Cusco- The Inka Museum & Qorikancha


Cusco Day 3- The Museums  
Following our EPIC riding tour in the morning, we still had an afternoon to play in Cusco and plenty still to see. What better way to polish our time off than with a trip to the Inka Museum and Qorikancha ruins.

First up was lunch at Ceviche in the Plaza de Armas. I’d never had Ceviche before but I am a fan of seafood and this restaurant brought the sea themes. The staff were the best and friendliest at any restaurant we visited. I got a delicious mint lemonade and roasted red pepper pasta (trying to remain frugal and not fully committed to trying Ceviche yet) While I didn’t try any of their seafood, the group did and said it was great, and the restaurant was beautiful!

After lunch we headed to the Inka Museum which I’d read was a little let downish but if you appreciate history and pottery, I think you will enjoy it. We breezed through most of it- reading what captions they did have in English. I loved learning about the different regions the Incas lived in, the types of food they ate in each location, and interesting pottery they made. 
The best part however was definitely the mummies. After visiting the Sacred Valley the day before and seeing some of the alcoves mummies were worshiped in, and learning about how cared for the mummies were, it was fascinating to see some! (even if they are in a dimly lit room behind a protective wall you have to peer through windows into) Like the cathedrals, the museum was a no photo zone so all I got was the one photo at the entrance! At only $3 it’s a quick (at your pace) interesting stop.
The museum is an easy walk from the Plaza de Armas. (no taxi needed) 
Inca Museum General Information:  
Hours:
Mon-Fri 8AM-6PM
Saturday: 9AM-4PM
Closed Sunday
Cost: 10s ($3)
The Koricancha as seen from the solar garden (by the street)
After, we headed to the Temple of the Sun- the Koricancha – which was my favorite building in Cusco. It’s a nice walk from the Plaza de Armas or Inca Museum so no taxi needed. The cathedral next to it is free to visit, but as the Koricancha is a type of museum, it also cost $3 to visit. Luckily most of the building was photographable because it was SO cool. 


About the Qorikancha
Originally, this building was dedicated to the highest of Inca dieties: the Inti or Sun and was built with the highest level of stone masonry the Incas used- interlocking boulders, free of any imperfections, and fitted together using the lego style with no mortar. They also built the layout in a way to resemble what they were worshipping with the temple with sunrays moving out from a central point. The temple housed mummies and so much gold, the name of the building still reflects it, Qori = worked gold and kancha = enclosed or building. While none of the gold remains and barely any of the walls, the foundations still stand the test of time. 
The Spanish built the Convent of Santo Domingo directly on top of it encompassing the walls of the temple and building a cathedral adjacent to it. It was pretty insane to walk into what looks like a convent on the outside and see the inner courtyard to match, then look to the side and see Inca walls and ceremonial rooms. You can walk around the rooms, or go out on the stone balconies to look down at the Solar garden (another amazing viewpoint for the building) Some of the convent rooms house more artifacts and pottery, and some of the stone walls still show the etched designs from the Inca times. 
An example of the “lego” stone pieces that were used for building the Temple of the Sun. 
The inner courtyard of the convent
Another view of all inner courtyard for this massive convent 
The Temple of the sun on the inside of the convent
Looking out one of the balconies at the solar garden
The inner courtyard from the 2nd floor
Continuing upstairs is neat as this is one of the few cathedrals from  where you can gain access to the choir balcony (though again no photos are allowed as it is part of the museum) Once I explored the convent and ruins, I visited the cathedral and met up with my friends outside so we could walk back. 
Awesome views of the Cusco hillside from the 2nd floor of the Convent
Qorikancha General Information:
Museum Hours:
Monday-Saturday 8:30AM – 5:30 PM
Sunday: 12:00 PM-5:00 PM
Adult Price: 15s ($4.5)
Child Price: 5s ($1.50)
Church of Santo Domingo Hours
Monday- Saturday: 7AM-7:30 PM
Sunday: 7AM-11AM and 6PM to 8:30PM 
Cost: Free
Mass: 7AM, 6:30PM, 7:30PM (Sunday only) no tourists allowed at these times 
It was about a 20 minute walk back to our apartment where we had just enough time to shower and change into warm clothes. (Seriously gets so cold in Cusco at night) At 6 we had a meet and greet/ debriefing with our trekking company to meet our tour guide and fell hikers. The office for Salkantay Trekking was a little confusing as it is on the 2nd floor of a market space. Once there, tons of guides came over to check if we were on their team. Finally we found our guide and were taken to a smaller room to sign our waivers and find out more info on the trek. The guide gave us a map and told us details on how long each section of trekking would take, where we’d get our meals, start times for each day, extras, etc. The best part of the evening was our guide’s side hustle- renting out his own trekking poles for 20s cheaper than the company rents them. (Carlos you will never live that down) We were all pretty happy to save some money, so we decided to just rent from him


A little bit of a walk back to our apartment but a cool one nonetheless. 
More beautiful lighting from sunset on our terrace in the airbnb. 
All in all, it took around 1.5 hours before we were released to go find our dinner, pack the things we wanted for our trek in our provided duffles, and head to bed. Carlos (guide) recommended a restaurant nearby called Pachappa which was very busy and for good reason. It had a beautiful outdoor eating area with lamps and space heaters and cozy tables inside. We didn’t have a reservation, so we took what table they gave us. I got lemongass lemonade here which was really good and some steak (also good) Service was slow though so we didn’t even get back to our apartment until almost 10. We packed in a fury preparing for our early start (3:30 wake up) the next day. 
Awesome time in Cusco (particularly riding) But the journey was just getting started
Cusco Day 3 Costs: 
Breakfast at Cusco Plaza Hostel Buffet  $10
Horseback riding tour $65 
Tour tip $4.5
Inka Museum $3
Lunch at Ceviche $15
Museum $4.50
Dinner at Pachapapa  $17.30
Airbnb $45 – $11.25 pp

Day 3 Total: $132.16

Horseback riding in Cusco

Horseback Riding to forgotten Incan Temples
While our first 2 days in Cusco were enjoyable, this day really BROUGHT it. It was one of the first tours I landed upon when searching things to do in Cusco for a half day and for only $65 riding, it really intrigued me. So far the only other country I’ve ridden in was Iceland, so I was definitely interested to see what tours were like in other countries. Luckily my friends were also game for a little riding adventure so we booked it, made sure to wear pants, loaded up on sunscreen, and got ready for out tour. 
We did NOT know what we were getting into, in the best way possible. This was hands down the BEST riding tour I could imagine, and possibly one of the best tours I’ve ever taken. 

We were picked up at a hotel near by our Airbnb (easier to coordinate) by a private taxi driver at 9AM who drove us around 15 minutes up past the San Blas neighborhood and  Sacsayhuaman ruins to a small farm where the horses were already tacked and ready to go. There we met another couple slated for our time slot making our group once again- 6. (the magic number of Peru groups apparently)

The ONLY con of this tour was there were not bathrooms at the ranch. Meaning those who had too much coffee to drink had to head for the bushes before we started. (for once I wasn’t among that group) We fitted our riding helmets which the guides were very explicit that we had to use, and then met the horses. Out of our group, I was the 2nd most experienced rider, though there were 3 of us that had decent experience. Then there were 3 beginners. Our guide, Holgar, matched us to our horses, with me getting a horse named Seos (who wouldn’t spook at my camera being slung around my side) and the most experienced rider got a horse named Fuego. We got a very brief safety/ riding demonstration before we were all helped to mount our horses. 
Holgar getting ready to mount his horse for the “riding demonstration”
The ride started off following the road past the ranch just a little ways before skirting off up a decently steep hill through beautiful woodlands. We spent the next hour or so going up and down hills, passing lush farming fields, and with incredible views of Cusco city below. We mostly rode in order of the horse’s preference so I got lucky to go in 3rd and could hear the guide the whole time. 
The entirety of Cusco laid out beyond the hill
Holgar pointed out a field that was growing the grain they use for their local beer, and also spotted 2 big Condors just getting ready to take flight! Half way to our first destination, he started introducing a little bit of trotting in short bursts and would check how everyone was doing. I found it a blast to trot and even canter at times through the trees and hillside. (My horse really wanted to MOVE, every time a spot opened up where he could go faster to catch up, he broke right into a nice canter) So beyond the scenery, the riding experience in and of itself was the BEST. 
We eventually got to our first stop where we dismounted and had a short walk along an “original Inca trail” (you’ll hear that a LOT from guides around Cusco) and this trail had one of their irrigation trenches as well. When we got to a hill overlooking a lush valley with a river flowing through we split up into 2 groups to visit the Devil’s Balcony. We kept our helmets on to protect our noggins from bumps when climbing down the rocks to get to the balcony (though there really wasn’t much climbing involved- fear not) and came to a small natural little cave with a balcony overlooking the river and very colorful rock across the way. It was so tucked away and hidden, you’d never know it was there unless a guide or local showed you! 
We then returned to the overlook while the other 3 people checked it out before heading down to the river to peer into the lower cave/ tunnel where the water flowed through. I would’ve loved to trek back into the cave but I have a feeling it would’ve gotten our feet wet and Holgar wasn’t keen on guiding us down there. We did however learn a bit more about how this site was a “Temple to the rainbow” either from the culture pre-Inca or the Incans themselves. You could see some hints at foundations around and it would make sense they would make use of the cave and natural balcony. 
Climbing down through the rocks to visit the balcony

The balcony overlooking the river as it flowed out of the center of the rock

Temple of the Rainbow
The big cave is in the lower left and the balcony the upper right- almost around where the bushes are. 
While everyone took photos with the cave I snuck away for my quick visit to the bushes and we all headed back up the hill to where we left the horses. They had a backpack with bagged snacks and water bottles waiting for us there which was perfectly timed after the walk. The snacks included some cookies, an orange, crackers, and a few hard candies. We had about 15 minutes to eat/drink and enjoy the view from our sitting spot where they even laid out the saddle cushions in a row for us to sit on. SUCH SERVICE. 
The view in the other direction from our snack break. The devils balcony is over (out of frame) to the right. 
Remounting our horses
We remounted our horses and headed back the way we came- this is where I stress if you do a riding tour to always make sure your stirrups are comfortable! The guide at the beginning set my stirrups to the perfect length and when we got back on the horses after the stop, another guy shortened them! As he didn’t really understand English and I didn’t realize just yet how uncomfortable the stirrups were going to be I left them but OH MAN. Big mistake. My knees were killing me by the time we got past the ranch and to our 2nd stop. So make sure, like a squat, your knee isn’t jutting out over where your toes sit in the stirrups. No amount of sitting back in my heels or getting my feet almost out of the stirrups would release the pressure on my knee.  
So apart from my knees killing me most of the ride back, it was still super exciting to walk and trot around the hills. 
Eventually we came to our 2nd/ last stop: the Temple of the Moon (another spot above Cusco) where we dismounted and walked around learning about it’s initial discovery and the different purposes of the rooms. Holgar pointed to one cave opening where they just recently discovered a mummy ! 
I will note here that while the devil’s balcony is quite out of the way and more difficult to get directions to, the Temple of the Moon is an “easy” hike from Cusco. The path actually follows the Inca highway to Antisuyo leaving from the Plaza de Armas and rising up through San Blas, passing Sacsayhuaman, crossing the Avenida Circunvalación and eventually flattening out. The site is free to visit and is frequented by locals who visit for exercise and spirituality. So if you aren’t a horse back rider, don’t care to find another sort of tour to visit, and would like to make the trek yourself- it IS an option. (Pair it with a visit to Sacsayhuaman though that does have an entrance fee) 
After walking around and learning a bit more about the Temple of the Moon, we remounted and had a short but FAST ride back to the ranch as the hills were gone and now we rode done a dirt road. WOW Since the stirrups were too short, we lengthened them and I was on my tiptoes at that point. (Not sure how we couldn’t find the magical spot the stirrups were at from the beginning of the ride..) so the bouncy trot was a little more terrifying- luckily my horse cantered where he could and we made short work of the road. Back at the ranch we were once again reunited with jackets and backpacks and said goodbye to our sweet horses. The same taxi driver as before drove us back into town and dropped us off in the main square so we could find lunch and continue our city exploring right around 1. 
AMAZING tour and even better value. If you’ve ever wanted to do a riding tour and find yourself in Cusco- even if only for a day- I recommend this. It was quite literally- my favorite thing we did and saw in our first 3 days.
To book, visit here 
Seos also thinks you should book this tour. 😉 

Exploring Cusco- Plaza de Armas

CUSCOOOOOOO
I literally can’t read Cusco without singing it in my head exactly as it is sung in the Emperor’s New Groove. ( In fact I quotes/ sung a lot of parts from that movie throughout this trip)  Peru has been on my bucketlist for quite some time- specifically to do the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, but due to cost of flights and time off needed, this was the first year I was able to make this trip happen! And it all started when a coworker told me how he and his wife booked the Salkantay Trek. – Obviously I couldn’t let them have all the fun. So after researching a bit more, I found a SUPER reasonable tour and decided the flight prices were good enough to go ahead and book it. And here we are. 


After a 13 hour layover in Fort Lauderdale, and another couple hours in Lima- We literally had the earliest flight  we could get of the day from Lima to Cusco getting in at 5:45 in the morning. Let me start off by warning everyone that the Cusco airport is NOT heated and keeps their windows open so it is QUITE cold getting in that early. As soon as our bags came off the carousel we were layering up- hitting up the ATM- and then looking for a taxi. We paid more than we needed to I’m sure but overall, the cost of the $20 cab ride for 30 minutes to our Airbnb didn’t phase us at that point. We just wanted to settle in. 
We got to our Airbnb MUCH quicker than anticipated at 6:15 AM (thanks lack of traffic) and luckily our host was already on their way to meet us to let us into the apartment at 6:30! What a super host. He showed us around, pointing out how to use the electric heater for the shower as well as the mobile propane heater to warm the place up. We had an entire apartment to ourselves and it was awesome! There were 2 rooms, 1 with 3 twin beds, 1 with a double bed, a living room, kitchen, and my favorite: This terrace. 
It had awesome views out to the cathedrals in Plaza de Armas and the hillsides of Cusco. The place also had a washing machine so we could hang our clothes to dry in this little area.
Want to book this apartment? Click here

We thought about napping but looking out at the morning light convinced us we’d rather explore the main square (5 minutes by walking from the Airbnb) before the heat and crowds of the day.
Details along the street our apartment was on 
Our street! 
The sun coming up over the Plaza de Armas in view from our street
A view from our terrace 
More apartment views 🙂 
Walking down the street to the main plaza with the early morning light 
We walked around the square peaking in at the cathedrals hoping to explore them a bit more: but always seemed to have the worst timing as we’d be there during Mass. 
We did luckily get a glimpse into the Cusco Cathedral as the main front doors were thrown open in preparation for said mass- as well as getting ready for the big parade. (more on that later)


About The Cusco Cathedral
As far as cathedrals go- this one has QUITE the history in stone work. While we never made it inside, it’s important to meander to it in Plaza de Armas to appreciate the stone work and get your first sense of how the Spanish conquered the Incas. Finished in 1654- it took almost 100 years to construct and is a prime example of the Spaniards dominating the Incan culture. The smaller adjacent church, Iglesia del Triunfo (Chuch of Triumph) was the first church built in the Andes.  The location for the cathedral was specifically chosen as it was started only 26 years after the conquistadores entered Cusco and is built directly on the foundation of the Inca palace Kiswarkancha (the ruler’s palace). The majority of the stones for the building were taken from nearby Inca temple Sascayhuaman which remains largely in tact from its massive size. 
*Important to note : the cathedral is not open to tourists during Mass, no photos are allowed to be taken inside, and it costs 10 soles ($3) to enter.  *
An impressive facade! 
After meandering around the plaza, we grabbed breakfast from a hotel/café on the corner of the main square- enjoying the buffet of options and the view of the main square from the balcony. After breakfast and purchasing some paintings from a street hawker, we headed back for that nap
Unbeknownst to us, that Saturday was the first day in a month long celebration of Cusco! Every morning on the weekends, a cannon was fired on the hour and a parade with performances graced the streets.  We watched for a minute before heading back thinking to catch it another day when we would be less tired. (sadly not to be with our tour schedule the way it was) 
We spent a few hours resting at the apartment (and by a few, I mean the afternoon haha) and by the time we got up it was time for an early dinner/ late lunch. We found a restaurant 2 seconds from our front door that served traditional Peruvian fare and had good reviews. 
Wasting absolutely NO time on getting into the cultural foods- we celebrated our first day in Peru with Cuy – guinea pig as well as alpaca! The cuy was most similar to duck or rabbit- thin slivers of dark/ greasy meat with a very crunchy skin. (I wasn’t a huge fan but then, I’m not a fan of the other 2 either) The alpaca I ordered was good- most similar to a flank of very tender steak and with a yummy creamed quinoa sauce. I also started a trend of ordering banana milkshakes with my meal as for some reason- that always helped tame the headache I had from altitude during the dinner. 

A Note on Cuy

After learning about the traditions of eating guinea pigs, something they have done in the Andes for over 5,000 years, I wasn’t as shocked as I thought I would be. I was glad I didn’t order it- I just sampled some, but understanding that it is something they have ate for so long, eat at celebrations like Christmas and the like, made it easier for me to compartmentalize and not condone a culture that is not my own. Yes I’ve had guinea pigs as pets, and NO if I’d held one earlier in the day, I’d likely not have been able to eat one. BUT that being said- if you can try it, I recommend you do. It was quite the cultural experience. 
** Also it’s so ingrained in the culture, the cathedrals in Peru literally placed Cuy as the main dish in the Last Supper paintings. Not kidding – 
The alpaca and creamed quinoa I had for my dinner
After dinner, we headed up the stairs to get a great view over Cusco before meandering down through little streets to shop. We revisited the Plaza de Armas which under lamp light was so beautiful! We posed for a photo with some baby alpacas which I was absolutely obsessed with. *Warning it cost us 10s ($3) each to take the photo/ hold the alpaca. The women in charge of it were not playing around. We meandered down near the massive San Pedro market which appeared to be closing up at the time, and visited a grocery market for next day’s breakfast before heading back to the apartment to try and get another night’s sleep. 
Overall it was a solid first day trying Peruvian cuisine, admiring the architecture in the Plaza de Armas, shopping, and getting caught up on some sleep after 31 hours. It also would turn into a good day to acclimatize before further adventures the next couple of days. 
Exploring Cusco’s narrow streets 
Sunset on the city’s hillsides 
Cusco by lamplight 
A Note on Altitude Sickness
Everyone reacts to high altitude differently- you can be in seriously amazing shape and suffer from it- or (such as myself) in decent hiking shape and still experience it. From experience I know that I can breathe fine at 11,000+ feet and don’t really feel nausea, but can experience headaches… 
WELL headaches it was. Cusco sits right around 11,000 feet and only a few hours into our stay my headaches started flaring up. I did try to drink water (which I’m normally terrible at when travelling)  and also tried the tea (which I liked) but neither of those things really helped. Sadly advil/ ibuprofen only dulled the ache without ever really getting rid of it. SO with that being said- unless you are taking Diamox (high altitude sickness medicine) you really SHOULD plan a few days to chill/ explore Cusco BEFORE your trek – JUST IN CASE to acclimate. It definitely would’ve sucked having to hike with my head feeling ready to explode- especially considering our first camp was around 12000 feet. The other unexpected part of altitude sickness was inability to sleep. I’m already a terrible/ picky sleeper but the altitude wreaked havoc for me as well. So moral of the story: plan a couple days pre-trek or take Diamox if you don’t have enough PTO to make an 8 day trip like we did. 
Luckily after 3 days- the headache evaporated just as we began our trek. (Though I still struggled to get more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep)

Costs for the day
Taxi from Airport to Airbnb $22 – $5.5 pp
Breakfast at Cusco Plaza Hostel Buffet  $10
Water jug and laundry soap $4.75 – $1.7 pp
Dinner at Kusikuy Restaurant $15
Groceries $10
Airbnb $45 – $11.25 pp
Total: $38pp

China Day 9- Sunday morning in Jingshan Park

Day 9… our last day (and not even a full day at that) ended as any busy trip should- with a lazy Sunday morning stroll through a park.

Not just any park though. Jingshan park.. which I hadn’t even known was a thing until we arrived in Beijing and our first tour guide mentioned it to us. Luckily our hotel was an easy 5 minute walk from the East gate of the park.

View of the park hill from our hotel breakfast
It costs a couple of coins ( I suspect to keep beggars and homeless out) and is well worth the visit. We bought our tickets easily at the windows by the gate and headed in. The major draw of this park are the pavilions at the top of the hill, from which you have a sprawling expansive view of the Forbidden city. As we started our trek up a hill we passed a choir singing traditional music which we heard almost the rest of the way up.
At the top there were a few photographers setup with props you could pose with for a fee, and several others milling about but on this particular Sunday morning at 10, it wasn’t crowded at all. We snapped a few photos from the top pavilion we got the best view of the Forbidden city in all its symmetrical and colorful glory. But it’s also to note how cool all the other directions are to see. You can see the temple to the North, West, and East, as well as city sky scrapers a little further out. It was peaceful up here among the small temples with view of ancient and modern combined in one.
The best views of the Forbidden City

 View to the West with the city in the distance 
 Temples to the North of the park 

But my favorite view is still of the Forbidden City
We headed down the hill to the West side of the park thinking we’d make a circle. At the bottom we passed a group of seniors perfecting the art of the Chinese yoyo, called a Diabolo which is a single or double string that the performer uses a stick in each hand to manipulate. The movement is like a dance and the performers were more graceful than I think I could ever be. The coolest part for me was the sound that comes from the Diabolo… the combination of sound and grace were mesmerizing and Braden had to practically drag me away from the group.

Luckily as walked we passed another group of seniors dancing in a square with a boombox playing more traditional music and it seemed that no matter how far we walked,  we were surrounded by music. The park has so many paths and gardens intertwining that you could wander it for hours, especially on a sleepy Sunday morning when families young and old wandered hand in hand.

As we continued back toward the East gate to exit where we entered, we passed a historic marker of memorial plaques and the tree planted on the spot where the Emperor Chongzhen hung himself rather than suffer the humiliation of surrendering to an insurrectional army in 1644. While a little grim it was interesting to read about and see the spot itself.

We spent about 2 hours wandering around before we headed back to our hotel to pack our bags and prepare for the long day of travel ahead of us.

Unfortunately the hotel we stayed was not convenient to a subway stop and as I detest buses, we had about a 25 minute walk to the closest stop. Once we made it though we were set with only a few transfers before we were on the airport express train back to Beijing (PEK) international airport. As you enter the airport it lists the flight numbers with the ticketing counters you should go to for check in so we spent about 45 minutes in a line to check in with Chinese Airways before being informed we had to go to a different counter for United (even though the sign had TOLD us to go to that counter) luckily United had no wait at this point but we lost a lot of our airport time for final shopping and lunch which was sad. From the counters we crammed onto the inter-terminal train (barely avoiding being guillotined by the doors) and had another 40 minute wait or so to go through customs and a higher security (which was combined though again super cautious as they take more pictures and finger prints as your leave..)
Once we were finally through all of security,  the shopping options were limited (as were the eating) and we had quite a bit of cash to burn and only about 45 minutes before boarding. We grabbed sandwiches that were ok  and pastries from a coffee stand and since I couldn’t find any descent souvenir shops (they were all expensive designer shops) I ended up with way too much chocolate. So word to the wise.. don’t end up at Beijing airport with more cash than you need. Haha
That’s it! It was a wild ride but I hope my posts help you travel to China! 

Day 9 costs: 
Breakfast included in hotel stay
Jingshan Park entry: $0.58
Train to airport $8.16
Lunch at airport $19
Day 9 Total: $27.74

Total costs in country: $2,220 for 2 people

Overhead Costs:
Plane tickets: $860
Visa Cost: $490
Dog Sitter: $120
Phone Bill: $100

Total Trip Costs for 2 people: $3,800

China Day 8 – The Summer Palace/ Forbidden City Tour

Our day started on a train and similar to our last sleeper train experience, I was up at the crack of dawn unable to fall back asleep… starting what would be a fairly long day. Luckily we didn’t have to worry too much about organizing our trip as this day was our 2nd tour and was organized for us.
About the Tour:
I didn’t book this tour through a website or by happening upon someone’s page but instead was referred to the tour guide Lisa from a friend who had previously visited Beijing. The cost was the most affordable I saw comparing to online prices for a private tour and the biggest benefit was since we had a private car for the day, we didn’t have to worry about what to do with our luggage while we explored the city. While we didn’t get to meet Lisa personally (she had a family emergency) we did have a great tour with one of her associates. Our stops would be the Summer Palace and Forbidden City and would only end up taking about half a day. If you are wanting to book with Lisa, send me a message and I will give you her contact information.

Pickup: We arrived at the South Beijing Rail station right around 9AM and were met right outside our gate by our tour guide for the day. He had excellent English (the best we encountered on our whole trip) and seemed very knowledgeable as he lead us to the car park where we met our private driver who was also very nice. We hopped in and had about a 1 hour drive to the Summer Palace for our first stop. (Traffic was pretty rough)
Once at the Summer Palace, our guide stood in line and bought our tickets for us which was nice, and we headed in. We were unfortunately visiting on a Saturday so it was VERY busy.
. The first couple of buildings we passed were beautiful but hard to admire around all the people. Our guide however made up for it by giving us interesting information on the symbology used  in the ancient architecture, which would be helpful throughout the day. (ie. How to tell the difference between the female and male lions at the temple gates) He also explained Feng shui to us as both the Summer Palace and Forbidden City incorporate that into their design.
The giant cauldron of bronze was also used for fire safety measures which I found interesting.
Visiting the Summer Palace if on your own:
1. By Subway: take line 4 and get off at Beigongmen and exist from D- it is a 3 min walk to the N palace gate.
2. Entrance fee to the park is cheaper but does not include going into any of the buildings. See pricing info and hours below:
As we walked around the giant complex that is the Summer Palace, it was interesting to learn how it was all designed and built for just the Emperor and the Empress.. and for only a few days out of the year.
The lake is completely man made and most of the soil makes up the hill on which the temple sits. Despite the crowds, as we moved around the lake, I started to really enjoy this place. It was just. so. Beautiful. And I found myself wishing we HADN’T taken a tour here so we could’ve spent more time hunting out the quite spaces to site and relax, or renting a boat to paddle around the water. But alas, we had one day to see the sites, so a tour was what we were left with.
The famous 17 arch bridge crossing a section of the lake

The History of the Summer Palace
It was originally built in 1750, by the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, and was called
“the Garden of Clear Ripples”
In 1860, it was destroyed by the Anglo-French Allied Forces and rebuild in 1886.
It was again destroyed in 1900 by the Allied Forces of the Eight Powers.
In 1912, it was rebuilt as one of the final acts of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912).
In 1924, it was opened to the public as a tourist attraction and was made an official UNESCO site in 1998.

The layout of the Summer Palace follows the same format as the other imperial palaces in China with the front court buildings serving as the Emperor’s business and ceremonial spaces and the area towards the rear of the court being mostly gardens, relaxing spaces, and living quarters.

We left lakeside and headed for the world’s longest covered promenade: The Long Corridor. While the lake was beautiful, I can’t even begin to explain the feeling that is the long corridor. It stretches on for 2,388 feet/ 728 meters ALMOST HALF A MILE with 273 crossbeam sections. And if the sheer length and colors of this corridor don’t strike your fancy, the over 10,000 paintings of landscapes and folk lore that line the ceiling and side pillars definitely will.
While walking the corridor, you forget the crowds and for a moment, picture yourself an Empress walking a path only meant for you.
Beautiful colors along the ceiling covering every inch of wood
Unfortunately both my husband and our tour guide felt like marathoning this section so I didn’t get to spend nearly the amount of time I would’ve liked photographing it, but word to the wise, save your photos for the second half of the corridor. A LOT less people and quitter space for contemplation and photos.
A beautiful gate section about halfway along the corridor and about where the crowds thinned out.
Closeup of one of the thousands of paintings.
After the long corridor, the last truly spectacular architecture is the Marble Boat. The boat served as a sort of living room for the Empress alone to read and relax in. It was originally built on a base of stone with a wood structure in 1755 but was burned down in 1860. It was restored in 1893 in a new 2 story structure, still made out of wood, but this time painted to imitate marble throughout. Each floor also encompassed a large mirror that would reflect the water around it to further along the feeling of serenity.
After the Marble boat it is a pleasant walk back to the exit passing a few small parks and over some scenic bridges. Our private car and driver picked us up close to the exit and we had about an hour drive to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
There are only a few entrances to the square as you are required to go through security checkpoints to even enter but once you are in, the space is huge and is in fact the 7th largest city square in the world. The world Tiananmen means “Gate of Heavenly Peace” as the square serves as a gate to the Forbidden City on the Northern side. One the other 4 sides are the  Great Hall of the People, National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong who proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in that very square on October 1,1949. (Tip: Don’t visit Beijing on Oct 1 as our guide told us it is one of the few federal holidays, and the crowds that amass at Tiananmen square are huge, hotels sell out, and people sleep within the square.
There is a Monument to the People’s heroes erected in the square that we checked out before heading to the Forbidden City. There are huge tunnel underpasses to the city from the square and you have to cross from bridges to enter as well. The crowds were very thick here which made it a little miserable, but again… we were here on a Saturday.
The crowds were very thick here which made it a little miserable, but again… we were here on a Saturday. After yet another security checkpoint and our guide showing our tickets, we made into the inner city.
Feng shui is again another important part of the design of the Forbidden City. The moat, and a few small pools near the entrance make up the southern ‘water’ requirement. Then Jinshan hill to the north makes up the hill requirement. Additionally there are temples in each direction N,E,S,W.
The moat itself is 170 feet (52m) wide  and 20 feet (6m) deep. (most of the earth excavated from the moat went towards building up Jinshan hill to the North) In addition to the moat, the city is completely walled in by a 22 ft wide wall that is 32 feet (10m) high. Quite the defenses which makes entering the city even more impressive.
Standing in front of the Hall Of Supreme Harmony (the most important building in the Forbidden City)
The first set of buildings (the outer court) our guider referred to as the “governing” buildings as important business and government officials were allowed into these buildings to conduct their business with the Emperor. These buildings also included the main ceremonial halls, the first being the one used for coronations that contained the golden Dragon Throne and is known as the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  The second building directly behind it would be the hall of Central and is where the Emperor would rest, practice speeches, and prepare for sacrifice rites before departing for the Temple of Heaven. The last great hall is the Hall of Preserving Harmony which was used for banquets.
Fun Facts:
1. The Forbidden City consists of more than 90 palaces and courtyards: 980 buildings… over 8,728 rooms
2. The Forbidden city is the world’s LARGEST palace at 7,750,000 sq feet which is over 3 times larger than the Louvre in France. (also for comparison the Vatican only measures at 1,443,569 sq feet.
3. Originally it was called the “Purple Forbidden city” and is now simply referred to as the “Former Palace” in China.
4. The city took 14 years to complete and was finished in 1420.
5. It took over 1,000,000 workers with more than 100,000 of them being craftsmen
6. It was the home of 24 emperors — 14 of the Ming dynasty and 10 of the Qing dynasty and served as the Imperial palace of China for 492 years.
7. It has not had an Emperor in residence in 1912 and has been a museum since 1925.
Details outside one of the ceremonial halls
Looking toward the Northern inner court where the imperial family lived with Jinshan Park in the background
The second half of buildings (the inner court) were the more private living quarters for the Empress, Emperor, and his many concubines. On the outside, these buildings are virtually identical but there is an addition of a garden that boasted a lot of the same cool boulders/ rocks as the Summer Palace. (said to come from a sacred lake in the south of China.)
A female lion (always on the left) standing guard at the entrance of a hall.
Points of Interest other than the great halls are:
A clocks Gallery
The Treasures Gallery
A Porcelain and Ceramics Gallery
A Bronzeware Gallery
All the other architectural details everywhere!
The crowds largely thinned once we were in the city, but our guide still rushed us quite a bit. All in all I doubt we spent more than 1.5 hours within the walls which was a little disappointing for me as a photographer. We learned plenty and I enjoyed all the stories and history bits but I would’ve liked more time to wander for sure since there are so many little gardens, galleries, and rooms you CAN see. We mostly just made a straight line through, only checking out one of the galleries for a living quarter.
The carpentry and colors of the buildings are largely symbolic with yellow and red being regarded as a symbol of good fortune and yellow a symbol of supreme power. (yellow was only used by the imperial family) There’s even small animal carvings in rows along the ridge line of the halls were used to differentiate the importance of the buildings. For example, there are 9 animals along the Hall of Supreme Harmony (the most important building) and 7 animals on the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (where the Empress lived)
Exit through the Northern gate looking across the moat.
How to visit if on your own:
  1. Take Subway Line 1 and get off at the Tiananmen West station (Exit B) (more direct to the Meridian Gate at entrance to the city) OR you can take Subway Line 2 and get off at Qianmen Station (Exit A) and walk through Tiananmen square.
  2. Most visit the Forbidden City through the Tiananmen and Meridian gate and work their way N. When exiting through the N Gate of Divine Prowess only bus options are readily available with the subway being a good walk away. (Or just book your hotel in the close vicinity and walk to it!)
  3. Ticket price is 60 CNY April-October and 40 CNY Nov-March. The Treasure gallery, clock, and watch gallery all cost an extra CNY 10 each
  4. If you are in Beijing the day before you wish to visit, it is highly recommended to purchase your ticket the day before (as tickets DO sell out) and you can purchase tickets at a ticket window near the Meridian Gate. If you have Chinese friends or speak Chinese, you can purchase tickets online though a book website.
  5. You need to show your passport when buying tickets and will have to show your passport with your ticket when you visit.
  6. Opening hours: CLOSED ON MONDAYS!!! See hours below:
One of the many government buildings in the area
Once we exited out the Northern gate we walked a short ways away to a spot our driver could pick us back up, then it was only 5 minutes to our hotel where our tour was complete and we were able to check in. It was only about 2 or so but we were exhausted. (likely from another night on a train) so we ended up eating the snacks we’d bought from the train and hadn’t eaten yet for lunch and napped a while till it cooled off.
A beautiful cathedral we passed on our evening walk. (no surprise, there were people taking wedding photos outside)
We ventured back over to the Wangfujing shopping area ( a pleasant walk from our hotel) to do some more souvenir shopping with our last night (not to mention get another one of those fantastic Mcdonald’s ice cream cones and some dinner).
As the sun started setting, we wandered back toward the Forbidden City wall to walk along the outside moat and follow that back to our hotel. The area was quiet and peaceful and it was fun to see people actually fishing in the moat.
The moat makes for awesome photos in the evening!
Quiet shops opposite the moat and Forbidden City as we walked north.
The North gate at sunset
Looking down the moat at the East corner watch tower.
We had a short 5-10 minute walk back to our hotel and called it a day.

Day 8 costs:
Breakfast/lunch snacks from store previous day
Tour: $218.62 for 2 people on a private tour
Mcdonalds dinner/dessert: $5.38

Hotel: King Parkview hotel $67

Day 8 total: $291

Day 7- The Latest and Greatest (maybe) Disney

Bring it on Disney! This was our 4th Disney Park together (having already visited Disneyland Anaheim, Disneyland Paris, and Disneyworld in Orlando) and we were ready to see what the latest Disney park had to offer. 

Disney spirit at the metro stop


TIPS FOR VISITING SHANGHAI DISNEY
1. Download the Shanghai Disney app before hand. This app is handy for seeing wait times/ ride closures, a map, places to eat, OH and it’s the only way to select FAST PASSES.
2. Bring some cash. All of the restaurants accepted credit card but the little snack stands only accept cash. (and everyone knows you can’t go to Disney without getting some ice cream or popcorn)
3. DONT BOTHER STAYING ON PROPERTY. Seriously. You get to elect 1 FP about 30 days before hand and that’s it. There’s so many nicer affordable options and the metro drops you off at Disney’s door. Save some money here.
4. Purchase park tickets online: This way you can find the best deal/ discount codes and won’t have to wait in ticket queues once you get there.
5. This goes along with getting the App, but make sure you have a data plan for your Disney Day. The wifi was pretty awful in the park and not reliable at all. You NEED internet to get your FP and use the app.
6. Download a QR reader app as well. Most of the lines had QR scannable games to help the wait go by faster. (might need better internet than what we had too, I couldn’t even get an app to download in the first place.)
7. If staying until closing, buy your return metro tickets when you arrive so you won’t have to stand in the queues at the end of a long day just to get back to your hotel. 
8. Get a locker…. a lot of the rides don’t really have a great bag storage option. 
9. If you like to pin trade, bring along some pins! While I didn’t see an amazing different selection from what we have in the states, it’s still fun to do some trading.
10. Lastly, don’t listen to the reviews that say this park is DIRTY, people are RUDE, and that it is TOO CROWDED. While we were there on a weekday in the school year, people were very nice, the park was IMMACULATE, and even when it’s crowded you can still get fast passes to help with waits and the walkways are nice and wide. 
We loved it! (Though nothing quite compares to Disney World Orlando in my mind)
Our day started at 8:30 with an included breakfast from our B&B. They were so sweet about getting us lots of options and while breakfast again was pretty different, it did the job. (sugar helps with the rice porridge! Ha) Since we’d checked our bags the day before we didn’t have to worry about luggage (though our hosts would’ve stored bags for us) and our hosts were lovely enough to drive us to the park for free! 
It was raining a decent amount as we headed in but luckily we’d brought our rain jackets with us.
The entrance was very Disney with lots of music playing and lights. The first World of Disney store we came across I was in pin trading  and we were at the actual entrance just after opening at 9AM. Despite school starting and the rain the lines were a little long to get in. All we needed to go through the gate was our passport and electronic verification of our purchase. They printed the tickets at the gate and we were in.
As soon as we had tickets in hand, I signed in to the Shanghai Disney app to make our fast pass selection  which we selected the Tron coaster for in a little over 2 hours. Then we promptly found a locker to leave the small backpack we had brought with us and we were off, making a direct line for Pirates of the Caribbean. (the ride I was most excited for which also didn’t have Fast passes… so promptness to avoid a line was key) 
Exploring the lands of Pirates on a hot day: this misty play area would be pretty enticing… We were already wet enough as it was haha! 
Pirate Queen!
Alas as soon as we got to the ride we discovered it was closed for technical difficulties (though expected to open later…) so we meandered instead to Fantasy land.  
We stopped at a few spots for photo ops and decided to hit up the Peter Pan ride first. It was a fairly quick line (about 10 minutes) and just like the original.
Alice in Wonderland Maze
Next door was a boat ride through multiple kingdoms (like other parks that have a “story book” ride) which had a line of about 15 minutes, so that was next. It was a fun little ride with boats like the Jungle Cruise, and fun water show fountains and music along the path. The line moved really slow but it was an enjoyable ride so if you have a short wait… I’d say go for it. 
We hit up the Tron Coaster with our fast passes next. Their fast pass system was like Disney world. We pulled up the fast passes which showed a QR code which we scanned ourselves at the entrance to the FP line. The walk through line was VERY cool and once we joined up with the rest of the line it was only 5-10 minutes wait. The ride was one of our favorites too, as the seats are motorbike style and you get launched out at the beginning. Unlike Space mountain and other mini coasters, the design of the track was very smooth and avoided all “figure 8’s” for those of you who get sick with that style. (I’m looking at you dad) The screens on the inside track display your opponent light cyclist that you are racing and the sound effects are all perfect. 
Overall the only disappointing thing about this ride is that it isn’t long enough. Lol Even still, we rode it at LEAST 5 times to make up for that. 
It finally stopped raining! kind of…. 
The Shanghai Disney currently has the LARGEST castle of all the Disney parks at 197 feet (60 m) tall and unlike the other Disney parks, was designed to represent all of the Disney princesses. It is known as the Enchanted Storybook castle and has an interactive walk through of Snow White’s story (which we wasted like 20 minutes waiting in line for.. save your time) While the technology was cool and it’s always fun going into the castle, everything was in Chinese so even though it had interactive story exhibits.. it was just SO busy and not worth waiting for in my opinion. 
Next we rode the water ride in Adventure Isle (since we were wet from the rain anyways) which was reminiscent of California Adventure’s water raft adventure. You climb on board a giant circular raft and start praying you won’t be the one to get TOTALLY drenched because this ride… is all about that. Waterfalls, fun white water drops, and amazing animatronic monsters were the name of the game in this ride. Very cool technology again for the inside portion, and cool landscaping/ effects for the outside. 
Finally after this, pirates was open so we B-lined it over there. This ride tied Tron for favorite. It’s a lengthy ride with a cool line queue. Even with new high tech effects, it retained some nostalgic elements such as the “jail scene”, pirate ships firing out at you, and talking cross bones. There’s a good little “drop” in the dark as well. The new effects are giant 3-D like screens and the boat ROTATES around like in Haunted Mansion style so you are viewing everything you’re supposed to see. There’s real fire as well. Overall REALLY cool ride. We rode it probably 3-4 times and luckily only had to wait 20 minutes at its longest. 
*There’s no FP line for this ride.
Following the blue brick road through Treasure Cove
Lots of fun little shops and colorful photo ops in the Treasure Cove area next to Pirates. We had a lot of fun walking around and enjoying the “movie scene” feel. 

Entrance to the Pirate of the Caribbean restaurant called
Barbossa’s Bounty. 
Since we now successfully rode the rides we HAD to ride, we could take it a little easier… starting with a lunch break. Like Disneyland Anaheim, this POTC ride has a restaurant INSIDE the beginning of the ride so you can dine while watching the riders float by on the start of their journey. UNLIKE Anaheim, this is a quick bite location and much more affordable. That being said, it also probably had the best food options in the park. For only $12 I got a really good grilled squid with garlic rice that included a slushie drink. Braden tried the BBQ which was also good (though different style BBQ for sure) Ordering was easy and fast and you got to choose where you sat, which we lucked out and got a spot under the twinkling lights by the ride, but all of the styled rooms in this eatery were cool. Captain Jack was also walking around for photo ops so if you want to catch him, this is a good place to do it.
Dining tables in the largest room (by the ride) 
BBQ Chicken with rice and really good grilled squid with garlic rice
The canoeing “ride” that gave us a good laugh. They hand you a paddle but the boat is definitely on a track. It was entertaining to see people wait 30+ minutes for this experience. 
Cool themeing outside the POTC ride. 
Treasure Cove looking over at Adventure Isle’s water ride
After lunch we hit Tron again and realized we had to hit up Soarin around the world at some point. Because Orlando switched out their Soarin last year, we’d already gotten to ride this but it’s a good ride, and still worth checking out! The queue is way different, departing from the typical “aviation” that the other Soarins hone in on. It has a mystical line with a milky way sky winding around ruins. Plus the safety instructions video is a fun mystical lady who (I think) talks about soarin like an eagle as she transforms. So an interesting departure from the story.
Other attractions we did were the Winnie the Pooh ride(just like the other parks but in Chinese), and Rex’s Racer in Toy Story land which was a cool boomerang like coaster. (we waited longest for this ride, about 40 minutes.. but we’d ridden all the other rides of interest so thought, why not!)
We didn’t catch any of the shows (there seemed to be just a few like a Star Wars one and maybe one other) and unfortunately had to miss the night time spectacular. I did bring about 15 pins to trade but there seriously weren’t any really cool ones. The staff had pins just about everywhere but most were the same old ones you find in the US. (I only found 1 Shanghai specific pin) 
    
We headed out around 7 as we again had a train to catch (at 9:30 PM this time) and even though we’d gotten to hit everything we wanted to see, the magic of Disney at night is a whole story of its own and we were sad to leave. We grabbed dinner on our way out at the closest OPEN eatery. We wanted the Toy Story one but it closed earlier and the next option we wanted to try: Tangled, was to far out of the way. SO Pinnochio it was. They had a couple pizza options so Braden got an interesting BBQ Chicken one with doritos and peanuts on it? Lol and I had a safer margarita with balsamic glaze. They were both tasty, if a little weird. 
Walking out, it finally wasn’t raining, the twinkling lights were shining, Disney music playing, and overall just magical. Definitely made it hard to leave.
Entrance to Toy Story Land 
Always have to get some Disney Treat action! We tried this interesting style Corn Dog, their caramel popcorn (which the smell of throughout the park is practically intoxicating…) and of course Micky Ear icecream! They had both original and White Chocolate Strawberry which I couldn’t resist. SO GOOD. 
The castle at night 
Nigh time at Disney is always the most magical! 
One final glimpse behind us down Micky Avenue as we left the park.
It’s a short walk to the train station from the park and then navigating back to the same Shanghai train station was much easier this time. Still busy, but we didn’t have to squeeze on quite so dramatically. *Note if you plan on staying until closing at Disney, purchase your return metro tickets BEFORE going into the park. The queues to buy your ticket later won’t be any fun  to stand in after a full day at Disney.
 
Back at the Shanghai station, we went back to the luggage check to pick up our backpacks and then found our entrance/ waiting room. Once through security and in the station, we picked up a few more snacks and waters for the train ride (just in case). 
Our sleeper train this time was an express sleeper train, designed to get from Shanghai to Beijing in 12 hours (traveling at 156 mph) and thus much newer than our Huangshan-Shanghai train. While the beds were about the same (maybe cleaner but hard to say), this train actually provided toilet paper, and there was a lot more table space, nicer window shades in the compartment, and quieter sliding doors. The beds and bedding were about the same though this train made fewer stops and was a little smoother so sleeping was made easier.. kind of. We were bunked with a Chinese mother/daughter duo who didn’t really speak to us at all and the mom/ older lady? Spent a whole lot of time watching me which was a little uncomfortable. Lol but we made do and the next day we were back in Beijing! 
A look in our little compartment. We’d already folded up the comforters which are really nice, but you can see the table with a kettle and little bin. Both trains had the kettle so pro tip.. bring a thermos, bottle you can pour piping hot liquid into since the train itself only provides boiling hot water. 

Day 7 Costs:
Breakfast included in hotel stay
Luggage Storage(at Shanghai Train station) day 2 $8.74
Disney Tickets $116/2 people
Fancy Corn Dog $5.83
Pirates lunch $24.78
Icecream/popcorn snack $10.93
Pizza dinner at Pinnochio cafe $24.78
Metro to train station $1.75
Snacks for train $7.72

Hotel: Sleeper train $287/ 2 people

Day 7 Total: $487.53 

NYC posts- Brooklyn & Central Park

NYC Day 2: Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, and Central Park

Despite the late night Broadway show before, we were up early and determined to hit the rest of the list. So first up was Brooklyn. It took about 40 min to get to the Bagel Store on Bedford Ave between 2 subway lines and less than mile of walking.

Rainbow bagel with funfetti smear: perfection.

Like a kid in a candy store! (or a cake store! haha) That bagel was legit like eating cake since they use cake batter in the smear. It was all my dreams come true! lol and even though it wasn’t the cheapest bagel in the world, around 6.50 it wasn’t bad and their other bagels were a bit cheaper and just as yummy looking. 
The Bedford Ave store put is in an amazing position for our next destination of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was just a short walk through the super cool culture haven that is Williamsburg to the base of the Williamsburg Bridge. (also beautiful in its own right) And from there a cheap ferry ride over to the Brooklyn Bridge. 
Finally seeing some bits of blue sky and sun peek through after all the rain the day before! Here comes the ferry! 
After you get off at the ferry stop, check the cool park area around. Lots of green walking paths and you can get this stellar shot of lower Manhattan! 
And of course from the ferry dock you get a great glimpse of the bridge to come. 
Starting out on the uphill climb for the bridge. 
Even more blue sky! This may have been one of my favorite sites on the whole NYC tour. I love the architecture of the bridge and the history.. which is why there’s about 100 photos of it to follow.. 
The Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883 and is the 3rd oldest bridge connecting Manhattan to surrounding areas. The first, King’s bridge has been demolished, and the 2nd oldest carries a water main aqueduct and is inaccessible to pedestrians or vehicles. So basically this is the oldest bridge there you can cross. It is also considered one of the oldest suspension bridges and at the time it was built was 50% longer than any other suspension bridge in existence. That is of course, because it is a hybrid bridge with both suspension and cable stayed bridge techniques. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. 
My favorite bit of interesting history is that when designing the bridge, they added in lots of secret compartments which the city rented out in order to fund it. Some of those were used as wine “cellars” because they stayed a consistent 60 degrees. 
Even though she looks a bit small, you can easily see Lady Liberty our on Ellis Island from the Brooklyn Bridge. 
Another great photo spot. Important to note that if you want photos without 1,0000 other strangers in your shots, the earlier you get there the better. I think we were there around 10 and it was definitely picking up with field trippers and sight seers alike. 
Looking over at the other beautiful Manhattan Bridge. 
One last shot with our flag flying high and bright. Nothing like visiting some of American’s beautiful historic landmarks to inspire some patriotism. 
Once we were off the bridge it was another short walk to Ground Zero, the 9/11 Memorial. 
2 of my fave. sky scrapers from the trip that we passed along the way. 
I really loved the memorial. I can’t really imagine a more respectful way to recognize the events that occurred on 9.11.2001. We all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the twin towers were struck and will never forget those who lost their lives to that terrible act of terrorism.
Even though it was one of the more crowded areas we came across in NYC, everyone was very somber and respectful which was wonderful to see. 
Then time for our last subway adventure when we learned just how important it is to observe ALL the facts that Google Maps points out. Ie. if it only says get on the C line, only get on the C line because if you get on the A line which yes… goes in the same direction, you may just have gotten on the express which will take you 8 stops passed the one you needed to get off at. Thank goodness we figured it out in the subway station so our $3 bucks were still good and we just hoped on the C to go back a few stops. Added maybe 20-30 minutes to our transit time but otherwise.. not too difficult to get from lower Manhattan to mid Central Park. 

Because now it was Central Park time! First up we wanted to check out the Loeb boat house and Bow Bridge. 
Such a peaceful and beautiful area! We discussed a possible romantic boat ride together but decided to not. haha (which turned out to be a solid idea as we DEF would not have had time) 
Most of the places we wanted to see was as the center of Central Park and the hotel Watson was at the SW corner. (We still needed to go back and grab out bags we’d checked there for the day) 
The Alice in Wonderland statue! There was a solid amount of people waiting to have their photo taken here so I just decided to grab a shot between modelers and move onto the next site. Very cool (and large!) statue though and pretty close to the boathouse area. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area! 
And you know I couldn’t NOT check out Balto although he was a bit further from the center, he was still pretty on the way as we headed south though the park. 
Here comes the exciting part as these next 2 photos I essentially took at a run. We realized that the absolute latest train we could take in order to get back in time to catch the 7:00 ferry to Block Island… left at 1:20. and ya we were still at the Balto statue at 12:40 deep in Central Park. haha at this point nothing would get us back to the hotel for our bags faster than going through the park… so walk/run we did.
Finally a beautiful day and we were running to escape the city! Back at the hotel it took all of 3 minutes to recover our bags and then google was saying the fastest way to Grand Central (1 mile) was by car/ taxi for a 10 minute drive. OF COURSE all the taxis near our hotel were taken so we ran along the side walks (Katie dashing into the street to check for taxi cabs like a mad woman) and finally the right taxi cab found us. Of course he heard us say CENTRAL PARK instead of Grand central station so he took us like 5 minutes out of the way but he more than made up for it by completely disregarding the traffic laws and other drivers on the road, thus getting us to the station with about 10 minutes before our train left. Luckily we had used the apps and bought our tickets from the cab so now we only had to figure out what platform it was leaving from.
COMMENCE both of us running around Grand Central, plowing down people like mad women but thankfully we were dropped off on the closer side of grand central. We made it to our train with about 5 minutes to spare and at that point I rewarded myself with a famous NYC Black & white cookie (purchased from the bagel store) and relaxed on the journey back to New Haven. 

BUT the excitement did NOT stop there! OH NO cause the connecting train we’d planned on turned out to be an unholy expensive AMTRAK train and NOT the Shoreline east train even though it was on their schedule. That coupled with a ticketing agent telling us the next train wouldn’t leave for another hour had us in PANIC mode. We checked everything from bus schedules to Uber prices but just when we gave into our defeat by purchasing Sbarro pizza (the worst pizza ever) we discovered the ticketing guy was WRONG and there was a train departing only 30 minutes later than we had expected. So rush we did and home we got just in time to throw more bags and be on our way to our next destination!

So there you have it my NYC experience, a bit of doom & gloom, to glorious broadway, to bagels in Brooklyn, sunshine in Central Park, and plowing down people in Grand Central. Certainly an adventure I won’t forget

Costs of the day:
Rainbow bagel with funfetti shmear: something like $6.50. I believe it was a dollar or 2 more than the normal bagels.
black & white cookie also from the bagel store: $3
Ferry from Williamsburg to Brooklyn Bridge: $2.5 pp
All activities were free today
oh! except for the wild taxi ride which ended up around $7 pp
The trains to get back was the same as day before: $24.75
And of course the terrible Sbarro pizza was like $6 but a girls gotta eat.
Total for the day: $49.75 just under 50

Miles walked: around 5.5 with almost about half of that just in Central Park.

A rainy day in NYC

NYC Day 1: Bright and early caught the train from Old Saybrook Connecticut ( free parking and closer to Stonington so less traffic concerns) to New Haven Union Station where we then transferred to go  on to Grand Central. (Above: a horrible lighting selfie in Grand Central… you’re welcome) 
Shoreline East train from O.S. to New Haven: $7.25
Metro North train from New Haven to Grand Central: 17.50

Union Station in New Haven was pretty cool
A much better photo of the incredible ceiling in Grand Central station
Grand Central Station
The hotel we booked for the night was a mere mile from Grand Central so even though it was lightly sprinkling outside the station, we decided to walk to our hotel. Not the best decision as it would turn out as that “mist” quickly turned to full on rain and while our rain jacket kept our top and backpacks dry, it did nothing for my head, legs, or the most regrettably: shoes. 

But luckily enough, Hotel Watson had a room ready for us 1.5 hours early so we were able to go right up, dry off and change, and formulate a new approach for the day as we had previously wanted to explore Central Park.
NEW PLAN: Take the Subway downtown to the Chelsea Market since that was inside and see if we could bide our time till the rain let up.

Impressions of Chelsea Market: Let’s just say it’s way cooler than I am. Tons of eating options and cute little shops. We ended up with Iced Coffees and a loaf of break for $3 for a snacking option. 
The markets were almost like a more intimate version of a mall with different art and cultures mixing into one. These 3 photos from inside were my favorite parts, especially this pipe waterfall that drained right into the ground. 
But sadly, the markets couldn’t go on forever and once again we were faced with going out into the bleak weather of NYC.  But blue skies or not, we determined to check out the new park, the Highline trail that had an entrance just outside of the market. 
The trail is approximately 1.5 miles long and foot traffic only. It’s an old railroad track that was just recently converted into an incredible green space with loungers and flowers everywhere. 
Above: The view looking out toward Jersey City. 
The rain teased us while we were up there giving us a mix of down pour to a fine mist. There were a few spots to take cover during the heavier rain thankfully, but overall, the rain never let up. 
You can see these bench loungers are actually built right over the old track. 
Looking into the city from the Highline Trail. 
Some cool benches I really admired. Since we hopped on the trail near one end we walked first the shorter distance and then headed off on the longer route, determined to see the whole thing. 

Many views of the city from the trail. As you can see it was a near perfect day to be wandering around a park. 

Overall I would actually say that Chelsea market and this park are worth checking out if you are in NYC. ESPECIALLY if you have some down time on a nice day as those loungers would be a lot more inviting in the sun. The park also has a few bathrooms, shops, and elevators so it is wheelchair accessible. Great facilities all in all. 

So from there the trail ended not too far from Hell’s Kitchen so we hopped on the subway to check out Times Square. and the rain rained on. lol but we checked out a few souvenir shops searching for the one magnet that would speak to my soul (none ever did. I am a connoisseur of magnets and NYC seriously let me down on this front) and grabbed a street gyro (which turned out to be pretty delicious.)
And from there on it was a short walk (like .7 miles) back to our hotel.

Then it was time for a HOT shower and another change of clothes into a dress and park 3 of 3 shoes I packed for my whole trip haha. I was so over having wet toes you don’t even KNOW. We had 3 of us, me the pickiest of eaters and also probably the cheapest, a vegetarian, and Katie… so what could we possibly end up with in NYC? The answer is Ramen. Previous reports had recommended Totto Ramen which just happened to be on our way to Broadway so we headed that way. Only Totto Ramen had a line out the door with a likely 20 minute wait that we likely didn’t have time for. 
BUT after some 5 confusing minutes of looking at a sidewalk menu we realized that the sign saying Totto Ramen Next Door was a LEGIT place and we had been studying its menu the whole time! No wait we walked in and had some delicious Ramen and were right on our way again. 

And then we were there. Childhood dreams becoming a reality: Seeing THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA on Broadway. Show started at 8 so we got there 30 min early. PRO TIP: DO NOT EAT SALTY FOODS BEFORE SEEING A BROADWAY. Or at least if you do, chug plenty of water after. We were all so thirsty from the salty Ramen and the bottles of water here were $5! Crazy. 
Needless to say the show was INCREDIBLE. I would LEGIT see this show every time I go to NYC (although  I know there are definitely more incredible musicals to see) The singing, acting, and my favorite park the incredible stage props and backdrops made for a show I’ll never forget. 

Once out of the show we hit up a CVS/ or some other drug store to grab out weight in water bottles lol. Then we again walked back to the hotel (again in the rain which consequently soaked my 3rd pair of shoes)

It seriously didn’t stop raining ALL DAY!
NYC Day 1 Budget review: Trains total: $24.75
Subway 1 way ticket $3 (we used it twice so for the day: $6)
Loaf of bread and iced coffee: something like $8
Street Gyro: $7 
Ramen place: $12 plus tip so like $15 pp
Phantom Of The Opera tickets for Front Mezzanine seats: $100 pp
Hotel Watson for a 2 double bed room: $240/ 3 of us so like $80 pp
Total for day: Something like $240. (NYC ain’t cheap ya’ll!) 

A walking tour of Ancient Athens

Greece- As many of my friends and family know I’ve booked A LOT of trips this year! And I’m so stoked for all of them! But many people have wondered A. how the crap can you take so much time off? and B. how do you afford them? So I’ll try to include my budgets/ spending habits for my trips starting this year! (I do have… a tad of back posting to do: Havasupai from last year, Zion National Park/ Kolob Canyon/ Las Vegas from this year, and also a 2nd road trip to Bryce Canyon & Capitol Reef National Parks to post about. I Will get to those but first… I’m too excited to post about my Greece trip so doing that first.

 First off: FLIGHT. I have an amazing friend who watches flight deals (particularly out of SLC or nearby airports) and posts them to Facebook. So last Thanksgiving when all the airlines were throwing fare wars, we booked a trip to Athens for mid May at a cost of $450 RT from SLC with Delta airlines. Now Delta tried to change our itenerary about 39499834 times BUT we called them up and ended up with a quick flight with 1 layover in JFK. AWESOME.
So we flew out bright and early at 8:50 on a Thursday morning and overnight from JFK and arrived in Athens shortly before 11 AM on Friday the 12th. It was pretty easy to buy metro tickets from the Athens airport into the city (although it only runs on the half hour so we had to wait for the 11:30 train) and cost was 8pp with the 3 person deal. Normally 10 pp to Athens.
We checked into our airbnb around 1, changed and off we went! First stop: The Temple of Zeus.
Left: main gate for temple with the Acropolis hill in the background.

 Our Airbnb was awesome! A small apartment in the city (about at 15 min walk to the Acropolis) and only cost $60 which we split between 3 people so $20 pp. The walk to the Temple of Zeus was crazy! You just round a bend and these huge columns just rise out of no where!
Plus you get stellar views of the South slopes of Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon!!!!

 Pro tip: The pass to visit all ancient sites is only $30 and will save you a lot of time standing in line, particularly at the Acropolis. If you visit all of the sites on it, it will also save you a few bucks! We visited 4 of out of the 7 places and it was awesome to skip all the lines.
The Temple of Zeus is just a 5-10 min walk to the Acropolis entrance and is an easy do before hand!

  We decided to visit the New Acropolis Museum next. It is not included in the pass but is only $5. sooo worth it for the incredible art work, history, and air conditioning!!!! The set up is really cool as it is built directly over archaeological digs of ancient Athens so there’s glass floors everywhere to allow you to look down on the ancient city.

The museum is however SUPER picky about taking photos and although there are NO SIGNS ANYWHERE, there are several employees who will tell you no photos. Luckily they do allow you to take photos with the ORIGINAL Caryatids (although you cannot use flash) from the Temple of  Erechtheion on the Acropolis hill.

 We had decided to save the Acropolis for last so after an hour or so in the museum, we strolled through the Plaka markets to find some lunch. Ended up spending around 3 euros on a cheese sandwich and continued to the Roman Agora on the North side of the Acropolis. This site is relatively small in comparison to the Ancient Agora but still a great place to visit and is one of the few that actually gives you an informational pamphlet at the entrance to learn about what you are seeing.

 So quick history lesson: An Agora is essentially a large public open space for meetings and markets. Highlights of the Roman agora include the Wind Tower (pictured behind me in the above picture) and the Gate of Athena Archegetis. The Tower of the Winds is essentially a giant time piece and featured a combination of sundials, a water clock, and a wind vane. (although now it is more of an empty tower but still cool to imagine) It was actually constructed prior the the other parts of the Agora.

 After the Roman Agora, it is a quick walk to the Ancient Agora which seems to be at least 4-5 times the size with incredible views and statues!
The Ancient Agora includes tons of different archealoical sites but my favorites (pictured below) are the the Stoa of Attalos, Palace of the Giants, and Temple of  Hephaestus.

The first thing you see as you enter the Ancient Agora complex are the statues from the Palace of the Giants and the North slopes of the Acropolis. We immediately headed to the Stoa of Attalos which is on the West side (and by far one of my favorite places in Athens) 
A Stoa is essentially a covered walk way or portico and this one was reconstructed (so def not the original but impressive all the same!) 

The giant Stoa of Attalos 

This stunning building was beautiful to photograph from just about every angle. On the first level it houses the museum of the Ancient Agora (included in entrance fee)  which is largely a collection of bronze statues and various pottery. My favorite is the massive bronze shield that was used by the Spartans.
On the second level is a collection of statues.

 2nd level of the Stoa of Attalos looking over at the Temple of Hephaestus. 

 The view of the temple as you approach. (not too many stairs here and this view makes it appear MUCH smaller than it is… see below)

 I really loved this temple because A: it’s huge and B. unlike the Parthenon it is not covered in scaffolding, the frieze along the ceiling was all beautifully in tact, and I loved the effect of seeing all the growth of grass and wild flowers within.

 The view of the Acropolis hill from the North side
 Me standing along the side of the Temple of Hephaestus. 
 Front view of the Temple of Hephaestu. (You can catch a glipse of the inner frieze in this photo) 
 Side view where you can see some of the outer frieze. 

Now it was time to backtrack through the plaka to go up the south slopes of the Acropolis for some sunset views! It’s ordinarily about a 20 minute walk back (made longer by some stops for souvenirs along the way) We tried to visit Hadrian’s Library (which is in the same area and also included in our ancient sites pass) but it appeared the entrance was closed and we couldn’t find any other way to get in. So we viewed it from the fence and carried on our merry way.

 The Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theater on the south slopes as you climb the Acropolis. 
 View of south Athens (and the sea) as you climb. 

 It’s a bit of a climb (especially if you have already been walking all day) but the Parthenon really is incredible. It is HUGE and I can’t wait for them to finish with the restoration projects. The bonus of going later in the day was that we largely had the place to ourselves so we had a rest and enjoyed the view.

Looking back at the Parthenon with the Greek flag blowing in the wind. 
 View of the Erechtheion with the porch and Caryatids statues on the side. 
 The Caryatids up close. These statues were easily one of the things I was most excited about seeing in Athens. 

There are 6 caryatids that support the porch of the Erechtheion temple which was dedicated to both the gods Athena and Poseidon. 

Fun facts: I was actually thrown off as to how much smaller the porch was than the rest of the temple. I learned that the porch was actually constructed to conceal the giant 15-ft beam needed to support the southwest corner after the building was drastically reduced in size and budget following the onset of the Peloponnesian war. 


 The Propylaea/ Monumental Gate or in other words the Entrance to the Acropolis. 
 View North from Acropolis hill of Athens. 
 A cute cat we passed by on our way out. 
We finished around 6:30/ 7 (with plenty of time to spare as most of the ancient sites are open until 7:30 or 8 this time of year) and grabbed some souvenirs from the plaka shops closest to the Acropolis entrance. (I find shopping for birthday/ Christmas to be easier on trips.) So in a mere matter of 5.5-6 hours we saw the  4 main ancient sites and most of central Athens.  The we headed back to the Airbnb. I’d gotten zero sleep on the plane and had actually worked the night before flying out so by 8 Friday I had officially been awake for 48 hours so I pretty much showered and passed out within an hour of being close to a bed. 
Total cost on day 1: $30 ancient site pass that got us in everywhere except the Acropolis museum
$5 entrance fee to the New Acropolis Museum
$3 cheese roll for lunch
$8 Metro pass from airport to city center 
$20 Airbnb cost 
Souvenirs: Let’s not talk about that. haha I also had a water bottle on me that I would fill up/ top off whenever we came across one (museums) so I didn’t have to buy water! I also had brought some snacks with me from home for the plane ride left over that I munched on for a light dinner before passing out. Breakfast was served on the plane. 
Total cost day 1: $66