Giant Pandas at the Beijing Zoo

The Giant Pandas are the focal point of the Beijing Zoo and rightly so. They can be seen in few places around the world and even fewer zoos have such a variety of viewing locations and panda houses.

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Giant panda walking a branch at the Beijing Zoo.

We were lucky on this beautiful spring day to see three different pandas, all active, each in its own habitat.

Our late afternoon visit was correctly predicted to be the best time of day to catch these unique animals awake and active.  While some were pacing and cautiously watching us watching them, one was fully enjoying her play area and performing for the crowds.  All were magnificent to watch, as they waddled their cuddly bodies around their yards.

There are less than 50 giant pandas in zoos around the world and most of them were born in China and moved or loaned to other zoos at a later time.

A visit to Beijing would not be complete without a stop at the zoo.  It is clean and well kept, with a nice flow for visiting the many animals.  Our group also enjoyed the monkey antics as well as the bird displays.

There was another unique thing at this zoo, the cotton candy isn’t pink or blue, it’s white.  It didn’t look nearly as tempting, especially from a visual standpoint but the locals seemed pretty happy with it.

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American rock stars in China

Everyone from America is a rock star is China. Our small group tried to take a group photo in Tiananmen Square, a very busy plaza with literally thousands of people strolling around.

DSCN6006The Asians are so intrigued with Americans that they were stalking us with cameras and video equipment throughout the day.

When they saw thirteen of us posing they stormed our photo opp, surrounding us for their own pictures.  This seems to be our fate, after all we are a good looking bunch; a very diverse crowd all ages, colors, shapes and sizes but obviously from America.

We finally gave up on our own picture and grasped the moment, welcoming the Chinese, as they welcomed us, to be part of our photo journals.

Be part of the story; call to plan your trip today.  603-434-8100

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Who climbs the Great Wall in China

Today we drove two hours outside of Beijing to the Great Wall. An amazing display of ancient engineering, this wonder of the world is a highlight of most visitors to China. The views were breathtaking, even from the base coffee shop.

All thirteen members of our group climbed to various towers, depending on interest and ability. Jared climbed to the very top and met some amazing people with amazing stories.

An older Australian man, completing his last bucket list item, has terminal cancer.  He made it to the end of the wall.  A woman with a baby in a backpack, older Chinese people on pilgrimages and hundreds of tourists from around the world round out the diversity here.  Tourists from all around the world, several who made the trip to China mainly to experience the Great Wall, took in the beauty while climbing and descending.  American tourists are few and far between, but still we had a descent representation there.

Walking the wall is no easy feat; the stairs are unpredictable and worn. Steps range from a few inches to a foot and a half rise with no rhyme or reason.

While there is a railing on the ascent side, it must have been added as an afterthought and at a height for a four foot person. Even I would have had to bend over to benefit. The descent side has no railing. The work was wealth worth the experience and the views.

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Tipping guidelines for Tourists in China

Tipping guidelines for tourists in China; it’s always important to research etiquette for the country you are visiting in advance.

When traveling in China, tips are not expected for most services.  The only exception to this rule is for group tour guides. Even a private tour guide or driver doesn’t expect to receive a gratuity; they build their gratuity right into their price, as is done in many other nations.  When you receive exceptional service, though, your gratuity will be welcome by staff and is perfectly acceptable at any amount.

When dining, the meals and drinks seam expensive, but only because the gratuity is included in the price.  When comparing menu item costs to USA or other countries who tip heavily, you should reduce the price by about 25 percent to compare the dish price to a place that adds on tips and taxes.

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Giant Prawn with Rice and Asparagus

This giant prawn dinner at the Marriott Hotel  in Shanghai was 190 CNY, the equivalent of $ 31.00 USD, a very good value for a fabulous meal.  In the USA, we might break this price down as follows:

Dish $24, gratuity $5, tax $2 for a total of $31.

Tomatoes are served at almost every meal, including breakfast.  Of course, the white rice is a staple at all times.

While most meals are provided on a group tour, there are always opportunities to have a nice dinner or a quick snack during the day.  The pricing was very reasonable for all of these things.

Call 603-434-8100 with travel questions or for help in planning your next vacation.

 

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Flight path enroute Detroit to Beijing

Our flight path from Detroit to Beijing takes us due north to the Arctic Circle, across the Bering Sea, then in over Russia.

With thirteen hours of flight time, I would have expected a similar route to those we’ve taken to Japan, and South Korea when we went over Alaska and across the China Sea. They were more of a straight line.

Flight path to Beijing
Flight path to Beijing

Today we got lucky and have been upgraded to business class. We managed to kill three hours with dinner and a movie already. If there is ever a time to use frequent flyer upgrade points, it’s for oceanic crossings.  Though we don’t really have a set schedule for sleep, we will try to emulate our new time zones as soon as possible.  This means we should try to sleep early on in the flight and for as long as possible then have a lunch before our arrival at 4 PM.

This will position us nicely to go out in the evening then go to sleep for the night, starting fresh on Tuesday morning on Asia time and ready to see the world.  With exactly seven and a half hours or half of our flight completed, the lights go on and an announcer apologizes for waking us. A doctor and any other medical personnel are needed in the rear of the plane.

My air traffic mind immediately opens the tv screen to see our location. We are nowhere, someplace near the North Pole in the Arctic Sea. I wonder where we would land should they decide to divert but for now we are pressing on. Maybe there’s not much choice.

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Iditarod Ceremonial Start|First Saturday in March

Iditarod Race Ceremonial Start 2014
Iditarod Race Ceremonial Start 2014

Each March, on the first Saturday, the Iditarod dog sled race ceremonial start is held in Anchorage, Alaska.  This is a major event for Alaskans, who consider dog sled racing their state sport.  They don’t have a football or basketball team to cheer for, but they know the mushers and even the dogs by name, discussing and analyzing their stats and strategies at dinner and at bars.  There are local favorites, of course, and even some family traditions.  The Seavey family has four different sleds/mushers entered in this year’s race.

The ceremonial starts is much like a parade in that each musher, in their actual race order claimed at the musher’s banquet, will cross the starting line on 4th Street in Anchorage with their sled and up to 12 members of the dog team.  Each team will have the musher, wearing his or her numbered pinny, as well as an honored guest riding along.  Read More

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Iditarod Race Banquet| Meet The Mushers

Musher Paige Drobney at Mushers Banquest 2014
Musher Paige Drobney at Mushers Banquet 2014

We had a fun night at the Iditarod Mushers Banquet, every course offered fresh and tasty abundant portions.  The highlight of the evening was meeting the mushers and hearing their stories.

Exxon Mobil had a table set up where they were giving away Iditarod Race posters.   The poster was a highlight for many guests who used it to get autographs from the mushers.  Some folks just went around the hall and asked for autographs, others took advantage of an autograph system that was set up along the outside of the hall.  There were tables set up where people opened their posters; they each had their own sharpie with them.   After mushers picked their starting position number on stage, they would walk along these outside rows of tables and sign autographs on the posters.  There were hundreds of people participating in this way.

We took a different route.  Jared and I chose Read More

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Musher Banquet for Alaskan Visitors| What to wear and bring

I had the privilege of taking part in the Iditarod Musher’s Banquet at the Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska last night.  It was a wonderful opportunity to meet local residents, learn more about the Iditarod Dogsled Race and enjoy a great party.  There were a few thousand people in attendance, proof of what a big event it is for the locals.

The dress code ran the scale from casual to dresses and suits, but most people were wearing jeans and dressy tops.  There were at least 60 race participants there; most of them were wearing t-shirts or sweatshirts identifying their team and/or kennel name.  Sean Parnell, the governor of Alaska was in attendance and spoke for a few moments to wish the race teams a safe and enjoyable race.  He also introduced the other four past governor’s who were in attendance.  Sarah Palin came to the stage in chic jeans and a USA t-shirt; she fit right in with many other locals and guests.

We all had a really nice, huge dinner while watching video of past races and dogs.  It started out with bread and salad, followed by steak, potatoes and three different vegetables.  They finished it off with coffer an a huge piece of chocolate cake.  There was a bar for purchasing drinks, as well as a table selling memorabilia and a huge silent auction.

So, wear whatever you want and you will fit in nicely.  Bring a sharpie and or pen for autographs.  If you’d like to get something from the bar  or Iditarod sales table; if you plan to participate in the huge silent auction, bring some money or a credit card.  Aside from that bring a big appetite for a huge slab of meat and a great dinner.

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Panama Canal 100th Anniversary Sailings

The Panama Canal celebrates it’s one hundredth anniversary this year.  Cruise companies have added additional sailings to ensure that all interested guests will have the opportunity to see the canal one last time prior to its update. The canal will undergo massive changes in the near future, with the widening of the canal and locks being the most dramatic overhaul in its history.

The canal was built 100 years ago to allow, for the first time, the ability for ships to cross from the east coast of the United States to the west coast of the USA without the need to travel south to Cape Horn at the bottom of South America.

While several cruise companies will have complete passages through the canal, others will have cruises leaving Florida with a partial passage to Gamboa then return to Florida.  This will allow guests to experience the Panama Canal in less time and without the need for a flight home from California.

Most cruise ships will make stops in Cartagena, Columbia and ports in Central America en route to the Canal software collaboration tools.  For many, this opportunity to see one of the great engineering marvels of the world is reason enough to make the trip in 2014.

For information about Panama Canal cruises or land vacations, please contact me at 603-434-8100.

geographicguide com panama canal map

Panama Canal map

 

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Dublin vacation highlights|must see places

Guinness Storehouse
Guinness Wall of Water

Ireland is split into several areas, each with its own personality, look and feel.  The first stop for most guests is Dublin, where the major airport is located.  Dublin is a safe city and is perfect for walking.  Below are the must see vacation highlights in Dublin.

Dublin, the county’s capital, is located in the middle of the east coast.  It’s best known for the Guinness Storehouse, seven floors of displays describing how the brew is made, and leading you to the top floor where you will enjoy a pint while you view the entire city from this glass enclosed bar.  Guinness, by the way, is recommended for all ages group; the displays are great.

The Chester Beatty Library is so much more than a public library.  Be sure to check on the special displays that are on exhibit; often becoming a highlight of a family visit to Dublin.  Allow a half day to see the sights including the rooftop garden and museums at this complex located at the Dublin Castle.

The Book of Kells is located at Trinity College.  The Book of Kells contains manuscripts of the gospels from the 9th century are on display in the beautiful old library, which in itself is worth visiting too.  Allow 2-3 hours for this visit and consider taking a guided tour to fully understand the significance of this bit of history.

 

 

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