Honeymooning China

Happy December, everyone!

The beginning of December brings back lots of wonderful memories for our family.

Honeymoon

My husband and I got married on November 29, 2014.

After our winter-themed wedding, we were off to China! Prior to this trip, I had traveled to China over ten times over my life, either with family, for pleasure, for study and for work.

This was Michael’s first trip there, and it was a very exciting time for the both of us.¬†It was such a wonderful way to kick-start this chapter of our lives. It’s been four years since we both traveled across the world.

But, it’s December again and I’m feeling a bit nostalgic.

Here was our 2014 itinerary:

I planned everything, from start to finish. We didn’t plan on using any tour services. Although, we ended up booking one to the Great Wall when we got to Beijing.

Little Passports

Chinese Visa for U.S. Citizens

One of the things we needed to do before our trip to China was to obtain Chinese visas for our U.S. Passports. The laws have changed over the years, but when in doubt, refer to the following resources:

  1. Chinese Embassy in the U.S.
  2. U.S. Department of State

We ended up filling out the form online (via the Chinese Embassy’s website), and then bringing our documents to the embassy in New York, NY. We lined up and dropped off our forms. Then, we get to pick it up in the afternoon with our receipt.¬† That’s what we did.

China Visa

If you don’t have the time or energy, you can pay an agency to obtain your visa for you, or you can use a mail-in service.

RushMyPassport.com

Our Adventure

This portion of the trip was definitely an adventure, from navigating and eating our way through the country. One area Michael didn’t want to compromise were our living accommodations. We selected 4 star+ hotels vs. lesser known hotels. It was a wonderful decision with money well spent.

Michael loved it all. It was a different perspective, and it was such a wonderful bonding experience for us both!

After the trip, I made a Shutterfly album which I have shared below! Enjoy:)

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Samsonite

The 50 States: A Road Trip of a Lifetime

Slight Detour

Along our journey across all 50 states, Michael and I constantly checked various travel websites for deals on lodging, transportation, and more. We came across a deal that we just couldn’t pass when we were traveling. It was a vacation from our vacation, yes! We had been driving, driving, and driving some more. We opted for an exotic¬†Western Caribbean cruise, where the captain and ship’s staff and crew did most of the work for a week’s time. And boy was it worth it. We just got back stateside yesterday morning, left the ship at 8am with our luggage in tow and our tans to show off.

The following post is quite long, so feel free to simply scroll through the photos or take your time and experience¬†the different countries we experienced along the way…

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Carnival was our cruise line of choice this time around! Since we selected Holland America for our Alaskan cruise, we thought, “hey, why not try a different type for our ‘fun’ beachy getaway!” It was also definitely on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of pricing, so it didn’t make us feel like we had empty pockets. Michael discovered the cruise for $192 per person, plus taxes, fees, and parking: which eventually added up to total $1,000 for the week.

We departed from the Port of Miami, the busiest cruise terminal in the States. Our destinations included: Cozumel, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; Roatan, Hondoras; and Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman. We checked out of our Miami Lakes Holiday Inn hotel and took the half hour drive south to the Port of Miami on Saturday, November 8th. Our boarding time was 1:30pm, but we wanted to get an early start, so we got there before noon and were able to get on the ship by 1pm. Check-in was such a breeze compared to when we were in Vancouver. They even squeezed in a questionnaire about Ebola, since there was a concern for this disease at this time. This surely did not deter vacationers from cruising to the Caribbean as it sailed at full capacity!

The set-up of this ship, the Carnival Glory, was quite similar to Holland America’s Ms. Zuiderdam. Our interior cabin was on the “Odd” side on Deck 7. Our emergency drill followed that afternoon at 3pm, and the way this particular drill was organized was really ineffective. We could definitely tell this was going to be a different experience.

Holland America really put a strong emphasis on using hand sanitizer before, during and after meals, but Carnival did not place a high value on this process. Michael and I could both see why some of these other cruise lines have such high rates of contamination and spread of stomach viruses. However, nothing of that nature happened on this cruise, our version of course.

We took full advantage of attending the first art auction on board which included free champagne and an artwork. Michael really likes to get involved in these auctions because he is really quick with putting the bid card up to win us some neat prizes. At the end, we got a picture of the cruise ship, 7-8 free artworks, and a bag of chocolate. Last time, we won a bunch of other art pieces and a bottle of champagne…man, is he quick! We both went into this art auction knowing that we would not invest in anymore pieces of artwork until we get settled down into a house where we will have room to put them up:) Yes, we did it! We did not give into purchasing anymore, willpower!

Before we went on the cruise, we perused through some shore excursions, and one really caught our eye: it was none other than the Amazing Cozumel Race! We were so excited to do something like this because we had been traveling across the states and really wanted to be challenged with the task of solving riddles, clues, and getting from point A to point B by interacting with locals and finding our way around the city. It turned out to be a beautiful, sunny and hot day in Cozumel, Mexico, and our Amazing Race excursion started at 11:30am on Monday, November 10th.

We met our guides who were really enthusiastic. They gave us a map, a sharpie, a Mayan number key, and a cell phone in case we needed help or if we happened to get lost. This race started with us all getting in taxis to get to the downtown area where we started at the Plaza Punta Langosta (Lobster Mall). We were split into teams, and there were a total of 10 teams consisting of 2 to 11 people. I was with Michael on a team, and we were Team #13, The Falcons!

It kicked off with a puzzle, which led us to a number on our map. Pretty much we ran from one location to another, and at one point, we were clocked in (when they stopped the time) to get ready for a snorkel excursion into the water to find a clue on a sunken ship. Of course Michael volunteered to be the snorkeler! And he shouted out the clues for a total of four teams. After that we were off to several other locations.

It was really neat to see the downtown area and interact with everyone. I really enjoyed myself because I got to practice my Spanish! I was really happy to see that all that high school Spanish paid off because I knew things that I never thought I did.

How’d we do? We took first place, along with two other couples. It was the first time in their history that three teams won 1st place. We were awarded with metals and a balloons at the Hatched Roof Restaurant. Woot Woot!

Our next stop along the way was Belize! I was really excited to check out this country because both Michael and I have never stepped foot on it before this. We booked another shore excursion where we took an hour an half van ride out of the city to the jungle, where we selected to go tubing on a freshwater river. In Belize we had to tender ashore because the country has such lovely coral reefs that they do not want to damage nature with large cruise ships docking ashore. So they send out smaller boats ashore to and from the ship. It took about fifteen minutes to get to the docks from the ship.

This excursion was a lot more relaxing than running 4 miles around the city in Cozumel. However, we both felt they really put a lot of emphasis on our safety than anything else. The rapids were not very fast at all, and we were decked out with helmets and thick life vests!

We looked quite adventurous! However the river was not very exhilarating. The best part of the excursion was having the opportunity to learn about the country of Belize with our tour guide, Axel. He really did a great job with giving us some really nice and detailed highlights about the country itself. I have to be honest in saying that once we left the port, the city was really run-down looking. It wasn’t a bad thing. It just gave us a new perspective. We passed the only prison in the country…which by the way is not government owned and operated. It’s actually owned by an American Foundation that works on rehabilitating prisoners through crafts and various activities such as baking, farming, and cooking and cleaning, interesting… Also, did you know the official language in Belize is English?

The next stop on the list was Roatan, Honduras, where Carnival has a piece of real estate to itself at Mahogany Bay Islands. We defaulted into turning this into our “beach and snorkel day” where we rented some snorkel equipment to explore some underwater life. This was my very first time snorkeling ever!!! I was really happy to have shared this experience with Michael. The weather could not have been more perfect, and it beat taking any excursion. We put our waterproof camera to the test here, and we actually used this more durable camera pretty often on this Caribbean vacation. Michael spotted a few different kinds of fish, and even a barracuda! I saw a jellyfish and got a bit scared, but we really enjoyed our own snorkel adventure here in Honduras.

Our last stop was the Cayman Islands in Grand Cayman on Thursday, November 13th, where it was Pirates Week when we got there. We were able to get tender stickers from 10am to 12pm, and then afternoon we could simply board the ferries to get ashore. We decided to stay in a bit, take a our time with breakfast and use the fitness center before we embarked on our adventure.

There were several cruise ships that were in port that day. Michael and I decided to simply explore the area on our own as there was a Seven Mile Beach we wanted to check out. We also had to tender into the area, but it only took five minutes to get ashore.

The water here was so clear! And we ended up walking about half an hour to the left, where the ocean was on our left where we docked ashore. We had run out of sunblock in Roatan so we found a little scuba diving¬†shop and purchased some there on the way. We came across a sign that read “Public Beach Access”, which led us through a narrow pathway to a beachy and also coral and rocky area. This beach led us to various resort-like areas, and we decided to hang out by this little cove. There were thousands of tiny fish, and Michael spotted many needle fish trying to catch these little tiny fish as prey.

On our way back to the ship, we stopped at a local grocery store where we decided to get some freshly squeezed pineapple and watermelon juices…we were parched and decided to get some refreshing beverages. We also passed numerous roosters that were crowing.¬†I also ended up getting a fresh coconut from a man selling them on his shopping cart. He was kind enough to cut them up for us to eat the coconut after we were finished drinking the fresh water, yum!!! What a tasty snack. Of all the islands, I really enjoyed Grand Cayman the most because I can totally picture myself getting a little house and living the island life there. They have all the basic necessities. The only thing is that they drive on the opposite side of the road.

For dinner that night, we had our last elegant evening, where we snapped a few shots with our dinner companions:) #BestTableEver!

Overall, we found our first Carnival cruise to be really fun and a nice getaway during our vacation! To cap this post off, we have a feature photo collage of some of the various towel animals that greeted us in our cabins and some of our dinner entrees.

Tennessee: The Smash & Grab

So let me start out this post by stating that we had never anticipated this alternate ending. Oh and just a disclaimer that we do not have nearly as many pictures as our previous states to share, and some towards the end might be a bit disturbing. The following picture sort of sets the mood for what is about to come…

Memphis is the city we chose to explore in Tennessee. We only booked one night here to explore a bit in the evening of 10/28 and also in the morning the next day. We checked into La Quinta Inn & Suites Primacy Parkway pretty early (it was about 1:30pm in the afternoon). We noticed the area was sort of nice because there was a Hyatt Place right next door, and a few shopping centers and other hotels nearby. This was only one of two days that we encountered rain during our trip because we really had lucked out. So, I guess we were feeling a bit tired and just wanted to stay in. We just wanted to take a quick nap before heading out for a late lunch/early dinner.

Because we enjoyed getting real Texas BBQ, we wanted to experience Memphis/Tennessee BBQ, so we went onto Yelp and found “One & Only BBQ“. which was only about ten minutes away from our hotel. It was a tiny place, with a few tables and chairs for dining in, but it was pretty cool because they just had a chalkboard with all of their menu items available to order.¬† We went with the 4 meats (pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and fried chicken), two sides (double baked potato salad and baked beans) and 2 slices of Texas toast. Boy was it all so tasty and extremely flavorful. About 4-5 customers came in and either sat down and ate or picked up food from the place when we were there around 4pm, so we knew it was a great place! The servers were really nice, and we were really satisfied and pleased with our meals that we definitely did not have any room for dessert.

After dinner we went to go look for a cache, and there was one in a nearby business parking lot. We found it with ease, and moved onto checking out some stores. We did not have anything specific we were looking for, but we just wanted to go explore the area a bit, so we parked in a shopping center that just so happened to have a Yogurt Mountain. After walking around, we decided to get some Froyo, and I was so happy they had a KidZone with green apple and orange sorbet, so I definitely had to get those along with my tart original!

We were so tired at the end of the day, so we retired around 8:45pm, and soon realized there was no fridge in our hotel room to put our BBQ leftovers, so Michael went outside to put the food in the cooler in the back of the truck.

The next morning, 10/29 (exactly one month before our wedding day), we had an early start because we had intended to check out downtown Beale Street and get a magnet. Breakfast was plain but good, and we got our stuff packed and ready to go. We had parked towards the back of the hotel and used that entrance, so I helped Michael with our bags and headed towards the front lobby to check us out. When I came back Michael still had our suitcases and bags outside. So I asked him: “Hm, why is our stuff still outside?” This next part of the story may or may not be a shocker to y’all…DUN DUN DUN

Apparently, our truck had been broken into the night prior. They smashed the glass on the driver’s side and rummaged through our belongings taking two suitcases and one duffel bag. Yes, we knew something like this was bound to happen sooner or later, but we figured, since we had only 8 states left to go in leg 4, we were thinking mostly happy thoughts.

I ran to the front lobby to tell them about what had happened, and they called the police for us. At that point, it really hit me what had really happened and I got a bit scared at first when I was telling the hotel staff members. I soon realized it had been done with, and we assessed the damage by recounting what items had been stolen, while we waited for the police to show up. To our surprise, they did not notice our passports in the glove box (even though it was wide open). I guess the bug spray, tea, and other things really deterred them from going through to the bottom to grab those really valuable items. We came to the conclusion these criminals must have been on the lower-end of the bunch because they failed to grab Michael’s $1200 fishing pole and rod along with his $400 Federal Tax textbook that were in sight.

It took about 20 minutes before the cop had showed up, and she was really trying her best to jot down all the details for the police report. We had noticed a few cameras in the back, so she was going to get one of her associates to review the footage down the road (which we later found out, Memphis police has been having a tough time keeping up with all of the bad things happening in the area, so we doubt they will get to it soon).

It took about an hour or so, and the police officer was kind enough to attempt to dust for finger prints, but since it had been raining the night before, it was tough to do. Even if the bandit was stupid enough not to wear gloves, his/her prints would have been washed away by the water. I kept a close eye because I had ever seen this process in action before (other than shows like CSI, etc.), so I was quite curious. The officer informed us that these things (car thefts) pick up and die down and run in cycles. And she even showed me video footage of someone who captured a male smashing a window of a car and literally hopping in through the window (by all means, this was not a very tiny guy either), and grabbing stuff out of the car and returned to the backseat of car with his own driver. It was crazy a hairstylist from the Hyatt Place had seen it clearly, recorded it, and called the cops.

Michael called his insurance company and we settled on a place where could get the driver’s side window fixed. We were happy that he had full glass coverage, so we did not have to front any money at the glass shop. This place took forever! We had left our room around 9:3opm for the car, and it was literally 2pm when we had left the auto glass repair shop. While we were in the waiting room we spoke to a couple there who also had their truck broken into four times in the past and were ready to leave Memphis. The lady at the counter asked us if we had read the news before we had decided to visit. We just wanted to put that out there to oir loyal readers that Memphis locals informed us about its spike in crime.

Oh and I forgot to mention that this was the only state we did not get a chance to purchase a magnet in. We made so many attempts on the way from Memphis to Mississippi, stopping at every gas station and Walgreens we could find, that it was ridiculous. I mostly went into these shops and saw these metal gates and employees behind bullet-proof counters, who did not typically speak a word of English. I enjoyed the challenge in searching for a magnet and communicating with everyone. As soon as I finished asking the store associates if they carried any magnets, most of them looked at me like I had ten heads and gave me a blank stare. I guess they had no idea what I was talking about.¬† One even ended up asking me if I worked next door or down the road at this place called Benny…I said no, but thank you. And he said, “Are you sure? Your people, you know, your people work at Benny”. I laughed so hard when I got back into the car, and asked Michael to go into the next place to ask for a magnet.

All in all, Michael would never return to the state of Tennessee because his truck got vandalized, and he was not pleased with anything Tennessee. Even though I was upset about this incident, I did realize that worse things could have happened to us, so I would likely return in the future, just maybe to explore Nashville vs. Memphis.