Adventure Abu Dhabi

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I was wooed by those classy commercials on CNN.  Stunning desert landscapes.  Futuristic, fantastic architecture. Glamorous hotels.

Abu Dhabi.  We had to change planes there en route to  Sri Lanka.  Let’s break up the long journey and check out the capital, the largest and wealthiest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

It is indeed intriguing, interesting.  Bob and I had visited Dubai many years ago, long before most people had even heard of it. Like Dubai back then, and now, construction and progress are everywhere in Abu Dhabi.

“For a time, both emirates seemed locked in a battle to build the most glittering skyline,” notes an article in Global Traveler.  “But lately, Abu Dhabi has deliberately repositioned itself as New York to Dubai’s Los Angeles.  Abu Dhabi serves as the commercial and cultural heart of the U.A.E., while Dubai remains more populist, with an economy centered on tourism and real estate.”ad,4

Nonetheless Abu Dhabi has its share of tourist attractions. The Emirates Palace, billed as a “7* luxury hotel,” is high on the  list. We wandered through the cavernous public areas of the $3 billion hotel, looking up and around at an abundance of  gold leaf and marble.  We had an expensive coffee amidst the posh surroundings. I asked where the gold bar vending machine ad.3was (mentioned in an NYT article), only to be told it had been removed.  Pity – that was my souvenir choice!

Fortunately taxis are reasonable in Abu Dhabi. There was nothing of interest within walking distance of our hotel, supposedly in a central location, and distances are vast.   Taxi driver Mohammed, an Indian from Kerala, took us to the sights.

He is one of 65 percent of Abu Dhabi residents who are foreigners, he told us. Fifty percent of the foreigners are Indians, and most, like Mohammed, are from Kerala in the southern part of the country.

Markets are my passion.  I asked him to show us the fish market. This was not the collection of stalls with fishermen selling their catches as I had envisioned, but  a huge warehouse with aisle after aisle of all sizes, shapes and varieties of sea creatures.  Mohammed knew many of the workers, all from Kerala.  We continued to the date market – another vast structure with nothing but dates – numerous different kinds. There too he had chums from Kerala.  One gave us a sample of chocolate covered dates – exquisite.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We continued to Heritage Village, an old fortress where the Abu Dhabi of bygone days with Bedouin tents and old stone houses has been recreated.  Artisans are at work in many enclosures.  I zeroed in on a purse in the leather workshop and tried to bargain with the shopkeeper, attired in the long traditional Muslim robe. I assumed he was a native.  No, he too was from India.

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Admiring glass creativity at Heritage Village

Foreign workers come to Abu Dhabi where earnings are good, work for several years, save and then return home, a Nigerian taxi driver explained.  He has a degree, but no jobs in Nigeria.

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Foreign workers on break at the fish market.

Abu Dhabi’s piece de resistance is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a dazzling edifice of domes, minarets, reflecting pools, crystal, marble…. materials from all corners of the globe. Elements of Moroccan, Persian and Arab styles blend in this monumental beauty.  Non-Muslim visitors are welcome. Like all female visitors, I was given a blue abaya to wear.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We wandered around with numerous other visitors all taking photos while Mohammed took time out to pray.ad.8

Other Abu Dhabi attractions include the Galleira, a luxury shopping mall, and Yas Waterworld, an amusement park with watery rides. We passed on both, but did ask to see the Yas Marina Circuit that hosts the Abu Dhabi Formula I Grand Prix. I had read that when races were not taking place you could experience the circuit at high speed as a race car passenger.  Yes, but arrangements must be made far in advance. I failed.

ad.15Instead Mohammed took us to nearby Ferrari World. We were content to amble around the mall and admire cars, although had we paid the expensive entrance fee we could have experienced high speed simulation drives.

Future Abu Dhabi visitors will enjoy major attractions on Saadiyat Island,  a $27 billion project that will include the first outpost of the Louvre outside of France, scheduled to open at the end of this year, a Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim museum, and much more.

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Family visit to Grand Mosque

The fall in the price of oil has delayed completion of these showpieces. Abu Dhabi has about a tenth of the world’s oil reserves which accounts for its wealth.   But, the reserves will decline and the emirate is preparing for life without oil.   Masdar City, a $22 billion project currently under construction, aims to create the world’s first carbon-neutral city powered almost entirely by solar and other renewable energy sources.ad.9

Abu Dhabi is worth a short visit, especially if you want to break up a long flight to Asia.  We found the people, namely foreign workers, all very friendly and helpful. Most speak English.  Because it is a Muslim country, alcoholic beverages are only served in international hotels.  All manner of ethnic restaurants abound.  We tried Thai, Italian, French , a British pub, but the favorite was Café Arabia with Lebanese, Syrian, Moroccan specialties and more.  I relished Palestinian Shakshuka, a spicy tomato, egg and feta combo.  See Today’s Taste, column upper right, for a recipe.

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Summer Gone-by

Reillanne, our village
Reillanne, our village

It’s time to start thinking summer 2017…but first, a look back at summer 2016. I should have posted this long ago… better late than never.  After eight summers of renting our guest apartment to tourists, we officially closed last August – no more paying guests, but time and room for friends and relatives.

It was a rewarding experience. We met interesting folks from many countries.  Some have become friends.  We learned about their lands.

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Klaus and Eva

Austrians Klaus and Eva were our first renters of the season, as they have been every summer for the past six years.  We have become friends and are delighted they will come back this year, not as renters, but house sitters when we travel to Germany.

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Jean Christophe and Isabelle

They always arrive with bounteous gifts of Austrian delicacies. A roof rack on their car holds Klaus’ ample supplies for their stay, including Austrian beer and wine.  Of course they appreciate Provence wine too, especially summer rose.

Isabelle, who works in a bank, and Jean Christophe, who is in the insurance business, arrived from the Paris region in a spiffy Mercedes convertible.  They had been to our region many times and were happy to be back.  After a day’s outing, they often played boule in our driveway, although it is definitely not the best terrain for this Provence favorite.sblog-23

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Jeroen, Anika and Stans

We enjoyed Belgians Jeroen and Anika, both teachers, and daughter Stans.  They came  loaded down with two bicycles, plus baby supplies:  baby stroller, baby bed, a plastic pool, pool toys.  They had fun introducing Stans to the big pool. They biked, too.

Jeroen is one of those super cyclists who have conquered Mt. Ventoux many times.  “Any serious Belgian cyclist must climb Mt. Ventoux,” he said.  He did, as well as the Mountain of Lure which he says is beautiful.  “It’s only 100 meters less than Ventoux, but no one knows about it.”

Anika’s passion is markets. They visited six in the region. Her favorite:  Apt.

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Steve and Yoshie at Pont du Gard

Friends and family also visited in summer 2016. With my brother Steve and sister-in-law Yoshie we enjoyed a mini-trip to visit the fascinating Chauvet- Pont d’Arc Cavern with replicas of prehistoric cave art dating back 36,000 years.  The original art was discovered in a nearby cave, but it is closed to visitors to protect the treasures.  The replica cave and art are mind boggling.

A non-birthday party with grandsons Lang, and Sam.
An un-birthday party with grandsons Lang and Sam.

Step-children Kellie and Rob with grandsons Lang and Sam joined us in June. Good times in the pool were enjoyed by all.   Bob even joined in – a mini miracle.  He is not a water person, and almost never goes in the pool.  I make up for him.

Kellie and Bob who prefers bicycles to the pool.
Kellie and Bob who prefers bicycles to the pool.

Summer ended with a visit from Colorado friends Kathy and Bob, whom we know from our days n Germany long ago.

Karthy and Bob, with another Bob in the background.
Kathy and Bob, with another Bob in the background.

Now that I have finally put summer 2016 to bed, time to move on to new adventure and travel.  Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka and the Maldives – here we come!  Watch this blog.

Please feel free to comment – just scroll down and add your thoughts.   Don’t miss future posts. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared.  More photos follow.

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Rob, Sam and Lang
At Table de Bonheur , our favorite, with super chef Hans
At Table de Bonheur, our favorite, with super chef Hans
Kellie relaxing
Kellie relaxing
It was a good summer for geraniums.
It was a good summer for geraniums.

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China II: The Fall

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Huanggang was not like the China we had seen with sleek skyscrapers, luxurious hotels, Starbucks, 711s – and crowds everywhere.   This tiny rural village of simple wooden houses where farmers live and toil as they have for ages was the China I had been eager to see and photograph.  Unfortunately it was my downfall, literally.blog2-5

Our guide had given us free time to wander around, take photos, explore.   Voila — a wooden footbridge over a canal of raging water with a pagoda downstream. The perfect shot awaited from the middle of the bridge, or so I thought. In eager anticipation of  getting that super shot, camera ready, I stepped on the first plank. Crack! It split, broke in two. Into the canal I went.  I seized the canal wall, hoping someone would extricate me before I  plunged into the nasty, brown, turbulent water. No such luck. The pain in my arms became unbearable. I could hang on no longer, let go and dropped into the churning canal.   Fortunately  the water was only about waist deep and I was not swept downstream over the Yellow Fruit Tree Waterfall. But, my precious Canon was history.

Huanggang
Huanggang

Husband Bob and a few others rushed to the scene.  The rescue effort was challenging.  My arms were shot.  I could not use them to hoist myself, even with their help.  They pulled me by the arms.  Ouch!

Bridge similar to the one that crashed
Bridge similar to the one that crashed

Once safe on the ground, I was in disbelief.  How could this have happened? It was so unreal, like a scene from a slapstick comedy.  Except —  it was really me and it was not funny.  I had been so  excited and thrilled with this trip – finally a chance to visit China, a destination that had beckoned me for years.  Now what?

Guide Xiaoxaio rapidly arranged for a driver to take us to a hospital.  He insisted on accompanying us, leaving the group behind. The hour long ride over twisty, primitive roads was scenic, but hard for me to appreciate.  The lower half of my body was soaked.  I was in denial, depressed, devastated.  My arms, my shoulder, hurt.

The hospital – not the Mayo clinic, but thanks to Xiaoxiao there was no emergency room wait.   I was quickly sent to X-ray.  The equipment seemed on the antique side.  Each X-ray, and they took many, seemed to take ages.  I feared a Chernobyl dose of radiation.   While waiting for the results, I asked Xiaixiao if he could find a shop and make a purchase for me.  My clothes were slowly drying out, but my shoes were like overloaded sponges.  I have very large feet, bigger than most Chinese feet I feared.  Not to worry.  Within record time, our trusty guide reappeared with a very comfortable pair of shoes, perfect fit.

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My only Chinese souvenir:  my Xiaoxiao shoes.

None of the doctors spoke English.   Xiaoxiao, who speaks perfect English, relayed the diagnosis: broken collar bone. The doctor said surgery might be required.   Continuing the trip with our group was out of the question. Our compassionate guide arranged for us to  return to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, where we had started our tour.

Chinese efficiency in action.  We were whisked to a larger town, met by a guide and interpreter who accompanied us in first class splendor on the bullet train.  The train was spiffy – roomy and comfortable with a stewardess who served meals.  We were too shattered to eat, but were impressed with the smooth, quiet ride. It was impossible to believe we were traveling at up to 246 mph.

Stirring the pot in Huanggang
Stirring the pot in Huanggang

The arrival station was so futuristic it was almost scary:  minimalistic, spacious, spotless, quiet.  Passengers paraded swiftly, silently down long, wide corridors (no shops or advertising signs en route) to exits. Here our train guide turned us over to Miss Koo, the local rep of Spring Travel, the travel agency which had arranged the trip, and  Tingting, a bubbly young translator.  Both were delightful and showered us  with TLC, treating  us like dignitaries. They felt I should see another doctor at the big city hospital.  They had purchased fast-food burgers for nourishment en route. “Since you are Americans, we figured you would like burgers,” Tingting said.  We did indeed.blog2-14

This hospital was more up to date, but still no English speakers. Waiting rooms were packed, but we were ushered in ahead of all.  Here the emergency room doctor confirmed the break, but said no surgery would be required.  Maybe we could continue the trip after all?

Drying rice hangs from many houses in Huanggang.
Drying rice hangs from many houses in Huanggang.

Since there had been collar bone confusion –  surgery or no surgery, I asked if I could see an orthopedic specialist the next day with hopes that he might reconfirm the no-surgery assessment and we could salvage our trip.   Thanks to Spring Travel, we spent the night at the five-star Kempinski hotel.  Our guardian angels arrived the next morning to escort us to the orthopedic specialist.  No English, but lots of back forth conversation and phone calls.  I had told Tingting to tell the doctor that even though I am an old lady, I am still active and wanted to continue to enjoy some sports.  She said in that case he advised I return to France and see a doctor there.

Miss Koo, Tingting and Bob
Miss Koo, Tingting and Bob

That did it.  End of trip.  More whirlwind action and mind boggling efficiency.  We could take a flight that night back to France.  No time to think.  No time for tears.  Just pack and get moving.

Before departing for the airport, Tingting and Miss Koo arranged a  mini b’day celebration.  In all the stress, we had forgotten —  it was Bob’s birthday.  We sat in the elegant lobby and enjoyed a delicious birthday cake.

Bob's b'day cake
Bob’s b’day cake

Once home, the reality sunk in.  The 18-day trip to China had been  slashed to 3 ½ days.  We saw very little of this intriguing country.  We never made it to the Society of American Travel Writers Convention, which had been the main purpose of the trip.    And, I had a very painful shoulder.

A broken collar bone is much like broken ribs –not much to do except suffer and reduce movement when possible.  After six weeks, I thought the

Copious lunch spread in Huanggang before the fall.
Copious lunch spread in Huanggang before the fall.

worst was over, but the black Chinese cloud resurfaced with  more bad luck.  Somehow nerves had become compressed.  My left hand is only partially functional.  I cannot type with two hands – which is driving me crazy. I have shoulder pain when I walk.   Doctors tell me it is not “grave” (French for serious) and the nerves will come back.  When?  No one knows, but it could take a long, long time, up to a year, I am told.

My lust for travel has not been squashed. I still crave adventure.  It could have been far worse. Spring Travel, Xiaoxiao, Miss Koo and Tingting are to be commended.  Thanks to their care, consideration and kindness,  we even managed to smile during these traumatic times. Chinese hospitals and the bullet train count as interesting experiences.  Spring tried to get a refund for me – faulty bridge.  But, they learned the government had not built the bridge.   Nonetheless they provided a small sum.

Huanggang villager
Huanggang villager


Please feel free to comment – just scroll down and add your thoughts.  We are not down yet.  Soon we will be off to Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka and the Maldives — where  I will avoid wooden bridges.   Don’t miss future posts. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared

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Yes We Can

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Friday, Jan. 20:  doom and gloom from President Trump in what one writer  called  “the darkest inaugural address Americans have ever heard.”   Ugly rhetoric.  Misleading exaggerations.  Lies.…Afterwards he even lied about the weather.

No, we cannot call this disgusting, ignorant egomaniac  our president.  Yesterday we took to the streets, women’s marches against Trump in 370 cities around the globe.  The statistics are staggering:  half a million in D.C.; 750,000 in L.A.;  150,000 in Chicago; 100, 000 in London.  Men joined the women. Pink  pussy hats were popular.march-2

Friend Lynne,  Bob and I joined thousands in Paris. The mood was upbeat .  The vibes positive.  Energetic, enthusiastic crowds sang, cheered and chanted:  “Ho Ho, Donald Trump has got t go.”  “Nazis, KKK, Facists… Not in the USA.”    “When they go low, we go high.”

It was thrilling to be part of this world wide movement to preserve democracy.  But we cannot let this be a one-time good deal. A New York Times article quoted  Marian B. Mollin,  a professor at Virginia Tech who studies the history of social movements.

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Lynne made our signs.

To be effective, she said, a march must energize participants long after they’ve gone home, sustaining them through the less exciting aspects of change.

“Are they continuing to be fired up when they get back? Because there is a lot of unfun, unglamorous work to do,” she said.

Let’s get to work.  Trump is not our president.

Following are photos from Paris, many courtesy of fabulous Lynne Crytser.

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Please feel free to comment.  See  below.  Back to China in next post with a report on my fall into a canal from a bridge that broke.  Don’t miss it. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared.

Finally, a new recipe, endives, a French favorite and especially  for my brother David who will teach a course, The Edible French Garden.  Must have endives.  See recipe at top right.

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China Part I: The Good

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Shanghai, China’s largest city with 24.1 million citizens.

Ni chi le ma, a Chinese greeting for hello, translates as “have you eaten?”  Xiao Xiao told us.  According to  Wikipedia and other sources,  as many as 30 million perished during Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) which led to the Great Famine. Another 1.5 million  died during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).  Starvation was the cause of many of those deaths too, hence the greeting.

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Xiao Xiao, 32, was our guide on a trip in China’s Guizhou province in October.  “My generation realizes that Chairman Mao was just a man who made mistakes. The Cultural Revolution was a big mistake,’’ he said. During our bus rides, our enthusiastic leader filled us in on many more fascinating facts about this country of 1.38 billion. In teaming cities of towering skyscrapers, multi-lane roads, shiny cars, neon lights, Starbucks, 7-11s and McDonalds, it is hard to imagine those dreadful years. China is speeding into the future with gusto.


Our trip to China came to an abrupt and tragic end on day three of an 18-day visit. I stepped on a wooden footbridge, which appeared new, with the intent of taking a photo from the middle.  The first plank broke in two.  I plunged into a canal of raging water. Broken collar bone.  Drowned camera.  End of trip.  Details in next post.


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Rural village where our trip ended all too soon when a footbridge broke from under me.

In Guiyang, the province capital, we stayed in the luxurious five-star, 300 room Renaissance hotel located at a bustling intersection which had been nothing but a field a few years ago.  Guiyang’s population has surged rapidly, from 1.8 million to 4.8 million today. We traveled on a 300-kilometer long super highway with 50 plus tunnels that had been built in just four years. We stopped at clean, gleaming rest stops with upscale shops.  We rode the state of the art bullet train, which tops France’s TGV.

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Terraced rice paddies in Guizhou province with super new highway in background.

Guizhou, in southwest China, is the poorest of China’s 23 provinces. It is mountainous, with few international tourists, but home to 49 different nationalities. There are 56 different nationalities in China, we learned.

While life in China’s cities with modern conveniences seems good, out in the countryside it may not be so rosy.  Some 40 percent of the Chinese live in rural areas and earn their living from agriculture.  More and more are moving to the cities which offer greater opportunity.  Many leave their children behind with their parents.  Because the country is so vast, they may only see their children once or twice per year.

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Huanggoshu waterfall

It was in a tiny rural village where I had my accident. Huanggang is charming, quaint, primitive, and full of photo opps (my downfall).  The previous day we had visited two popular tourist sites. Huanggoshu Waterfall (Yellow Fruit Tree Waterfall) is located in a

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Exiting cave behind the falls.

lush, green park. It is a beauty, but the best part is the footpath through a cave just behind the falling water. You walk along, often bent over, following the narrow passage with the curtain of water on your right.   It is awesome, as is the Dragon Palace, a limestone water cave visited by boat.  The cave is illuminated by bright spotlights in bold colors making for a surrealistic experience.

Before joining the Guizhou trip, Bob and I spent an afternoon in Shanghai, population 24.1 million with lots of impressive skyscrapers glowing in multi colored spotlights by night.  The Chinese obviously love colored lights.

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Entrance to water cave which is illuminated in bold colors.

Our hotel, the Astor House, was just adjacent to the Bund, a broad riverfront promenade where folks stroll, hang out and take photos. This is the place where brides come with photographers, often a photo crew, to be photographed against the skyline.  The sky was gray, but dozens of young lovelies in white posed for the perfect shot.

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Shanghai’s Bund is a popular spot for bridal photos.

During our ambling we were approached by a friendly trio who spoke perfect English.  They asked us to take their photo, bombarded us with all sorts of questions, were complimentary (“Bob looks so cool….You are so professional.”)  The two young women, Fei Fei and Fan Fan, from a smaller city, were visiting their male cousin, Oscar, 31, who works in Shanghai—or so they told us.  They were off to visit a traditional Chinese tea ceremony and insisted we join.  We were hesitant, but had nothing special to do.  A way to mingle with the locals, I figured.

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These friendly folk led us to a costly tourist trap.

The tea ceremony was in a tiny room in a nondescript building.  There were no signs advertising this tourist special.  “No photos in honor of Buddha,” the tea hostess explained. We were served different kinds of tea in minuscule cups, each having a special health benefit.  “Drink slow.  Relax,” we were told. Our bubbly trio kept talking, but it started to seem a bit strange, so we said we had to leave after sampling just two of six different types of tea.  The bill: 400 renmimbi ($61.50) for a few sips of tea.  We had obviously been sucked into a tourist scam. I paid rather than cause a scene. It could have been much worse, and it was an amusing adventure.

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Cooking for a crowd in a rural village.

At the time we had not realized how amazing it was that they spoke such perfect English.  As our travels continued, from five-star hotels to hospitals and doctor offices in the capital city, we encountered  virtually no English speakers. When looking for a restroom, often I used the word  “toilet” assuming surely that would be understood.  No luck.

Guide Xiao Xiao, whose English is excellent, said he is one of few in the region who speaks English.  Even though English is one of three major subjects in the education system, along with math and Chinese, few seem to have mastered the language.

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Posing for the wedding album.

Our China travels started in Hong Kong where everything is overwhelming:  Size (vast).  Buildings (tall, gorgeous, everywhere). People (masses).  Traffic (crazy).  Shops (designer, trendy, and expensive).

I am glad we went, but I found it all a bit OTT. Our favorites:  Ferry ride to Lamma Island, hike across the island followed by a fabulous seafood lunch; scenic bus ride to Stanley Market; swim in the hotel’s rooftop pool surrounded by stunning views.  I was disappointed in Stanley Market – better bargains at markets in France and Italy.  The views from Victoria Peak, a major Hong Kong attraction, are nice, but getting there  (final ascent by escalator) is a trip through commercialism gone wild.   At every escalator landing, and there are too many, shops galore, most selling tourist trash.

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View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

Mainland  China is intriguing.  We were devastated, depressed and extremely disappointed to have had to leave after just three days.  More about the tragic end of the trip coming soon.

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Unfortunately there has been a setback with collar bone recovery. I am one-handed again, but will get back to recipes soon  — with two hands I hope.  I do not like typing with one hand.

HAPPY HAPPY 2017 TO TALESANDTRAVEL READERS. Wishing you fun and enriching adventure in the year before us. Thanks for following the blog.

 

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