Sunday, October 19, 2008

On Top of the World

The Peak is to Hong Kong as ____ is to _____:
  1. Empire State Building, New York City
  2. Sears Tower, Chicago
  3. Eiffel Tower, Paris
  4. Space Needle, Seattle
Don't ask why I keep using a test format in these postings. Clearly "someone" is harboring deep-seeded and unresolved SAT anxieties!

The hubby and I decided to be tourists and see what this Peak thing was all about. If you don't know me that well or have never traveled with me, it's worth sharing that I'm not the best tourist in the world. Vin always likes to tell the story about our trip to London (my first visit, his second): He said, "Do you want to go see Big Ben?" and I replied, "No need to; I can see it from right here." The thought of standing in long lines, being shoved onto tour buses or being on someone else's timetable is NOT my idea of fun. Needless-to-say I had some trepidation about visiting Hong Kong's tourism mecca.

As is usually the case with my preconceived notions, I was wrong.

Hong Kong is basically a big mountain jutting out of the South China Sea (actually it's a series of mountainous islands, to be exact.) This topography means that everything is built down near the water with some buildings climbing up the mountainside, kinda like Capri or the Amalfi Coast. Usually civilization doesn't climb too high, so the majority of the mountain is dedicated to parks and hiking. (Little Known HK Fact: Hong Kong is a hiker's paradise with thousands of trails on each of her islands.) The apex of HK Island is known as The Peak (formerly Victoria's Peak). In addition to mind-blowing views, The Peak offers 2 malls, a gazillion restaurants and some of the world's most expensive real estate. Only bonafide rich people live at The Peak.

While the rich have chauffeured cars, us plebeians take The Peak tram. I knew the tram took us to the top of the mountain. What I didn't know was that it went straight up -- the entire ride felt like when you're climbing the first big hill of a rollercoaster. I love a good roller coaster, but this was downright scary.

The ride was worth it once we got to the top. I've never seen views like this -- N.E.V.E.R. You can see everything -- all of HK Island, Kowloon (the island directly across from HK) and even the south side of the island. Words can't do it justice, so I'm just going to post a ton of pictures.

The harbor divides Hong Kong Island (near) and Kowloon (far). Kowloon is kind of like Brooklyn; it's becoming quite the hot spot with many businesses and trendsetters moving there.

In fact, you can see Vin's new office (it's the tallest building on the left-hand side.)

Sadly, The Peak has to pander to the fanny-packing wearing, camera-wielding tourist. They do this by offering both a Madame Trussard's wax museum and a Bubba Gump's restaurant. I guess we all have to make a buck, huh?

I tried to turn a blind eye -- I didn't want anything spoiling the one tourist attraction I actually enjoyed, but Vin made me take a picture of him with the Jackie Chan wax figure. (For the record, we didn't go inside the museum; Jackie was on display at the tram station. I felt it's necessary to tell you this.)

Then I found myself posing with a Forest Gump impersonator. If you can't beat em, join em.

I can't help it; I was lured in by his American accent. It's rare a gweilo here isn't Australian so to hear someone talking American was just wonderful. Sadly he stayed in character when I tried to have a real conversation with him. (He replied "Alabama" when I asked where he was from.) By the way, Forest and all the people in pink shirts behind us were there because Bubba Gump's was sponsoring some kind of scavenger hunt/race.

While HK's residential architecture leaves A LOT to be desired (oh how I long for a the charming West Village brownstones or the breath-taking loft buildings in the Flat Iron district), its corporate skyscrapers are pretty damn cool. Here's a pic of one of the malls on The Peak. The top is the observation deck where we took all the panoramic shots.

Finally, for all you foodies out there, Vin and I had an excellent Italian meal at The Peak. For whatever reason, we've started eating like Europeans -- with multi-course meals in the afternoon.

Here's our first course: spinach salad for the marathoner and minestrone for his unmotivated wife. In my excitement over receiving our second course, I forgot to photograph it. It was linguine bolognese for Vin and gnocchi in a mushroom sauce for me.

And yes, 2 iced teas, because Hong Kong has turned us into iced tea addicts.

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