Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Current Day = Quiet times

Just like the rest of the U.S. we are preparing for Thanksgiving.  It's just going to be my wife and I so we found a 7 lb. (3+ kg.) turkey!  Usually they are at least twice as large.  It should be an interesting experiment.  Happily we have most of the raw ingredients we want; the grocery store will be insane until it closes on Wednesday night.  Hopefully I'll remember to get a photo of the bird before we devour it.

We've had some pretty good weather lately with highs around 70F (21C) so we sit outside in the evening watching the sun set.  The other night we had a hummingbird join us enjoying the sunset.
Here's a shot of the last full moon rising above Mount Charleston just at sunset.
This is a pretty desolate area but it sure can be pretty!  We are agreed that if it weren't for the mountains surrrounding the basin we probably wouldn't be living here. 

Last photo for the day:  we had a young hawk stop by to bath.  The other birds sure stayed away while he/she was around! 

Thanks for stopping by.  Have a good one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

China Part 2

This is a continuation of my story about our trip to China last April.  It was a good trip; a bit expensive but we really wanted the hand-holding.  The ship portion was just like any other cruise except it was on a river.  Food was interesting; a combination of Chinese, North American and European.  For example there would be Chinese noodle dishes to which the diner could add various meats and vegies.  For the Europeans, the breakfast bar would have sliced meats, cheeses and various rolls.  For the rest of us, about 95% from Canada and the US, we could get eggs over easy, bacon & all that stuff.  The ship had a large buffet bar with two cooks doing immediate things.  The buffet was surrounded by tables for the diners.  You would help yourself or have them cook something.  It was used for all meals.  Wine and beer were served at lunch and dinner.

To touch on a slightly sensitive subject; did you ever hear of an "Asian Toilet"?  On the ship and in the hotels we  had western toilets; nicer than most here.  Men get urinals.  Handicaped stalls are mostly western toilets as well.  However, most other public places have the Asian variety.  Please note, there is no seat and there  are no hand holds or rails to help one rise.

We got off the boat at Chongquin.  It was a long walk to the bus then we got on a plane for Xian.  It was in Chongquin that I first started noticing the polution.  There was good reason for that; the river is pretty wild and the city is really crowded.  The flight was fine as were all the flights within China.  Xian was just as smoggy though as Chongquin and now my wife started feeling ill as well.  I was coughing a lot so my wife went to the hotel desk to try and get assistance to get some cough medicine.  The young woman at the desk actually took her across the street to buy the stuff.  Amazing service!

We were off by 08:30 to see the Terra Cotta Army.  It is amazing place.  There are three sites where discoveries have been made.  The first was uncovered rather quickly; they are moving more slowly with the other two since premature contact with the air damaged the figures.  It's still just blows your mind.  There are thousands of figures; all different!  Apparently the craftsmen who made them would use each other as a model then make minor changes.  There are foot soldiers, generals, horses - an entire army.  The scale of the place is mind-boggling.  Mostly all you can do is walk around and take pictures so we were ready to leave by lunch.

This is a good time to talk about the meals off the ship.  We typically went to a lazy-susan place for lunch.  Our tour, all seven buses worth, would troop in.  Often there would be several hundred kids there already and even with all them it wouldn't be crowded.  We would seat ourselves at circular tables for eight with a lazy-susan in the center.  Servers would bring four or five appetizers; then they would bring a few entres.  By the time you got food it was kind of cool.  Again beer and wine would be served; large bottles for the whole table to share.  

We had the afternoon off then went to see a Tang dynasty show.  Dinner in Xian was a fixed menu:  shrimp, fish, a packet of steak with vegies; served at the show.  That was nice for a change.  It was just music and dancing; lots of dancing!  Got to the hotel, put our bags out in the hall and went to sleep. 

By the next morning my wife was more ill than I.  Happily the cough medicine worked for her too.  We were taken to the airport and given a box lunch!  LOL  Weird stuff but it worked.  Again the flight, China Eastern Airways, was fine.  This time we were staying at the Regent Biejing Hotel; we got there at 15:00 and were out for a tour of the old district by 15:30.  Part of the tour was via bus; there was a 10 minute rickshaw ride then we got to visit a private home.  This part of town 500-600 years old.  This house is built in two pieces:  a living room and bedroom on one side of a courtyard the kitchen on the other side.  The owners clearly are paid for showing their home but it was still interesting.  These homes don't have bathrooms; there is a public bath down the street.  They are still valued for their history.

Later we went to a place that sells tea; and they take it VERY seriously!  There were little kits of tea and a teapot that were on sale for $100US.  Granted we were in Tourist Central; we managed to not buy it!  LOL  Dinner was the most local place we've seen with actual Chinese people in the place.

Saturday morning breakfast was at 06:00 and we were on the bus at 07:00 headed for the Great Wall.  Traffic is lousy in Beijing and Saturday is especially bad because anyone with a car can drive.  During the week there are rules about only certain license plates can drive on certain days; the weekends are free game.  I took these photo of the corner just outside our hotel; there are lights and lines on the roads; it's just that no one pays any attention!

It took a while to get to the Wall but once there; I guess it was worth the hassle.  Building that thing was certainly an amazing feat and the Chinese people know it; there were visitors all over the place.  Mostly they were civilian but the Chinese Army was around to help out the police should they be needed.  The people from our tour were definitely in the minority.  There was one couple where she was blonde and about 6'2" (1.88 M); quite a few Chinese asked for photo-op with her!

One thing that surprised me was how steep the wall is.  Walking around was anything but easy.  We were is a place where there were no steps which made it either easier or more difficult; I'm not sure which.  There was a handrail but because of the steepness of the wall it was only about 18 inches (.5 M) above the ground.  There were plenty of people enjoying the day. 

We returned to the hotel for a bit of a rest before our "Peking Duck" dinner.  It was frankly disappointing.  Maybe I'd just heard about a 'real' dinner but this was just another lazy susan production with duck.  It was an add-on to the tour and next time we'd skip it.

Sunday is the tour of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  This was quite interesting.  First getting into Tiananmen Square.  We foreigners were lead by our Chinese guide through a door and there we were.  The Chinese people had to stand in line and be searched!  Really?  Well, whatever works for them.  The Square is really huge; you might think so from the tank photos from back in the day.  It is.  Had a huge multi-story tv screen showing I don't know what. 

 Mao's tomb is there.  He didn't want it but when you are dead....  There were tons of people visiting.

Below is a photo of some building on the side of the square.  

This is the same building across the square:  did I say it was big?

There were plenty of cops and police around but they weren't hassling anyone, just standing around.  We had several people from our bus who didn't walk too well and they were falling behind.  We ended up in a line maybe a couple hundred feet long.  Then we got bunched up again when we got to the Forbidden City entrance.

Here there were no gates but there were three pedestrian bridges you had to cross.  Each bridge was being watched by two guys in Army uniforms.  There were also six or eight guys just standing in line on the side of the bridge behind the uniformed men.  In addition there were six or eight more guys just hanging around on the other side of the bridge.  Apparently you want plenty of security but don't want it to look to military.

The Forbidden City was packed.  The buildings in front were all nice and restored; the ones farther back were looking pretty tired.  There really wasn't a lot to see; just the buildings.  We were out and back on the bus by lunch time.  It was still a day when we walked over five miles (8 km)  We had the afternoon off then went to another dinner.  After dinner we attended the Peking Opera at 18:30.  It is kind of a 'people's opera' that wasn't terribly serious but lots of singing and dancing.  We saw scenes from three different operas.  One was a young woman asking a boatman to help her go up the river.  That was pretty funny with the two dodging up and down pretending to be on the river.  They also had tv screens on the walls offering a small translation of what they were singing.  The last was a big battle scene with swords, dancing and all that fun.  We liked it.

Monday was pretty much devoted to leaving China.  Luggage was collected at 09:00 then we hung around the hotel until noon.  The plane left at 16:00 making for a very long day!  We were flying Air Canada and boy is that lousy!  Getting seats together was a major problem.  The cabin attendants were working hard and did everything they could but when you can't get to sit with your spouse for a 10 hour flight; it stinks!  We made it to Vancouver about 15:00 local time; it was already a long day!  However there was one thing that was really cool.  The US Customs office is in the Vancouver airport; you check through without going out of the secure area and hop on the plane as though it is a purely US flight.  The flight to LA was pretty quiet.  We had a room at the Hilton; not nearly as nice as the ones we've had in China but I guess we have to come back to earth sometime! 

You know there are things I've forgotten.  I'll see if I can get some random ideas together for another post.  We'll see!  Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Our visit to China!

I was looking through the blog archive and discovered an amazing omission:  in April we spent two weeks touring China and I didn't blog about it at all!  Grrr!  Anyway, most of the following was written just after we returned in May.  I've added more information taken from the notes I took at the time.  Sorry, I guess you need to chalk it up to being just another old guy's brain fart.


Ok, I haven't posted in a long while but I've got an excuse, no really, I've been in China!  Yep, my wife and I just got back from two weeks in the amazing space that is called China.  Because it is such a large place and so very foreign to us Westerners, we took a tour.  Had a nice guy holding our hands every inch of the way.  Did we see everything?  Hell, no!  It was only two weeks!  But we did see a lot and had a really great time.

We drove down to Los Angeles on Monday the 14th and spent the night in the LA Airport Hilton.  They had a really great online deal where you got to park your car for only $8 a day.  That's even cheaper than the Las Vegas airport and it turned out to be covered parking!  Jeez.  Then on Tuesday, the 15th we headed out.  We were on a Viking tour so they bought the airline tickets - they sent us up to Vancouver, BC!  Then after a short layover, we flew from Vancouver to Shanghai, China.  Wow!  That alone was a 12 hour flight that crosses the International Date Line so we were a bit befuddled to say the least.  But, wow!

We had just two days in Shanghai, enought time to get our feet on the ground anyway.  We got to see some sights like the Bund where all the Western powers had encampments that were forced on the Chinese back around the early 1900's.  We spent a couple hours running through the Shanghai Museum learning some things about Chinese arts and culture.  And we got to see an amazing traditional Chinese nobleman's garden:  Yuyuan Garden.  Fantastic.  The weather was a combination of cool, foggy, hazy and polution that stayed with us for most of the journey.  The photo is from our hotel room.  It is of the rear of a building built by the Russian government to honor the Russian-Chinese friendship; these days it is simply a glorified convention center.

The Yuyuan Garden was to be a place of quiet and relaxed living and the grounds covered about five acres.  It is still an amazing place!  The entry is iconic; seen almost any time Shanghai is mentioned.  The bridge leading to it has 90 degree angles because it was thought evil spirits couldn't make the turns.  The buildings are basically pillars supporting a roof.  The walls are then added to keep the rain out. 

We also took in a show one night that was all about acrobatics.  The things you do when you are a tourist!

After two days however we flew to Wuhan to start the second part of our journey; the river cruise.   Wuhan has 10 million poeple, 6 mill in the metro area.  It is a very ancient city.  The whole tour was under the auspices of Viking; a company known for it's European river cruises.  In China they have boats that are borrowed somehow from a Chinese company then turned into a North American 'bubble' that floats up or down the Yangtze.  Here's a photo of our cabin on the ship.

This is a sistership that looked just like our vessel.  We were tied up side by side a couple times and people would dis-embark by walking through the ship that tied up first.

No, we weren't roughing it!  Actually it works quite well.  It is a very gentle introduction to Chinese food and culture.  Off the river they use local guides and high grade hotels.  It is a class act if quite an expensive one.  The Yangtze is a working river and the number of other boats we saw was just overwhelming.
On the Mississippi we would have a single large tug and 8 or 10 barges.  Here they have individual small boats each with it's own load of coal or rock or whatever. Let me tell you there was a tremendous amount of coal being hauled up that river!  Everywhere you would see strange sights.  The land around this area was quite flat but that was about to change.
I have absolutely no idea what those people were doing or what the water buffalo was up to!

We got to visit the Three Gorges Dam; whether for good or bad, it is a tremendous achievement.  Millions of people were relocated; antiquities were lost but flooding should be reduced, clean power generated and new homes, presumably better than the old, built.  We took photos but they just don't do justice to the place.  It is placed in an area where the river is constrained by mountains on either side.  It is quite amazing.  There are a series of five locks used to move traffic up river and five more to move traffic down river!  Plus there is a lift for smaller boats.  The cost was supposed to be $26 billion US; lots of concrete!  There were also buses of Chinese Army guards keeping it safe.  No, you don't take photos of the Chinese Army guards here or anywhere else.

The actual dam is so huge you'd have to photograph it from a plane.  This is what it looks like from the observation deck.  Pretty lousy huh!  The second photo is from the visitor center where they have a model that gives you some idea of the whole place.

As you go up the river sometimes you are in what appears to be total wilderness then a huge city will appear.  You have no idea of the name of the place but it's clearly packed full of people.

We continued up the river as far as Chongquig.  Chongquig is another city of 6 million or so in a district that totals some 34 million people.  It isn't as old as Wuhan but one of it's claims to fame is that it was the headquarters of General Joseph Stillwell during World War II.  Unfortunately we didn't get to see any of the city as we just headed for the airport.  This was the one place where we dis-embarked and had a long walk carrying our luggage.  Guys were standing around offering to help and at least one couple we knew got taken advantage of by them.  Viking kind of dropped the ball here.

I'm going to continue this in a day or two.  We've got lots more to see!  Thanks again for stopping by.

Happy Veteran's Day!

Established after World War I Veteran's Day (also called Armistice Day or Remembrance Day) it's one of my personal favorite holidays.  Thank you to all vets and certainly to all current active duty service members.  I'm proud of my service and proud of all you do.  I've spoken of the service records of my family and my wife's family.  We think some form of Universal Service should be enacted.  Every person would owe the country two years of service.  You could choose between military service or various civilian services:  hospital work or a free clinic or running a food bank or teaching - anything that helps you grow and helps our society.

Bass Pro Shop in Las Vegas had a nice sale on the Masterbuilt 40" Smoker - I just couldn't say 'no'.  I've been reading the My Old RV blog for a long time and Andy loves his smoker.  It's all his fault that I had to buy this thing.  It is pretty amazing.  Ok, it's electric which some might consider wrong but I just don't have the personality to keep adding wood or charcoal to a fire for 8-10 hours.  Sorry, I've tried it but just don't get it done!  It also has a remote so I can smoke food and fool around on my computer at the same time.  Cool!  We had a chuck roast hanging around so I tried smoking it:  pretty good but I've got to admit the shrinkage astounded me.  I'm climbing a learning curve on this one.  Hopefully I'll even learn to take photos of some of my attempts!  Anyway, here's the new baby.
We've been experiencing some pretty nice weather; much nicer than much of the country.  So we go sit on the patio in the evening and enjoy the sunset.  Or, last week, the moonrise.  I got this photo of the moon just rising over Mt. Charleston while the sun set turning the mountain an amazing color. 

When we look the other way we find a hummingbird just hanging around 'his' feeder.  This guy is pretty territorial and chases most other birds away.
Hope you have a good one.  Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Not dead yet but close!

I keep falling off the blog-train.  Sorry about that.  We had two stops left before arriving home.  The first was Petrified Forest-Painted Desert National Park.  It was pretty cool.  There is a road through the park with stops where there are lookouts and some short walks.  You go into one park and exit from the other!  We started with Petrified Forest and sure enough there is petrified wood.
We went through the gift shop and actually bought a couple hats since we had stupidly left ours in the trailer.  The rest room had a sign I've never seen before!
We had a fairly cloudy day so it was really quite pleasant.  The views are amazing.  The rock layers, the way they are eroded, it's just really cool. 
At one stop you are above this canyon; maybe 50-60 feet above the floor where there are rocks that ancient people used to tell their stories.  Real petroglyphs just being there does something to me.
The rocks are quite a distance but that's why they can just sit there as they have for so long and people aren't defacing them.  That was pretty cool. 

After all this we needed one last stop to drain our tanks so we decided to try the Oasis Las Vvegas RV Resort.  This is definitely NOT the kind of place we usually stay but thought we might give it a try.  First it is huge - over 700 spaces!  It was also kind of expensive but not outrageous.  They had lots of rules of course and wifi was $6 a day extra.  This is Vegas after all.  Would we stay there again?  Yes, I guess, but only because it is really convenient for us. 

So what's been happening in the last month?  Lots of not much but one kind of interesting thing.  I got appointed to represent Pahrump on the Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board.  It sounds like typical government speak and it pretty much is just that.  Part of the desert north of Las Vegas was used to test nuclear weapons from the 1950's to the 1990's.  Everyone just calls it the 'Test Site'.  There are other sites around the country where nuclear weapons were made or stored.  Each site has a board of 15-20 people from the surrounding area to advise the Dept. of Energy on what people are going to think about things they are doing on that site.  (I'm still confused about how this became a Dept. of Energy site but maybe it will become clear sometime.)  It's pretty easy stuff:  go to a meeting once a month or so, read up on what's going on and tell them if anything stands out as really stupid. 

These days the Test Site is still used for testing that doesn't include actually setting off a bomb; they call it 'subcritical' testing.  The scientists have plenty of room to play and security is pretty tight.  They also have a bunch of cars, trucks and planes lying around that are used to train first-responders on what to do if there is, for example, a guy with a bomb on a plane.  They are trained to find the bomb and how to deal with it safely.  More than 150,000 people have gone through this course.  I thought that was pretty cool.  They also have what is basically a garbage dump for low-level nuclear waste.  When they say 'low level' they mean it.  Trucks bring stuff from other DOE sites, like Oak Ridge, TN.  The radioactivity level is so low that the drivers don't need any safety gear.  They have a dosimeter but that's it.  The trash, and a lot of it is just that, is in barrels or even containers like you would see on a ship.  It is stacked carefully in a huge hole then when the hole is getting full it is covered over with dirt.  The one thing they don't allow is any liquid waste. 

Personlly we are now getting set for winter.  This morning is the first morning I've seen ice on the bird bath - about a quarter inch.  The desert still looks pretty much the same but we'll have snow on the mountains soon.  Those neighbors who love to decorate for Christmas should be starting soon.  I'm just going to say "Bah, humbug!"  But I'll try to blog before then!  Take care & thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Nitwit Alert!

Boy, when I screw up it's pretty amazing!  I mean I really manage to screw up royally! 

Anyway, in an attempt to protect the privacy of our friends in Colorado Springs I totally forgot to mention a wonderful experience traveling on the Manitou and Pike's Peak Railway!  I've gotta say it was a great trip.  The railway is a cog railway built in the late 1880's and while it has been moderized, it's still pretty amazing.  The trip starts in the town of Manitou Springs which is, itself, pretty interesting.  Easy to get lost in as well because we managed that really well.  We didn't feel too bad though because our GPS was lost as well.  You are starting at something over 6,600 feet (2,000+ M) so at first you are clunking along in the woods. 

Because it was built so long ago you have times when you are just in a really narrow canyon and other times where you are hanging onto the side of the mountain with reasonable drop-offs on the other side.  We were on the first train of the day and had two cars.  Coming down we met another train going up and they had three cars.  Each car has two diesel engines for power (if not speed!).  You get assigned seats when you buy your tickets and I think some people didn't get to sit with the rest of their party but we two did get to sit together.  Our seats were facing downhill so we went backwards up the mountain and facing forward going down.  The seats are rather small wooden seats; kind of slippery too!  You have three facing forward sharing footspace with three facing backwards.  You get to know your seatmates!  On the mountain side of the aisle is a group of two and two.  We got to sit with two guys who were taking the train up and were going to hike down.  The other two were going to pick up rented bikes at the top and bike down.  How we got with such an athletic group I'll never know.  They did make the trip more interesting though talking about their local experiences.  Trees started to thin out and we started seeing some views.  This is looking back down towards the east.

After a bit we broke out above the tree line and the views got bigger.
Off to the southwest we could see the Sangre de Christo Mountains and a gold mine where they have ripped the top off a mountain.  Finally after about 90 minutes we made it to the top.  Top is 14,115 ft (4,302 M) if you believe their website.  The conductor claimed that new GPS measurements had recently added a few feet but who knows what the next measurement will show!  Anyway, the air is really thin up there!  Just walking around made us both feel really light-headed.  I'm sure glad we weren't either biking or hiking down because my balance was definitely OFF.  There is a large gift shop and snack bar on top which was a nice place to get in out of the weather.  This was September 9 and it was just freezing at the top with wind chill taking the feeling-temp to 25F (-4C).  I've no idea who these kids were but I like that they clambered down to this show-off place so I could get a shot of them.
Needless to say there were steep drops all around.  They were tough to photograph though.  I kept trying but don't have much to show.  This one was an almost vertical drop down into a bowl with a rim on the other side then another drop.  I was surprised that there were not many railings but I guess if you fall off a mountain it's your problem.  Some other poor schmuck will have to figure out how to get the remains - if any.

  Our conductor who offered some guide type talk claimed that 90-some percent of the rails were still the same.  She didn't mention the 'cog' because I'm sure that gets LOTS of wear.  Naturally I had to get a photo of that!

The train has pull-up windows that were down for part of our trip but about half way up we closed the windows.  You start getting reflections of people in your photos but you stop shivering.  I guess it's a fair trade.   Here's one of the cars of our train waiting for us to get our sightseeing done and go on back down.

Going down was much like going up though the perspective is different.  Once into the trees I got to see an old cabin someone built; I suppose it was a prospector but it was definitely someone who liked his/her privacy!

It was almost an anti-climax to land back at the station.  They had a VERY interesting way to get out of the parking lot; I'm glad that F-250 isn't about six inches longer!  We had purchased two bottles of water to take with us on the trip.  We finished one when we were on the top of the mountain and I screwed the top back on just out of habit.  It shows a bit of the reason we were feeling light-headed while on top.
Air pressure at the station in Manitou Springs was crushing that empty bottle with the Peak air pressure inside.  Cool! 

Thanks for stopping by.  Next time I'll try to get these things in order!