China Trip – Shenyang to Beijing Train

Saturday I woke up a little late since I set my alarm for weekdays only by accident. It was actually quite nice to get some rest since I was quite tired during the week getting over the jet lag. After breakfast I took the taxi to the Shenyang North Train Station. The train station is quite large and is the stop for the high speed trains for Shenyang to Beijing. Trying to buy a ticket was interesting with the language barrier but after a lot of pointing I got my ticket for the train. I had gotten there a lot earlier than I needed since the first open train was not for another 2 hours. After getting through security (a x-ray machine with no one looking for anything, a metal detector that was going off for 100% of the passengers and security mainly looking for suspicious people) I sat down to read for a bit. At one point a small boy walked past me and looked at me wide eyed like he was seeing a foreigner for the first time. It was rather cute.

The train ride was rather long and was 30 minutes longer than expected. It ended up being a 4.5 hour train ride I guess due to the high amount of smog and limited visibility (possibly causing the train to have to travel slower). Unfortunately the ticket counter did not understand me when I had requested 1st class (only 50 RMB more for a lot more room) but it was not that bad. A lot of people staring when I boarded the train and started walking down the aisle. I was seated in a middle seat at first but a couple was trying to sit together so I switched seats with the man. His seat ticket was for another car back on the aisle next to a nice couple with a new born baby. The scenery on the way down was filled with a lot of smog, farm land, and a lot of dilapidated houses and buildings. However, there were also a lot of pretty views of mountains and the country side. I am sure even nicer if one could see it through the terrible smog.

The arrival into Beijing Central Rail Station was cool getting to see a lot more of Beijing from the train. The smog in Beijing was even worse not allowing you to see the top of buildings that you were looking up at. I got off the train and the large amount of smog had immediate effects, making my eyes and lungs hurt.  I found the taxi stand with a long line of 100+ people waiting but it also gave me a chance to take some pictures of the rail station and stretch my legs after sitting for so long. The line moved slowly and we were all constantly being barraged by illegal taxi drivers wanting to over charge and fill out their cars. After an hour wait I was able to get a taxi to the hotel. The drive to the hotel was not too bad other than the taxi driver not knowing where the hotel was (mainly since it is a little further away from the city center). Beijing is surrounded by 5 rings that are the main roads. The hotel was on the outside of the 5th ring since it is closer to the ZF plant which is right across the street from the BBAC/Mercedes joint venture. We ended up finding it OK and after a long day I ate a quick dinner in the hotel and relaxed in the hotel room the rest of the night.

China Trip – Beijing Sight Seeing

After waking up on Sunday I hopped in a taxi and headed to the center of Beijing. The taxi driver tried to trick me and take a super long route all the way to the north of the city before heading into the center which doubled the fare but I caught on so I only paid what the fare should have been since I knew from the previous day. I got dropped off near Tiananmen Square which unfortunately was shut down due to the newly appointed Chinese President holding political meetings in the area. The smog was rather bad which put a downer on the day and made it rather difficult to take good pictures. After walking around the shopping area to the south of Tiananmen Square I walked back up towards the imperial palace. On the way I passed at least a dozen security checkpoints where I had to show my passport due to the political meetings.

The imperial palace was huge! After walking through what I thought was the main area I came out of a small gate to the large main gate to the central palace. There were tourists everywhere. I ended up walking through the center of the palace, straight north. After checking out the palace I walked across the street to the Qingxiu Tea Garden which has a great view of the palace.

I ended up walking around a bit more and exploring, I could not find anyone that could point me in the right direction for other places to see so I headed back to the hotel. Mainly because I was exhausted. The map for Beijing looks simple and small but the scale is much bigger than expected when walking around.

China Trip – Shenyang

Katie and I took the train to Dusseldorf this past weekend to start our travels. After checking Katie into the local Holiday Inn (she was flying on Sunday and I was flying on Saturday) we ventured out into the rain and found a great little restaurant attached to a local horse training facility. The food was great. After we took a taxi back to the hotel (to keep from getting soaked again) and I continued on to the airport to catch my flight. The first flight was quick to Copenhagen. It was super cold getting off the plane and onto the transfer bus. I am very glad we are not up there permanently during the winter. The layover was a little longer than expected but was still OK since we actually originally would have been rather tight on the connection. The next flight was 9 hours to Beijing. The food was good and interestingly I sat next to a German who lived near Charleston, SC for 7 years working for a steel manufacturer. It was great talking to someone about South Carolina for a little bit. We arrived in Beijing a little after noon (cutting 40 minutes off the flight!). My next flight was a short hopper to Shenyang but of course was in a different terminal 5 minutes away so I had to completely recheck everything.

The arrival into Shenyang was easy except for the fact that the ATM at the airport was broken. This was rather interesting trying to get a taxi driver to understand that he had to bring me by an ATM if he wanted to get paid! Luckily pointing at my ATM card he finally understood. The ride was immediately interesting with the realization that there are no rules for driving in China! Included was my taxi driver driving 3 lanes over into oncoming traffic, not staying in any lanes, honking constantly so that we would not get hit by other drivers, avoiding rickshaw size potholes, etc.

I have noticed over the week that driving in China is taking your life into your own hands. Chinese drivers have absolutely no fear, combine all the “a-hole” driving techniques (cutting people off, honking constantly, not staying in one lane/riding the line, pushing people out of the way, stop in the middle of the street to talk to someone they know, running red lights, tailgating, etc.). I am sure the number of accidents is the reason why so many cars are being sold in China. Luckily I made it to the hotel in one piece!  On the way in we passed a crazy amount of high dollar stores (Prada, etc.) and car dealerships (including a Bentley, Maserati,  Ferrari dealership). The city is in a constant stage of development and new buildings are going up everywhere. I thought we were in the city center at one point due to all the high rise buildings but we were no where close! It almost feels like I am in the movie Inception where Leonardo (Dom) is in his dream landscape that he put together with Marion Cotillard (Mal) since so many of the tall high-rise apartment buildings are copies of each other and are in groups of 5 – 10 in the same block

Sunday night after checking in and getting settled I grabbed dinner in the hotel (really good Chinese food) and then went to bed. Monday was another “interesting” taxi trip to the BBA/BMW joint venture plant where our axle systems plant LAS2 is located. The trip took about 45 minutes in insane traffic. The traffic itself was not that bad… Just the drivers like mentioned above! After being dropped off at the wrong place, I was able to finally find the correct entrance to the plant and found our ZF area. The day was quickly filled with project work and meeting people. Everyone has been very friendly and nice.

That night, after returning to the hotel, I decided to venture out a little bit. After walking around the area I found a restaurant that had a lot of traffic in and out so I figured it must be a good place to eat. However, I quickly realized that I was the only foreigner that had ever gone there because people were taking pictures and their mouths were wide open in amazement when they saw me. The food was extremely authentic and I am not really sure what I ate (may be the reason for my stomach being off today). After giving up on the questionable food I ate some fruit and returned to the hotel hoping I would not wake up regretting my food decisions.

I woke up Tuesday feeling OK and started my day with a good Chinese/American breakfast (fried rice, rice noodles, bacon and an egg). Tuesday was another full day of project work back at LAS2 with a more familiar dinner at an Italian restaurant at the hotel. It started snowing at lunch so everywhere was blanketed in snow. The ride home was very interesting with combining normally bad driving with the winter element. However, what was also interesting was the number of people out clearing the roads of snow. On many main roads there was a worker shoveling snow from the street every 50 meters. They had most sidewalks cleared as well.

Wednesday, I moved over to LAS1 which is another ZF plant a little closer to the hotel to start the torque procedure training. The training started at 9:30 and I found myself lecturing to 1 German Manager and 20+ ZF Chinese Engineers and Managers. The first day of training was very successful. However, something I ate (possibly the McDonald’s for lunch, started to not agree with me in the afternoon which made it difficult. After finishing up, the Shenyang Quality Manager (over LAS1, LAS2 and future LAS3 plants) invited me to join him and his girlfriend for Peking duck at a local restaurant. I had a great time and the food was delicious.

Today was another training day that went well. I ate lunch in the canteen which was actually pretty good. It consisted of typical Chinese dishes. Tonight, since I was still not feeling too great, I stayed in and read most of the night. I have not had another chance to venture out yet to explore other than walking around the other night. I hope that during my next trip here I will have more time. I am also hoping that I will have some time on Sunday to explore in Beijing.

Hamburg Trip: Day 4


–  HafenCity- This part of town hold most of the warehouses and lots of new/modern looking office buildings, hotels, shops, residential buildings, and the almost completed Elbe Philharmonic Hall. Also this is where several of the museums/ attractions are including the Miniature World which was our next stop.

–  Miniature World- This was probably Morgan’s favorite stop on our entire trip. It is two floors of a ware house with HUGE model train displays, each one featuring different landscapes from around the world (aka there was a US Section which had a wild west scene and a Las Vegas scene), a Scandinavia section that had a miniature cruise ship sailing around, a miniature airport, etc. All the displays were so intricate… Morgan was in heaven! He took about 500 pictures while we were there.. we’ll just include a few of our favorites. J

–  Fabrik – Avett Brothers Concert- Our last night in town we had a great time at the concert. The venue was pretty small compared to what we are used to in the US, so we ended up really close to the stage- actually we were right above the band. It was a great way to end our trip!

Whew, that’s all folks!

Hamburg Trip: Day 3

Monday: Lübeck

–  Holsten Gate- Originally it was the only entrance into the city.

–  Marienkirche-  A Lutheran, gothic style church, construction started around 1250. The painted detail on the ceiling was beautiful. The church also held several beautiful pieces of art (you can Wikipedia it!). The Palm Sunday air raid in 1942 badly damaged the church and the bells of the church, which fell down during the ensuing blaze, still lie where they fell.

–  Rathaus – City hall – famous for its unusual turrets.

– Dom zu Lübeck (Lübeck Cathedral)- Another Lutheran church- construction started in 1173 by Henry the Lion. It also suffered a lot of damage in the Pal Sunday air raid (are you sensing a theme here?). Though it is the Cathedral in Lübeck, it is not the tallest church in town (which is unusual)- Marienkirche is taller and had priority in being rebuilt after the war.  There is an inscription in the church that I thought was pretty interesting: “Ye call Me Master and obey me not, Ye call Me Light and see Me not, Ye call Me Way and walk not, Ye call Me Life and desire Me not, Ye call Me wise and follow Me not, Ye call Me fair and love Me not, Ye call Me rich and ask Me not, Ye call Me eternal and seek Me not, Ye call Me gracious and trust Me not, Ye call Me noble and serve Me not, Ye call Me mighty and honor Me not, Ye call Me just and fear Me not, If I condemn you, blame me not.”

–  Travemünde – Before heading back to Hamburg we drove a little farther up to the Baltic Sea cost. It is pretty much a resort town (there were lots of older, rich couples strolling around, shopping, having coffee, etc). They did have some pretty cool roofed wicker beach chairs that would come in handy for a day at the beach!

–  Tower Bar- When we got back to Hamburg, we got drinks at the Tower Bar (a bar at the top of a tower attached to a Hotel that is up on a hill overlooking the harbor) and had some really tasty frozen drinks. Then we ate dinner at the Hamburg Hard Rock Café – it is right on the water. Morgan had never eaten at one and it was close to our hotel so we got to enjoy some hamburgers!

Hamburg Trip: Day 2


–  Fischmarkt – We started off the day bright and early at the Fischmarkt, which is only open from 7 to 9:30 in the winter. Despite its name, you can buy just about anything here – fresh fruit and vegetables, pasta and pasta sauce, flowers, fresh fish, crepes (with candy bars in the middle), Hamburg souvenirs (purchased a magnet to add to our collection), coffee, etc. At the far end of the market is the Auktionshalle (auction hall) where there was a live band playing rock’n roll music. Yep at 8 in the morning there is a rock band and people are drinking gluvine (wine mulled with spices and served warm).  We really wanted to get one of the “Hamburg” baskets with fruit in it, but since we weren’t going to be going home until Wednesday, we were afraid everything would go bad before we had a chance to eat it all. Next time!

– Ahrensburg Schloss- We drove to Ahrensburg to visit an estate there built around 1600.  It had some pretty cool details, I especially loved the floor mosaic in the ball room.. Morgan snuck and took a picture for me!

– Stade- We had a great time walking around town; it still has lots of the old half-timbered buildings. The area around the Alter Hafen (old port) was especially nice, that is where the Bügermeister-Hintze-Haus (aka the mayors home) is. While in town we ate dinner at a little restaurant called Messerchmiede and it was delicious!

Hamburg Trip: Day 1

At the beginning of March Morgan and I took a trip to Hamburg (including day trips to Lübeck and Stade).  On Friday (the 1st) there was a going away party for one of Morgan’s colleagues and on the following Tuesday (the 5th) night was the Avett Brothers concert that Morgan had given me tickets to for Christmas.. so we made it into an extra-long weekend trip! We didn’t know much about Hamburg before going, I would have thought of Berlin and München has the biggest cities in Germany, but Hamburg is actually the second largest behind Berlin, is the second largest port in Europe (behind Rotterdam), and  has more bridges than Amsterdam, Venice and London combined. Who knew?  When we first booked our hotel stay I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to keep busy for 4 days, but that turned out to be barely enough time! We hit most of the historical sights/churches/most popular attractions, but there were several other museums we’d like to visit (the Chocolate Mesuem, the Kunsthalle, and the International Maritime Museum) and when the weather is nicer we’d like to do a harbor tour. Hamburg is also known for having lots of plays and musicals, so we’ll just have to go back there at some point in the future!

Since we drove up there, we had the flexibility of being able to drive to a few other towns nearby. One day we drove to Ahrensburg to visit the estate there and then went on the Stade- which had some of the most charming little streets (with lots of great windows & doors for me to take pictures of) and a picturesque old town center with old half-timbered houses along the canal in the middle (which was my cover picture on Facebook for a while).  Another day we drove up to Lübeck where we were able to see the Holsten Gate as well as many beautiful churches  and buildings with Gothic brick architecture which it has become known for (in addition to its Marzipan- though neither Morgan or I are fans so we didn’t buy any). On the way back from Lübeck we stopped by Travemünde which is a borough of Lübeck that sits on the Baltic Sea. We walked along the water and had coffee and dessert in a restaurant overlooking the water. All in all it was a great trip!

Below I’ll list the major places we visited with a little info about them so you know what you are looking at in the pictures!


–   Dinner at Herzblut – Restaurant where the going away party was. The district it is in (St. Pauli) is known for its bars, clubs, strip clubs and the red-light district (not exactly my first pick for an area to hang out); but it was where about 30 of Morgan’s work buddies were. Later in the night the restaurant turned into a club and there was a DJ and everyone was dancing, which was fun.  Also, I learned that in the winter the prostitutes in Hamburg all wear moonboots so you can pick them out (since it is too cold to be barely dressed outside). Friends – don’t wear your brightly colored moonboots out on the town in Hamburg… people will think you are a lady of the night!


–   Michaeliskirche- A Lutheran church that has become the landmark for the city. The inside is beautiful and you can walk up a TON of stairs to an observation platform in the tower that provides a great view of the city and the harbor (as long as it isn’t really cloudy/foggy like it was when we were there). It was sooo cold up there – there were ice crystals forming on everything!

–  St. Nikolai- Now it is just a monument/museum, but originally it was a church that had the highest steeple in the world (when it was built). Unfortunately during WWII its steeple was used as a point of orientation for bomber pilots and the church was mostly destroyed. We took the elevator up to the viewing platform, where we were able to get a much better view of the city since the clouds and fog had cleared up a bit!

– Rathaus- Enormous and beautiful town hall. The front doors and main hallway were very ornate… I loved all the arches inside!  We were peeking out the windows into the courtyard and there was a newly married couple having their pictures taken. I would have died being in a strapless dress, outside, in Hamburg at the beginning of March (it was oh, I don’t know, about 3°C or 40°F)! Brrr!

– Shopping district – Hamburg had so many nice stores! My store of choice was a chocolate shop and Morgan bought a pair of Puma’s.

– Binnenalster – We walked around the smaller of the two lakes in Hamburg and warmed up at a café on the water.

– Katharinenkirche – This church was very simple compared to St. Michael’s. It was pretty much all white inside other than a huge stain glass window behind the alter.

– Deichstrasse – One of the few surviving streets in old town, with the original facades visible from the road and the canal.