Category Archives: Travel

Mundane Monday: Aquatics

It’s hot. Care for a swim?

The National Aquatics Center in Beijing, China. Site of the 2008 Summer Olympics

For the Mundane Monday Challenge #122

Mundane Monday is a Weekly Photography Challenge that focuses on those seemingly mundane subjects that we usually do not consider taking pictures of and make a good photograph out of that subject.

Thursday Doors: Palace Museum in the Forbidden City

Earlier this summer I was gone for 3 weeks on a trip to Asia. Our itinerary was as follows: South Korea (Seoul), China (Beijing, Xi’an, Hong Kong, Shanghai), and finally Japan (Tokyo). I find travel blogging to be rather challenging without some guiding or organizing principle to follow, so I have been blogging about this trip and showing pictures from it in my weekly photo challenge blogs, Mundane Monday and Thursday Doors. Not everything is mundane and not everything is a door, but these two concepts are still covering a lot of ground.

The first morning of our guided tour in Beijing we spent in Tiananmen Square. Doors are not really what you go to see in Tiananmen Square, but the door to the Forbidden City is here under Chairman Mao’s portrait. This portrait hangs there all the time, and is replaced with an identical copy every 5 years. The Mausoleum that displays Mao’s embalmed body (elsewhere in the square) closed for renovations again in the summer of 2017, so we didn’t see the real thing.


If you look closely at the doors you can see that they have rows of studs on them. Each door has exactly 81 studs, or 9X9. Nine is a special number in China. Our guide said that 10 is associated with perfection unattainable in this life, leaving the number 9 to be claimed by the Emperor as his own. The rest of us humans have to be content with 8, which is also a lucky number.

After entering through the studded door, you walk down a long hallway into the first courtyard of the Forbidden City, where you could buy your entrance tickets.


The next picture shows a courtyard further interior than the first view a tourist has upon entering the Palace, but I chose to show it because it illustrates how barren the area is. The sun beats down and people carry umbrellas to protect themselves from it, but there are no plants or other landscape features that might provide other types of relief.


Doors with 81 studs were used in many parts of the palace:


It was a real city of its time, with lots of buildings. You would move through one courtyard only to find another one behind it and pass one door only to find others.

And there was construction going in in several places within this bustling city, as you can see here:


We went to the Imperial Garden last, which was my favorite part of the Forbidden City. It was built for the emperors and their wives to enjoy themselves. You finally see some greenery around these doors, in addition to the usual studs. Also, a number of pictures of bats, who were considered good luck.


My fitbit told me that this was another one of my 15K+ step days. I’m glad the sandals were comfortable!

This post is for Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. I’ll be sharing more doors from my trip to East Asia for the next several Thursdays, as well as more everyday travel photos for the “Mundane Monday” challenge on Mondays.





Mundane Monday: Great Wall Shopping

The Mutianyu area near Beijing is a great place to visit the Great Wall of China. It’s not crowded, a long stretch of the wall itself is restored to good condition, the surrounding natural scenery is beautiful, and it has a chair lift and toboggan! But today I’ll focus on the mundane aspects of the visit: what you see when you pay your money.

At the top of the chair lift is kiosk where they try to sell you pictures of yourself on the lift, and sniffing around the kiosk was this adorable little kitten with a fuzzy neck. She looked up at me long enough to allow this picture to be taken, but didn’t stay perfectly still, even then:

Great wall kitten
Tiger tiger!

Later, after climbing around on the wall, we visited the gift shop. I was surprised to find this mug at the cash register, serving as a container for souvenir pens:


On close inspection, the print on the mug to the right says “University of California Berkeley Mom.” Is someone who works at the Great Wall’s son or daughter going to school over here, across the Pacific, near my home?

Just one of many pieces of evidence that we are all connected somehow on this planet.

For the Mundane Monday photo challenge #121.

Thursday Doors (on Friday): Beijing City Wall

After walking through the maze of Hutongs and around the train station with offset maps, we finally found the park we were looking for.

These are the first lion pair around a door that we saw and they aren’t playing with the traditional cup for the male and baby for the female. 

There were some doors here, (and I was on the lookout for them so I could post them on Thursday Doors) but there were also interesting walls and windows. This park included a section of the old city wall and you needed to pay admission and go up the stairs to get to the place the cache was hidden on top of the wall.


When we got to the top of the staircase, we had a great view of the city, and some of the train tracks. I’m including more sky in this picture than may be compositionally ideal because I wanted to show how blue it was that day. We’d heard horror stories about Beijing air quality, but our guide told us that the air has been much better this year than in previous years. If you can see blue sky the air is supposed to be ok, and we didn’t see anyone wearing face masks. The US Embassy website didn’t always agree with this assessment, but we didn’t have any problems in the few days we were there.

This section of the wall is well preserved (or restored) and there was a spoiler picture for the geocache location in the description, near a burned-out tree. This tree wasn’t hard to locate, and we soon had the cache in hand and signed the log. We were the first to find and sign.

There was another little building on top of the wall with red doors and lions on either side. We wouldn’t learn about the lions until the following day, but they were the first of many.


It was almost closing time for the park by the time we got up there and found the cache, and the shadows were lengthening. It was still very hot, though, even in the late afternoon. We took a different way back to our hotel, through main streets and greenery.

This post is for Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. I’ll be sharing more doors from my recent trip to East Asia for the next several Thursdays, as well as more everyday travel photos for the “Mundane Monday” challenge on Mondays.

Want to join in on the fun and share your own Thursday Doors post with other door lovers? Click on the blue button below to add the link to your Thursday Doors post to our link-up list.

Don’t forget that if you share your blog posts on Twitter and Instagram, use the #ThursdayDoors hashtag to help others find you, and please do take a few minutes to visit some of the Thursday Door posts shared by others.

Mundane Monday: Chinese Coke

One of my kids had this drink at an excellent restaurant near the great wall. 

I rarely if ever drink Coke anymore, just as a special treat. But I still like their can designs, especially the ones at Christmas with the polar bears. And in this case, the arrangement of these characters is attractive in itself.

For the Mundane Monday photo challenge #120.

Mundane Monday: Bicycles in Beijing

When I learned about China in school, I developed a mental picture of crowds of mostly identically dressed people riding bicycles in the streets.

China in the 1980s, photo credit: 网易看客:谁动了中国的自行车

Then I got to Beijing, and it didn’t look like that at all.

Traffic outside of Beijing Olympic Park
Traffic outside of Beijing Olympic Park

Our tour guide informed us that in the past 20-30 years, since the 1990s, Beijing has added many cars to its streets, most of them from Western companies. These cars are not the main reason for Beijing’s air quality problem; that comes from the coal-burning factories in the area.

But he also mentioned the song, “Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing” by Katie Melua, as if we’d all know what it was. Well, no, but at least my teenage kids didn’t know it either, until he found it on his phone and played it for us.

Bike lane near Olympic Park
Bike lane near Olympic Park

There are still more bicycles and bike riders in Beijing than in most US cities. Bike shares and bike lanes are very common, and people ride bikes wearing normal street clothing (not spandex) and often no helmets.

Biking along


In spite of intense interest in this question, nobody knows exactly how many bicycles are in Beijing now. (There may be 9 million stolen ones . . .)

They compete with the scooters and rickshaws as the 21.5+ million inhabitants of the city move from place to place.

For the Mundane Monday Challenge #119. Mundane Monday Challenge is a Weekly Photography Challenge that focuses on those seemingly mundane subjects that we usually do not consider taking pictures of.

Book Review: The Time Table by Caroline Mather

The Time TableThe Time Table by Caroline Mather

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this independently published book to review as a member of the Book Review Directory, where my blog is listed. The writing style is fluid and a little formal, which fits the setting, and the formatting is clean and error free. I read it in about an hour on a plane, and it made the flight time pass quickly.

The Time Table is about a billiard table, built from slate cut from a Standing Stone in the British Isles, which serves as a portal through which people can travel through time. The author spends just the right amount of time and effort on explaining how this works—that is, not much—and gets right to the stories, which are all set in attractive periods of English history, including the present day.

The book works well as a collection of loosely-related tales centered around the billiard table and the London house where it has been located since the early 1700s. Quite a few people end up going through the table—so many that one is a bit surprised that it’s still a secret in 2016.

Overall the pacing of the stories is pretty good, never draggy, but sometimes the kissing starts surprisingly quickly and without much warning. There is a lot of kissing, caressing, and stolen, smoldery looks, but nothing more. The sexism of past ages is invariably dealt with or mitigated by the love of good men, and the table itself is always a force for good, helping its hapless humans work through their modern and not-so-modern dissatisfactions. The author’s optimism about love, relationships, the power of conversation, and the possibility of living happily ever after, is refreshing.

I don’t usually read time travel romances, so others more familiar with the genre might be less forgiving of some of this book’s foibles than I, but I found it to be a delightful break from heavier reading fare, like a tasty chocolate bon bon.

View all my reviews

Thursday Doors: Hutong

Beijing Hutong with scooter
Beijing Hutong with scooter rider

Before our trip to Asia, I read Paul French’s Midnight in Peking, about the unsolved murder of a young British woman in prewar Peking. Much of the shadier action in that book takes place in the city’s hutongs, a type of narrow street or alley commonly associated with northern Chinese cities, especially Beijing.

Our first afternoon in Beijing my husband got an alert about an “FTF” (first to find) opportunity. A new geocache had been published in the city, but not found yet. Geocaches are relatively rare in China in the first place, and this author makes the point that you are trying to find those few caches amidst a billion muggles.

Another problem with geocaching in China is the “great firewall.” Google maps, Apple maps, and the geocaching apps that are based on them, do not work there. If you try to use one of these internet maps, it has an offset. For example, my app, Cachly, showed the cache almost 0.3 miles from its true location.

The door is closed?
The door is closed?

Fortunately, when the subject is geocaching, my husband is prepared. Before we left he did some research, and found that OpenStreetMaps, with user-created data, would still work in China. See this discussion thread for more details about the problems with using online maps in China. No matter what map we were using, however, we were directed around the main train station, and that meant hutongs! We set off. This would be a feather in our cap: two Anglos from California get an FTF in Beijing!

The first doors as we approached the station did look a little sketchy. The air wasn’t too bad, we could see blue sky, but the weather was still very hot and dusty. Many people were riding scooters and they could be seen parked outside.

People were friendly and one tried to help but didn’t speak English. They seemed bemused more than anything else by foreigners wandering around outside the station looking at their phones. They were less amused when we tried to buy water with a 100-Yuan note. And I don’t think we wanted to see what this public bathroom looked like on the inside.

Public bathroom in Beijing hutong
Public bathroom in Beijing hutong

As we went on, we started to see more welcoming storefronts and doors.

Eventually, all our water already gone, we did get to the park where the cache was to be found. More doors next week!

This post is for Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. I’ll be sharing doors from my recent trip to East Asia for the next several Thursdays. 



Mundane Monday: Walking Shoes

You hear a lot about shoes when you’re traveling, and it’s complicated figuring out which shoes to take. Shoes may be your heaviest item and make up the majority of the weight in your suitcase. And ill-fitting shoes can ruin your whole trip.

When travel shopping, I looked for some walking shoes that were also easy to slip on and off and not too heavy. I found these, and some Clark’s sandals. I wore them around the house for a day or two before we left.


They were pretty comfortable walking around Seoul for the first ~10,000 steps in a day. After that, my legs started to hurt. It wasn’t my feet that hurt but my joints, especially my knees. Surprisingly, for more than 15,000 steps, I was better off with the sandals, which were nicely cushioned but had more room and less arch support. This is probably because my feet swelled. Our hotel in Tokyo actually had an electronic foot and calf massager, which I used almost every night.

Foot massager in Shiodome hotel
Foot massager in Shiodome hotel

When I got back, Facebook showed me last year’s picture that I took of my feet, near Munich at the Starnberger See. While I enjoy moderate walking, I have to say that this is more my kind of vacation:

Relaxing by the Starnberger See
Relaxing by the Starnberger See

For the Mundane Monday Challenge #118.

Thursday Doors: Downtown Seoul

Many buildings in Seoul are big, and serious. And the doors themselves are nothing special but there is a lot around them. An example of this is the War Memorial of Korea, commemorating the Korean War and those who died fighting it. A long stone staircase leads up to a wide mouth of windows.

Doorway to the War Memorial of Korea

In downtown Seoul there are other examples, including the Metropolitan Library

And the Seoul City Hall in Seoul Plaza.

Gyeongbokgung Palace, next to Gwanghwamun Square, is more urban than Changdeokgung, which I blogged about last week. It stands close to other places of business in the city. On our last day, we walked past the library and City Hall and across Gwanghwamun Square to get to this palace.


Some doors of Gyeongbokgung:

Even in the middle of the city, there was a part of the palace that was an oasis from the rest.


This post is for Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. I’ll be sharing doors from my recent trip to East Asia for the next several Thursdays.