Peking Into Chinese Culture

When we got to Beijing we were so happy to be off the train and ready to start our Asian adventure. We walked out of the train station got some cash and got in the taxi line. While waiting in line for a taxi, one thing became very apparent to us. Chinese like to spit…a lot…wherever they are! One other thing also became very apparent, people love taking pictures of Scott. Apparently they don't see a whole lot of red heads. Several times people asked to take a picture of or with him and many times we caught people trying to discretely take his picture.

One of Scott's many fans

We got into a cab and showed the cab driver our hotel address in Chinese that the hotel had sent us. The cab driver didn't speak a lick of English and our Mandarin consists of three words. So we hoped he knew where he was going. We knew the hotel was only supposed to be a short drive so when we'd been in the cab for over twenty minutes we knew it wasn't right. Scott pulled out his Google Maps on his phone and sure enough we were headed in the wrong direction. He tried to show the cab driver the directions on the phone and after several u-turns and failed attempts at communicating we signaled to the driver to let us off at the nearest hotel we saw. Luckily the bell boy spoke enough English to point us in the right direction, so we walked a few blocks carrying all our stuff and finally made it to the Hilton Wangfujing.

The hotel was really nice! I'm sure we stood out like sore thumbs having just come off the seven day train ride, but the staff treated us like royalty nonetheless. We even got upgraded to a large suite and had delicious chocolates and baked treats waiting for us when we got to our room. We took the most glorious showers of our lives!

That evening we decided to go out and explore the night markets that happened to be right near our hotel. The snack street was bustling with locals and tourist loading up on a wide range of snacks including fried star fish on a stick, tarantulas and scorpions on a stick, and you guessed it…animal testicles! We also wandered down to another little night market close by, but didn't stay long as the smell there was unbearable and we also saw a few people rummaging and eating out of the dumpsters. It was a little scary and very sad.

The next day we spent most of the day visiting the Summer Palace and gardens. We walked for hours and still didn't get to see the whole thing, but it was still a really fun day.

Old man telling fortunes

We climbed so many stairs

The following day was a our three year wedding anniversary so we planned out a full day of sight seeing and a nice dinner. We booked a guided tour that included Tianeman Square, the Forbidden City, a jade and silk factory, and the Great Wall. Our tour guide's name was Shine and he was great! We had three other people that were on the tour with us and it was quite comical. There was an older couple from Slovak Republic and a man from Saudi Arabia. While At the Forbidden City, Shine was explaining to us how the emperors had many wives and concubines, the Saudi guy on our tour commented that he was only allowed to have four wives! Scott thought this was hysterical.

Our awesome tour guide, Shine

Tiananmen Square

Forbidden City

Scott carrying the tour guides flag

We took turns carrying Shine's flag

Standing in front of the love tree on our three year wedding anniversary

At the silk factory

Silk worms

Women stretching silk threads

Man carving jade

The Great Wall

What does this even mean?

That night we had reservations for a Peking duck restaurant that a friend recommended, Da Dong. The ducks were roasted in a huge oven where we could watch and then carved right at our table. It was delicious!

Showing off my purchase from the silk factory

Spicy shrimp appetizer

After dinner snack

The next morning we headed to the zoo to see the giant pandas before we had to go to the train station. We weren't that impressed with the conditions that the animals were kept in, but it was still neat to see the animals.

We headed to the extremely crowded train station to catch an overnight train to Xi'an. The train station was chaotic. People were sprawled out everywhere, some with no shirts or shoes. We boarded the train reluctantly as our last train experience wasn't exactly the best. To our surprise, this train was actually pretty comfortable and a thousand times cleaner than the last…and we had our own toilet.

Bought some Chinese beer for the ride

Also bought some of these things. Verdict?

Not so good:(

When we got to Xi'an in the morning we took a cab to the hotel to drop off our bags and headed straight out on another day tour. We opted to do a private tour with a guide this time. We went out to see the amazing tarracotta soldiers. We were amazed at how every soldier had a different face and were also surprised to find out that the soldiers were actually colorfully painted, but the colors quickly faded away once they were unearthed.

After the soldiers, we headed to the city wall where we walked along the wall for a while.

Our last stop was at the Musslim street. The street was lined with food vendors and lots of people buying things. We also had another odd/disgusting experience. Since we had gotten to China we had noticed a few toddlers that had splits in the back of their pants. At first we thought maybe they had torn them squatting down or something and we just laughed it off. Then we realized none of these kids had diapers underneath. So we figured maybe this made taking a kid to the restroom easier when they neede to go…well our guess was close, but not quite the right answer. While walking down Musslim street we saw another split pants kid walking on the sidewalk with her mom. Then all of a sudden the mother squats down scooping up the kid from under the knees and the child began to use the restroom right on the sidewalk…right next to all of the food vendors! We kept walking in shock, wondering if maybe parents were required to clean up after their children similar to some laws in the states require dog owners to clean up when their dog does his business on the sidewalk. Well our question was answered when we had to walk back that direction when we were leaving and the pile still remained right where they left it! This would not be the last split pants kid we would see doing this either.

The next day we would be heading to Shanghai. Overall, we had a blast in Beijing and really enjoyed seeing the tarracotta soldiers in Xi'an, but ultimately preferred Beijing over Xi'an. We felt that a day and a half in Xi'an was definitely enough time.

On the way to the train station



Mas Tapas! Por Favor!

Madrid is such a wonderful city that holds a very special place in our stomachs. We are so fortunate to have our great friends Amber and Fernando who live in Madrid that were able to give us excellent advise on all of their favorite places to get good grub.

The first evening we arrived in Madrid we followed Amber and Fernando's advise and walked down Calle Huertas, which was only about a five minute walk from our hotel, and had tapas for dinner at a small restaurant called Maceiras. This restaurant lived up to it's hype, and we even came back on our last night in Madrid for another sampling of the delectable offerings.

The first night we ate at Maceiras, we ended up ordering way too much food, which was all delicious and worth every Euro. We ordered the patatas bravas, the champinones (mushrooms sauteed with pork shoulder), chorizo, croquettas (cheese croquettes), and empanadas de pescado (fish empanadas). We paired our meal with an Estrella beer and sangria.

Patatas Bravas
Croquettas de Queso
Empanadas de Pescado


Our second time at Maceiras, we ordered the patatas bravas again because we couldn't get enough the first time around. We also ordered pimientos (peppers), and Merluza rellena de gambas (fish stuffed with shrimp, covered in a tomato based sauce). Once again, we were not disappointed with any of our choices.

Merluza Rellena de Gambas

The second day in Madrid we opted to have lunch at a restaurant in La Latina area called Casa Lucas. We started with a refreshing tomato salad with goat cheese and fresh basil. We also ordered some croquettas de jamon, and one of the dishes that Amber had recommended, Alella (chicken with sauteed onions served on toast with a corn mousse on top). Once again, the tapas did not let us down.

We also walked down to the Mercado De San Miguel that has a huge selection of fresh produce and stands of different prepared food.

That night after watching a flamenco show, we opted to have dinner at another restaurant in La Latina area again, Juana La Loca. We ordered their famous tortilla dish, which is completely different than the type of tortilla that we are used to. It's an egg and potato type dish with a crust…delicious! We also ordered the lomo (a meat dish), and an artichoke dish. We only ordered three tappas to save room for churros y chocolate later that night.

Artichokes, Garlic, and Parmesan

We opted to have churros at Chocolateria San Gines. It is a famous churro y chocolate shop that has been featured on several shows that we had seen, so we figured why not give it a shot! The verdict….delicious!!!

At this point, our waistlines were starting to show the results of our tapas gorging. So on day three we shared a small piece of tomato and mozzarella flat bread we picked up at a little place called Pappizza which can be found all over the city. We spent the rest of the morning walking around the city, hopefully burning off some of what we had eaten the past two days. We walked all the way to a little restaurant to meet up with Amber and Fernando and their new little addition Quique.

We all shared a delicious chilled tomato soup, a fresh salad with crisp apples and cheese, pulpo (an octopus dish), foie gras, and a beef dish. It was all very delicious, however we were so caught up chatting and catching up, that we didn't take any pictures of the food, only the adorable baby.

Our last morning in Madrid we opted for one more go at churros for breakfast. We went to a local chain called Valor. They not only serve churros y chocolate, but they also looked like they had lots of other sweet options. Our verdict was that both Chocolateria San Gines and Valor had delicious churros, they were different but equally good.


Pubs & Pastries

One thing there was not a lack of in London were pubs and pastries. First off, spending a week one block from Harrod's, you can easily become plump in one week. The first floor of Harrod's had an amazing gourmet section for just about any kind of food you can think of along with multiple cafes sprinkled throughout the other four floors. We made multiple trips to the patisserie, two stops to the gelateria on the second floor, and had high tea at The Georgian, which was absolutely beautiful.

Throughout the week we also sampled a few pubs including the Tea Clipper, The Bunch of Grapes, and the Dickens Inn pubs which were good, but not the best fish and chips we've had.

On night two in London we walked down to Roti Chai an Indian cuisine restaurant which was amazing. We ate in the “street kitchen” section of the restaurant which was quite packed for being a Sunday night. The restaurant had the vibe of a downtown Austin restaurant, very laid back and a little hipster-ish. We ordered the chicken samosa as an appetizer, for a main dish we shared a curry chicken dish, little fried chicken thingys with dipping sauces, and a basket of roti. It was so delicious we forgot to take pictures until all of our food was gone. The service was great! After Scott had spilled his entire glass of water on our samosa plate that also had chick peas the manager brought us out an entire new dish on the house.

We also had some of our favorite meals in London by choosing random places that looked good as we wandered by. One morning we had a delicious full breakfast at a patisserie and had one of the best pizzas ever for dinner one night at Jamie Oliver's Union Jack Restaurant.


On our last day in the city we opted to have lunch at Laduree (a french restaurant) close to our flat. The presentation of the food was gorgeous! Our meals were good, but overpriced for what they were, but the desserts were worth every penny.