For our "Christmas leave" this year we decided to take a trip to Hong Kong and China (And yes, those two places are VERY different!) One of our very best friends from college Kenneth Pope (aka - Pope) is a lover of traveling as well and was willing to meet us in Asia to ring in the new year!
After almost 6 months of long distance planning, (Pope in Brazil, his sister Laura - whom we had also convinced to travel with us - in the U.S., and us in Japan) we all finally met up and were very excited for our upcoming journey!
(We were able to get all of our flights connected together and met the Pope's at their layover in our airport in Narita....of course we greeted them with our favorite Japanese drink = chu-hi!!!)
From the airport we took a train to our hotel. (Nick was a bit excited about his Hong Kong dollars...or what we call our "Monopoly money".)
We stayed at the Island Pacific Hotel on the island side of Hong Kong.
(Great staff. Friendly and informative, always willing to open your door, hail you a taxi or answer your question! The rooms were big for HK standards and very clean. On the map the hotel appeared to be in a good central location. After arriving we discovered that it was a little bit away from the main line of hotels, but it was for the most part centrally located by everything we wanted to see, and the cab fair was super cheap!)
Despite it being late when we arrived, we were all too excited for our reunion and wanted to continue the celebration!
A cab ride to SoHo (the district of HK that is known for it's night life) led us to an array of venues.
We walked around for a bit, taking in the scenery before deciding on a place called Infusion. The bar had indoor seating but with an open front and a large outdoor deck.
The weather in Hong Kong was a lot warmer than Japan. We enjoyed the change in weather by choosing to sit outdoors!
Best martini's I've had in a while! (the key is lots of olive juice!)
First full day in Hong Kong....of course our first stop was to head to the tailor shop to get the men suits made! HK has tailors on every corner, famed for being able to "stitch-up top quality suits, at bottom dollar prices." (The key is to go to the tailor as soon as you arrive in Hong Kong so that it will be ready before you leave! The turn-around is rather quick, yet the quality is still top notch!)
William Cheng & Son, recommended by one of Nick's co-workers. It was a little hard to find, and not highly advertised...though the tailors that are busy with customers without having to "tout" you off the street are most often better anyway! We were satisfied with their work and would highly recommend.
After the tailor shop, it was on to the city where we picked up our tickets for the New Year's Eve party we were planning to attend the following night.
While in the area, we took the opportunity to take some scenic pictures....
Next stop...a leisurely boat ride aboard the Aqua Luna!
Aqua Luna is a "junk boat" that does daily cruises around Hong Kong's harbor.
"Victoria Harbour is one of the world’s most impressive natural harbours. Stunning buildings and landmarks on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon adorn both sides of the busy harbour, a variety of craft including ferries, junks, sampans, cruise ships, freighters and tankers ply the waters and at night time the illuminated buildings provide a colourful and spectacular display." (Hong Kong Extras)
Snuggling under blankets on comfortable wide cushioned benches, while sipping on a glass of wine...who wouldn't enjoy this ride? Of course, the view was spectacular as well...
After our mini cruise we needed a snack. What do they do in Hong Kong at snacktime every afternoon? High tea of course!
The tea shop we found was just what we were looking for. An excellent array of delicious teas as well as tasty treats.
That evening we had drinks at the top of the Ritz.
Located on the top floor of the hotel, Ozone is the HIGHEST bar in the WORLD!!!
It was one of the most uniquely designed drink places I've been to. We couldn't get over the intricate decor! The lights changed every few minutes from different hues of blue, yellow and red.
The ceiling was even fabulous!
"Guests can indulge themselves with signature cocktails and an exotic selection of Asian tapas while enjoying the DJ beats." (raves the website)
That's just what we did...we enjoyed our appetizers and bevies so much that we ended up canceling our dinner reservations and staying at the bar a bit longer!
"Enjoy the gentle breezes at the outdoor terrace that captures the spectacular views of the city and Victoria Harbour."
Hong Kong is known for it's nightly lazor show. What better place to witness the show than from the tallest bar in the world? Unfortunately our plans were kinda ruined by the evening's muggy skies, but the atmosphere of Ozone was so amazing that we really didn't mind.
A stroll and a bit of shopping at one of the famous night markets on Temple Street.
Brightly lit stalls line the street, with vendors "hawking" a variety of inexpensive items. Open from 4pm till midnight, though they say it only "really comes alive after sunset".
(Before we even entered the park we saw little otters....of course they reminded Nick and I of our dog Beretta...she too will do any tricks for food, loves the water, and has a thick otter tail! Nick had to pull me away so we could enter the park and see the pandas....though I was having an "I miss Beretta" moment....sadly we miss her after only 24 hours away!)
Laura and I got to go up in the hot air balloon... The men opted not to wait in the long line with the rest of the little kids and their parents, but Laura and I were all too eager!
It did go quite high...
But, the real reason we visited the park was to see the Pandas!!!
I'm a sucker for those black and white cuddly bears!
Unfortunately they didn't let me inside the panda's den to play with them...(I really wanted to get my hair braided by one of them....it's all I talked about!)
Who knew there was such a thing as a red panda? (Of course, they don't look a thing like "real" pandas!)
After the pandas we took a cab to Victoria Peak!
At 552m, Victoria Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island.
A quick Starbucks fix to tide us over till lunch! (Pope is known for his love of Starbucks...if there's one around, he's bound to make us stop for a double shot of expresso!)
We hadn't had Dim Sum yet...after researching (and using our friends' advice) we decided to indulge in our first round of Dim Sum at Maxim's Palace in City Hall.
The line was out the door and down the staircase....a "45 minute wait at the least", the hostess informed us.
But if this Dim Sum was that popular, we were definitely willing to wait around and see why!
With rumbling stomach's we were finally seated. The tables were placed strategically to allow for maximum capacity (don't go letting the firemen in there).
The food came out in cart's, rolled from table to table by little Chinese ladies. No need to order, the food just kept coming...if you wanted what was on the next cart, you'd simply tell the ladies how many. If the food looked questionable (which many of the dishes did) then you would simply wave them on to the next table.
Unbenoest to us, Dim Sum actually has a multitude of varieties. We got to try several...many were very tasty, others we opted to forgo! (Thanks Tami for the recommendation!)
A Hong Kong Wedding on the steps of City Hall...I got the attention of the bride and groom...whoops! Sorry photographer!
Walking back from lunch we went through an underground passageway that led us to the other side of the road. The passageway was lined up on either side by dozens of different groups of woman huddled on the ground playing card games! So bizarre!
Afternoon cocktails at the Mandarin Oriental was next on the agenda.
Reservations at most dinner restaurants is a must. We were in HK during their busy season, so it was rather difficult for us to get a table at most places. After calling several places we finally were able to get a spot for dinner at Cuisine Cuisine.
The food was good, but the view of the city from our table was the best part. In Hong Kong, it's all about the view!
Our recommendation - the honey-glazed BBQ pork, it was so good we ordered a second plate -to split amongst the group of course ;)
In Japan this cat is called the "Maneki Neko" meaning the "beckoning cat" or the "lucky cat". It's believed to bring good luck to the owner. Not surprisingly, these ceramic cats were out on display and for sale everywhere over the New Year's weekend! Good luck and good fortune in 2012!
We asked around and were told that Red was the place to be on New Year's Eve.
Located on the terrace of IFC - Hong Kong's tallest building, and surrounded by spectacular views of the Central skyline and Victoria Harbour, it was an unforgettable NYE!
The DJ counted down as the fireworks went off around the city and the tower across the street lit up with 2012!!! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
This wasn't our first time counting down the New Year with the Pope's, but it was our first time doing it in Hong Kong! Such an amazing experience and wonderful trip! But, the fun wasn't over yet....
We were saying Bon Voyage to HK, but "ni hao" to China! Next stop on our trip - Yangshuo, China!
To be continued in Part 2 of the Holman/Pope Asian adventure...