¡Hola! España

We have arrived in Madrid – to flamenco, hot chocolate and churros, and the delicious freedom that comes with free, (hopefully…) unlimited wifi.

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Out the AirBnb window

We’re AirBnB-ing it near the Estación de Atocha (Madrid’s largest railway station). We were met by Ricardo, who is from Portugal. He has left his 2 children in Portugal because he had concerns they wouldn’t adapt or pick up the language (?!), so he was interested to know how Matilda has moved through life in Australia, China and now Spain. She moans constantly and her dream is to live in one big house surrounded by all her family, and she constantly makes me wonder if I am a cruel parent for dragging her round the world all these years.

Saying that, although she is all in a muddle after 2 months in Oz with family, I think the years are paying off now she is older. She turned 11 right before we flew, and this is the first overseas travel we’ve done where she has jumped straight back into it, and we’ve had none of the drama and tantrums (me) that have sometimes plagued our past travels.

I booked Madrid for a week as initially we thought we’d have paperwork that would be done more easily in the capital. That plan changed, but now we have a chance to explore before we transition to our new life as unemployed folks who cannot afford to travel!

I’ve been hit by terrible jetlag so our first few days have been slow, and yesterday (Monday) was bureaucratic – SIM card etc. We have discovered not much (business-wise) is open on the weekend in Spain. Also, similar to Asia, things don’t open until mid-morning (gah). Can’t say much about the evenings yet as I keep falling asleep at 5:30.

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Metro trumpet player

Getting around: we got a Madrid Metro Tourist Card on the first day. I am not sure we will end up taking enough travel to justify the €40,20 (1A/1C), mostly as the main line from our apartment to the city is closed for maintenance. We met a friendly local girl while we were trying to buy the ticket which made it all worth it. She is teaching English, has worked in Costa del Sol and was able to give me some advice. It made our first day a little bit special. On the 2nd day a random guy played the trumpet in the carriage for our entire trip. So the Metro has made our “good beginning” in Spain.

I think I’m going to cave and also pay €31 to do the Madrid Tourist Bus. These are good for getting a feel for a place, and the city does feel like it is kinda sprawling. I also want to get Matilda excited about the history, and it’ll sound better coming through headphones than from me!

SIM card: Spain’s prepaid mobile plans are even more rubbish than Australia. I really thought Telstra had the monopoly on “world’s worst Telco”, but there you go. €15 for 28 days with 1.5 paltry GB, 50 mins talk and NO SMS with Vodafone. Other options are apparently Orange and Movistar.

So, it’s been less museums and history and more bureaucracy and falling asleep on the couch at 5:30pm so far!

Viva la adventure lol.

Logistics #blogjune 17-18

Falling behind with #blogjune but I have an excuse! We have finally found a way to ship some boxes of stuff to Spain. I’m not sure how confident I am it will actually arrive. All the stuff for shipping is slowly being stockpiled in the lounge room:

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Mostly I seem to be shipping suitcases. How many suitcases does a person actually need? I think I have around 15…and that’s not counting those half handbag/half carry on bags!

We are flying AirNZ to Australia (squee!). They’ve always been one of my favourite airlines, but sadly leapt out of my price range when they started emulating budget airlines with a ridiculous Seat+Bag+Meal pricing model. Somehow by stopping over in Auckland for a few nights en route we managed to find the cheapest flight home. Yes, I realise I will spend those $$$ anyway by staying in Auckland, but it’s been too long between NZ visits! Ironically, given price moan above, they are letting us bring 2 x 23kg bags EACH. What on earth? I’ve scoured the web to see if I can get this deal going to Spain, but so far nope. I even considered ditching the shipping and paying extra to fly AirNZ to Europe, but I have a hatstand and a rug and can’t see that getting stowed by any airline.

As we are backpacking south China for 2 weeks before we fly to Australia we’re going to leave our big bags in the apartment until we get back from our Yunnan/Guizhou/Sichuan adventure. Speaking of which, I haven’t kept up with blogging due to the pain of trying to book that trip. If only China had a rail pass for travellers! But as with everything, why on earth would they try to create new markets when there are already 2 billion people chasing the product?

China farewell tour #blogjune 14

Before we depart China we plan to travel mostly by train from Qingdao to somewhere near Guangzhou. The train is my Ms 10’s idea. She is particularly fond of overnight trains (ugh). Fortunately they’re not too bad in China. A couple of good websites for travel planning are helping us identify places to stop: Travel China Guide and China Highlights. They can be a little liberal when it comes to the realities of what is on offer in a particular city, but their info is usually up to date and very thorough.

For booking in China, I use local travel website, Ctrip. It’s okay, but has some limitations, such as stupid rules that won’t allow you to book adult and child tickets together online. They also won’t let you book train tickets instantaneously. I usually find prices on Ctrip then take the screenshot to a local travel agent to purchase. This agent is a desk inside a mobile phone store. One of life in China’s infinite frustrations is that one end of the desk is for booking flights and accepts card payments, while the other end of the same desk is for train bookings and accepts cash only.

China Itinerary

Well, since having this idea it seems overnight trains may be frequent North to South, but not so much East to West. We may need to fly some routes. Or take a weird southerly direction to get East, hence:

Nanjing: Nan 南 means south. One of the cool things about Chinese cities is that some of the major ones are named for their points on the compass.  “Bei” 北 means north (Beijing), “Xi” as in Xi’an, means west. Nanjing has been the capital of several empires and the Republic, and features in many important events in Chinese history – the Opium Wars, Taiping Rebellion, and was the site of the worst horrors of the Japanese occupation.

Wuhan: water village sort of outside Shanghai

Our main stops though, are:

Chengdu: home of the panda 

Lijiang – Shangri La, tiger leaping gorge, minorities 

Guiyang/Guizhou: minority groups and hand papermaking. There are supposed to be UNESCO listed villages (listed for their traditional methods of papermaking) in this area. 

Guilin/Yangshou: pretty. You know those dome shaped mountains and rice field photos of China you see? They’re mostly taken here. 

Kunming/Guangzhou: depends who has the cheaper flights back to Qingdao

Now I just need to get all this booked!

Catchup #blogjune 10, 11, 12

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Insadong hanok house

We’re home from Korea, back at work and back behind the Firewall.

Seoul is very cool. Could live there. Incheon airport could be better. No ATMs airside, and only 3 in the arrivals area. 1 would not accept Aussie visa, or China unionpay, and a big queue for the other. (On that point – a Citipoint ATM in the Seoul subway gave me a receipt for withdrawing 100000krw, but didn’t actually give me the cash. Am still negotiating on this with my bank)

Hanok guesthouse: ok – something to do once in a lifetime. Having to move between bedroom, wardrobe & bathroom via an external verandah got to me a bit. So did having the hosts around all the time. Every time I fumbled the front entry and couldn’t get in, one of them was there to make me go through it again, with them watching and instructing, (and of course it worked first time). Argh.

Great coffee in Korea. The trap of traveling to all these cool places in Asia while we live in China is that every time we get out we are so desperate for western food and comforts we sometimes miss out on local cuisine because we are so excited about bread, or pies, or crepes.

We stayed between Insadong and Bukchon, so had art, culture and tourist delights all at our doorstep. And giant ice cream. Matilda found no less than 3 different types.

Last stop was Kyobo Books, which meant we had to check in our carry-on bags as they had doubled in weight.

Serendipity #blogjune 9

Our rescheduled flights to Seoul are not til Friday morning, so we have a day to kill in Qingdao. Ever since my paper obsession started, I’ve been quizzing our Chinese staff about local art shops or workshops. They’ve all looked at me like I’m insane, and giggles at the idea of art being a career path. 

Which is probably why the year 3/4 class managed to go on an excursion to a hand papermaking & traditional printmaking shop without me hearing. Sighhhhhhh

But the flight debacle meant today was an opportunity to check it out. We found it in what was probably a neat little art hub around the time of the Beijing olympics, but which, like so many other neat little things in China has been allowed to fall into disrepair. The staff do community workshops (they have read my business plan), so there was only a guy with a little English in the store, but nevertheless he showed us everything, lit a raging fire in me for printmaking, and sold us one of everything in stock.

searching for Chinese characters
everything a young Chinese scholar needs to know about life
they also make paper
background to the letterpress. we think he said xiangxi?
found 马美兰

Travel booking #blogjune 7

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Traditional Korean ‘hanok’ house

Can’t talk, booking. Or trying to. Couldn’t book last week as waiting on some paperwork to be finalised before we could decide where to go, so now (of course) the flights are all $500 more expensive *cry cry cry*

 

I’ve not only got multiple tabs open, but multiple browsers. There must be a magical combination of flights out there somewhere. I rely heavily on  expedia, skyscanner & local Chinese travel booking site/app Ctrip. Expedia are very good for multi-city flights. They give nicer combinations (and often cheaper prices) than booking directly with airlines (which is my preferred option). I only started using skyscanner and Ctrip when I got to China. Ctrip is frequently cheaper for booking things in China – sometimes the difference in price is substantial.

Colleagues use the hopper app, which is really cool and will send you notification when the price drops, but I can’t get it to work in China.

Anyway, enough. None of them are working for me right now anyway! And now we must pack. Mr Chen is picking us up directly from school to take us to the airport tomorrow. It is the Duan Wu (Dragon Boat) and we have a long weekend. We are going to South Korea for the first time – only 4 days, so we’ll stay in Seoul. We’ll be staying in a traditional hanok house, visiting paper and art shops, eating awesome food and going to a baseball match.

tteokbokki

 

Non-immigration related post #blogjune 5

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Dabaiyi wedding in Yunnan Province (China Daily)

My last day as a Teacher Librarian will be Friday 24th June, so this *sort of* counts as a “library related” post (if that’s even a #blogjune rule?). Decision on shipping/removalists is still pending, so I’m not entirely sure which day we will actually leave, but we do have a bit of a plan about where we will spend our first few days, weeks, months… of Freedom.

Itinerary

24th June: last bottle of Tsingtao in Qingdao.

July: 2 – 3 weeks travelling China, mostly by train and mostly in Yunnan province, home of majority of China’s minorities and apparently the “trendiest destination for China’s exploding domestic tourist industry”. Well, I guess after 2 years here we’re starting to think like locals. We’ve been to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong a few times, we’ve seen the warriors in Xi’an, and we’ve even had a weekend on the lake in Hangzhou and one on the beach in Shenzhen. These all tended to be “city trips” and I do not want to leave without seeing the scenic sites. Just irritating it has to be in July when it will be super hot!

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I think Yunnan can be considered a scenic site.

Current itinerary depends on a lot, including the possibility of meeting up with another school librarian who has been working in Tianjin and has a daughter the same age (that would be brilliant!):

  • Qingdao
  • Nanjing : ancient capital, location of many (rather violent) historical events
  • Wuhan : port town for Yangtze cruise (which was initially part 1 of our itinerary but, alas)
  • Chengdu : pandas!
  • Lijiang : deep in Yunnan country. Tiger leaping gorge, in my mind home to China’s “colour”. This is where the miniorities are, and much of the costume and landscape and ‘idea’ of China. I really want my daughter to leave China with a lasting impression of the place as interesting and diverse. Even if that is getting less and less so.
  • Kunming : well, at first I wasn’t convinced but after a closer look it sounds like an interesting city.
  • Guiyang : Guizhou province – hoping to find some hand papermakers in this region.
  • Guilin : beautiful. Has to be done.
  • Guangzhou : airport, although I have heard there is an ancient village that is also a hub for printmakers – Guanlan printmaking base – and if there’s time I want to explore.

Thailand for a week (sigh. Hard life). Hoping to find printmaking workshops!

July to September: the magical Land of Oz. My family don’t know we’re coming as this was not on our original itinerary, but as it happens it would be better if we put off arriving in Spain until after the tourist season (July/August). I was looking at Croatia and Romania, but a few things have gone down lately with my family and us ‘dropping in’ will hopefully distract from the not so cool stuff going on.

September: Hola Espàna!