A few weeks ago, my mom made the long flight to Hong Kong to visit Katie and me. After spending a couple days around our home, the three of us went on a trip. Our first stop was Kinmen Island, which sits close to the Chinese mainland and is controlled by Taiwan. It was a fascinating place, rich with history. The vibe was very laid back and the people were quite friendly.
After leaving Iceland, Katie and I went to Finland for about a week. We spent most of our time visiting our friends Fei and Tapani, as well their daughter and Fei's parents. We managed to pack in many small adventures in Helsinki, including taking a ferry to an island that was once a fortress, sampling some of the country's best micro-brews, and making several trips to the sauna. We also spent three days bicycling around Turku (Finland's old capital), and we even squeezed in a day trip to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
Xian's Muslim Quarter is a fascinating place. Located in the heart of the city, pedestrians pour into the streets every night to buy food and to people-watch. Some vendors shout to get your attention, others blast music from outdoor speakers. Not many cars brave the streets, but plenty of rickshaws and motorcycles force their way through the crowds, honking their horns the entire time. It's a loud and brash environment, and the energy is intoxicating. Most tourists only come to Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors, but you should also take some time to walk through the Muslim Quarter.
Hutongs are northern China's traditional back alley neighborhoods. Their houses are small; their bathrooms are shared. They typically have communal central courtyards. Some hutongs date back to the Ming dynasty of the fifteenth century. In recent decades, many hutongs have been demolished to make way for highrise towers and wide avenues. Only a few have been protected from modern development.
One day while walking around central Beijing, I stumbled upon