If you only read two books this year!

One of the very few benefits of my hubby no longer commuting with me comes from the fact that I have had to change my own commute.  I now get a train closer to home as hubby can drop me off and pick me up, which avoids the £9.00 daily parking charge.  It costs me more each month in train tickets, but overall is better than the petrol I would have had to pay from having to drive myself each day to the other station, which hubby and I used to share.

So, what is the benefit?  Well it is twofold!  I now get a seat each day, rather than standing cheek to cheek with other passengers!  As the journey time is longer, I have time to relax and read a book.  This has completely changed my daily 3-hour commute.  What used to be a stressful time, is now quick relaxing.

Having the opportunity to sit and read has also awakened a passion I had almost forgotten.  A book I have been trying to read for over 6 months was finally finished.  It allowed me to move onto another book with I can only describe as a truly moving piece of literature.

I overheard a couple of colleagues at work one day talking about his book. Both were saying how good it was.  It was the word Auschwitz that sparked my interest.  I had been to Auschwitz and Birkenau twice.  Both trips were very different in some ways, but similar in others.

On my first trip in around 2006/2007 I remember there was an exhibition in Birkenau of photos taken by a prisoner.  Knowing what I knew about the camps, I couldn’t understand how a prisoner could smuggle a camera in.  It had troubled me for years.

The first visit was more of a relaxed tour.  We had our own private guide who had been our driver for the whole week while we were in Poland.  He took us around at our own pace, telling us all the stories and history of the two camps. 

I remember the silence that fell over them both.  It was like the world had stood still in remembrance of those that had lost their lives there.

I returned to the camps in 2018 with my hubby.  This time, it was an organised tour.  My memory may be playing tricks on me, but I felt that there was less huts open to us to visit.  Or maybe they were missed on the tour, I really don’t know.

The emotions I felt on the first trip returned.  The pain and suffering that had gone on was felt deeply.  I couldn’t imagine what these people could have gone through.

When I returned, I posted some photos of my trip on my Youtube channel and Facebook page.  Someone on Facebook criticised me for posting my pictures.  They felt I was dramatizing the camps.  I absolutely wasn’t.  My photos, I felt told the story of my visit, of how I felt, the conditions the prisoners lived in, and the life they may have lived.  They were not photos of people having fun.  I don’t think on either visit I could have found the emotion of being happy whilst walking around the camps.  I don’t know anyone who could.

With my visits brought back to the forefront of my memory, I needed to know more about the book my colleagues were talking about.  It was called ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris.  It was based on the life of a survivor – Lale Sokolov.  The author had the pleasure of meeting Lale in his later years and was given the privilege of telling his story. I quickly ordered my own copy from Amazon.

I was captivated from the very first page.  The story she told was like an emotional roller coaster.  Of determination to survive against all odds.  The sadness of losing loved ones, newfound friendships, of loyalty, trust and so much more.   I finally understood how that camera could have got into the hands of the prisoner.  How he took the photos unseen will always remain a mystery.

I don’t want to go into the story in detail.  Firstly, because I couldn’t do it justice, but secondly because it is a story that has to be read.  I felt I knew the characters by the end of it.  Having been to the camps, I could picture them, I felt their pain and willed them on to survive. I cried when they died or were tortured.

At the end of the book, Heather sparks your interest in the sequel – Cilka’s Journey.  Unlike with Lale, Heather never got to meet Cilka.  Her story is from people who did know her and research.  Whilst not from Cilka, you still feel that you are with her.  I’m so glad as with Lale, her story has been told.

Whether you have been to Auschwitz or not, both books are a must read.  What happened in those camps is past anything I can ever begin to understand.  How someone can choose who should live or die based on their religion or looks is beyond me.  The things they had to do to survive.  Their bravery and strength.  The bonds they formed.  I am completely in ore of them.

So many people lost their lives, their only crime was being different from others.  As with my photos, these books keep the memories of those that died or survived alive.  I don’t think we should ever forget what happened in these and many other camps.  By knowing what we know, it should make us better people.  To not judge people by their race or religion.  To be kinder and not judge.

If you only ever read 2 books this year, these are the ones you should choose.

God bless all those that suffered in the camps.  May they rest in peace.

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!

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 8 – Goddess Stream by Sampan

I’ve had an upset stomach since we left Shanghai which none of my pills has seemed to help. I was awake in the middle of the night due to stomach cramps so thought I might sit on our balcony.

As I opened the curtains I noticed the ships light searching the river bank. As I opened the patio door I suddenly realised it was pouring with rain. Maybe I won’t sit outside then!

I went back to bed. When I woke up the rain had stopped and the scenery was breathtaking. We were in the Lesser Three Gorges.

As we ate breakfast we moored in Wusham along side another boat which looked almost identical to ours.

I decided to see the ships doctors about my upset stomach. He spoke very good English and prescribed me with antibiotics. I need to see him again later today. He said he would give me a receipt for my holiday insurance so I am expecting a big bill, although I couldn’t leave it any longer and was worried it would ruin our holiday. We see at the end of the cruise part the damage!

Just after 9 am, we left the ship to board a little Sampan. It’s a traditional boat which would take us through the gorge. The views were outstanding. Our guide talked about her peoples culture and the area around us. She treated us to some traditional folk songs. She had such a lovely voice. The trip lasted about for just under 2 hours and was a great way to see the views.

Back on board we soon set sail and Elliot gave us a commentary on Wu Gorge and the mountains which we we were passing through, enroute to Shibaozhai.

As we came out of the gorge we passed under a large bridge where there before us was a huge city suddenly coming out of nowhere. Thankfully this coincided with lunch so by the time we had finished eating, the beautiful landscape had returned.

This afternoon we are going to be sailing through the Qutang Gorge. Elliot will again give us a commentary as we sail through.

As you come to the gorge, the beautiful scenery hits you again. In the mountains you can see natural caves. They were used by the Ba people, who would place coffins inside the caves. The coffins would be sticking out and so they got the name ‘hanging coffins’. Sadly, the Ba people no longer exist and their culture gone with them.

When the dam was built the government removed the coffins and placed them in museums. If they hadn’t done this, they would have been destroyed by the rising waters.

You may have noticed on some of my photos how clean and white the lower part of the mountain stone is. This is where the river rises to. I’m amazed by how much water comes into the river to cause it to rise that much.

This is only a short gorge – about 5 miles long but it is stunning.

These mountains reminded me of a certain chocolate:

Did you get it ? A Toblerone!

This gate marks the end of the Gorges and once again the landscape has changed.

There is a lot of debris in the river. Old shoes, plastic bottles, polystyrene and lots of twigs pass by constantly. It’s sad to see so much going into their river.

On this stretch we have seen a lot of passenger ships. Apparently this area is very popular with Chinese tourists, who take short cruises to see it.

I have to see the doctor again soon so hubby and I are just going to chill out on our balcony.

Tonight we have a briefing on our disembarkation in 2 days time. Afterwards, we have a special dinner presented by Chef Danny! We are not sure what that is but I’m sure it will be stunning.

You may have noticed that when I talk about the staff they have English names rather than Chinese. When they are learning English at school they are asked to choose an English name for themselves. It does make it a lot easier for tourists.

On the ship everyone is called by their first name. The companies ethos is that everyone is part of one big family, and you certainly feel like that.

After a briefing on what is happening tomorrow and when we leave the ship the following day, it was time for Danny the chefs Chinese menu. As expected it was amazing. I had king prawns for starters followed by seabass for main a a sweet coconut and mango rice pudding.

We decided that as we have an early start tomorrow we are going to chill on our balcony with our gifted champagne and listen to the sounds of the evening.

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 7 – The Three Gorges

Today is a relaxed start. We are not mooring until this afternoon. In the meantime we can take in the changing landscape before we reach our first Gorge.

To enter the Gorge we need to go through a lock. Everyone is really excited about it this. It is anticipated that we will go thrift the lock around 9.45 am.

When we woke this morning we were surprised to see we had docked for about an hour. Apparently we were too early for our slot so was killing time.

I love sitting watching the world by. It’s fascinating seeing how they use the river in so many ways. High rise apartments are everywhere. The town we are now sailing through has over 2 million people. Coming from an estate of only 99 houses and being surrounded by fields, I can’t imagine living here!

After breakfast we look out of our balcony and see the first of 3 dams which we will pass through. We quickly grab our cameras and go up to one of the higher decks to get a better view.

We are going to go into one of the locks and be raised up over 20 metres. I think most of the passengers have joined us on the 2 upper decks to watch this.

A chinese cruise ship goes through first. It’s amazing how quick it seems to complete – under 10 minutes.

Then it’s our turn to go in. I record it for my YouTube channel. We are in and out in around 7 minutes.

Once through the scenery takes my breath away! We are now going through the first gorge and it’s stunning. It’s very rural. No more high rises. Houses are tucked away into the hillside. Small fishing boats now take the place of the large commercial boats.

It is exactly what I was hoping to see. We are currently sailing through Xiling Gorge. We pass a goat at the bottom of one of the cliffs . We haven’t a clue how it even got there. This is definitely China at its most remote. I really can’t wait for our trip this afternoon. In the meantime we are going to sit back and enjoy the view! Life doesn’t get much better than this !

As we sail towards the bigger dam the skyline does change slightly with a few high rise but nothing like we have seen previously.

Our trip today is to the dam project where you get to see an even bigger dam which we will pass through tonight. When I say it’s huge, I’m not kidding! It even has a boat lift for small boats to speed up their passage.

After getting through a security check you travel up some escalators to get a birds eye view of the dam. It apparently produces 1.4% of China electricity which surprised me. It just goes to show how much the country uses if something so big produces such as small percentage, especially when they say it’s the biggest one in the world.

Today there has been a constant haze and high humidity so I’m dying to get a shower. As we are so hot, hubby suggests we stop at the bar for a cold drink first. It would be rude not to. Carey who took us to our room works in the bar on the 4th floor but initially Leo served me. Leo usually serves me drinks during the day so immediately asked if I wanted a Diet Coke. This is what I love about Viking, the staff pay attention to their guests and try to preempt their needs. When I asked for fizz that obviously wasn’t a problem he just needed to get a new bottle. In the meantime Carey has arrived and immediately asked if we would like fizz and beer. When we said Leo was sorting he asked us to take a seat and he would serve us. He is such a lovely guy. Always smiling. All the staff are brilliant on this ship!

Finally we head for a shower. Tonight is cocktail night for returning clients which we are! I’m looking forward to that.

So the cocktail party wasn’t how I expected from the point of view I didn’t see a single cocktail!

It was lovely talking to the crew about the previous trip we did and the disaster that happened on one of the sea cruises.

As we ate dinner we went started to head towards our second dam. Oh wow. It was stunningly beautiful with its changing colours.

As hubby wasn’t feeling great we decided up sit on our balcony and enjoy Kellie and Joe’s champagne while watching us go through the dam. What we hadn’t really thought about was our view !

Yep – not exactly wow is it !! It takes a few hours to get through so sleep took over before we were out of it!

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 6 – Jingzhou – school and old wall

I woke up around 6.20 am and looked through our patio doors. The sun was just rising over the Yangtze River, it was so beautiful. I quickly grabbed my camera and took a couple of pictures.

Today we are mooring in Jingzhou where we will visit a school in the morning then this afternoon visit the old wall.

We dock just before 7 am so I watch the boat as it moors. Our balcony faces the port side so after breakfast we sit on the balcony watching the comings and going’s. Men are fishing on the bank, others just walking around.

Each day the staff give us a small booklet with has the latest news from home. We obviously get one on Britain which is a great idea.

Our bus is leaving at 9 am to take us to the school so we have plenty of time to sit and read before we need to leave.

We are just back from our school visit. I wasn’t sure what to to expect. When we arrived we were greeted by 100’s of children ranging from 6-12, all waving at us. They would come up and high 5 you.

We were treated to a little show where 3 groups of children performed different dances. We were then taken to see them in their classes.

Each child came and took one of our hands and asked us to sit in their seats. They are grade 2 children so haven’t learnt English yet. We tried to talk to them. My hubby was across the classroom from me and I could see about 4 children around him, fascinated by his camera and beard!

Many of the children board at the school while there parents work in Shanghai or Beijing. They only get to see them about once a year. The little girl with me was a boarder too. It broke my heart to think of her not going home to her parents each night.

Their grandparents would be playing a big part in their lives, but there is nothing like a mothers love and I’d imagine she must have missed her parents so much when first sent to school.

She was so cute. When I left she gave me a big hug and I can’t help but wonder if she is missing affection? I have nieces her age and I couldn’t imagine them not seeing their parents for long periods of time!

In China the parents devote all their money to make sure their children get the best education possible, so I can see why they have to board their children if they want to earn good money in the city for them, but it is still very emotional.

When you leave you can give a donation to the school which of course we did.

Now back on board I’m chilling on our balcony after another great lunch of prawns on toasted bread to start, pork ribs for main and green tea icecream for dessert. I mustn’t forget my glass of fizz!

When we returned to our cabin we had a lovely surprise. We have got friendly with another couple on the boat. They have a suite which also came with a bottle of champagne. As they don’t drink it, they had it sent to our room. I couldn’t believe how thoughtful they were. Hubby and I will certainly enjoy it, so thank you Joe and Kellie.

As I sit here on the balcony I notice a women on the bank. She is washing her laundry in the river. If you look at my photos above you will see how dirty the water is and I can’t help but wonder how clean she gets her clothes.

She first wets the item in the river then lays in on the bank where she takes what looks like soap and scrubs the items, first with her hands and then her feet. She takes a long time with each item before rinsing them in the river. It seems sad that this is her only way to wash her clothes.

I could sit here forever watching the world but I need to head to the bus again to go to the old wall.

It’s only a short trip but gave us an opportunity to visit the city walls and experience some of the locals selling fruit. It was nice just to walk around and see how they live. A man was carrying 2 buckets of water hanging then on either side of a plank of wood balanced on his shoulders. Little moped trucks were piled high with boxes or scrap metal etc.

The county really fascinates me.

We get back to boat around 4 pm so we have time to chill in our room catching up on the BBC news before we have to get ready for dinner. It’s a western menu tonight.

As I look out from the balcony there are now some men swimming. I give them a wave and they happily wave back. They swim over towards our boat for a closer look. Others are fishing. We decide to go up to the top deck for a walk and people watch more.

It was perfect timing as we were just setting off again down the river. We stayed a short while just soaking up the quietness and reflecting on their way of life. Eventually it was time to shower and change for dinner. But not before watching a he sunset.

Before dinner there is a briefing on what is happening tomorrow, as we travel through the 3 Gorges. I am expecting a huge change in the landscape tonight as we sail towards them.

After dinner there is a show where we will be shown different traditional dress. Sadly hubby has come down with a cold today so I’m not sure if he will make it.

We decide to go to get he shied after all and it’s good fun. The staff are dressed in an array of costumes and perform traditional dances for us. It’s all bright and colourful. A lovely end to another good day.