A Travellerspoint blog

Chengdu Diary

overcast 70 °F

I know its a bit soon after our last update and I'm stealing Nicole's post, but I wanted to share our impressions of Chengdu while it was still fresh in our minds (and while we still had a decent internet connection).
In a nutshell, we've been bowled over by this city of 4.5M. Its not so much the attractions (a bit more on that later), but more the buzz and energy. Walking through the city this Friday afternoon, stores and restaurants were teeming with people. Really a dynamic retail market with both international (there must be a dozen Nike stores in the city) and homegrown brands from low cost to high end - certainly no signs of an economic downturn here. We even came across a packed auto show next to our hotel, where Chinese models probably represented half of the cars on offer (interestingly, according to this week's Newsweek, 3-month Chinese auto sales just surpassed those in the US, some 10 years earlier than forecast). I'm left with the impression that any global brands currently dragging their heels on a China strategy are simply fooling themselves...
Chunxi.jpg
Chengdu Shopping
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We're sure Mao would've shopped at Cartier if they'd only been in China while he was alive (he's in the right of the frame)

Now on to the activities. The highlight of our time here has, without a doubt, been the Giant Panda Breeding Base outside the city. We spent about two hours there this morning and got to see a whole bunch of the cuddly creatures. They mainly just sit around and eat because bamboo has little nutritional value (they have to eat some 40kg of stems each day just to get their needed caloric intake). Still, it was transfixing to watch them and definitely worth the trip. If we can figure out how to do it, we think we might even need to do a blog poll on Pandas vs. Koalas, but today I think our vote goes to the former. We have a video that we'll share soon, but in the meantime here's a little preview (video is now up below).
Pandas.jpg

We've also taken time to enjoy the Sichuan food that Chengdu is famous for and some of the city's scenic sites. This afternoon we enjoyed a tea in the People's park in the city center and even paid a visit to a unique funhouse located in an abandoned bomb shelter underneath the park - believe us, they might not look like it but the animatronic figures were actually pretty scary.
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Funhouse.jpg
We're not quite sure what effect they were going for, but I think it worked

Posted by jkirsch 03:51 Archived in China Comments (0)

Great City, Great Wall

Beijing, China

80 °F

We had a whirlwind few days in Beijing, hitting the ground running as soon as we arrived on Monday afternoon after a 17-hour "hop" from San Francisco (I guess we should be getting used to these by now). We enjoyed a walk through the historical center of the capital, circling the Forbidden City and exploring several hutongs (narrow streets and alleys through traditional courtyard residences). Along the way we stopped for a excellent snack of roubing - sort of a giant, flattened, pork-filled dumpling-extraordinaire (we'd spotted the Guo Wei restuarant, but opted for these instead).
Gruel.jpg

On Tuesday, jetlag allowed us an early start and we spent most of the morning at the Temple of Heaven, a sprawling complex south of the Forbidden City where the emperors used to pray for good harvests. The site had been painstakingly restored in advance of the Olympics and was truly remarkable, most of all the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, a massive structure supported only by 28 wooden pillars.
Hall_of_Pr..arvests.jpg

For the afternoon, we headed to the Forbidden City on the subway. The former imperial palace is truly massive - covering nearly 180 acres - which probably helps to absorb the massive crowds. Though the entire place is impressive (and would've certainly been a nice place to hole up as emperor), we most enjoyed the leafy gardens at the rear of the palace and the unique museum of imperial clocks (probably because these were furthest from the crowds), featuring timepieces from around the world from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Forbidden_City.jpg
This is just the gate to get to the actual entrance!

We ended the day on a high note at the Yonghe (Lama) Temple, one of the most important Buddhist monasteries in the world that features an 18m tall statue of Buddha carved from a single piece of wood (in case you had any doubt, the certificate from the Guinness folks is below).
Lama.jpg
Guinness.jpg

Yesterday, we made the requisite trip out to the Great Wall at Mutianyu - a section that had inspired Bill Clinton to proclaim "The Great Wall here is very beautiful, very grand, more beautiful and grander than what I imagined" during his 1998 visit. I think we both felt this captured our feelings and we were inspired enough to make the steep climb up the western end of the section (that's Nicole carefully descending).
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Too bad that Nicole left her sunglasses in California
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On the way back into town we stopped by the Olympic Village - still buzzing with activity and visitors - before ending at the Summer Palace - an imperial getaway in the northwest of the city for those times when the royals felt too closed in by their city-center palace. This definitely ranked towards the top of our list in Beijing given the scenic setting. The only downside was the huge crowds in the central areas. You could almost sense that out of the 1.3 billion people in China, a not insignificant portion had decided to visit the Summer Palace. At least they were able to stick together with their groups thanks to an ingenious color-coded hat scheme (though they might want to consider using some colors other than red and white).
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Summer_Palace.jpg
Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace
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White Hats
Red_Hats.jpg
Red Hats
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White-Red Hats
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More White Hats
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More Red Hats

All-in-all, we had a fantastic time in Beijing and only wish we could've stayed longer (I'm not sure if travel writers and guides who recommend only 2-3 days in the city have actually been to Beijing). I last visited in 1998 (this was Nicole's first time) and the change from then is simply astonishing. The area we stayed in - XiCheng - looked more like Singapore than the Beijing of my memories. Furthermore, everything was new - from the airport to the roads (in better shape than any in the US or UK) to subway trains and lines. Maybe, this is partly a post-Olympic halo, but I don't think so.

Finally, even though Nicole will pick up on our first day in Chengdu in her next post, I thought I'd close by listing the contents of the "emergency kit" in our hotel here.

Band-Aids
Johnson & Johnson Tampons
3 Durex Quality Condoms
King Refreshing Drink
Swashes Sanitary Wet Tissues
One-time use underpants (M&F)

By "emergency" I think they must mean some sort of hyperactive sexual escapade, but maybe I'm just reading into things.

For those of you who have read this far, you can also find full Beijing pictures (currently uploading) on MobileMe

Posted by jkirsch 06:57 Archived in China Comments (1)

Halfway round

sunny 77 °F

With 30 days under our belt, we hit the halfway point of the trip yesterday afternoon as we enjoyed a sunny day in northern California. The first half has gone by quick, but we've had an amazing time! That said, its also been nice to have this little break stateside to do a real load of laundry (instead of in a hotel bathtub) and take it easy for a couple of days.

Tonight, it all starts again as we depart for China!

Posted by jkirsch 08:48 Archived in USA Comments (2)

South America photos are up

On MobileMe

Posted by jkirsch 15:57 Comments (0)

BA Food Roundup!

Given our full enjoyment of Buenos Aires' eateries, we felt these establishments warranted a post of their own. Besides being exceptionally affordable (the most expensive steak in a parrilla ran about $15 on average), they also boasted food to rival top offerings in any other world city.

Argentine (Traditional) - AKA Parrillas!

Manolo - No-frills neighborhood Parrilla in San Telmo
Definitely seemed to attract a local crowd more than other places we visited, but was also a step below in terms of quality. That said, they still cooked up a pretty darn good lomo (tenderloin), an exceptional value at less than $10.

Desnivel - Another San Telmo Parrilla
Offering about the same level of frills as Manolo, boasting a primarily local crowd as well and known for surly waiters (though we had a great experience), their meat was a "cut" above. Jake went with a cut of lomo for around $13, while Nicole sampled an amazingly large 1/2-size Vacio (flank) for $6. Both were well-cooked and very tasty. Though the meal rang up at a mere $36 including a bottle of Norton Malbec and tip, we probably could've gone with a shared plate of Papas Espanole as they each had over a pound of fried potatoes!

La Brigada - Yet another San Telmo Parilla
Attracting more of a tourist crowd (it might have been that they just grouped us all together), this was the top of the pack, but also the priciest with our meal ringing in at $68. Jake went with Ojo de Bife (Ribeye) while Nicole had Entrana (Skirt). Both were cooked to rare perfection (amazing for a 1/2-inch thick skirt) and had great flavor despite their little fat content. We also wizened up and shared a plate of papas provencales.

Argentine Modern
La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar
Already covered extensively in our past post (see BA part 1 below), so we'll leave it at that.

647 Dinner Club - Modern Argentine Food in San Telmo
647 was highly rated on many food blogs and publications. Though the food was good, I don't think we'd say it was exceptional and it certainly didn't rate highly in terms of value for money. The space was impressive, if a little clubby, but was almost empty save about 6 tables of diners (about half of them tourists). Probably worth a pass, at least for food.

Other
Filo - City Center Pizzeria
Their thin crust creation was some of the best pizza we ever had, hands down. Even went back for lunch a second time.

California Burrito Company - City Center Burritos
OK, we were probably craving mexican food, so our standards might've been a bit lower, but they still made some darn good burritos that would rival some of the SF-greats. Went for lunch two days in a row. Helped that it was a great value too.

Freddo - Gelato
Might be a chain, but they still made some pretty good gelato, many flavors incorporating that Argentine specialty - Dulce de Leche.

Posted by jkirsch 15:20 Archived in Argentina Tagged food Comments (1)

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