Sydney, Australia

This post is Part 1 of 2 of our trip to Sydney. We decided to just stick to pictures. This first set of pictures are of Sydney’s downtown areas. This includes The Rocks, Circular Quay, Darlinghurst/ King’s Cross and Darling Harbor.

Sydney Opera House at sunset

King’s Cross

Old Hospital, Sydney

“Bin Chicken” aka Australian White Ibis

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Paso Robles, California

Paso Robles is a cute little town with super friendly people. Everywhere we went locals were offering advice on restaurants, wineries and activities to keep us busy. Being the city folk we are, it was a little weird to be moving at a slower pace and talking to strangers. But, we are glad we did.

We were attending a wedding at the end of the week, but decided to take a few days to explore the area and hang with friends. We arrived on July 4th so we took a quick tour around the downtown area and later headed to the Paso Pops. What a great event! They had rides, carnival food, and wine tasting from at least 20 different wineries. Later in the evening we attended the Symphony concert, which was stellar. They played classics like The Sound of Music and Westside Story. Afterward, we were in awe at the fireworks display. It just kept going!

Paso Robles is well known for the hundreds of wineries in the area. Many of them have beautiful tasting rooms set in ideal locations. We took a wine tour with the wedding party to 3 wineries in the area. Our driver was great and made sure we were taken care of the whole time. A party bus is the only way to do a wine tour properly in our opinion. The driver has a wrath of info and they keep you safe. Each winery had something different to offer and we really enjoyed the experience.

We have missed Western food and Paso Robles had plenty of options for us. We had some great salads, sandwiches, and one amazing French Toast. We also found two great coffee shops located not far from the square. We visited the following: Thomas Hill Organics, Brunch, Taste of Paso, Red Scooter Deli, Spearhead Coffee, and Kreuzberg Coffee Company.

The wedding day finally arrived! The bride and groom exchanged vows overlooking a vineyard and it couldn’t have been more ideal. We spent the rest of the night dancing and enjoying the spectacular sunset.

Paso Robles is a great wine country alternative to Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Located about 3 hours north from LA it is the perfect over night trip or weekend getaway. When you head to Paso Robles you are guaranteed good food, company, and most of all wine!

Morro Bay, California

” You can’t miss the Morro!”

Wait…what is a Morro? Well it is a dome shaped rock of course! Duh! One of the first records of this giant rock was made by a Franciscan monk on expedition in 1769. Morro Rock sits 576 feet above the sea that lies below it. Unique in shape and size, it is a stunning backdrop to the small seaside town of Morro Bay.

We started our day by winding through mountains covered in golden grasses. A lot of California’s landscape still looks pretty parched from the drought. After about 15 minutes we spotted the sea and the great Morro rock. The size and shape make it quite the distinctive landmark. We were pretty hungry so we went straight to lunch at The Galley Seafood Bar and Grill. The seafood was delicious and the view was exactly what we wanted. We got Seafood Salads, Fish and Chips, and Fish Tacos. The Pacific cod was excellent and so was the wine list.

We then strolled along the water enjoying the sunshine and the activity on the boat docks. We also stopped at the Libertine Brewery Co. for some drinks.

Morro Bay is a great spot for a day trip, especially if you have a hankering for some fish. California continues to impress us with hidden gems.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Almost everyone we talked to about Singapore told us we HAD to splurge on at least a one night stay at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. We looked through photos and weighed out our options. People weren’t lying the hotel was gorgeous. Plus they have an amazing infinity pool on the rooftop!

The hotel sits in the Marina area. You can’t miss it as it is composed of 3 towers and what looks like a huge cruise ship sitting on top. We took the metro to the hotel and entered the lobby from the basement level. The lobby isn’t as grand as I thought it would be, however the sweeping ceilings gave the area an airy feel.

We were checked into our hotel room quickly, which was great. We wanted as much time at the hotel as possible. We were in need of some relaxation by the pool. Our room was on the 43rd floor. It was super spacious and had an amazing view of the skyline and Merlion Park.

So was the pool worth it? Absolutely! It was out of this world. Singapore is very humid and hot. Therefore, poolside cocktails and swimming were much needed. It was also entertaining to watch other visitors try to get the perfect Instagram shot. Some people were getting pretty creative. We stuck with the classic shots by the edge.

We headed to dinner early so that we could catch the light show at both the Gardens of the Bay as well as the fountain show outside our hotel. We had an American feast at The Bird Southern Kitchen and Bar. It was soooooo good. This is the first time we have had decent macaroni and cheese since we left the states. We left the restaurant well- fed and satisfied. We made it up to the roof deck for one more cocktail by the pool and the sunset. It had been a cloudy day so the sunset was a little weak. Yet, the skyline lights made up for it. At around 8:30 we headed back to our room to catch the beautiful fountain show. We loved the artistic light projections that were displayed across the shooting water.

After a good night’s sleep we headed to the rooftop for a breakfast brunch at Spago’s. They had a great mix of American, European, and Asian items in their buffet. They view was also pretty spectacular as well.

The cost to stay at Marina Bay Sands was well worth it. It was great to treat ourselves to a beautiful hotel. The service was fantastic, the amenities were stellar, and the view is one of the best in Singapore. If you ever have the chance just do it!

Singapore 🇸🇬

Singapore’s blend of east and west, city and scenic, and culture and commerce is remarkable. It’s ideal geographic location interested Europeans in the 1800’s and as it usually goes in history they colonized it. Walking around today you can still see the impact the West has had on Singapore. Despite this, the city is not lacking in the representation of the many Asian nationalities and ethnic groups of the surrounding area. Each group has added value to the diverse culture that is Singapore. You can readily see this in the architecture, food, multi-language signage, and art throughout the city.

We spent 3 days in the city which was plenty of time to eat, explore, and relax. We began at the Promenade and Esplanade. The humidity was already out of control by 9:00, but the cloud cover kept us from boiling over on our walk. We wandered along the Singapore River catching many glimpses of the famous Merlion, Marina Bay Sands Hotel, and various bridges.

Our next stop was Sentosa Island. Lucky for us we had just missed President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-Un. Therefore, we could explore the island freely. Sentosa Island is home to many theme parks and amusement attractions. We decided to skip those and head for the beach. Palawan Beach is 30 minutes by train from the city center and it was quite a beautiful spot. There were gentle waves that met the white sand shore. Massive ships were docked in the distant sea waiting for their turn at the port. We also went to the Skywalk which gave us views of the water and other islands that hug the coast of Singapore.

In the evening we headed for the famous Gardens by the Bay. We bought tickets to the Cloud Forest and it did not disappoint! Right as you walk in you are met by a sensory overload. The gorgeous dome is sweeping over you, there are trees and flowers blooming all around, and best of all the 6 story waterfall cascades down in front of a mountain of colorful plants. When it became dark there was a chance to see the renowned lights show in the Supertree Grove. It was enjoyable to stand under the huge “trees” and take in the synchronized movements of the lights to many classic music songs. The changes in colors and variety of lighting shifts made it well worth our visit.

The city in general is clean and beautiful. There are so many trees and gardens in this city. There are so many trees even the skyscrapers have trees! Part of how they keep it clean seems to be heavily fining people for things such as littering or eating/ drinking in non approved places. A potential $500 fine for drinking on the metro appears to be a great deterrent.

As per usual we enjoyed some delicious food and the nightlife. The best spots to try all thing Singapore cuisine are the Hawker’s centers (We went to Lau Ba Sat). Essentially they are large food courts where you can walk around and try pretty much any Asian cuisine. At night we headed to Clark Quay to watch some World Cup games. This place is so fun! You can bar/restaurant hop to your hearts content. It also makes for great people watching. let’s not forget Haji Lane. There are several cute shops as well as restaurants and bars. This area is also home to #selfiecoffee. The specialize in hot and cold coffees that feature your very own selfie picture!

Chinatown is located very close to the downtown area. It consists of several blocks of colorful buildings that have a rich history. There is also a food street where you can dine on deliciousness al fresco. Since we live in China, there wasn’t many new things to see, but the area was certainly worth the visit.

Singapore is a must see if you are curious about Asia, but desire the comforts of Western culture. English is widely spoken, it is convenient to get around, and the customer service is spectacular. It is more costly than other Asian countries, however, even if you are on a budget you can enjoy what the city has to offer.

Taipei, Taiwan

Taiwan has had a complicated history. It was controlled by Japan for over 100 years till the end of World War II when it was given back to China. As China recovered from the war, the Communist Party took over and many fled to Taiwan. Chiang Kai-shek, the leader through the war and until this change in power, lead this move and brought many cultural relics with him in an attempt of preservation. Fast forward a few decade later and Taiwan is an independent state under the Republic of China. You can see the influences of these two cultures in many parts of the city. We went to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall to get a brief overview of the changes in power in Taiwan. The memorial is a huge structure with 4 floors. Inside houses memorabilia of Chiang and his time as President of Taiwan as well as some Taiwanese art. On the hour, there is the changing of the guards ceremony at the base of the bronze statue of Chiang. Our personal favorite was the view down Democracy Boulevard. Taking in views of the city as a whole can be done from two main places. Taipei 101 has an observatory on the 90th floor. We appreciated the 360° view even though it was a little hazy. One interesting feature of Taipei 101 is the huge wind damper in the center of the building. The massive ball hangs from cables and helps the building not sway so much in high winds/ earthquakes. We also hiked part way up Elephant Hill, which is a few blocks from Taipei 101. There was luscious green foliage on each side of the walk way with beautiful flowers and butterflies flitting about. The hike wasn’t too steep but it sure was hot. Even though we went at around 9:30 the temperature was pushing 30°C. Once at the top, the view allows you to take in parts of the city and the slope that creates the elephant’s trunk.

Taipei is an eaters paradise. Almost anything you could dream of is available and much of it is on the street. We had the best eats at the Shilin Night Market and Addiction Aquatic Center (part of the Taipei Fish Market). Both options were pretty affordable and delicious. Seafood and chicken are amoung the most popular treats.Taipei is also a great city to grab a drink. It houses many microbreweries and cocktail bars. During our travels we visited Le Zinc, Driftwood, Geography Bar and Cafe, and Hanko 60. Each had its own unique vibe and specialty.

Overall, Taipei was a great choice for a two day stop. We look forward to returning to explore more of what the island has to offer.

Shanghai, China

In the Yangtze River Delta lies Shanghai, a major financial and transportation hub. Shanghai is a huge metropolitan area with a population of about 24 million people. Many of our Chinese co-workers describe it as “too busy” and “crowded.” For us, Shanghai was very Westerner friendly and cosmopolitan.

Our trip began with a visit to the Tianzifang District. This area is a network of alleys that wind around a section of the French Concession. In this area you can find many shops and places to grab a bite to eat. We really loved the shop Lishanghai. They stocked amazing graphic tees inspired by Chinese culture.

The next day we ventured to the ~400 year old Yuyuan Gardens and the Bazaar located outside. The gardens were spectacular. They feature amazing architecture, stunning gardens, and interesting sculptures. Our guide informed us that the many zig zag walkways in the gardens were designed to keep ghosts and spirits away as they can only walk in a straight line.

Later on we took in the views of Shanghai skyline from The Bund, a long walkway along the Huangpu river with colonial style buildings like The Customs House.  We were lucky enough to get a view of the skyline in the day and at night when it was lit up. Looking at the Oriental Pearl Tower and the many other skyscrapers was magnificent. Going to the top of The Shanghai Tower was a treat as well. It is 119 floors high (the second tallest building in the world) and boasts the world’s fastest elevator. It was ear popping to say the least.

Shanghai is an ever expanding city. Most of the major architecture was constructed within the last 30 years. We got to appreciate this rapid expansion and view the future plans of Shanghai in the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. The most notable feature in the hall was the 1/500 scale model of the city. This model was quite detailed and gave a great idea of how the city is/ will be laid out.

We stayed in Shanghai for 2 days and could have stayed a few more. Shanghai has less touristic sites than other places (Such as Beijing), but the city’s atmosphere will keep you wanting to explore.

 

Guilin, China

Guilin is nestled in the mountains in Guangxi province. These mountains were unlike any we have seen before. Instead of being a broad range of rock, the Karst formations are shaped into narrow peaks. When first looking at them they look like giant stone thumbs protruding from the landscape.

Our first stop was the amazing Reed Flute Cave. There were huge stalagmites and stalactites that formed some really interesting shapes. The “Crystal Palace” was a huge open area that had massive ceilings with water pools at one end. The lighting and water made perfect conditions for intriguing photos.

Elephant Hill is located near the city center. Make sure to head to the front of the rock to get the full view of the elephant. I enjoy a cheesy tourist picture so I spent the 10RMB to get the husband to pose with some fishing birds.

Our second day was spent hiking to see the rice terraces on Longji Mountain. The shuttle bus ride up the mountain was quite hairy. The hairpin turns at high speed had us thinking we were going to go over the edge. 😬 The hike began at the base of the Zhuang village and wound up to the peak. We moved through the village admiring the wooden architecture and the daily life unfolding around us. We even got a peek at the Yao women who are known for their super long hair. The walk wasn’t too strenuous and once we reached the top we were greatly rewarded with a spectacular view. There were layers upon layers of rice paddies cascading down the sides of the mountains.

Our third day was all about the Lijiang River. We took a boat cruise for about 3 hours. There was a bit of haze, but as we continued down the river the sharp peaks began to reveal themselves. The peaks loomed above our boat. River traffic was busy. The bamboo boats looked like the scooters on the road. They were zipping and darting along the river.

After we reached the dock, we took a local village tour of Longcheng and Lexiang. Both villages were great examples of rural life in China. They both contained the old homes of generations past and the new construction of the future. We wandered through the narrow alleys and dirt roads lining the crops.

Our journey continued to the small town of Yangshuo. This town was an interesting mix of historic culture and modern commercialism. Never have I seen people selling mangosteens and kumquats out of baskets in front of the KFC. Talk about old meets new. West street is a popular pedestrian shopping street with a good mix of store fronts and stalls. Lucky for us we arrived in the late afternoon. The crowds were quite light and we could leisurely walk the streets. By the early evening the street was full of tourists and locals selling goods.

That evening we also saw the cultural show Impressions of Sister Lou. The show was outstanding. It was presented in an open air theatre along the Li River. The show made use of the water, mountains, and local culture. Not only was the music fantastic, but the large cast (700 performers) kept our eyes darting from one scene to the next. The director was masterful at using the lighting to tell the story while creating dramatic visual effects.

Overall, we really enjoyed the Guilin area. It had so much natural beauty and great access to local indigenous cultures. We most certainly will be visiting again.

*photo credits to my sister for several amazing contributions to this post.

Hanoi, Vietnam

We decided to make a short trip to Hanoi on a random weekend. Why not take advantage of living in southern China by visiting one of our favorite cities? The last time we were in Hanoi was 2012. We were there for about 3 days and couldn’t get enough of this amazing city. So naturally we had to return. What makes it so amazing you ask? Everything! It is an organized chaos of scooters, cars and pedestrians working together to avoid collisions. It is the fact that everything you see resembles a National Geographic photo. Hanoi architecture was heavily influenced by the Chinese and the French and you can see this influence in many buildings today. We also appreciated the deep culture and complex history. We had the chance to visit the Temple of Literature and the One Pillar Pagoda. Both were outstanding examples of Vietnamese history.

Our main goal was to eat lots of delicious food. Success! Not only did we eat enough to feed a family for a week, but we also tried many new dishes we had never heard of before on a street food tour. If you are ever in Hanoi I highly recommend booking a food tour via motorbike or walking. You won’t regret it! Sadly, we spent too much time eating so we didn’t take any photos! 😬

The other thing we really love about Vietnam is the people. People are generally warm and friendly and make you feel right at home. Despite the differences in perspective and culture, we have consistently found Vietnamese people to be welcoming to all visitors. Due to this, the country feels like a home away from home.

To our benefit, Hanoi is a short 2 hour trip from Guangzhou. The perfect distance if we ever need a quick fix of scooter chaos, delicious coffee or Bun Cha. See you again soon Hanoi! 🇻🇳

Takayama, Japan

Takayama is a small town located in mountain area. We took the train from Kyoto and it was quite the adventure. We wound 3+ hours through tall pointed pines that grew like a thick carpet up the side of the mountain. Cutting through the grey-white rock was an emerald colored river that at some points looked like glass. As we got closer to Takayama snow peeked out of the spaces between the thin tree trunks. The closer we got the thicker the snow covering became.

Takayama was known for its timber industry as well as sake brewing and silk dyeing. We enjoyed visiting the old town, which was preserved from the Edo period. We also ate lunch and sampled sake at Funasaka. The lunch featured Hida beef, which was delicious. We also got to visit the interesting and culturally rich Hida Folk Village. The village is set up like an actual village including old houses and barns that represent various locations in the Hida area all in one place. You could really get a look into how rural Japanese people lived.

Takayama was a great day trip in Japan. The snow and small town feel made it a great break from the big cities of Japan.