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 3 – Shanghai & Yoyuan Gardens, and so much more!

Another 6am wake up call today. This will be the theme of this trip I am sure. It is great to wake up and have a beautiful cup of Chinese tea, or two while getting ready. I am really a massive fan of it. I will definitely have to bring some home with me.

Today we are off to old Shanghai and Yoyuan Gardens but not before breakfast.

Chinese breakfasts are also a favourite part of the day. Hubby commented about how adventurous I am being with my food. I am determined to try new things each day. Today was pork stuffed dumplings. I also had to have my boiled eggs in tea, although I learnt today it also has Soy Sauce in it. I really need to try making them when I get home.

Today is also the first official day of the trip – Imperial Jewels of China. The last few days were an optional extension to the tour. Everyone will now have arrived, so it will be interesting to see what they are all like and where they are from. The people we have met so far are mainly American or Canadian, with only another couple from the UK.

I look around breakfast to get my first view. Most of the people here will be on the same trip, getting something to eat before we leave for our trip at 8 am.

We are a large group so for the rest of the trip we have been allocated our guide. We still have Terry who has been with us since we arrived which we are really pleased about.

We all meet in the hotel lobby where Terry checks the batteries to our voice boxes. These will be with us throughout the tour so we can always hear him. We were also given badges to write our names on. This is new as we didn’t do this on our last Viking trip. I’m so bad at names this will really help me.

The weather is awful. It is pouring with rain and a lot of today is outside. The hotel has provided umbrellas in our rooms which will certainly be needed today, plus we have our waterproof jackets.

We get on our bus and meet some people from the day in Suzhou and discuss what we all did yesterday. New arrivals were feeling tired after long flights the night before. I remember how tired I was and have been thankful for the extra days to help me adjust.

The first stop is a trip to old Shanghai. It only takes a short time on the bus. I have to say, from now on, I’m sorry but I won’t able to confirm the cost of the things we see, as Viking are excellent at including all tours in the price of the trip!

As we walk to the old town from the bus, it is still pouring with rain, but it doesn’t take away the beauty of what I saw. Traditional Chinese buildings surround us. It is surreal when I look up and see the top of my hotel roof from down here. I feel I’m in a completely different city.

I’ve learnt that in China it is as important to look up as it is to look straight ahead. There are so many hidden gems in the roof tops. Beautiful architecture including many carvings.

We walk through the old town to Yoyuan Gardens which dates back to the Ming Dynasty. Here it is really important to look up. Carvings of ancient warriors and dragons adorn the roof tops. The curves of the roof add to the beauty. It’s still raining but we still enjoy walking around some of five acres of gardens, through rockeries, pavilions and grottos. It is just so peaceful here.

We are then given some free time to explore the garden and old town more.

In a shop window a lady is making something which looked like a sweet dumpling. She saw us watching and smiled a beautiful smile before showing us what she was doing. Another thing I have found is that the Chinese are so friendly.

The rain hasn’t stopped so we are relieved when we head to our next destination – a silk carpet and embroidery workshop. I have to say, the silk embroidery absolutely blew me away. One piece in particular was of a leopard cub. See what you think :

It is absolutely stunning isn’t it.

A lady is sat showing you how they are made. Some take over 200 days to make. It is a great skill to be able to produce something like this. Plus what amazing eyesight they must have.

There were carpets too. Sadly whilst I’d have loved to bring a few back, they were not in our price range this time, but who knows, if we win the lottery we could be making a call!

From here it was time for lunch. In China, it’s not unusual for lunch to be served from 11.30 am.

We were told that lunch would be dim sum in a local restaurant just above the carpet and embroidery workshop. I wasn’t expecting much except a sample of a few dim sums, so when lunch arrived, I was blown away. It consisted of about 10 different dishes ranging from noodles, fried rice, egg plant, beef and chicken dishes to the dim sum itself. This was accompanied by a local Chinese beer.

If I’d have realised how much food was coming, I’d have cut back on breakfast. I know I could have said no to some of the dishes, but it smelt and looked so good. It tasted good too. This is the trouble with Viking, they give you the most amazing food everyday, you can’t help tucking in.

After lunch we visited the Shanghai Museum. Over 4 floors you can explore art and antiquities from over 5000 years. For us the statues were of most interest, but each floor was full of amazing things.

Can you believe that this is actually a pillow. I’m not sure I’d swap my feather ones for it today!

After the museum the tour should have ended with a trip to the bund. Due to the rain it was decided to delay this until tomorrow morning, so we all headed back to our hotel, arriving back at 3 pm.

As if we hadn’t eaten enough, dinner was to be served in the Crystal Garden Restaurant in the 5th floor. We decided to have a bottle of beer with dinner. The cost in the hotel is 58 Yuan which is about £7.25 for a 330 ml bottle. I didn’t see the wine list so can’t say how much it is.

I have been having wine in my room each evening while getting changed. A Chinese wine from the local store is about 42 yuan (£5.25) and has been really nice though.

After dinner we got back onto the bus to another hotel to visit the Shanghai Theatre, to see the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe. I was sort of expecting something like the Circus Du Soleil, however this was very different to that. We were not allowed to use photography during the 1 hour show so I can’t show you any pictures. What I can say is that that it was a really good night out. A lot of humour, audience participation (well for the unlucky ones that got plucked out of the audience) and some very talented performers. I would certainly recommend a visit.

We are now back in our hotel. Tomorrow we catch a flight from Shanghai to Wuhan where we will see our home for the next 8 days – Viking Emerald.

Viking are as efficient as ever. They already have our passports to check us in. We just need to leave our cases outside our hotel room door at 7.30 am tomorrow and the next time we will see them will be in our cabin.

When we arrive at the airport they will provide us with lunch boxes to keep us going until dinner too.

So it’s time to say good night for now and enjoy our last sleep in our amazing hotel room. I shall really miss it. Our time in Shanghai has been amazing and thank you to the staff at the Westin Hotel and the various Viking staff for making it so special. Terry will continue with us throughout.

Imperial Jewels of China – Woo hoo we are on our way!

I cannot believe that after 6 years of planning and saving the day has finally arrived. I’m going to China. It’s like a dream come true! I always expected something to get in the way to stop us coming but today it’s actually real.

We had planned to wake at 6.30 am to have time to have a cup of tea in bed before taking the dogs for a walk. As it happened hubby and I were awake around 5am. We had a couple of cups of tea while watching TV before having to get up. I think we were both a little excited.

The dogs are going to kennels today and I think they know. Fido looks very sad. He likes his routine and suffers from anxiety. The kennels they go to is lovely. They have both been there since pups. The owner really looks after them as do the staff. I’ve used it for years. It’s not the kennel for Fido that worries him, it’s the lack of routine. He does like to wake up at the same time each day and be in bed by 9pm!

Lola is completely different. She is all cuddles today but the thought of being around loads of other dogs fills her with joy. She is such a party girl.

We finally get up after lots of morning cuddles and walk them. Because we were awake so early we have plenty of time.

After the walk it’s time to shower and do the final jobs. For me it’s a quick hoover around the house, pay window cleaner and check every plug is off! I don’t know why it’s so important to leave the house clean before going away but it is! Finally it’s time to go.

We have to take the dogs to kennels first. As we take them in they are both excited. I know I said Fido looked sad but when he arrives he is always excited to see the girls. Lola is beside herself. Both go off without a backward glance. I will miss them so much.

Our friend is taking us to airport so we head to his house. I really could pinch myself that this is actually happening today!

We arrive at airport. We have already checked in online but I’m hoping for an upgrade. I’ve heard of so many people getting them. Sadly not today. I’d have loved to see what business class was like. Somethings are just not meant to be! On the plus side I’ve prebooked the airport lounge.

We check in to No1 Lounge. We are both hungry having missed breakfast so decide to eat first? A lovely salad to start, followed by chorizo and chicken stew and of course fizz for me and larger for hubby. It’s a really relaxing way to start the holiday, and what a holiday it’s going to be! Sitting watching planes coming and going I’m now really excited. It’s a holiday of a lifetime to celebrate hitting 50. 3 weeks in China starting in Shanghai!

Our flight is called and we board our Emirates A380. We are obviously in standard class but I can see she stairs to the floor above us. That first class. What I’d give for a sneak !

We settle into our seats 82 A&B. Hubby always prefers the window seat as he finds it easier to sleep. We wait patiently for the passengers to board. Woo hoo. The plane is not full so we have the 3 seats to ourselves which means we can spread out.

I settle in to watch the new Mary Poppins film. I’m a massive fan of the original version. I won’t spoil it for you but it’s brilliant. And yes I shed a few tears !

I’ve preordered my food. Emirates are great for giving you lots of options. I always choose the low fat option. I don’t like creamy food so this is perfect for me. Mine was a salad to start followed by chicken in a tomato sauce with rice followed by fresh fruit salad.

It’s the first of 2 flights today. This the the Birmingham to Dubai leg. For approximately 7 hours hubby and I are able to kick back and relax over a few wines. Of course he had to make sure we clinked our plastic cups for a celebratory cheers.

Now what else to watch ?

I decided upon Ladybird. It wasn’t what I expected but still good. A snack was brought round of a chicken roll.

I really should have tried to sleep but I’m so rubbish at that. Put me in a car and I’m gone in seconds.

We are shortly due to land in Dubai for a short stop before the final leg to Shanghai.

Dubai airport is very beautiful but very expensive. We have an hour to kill so decide to stretch our legs and walk around the shop. Everything we looked at could have been bought cheaper at home. There are some interesting shops though. Very high end.

Time to board another A380. This time we have seats in the middle set of 4. Not our choice but at least I can get up and down easily to stretch my legs. We are just hoping it’s not a full plane. We are not hopeful as the boarding gate is full.

Sadly it is a full flight but it’s fine. It is what it is.

I start looking at all the films and decide upon Stockholm. It is based on a true story so it should be good. We are waiting to taxi down the runway when we are informed that due to congestion over Muscat we have to wait 2O minutes before we can leave! It reminds me of my daily commute. They are always delays because of congestion on the trains!

Finally we taxi down. By time time I’m struggling to keep my eyes open so pause the film. The next thing I know is we I’m being woken to give me my lunch ! When did we even take off ?

My special lunch is amazing. The salmon was a massive surprises as hubby was having noodles. It tried to take to take as photo but as the plane was in darkness so everyone could sleep it didn’t come out well!

I was planning to stay awake to watch the rest of the movie but I was soon fast asleep only waking just before the next meal was due. Again booking my low fat meal was perfect.

Fish again but that is just up my street. I managed to stay wake now to watch the rest of the film which actually was good.

I still had some time before we landed so started watching the new Dumbo movie. Sadly I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough so abandoned it.

As we descend to Shanghai airport I switch my screen to watch the camera view from the plane. I don’t know why but I’m underwhelmed by the view. I’m not sure what I expected but not this. Finally we land. Now you would think that we would soon be picking our bags up but oh no!

Firstly, it’s a really long time from landing to when we dock. I couldn’t believe how busy it was. We follow another plane for what feels like 20 minutes and it’s so close. Planes due to take off are also pulling out in front of us. It’s so bizarre!

Finally we leave the plane. I have to say Emirates do a great job.

As we head for passport control we are met with signs directing us to have our fingerprints done. We had to do this for our visas too. We get them done and given a slip of paper to take to passport control. After a long queue we have the do them again. After a long time we are finally reunited with our bags. The holiday really starts now.

As we walk into arrivals Lounge we are met by Viking representative who takes us to a private car to take us to our hotel. She says it’s about an hour drive so we relax.

As I look out the window I’m again underwhelmed. High rise buildings are everywhere. It doesn’t seem like China at all. Then something magical happens. We cross the bridge and suddenly Shanghai comes to life. The sun is setting. It’s the biggest orange sunset I’ve ever seen. Sadly I couldn’t photograph it. Maybe another time.

We can see the Pearl Tower. That is something we plan to visit.

Finally we arrive at our hotel -Westin Hotel. We are met by Terry from Viking. He has already checked us into our room and what a room it is.

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This is starting off in a great way.

Tomorrow is a 7 am start for the first of our adventures. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime it’s time for bed!

1969 was a great year!

1969 was a great year for many reasons in particular:

  • Richard Nixon became the 37th president of the USA.
  • The Beatles gave their last public performance.
  • Boeing 747 became the largest aircraft and made its first commercial flight.
  • Concorde took its first test flight.
  • Sir Wally Herbert reaches the North Pole and becomes the first man to cross the frozen surface of the Arctic Ocean.
  • Judy Garland died.
  • Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon.
  • The halfpenny ceased to be legal tender.
  • Monty Python’s Flying Circus aired on BBC One for the first time.
  • Lundy Island was given over to the National Trust.

Oh, and not forgetting another important event!  At 2.15 pm on 2 August a baby girl weighing in at 8.12lb came into the world!  She was longer than the average baby, but then she always like to be different!

Yes of course that girl was me.  I cannot believe that I have been around now for 50 years.  It feels so old, but time seems to have flown by.  It isn’t until you stop and look back on your life that the reality really hits you.    If you have read my previous blogs, you will know that I am actually ok about being 50.  I’m in a really good place in my life, and even though life throws me curve balls, I know with my hubby, together we will get through it.

I’m celebrating the day with some of my closest friends.  We are off to Devon to relive probably one of my only real memories of my birthday as a child.  When I say I don’t remember any others, it isn’t because I didn’t have a good childhood.  Far from it.  I had 2 of the best parents ever.

As my birthday falls in August, we were always on holiday, so the day tended to blend into the holiday more.  Mum always got me a cake with candles on and they made a fuss of me, but could I tell you what else I did, then no.  That was except for 1 very particular birthday.

We were in Devon and out to Ilfracombe for the day.  There was a boat in the harbour, so Dad suggested we go have a look around it.  What I didn’t know was that mum and dad had booked a trip to Lundy Island as a surprise for my birthday.  That day has stayed with me forever.  Not least because my parents won’t let me forget it!  Not because of the Island, or the treat.  Oh no!  It is because as a very confident child, I wouldn’t allow anyone to help me board the boat!  Splash – I was in the water!  Yep that was me.  Miss accident prone!  As we didn’t have any spare clothes with me, I just had to dry off.  Thankfully it was a warm day.

On the way back, when offered help, I declined again.  I wasn’t going to fall in twice was I?  Oh no of course I wasn’t!! Splash – yes in I went again!!  My parents love retelling that story to whoever will hear it!  Along with a few more incidents such as my zip line experience, which I won’t go into today, but still have the scars! 

Despite that, I have such happy memories of that day.  The excitement of being on a boat for the first time.  Seeing the birds and looking around the Island was so special.  It seemed only right then that for my 50th I should go back and revisit the Island.  Plus with it being 50 years under National Trust it seemed meant to be.  I refuse this time though to fall in, so if help is offered, I intend to take it.

Sadly, I couldn’t get a boat actually on my birthday, so we are going the next day.  I don’t mind because the whole weekend is my birthday.  Well it isn’t everyday you turn 50 is it!  I’m going to be milking it.

We have our own boat.  Not the normal ferry.  I have been liaising with Colin from Lundy Charters.  We are going from Clovelly this time, which is apparently closer than from Ilfracombe.  I am hoping to see Puffins, seals and dolphins, so will have my camera at the ready.  I’m just hoping the sea is calm after the night before!  We have a Thai Restaurant booked and no doubt there will be lots of bubbles involved!

We are starting the celebrations off tonight with a meal out.  Just me and hubby.   The question is, do I open his present and card tonight or take it with me?  I’ve said I don’t know.  I will have to decide later, I think.

We then head to Westward Ho for 3 nights with friends.  My babies are staying at home as they don’t allow dogs on Lundy Island.  I will miss them dearly, but they will be well looked after.

I don’t know what else we will be doing over the next few days.  That is what makes it fun.  Maybe fish and chips on the seafront.  Our apartment overlooks the sea, so I’m excited to be able to wake up on my birthday looking at the ocean.  Hubby doesn’t know it yet, but I will be expecting a cup of tea made of course by him, while I sit on the balcony admiring the view.

There are 8 of us in total, so whatever we do, I know it will be a good laugh.

Over the 50 years, I have learnt that if you have good family and friends, everything else isn’t as important.  I’m the happiest I have ever been.  I don’t know what the future will bring.  I’m living for today.  What I do know is that I have some amazing people around me.  I feel the luckiest person alive to have my hubby, my fabulous parents and family.  I have some great friends.  Every one of them is different, but that is what makes them special.

I’m actually really excited about the weekend.  I’m sad my parents won’t be there to spend it with me, but I will call them on the day.  I never miss speaking to them on my birthday.  They are amazing parents and love them dearly.  No doubt I will be calling them a few times of the weekend.  I know they will be waiting to hear if I made it on the boat and back without falling in! 

So, I am embracing 50.  I am thankfully for the memories I have already made, and looking forward to the new ones I will make in the future.

My advice is, don’t worry about the little things.  Treasure those that are close to you and live life to the full.  I’ve made mistakes over the last 50 years, but I don’t regret them. If I hadn’t lived the life I had, I wouldn’t be where I am today.