Day 17 – Our last day in China

It’s our last day in China today! Tonight we head off to the airport for our flight home!

We have a slow morning after last night.

I need to go back to the Pearl Market before we leave, so we head over around mid day. This place still amazes me. If I had the time and money, I could spend all day here.

I get to a couple of things I want. I could certainly get carried away here but I’m strict with myself! I have a lot to squeeze into my case already.

After shopping we go to Linda’s for dinner. We order noodles, egg plant, chicken Kung po as well we 2 other dishes. It’s our last chinese meal in China. All the meals we have had here have been good, and this one also doesn’t disappoint.

As we sit outside eating, I can’t help but smile when I see their delivery van! It’s a bit different to our Amazon delivery or the postman!

After lunch, we are all quite tired so retire to our rooms to lie down and have a quick snooze!

We spend the rest of the time chatting away or packing.

Finally it is time to head to the airport. I can’t believe the holiday is over. It has been the best ever.

I would definitely recommend Viking River Cruises if you ever want to visit China. They treat you so well, everything is so organised and you get to visit and learn about so many new places.

We were also lucky to be able to spend a few days with some great friends who showed us even more of China.

As we take off I close my eyes and capture every single memory into my brain. It has been the best 3 weeks ever.

Until next time!

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Day 16 – The penultimate day

I can’t believe we only have 2 full days left in China.

I was awake at 4 am, so checked into our return flights. The trip has flown by.

We are having a lazy day today. Our host has offered for us to wash all our clothes so we have a clean case to go home with. I’m not good at letting others do things for me, but accept. I have work the very next day when I get home l, so this will help me.

We go to brunch at another ex-pat complex. After all the food I have eaten, pouched egg and salmon on crusty toasted bread is just what the doctor ordered.

Back at the house, while the girls get to the washing, the boys play pool. They really are competitive.

When you stay with people in China you have to register at the police station within 24 hours, so while the boys played we went off to register.

Tonight we are going out for dinner. It’s called the lost plate! You get onto a tuk tuk and are taken to 4 different restaurants ending up at a pub.

As Beijing are preparing for the 70th anniversary of China’s peoples republic, there were warnings of potential traffic jams and road blocks, so we decided to head into the city early.

We parked up not far from the Hutongs. As we drove, I recognised some of the restaurants we had eaten in whilst with Viking.

We arrived with plenty of time so went to a pub that sells a massive selection of draft beers.

We were a bit peckish so I ordered some spicy nuts and crackers. When the crackers arrived, the guy serving us poured what looked like water over them. I thought it was a bit odd, but as it hit the bowl the crackers were in, steam came off it!

The crackers was absolutely amazing. I thought whatever he had done would make them soggy, but they were so crisp. They were also cold but very tasty.

We eventually headed to our meeting place for the tuk tuk ride. Again we were early so found a lovely place opposite for another quick drink.

A word of warning about drinking anything in China! What goes in must come out! The toilets are not always great! Most are just holes in the floor and many don’t have doors on them!

There was due to be 10 of us on the trip, with maximum 4 to each tuk tuk.

4 of the group were running late so we were given a beer to keep us going.

Eventually 2 of the 4 arrived, but we had to leave without the other 2 as they were under pressure to get us around before some of the restaurants closed.

Just as we were heading off the final couple arrived so they managed to catch us up.

The tuk tuk ride takes you through the Hutongs. They are very windy. It is great seeing into the alleys, peoples houses and bars etc.

Our first stop was for noodles. They were amazing. I learnt on the Viking trip that Shanghai to Xi’an is rice country. Once at Xi’an it’s noodles, so we have only had them a couple of times on the trip. These were the best I’ve ever tasted.

Next was a Mongolian BBQ. We had a couple of dishes here. The first was a beef dish cooked on a griddle, the next a lamb one along with mushrooms. I don’t eat lamb but the beef was delicious. They give you a pot to which you add chilli, garlic and another seasoning to your liking. When the meat is cooked you dip it into your mix before eating.

Throughout the evening there was unlimited beer or soft drinks, which you would take from restaurants to tuk tuks etc.

The third stop I wasn’t sure about as I heard it was a pie. I had no reason to worry, it was the best pie I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what the pastry was made of, but I would say it was steamed, although the bottom was caramelised.

The pies were served with a selection of dishes.

To go with this, they gave us a bottle of the fire water to share. I did have the one shot but no more! It is lethal. Hubby couldn’t say the same. The boys in the group finished the bottle off!

The final restaurant we had About 5 more dishes which included my favourite dish – Kung Po chicken, before heading back to the pub we had started our evening at. Another beer was included in the tour.

It was gone midnight by the time we had finished and it had been an absolutely amazing experience. I would certainly recommend it.

I think we were all ready for our bed by the time we got home!

Day 15 – Staying with friends in Bejing

It’s funny but after over 2 weeks in China I’ve seen so much. What I hadn’t seen though was an actual house. Lots of apartments, but seriously, not one single house.

When we arrived at our friends last night, I was so shocked to see their house. It is so not what I was expecting. 2 living rooms, dining room, breakfast kitchen, 5 bedrooms – one is used as an office, 4 have en-suite and the master has a walk in wardrobe which is bigger than the dining room at home and a fantastic, enormous bathroom, area for gym and a balcony overlooking the front living room. If that wasn’t enough it has a double garage and a basement where they have a full size pool table, Darts board, bar, lounge area and even space for a full drum kit. To put the icing on the cake it also has a large garden. It is definitely a dream house.

This morning they have taken us to Hong Qiao, or as it’s also known, the pearl market. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was enormous, and simply sold everything.

We wanted a handbag for a gift and a cap for hubby! What we ended up with was 2 bags, iPod headphones, cap, T-shirt, 4 scarfs and a camera lens! If we had more money, we could have bought so much more !

Afterwards we went in search of tea. If you read my previous blogs you will know that I’d been to some tea places with the tour but the prices were too high for me to justify buying them. Our friends knew of a road full of tea suppliers. We only went to one of the malls, but that was enough. I’ve never seen so many places that sell tea. Everyone was so so friendly.

Our friends wanted to try Lychee tea. They were more than happy to give us a taste. It wasn’t for me as far too sweet, and for me it tasted like liquorice. They bought some and at 80 yuan for 500 grams it was a bargain. For £1O they have enough tea to last years.

The initial place didn’t have the chrysanthemum tea I wanted, but they took us to another one that did. Again they happily made us some to try. I loved it. So light and refreshing. I bought 500 grams for less than £20. As you reuse the leaves multiple times, it is going to last years.

Wandering around the mall, and when I say mall I have to point out it’s very basic, we looked at teapots and tea caddies. I ended up buying 2 tins for less than 50p and a beautiful chinese tea set. I have no clue how I’m going to get this all home.

It’s been a brilliant day and so different. We have been to places where the locals shop. We have also learnt there are 2 prices. One for tourists and the other for locals! My friend got us some amazing deals.

This evening the boys are playing pool before firing up the braai. I decide to throw some darts. I’m trying to think when the last time was that I played. I think it must be 35 years! I’m very pleased when I get 4 bullseyes!

I’m so glad we added these extra days on with friends as we are seeing another part of China and I’m still loving it.

Dinner was fabulous. Steak, jacket potato and salad. It was just what I needed.

We sat in the garden chilling before heading to bed.

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 14 – Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City & Rickshaw Ride

Today is our last full day on the official Viking Tour. We are leaving the hotel at 7.45 am to travel to Tiananmen Square before heading to the Forbidden City. Either before or after lunch we will be doing a Rickshaw ride. It should be a good final day!

We arrive near Tiananmen Square and queue up. Terry already has our entrance tickets for us.

In the next few days there is due to be an important event in the Square, so security is very high.

We have been queuing for some some now, but not moving. We can see that Terry has gone off and we can hear him talking to officials in our earpieces. I can see him talking to many of them and on his phone too.

Eventually, he pulls us all out and breaks the news to us. The police won’t allow us through without seeing our visas! Terry has tried everything. As we don’t have them with us we can’t visit the Square.

We are all disappointed, but there is nothing we can do and we know Terry has really tried for us. We can all see he is really disappointed for us too so we all reassure him that it’s ok, we understand.

We talk a walk to meet our bus to go straight to the Forbidden City.

In the meantime Terry warns the other tour guides that were coming after us. They were in the queue too so would wait to see what they said to them.

We reached the Forbidden City and any disappointment I was feeling soon disappeared. Oh wow! I didn’t expect it to be this big or beautiful.

I can see why they say it is the worlds largest palace complex, with 980 buildings and 9,999 rooms. I wonder if they ever counted the rooms and if so, why they didn’t round it up to 10,000?

The palace dates back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Terry explained all the pavilions, courtyards and gardens to us, including the concubine courtyard and room. Sadly you could only see in through the glass to this room.

The whole place is just stunningly beautiful and I was so pleased we could spend so much time there. Even if we still only saw a fraction of it.

I’ve since heard that the other groups were allowed to enter the square without their visas! I’m jealous but these things happen.

We left the palace and headed to the Rickshaws, where we had a 20 minute ride around the Hutongs. These people must have really strong legs, cycling with hubby and I in the back. It was good fun even if they used the Rickshaw in front as it’s brakes.

It was time for lunch now. For the first time this trip it was actually quite late for lunch, and I was thankful for this.

I have to say, this was the best lunch I’ve had all holiday. My favourite was a chicken dish with nuts including walnuts. It had a bit of a kick, but I loved it.

This was our last meal with our travelling companions As we were checking out tonight. It is a night earlier, but we are going to stay with friends who are living in Beijing for 3 nights.

We say goodbye to the group, although I’ve missed Terry, which I’m gutted about. I leave a thank you note and a tip with reception for him though. He has been an amazing guide.

We get back to the hotel, pack and leave at 6 pm. I’m going to be sad leaving the tour part of the trip, but the holiday isn’t over yet!

I have no idea what our friends house looks like, so I’m excited.

We arrive and it’s huge and beautiful. Nothing like what we have seen in China up to now.

Tonight we go out for dinner in a western pub. A chicken Dorito is just what I needed after 3 weeks of chinese food!

We sit in the garden of the White Swan. It’s so different to what we have been used to, but it’s perfect to catch up with our friends. I’m looking forward to the next few days, to see a different side to Beijing.

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 5 – Sailing up the Yangtze River

Today is a sailing day so there is no need to get up too early however as we have a safety exercise at 9.30 am we decided to set the alarm for 7.30 am. I have to say this was a good decision as I had the best nights sleep last night in so long. I think it was the sound of the water that must have relaxed me so much. If the alarm hadn’t have gone off, I’m not sure when I would have woken up.

There are no kettles in the room so hubby was keen to get up and head for breakfast so he could get a coffee.

I really wasn’t that hungry today so settled for just some fruit and a mint tea.

After breakfast I’ll be honest I went back to bed for a couple of hours, while hubby sat on our balcony reading and watching the activity on the river.

I think we are both very surprised how wide the river is and how much commercial traffic is on it. I don’t think we have seen any other passenger ships on the river yet. It’s so peaceful you can’t help being relaxed.

As I had a light breakfast I was getting quite hungry so around 12.30 pm we headed to lunch. You can either eat from the buffet or off the menu. You will never starve on this trip that is for sure.

I opt for a tuna salad to start followed by spaghetti bolognese and Chinese green beans, while hubby had the same starter with a lamb curry. I really fancied sorbet but it wasn’t on the menu. I asked Eddie our waiter who said it wasn’t a problem and quickly returned with some.

Drinks run freely over lunch so I opted for the fizz while hubby had a beer.

During the day there are activities going on. I was gutted to read I’d missed a lecture on the Yangtze River this morning. Now reading the programme I see there is a talk on Chinese medicines after lunch and a lesson in Chinese. I am planning on going to the latter. In the meantime I’m going to chill out on the top deck watching the world go by.

It’s nice and warm but there is quite a haze today. As I sit watching the activity on the river it’s hard not to fall asleep. It’s really is calming sitting on the deck. There are fishes jumping out of the river. I don’t know what they are but they come right out.

The staff come round offering ice tea or water to keep you hydrated.

When we pop back to our room the maid has been. Again, they have left some really lovely extra touches such as bookmarks. Hubby had been reading his book but didn’t have one so had folded it over. She had noticed and gave him a Viking one. She also left a card each for us with our own Chinese year on and what it means. They must have got our years from our details. Hubby is a rabbit and myself the rooster. The description for both of us was actually quite accurate.

I did go to the Chinese lesson but couldn’t get into it so decided to return to our balcony to chill. Later we have welcome drinks with the captain as well as a Chinese themed menu. Eddie assured us at lunch that if we didn’t like Chinese they would make us something else, but you can’t scare me with Chinese food.

Before dinner we were invited to deck 5 for the welcome party with the captain. On arrival we were given champagne which was continuously topped up. Canapés were offered too.

The evening started with a dance performance before the key staff were all introduced to us. The captain had been sailing this river for over 30 years so we are in safe hands.

As we were listening to the speakers, we looked out of the window and saw the most spectacular sunset. Sadly we didn’t have any cameras with us but will definitely be making a plan to get some photos tomorrow night.

After a quick briefing about the next days tours it was time for dinner, and what a dinner.

As it was a Chinese menu, food plates of different dishes were placed on our Lazy Susan for us to help ourselves. Kung po chicken, ribs, fried rice, fish etc etc. It kept coming. A lovely dumpling soup and banana sorbet completed the meal. Oh of course more bubbly.

After dinner we retired to the bar for a couple before bed! Tomorrow we are off to visit a school and the old wall.

Why don’t we have a dollar store in the UK?

A few months ago I came across a lovely lady called Kathy on YouTube. She has a channel called MyDIY and publishes projects based around the things she mostly picks up in Dollar Stores.

Now to say I’m very jealous is an understatement. I cannot believe the quantity and quality of what she can get for just $. And don’t get me started on some of the creations she comes up with.

We have pound shops here in the UK. I do love having a good wander around them. They are great for branded toiletries, large dog poo bags(yep, we have a preference for them in our house!) and kitchen bits and pieces.

Since finding Kathy I have been more inspired to check out the pound stores around me. My recent video shows some of my recent finds :

But it doesn’t matter where I go or when, I never find the amazing things Kathy has from the Dollar Store.

It got me thinking. Why is there such a difference in products from the UK pound stores compared to the to USA dollar stores ? Is it our shopping habits? Are we not as creative? Can USA get better access to products than buyers in the UK? I really don’t know!

I used to be very creative. I always made my own cards for example. I even had one published in a crafting magazine a few years ago. It was for my dad and was based on a pair of denim overalls filled with tools. I have also made a few cakes for family and friends, but in the last few years time has been in short supply. With the right products, I am sure I could be inspired again to get my craft cupboard and drawers open once more.

Kathy comes back with signs, flowers, ribbons and so much more from her trips to the Dollar Store. She creates great wreaths, pool party decorations as well as ornaments such as the recent truck she make.

I appreciate that at Christmas, Halloween or Easter our pound stores do step up a bit, but day to day the products are not that inspiring in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I have picked up the odd thing. I love my hanging flower pots from my recent purchase. It is incredible the gap in products.

It’s a question I may never get the answer to, so for the time being I am just going to have Dollar Store envy and keep watching Kathy.

On the flip side, I do wonder who makes the products at that price. Are they getting a fair wage? I do hope so. There could be an argument that without that work they would be able to feed their family, even if it isn’t much. It’s a tough one!

I’ve never been into a Dollar Store myself. If I ever return to America, I’m certainly going to make a visit! I may have to pay excess baggage home though and I could potentially get carried away!

If you don’t know what I mean, pop over to Kathy’s YouTube channel MYDIY and see, and of course don’t forget to subscribe to my channel Slimminginspirations4u.

Have a good day

Cooking is my passion

This weekend, I finally found an excuse and the time to do some ‘non’ Slimming World baking.  Its been a while and it reminded me so much of how much I miss it.

There must be nothing better than the smell of freshly baked bread or cakes in your house.  Since my hubby has stopped eating Carbs during the week, the opportunities for this have been dramatically reduced.  I don’t eat cakes anyway and on Slimming World, the lovely baked white loaves I used to make would be a no no.

My stepdaughter was over this weekend, so I had the perfect excuse to bake.  I had some lemons that needed to be used up, so a Lemon Drizzle Tray Bake it was.  I went to my favourite baking book for cakes – Mary Berry Easy Cakes.  I’ve had it for around 30 years.  It is full of so many amazing recipes that don’t take long to throw together!

https://youtu.be/33038fcXl0A

It is funny really when you think of my other favourite baker – Paul Hollywood.  I loved them both individually. In fact,Mary Berry’s cookbook was purchased at a time I didn’t really know who she was.  They both went on to great success working together.

I am not sure if it is the fact that I turn 50 next week, but I’m beginning to get really nostalgic.  In my grandparent’s day and even during my childhood, you would make a lot more cakes than you would ever buy.  Who remembers the good old Victoria sponge?  We would even make our own sponge to use in the trifle.

When I was first married in the late 80’s, every weekend I would make batches of cakes to keep us going through the week.  My best ever was a chocolate cake for an Easter party I was hosting.  

If people popped round, you always had something in to offer them with a cup of tea.  Cakes weren’t the only thing I’d make – biscuits and sweets too.  It is a bit sad to think that these days, it is a treat rather than the norm.

I know I blame my hubby and my eating habits for this, but the reality is, I just don’t have the same time as I used to.  The 3 hour a day commute certainly eats into my weekdays.  Walking the dogs and cooking meals from scratch every evening leaves me with only an hour a night to relax or catch up with any other jobs I need to do.

My blogs are written during my train journey.  Multitasking is the only way I can get through the mountain of tasks I have each week.

As time is limited in the week, we tend to leave all our jobs for the weekend.  That then means again that having the odd hour to spare is limited.

Hubby and I were talking recently about what our ideal future would be.  We would both love to work together in a joint business venture.  Doing something where you produce a dish, whether a savoury or sweet would be my ideal.  Hubby said he would be the delivery man!  It’s only a pipe dream, we both know that, but it’s funny how something I really enjoy features so little in my life!

That said you never know. If we won a million our idea may become real, and I do have an idea and a name ! So watch this space !

In the meantime I’m going to keep cooking!

Maybe that is why I love my vlogging.  It forces me to think of new recipes or make the effort to cook something that will help me on my own Slimming World journey, but also inspire others.

I’d like to say I am going to make sure I find the time to do more.  I know the people I work with would welcome some home cooking.  Sadly, I am not sure I would be able to stick to it.  In the meantime, I’m going to embrace every opportunity I can to get into the kitchen.  I have a great platform in my Youtube Channel.  I will ensure I keep motivated each week.  So don’t forget to subscribe to my channel to see what delights I come up with.