock down. People even messaged me saying I should stay in India longer or go somewhere else, but to not return to China. I wanted to go back and was convinced it would be okay and I would go back to work on Monday. I did buy a pack of masks at a pharmacy in Delhi and returned to a very quiet city on February 1.

When I got home, it was announced that the CNY holiday was officially extended for another week, so our company, and pretty much everything else had to stayed closed until February 10. The week after, everyone was advised to work from home. That meant that I was mostly at home for 2 weeks and left the house only 4 or 5 times. The few times I did leave the compound, I walked through a ghost town. Everyone in Shanghai really isolated themselves as much as possible. The only people I saw outside were delivery drivers and people buying food.

I’ve been back to the office since February 17 but was there almost by myself for the first week. Many people still worked from home or were stuck in other provinces longer. My commute to work only took around half the normal time during that first week. Since March, most people are back and businesses are slowly opening up again. Everyone is wearing masks, big meetings taking place virtually and I think I have at least 3 conversations a day about corona, but it’s still good to be back to normal, or at least a new normal.

Thorben was supposed to return to Shanghai on February 2 but decided to extend his stay in Germany. He had a business trip to Morocco planned and didn’t want to get stuck. It took him until February 23 to return to Shanghai because getting his flight rescheduled was complicated and the date kept getting pushed back. In the end, he and a lot of masks and sanitizer made it back safely. After 2 weeks of home office, he’s also allowed to go back to work now.

Getting tested

Our friend Silvia works for a lab which developed a test to check if you have the Corona virus. She needed samples from people to get more data, since they were working to get the test approved. Therefore in mid February, a few friends and I could say with confidence that we definitely do not have the virus 🙂

Staying sane

The first 2 weeks after India were tough for me. I was home alone and most places were closed. I watched a lot of TV the first week, the most since I had pneumonia 2 years ago. To be exact, I caught up on the past 1 and a half seasons of Grey’s Anatomy and finished the last 3 seasons of Suits. I also caught up on all the sleep I didn’t get during my India trip. Other than that, I cooked and baked a lot, read 2 books and also worked much more than usual.

I spent some time video chatting with my family and friends but after 5 days home alone without real human contact, I was getting pretty desperate. Luckily, he situation in Shanghai never got really bad. According to official figures, we have less than 400 cases here, most of them already recovered and by mid February the number of new infections was below 5 a day. I was always able to leave my apartment, as there was no mandatory quarantine by the government for us. With everyone wearing masks and keeping a distance, I never felt unsafe or worried about my health. Of course that’s easy to say not being in any at risk group.

Since most restaurants were closed until March, and some still are, we had private gatherings. Tim and I made wontons together, Silvia and Gabor made pasta for me (twice!), I had some people over for dinner and brunch, went to a games and pizza night at a friend’s house … Thanks to the awesome people who kept me sane and provided human contact and excellent food 🙂

Now, I’m hoping, the measures which are taken across the globe are effective and soon, infection numbers will go down, so normal life can start up again. We’re continuing with our safety measures here and I really hope it is enough to keep the virus at bay.

Stay healthy, everyone!

Incredible India – Part II

Incredible India – Part II

After Agra, I thought, that we’d already done the best part and did not expect too much else. While seeing the Taj Mahal and enjoying the Baby Taj in the sunshine was definitely one of my highlights, India had a lot more incredible things in store that blew me away.

So here is the rest of the trip:

Day 4: Fatehpur Sikri, Abhaneri and a Night of Camping

Our next destination was Dhula Village to experience the rural life in India. On the way there we stopped in 2 places to do some more sightseeing.

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri is a town 40 km away from Agra. It was once the capital of the Mughal Empire for a few years. We went to see the beautiful red sandstone fort, which was built in the 16th century.

Abhaneri

There were three reasons for us to stop in Abhaneri: Lunch, the Chand Baori step well and the Harshat Mata Temple. All three things made for a really worthwhile stop 🙂

Chand Baori Stepwell

The stepwell was another surprise of the trip. I couldn’t really picture anything when Mo started explaining about stepwells and how people used to collect water from it. There are many across the state of Rajasthan and we were told this is one of the biggest and most beautiful ones. It’s almost 20 meter deep and definitely something to look at.

Harshat Mata Temple

The Harshat Mata Temple is a small Hindu temple with lots of beautiful stone carvings. We saw a really cute puppy on the way there which distracted us all a bit. Nevertheless, the temple itself was very pretty and the sight of one of my favorite pictures from the trip – an epic photobomb from my fellow travelers 🙂

Dhula Village Camping

We arrived at our campground around sunset and if I ever camp again, this is definitely the way to do it. The “tents” were like little hotel rooms with individual bathrooms and the whole grounds were really beautiful. Just a really peaceful spot, perfect for an evening around a bonfire and storytelling – which is exactly what we did.

Day 5: Dhula Village Bike Ride, Jaipur City Palace & an Indian Cooking Class

Village Bike Ride

The next morning started bright and early with a 7 am bike ride across fields and through the village. We saw a few peacocks, an owl, beautiful ruins of some sort and in the end stopped at our guide’s house for some chai. While I’m not a fan of biking (or waking up early) it was really worth it.

Jaipur City Palace

After enjoying the more quiet rural life, our next stop was another big city: Jaipur, also known as the pink city. Our first stop there was the City Palace, another, I know I’m overusing the word, beautiful place.

Cooking with a Local Family

Part of our group went straight from the palace to our next optional activity: A cooking class with an Indian family. We got to know a lot about Indian spices, had masala chai, and then helped to make vegetable biryani, Shahi paneer and some other yummy dishes I’ve since forgotten the name of.

Streets of Jaipur

After a crazy tuk tuk ride back to our hotel, Mo took us for a walk around Jaipur. It was really interesting and such a contrast to the forts and palaces: Basically, spices, tuk tuks, food stands, noise, craziness, crowds, and lots of hustle and bustle everywhere. Our night ended on a beautiful rooftop restaurant.

Day 6: Discovering Jaipur and Bollywood Dancing

The next morning, we ventured out for more sightseeing. First up was at the Palace of the Wind, or the facade of it to be precise. It was just a short photo stop but a really pretty one.

Amber Fort

The big sight of the day was the Amber Fort, another one of places that blew me away. It was simply stunning with so much to see … and we got lucky with the weather once again and got to enjoy it with lots of sunshine. Instead of writing more about it, I’ll just upload lots of pictures. As always, I took way too many.

On our way back, we made another photo stop, this time at the Water Palace, which is in the middle of a lake.

Bollywood Dancing

To get the full India experience, Mo set up an hour long Bollywood Dance class for us in the afternoon, and it was so much fun. We learned a minute long choreography which we videoed at the end. So far, watching it has not failed to make me laugh 🙂 Here is a poor resolution screenshot compilation:

Day 7: Bike Tour through Jaipur and back to Delhi

Jaipur Morning Bike Tour

The next morning was another really early wake up call because our Jaipur bike tour started at 6:30 am. It was a pretty wild tour. We fed cows, had chai, saw the Albert Hall Museum at sunrise, went to a flower market, joined the morning chanting at a temple and then a sort of laughing yoga circle in a park, ate pakoras and drank fresh lassis … and all of that in the span of 3 hours. Definitely a different and very cool way to experience more of Jaipur!

Back to Delhi

Sadly, it was time to head back to Delhi after that for a final farewell dinner with the group. The next day, it was time to say goodbye to India and I flew back to Shanghai.

Looking back, it’s amazing how much we got to see and experience in only a week. Truly, an incredible trip with so many great memories. Shout out to the fantastic G Adventures travel crew and our guide Mo! You made this trip so fun and interesting, and so much better than I could have hoped for!

And a special thank you to Emma, Karen and Catherine for all the laughs and being my Instagram girlfriends 🙂

Incredible India – Part I

Incredible India – Part I

It has been almost 3 weeks since I got back from my trip to India so it’s time to try putting this adventure into words. True to it’s slogan, India was really incredible: Incredibly beautiful, chaotic, interesting, noisy, colorful, dirty, fascinating, unique and crazy. So many different impressions and contrasts, I’m really glad I went and got to experience it.

First things first: I got to see the Taj Mahal and it was amazing! Seeing one of the Wonders of the World was one of the reasons I wanted to do this trip and it was even better than I thought.

It was my first trip by myself, so I was a little nervous. In order for my solo trip not to turn into an all-alone-trip, and because I was a bit intimidated (okay, a lot) by India, I signed up for a group tour through G Adventures. Within one week, we covered the Golden Triangle, which consists of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

Day 1: Delhi and Meeting the Travel Crew

I arrived in Delhi on Thursday night, got picked up at the airport and then went straight to the hotel and to sleep. My first impression was mixed, so I was a bit worried if this trip was the right decision. Spoiler: it 100% was. The 7 days that followed were fantastic 🙂

Lodi Garden

In the morning of my first full day in India, I was scared to leave the hotel by myself but thankfully 2 other girls from my group had arrived early as well and together with them I ventured out. Nothing really went as planned, but in the end we still had a great day. We wanted to go to the Red Fort and India Gate, but wound up at Lodi Garden since our Taxi driver insisted we go there. We tried to argue but in the end we went with the flow and it was really nice.

First Indian Food

After exploring the garden, we went back to the hotel and decided to do a late lunch at Kitchen with a Cause, a project that was recommended by G Adventures. We had great lassis, curry, naan and rice, a great culinary start to the trip. During the day with company, the area around us still seemed chaotic, but much less scary 🙂

Meeting the Group

In the evening we had our welcome meeting and got to know everyone in the group. We were a total of 14 people from all over: England, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to be exact, and me as the only German, thankfully 🙂 Our guide Mo from Jaipur, gave us an outlook on the week and took us for dinner.

Cheers to new friends! 🙂

Day 2: More of Delhi and Drive to Agra

Streets of Delhi

We started our second day in Delhi by exploring its streets. Our guide came from the project City Walk, which belongs to a trust helping children. He showed us their headquarter and also told us about the life of street children in Delhi and all over India.

Jama Mosque

Our next stop was Jama Mosque in Old Delhi. We wandered around the buildings and the huge courtyard and also climbed one of the towers. The view was really nice – we managed to see the Red Fort from above after failing to get there the day before 🙂 According to a sign, “unaccompanied woman and child are not allowed to visit the tower” but thankfully Ben, one of 2 men from our travel group, escorted us and made sure we did not get into any trouble 😉

Sikh Temple

Our next stop was a Sikh Temple, Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib to be exact. We visited the inside where people were chanting and then saw the kitchen. Every day volunteers prepare free meals for thousands of people. Anyone is welcome to help and also to have food there.

Afterwards, we got some pakoras and samosas for lunch and drove to Agra, where we had more delicious Indian food for dinner. Paneer twice a day is never a bad idea 🙂

Day 3: The Taj Mahal and other Agra Gems

The Taj Mahal

Day 3 was definitely the most anticipated day for me: it started with a morning at the Taj Mahal. I can’t even really put it into words. It was pretty surreal seeing it in person and we got so incredibly lucky with the weather. No fog, not much smog, and sunshine with a bright blue sky. I pretty much smiled the whole morning and took way too many pictures. Thankfully, the girls from my group indulged me in snapping all of the touristy shots I wanted 🙂

Agra Fort

Agra Fort, our second stop, was really beautiful as well. Surprisingly, one of the things I liked most about the trip was that I was not prepared. I roughly knew the agenda but because it was so close to Christmas, it just snuck up on me and I didn’t really do any research. That meant that basically every day my mind was blown by all the sights we saw and different things we got to experience. Agra Fort was one of them. Having zero expectations walking in just meant that around every corner was something new and beautiful to see.

We also had fun taking silly group photos – the theme was supposed to be “boy band album cover” or “Beverly Hills 90210” 🙂

Baby Taj

The Baby Taj was another surprise. According to our guide Mo, it’s a small, really beautiful and underrated monument that often gets forgotten next to the much much bigger Taj Mahal. He was definitely right. It was really peaceful and so pretty there. Walking around barefoot in the warm afternoon sun made it even better.

Marble inlaying

After a fantastic day of sightseeing, we stopped by a workshop that does marble inlaying, the same technique which was used on the Taj Mahal marble. It was really interesting to see. The amount of work that goes into each piece is crazy.

Another Dinner with a Cause

For dinner, we headed to Sheroes Hangout Cafe, a place run by acid attack survivors. Before we had dinner, they showed a video about the incredible women who work there and their stories. The food was delicious and knowing we were dining for a good cause made it even better. It was also the evening I earned the reputation for being the … let’s call it “most hungry” person in the group. Somehow, everyone was suddenly done and I ended up finishing all of our food. Even our waitress was impressed and cheered me on 😉

To be continued …

Happy New Year of the Rat!

Happy New Year of the Rat!

Today is the last day in the year of the pig and tomorrow, the year of the rat begins – it’s Chinese New Year again!

After only 10 days in China I’m getting on a plane to India today for a one week trip of the Golden Triangle. Thorben is still in Germany over CNY and we’ll be both back in Shanghai in February. Until then, have a great start into the rat year 🙂

New Year’s in Paris

New Year’s in Paris

I’ve been back in Shanghai for a week now and it’s time to write about our last trip of 2019 before the next one starts!

We finished 2019 and started 2020 in Paris. Our friend Rich moved there in the summer and so we stayed with him for a few days. We had 3 great days of food, wine, catching up, hanging out watching Netflix, more food and some walks through Paris.

On our first day, we went to Caves du Louvre, a cool little museum/wine cellar. It was an interactive exhibit about wine and wine making and in the end you could taste 3 French wines from different regions. Afterwards, we headed to a market to buy some spreads, cheese and baguette and then hung out at home and watched too many episodes of RuPauls Drag race. So many references I finally understand now 🙂 We also had a great dinner at Jaja.

On the 31., we did a market tour with food tastings, another fun AirBnB experience. Our guide was really nice and gave us a lot of information about wine and cheese and local specialties.

For our NYE dinner, Rich had hired a great chef, who made us a lot of fantastic food. Truly a great last meal of 2019 (and there were so many!). Our spot for celebrating the new year was a little cabaret theater/bar, where Thorben was identified and mocked relentlessly as the only straight guy in sight. In summary: 2020 started with laughs, champagne, singing and dancing 🙂

After a very lazy first of January, we finally got off the couch as it was getting dark and went for a walk around Paris. We checked out Notre Dame, or the damage to Notre Dame and because I’m a silly tourist, I requested to stop at the Louvre and to take a very touristy photo in front of it.

Even though I’ve already been to Paris 3 times, I had this urge to go to the Eiffel tower. Like the trip to Paris would not really be a trip to Paris without having seen it 🙂 Thankfully, Thorben indulged me with this plan on our last morning, even though it meant another long walk – damn you, metro strike! We also got to see the Arc de Triomphe on the way. Trip to Paris: complete!