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Amsterdam, Netherlands: Zaanse Schans-The Windmill Village

The windmill village just outside Amsterdam, in the Zaan region, used to have over 500 windmills that ran at the same time.

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Presently there are 10 industrial windmills at Zaanse Schans that still ‘spin’ away at this location. Click on that link to get further information from its website about the different windmills, and what they are being used for today.

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The one windmill that I can tell from the pictures is De Gekroonde Poelenburg. It says that there used to be over 200 windmills of this kind (sawmill) in this area.

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Following the windmills at the site was a demonstration on how to make cheese at Cheese Farm Catharina Hoeve, and then a small tasting of a few different types following the demonstration.

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There were 10 steps to prepare and make cheese, beginning from getting the milk and heating it up to a proper temperature. It requires 10 liters of milk to make 1 kilogram of cheese. It is then separated into curds and whey (cheese and water) using 3 special blades. At this stage, it is 90% whey and only 10% curds, and the cheese is pressed for 2 hours and then put into a saltwater solution (80:20 ratio). After the salt water step, it is dried and plastic is put around the cheese for preservation.

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Cheese making is an learned craft, and while I now have an appreciation for the hands on requirements in making it, I’ll just stick with enjoying the end result – taste testing and snacking time!

Among the samples of gouda, goat, and herb cheeses, my favorite was pesto cheese. It also had quite a vibrant green color.

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Coming to Amsterdam, I didn’t have any expectations or any ideas what we would be seeing. The windmills were a pretty cool site. It’s a site that is different from anywhere else I’ve been to.

Happy travels friends.

Beijing, China: Silk Market

‘Tis the time of shopping season! During our trip to Beijing, we made an evening of it after taking the subway to get to the Silk Market, a shopping center boasting over 1500 vendors. We went there because colleagues shared the vendors they went to for certain items for a “fair price”. While they did have luxury and brand name items, they definitely were not real, which is presently a huge issue (trademark infringements).

For us though, it was a fun and interesting experience. It turns out I have a knack for bargaining! I got into it at the 2nd shop to get a scarf, an item I purchase when I visit a new destination. It’s almost becoming a problem though, even if they are my go-to accessory. I digress. The salesperson at this shop stall appeared to be my age, and she was trying to sell me the item and only wanted to talk to me instead of Mom because “I made more sense.” Hah!

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The entire time at the Silk Market, I kept smiling and laughing at how stubborn these sales people are. We even got a “hook up” from the 1st store; they gave us discounts more easily at the vendors we went to afterwards because we were “friends”. It’s like a compliment and plea mixed into 1. Here are 3 sales ladies at their booth selling jackets. They are 18, 21 and 27 years old.

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It was the language barrier, and the constant typing on their calculator for the appropriate price, and you needed to clarify whether it was in yen or US dollars. Bargaining got exhausting for me, but it was fun to do it! May this be the little recharge you need to get the rest of your Christmas and holiday shopping completed. Happy travels friends!

Beijing, China: Roasted Duck

I had ill timing in putting up this post, which would have gone well with the Thanksgiving holiday. Anyway, according to the locals, this restaurant was the place to go for roasted duck. Well, if what the locals say is true, then it has to be good! peking_duck_restaurant_exterior_beijing_china_day_with_kaye

The restaurant (apologies, I don’t recall the name) was huge; there were 5 floors. The floor we were on was called the Xin Xin Hall. It translates to “fragrance spreads far”; the Chinese character also means wealth and prosperity. After eating as much food as we did that evening, I was glad the elevators were there =)

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The language barrier definitely was an issue. Thankfully, they had an English menu for us to peruse. Even then, the point and nod method seemed to work for us. For the appetizer, we had ordered: “pancake” filled with duck meat, plum sauce and green onion. You assemble it at the table. It had the combination of the salty and sweet, which in my opinion, was delicious for my taste buds.

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We also ordered shark fin soup, which had small shreds of duck meat in it. I was uncertain of what the taste would be like, but it was very broth-y and warm, not scalding, on the tongue. I would classify this under good, home cooking, as you would with your mom’s homemade favorite soup.

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For the main entrée, they had table side service to slice up the duck, similar to Lawry’s Steakhouse, where they cut up the meat table side. That was then eaten with rice and plum sauce. Tea was served as well.

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Aside from the language barrier, the food was delectable, and was glad to have tried that preparation of duck in its origin city! I would suggest you have an open mind and try it if you haven’t yet. There were other items on the menu too if other members of your party don’t stretch his or her taste buds.

As always, happy travels friends!

Beijing, China: 2008 Summer Olympic Games

Following the Hutong home cooked luncheon and tour, we made our way to 2 of the arenas/venues where the 2008 Olympics were held – Beijing National Stadium (aka Bird’s Nest) and Beijing National Aquatic Center (aka Water Cube).

After the Olympics, the Water Cube was renovated into a water park. It appears that this venue will also be used in the Winter Olympics (curling).

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From the Olympic Games to current day use, the Bird’s nest is generally only being used for football (soccer) matches. It is said that it will be used again as a venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics and the Paraolympics.

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Bam! Happy travels friends!

Beijing, China: Hutong Homecooking & Hospitality

Despite this next segment being part of a tour, it was still really neat to explore the Old Beijing town. We took a rickshaw to go through the town.

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I remember it being a smaller town consisting of mostly local residents living in smaller, and more compact homes. Along the way, we stopped at a few home entrances where our tour guide explained its significance.

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The amount of beams above the door frame of the home indicates the class of people who live there:

  • 4 beams = high official home
  • 2 beams = low official home
  • 0 beams = common home

The 2 different colors of the door indicates where the family is important (red) or common people (black). If there are sculptures on either side of the door, that also signifies what class status the family is.

In summary of this information, a person had to marry someone of the same class, which apparently seems rather simple if you just look at the family’s front door. Hmm, that would change the dating scene – hah!

We had a typical Chinese lunch at someone’s home, which – shocker – was nothing like the Chinese food I’ve had back at home when you order takeout. It was very savory, but not super salty. And despite the language barrier, the homeowners were very cordial from what we had the guide translate for us to have a conversation with them.

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After the delicious lunch, we took the rickshaw through the town again passing by the locals going about their everyday life.

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And on to the next adventure we go – happy travels friends!

Beijing, China: Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square is considered to be a large city square that has several distinguished buildings: the Great Hall, National Museum of China, entrance to Forbidden City, and Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall.

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The Great Hall is where banquets are hosted. The memorial hall contains Chairman Mao Zedong’s embalmed body.

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We didn’t spend too much time at the square and made our way over to the Forbidden City. We weren’t the only ones with that same idea. There were lots of people, and the Chinese people don’t exactly have a big bubble when it comes to personal space, so it was like packing in like sardines to get through to the main entrance.

Also to note, the image of Chairman Mao you see in the photo below gets replaced every year, but it is the same image.

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So we finally inside the city. We were standing and walking on the brick ground. There are 17 layers of brick as a defense mechanism just in case someone wanted to dig a tunnel into the city to kill the emperor.

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This is the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Tai He Dian – translated to “harmonious operation of all things on earth”), also known as the Hall of Golden Chimes. It is the first and main hall of the 3 major halls of the outer court in the city. The hall was used for important ceremonies and celebrations like Lunar New Year, the emperor’s birthday, and sending generals out to battle. This hall’s main building blocks are from marble, while the hall is clay bricks, also known as “golden bricks”.

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People who had invaded in the past scraped off the gold from these huge vats. You can see what’s left from their vandalism today.

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Another note to point out is the animals that are on the roof’s corner ledges determine the type of building it was within the city. This particular one has 11, so I think that this one was a government building. If I remember correctly, the number of animals on the roof corners determines the type of building and the business it was used for.

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The Hall of Central Harmony (Zhong He Dian) had been destroyed and rebuilt several times. During the Ming Dynasty, it was called Hall of Overwhelming Glory (Hua Gai Dian). Then the name changed to Hall of Central Extremity (Zhong Ji Dian), to its current name. The building was used as the emperor’s resting area before he went on his way to attend a ceremony. The hall was also used to perform sacrificial ceremonies.

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Here are the original stone steps to the hall that is now sectioned off.

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The Hall of Preserved Harmony was used in the Ming Dynasty for the emperor to change clothes before an important ceremony. During the Qing Dynasty, banquets were held in the hall for princes, dukes, and ministers on Lunar New Year’s Eve and the Lantern Festival. One of the emperor’s wedding was held in this hall too. This hall also underwent some name changes just like the Hall of Central Harmony. It first was the Palace of Proper Places and Cultivation of Things and then changed to Palace of Peace and Tranquility, to the name today.

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Here is my lovely mother pointing out the difference in male and female lion statues. The male is holding on to a sphere (perhaps a globe?), symbolizing power. The female lion is holding on to a little lion cub. Apologies for no picture of female lion for comparison.

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Built from 1522-1566, the Hall of Union and Peace (Jiao Tai Dian) has a gold-plated top like the Hall of Supreme Harmony. It’s worth noting the items of the throne in this picture. The board that hangs in the center of the room reads “doing nothing”, and was inscribed by Emperor Kangxi. There is a screen below the board and on the left side is a Chinese water clock, and the right side is a bell. During the Qing Dynasty there was a yearly ceremony held in the hall on the emperor’s birthday, Lunar New Year and Winter Solstice.

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The Hall of Earthly Tranquility began its construction in the 1400’s, but then rebuilt during the 1600’s. This was the hall where the emperesses lived. There are 2 rooms in the hall that served as imperial bridal suites. The emperor and empress were considered a match like heaven and earth. This building was also used as their home for the first night of marriage. On the opposite side of the hall of those rooms were 4 rooms that were the shrines of the gods (Goddess of Mercy, Lord Guan and other Mongolian gods) and cauldrons for sacrificial offerings.

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As we made our way outside, we notice something that wasn’t there inside the city – trees and gardens! This again turned to the defense mechanism so that no one could climb trees in part of their plot to kill the emperor. They are definitely not taking any chances!

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Outside the city was this – originally known as the Hill of Accumulated Embroidery before it became its present name, Hill of Accumulated Elegance. The rocks were piled up on top of the original site of the Hall of Appreciating Flowers. There are many different pieces of rock that were fused together making it resemble a coral-like texture.

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And we made it to the outside of the Forbidden City! We exited out of the North End.

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So in short, it was hot when we went to Beijing, so the heat just hit you as we were walking through Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City. It didn’t help much that there were lots of people too. That just added to the heat. Forbidden City was pretty cool. I learned more about the culture especially in its rituals, traditions and superstitions. There’s meaning and symbolism to everything.

Happy travels friends!

Beijing, China: Summer Palace

The construction began in 1750 by the emperor of the Qing dynasty with its main intention to be a garden and park. However, it ended up becoming the place of royal residence.

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It has now turned into one of the main tourist attraction sites in Beijing. We only had part of the day to spend here, so we didn’t have a chance to check out everything the Summer Palace had to offer, but we did catch a few sights to share.

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This marble boat was built during the Qing dynasty by the emperor to show the steady rule during that time. Since then, it has been rebuilt and shows more of a western influence, and is the only structure in the Summer Palace that indicates that type of influence.

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We took off by the marble boat on a dragon boat, the way of transportation to get to the other side of the park.

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The Long Gallery is a covered pavilion. Along the way are many paintings above that depict old legends and stories.

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The Seventeen-Arch Bridge was built by the same emperor who created the marble boat. I thought this bridge was really neat because it has over 500 carved lions, of different sizes, on the columns of bridge.

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From the central arch to either end are 9 arches. The number 9 is very symbolic. It is believed to have the “biggest yang” in Chinese culture, and therefore was considered to be a favorable number.

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This only scratches the surface of what else is in the Summer Palace park. It was a really pretty and ornate place. I’d say my favorite is still the 17 arch bridge. That was pretty astounding to me and it showcases the precise architecture, and skill set. Everything about it is symbolic.

Happy travels friends.

Beijing, China: The Finest Handicraft of Chinese Culture

Considered to be one of the finest handicrafts of the culture, cloisonne combines the skills used to make bronze and porcelain pieces, as well as having a delicate hand of traditional Chinese painting and etching. To paraphrase from the sign outside of the factory, Chinese cloisonne, which translates to “blue of Jingtai”, is more than 500 years old, and as mentioned above, requires the effort of a skilled person to create a piece.

We were guided through the process of creating a piece. These vases show the visual of the intricate process in the creation of a piece (step 1-6).

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Step 1 – Body making: the shape is created out of copper and requires someone to have the skill set to shape and keep the thickness of the piece uniform throughout. In the case of the vase, it was 5”, and it took 5 days to make it fine.

Step 2 – Copper wire curving: The decided shape gets burned in the kiln at 1200C or roughly 2000F and then adds copper strips to the body. This step requires a steady hand, great care, and creativity. This takes about 10 days to complete.

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step_2_copper_wire_curving_cloisonne_beijing_china_day_with_kayeStep 3 – Enamel filling: Artisans use stone powder of different colors according to the design given in step 2. After adhered, the item will take on heat at 1200C again to melt the powder and melt it to the copper. The example of the 5” vase took 12 days on this step.

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Step 4 – Enamel firing: The item is put in the oven until the piece turns red and the enamel that had melted in step 3 will sink down. Then it needs to be filled in until the compartments are completely filled.

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Step 5 – Polishing: Special stones and carbon are used to polish the pieces. It takes about 6 days to polish to completion, but it takes more time if the pieces are larger.

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Step 6 – Gilding: The item is placed in a fluid of 24K gold or silver. Then the item is completed.

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You can tell a little bit from the pictures of the conditions of the factory workplace. It is simple with no air conditioning. There were only fans whirring on the few people working with all the tools needed to work on each special article. Each section of the factory we walked through was designated for its specific task.

At the end of the tour, we walked into the showroom, where they had a plethora of beautiful cloissonne to sell.

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Seeing the process, a lot of time, effort, and skill goes into each piece, as many artists know. To witness the steps and to have the appreciation of the handicraft was well worth the trip here.

Happy travels friends.

Beijing, China: The Great Wall

The Great Wall section that we walked on was called Mutianyu, considered to be one of the best-well-kept portion of the Great wall. This section was used as a barrier to protect and defend the capital and the royal tombs. The initial construction of Mutianyu began in the 6th century (Northern Qi Dynasty). Then it was added on to during the Ming Dynasty (14-17th century).

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This section is considered to be the longest section of the Great wall that is fully restored and open to the public. There were different ways to get up to the wall. We opted to take the chairlift/gondola up to the wall versus walking up.

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This section has many watchtowers (I think 20?), and because of where it is situated, the scenery looking out from the wall is beautiful.

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I was here in July, 2010. While this trip is now 5 years ago, this was the beginning of my “travel spree”, and found it appropriate to include it with Day With Kaye.

Going during the summer time, you can feel the sun beat on you. Be sure to keep hydrated if you find yourself here during this time of the year. Unfortunately, we did have some smog come our way, and that did block the view of the seeing the wall in the distance. We made the best of it.

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Getting down from the wall was certainly entertaining. We could have gone back down using the chairlift/gondola. But, we rode down on a toboggan on a single track. It’s quite simple being a single lever to operate. Push it downward to go faster; pull it toward you to slow down and/or/break. Unfortunately I went down after my mom, who was terrified, so I didn’t get the speeded up ride I thought I was going to have.

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I spliced up my video I took while coming down on the toboggan run, and this shows the last 45 seconds of the ride. It was really fun. And please excuse the shoes, but at least you have a visual of the track =)

Still a neat experience! Happy travels friends!

Taipei, Taiwan: Food Adventures

As with many of these mystery trips, food is something I’m on the lookout for to try some local dishes, away from the tourist traps and the familiar food chains. Indulging in the local flavor always makes my list. My apologies for the lack of images. For our timeframe, we only had time for, 3 official meals? I should have grabbed photos from dad’s camera, but, these will do for now. Breakfast (at the hotel) was buffet style, consisting of some more familiar breakfast items like fruits. Even then, they had dragon fruit and lychees. Also available were rice, fish, dumplings, and other hot foods. Soup was also available along with congee. A vast selection to satisfy my hunger. taipei_taiwan_food_breakfast_day_with_kaye One of the lunch spots was a neat find. There was a wait to get a seat at the restaurant, but while waiting they would hand you the menu and then take your order. So by the time a seat opened up for you, the food would come out as well. Another note too, was the communal tables. I found these to be more common outside the states. We shared our table with 2 other groups of people, and that was all fine and well, and normal. Personal space didn’t seem to be an issue at all. taipei_taiwan_food_lunch_menu_day_with_kaye Among the foods were dumplings, noodles and beef pancake. It was some good stuff. Hope to snag some more photos for your eyes to do some feasting. Until then, happy travels friends.