April 06, 2016

To Guilin

We always take seats very near the back of the plane, one aisle and one window, in the hopes that the seat between us will be left empty. It's really the most stressful part of the trip, sitting in our seats waiting to see if the seat stays empty -- it makes such a difference on a 15-hour flight, having that bit of space to spread out, to lean over, to lie down uncomfortably. When we checked our bags, we were told that the plane wasn't full and that the seat was still empty, but that doesn't always mean much.

We had the empty seat. It was so great -- the seats on Cathay Pacific aren't the most comfortable, but it helps. By the time we got to Hong Kong, we'd both slept a bit, snatches here and there, and were were refreshed enough. We had passes for the United lounge, and as we walked in I told Marc that I always feel like the poor country bumpkin relatives showing up, and we laughed because we both feel that way. We ate too much free food, drank too many free drinks, and then headed to the gate for our flight to Guilin on a half-empty plane.

As the flight was starting its descent, the flight attendant said that it is forbidden to bring newspapers into Guilin so they had to be left behind. Marc and I looked at each other with wide eyes -- wow, we'd never heard anything like that before. We were expecting a lengthy and difficult time getting in through customs and immigration, but it was the fastest, simplest, least-complicated time we've ever had, except for Norway. Unlike Norway, though, the airline didn't lose our luggage so I think entering China wins the prize for easiest entry.

Marc always takes a great deal of time setting up all the details to ensure that things move smoothly for us, arranging pick-ups and transportation ahead of time so we don't face the gauntlet of shouting drivers yelling in a language we can't understand. Still, we always hold our breaths a bit: is he there? And yes, there he was in Guilin, our driver. Our room wasn't quite ready, so we had some sweet ginger tea and waited half an hour. It was overcast, the air was moist but not sticky, and we sat at a little table on a patio and looked around.

Our hotel was right on a lake, encircled by a wide bricked path. So beautiful.

The Ron-Inn, right on the lake
waiting for our room -- I love this picture of Marc
After a short rest we walked around the lake and headed into town. There is a blocked-off pedestrian area filled with shops and food stalls, so we wandered around there for a bit. Really not our kind of scene . . . the place is chock full of Chinese tourists and the occasional Western tourist, but it's clearly designed for the huge horde of Chinese tourists that are now flush with money and seeing their huge country.

As Marc headed down this alley in search of a snack, I stood listening to
the Spice Girls -- Say You'll Be There -- coming out of a nearby store. What a
weird world. I cried.
Success!! Octopus on a stick!
We're usually timid to buy things, especially at first, because the money often confounds us and we're tired and overwhelmed. But it has been so easy here. Marc handed the guy some money and he said it seemed as if somehow they'd both agreed on the price ahead of time. So funny. We walked around some more and enjoyed the beauty of the lake area:

Marc always navigates us around town
the glass bridge over the lake
A wide boulevard next to the lake, covered in trees. Reminded me of Hanoi in that way.
I sure wish I knew what this says. We travel like children, no idea what we're seeing, what anything means,
what signs say, what people say to us, what the significance is of the things we see. We walk and look,
walk and talk, pause and wonder. I love the colors here.
this is taken standing on top of a little bridge that crosses the lake -- the next morning this area was
filled with groups of women doing dance exercises
a pagoda, no idea the significance, but pretty!
a nicer way to stop car traffic than cement blocks!
such a beautiful street corner.
I thought this led through some old city wall or something,
but I don't think that's what it was.
Guilin beauty. I never ever get tired of seeing karst mountains. Ever.
We're here during the Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day), which means non-stop bursts of fireworks -- mainly just the noisy kind. People clean the graves of ancestors and make offerings and then eat picnics. But all day and into the evening there are these very long bursts of fireworks, occasionally with some flashes of colored light but usually just the banging sounds. It's a big holiday and people don't go to work.

We went back to the food area to find a specific restaurant, kali mirch, and despite reading again and again about how hard it was to find, we found it easily. SO not us! We had dal fry and plain naan (me) and butter chicken and garlic naan (Marc) and I had a Liquan local beer. Apparently the only size bottle of beer is the giant size -- but luckily the alcohol content is pretty low.

We walked back to our hotel after dinner, kind of jetlag shattered, and passed the glass bridge which is all lit up in rotating colors.

While we slept, there were booming thunderstorms all night, with such loud thunder and pouring rain, it was fabulous to hear. The next morning we had a car picking us up at 11, so we had a few short hours to piddle around a little more. First, though, BREAKFAST -- my favorite meal of every day. We never get the western breakfast option (why????), opting always for the local favorite.

the rice gruel (far left) was excellent sprinkled with coarse sugar. the potatoes, far right, were not quite
sweet potatoes but they kind of were. 
"famous" Guilin noodles, with crispy soybeans. SO good. 
the un-Chinese cappuccino. 
Our favorite thing to do, wherever we travel, is to walk through markets. We didn't think there was a market in Guilin....and then we saw a little doorway and in we went to one of the most beautiful markets we've seen, in my opinion, though Marc loves one in Phnom Penh more.

such FAT carrots everywhere
prepared food too of course
lots of live chickens and ducks to be bought; we often saw people walking through the street
holding a freshly dead chicken by the neck
ooh la la: CHILIS
how about some eggs?
lots of eggs, and many were so beautiful as if they were lit from the inside
maybe you fancy some fish? 
or meat of the redder variety? We saw lots of goat hindquarters hanging on hooks too
and oh the mushrooms! Just wait until we get to Lijiang, which is known for its mushrooms.
can't have Chinese food without greens and spring onions
pig feet, if you like. Also: lots of pig heads.
more prepared food, ready to take out
and plenty of tofu, which I wanted to dive into.
We stopped at a store and bought a new cable for my iPhone, and I was so proud of us. :)

SO GOOD. We're surprising ourselves left and right. :)
We headed back to the hotel to get ready for our trip to Yangshuo, about an hour and a half away, taking one last glance at the city.

The long difficulty between China and Japan shows up here. It's not enough to say
the Japan War. It has to be the ANTI-Japan war. :)
These little lantern strings hang in so many trees, just kind of randomly.

And so with that we left Guilin, just 24 hours or so to see it. I'd been under the impression that Guilin was just the place we'd sleep upon arrival, not a place I'd enjoy very much -- that Yangshuo was going to be the plum prize. But instead, Guilin was really sweet and charming, and we had an absolutely wonderful time there. Next stop: Yangshuo.

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