Monday, 26 March 2007
I'm on the plane now from Shanghai to Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Right now we're about four or five hours in, which means we're getting close to half-way. From Schiphol we then have a connection to Manchester and a train to catch to Doncaster.
I've arranged for my Dad to drive my car to Doncaster train station to save me an hour on the way back down to London. Even then I'll probably not get back home until pretty late.
The last few days have been spent in Shanghai at a nice four-star hotel with a view of the Bund. It's all been very relaxed and we've spent the time shopping for gifts, doing a little sightseeing and browsing around camera shops.
Last night we took a one hour boat along the Bund to take in the spectacular lights. This wasn't too expensive and was well worth the time and money. A longer trip would be unnecessary.
On this holiday I've finished off The Life of Pi; Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami; and just yesterday I read the last page of The Great Gatsby. All were very good books and kept me interested the full wa through. I'll have to start A Wild Sheep Chase by Murakami when I get back into the swing on things.
Anyway, hopefully I'll get a few photos sorted over the coming weeks. I'm hoping for a few fairly good ones, but overall I don't think I've done quite as well as previous trips. Anyway, I won't really find out until I sit down and sort through them.
Time for a sleep now. See everybody soon.
Wednesday, 21 March 2007
It was odd to be back at work, but not quite as much as I might have expected. I guess the Christmas trip earlier this year helped settle things for me.
I've just been browsing through my collection of 1,883/11GB photos I took over the month trip and I'm quite happy with how well I've fared. I had loads of trouble with my D70 this time... the shutter release button (which has been iffy since I dropped it within three weeks of buying it) is very much ready to give up the ghost. I can more or less get it to focus and shoot in static scenes, but when it comes to capturing that 'decisive moment', I'm out in the cold. Not much fun when you're trying to capture people's expressions.
After having seen just how well a Canon EOS 5D performs at high ISOs I'm ashamed to say that Nikon have a lot of catching up to do. My D70 at ISO400-800 is practically outperformed by the 5D at 1600/3200! Now I remember why I so very rarely increase the ISO beyond the standard 200.
No doubt it will take me some weeks to properly sort through the photos that I really like, to tweak and adjust them before finally showing them off. I'm going to do my best to make an attempt at a series of photos for the three-day trip to Angkor Wat; I don't have thousands of photos to work with, but hopefully with some serious cropping and tweaking I should be able to pull something together.
Some of my washing is in the machine now, after which I'll have to hang it out to dry. I'm about to go downstairs to throw some things into the oven for dinner. Then I'll likely get a shower and head to bed as early as I dare (I don't want to find myself waking up at 5AM tomorrow morning!).
Five years ago I had fajitas for the first time... a few weeks later I decided I had to figure out how it was done. I used the Internet to find a basic recipe, collected the necessary ingredients and set to work figuring out how to use the hob.
I "perfected" my dish fairly quickly (it's not hard when it's as simple as fajitas) and it's remained more-or-less unchanged since then.
Yesterday, however, I dared to try something different. Instead of using the standard sauce and seasoning I decided to take a risk and instead fry the chicken with a fancy Knorr Stir it up! Mexican Fajita sauce.
There were some big differences between this method and my standard one, and I was tempted to bin the lot early on. Feeling hungry I decided to go on and add the peppers and finish the dish off.
I was very impressed with the result. Much more of an "authentic" taste (not that I know what authentic fajitas taste like) that helped bring out the chicken. For once it was possible to really taste the spicy salsa sauce; in fact, this becomes a necessity as the Knorr sauce includes much less juice and saucy stuff than my regular one.
Another try at this and I'll have a new winning recipe. Well, Knorr will.
For now I leave you with two mouth watering shots:
The glimmering possibilities of Internet access
Saturday, 10 March 2007
Xi'an is home to the Terracotta Warriors, Big and Little Goose Pagodas and one of the few remaining city walls. Yesterday we managed to nicely visit the Big and Little Goose Pagodas after arriving at Xi'an airport at around 9:30AM (another very early start at the airport in Beijing!)
The Big Goose Pagoda was made more interesting thanks to some impressive woodwork going on to construct a new temple building.
Last night we enjoyed the warmth and top service at the Xi'an Sheraton for a couple of drinks and a decent slap-up meal. Judging by the murmurs it seems likely we'll be staying somewhere as upmarket when we arrive in Shanghai tonight/tomorrow.
We're just waiting for our taxi driver to arrive now, after which we'll be visiting the city walls, drum tower and bell tower before the Terracotta Warriors and the airport.
No massive group photos, but if you look hard enough you might spot two people in this shot of the Great Wall at Huanghua!
Tuesday, 6 March 2007
All four of us are back in China, this time in Beijing. The day we flew from Phnom Penh temperatures soared to 39C! Landing in Beijing was quite a shock... snow was all over the place and the weather was beyond belief. Temperatures of around -6C during the morning and evenings, I believe.
Yesterday (our first full day) we headed to Tiananmen Square in the morning for a quick visit. My Mum and Uncle Quentin then went on to visit The Forbidden City. Thanks to the shocking temperatures and wind-chill, Xiaoxiao and I decided to sit it out in a nearby cafe. After all, this would have been my third visit in three years!
Our plan had been to visit the Lama temple (yonghegong) in the afternoon, but we were pretty late after the Forbidden City, money changing, three stops at KFC for warm-up tea and some fun on the subway. In the afternoon we toured some of the hutong around Tiananmen before retiring to our hotel near Qianmen. For dinner we feasted at The Raj, my favourite Indian in Guomao at the base of the China Trade Centre tower 1.
Here's me yesterday. That's two hats and a crappy-looking scarf. Totally unprepared for the weather Xiaoxiao, Quentin and I went out and bought thermal body suits in the evening. I spent most of today wandering around feeling like Superted. Still, at least only my face was cold.
Today we managed to hit the sights we'd planned, but unfortunately didn't make up lost time yesterday. We enjoyed the sights at the Summer Palace, made interesting by a near-solid lake and snow-topped roofs. Afterwards we visited the Temple of Heaven. Interestingly this is my third visit to Beijing but the first time I've actually been in to visit the Temple of Heaven -- the last two times I got to the ticket office, but the roof was under construction, so I deliberately put it off.
Tomorrow at 9:30 we have a driver to take us to a section of the Great Wall. This is more-or-less the last thing we'll be doing in Beijing. The following day we fly to Xi'an for the Terracotta Warriors at some unearthly hour in the morning (but fortunately not the 4:30AM start we had to fly to Beijing a few days ago).
It's odd to think I'll be back at work in about a week, but that's how things go. In many ways it'll be nice to get back to normality, but of course nothing beats the free and easy time you have when travelling around the world!
Saturday, 3 March 2007
A couple of days ago we caught the Mekong Express bus from Siem Reap bus station to Phnom Penh. The trip was about six hours long, with a 30-minute stop for lunch half-way. As the last to arrive, we ended up right at the back of the coach near the noisy air-con unit and toilet. This actually wasn't as bad as it sounds... when the toilet door was opened the heavily talced smell was a nice breath of "fresh" air, and total control over the level of air-conditioning was also nifty.
When we arrived we travelled around a few hotels before settling on the Anise Guesthouse. Unfortunately they only had rooms for that one night, so the following two days have been spent two minutes down the road at the Goldiana Hotel. This doesn't stop us spending all of our loafing, drinking and people-watching time in the Anise patio bar. Last night we stayed all night and racked up a $50+ drinking bill.
Yesterday we tuk-tukked around the Killing Fields and a couple of museums. My Mum didn't have the necessary-length sleeves to allow us to get into the Royal Palace, but none of us were really all that concerned.
At the Anise they do some really nice calamari and chips. I've had this two days on the run now. By the sounds of the conversation right now, we'll be going for a short stroll to a different restaurant nearby.
Earlier on today we had a boat trip down the Tonle Sap River, which joined with the Mekong. As far as boat trips go, this was probably the slowest and most dull. We were all glad when it was over and then headed to the central market to pick up some first class tat.
My prize item of tat was a brand new wristwatch to complement my current Chines-brand cheapy-cheap. The new one is pretty nice, if you ask me. Here's a photo of it:
Just checked the weather for Beijing and it looks as though we'll be enjoying some 6C weather with mist. Quite a change from the 39C bright sun we experienced today in Phnom Penh.
Anyway, time to do something else now.