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.

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Why your next holiday should be with Viking River Cruises!

I have been home now just over 2 weeks.  After saving and planning for our Viking River Cruise trip to China for over 6 years, I cannot believe it is all over.  This is our second trip with Viking, and both have not disappointed.

I think this is the first time my hubby and I have been away for so long. We were 1 day short of 3 weeks in total.  I usually get home sick after 10 days, but this trip was so different.  I could have carried on for weeks, if it wasn’t for the fact, I missed my dogs oh and a thing called work!

The flight home was as comfortable as it can be in standard class.  Emirates are a great airline and our ‘go to’ choice for long haul.  I love the fact I can pre-order a low-fat meal and the great selection of films.  I am still hoping one day I will get to experience the luxury of business or first class.  I hear of so many people getting free upgrades, but I’m not that lucky sadly.

As it was a night flight, I planned to try and sleep on the first leg – Beijing to Dubai, and I think I managed a couple of hours.  From Dubai to Birmingham I made myself stay awake so I wouldn’t be too jet lagged for work the next day.  This was a great opportunity to watch a bunch load of files such as finishing Dumbo, The Hustle, Fishermen’s Friends, What Men Want, Alex and the List and finally The Wife.

As soon as we could, we collected Fido and Lola from the Kennels.  They were as happy to see us as we were to see them.

Usually, when I am home, I’m a little bit down after a good holiday, but 2 weeks on, I still have the ‘China’ buzz.  For over a week, I would wake in the night and think I was still there!  I dream constantly of everything we did.  People ask me what my favourite bit was.  I can’t answer that, as everything was magical and different.

A week later, we received a free recipe book from Viking.  It was such a lovely surprise and hubby and I have already tried one of the recipes out.  We plan many more.  It helps up keep our trip alive, especially when we insist on using chopsticks!

I don’t know when I will be able to go on another Viking holiday, but I have promised myself, as soon as I have saved up, I will be booking another one. Hong Kong, Tibet, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand are at the top of our list now. I’ve already looked up their ‘Far East Discovery’ which takes in Hong Kong, Japan as well as parts of China we haven’t seen. Well ok, I’ll be honest, I’ve checked out all the Asia ones! Far East Horizons etc etc! They all look so good!

The culture of China really fascinated me.  It has given me a new appetite to learn more about the people.  I have been recommended a book called the ‘Wild Swans’ which is apparently about 3 generations of Chinese ladies.  It is in my Amazon basket waiting for me to finish my current book – The Tattooist of Auschwitz.  This is an amazing read too, and after visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau twice, I can really visualise the story.

If you are thinking of booking a holiday in the future, give Viking’s website a visit.  The price may seem high at first view, but the quality is extremely high, food and drinks are mostly included, as are the trips.  One of the things I love about the trips being included is that they take you to places you may never have thought to go to.  I will be honest, on both my trips with Viking, if you had asked me to pick my trips, there are some I wouldn’t have done.  Now having done them, I would have been gutted to miss out.  Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.  By putting yourselves in the good hands of Viking, you will definitely get a holiday to remember.  As for the food – you will seriously not find better.

The customer service is excellent from the time you book to when you arrive home.   The staff learn your names within minutes of meeting you and treat you like a member of the family.  Nothing is too much trouble.  I think this is why I don’t get home sick on these holidays.  It is like being around your family every day.

Don’t forget they also offer some early booking savers.  These are really worth doing.  So, what are you waiting for?

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 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 13- The Great Wall

It’s another early start with a 5 am alarm call!

Although yesterday I said this was my third favourite hotel this trip, I think the bed was the most comfortable so far. I slept so well.

We have a good routine going in the mornings. I wake up and make a tea for me, and coffee for hubby. While my tea cools I grab a shower.

As our case left the night before us in Xi’an, I didn’t have my Avon So Soft Spray on yesterday. As I look in the mirror now, I see that this was the perfect opportunity for the mosquitos to have a party on me. I have 6 bites around my neck and chest and 3 on my legs.

After my shower I completely cover myself in the spray. I’m not given them another day of fun!

We go for our first breakfast in this hotel. The dining area is beautiful with colourful lanterns everywhere.

There is a great selection once again from western to Chinese.

After dinner last night I felt so bloated, so I decided to just have fruit today, however I did allow a small smoked salmon roll to sneak in too.

We leave the hotel at 7.00 am for the 2 hour drive to the Great Wall. I am so looking forward to this, I just hope my bladder holds out for the duration of the drive!

I’m pleased to say I made it. The trip reminded me of when I was a kid going to the seaside. Searching the landscape for my first sight of the sea. We drove through the Badaling Hills which is the highest point of the Guangou Gorge. As I look around it is all so beautiful, and then, there it is, my first view of the Great Wall. It was amazing.

During the drive Terry our guides tells us all about how it was made, the staggering length of over 6200 miles in total.

We get off the bus and all quickly head to the ‘facilities’ as Terry calls them before starting the final part of the journey to the wall.

To get to the wall you take the Funicular up. I’m so pleased as I was expecting a climb! It takes just over 3 minutes and gives you a chance to take in the gorge a little.

Once at the top, you walk out and it’s there right in front of you. We take our first steps onto the wall and I can’t believe I’m here.

Terry is there ready to take our cameras so that each couple or group can have photos together.

The section we are on is part of the best preserved section. We decide to walk up the steep part first while we have fresh legs.

Some of it is steps , other parts slopes. Going up is very steep at times, but the views are amazing. 360 degrees of outstanding views in fact.

As we walk along the wall I have to keep pinching myself that I’m here.

When you see how far into the distance the wall goes, I can’t help wonder how on earth they got the bricks up here, nether alone to build it. It is a really beautiful, incredible landmark.

After the wall we visited a Jade factory. Hubby and I loved a table and 2 chairs made of Jade. It was only $1.8m, so we ordered 2 sets!! In our dreams!

They showed us how they cut the stone and the different colours. I always thought it was only green, but you get all variety of colours including red, yellow, blue and white.

After a tour we head upstairs for lunch. We have the usual array of dishes, but this time as well as the beer they gave us a bottle of ‘fire water’. We all take some on our table and toasted each other before downing it in one! Jeez, I now know why it’s call fire water! It was so bad we had to have a second toast!

After lunch we had time to walk around the shop. I decided to treat myself to some lovely blue earrings. I wanted a pendant to go with them, but sadly they didn’t have one in the same colour.

Some of the pieces were quite expensive like the table and chairs. These bracelets were from £1000-£1300 each, although they did offer 30% discount!

It was lovely walking around though looking at the pieces, especially when you know they were cut from one piece of rock!

We then took a walk along the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs. The walk is lined by 18 massive statues of elephants, lions, camels, and mystical beasts, protecting the tombs of Emperors. As we walk through the tree lined avenue, Terry explains the meaning of each of them and the old customs and suspicions. It is so peaceful and the smell of the pine trees adding to its calmness.

At the end of the Avenue you pass through the Great Red Gate which is more than 400 years old. With its 3 archways, it is one of the largest stone archways in China.

We start the journey back to the hotel. As we drive we pass buildings for the Beijing Olympics, which Terry points out for us. One of the beauties of Viking, is that you get a whole lot more than you expect every day and Terry is such a fabulous guide, explaining everything to us. He also cracks quite a lot of jokes which gets the whole group in stitches.

Back at the hotel we have a few hours to ourselves before leaving for dinner.

In the basement of our hotel and across the street is a big, high end shopping centre. The memory card on my small camera is already full and Hubby’s camera is close to being full, so we decide go on the search for a camera shop. Jimmy from Viking had suggested there may be a store in the basement of China World opposite the hotel. After a while we find a shop and are pleased to buy two 32MB cards for less than £12 each.

We arrive back to our room with 1.5 hours to spare before going out to dinner.


I’m so full, I really can’t cope with any more food. It’s a different style to normal with custard filled dim sums at the beginning as well as custard tarts.

I sample a little of some of the dishes, but I’m just still so full from lunch.

After dinner we join Kellie and Joe, a lovely couple from USA, who we have met on this trip, for a drink in the bar before heading to bed! It is the end of happy hour so Prosecco is 2 for 1 until 9 pm. We made it with 6 minutes to spare!

The mini bar in the hotel is free so we finally retire to our room for a drink before going to sleep.