London: How

We went to London with the Lady de Gloves and a sibling and had a great time.  In this post we will tell you about how to do it.  It the next one we will tell you what we did.

We think there are N things you should plan about your stay in London:

  • Get an Oyster Card for each person.
  • Use the Underground
  • Stay near transportation.
  • Physical handicaps will be a problem.

Really, you are thinking, MWG put Oyster Card first suggesting it is the most important.  Yup.  London is a big place, over 600 square miles, with lots of people, almost nine million, and very difficult to drive in because it is an old city that was not designed for vehicles and you have to drive on the wrong side of the road.  Public transportation and walking is the way to go.  The link will give you details on everything you can ride with it but the Oyster card can get you from the airport to where you stay and all around London cheaply and easily.  The Oyster Card is like having E-Z Pass on a toll road.  It is cheaper and faster than paying individual tolls.

The card can do lots for you but we recommend emphasizing the Underground.  The subway in London is called the Tube or the Underground but we like the latter.  The stations, like King’s Cross where six lines meet, can be enormous.  This means three things.  First your map app will underestimate the time by a few minutes because of the walking within the station.  Second, you need to pay careful attention to the maps on the way down to the trains.  The trains are usually identified by the last stop so the Victoria line southbound is Victoria – Brixton.  Third, you need to pay careful attention on the way up because you can end up in a variety of places.  It takes a little work but the Oyster Card and the Underground can get you almost anywhere in London.  According to our map device, it was usually quicker than driving without the worry of trying to park.

We didn’t like busses because the signs are not as obvious and announcements are harder to hear.  In addition, they get caught in traffic.  You can ride busses with your Oyster Card but we much preferred the Underground.

For lodging, price is a critical issue that might overwhelm any other considerations.  We went Air BNB because our party of three needed two bedrooms.  A flat (apartment) is much cheaper and has its own kitchen compared to two hotel rooms.  It is hard to be far away from the Underground but being near a big station, and especially King’s Cross which is close to another big station, Euston, with Underground, trains, and busses means that you can be anywhere in London in a few minutes, and in a few hours anywhere in country or even Paris.  We walked by several hotels each day so there are a variety of places to stay in the King’s Cross and Euston area.  It is far from the only good choice but was great for us.

London is an old city with lots of steps and many of them are beautiful marble staircases but there are not as many ramps.  If you have physical limitations it can be a problem.  Rest rooms in restaurants and pubs are often on a different floor.  Not all the Underground stops have lifts (elevators).  If you have physical limitation you need to research you plans very carefully.

London is a wonderful city to visit.  Get an Oyster Card.  Ride the Underground.  Stay near a big station like King’s Cross.  Next time we will give you some ideas on what to do in London.

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Weekday Skiing

We have known that weekday skiing is a great thing for a long time.  Over a half a century ago we skipped school and went to Killington for a day.  It was a big place then but much smaller than it is today.  In that long ago day we were greeted by 14 inches of new powder and had a day we still remember.

We recently went back to Killington for a Sunday night through Friday stay.  It got off to a terrible start when our flight was delayed and we spent Sunday night in Detroit rather than Vermont.  The we spent Monday driving from Boston to Killington rather than skiing.  We stayed in a studio at the Grand.  Our ski pass was for four of five days so we skied four in a row.

Sidebar: We tend towards being frugal but there are things that we think are worth it. Every traveler has to decide when to splurge and when to be frugal.  Midweek and March is frugal for skiing.  The Grand isn’t but our old bodies like the short walk to the slopes and the pool and jacuzzi after the slopes.  We made our own dinner in the studio some nights and ate elegantly at Preston’s in The Grand other nights.  We have moved on from apres ski at the Wobbly Barn.  Plan your trip for what you want not what somebody else wants.  End Sidebar.

One thing that has really changed over the past half century in skiing the East is grooming.  Killington, like many other places, does a great job of repairing the mountain every night.  Do check their website to see what trails have been groomed.  Another reason it is great to ski weekdays is that there are fewer skiers.  Fewer skiers means that the grooming holds up all day while it often doesn’t on the weekend.  It also makes for wide open trails.

We have three tips.  First, pick a sunny day and have lunch at the Peak Lodge right by the top of the K-1 Gondola.  It is a great view.  If you want to impress somebody you can tell them that the building used to be the end of the third stage of the Skyeship Gondola.  You can still see the path from the top of Skye Peak to Peak Lodge.  Unfortunately, the Ledgewood Yurt isn’t open on weekdays.  If you stay through the weekend be sure to try it.

Second, watch the weather and the elevation but if you go in March it is usually cold at night and warm enough to get mushy in places in the day.  Killington has over 3000 feet of vertical.  So if you want to take the blue/green cruise down to Route 4 and check out the real estate, it is usually best in the morning.  Later in the day you might want to go up the mountain to avoid the mashed potatoes.  Our recommendations are the soon-to-be-replaced North Ridge Triple, mostly intermediate, and the Canyon Quad, single and double diamonds. Most days they escape the wind.  The new Snowdon six-pack is the most comfortable ride on the planet but we don’t like the terrain it serves as much.

Third, where should you ski?  Of course it is personal but here are our favorites.  All the trails from the soon-to-be-replaced North Ridge Triple.  It is short but it is even better when Tyler is there loading with his boom box.  Cruise Control is a great intermediate run you can ski off of Stage 2 of the Skyeship.  The lower part of the East Fall is our old flame.  We loved her and used to spend all day with her but she has moved on to younger men.  Now we try to ski her once a day.

Go skiing weekdays in March.  Killington is a great choice but you may have another favorite.  Plan what is right for you but it is cheaper, less crowded, and more fun.

 

American Players Theatre 2019 Season

It is American Players Theatre’s (APT) 40th anniversary this year.  You should visit APT and Spring Green, Wisconsin this summer.  It has terrific actors in great plays in a lovely setting.  Tickets are now on sale for returning patrons.

If you haven’t been there then you should know that there are two theaters.   The Hill is a beautiful outdoor theatre on, no surprise, the top of a hill.  Don’t worry the seats are very nice and the theatre has recently been redone.  Transportation is available for those who can’t or don’t want to walk up the hill.  We recommend the walk.  Touchstone is a smaller indoor theatre that is a great place to watch an intimate play and get out of the summer sun.  There are many picnic tables to have a meal before or after the show.  Check the APT schedule as they have some outside organizations bring in food on certain days.

There is other entertainment in the area as well.  You can go all cultural and add Frank Lloyd Wright’s Talliesin.  Or you can try more popular culture and hit the House on the Rock.  The affiliated House on the Rock resort has a nice golf course and is across the street from APT and a few miles from the actual House on the Rock.  You can laze around the Wisconsin River or make a short drive and see the Great River and its road.  You can learn how to pronounce Mazomanie.  While you are there you should eat at the Old Feed Mill.  There are lots of hotels and places to camp but don’t wait until the last minute to make reservations.  As we said, APT has terrific actors in great plays in a lovely setting.  Make the trip.

 

Lijiang And Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Lijiang is a city in the Yunnan Province of China with the population of a million and a quarter.  We visited it in the winter when the high temperature was in the sixties and dry.  It is about 120 miles north of Dali and has a similar climate, similar lack of pollution, and is over 1,000 feet  higher altitude at almost 8,000 feet.  In terms of latitude, Lijiang is just north of Palm Beach, Florida.  It is a wonderful place to visit, especially during the nice dry winter.  You must see the Old Town and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain while in Lijiang.  You could spend much longer there.  We also have a note on our experience with trains.

We took a couple of trains in China.  The trains run on time and, as this website says, they are safe, comfortable, and cheap way to travel about China.  We are not experts on Chinese train travel but we did notice something unusual.  The train stations were often like airports in that they were closer to the edge of the city than downtown.  Elsewhere when we traveled by train the station was almost always right at the center of town. Think of the location of Chicago Union Station compared to O’Hare Airport.   Our limited experience in China was that we were rarely at the center of town at the train station.  What it means for you is that if you travel by train you want to know where the station is and how to get to your destination.

Lijiang is home to a variety of ethnicities including the Naxi.  Yes, it is an unfortunate name and it is particularly difficult to type given the location of the “z” and “x” on the keyboard but there is nothing to be done about it.  The Naxi are not native Chinese speakers so it can exacerbate communication issues.  Since we spoke neither it made no difference to us.  We don’t know if it is the Naxi or other groups but they love to dance.  Open areas in Lijiang were filled with small and large groups of dancers in a wide variety of costumes.  Some smaller groups were in matching costumes while larger groups had a wide variety of finery.  We didn’t try to join in but they seemed to accept newcomers.

Lijiang Old Town or Ancient City is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It is the kind of place you could wander through for days or spend many evenings after viewing the great outdoors.  Little streams are become canals and run hither and yon with bridges and great photo opportunities with the mountains for background.  You can shop, eat, or just watch.  Look for a sugar sculpture for dessert.  Our hosts made fun of us because we thought it was too pretty to eat.  One of the places that surprised us was the Taiwan Tea Shop.  We thought stores with Taiwan in the name would not be allowed but there was one in Lijiang.  The streams and all of the stone in the Old City do make for a danger of flooding.  Winter is the dry season and the time to visit.

There is lots of outdoor places to see near Lijiang but Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is the place you must see.  Here are the pictures.  The mountain top is 18,360 feet.  You can see the waterfalls and pools at the near the bottom and ride a Poma eight person cable car (we would call it a gondola) to an altitude of 4,506 meters.  That altitude translates into 14,783 feet or 14,780 as my trusty compass app rounds to the nearest ten feet.  Mt Whitney in California rises to 14,505 feet and is highest point in the lower 48 states so 14,780 is pretty high.  If they ask you if you need oxygen the answer is yes.  Make sure you start it on the way up so you are ready at the top.  If you encounter distress there is an oxygen chamber at the top.

Sidebar: On our way to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain traffic was stopped as a large group of Chinese soldiers, perhaps a battalion, crossed our path.  It was quite a sight to see the vehicles and soldiers with weapons ready crossing the road.  Nobody was going to deny them the right-of-way.  End Sidebar.

We did the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain gondola and the scenery at the bottom in one day.  You could easily spend a day on each as long as you dress warmly.  We weren’t fortunate enough to have clear weather at 4,506 but it was still worth the experience.

 

Dali,Yuunan

We flew into Dali in Yuunan Province.  It is just slightly south of Miami in terms of latitude but given the altitude, over 7,000 feet at the airport, and the proximity of the Himalayas, the weather is nice with lots of sun in December but not tropical.  Winter is a perfect time to visit Dali because the rain comes in the summer.  The population is “only” 626,000.  Our two stops in Yuunan were our favorite in China.  There aren’t any epic sights like terra-cotta warriors but it has interesting people and places.

We discovered that our iPhone comes with a compass that gives you altitude.  For us it is in the extra folder.  Click on the compass and if a few seconds you get the altitude.  We used it often on our trip.  Sometimes it was just to saved us converting to feet.

We checked the weather for Dali today and there was an interesting change. It wasn’t the weather.  The forecast was sunny and in the sixties for each the next ten days.  The Weather Channel app has eliminated the air quality index for all of our Chinese cities but not the US cities.  That would be disappointing if it continues.  One of the reasons we really enjoyed Dali is that, unlike Beijing, Changsha, Xi’an, and Chengdu, the air quality was always good so you can see the water and the mountains while enjoying walking around.

The two things you must see while in Dali is the Old Town and Erhai Lake.  You could rent one of the ubiquitious scooters to see Old Town but it wasn’t in our risk preferences.  We walked Old Town and really enjoyed it.  There are lots of places with street food, to eat in and shop as well as some historic stuff.  There are some notable differences in ethnicity but if you want a bigger taste try the smaller villages around the lake.  Old Town is a big place so you can spend several days wandering around.  Or take day trips and spend your evenings in Old Town.

Sidebar: In Dali we stayed at (we are not making this up) the Lethargy Inn and really enjoyed it but we can’t find it online.  It is small and has great views.  If you can find it we recommend it. End Sidebar.

The Wikipedia site above will tell you that Erhai Lake is 72 miles in circumference so you need a car and some research or a driver.  The lake is beautiful but you really want to stop at the small towns and business around it.  This is a great trip to do on a weekend because there is more to see.  We saw a wedding, a funeral, and many (perhaps a dozen including two sessions trying to get the same space) bride/groom photo sessions.  Bride/groom photo sessions are a big thing in China and if you visit places like Erhai Lake on a weekend you will likely see one.  The small towns are the most fun.  We don’t know why they like to string upside-down umbrellas but it makes for great pictures.  There are different ethnicities in interesting costumes making wonderful food.  The small towns give a whole different vibe than the big cities.  You’ve got to see some of these small towns.

Pandamonium

We went to the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center near Chengdu in Sichuan Province of China.  There are several other similar centers in China.  Chengdu is a city of about 14.5 million people and the Panda Center is not far from the city but it is a big (247 acres) beautiful park.  As we looked at the city from the Panda Center our view was limited by the smog.

As always, bring your passport to get into any public place.  It this case it was really useful for us because seniors got in free.  Small children get in free too.  It is a beautiful park that is well laid out to spread out visitors.  It does mean lots of walking.  There are buses to reduce your walking but it is such a pretty place we recommend walking.  Giant pandas, and especially the babies, are the stars but there are red pandas and a variety of birds too.  There are all the souvenirs that you could ever want.  The flora is nice as well.

Plan to spend most of a day there.  Get there early to beat the crowds and see the feedings that start early, around nine.  You can get a nice lunch in the Center and call it a day early in the afternoon.

At one time there was an opportunity to get us close with baby pandas.  It was not available when we were there because of a disease problem. Check online to see if it has changed back.  We saw a cost of 2000 yuan when it was available.

The animals are adorable.  If you are going to China you really need to see one of the panda sites.  We are sure that Chengdu is worth the trip.

Terracotta Army

If, like us, you are enthralled by ancient man-made objects then one exhibit you absolutely must go is to see is the Terracotta Army.   Because it was discovered after we finished college we did not know much about it.  Here is a connection to some videos. Wikipedia gives us the basic background information:

The figures, dating from approximately the late third century BCE,[1] were discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Lintong DistrictXi’anPeople’s Republic of China, Shaanxi province. The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates from 2007 were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits near Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.[2] Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officialsacrobatsstrongmen, and musicians.

The Army was designed for the afterlife of the first Chinese Emperor.  Uncovering it and reconstructing it has been ongoing since its discovery in 1974.  Terracotta means baked earth or pottery so most of the figures were shattered during burial and need to be painstakingly rebuilt.  We were impressed by access to an ongoing dig.  Unless you are there to photograph the whole Army or write a thesis then you need a day to see everything you want to.

It took us about an hour by taxi from downtown Xi’an to get to the Army.  Wikipedia puts the population of Xi’an at over 12 million so transportation and hotels should not be a problem.  Crowds and pollution could be problems.  We went on a weekday in December and the crowds were not a problem but the enormous open spaces make it clear that there can be very large crowds. You need to do a little research on peak times for tourists.

We have been following the Weather Channel Air Quality Index for cities we visited in China.  Scroll down to US here to read about the index.  The index goes from zero to 500 with 301 and up being hazardous.  Xi’an has been in the highest range, hazardous, several times.  Changsha and Chengdu often have warnings but we haven’t seen them reach hazardous.  We recommend the Weather Channel app, a little research, and a physician’s appointment before you visit.  Our clinic has a program for international travelers.  Dali and Lijiang seem excellent based on our limited sample but there are problem areas.  You should know before you go.