Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Last Post

Thursday 4th November 2010

Our last morning began with a bang! Literally. John went to switch the light on at the washbasin and it exploded. Neither of us was hurt and the hotel staff were most concerned and cleaned it up immediately. Not an auspicious start to the day.

We had arranged a late check out at the hotel so were able to enjoy the morning in the sun on the roof terrace. Donnie even braved the pool. Real bravery as it was only 12 degrees. Hope the video clip with the sound effects comes out! In the afternoon we did last minute shopping. I wanted to take home ginger.  It's £1.50 a kilo in Hong Kong and £9.50 in Tesco! We then treated ourselves to a last massage. Although we had to check out by 3pm they very kindly allowed us to stay on the roof terrace until our transport at 6pm.

We got home at 12.30 today  - 26 and a half hours after we set off from our hotel in Hong Kong. We had 90 minutes on the plane in Bangkok for a brief stopover. I was disappointed that we couldn't get off the plane as I was hoping to buy orchids in the Duty Free shop. We then had a couple of hours in Dubai when we changed planes to fly direct to Glasgow. As least we were able to take advantage of the Duty Free shopping there. It is a huge area. It seemed a long slow flight back. Cath drew the short straw and had children beside her who took it in turns to scream for most of the way.

Now we're home and have plenty time to reflect on the whole trip. We have loads  of photos and the dvd to jog our memories and make us smile for a long time to come. I am so pleased that John was finally able to live the dream he has had since he was a boy. All four of us appreciate how lucky we are to be able to have had such a wonderful experience. Everything went just as planned and John and I both enjoyed sharing our exciting adventure with such good friends.

Where to next? We have ideas and hope that we will have more adventures while we are still able to enjoy them.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog. It has been a challenge for me but now that I'm not working it's one I have relished. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Last Full Day

2nd November 2010

We had another leisurely start on this our last full day. It was Cath's turn to be not well so she decided to chill out here. the 3 of us went to the flower market which was a wonderful riot of colour. It was only 11am when we got there and I stupidly bought Jenny something that I had to lug aroung all day. Hope you like it Jen.

We then went to the bird market. I had forgotten how sad it is. I did take video of tiny cages filled with masses of beautifully coloured birds.

The plain and dowdy sparrows were hopping around. I wonder what they were chirping to the pretty birds crammed in their cages. The most awful sight that I don't remember from our last time there was bags of live crickets being sold as bird food. It just turned my stomach.

We love to hear them in France. There were also tanks full of them, presumably waiting to be bagged. I fear that will be the focus of my dreams tonight.

We then had a walk in Kowloon Park and admired all the sculptures, most of which are bronze.

 It was very hot walking around in the sun so - 3 guesses what we needed! Hong Kong, like China, is far more a gambling culture so bars are few and far between. We gave up and were heading for the Star Ferry when we spotted a bar. It looked very upmarket but after all we are clebs! 3 large beers were $HK200! (£16!!!) Ouch. We enjoyed them.

I am having a Chinese style blouse made and had a fitting this afternoon so we called in there on the way back to the hotel. Cath was feeling lonely and fed up by then. At least she had the use of my netbook and the benefit of sun on the roof terrace until early afternoon.

Just back. Canapes and drinks in the Sky Bar then dinner in the hotel. In ways it would have been nice to have had a real chinese meal somewhere but the hotel was good and convenient. Happy hour in the lobby bar was the perfect sociable end.

Tomorrow will be a strange day. I will post one last blog when we get home just to round this off.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Stanley and Macau

1st November 2010w
Early breakfast then the guys set off for Macau.

Cath and I set off for Stanley market. We wanted a bit more of a brouse than male tolerance would allow on Saturday. Success. Wandered. Browsed. Bought. Doubt if Chloe will see this blog but just in case I wont detail our brill brill buy for her for Christmas. Delighted. It's just fantastic. She'll love it.

We had a lovely girly day. Drinks on the terrace. Cath and I were enjoying our drinks when this very loud American woman spoke/shouted/deafened us. She was part of a tour and had travelled fairly extensevly. I know she was just being friendly but Cath and I were quite enjoying quiet time on our own. She and husband had been to the UK a few years ago so we had to hear all about that. She wanted to know where Cath and I had learnt our English! Had we learnt it at school! We were more than a smidgeon confused but it turned out that she meant our very pc Queen's English. I think not! I said to her that we considered ourselves to have an educated Scots accent. It's true. I would love to think I had an educated Scots accent. It's just so..... everything I would love it to be.

Showers before the guys came back then canapes etc. That was disappointing. Too many people encroaching on what we had come to view as our private space. Would be lovely if they were only staying one night but doubt that.

As the guys were so late back we decided to have dinner in the hotel. It was a buffet and was just perfect. Given all the free canapes we had already gorged on we actually didn't need a full buffet dinner. Nevertheless it was lovely. When we had finished dinner we discovered the lobby bar was still doing a 2 for 1. Gosh! Quelle surprise! 2 bottles of good red wine for 200 Hong Kong dollars - £16. This was such a real treat for us. Not that we like wine! We all thoroughly enjoyed our wine in the posh hotel lobby bar.

Now posting this late at night. Scary that we only have one more night here. Can't believe this wonderful trip is nearly over. Because most of the Blog has been by email proxy courtesy of Graham we're really looking forward to reading it and reliving all the memories.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Down time

31st October 2010

It's been a different kind of day for us. We had a leisurely start with a super breakfast. I'm amazed at my will power. It's too easy to eat too much when it's all lovely and included in the room rate.

We headed off out with our shopping list of electronics, hoping for real bargains. No. The days of really cheap cameras etc are long gone. Having been unsuccessful we took a tram to its terminus and back again then back to the hotel to chill. Cath and I had discovered a massage place just beside the hotel with prices that made it a definite "had to have". The guys did their own thing while we went for massages. Cath had an aromatherapy one while I had reflexology. Mine cost £9.50 and was just wonderful. At one point early on I nearly yelped in pain but it was just fantastic afterwards. The power these tiny girls have in their hands is unbelievable. Think we'll have to go back tomorrow - just to make sure that neither of us was exaggerating how good it was!

After that it was up to the roof terrace for a drink by the pool. The guys were already well settled by the time we got there. Because of the high buildings there was not actually a lot of sun but it was really nice relaxing anyway. Holidays are such hard work!

Early drinks and canapes then off out.

We wanted to take the Star Ferry at night so did that then walked down Nathan Road. That's where the visual and commercial action is at night.
We had a really nice inexpensive meal in a restaurant full of Chinese people. It was interesting that most of them were eating steaks and we being the only westerners were eating chinese.

This is the end of another lovely day. Time is going way too quickly.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Stanley Market

Saturday 30th October 2010.

Happy Birthday Aunty Jane! We're thinking of you enjoying Rome as we enjoy our day in Hong Kong.

After breakfast John and I headed off to find a tailor to make me a Chinese style top. We didn't find one locally so decided to return to the place where I had my cheong sam made all these years ago. Surprisingly enough we eventually found it. Still in business 13 years later. Prices had gone up but we knew the quality we would get. Chose, ordered and had measurements taken. I go back for a fitting on Tuesday and they will post the top to me at home.

We then met Donnie and Cath at the bus station for the trip to Stanley Market. What can I say? Christmas shopping done and John and I are still speaking! My Christmas shopping trip with Aunty Jane will be rather one sided this year. The perks however will be well and truly shared!

There was apparently a rugby international between Australia and New Zealand taking place in Hong Kong today so traffic was exceptionally bad. We had wondered about going out tonight to see the Star Ferry and Nathan Road at night but decided to leave that until tomorrow. Free drinks and considerable canapes may be the extent of our intake tonight.

Our days are so full that I'm struggling to find the time to text you girls. Thank you for the comments on the blog that we can at last read.

Donnie's Birthday

John's better today. Birthday Boy is in good spirits and pleased with his cards. We had a leisurely start and a lovely breakfast. It was a good clear morning so we decided to head for The Peak. John and I have been up before on both occasions when we have been to Hong Kong. We have never been lucky enough to have good visibility but today was perfect. We took the bus because it has far better views than the tram. It was spectacular.

We lingered for quite a while then felt, after all the exertions of the escalators, we deserved a beer!

We then headed for the Star Ferry. It was clearly a "must do" for Donnie and Cath. By the time we got back to the hotel it was way later than we had expected. All we had time for was a quick in and out of the shower before complementary drinks and canapes. I had bought Donnie one of these tiny 60th birthday cakes that one can buy in the card shops and had taken candles and matches. I produced it while we were in the Sky Lounge and we sang to him.
This of course flagged it up with the management. While we were finishing our drinks the staff brought a big cake with candles and everyone in the lounge sang Happy Birthday to him. Good move on the embarrassment front! Unknown to Donnie we had booked dinner on the Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Aberdeen Harbour. We ordered a taxi and we're soooo glad.
He was delighted and the whole experience was every bit as good as we had remembered. It was a truly memorable 60th birthday. We were not late back at the hotel, in time for a nightcap.

The End Of The Line

Thursday 28th October 2010

We all slept ok but it was John's turn for the runny tummy. We arrived in Guang Zhou just after 11am and after more charades we managed to get 2 taxis to take us to Guang Zhu Dong where we were to get the train for the final leg of our journey. Lady Luck smiled on us. There was a train leaving for Hung Hom in less than 2 hours. Having got our tickets we went for lunch -our first Kentucky Fried Chicken. None of us had ever had one anywhere so didn't know what to expect. There was nothing in English so we just pointed at a picture without knowing what we were ordering. It was really good. Spicy but good. John passed on all food or liquid intake and the 3 of us had our fill for less than 8 GBP. Value!

The train to Hung Hom was only 2 hours. We all felt full of anticipation and a sense of achievement.
Taxis again to our hotel. Everything just keeps getting better. We chose our hotel so well. It is real luxury, even better than Chong Qing. We went for upgraded rooms with a harbour view. We really do have a full view of the harbour with floor to ceiling windows.

Our room also gives us eligibility to the sky lounge where there is unlimited tea, coffee and soft drinks all day. In the evening from 5.30 till 7.30 there are free drinks and canapes. Needless to say we are taking full advantage of it. What a fantastic way to end a fantastic trip.

Last Day of the Cruise

Wednesday 27th October 2010

Up at 6am, much too early. Our excursion to the 3 Gorges Dam Project was at 8.15. The huge dam was opened in 2008 but will not be completely finished until 2015. It is an enormous feat of engineering. We were really pleased to have seen it despite the inclement weather.

Back to the ship for a prelunch beer before an 11.30 lunch. The usual high standard of food before we bade farewell to our new friends. We had all enjoyed each other's company and had shared many laughs.

As expected we were met on docking and taken to the train station. Our "guide" tried way too hard to sell us a tour for the 6 hours until our train was due to depart. We eventually shook her off and installed ourselves on a seat outside the station. Fortunately it was dry because it was a long long wait. We took it in turns to guard the luggage and walk about.

John and I set off in search of a usable toilet. We found a department store and entered with a spring in our step and a new sense of purpose. We saw signs but they just seemed to stop. We were the only westerners in sight and John was getting desperate after the prelunch beers. Charades to the fore again! I mimed taking my trousers down and squatting. Great hilarity but toilet found..

While we were sitting we saw a sign for a VIP lounge. Given our celeb status we considered our eligibility. How to gain entry? We decided it was too cold sitting out so we would go into the station to wait. In China you need to show your ticket to get in and as we didn't know if we could get back out again we had delayed this. Big mistake! We were eligible for the VIP lounge. Comfy leather seats and warmth.

We felt a bit sad knowing that this was our last overnight on a train before Hong Kong. The guys have got the stowing of luggage down to a fine art now. A couple of drinks then we had an early night.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Gorges

Tuesday 26th October 2010

Breakfast was at 7am again because there was an optional tour leaving at 8.15. We opted to shower after breakfast, emailed the blogs to Graham, then went to enjoy the spectacular scenery as we went through the gorges. The weather was not the best but the views were awesome. Because of the huge height of the rock faces it was difficult to capture it on camera.

Another brilliant lunch then we went on our afternoon excursion. We were running nearly an hour late because there had apparently been a landslide and we had to wait for clearance to enter the gorge. On this occasion, disaster (gross exaggeration, it was just a minor incident) preceded the Marshalls instead of following us.

We boarded a small ferry boat for a 50 minute trip up a tributary. We then transferred to what were like large sampans for an hour. We had a very pretty guide who was from the Tuju tribe. She entertained us on the return journey by singing local songs. Donnie spent the time grinning as he somehow managed to sit next to her.

It was a long afternoon but fun. After the usual beautiful dinner we were invited to the Presidential suite for drinks to watch the ship entering the first of the big locks. On arrival on the ship we were allocated tables for meals for the duration of the cruise. We were very lucky and the 4 of us were put at a table with 2 English couples - both in thern 50s - and a Russian couple who were about our age.

Donnie is now also Russian monitor. He sat next to Vera who is an architect and speaks a little English. Yuri speaks none. Donnie communicated amazingly well with the aid of their electronic translater and our Russian phrasebook.One of the English couples had been upgraded to the Presidential suite (huge and seriously posh!) by default. It was lovely for us to bask in their poshness on their huge balcony while the Hoi Polloi scrambled above. Going through the huge lock was fascinating.

Needless to say it was a late, fun night - even if we did know we had another 6am start.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday update

I  received a text from Sue this morning UK time to say that the cruise was great.  As they have no internet access today this is just a short update.  They will be on the train until Thursday night and then Sue will hopefully be able to blog from Hong Kong on Friday.    By which time I shall be somewhere over the Pacific on the way to New Zealand and not able to help.


Monday, October 25, 2010

At Sea

Monday 25th October 2010

Our first day "at sea". Many would say that we are always at sea! Breakfast was at 7am for an 8.15 shore excursion! Getting up at 6am on holiday seems a trifle early. Apparently the schedule is set to avoid the intense heat in the summer.

We were taken to Feng Du Ghost city. Not as uninhabited as the title would suggest. In fact it was full of hawkers of all kinds of tat. We went by chair lift - a white knuckle ride for John who hates heights - to a complex of temples. Each one was devoted to where we would go in the afterlife and what would happen to us when we're there.

Back to the ship for a prodigous lunch and afternoon on the balcony enjoying the passing world of the Yangtse River. The weather was disappointingly dull but the whole experience held novelty value for us.

Having seen the torture chambers that may face us in the afterlife Cath and I decided to submit to our own torture and went for another massage. Surely the pain must be good for us.

Evening was the captain's reception - he wasn't the best of hosts! Apart from a liqueur glass of what tasted like tonic wine the reception consisted of a compulsory photoshoot with the Captain.

Dinner was excellent. After dinner Hmmm! Hell came early for John by way of the "entertainment". Nightcap on the balcony rounded off a good day.

Lazy Luxury

Sunday 24th October 2010

We had booked our luxury 5 star hotel because we would have time to enjoy it. Enjoy it we did. We had a fabulous late/ish breakfast then luxuriated in a leisurely shower. We had to check out by 12 noon so we checked out at the very last minute. We spent the next few hours sitting at the cafe beside the hotel watching the world go by. Lovely.

We had our main meal at 4.30 because we wanted to be at the ship by 6pm.

None of us has been on a cruise before so we were all excited. It's fantastic. Given the cost we thought the cabins would be tiny but they're not and the en suite is as big as many you get in hotels.

Our cabins are next door to each other and we have been able to open the partition between the balconies. Contact sorted. We sat on our balconies enjoying pre-departure drinks watching the light show of the high buildings in Chong Qing.

We could get used to this life!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wow Factor

Saturday 23rd October 2010

Night on train passed without incident. We did have a bit of a drama over the bedding this morning. We thought we were being our usual helpful selves and removed the pillowcases, duvet cover etc. The attendants came and set to replacing them while we had to stand out in the corridor like naughty schoolchildren. Yes, I remember it well!

Gerry, our transport guide was waiting at the barrier for us, just like clockwork. He spoke excellent English and told us about the city on the 30 minute drive to the city centre. It has a population of 33 million but is relatively compact because it is surrounded by hills. Unlike Xian and Beijing bicycles and rickshaws are banned in the city centre. It gives everything a far more ordered feeling.

Because we are to be here 2 full days although only one night we chose a 5 star hotel. We expected it to be about the same as a 4 star at home. It isn't. It is very much a 5 star - some would say it's much too posh for the likes of us! We love it. Definitely the Wow factor. After trains etc a little luxury is just wonderful.

The hotel is right in the centre with cafes, bars etc close by. It is beside a huge shopping mall that you can enter directly from the hotel. The 6th and 7th floors are given over to restaurants. We had a lovely lunch - with wine!and will go back for dinner in a few minutes.

We had planned to spend the afternoon in the pool, steam and sauna. On investigation we discovered you needed a cap for the pool and the sauna and steam rooms were segregated. We decided against it.

Our only hitch so far is today. We were expecting a message to tell us which pier our boat goes from tomorrow. No message and it's the weekend so we'll have to find out for ourselves. No big deal. We can do that.

Moslems and Mayhem

Friday 22nd October 2010

Donnie was better this morning but we decided that we'd all pass on breakfast and just have coffee and a cereal bar in the room 'cos we planned to eat early before going on the train.

We left our bags in the left luggage and headed off to the Moslem Centre. The internet listed it as one of the "must sees". It was basically like the souks and definitely put us in mind of Marrakesh. Donnie and Cath have had a few lessons in haggling and are now at the intermediate level!

We didn't buy much as we knew we had to carry it lots but we're pleased with what we got. (We're not telling you what we bought 'cos you're probably a recipient!).  We wandered for a while, took loads of pics and bought magnetic butterflies from a girl whose school mate married a Scottish guy. Getting out of the "souk" was not so easy. John's hurt that we're casting aspersions on his navigational skills. Actually we weren't. It was past beer time and obviously that was not going to be forthcoming in a Moslem area.

We walked until we found a likely source for beer. It was actually a restaurant. Don't know why but the beer turned out to be 45p for a 600ml bottle. We thought she'd made a mistake or perhaps it was just a cover charge and we'd be accused of theft if we left without paying. Nope, 45p it was. (8.40pm 7 hours later and Donnie's still ok!). We had actually bought bun type things to eat sneakily while we had our beer but decided that really would be a bit cheeky in a restaurant!

After another wander we headed back to our "favourite" eating street for a meal. No mishaps, no excitement and nobody disgraced themselves. The excitement was still to come.

From experience we have learnt to allow plenty time for trains etc. 2.5 hours should surely be enough. One would have thought so. Given the central location of our hotel taxis could not stop at the entrance. Taxi rank was near. So near and yet so far. We negotiated the traffic to the island where folk waited. Waited being an incorrect use of the word. In China you queue with your elbows. We were lucky and managed to get 2 taxis. Donnie and Cath disappeared in one. Our driver refused to take us. We don't know why. We fought for a few others and nobody would take us. After another half hour we went back to the hotel in the hope that they would get us one. No joy. They said we should go to the shopping mall and get a bus! Rush hour. Luggage. I think not! After another try at the rank we crossed the road and got a rickshaw. Fortunately we didn't have steamer trunks.

Luckily we met Donnie and Cath no bother.  As with Beijing you have to show your ticket to get into the station. There was only one entrance and an enormous crowd all queuing with their elbows. Once past this obstacle we then had to join the mayhem in the waiting area. The train was called and there was more mayhem as zillions of people forced their way up and down several flights of stairs to the platform. Steamer trunks? Yes.

Now on train. Vodkas poured. Life is good again.  

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dinner by Pictures

More Celeb Status,

Thursday 21st October 2010

We began the day as ordinary mortals do - with a lovely large breakfast. A leisurely start and we headed off out to walk along the city wall. It was not much of a climb up to the battlements and we started walking. Donnie John and I were sitting minding our own business waiting for Cath when these middle aged Chinese people asked if they could take our photo! One of the women joined us in the pose and they snapped away. We don't know who they think we are or what makes us so appealing. We of course know why we are so appealing! Actually we think it is the grey hair that attracts them. We see very few Chinese with grey hair. We wonder who is looking at photos of us and what is being said.

We passed lots of people on bikes then came to a kiosk with bikes parked. There were solo bikes and tandems. None of us had ever been on a tandem so.... always game for an adventure we rented 2. We got 100 minutes for our £4. Good value but.... Riding a tandem is a very different skill. We mounted, we wobbled, we fell off! We mounted, we wobbled and we fell off! After several attempts we were going. All this was taking place in front of an audience of about 15 elderly Chinese who laughed and cheered and clapped when we set off. Lots of photos were taken of us again. To be fair we were laughing as much ourselves.

The bike that John and I had made a horrific clanking sound from the start. We were about 25 mins from the beginning when John started yelling at me to pedal! I was trying my best but the pedals wouldn't go round. The brakes had locked! It was a long walk back. We took it in turns with the one operational bike It was a pity 'cos it was actually great fun.

One poor Chinese lass did not think it was such a happy experience. Mechanics Smith and Marshall were trying to solve our problem when we heard a crash. We looked round to see a girl who had been cycling up one of the cobbled ramps and had not made it to the top. She fell off and was clearly hurt. She had walloped her head on the stone. We don't think she actually lost consciousness but was obviouly shaken. We did our good samaritan bit and she headed off. She had a huge lump already rising on her head. Hope she was ok.

Bikes returned. We needed a beer to recover. Not easy to find but needs must when the devil drives. Beer sourced and enjoyed we set off to climb the Bell Tower. As we are staying in the Bell Tower Hotel and can see and hear it we felt we really ought to climb it.

 Nothing great but good views. On the way back to the hotel we met an elderly lady being pushed in a wheelchair. We were obviosly a great novelty for her. She passed us twice, having a good look each time. Cath decided it was time for us to retaliate so asked her if we could take her photo. She was absolutely delighted and enjoyed posing for us. Not exactly one all but at least we have scored.

Back to the hotel. Girls sorting luggage and the guys have gone for a massage. Donnie wanted time to "spruce up" first - Hmm! They are in for a big disappointment. Cath and I know the pain they will have to go through! Will add to this when they get back (if they can walk back!)

They're back! Lies! No pain! Lies! They did admit to a little discomfort!

For dinner tonight we're planning to return to the same street where we ate last night. Hope it's as good. I wonder if we'll remember how to cater for ourselves when we get home.                      

Donnie has been violently sick. He reckons it was the one small can of beer he had this afternoon which he was suspicious of. We really hope he's right. He is the only one of us to be bitten. Do hope there's no connection. It's an anxiety we're keeping to ourselves.

John and I headed out for dinner on our own. We had planned to go to the area we ate in last night but saw this really busy restaurant full of Chinese people. We couldn't see a menu in English but there did seem to be pictures. The restaurant was 3 floors high and each one was packed. We were lucky to get a table so reckoned that the food would at least be fresh.

We looked at the pictures and chose what looked like fried rice, a dish that looked like battered .prawn tails in a sauce with noodles and some crispy fried things that we erroneously thought might be squid. The fried rice was fried rice. The prawns could have been prawns; we're not sure but they were lovely . After some discussion we decided it was best not to think about what the crispy fried things were. They definitely were not worms or locusts so anything else was ok. They were actually quite nice. It's now been a couple of hours and neither of us has been unwell yet. Fingers crossed.

We did text Cath and ask if she wanted us to bring her back a Macdonalds! Donnie had been more unwell while we were out. Hopefully he'll feel better tomorrow. At leasy we don't have a busy day before we get the train in the evening.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


21st October 2010

I should have said about the spooky thing at the restaurant last night. I've been thinking about it.

The street where we ate had a real feel of New Orleans about it - not that I've ever been to New Orleans! There were only restaurants and bars, all with their own music playing. Some were much louder than others.

We were sitting upstairs beside an open window, enjoying the whole ambience and revelling in our good fortune in finding the street when our restaurant started playing "You Are My Sunshine". It was very different to the version you got me Jenny but it still sent a tingle down my spine. We were definitely meant to eat at that restaurant. 

Another Triumph

20th October 2010

I suppose I should really have called this "The Big Ooops!" Last night after I had emailed the blog to Graham for posting we went down to one of the hotel restaurants for dinner. It was a beautiful restaurant - the Chinese equivalent of white linen table cloths etc. Our reception was less than warm. We were directed in no uncertain terms to the Western Restaurant on the 2nd floor. We declined and were eventually seated in an almost empty restaurant. We chose our food and the wine prices were very ok - 48 yuan a bottle. Less than £5. Great. I am so "beered out". We had a bottle and it was fine so we ordered a second. The bill came. We had misread the decimal point - it was £45!!!! To put it in perspective the whole meal cost us £130. At home that would have been par for the course. Live and learn. Enjoy!

We had booked a car and driver for the day today. He picked us up at 10.00 to go to the Terracotta warriors. We had the option of stopping at other places. We asked to see Bam Po. It is a neolithic village discovered in 1953 and made into a Chinese Heritage Site. We're so glad we chose to see this. It was only completed in 2008 and has the most modern technology imaginable. I've videod quite a lot so hope it comes out ok.

Not our choice but we were then taken to see how the terracotta warrior copies etc were made.

The idea was that we would buy, which of course we didn't. We did have bit of fun though! Donnie said afterwards that he would have liked to have bought one (not with JJohn in it!) but we knew there would be another chance.

Don't know where to begin to blog about the Terracotta Warriors. I can see why they call it the 8th Wonder of the world. It is so much to take in.

What is hard to grasp is how recently they were discovered - only in 1978. How could a farmer know what he was seeing. The restoration and discovery goes on. It's a bit like the Great Wall. I really feel the need to reflect and think about what I have seen.

Back to the hotel and the guys headed out to find a supermarket. Cath and I went for another Chinese massage. This one was different and even more painful if that is possible. Neither of us wanted to moan with the pain!

Tomorow we plan to walk the city wall. Don't know if we'll manage all the way round. When we get back to the hotel it will definitely be the guy's turn for the masochistic thing.

We have just returned from a fabulous dinner and we're sitting in our room having a nightcap while I blog. We went back to the street where we'd had our beer and Donnie had "lost" his jacket yesterday. We had an excellent meal with 4 beers all for under £20. Quite a contrast to last night's debacle!

Another wonderful day is over. We are just sooooo lucky.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Tuesday 19th October 2010

Woke this morning after a surprisingly uneventful night. We had ordered "room service" coffee. Sure enough coffee arrived on a tray to our compartment. British Rail sit up and pay attention! The train pulled in bang on time at 08,30. As usual there were all the touts at the station. Cath "encouraged" one who we promptly ignored. We reckon that we have stayed safe by ignoring touts and sticking to state taxis. However it turned out that the guy was a genuine employee of the tourist office sent to tout for business 'cos there wasn't much around.  We were taken to a dubious parking lot some 300 yds from the station and waited nearly 40 mins. The tourist rep stayed with us and kept apologising for the delay. Net result - cheap minibus to the hotel and hire of car and driver for the day to take us to see the Terracotta Warriors tomorrow.

Although we were really early we were able to check in to our rooms. Brill. Good choice. Large airy rooms with nice view. We had decided to pay extra for the view. Right move. After a shower and change we felt the need to celebrate our arrival in Xian - coffees all round? Not! We then headed out.

Donnie needed an atm so that was our first port of call. Food was next. Hmmm. Chicken but not as we know it Jim. They just love their chillies here. I was still being careful so didn't have much. We then went for a wander and found a street market selling all artists materials etc. Loads of interest including calligraphy, artists painting on tshirts, silk screens etc.

We were then attracted by this horrific noise. We're not sure how serious the guy took himself but it was yelling in the extreme, worthy of Beijing West railway station. We concluded he was mimicking some Chinese singer not known to us. The result was an indescribable assault on the ears.

He was followed by a female doing much the same thing. We have it on video 'cos you really would not believe anything so awful would be listened to by crowds.

We wandered aimlessly for a bit then of course needed a beer. It was beautiful sitting outside on comfy chairs watching the world go by. I sent Gillie a text and although it was 3.30 pm with us she felt it was a bit early for beer = 8.30 your time!
We were headed for the hotel via a bottle shop - for coke of course - when Donnie realised he had lost his jacket with his wallet in the pocket. Panic. The guys headed back to the cafe where Cath had removed her jacket from the rucksack. The organised "calm" me took Cath through the stages of the wallet's whereabouts and concluded that it was in the rucksack and that his jacket was still in the hotel. I'm sure you can all identify with the pounding heart and sick sick feeling. We met them back at the hotel. Donnie's wallet was in his pocket all along and his jacket was in their room. Need a drink to recover! Sitting having a post-mortem when Cath discovered she had lost her camera! No, it was in her handbag! Both "losts" had been found. Our turn next? Life is anything but uneventful. 

Celeb Status

Monday 18th October 2010

Today began with a less than great breakfast. It was cold and our first wet day since leaving home (apart from the one on the train). Donnie and Cath had decided to chill around the hotel. I wanted to get tshirts for the troops so we headed "into town". We went to the huge indoor market in the centre. I am sooooo chuffed with the glitsy D & G one for Danni that I haggled very hard for. I'm sure she'll love it. We then headed for the railway museum but it was closed for renovation. We wandered around and saw some really interesting sights

We then had a Starbucks coffee! Back to the hotel for John to have a massage - bummer, they were closed. We had an early dinner then got 2 taxis to the station. After our experience on the way here we were not going to risk just getting one!

We had arranged to meet just inside the building at the taxi drop off point. I think not! The railway staion was bigger than Heathrow terminals 1 and 2 together. The taxi had to drop us off at the opposite side of the road and we got the footbridge over. I was just texting Cath when they appeared. We left 8 mins after them and arrived 4 mins before them. We had a maniac driver and they had a nice sedate one. Our train was listed to depart from platform 9. We arrived there to discover that it was a huge waiting area which had 3 times the number of folk than the co-op on a busy summer Saturday.

We were the only western faces around.  People took great delight in staring at us quite openly and not just briefly either. One guy who gawped was asked by John if he had had a good look. The guy had the good grace to look decidedly sheepish. He actually looked a bit like an Oriental version of Ken Macdonald. We were being deafened by a cacophony of noise when it was tripled and 3 different voices tried to compete against each other for the loudest announcement simultaneously. We laughed, and laughed again and again. I did take some video so hope it gives a flavour of the assault on the ears. We were still laughing at that when 2 girls came up and asked if they could take our photo 'cos one of them really liked us! Of course, being the celebrities that we are we agreed. We posed for several photos in front of a gathering crowd! Next to us was a couple with 2 young children. The youngest was only a baby of about 14 months. Still in nappies you might think. Not a bit of it. This wee mite was warmly dressed but with trousers open at the rear = presumably their nappy free contribution to the environment! Donnie was not impressed! Our hour and a half in the "waiting area" passed in a flash!!

We're now aboard our first truly Chinese train. Definitely 3 star plus. Steamer trunks stowed, drinks poured, and blog now done. Happy days.    

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Forbidden City

17th October 2010

A more leisurely start this morning. Breakfast was disastrous but that was fine 'cos most of it was going down the toilet immediately anyway! After lots of sleep and no intake - either liquid or solid - Donnie was feeling very much better. I really should have taken immodium sooner!

We didn't set off until 10.45. John and I have been to lots of famous sights etc but I don't think I have ever experienced crowds like this. Masses of groups of tours all led by their flag waving guide, many of whom were telling their story by megaphone.

The Forbidden City is vast but so much of it was the same. You didn't really get a chance to appreciate it because of the crowds. After a while we all felt Forbidden Out. We headed through to Tianammen Square. We saw lots of security guards and had to put our bags through screening to get out of the underpass to the square. Police were very much in evidence. It was quite thought provoking to stand in the Square and think of the atrocity that took place there.

 It seemed to us that a determined effort had been made to engender a happy atmosphere with piped music and rolling pictures on 2 large screens.

We took the metro to the Olympic Sports Centre. It was a long way with several changes - all for 20p. At the entrance to the subway there were folk touting tourist tat. One guy had a fabulous long kite with ribbons etc. We decided to buy one but what we haggled for was half the size and half the length with no ribbon and no string! Another laugh!

An early return to the hotel allowed time for a supermarket shop (can't think what for} and for Cath and I to have a Chinese massage. John and I had had a Chinese massage before so I knew what to expect. I think Cath was a little surprised. It hurt like the devil but felt really good afterwards. John is going for one early tomorrow. The jury is still out as far as Donnie is concerned.

We've just had a lovely dinner in the hotel restaurant.

 We are now checking out our supermarket purchases in our room while I blog this before bed.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Great Wall

We now know why we haven't been able to access the blog to post. Graham has sussed it for us, China has banned several sites including blogspot. He has very kindly offered to post them for me if I email the posts. Thank you Graham.

Saturday 16th October 2010

What a day! I'm clean out of superlatives. We were up at 6.30 to leave on our day trip at 7.30. There were the 4 of us and a Columbian girl in a mini bus. We went first to a temple - rather different to the usual temples but interesting all the same. We then went to a jade factory and saw the jade being cut and polished. Cath bought a lovely bangle but I declined John's kind offer on the basis that I am more likely to hit him for silk!

Then it was THE WALL! Awe inspiring, mind boggling and one helluva climb! I'm not actually going to say much about it; partly because I don't have the words to describe what it felt like actually to be climbing the Great Wall of China and partly because it is all still so new and fresh that I actually need time to reflect.
Now I have done 2 of the things I most wanted to do - see the Taj Mahal and climb the Great Wall. We went up by cable car which was just like the ski chair lifts. From there we climbed up and went down masses of steep stone steps. I was surprised at the amount of stamina I had to climb the steps. What I struggled with was the lack of handrail. With my defective vision and lack of perspective I was scared I fell.

Coming down you had 2 options. You could come down in the chairlift or you could toboggan down. No need to guess which option we chose! It was actually a bit disappointing. We didn't go as fast as we thought we would because some woman kept putting on the brake so everyone on the run had to brake also. It was still fun.Compared with devil carting in France the distance was about 12 times that. We bought the inevitable tee shirts then went for lunch.

Although much better I was still being kind to my dicky tummy so had mainly plain boiled rice. Poor Donnie has an even dickier tummy than mine ever was. He had nothing but bottled water. He had a really spicy dish last night which obviously took its toll. He said it didn't spoil his enjoyment of the Wall. I hope it didn't.

After lunch we were taken to a government sponsored training school to encourage the continuation of Chinese foot massage. The pressure points etc were explained to us while our feet soaked in infused water. Then students came and gave us each a foot massage. Ouch! None of the nice gentle relaxing massage. Having said that we did feel most invigorated afterward. Then a Chinese {Tibetan?}doctor came in and asked if we wanted him to look at the palms of our hands.From that he could diagnose any ailments we might have. His diagnosis of John was spot on. He need never take Western medicine again and would be completely cured for ever if he paid £900 for 3 months supply of special herbal pills! I think not! The strange thing was the he passed his hands over John's stomach and John had an incredible sensation of pins sticking into him. Whilst not putting it to the test with £900 we really wouldn't knock it. Donnie was offered a similarly expensive "cure" for an illness he doesn't have. Cath had an accurate diagnosis of what she takes medication for. He didn't look at my palms 'cos he was too angry that John didn't want to be cured!

On to the silk factory. I knew silk was made from silk worms but didn't know the process. Fascinating. We each bought a silk duvet for less than we would pay for a decent duvet at home. They vacuum sealed them so that they are not bulky. Look out steamer trunks! I wonder what the taxi going back to the station will be like! We really may need to consider two.

Last visit was to a tea house.
They demonstrated 5 different teas which we tasted. Frankly by this time we were just exhausted. It was now almost 7pm and we were all overloaded. Back at the hotel after 7.30 pm. It's been a very very long day. Donnie just wants to crawl into bed and sleep himself better. Cath had a good tuck in at lunch so John and I will dine on our own this evening. There is no internet access available at the moment so I can't even try to access the blog. Posting this will have to wait. Time to reflect now.

We've Done It!

Friday 15th October 2010

We've done it! Up this morning really excited. Had a lovely goodbye with our Lama friend and got a really good pic of Donnie with him.

Sat by the window in amazement. China not as I had expected. Scenery was just beautiful and was not really industrialised until the outskirts of Beijing. There were lots of tunnels through the rock. No mean feat of engineering. It was yet another beautiful day so we saw the country at its best.

We arrived just after 2pm and queued for a taxi for quite a while. When our turn came we had one very grumpy taxi driver. 4 adults, 2 steamer trunks etc etc. He was furious and shouted at us for the first 10 mins.  In the end he dropped us quite a lot far short of our destination. Not to be phased we followed our leader dragging steamer trunks and holdall behind us - as opposed to tails. True to form John got us here all in one piece.

Hotel is really nice. Our rooms are the most basic but perfectly adequate. We booked our trip to the Wall tomorrow then headed off out. We now know it's an ok 20 minute walk to the metro. We came back to the hotel and had a beautiful meal. It was delivered in relays and me, being the hungriest got mine last. I was the hungriest 'cos I had a dicky tummy so had eaten nothing all day. Hopefully it'll be ok now. Our delicious meal and the inevitable 4 beers (and "No Mum, I did not drink a whole beer with a dicky tummy!") cost us less than £40. The whole trip is actually coming in way under budget.

For some reason, which Graham is kindly trying to investigate for us, we are unable to access our blog this evening despite having internet access. Sooooo looking forward to our trip to the Wall but will try again when we get back. There is just so much to experience and fun to have but not enough hours in the day.

Addendum to 10th October

Forgot to mention a particularly amusing incident. We were making our way along the train to the restaurant car when we came to one carriage that didn't have a handle on the door. The attendant for that car spoke no English so once again we played charades. Eventually she communicated with someone who came and opened the door for us. Problem -no handle on the other side either. Bizarre. We took the view that would be a worry for another time and carried on. I think Tom took his duties as a new husband a little more seriously. Anyway we had a good meal and not until the end did we speculate on whether the door would have a handle or not. By then we had loads of various scenarios worked out. This game was right up your street Gillie. In fact there have been several occasions when we have invented stories to fit circumstances and I have said "Gillie would be loving this." In the event there was a handle on the door when we returned. No dilemma.

Across the Gobi

Thursday 14th October 2010
Up at 05.45. Quick shower and taxi at 06.30. The station was actually within walking distance but we decided that, given the early hour and the steamer trunks, for the minimum cost we would book a taxi. At the station we were met by the usual scrummage of porters. This was the first time on this trip we were ripped off. The porter wanted the equivalent (remember the relative value} of £5 to lift 2 steamer trunks and one case on to a trolley and push it 200 metres to the platform. He left it there. We are always more than happy to tip very generously but considering the taxi only cost £3 he was excessive. He then asked a little friend to take the bags on to the train. He too expected a tip. Hmmm. He didn't get it so I wonder if they're still friends.

We had to laugh -something we of course never do. We have a compartment for 4. 2 steamer trunks. one largish suitcase, one medium holdall,3 rucksacks, and 1 tiny rucksack. Hilarious. Luggage, legs and bodies everywhere.
The storage compartments are only big enough for the holdall and rucksacks! Humour, more humour, a bit of a laugh and we're sorted. It's only for one night.

We feel really lucky to have this lovely old man in the next compartment. He is a Chinese monk in appropriate garb who started communicating with Donnie in the corridor. He came in and sat with us while we tried to communicate. He introduced himself as Lama Batula. Said "Good morning, good afternoon. good evening. goodnight and goodbye". Not quite like that of course. He then closed the compartment door and said a prayer for us. He is a lovely lovely man and we feel very priviledged. We're not sure how old he is but probably about 70 yet has fewer wrinkles than us. He is travelling with 2 women, one older and one much younger. The older woman took great delight in handling both Donnie and John's bottoms as she passed. Quite a contrast.

We had a really excellent lunch in the dining car. It's a Chinese train so a Chinese restaurant car. It was a set menu.We had a really scrummy salad, followed by a rich creamy soup, then perfectly cooked steak etc and tea/coffee with a chocolate biscuit for afters, all washed down with beer of course. I have never been a beer drinker and after this holiday I don't think I will have a beer for a long time.

The attendant has just been round to tell us the toilets will shortly be locked for an hour and a half. Mrs Grumpy on the Russian train took great delight in locking them early with no prior notice. I should have said that the toilets are locked 30 mins before a stop until 30 mins after. When we have the border crossing later tonight they will be closed for 4 hours. We have started planning already - all liquids strictly rationed!

All afternoon we have been crossing the Gobi desert. Miles and miles of nothing except an occasional small village or livestock with or without herdsmen.

It's now dark and it has been a beautiful sunset.

We have one stop for Mongolian exit procedures then one for Chinese immigration, then Chinese customs then a long stop for bogie change.

Sleeping will somehow take care of itself.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Wednesday 13th October 2010

Sleep? I think not! I wish I could. Our Ger was really cosy but to make sure we didn't wake up freezing we had to keep the stove going all night. It was pitch black and we had hung the torch by the door in case anyone was desperate enough to brave minus 7 and go to the toilet. The stove was in the middle of the room and it would have been a trifle unfortunate to walk into it. As far as I was concerned it was a case of feeling my way round the sides until I came to the door then putting the torch on. On all 3 occasions I got up to tend to the stove Donnie woke and took over so I didn't have to braille it back to my bed. Suffice to say it was still cosy in the morning.

After breakfast Donnie and I decided to climb the hill behind the camp.
I couldn't understand why I was quite so breathless until John told me that we were at 5000ft altitude before climbing the hill. I was well impressed with myself - even if I won't be able to get out of bed in the morning!

We had arranged to be picked up for the airport at 11.00. That was another adventure. It was a tiny car with 2 steamer trunks and one large suitcase plus my small hodall in the boot. 3 of us in the back with rucksacks on our knees. John was in the front with the driver's 3 year old on his knee. Roads in Mongolia are not roads as we know them Jim. At one point there were roadworks and the guy in front of us just went off the road and drove along the rough bare earth. We did pass him leaning at a crazy angle in the roadside ditch whilst trying to get back on to the road.

At another point we passed a man with an eagle on his arm - obviously a tourist trap but as we are tourists.....We got lots of photos. Cath was brave and held it. I would rather climb a mountain!

After a hairy ride, not for the faint hearted we got to our hotel. It is typical of the old station hotels in the uk. Huge rooms and a bit old fashioned.

We dumped our gear and headed out. It was lunchtime so we stopped in a "restaurant". They had beer but all the food we ordered, or tried to order, was unavailable. We ended up with chips each.

Next was SHOPPING. Pleased with our buys we went back to the hotel to celebrate with a bottle of wine we happened to see while looking for snacks for the train.

Dinner at the Korean restaurant in the hotel. Early bed before a 5.30 wake up.

I tried to post some photes but obviously I was a poor student to Graham's tutoring. Will try to sort it out when I have more time.