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 2 – Free day to explore Shanghai

Phew I’m exhausted! Today is the only full day we have free on our tour of China. My hubby and I have decided to make the most of it.

The alarm went off at 6am. I’ll be honest, I could have quite happily put it onto snooze for a while if it wasn’t for the fact there was so much we wanted to see today!

I put the kettle on and used the time it took to boil to get a few more minutes of shut eye! I have to say though, I am really enjoying the Chinese tea in our hotel room. It’s funny, at home, the tea is in bags and the coffee loose. Complete opposite to here.

After a quick shower we head for breakfast. I decide to try some of the local food as well as some traditional food. Sorry but I really can’t resist baked beans! I’m loving the eggs boiled in tea especially though and great steamed corn bread.

The fresh fruit is lovely too although I don’t know what the purple things were and they were not my thing!

After breakfast we walk down to the water front. It’s quite quiet right now so great for taking photos. The beauty of starting early is you miss the crowds.

It was lovely just walking along the waters edge watching the boats sail by and looking at the landscape. Today though we are also heading to the Pearl Tower.

The Pearl Tower is on the other side of the river. You can take the ferry for 2 yuan each way or like us, you can do the tunnel for 70 yuan return. Yes it is a lot more expensive but it’s quite fun. You get into glass trams and as you travel through the tunnel you are treated to an amazing light show. I’ll show it to you on my YouTube channel when I post my video on it soon.

The whole trip only takes less than 4 minutes, but it is worth it.

We headed straight to the tower. As it was early – around 9.30 am there was only 1 person in the queue before us. The entrance fee is 220 yuan each. It seems a lot but it is absolutely worth it.



Initially they take you up in the lift to the sightseeing tower which is 263 m high. You get stunning 360 degree views of the city.Next stop is a little lower! Don’t be fooled though! This is where you find the glass floor! I have to say it took me a few attempts to get my legs to stand on it! When I did I kept to the metal joints just in case. My hubby told me later he could feel it move. I’m not sure if that was true or not but if I’d known that I wouldn’t have gone near it!

There were people lying down and posing, taking selfies. Not me, no way!

You can then take a lift up to 351 m where you get even greater views, on a solid floor, before coming down to the outdoor viewing level at a reasonable 90m.

I have to say, the whole experience exceeded my expectations!

After getting my feet onto solid ground we headed to the cruise port for an hour trip down the river. You can pay 130 yuan each or for 160 yuan you can go on the upper deck. This is what we chose as you could go outside and get better views and of course photos!

Afterwards we took a lovely walk along the waters edge before heading back through the tunnel.

We walked our little socks off, taking in the beautiful buildings and people watching, although many Chinese seemed to be doing the same with us.

We headed up Nanjing Road East, passing the Peace Hotel which seemed to be getting a lot of attention. I must ask Terry out Viking guide why that is. Carrying up the road we came to the shopping area. It was fascinating seeing the types of shops and habits of the Chinese.

Finally the humidity got to us and we decided to head back to our hotel for a quick shower and rest for an hour before heading out for the evening.

A quick check of my Fitbit shows we have already done over 22,000 steps today with more to come!

We head off about 5.45 pm to get a good spot before sunset. The lights on some buildings have already started to come on, so it’s taking on a whole different landscape. We find a great spot opposite the Pearl Tower and wait. During the hour wait, the skyline starts to change. Rain was forecast for 4 pm but there is so far nothing! We are keeping our fingers crossed it stays dry long enough for the photos.

Boats are passing us now illuminated with brightly coloured lights. It’s so beautiful. We have waited an hour and hubby is getting frustrated as there are still no lights on the Pearl. I have a theory. We can see the tower from our hotel room. Based on the time we arrived, I think lights go on at 7 pm. Just a few seconds before we are asked to move as professional photographers need our area to take paid photos of tourists. It was so annoying as we had a great spot and had stood patiently for over an hour.

We walk down the promenade a little. It is packed with people but I manage to find us a small gap. We finally get the photo opportunity we wanted and the buildings didn’t disappoint. It was spectacular and well worth the wait.

We decide to head back to our hotel via the shopping area where we were earlier. Oh wow! I have never seen so many people in one place, apart from when leaving a major concert. It is well organised though with each side of the street going one way only.

We arrive at the shopping area which has now really come to life. We decide to take some quick pics before heading back to our hotel for something to eat and a hot bath.

It has really been a full on day with over 27,000 steps in total, but what a day! I love China.

Tomorrow is back to the tour programme with an 8 am pickup, so I will say goodnight for now.

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 1 – Shanghai

After the long day yesterday we had an early start this morning. The alarm was set for 5.45 am so we could have a cup of tea before shower and breakfast.

Tea was a bit different to what you usually get. It was loose tea leaves. As I don’t speak Chinese I couldn’t tell you what it was but it was delicious. After adding the hot water it looked almost like fresh leaves.

Breakfast was amazing. We are staying at the 5 star Westin Hotel. Breakfast options are vast. You can have a full on Chinese breakfast which includes rice, noodles, dumplings etc. Alternatively you can have a selection of fruits, cereals or an English breakfast.

By the time we had got ready we now only had 30 minutes before leaving on our tour so opted for something quick and easy. I had a chicken sausage, baked beans, an egg boiled in tea, bacon and a steamed bread roll, followed by fresh fruit. Tomorrow we have more time so I plan to be a bit more adventurous. It looked so amazing that it would be a shame not to try some traditional foods.

Our tour left the hotel at 7.15 am for a full 9 hour trip to Suzhou. It takes about 2 hours To get there from Shanghai, but this gives us a chance to look out of the bus window and take in the views. There are lots of high rise buildings, which just reflects the high population here in China.

Suzhou is known as the ‘Venice of the East’, with its canal network . Unlike Venice though it isn’t sinking as the canals are all man made.

Our first stop is for a trip along the Grandcanal in a traditional boat. The houses are very basic, many with no private bathrooms or in some cases, kitchens. People are washing clothes and shoes in the canal as we sail by. Washing is hung from most windows from bamboo canes. It’s so pretty in a kind of way it’s hard to describe. We have taken lots of photos which will be transferred to my YouTube channel when we return home.

Lunch is next on the agenda. It’s a traditional Chinese lunch at the Garden Hotel. We sit on tables of 10 with others on our trip. Plates of food are placed on a lazy Susan. Dishes included rice, noodles, chicken gung po (which I made a slimming world version a few months ago for my YouTube channel – https://youtu.be/mkD4RFWz7uM ), aubergines in hoisin sauce, egg with onions, fish and tomatoes, tomato and potato soup, just to name a few. This was washed down with a bottle of Snow beer. Yes Snow! It made me laugh in view of the current heat.

After lunch we headed to the Silk Museum. I found this really fascinating. You get to look close up at the silk worms, the cocoons etc. They take you through the process from start to finish. At the end you have opportunity to shop. Silk quilts or as they call them ‘comforters’ are so reasonable. Less than £100 for a king size. If I hadn’t just bought one at home I would certainly have brought one back. Instead I bought a large scarf and glass case. I was worried about my luggage allowance for the internal flights so didn’t buy more. I’ve since discovered the China airlines are a bit more flexible. I’m kicking myself now as I know some friends and my own mum who would have loved a Silk scarf too. Maybe on my trip I will find more.

After leaving the museum we went to a gardens. It is down a little alley, tucked away. The garden is built around the house. Ponds, rocks and trees are beautifully set out. It’s called the Master of the Nets Garden. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Yes there are many people there at the moment, but somehow it is so quiet and romantic!

There are a group of Chinese people who seemed fascinated by us and and taking many pictures. I can’t help wonder what they will do with them! I do play to them for a while. They then notice my camera holster and seem to like it. I show them how it works which pleases them. I had it for my birthday and have to say it is amazing. It’s called a camera holster by Spider. It fits comfortably on my waist so I don’t have to have my Camera around my neck in this humidity!

It is here I experienced my first squat toilet! It was a choice thing as the normal toilets had a massive queue! I can see why Chinese ladies have good legs!

It’s been a lovely day. I am certainly going to sleep tonight and although the tour laid on by Viking for today has come to an end apart from the trip back to the hotel, we still have this evening to explore more.

I think our plan is to head towards the river to explore it lit up. We want to do a boat trip tomorrow so may see if we can get one booked. In the meantime I’m chilling out on the bus for our return journey back to the hotel.

I can’t believe the traffic. What should have been a 2 hour trip home now turned up into over 3 hours. To make things worse it’s started to pour with rain.

As we reach our hotel it’s still raining hard. We decide that as it’s also after 7.30 pm the best thing is to get a bottle of wine and a few beers to take to our room, have a bath and chill.

We aren’t hungry but could do with something light so pick up some salads from the cafe in the hotel to take to our room too.

It’s a shame it’s raining but in someways we are both tired, so it gives us a chance to recharge our batteries for tomorrow. We are free to explore on our own so plan an early start.

We are both loving this trip and it’s only really just begun!

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

What a fab weekend

I can’t believe it’s back to work again so soon. This weekend has been amazing. There are 3 reasons why it was so special:

1) A 4 day weekend

2) The sun was out

3) It was hubbys birthday

The 3 combined meant we had a fun filled weekend.

As you know, we both have a very early start during the week. To be able to wake up when we wanted to, relax in bed with a couple of cups of tea, and getting up when we wanted was magical. The dogs loved it too. Especially Lola who isn’t a morning girl.

Friday we decided to go into Birmingham for the day. A bit odd you may think for people who travel there everyday for work! Whilst we work there, we never really go into the centre.

With the worlds biggest Primark, hubby was intrigued as to what it was like. I needed to get him a birthday present from my parents do this seemed like to perfect excuse to go.

I have to say, shopping for men’s clothes is a nightmare. He wanted a lightweights jacket. Do you think we could find one? It was so hard! It seems that men only get a limited amount of space in stores! Very frustrating!

As hubby isn’t a shopper, we agreed we would get his things together, then he would go off and do some photography around the city while I shopped for me!

Check out what we bought here !

After a few hours we met up and had lunch on the canal at Marco Pierre White Restaurant- Bardolinos! It was so lovely to chill out and enjoy a nice late lunch together!

Saturday was even more chilled which just a hair cut for me before heading out to Hubbys favourite Thai restaurant for Dinner.

Sunday was his actual birthday so after another lazy start, we went off for a nice long walk around Charlecote. With the warmth of the sun, it was a perfect day out!

In the evening we celebrated with friends at their house.

The last day of the weekend was equally as chilled! We visited a museum at our local airfield which was a training airfield for British, Canadian, American and Belgium RAF. Reading stories of bravery and lives lost, it was very humbling. A spot of brunch at the cafe followed by a bit of gardening and a braai, it certainly had been a magical weekend!

Now I’m back on the train and it will soon be a distant memory, but at least they will be good memories!

Have a great week.

Worlds biggest PRIMARK has opened in Birmingham

Yesterday saw the opening of the worlds biggest Primark store in the world.

I’m not a great shopper but as I was working near there, I decided to pop in on my way home to have a look!

As I walked up to what used to be the old Pavilion shopping centre I was blown away. As I walked through the doors, I just couldn’t believe the transformation. It was HUGE!

I have never seen a place like it. This wasn’t just a shop, it was a whole day out! Sadly I only had about 40 minutes, so I quickly made my way around as much as I could!

I certainly didn’t get to see it all! It’s too vast! What I did see as soon as I walked through the doors was a nail and hair bar! Very trendy!

There is also a barbers on the ground floor for the men!

A place to get personalised t-shirts, a Disney cafe, place to chill and charge phones and so many clothes, accessories etc!

What I liked was it felt spacious. You were not bumping into people!

There are so many checkouts so you don’t have to worry about queues!

In my short time I did manage to pick out 16 items which you can see on my YouTube channel here:

The store is over 5 floors. It’s been designed very well, with great views down the floors from the escalators.

There are water fountains around which after hours of shopping in there, you will be very grateful for that!

As I said, I only had a very short time, but I’m so impressed, I’m planning a second trip soon. Hubby wants to come and see the menswear section, but I may have to leave him in the cafe while I explore the ladies section. I feel it may take me many hours!

So if you are local, why not pop along and see what you think !

Did Black Friday put you in the red?

Yesterday was the annual Black Friday, but what is Black Friday?  It comes from America, and is the informal name for the Friday following Thanksgiving Day.  It is celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November. 

Black Friday, since 1952, is said to be the beginning of American’s Christmas shopping season.   As has happened over here, they too have experienced horror stories of people fighting each other for those bargains.  People have been known to queue up all night, in the hope to get that great deal.

So is Black Friday really what we all hope it will be?

I have to say, I don’t buy into all the hype!  At lot of stores have great deals all year round now. There probably is the odd deal going, but I honestly don’t believe that we will all go shopping on that one day of the year, and make great savings!

Firstly, how many of you yesterday went shopping just because it was Black Friday?  I would probably say, quite a few.  I work in the centre of Birmingham.  You could really see the increase of people on the streets, as I fought to make my way to the station last night.

Secondly, how many people bought things they didn’t plan to buy?  Again, probably quite a few!  This group of people are the ones who will think they have had a fabulous deal, but in actual fact they haven’t!

The reason I say this, is that they have actually spent money they were not planning on spending, on something they probably didn’t need.  For example, say you are one of those people who has gone shopping just because they think they could get a bargain.  They go into a shop and see this massive sign saying that a TV was £500 yesterday, but today its £300.  You have to buy it.  I mean, that is a bargain and in their head, they are saving £200.  Stop and think about that again!

In actual fact, they have just spent £300 they were not planning to spend, so in fact they haven’t saved money, the exact opposite.

The same goes for smaller items.  Just because something has been reduced, doesn’t make it a bargain.

Next time you go shopping, and you spot those big signs, telling you of a bargain, stop and think.  Ask yourself, do you want it? Do you need it?  If it wasn’t on offer, would you even have looked at it?  If the answer is no, then step away!

Supermarkets have been doing this for many years.  Have you noticed when you walk in the door, there in front of you are ‘todays offers’!   How many times have you bought biscuits because they were on offer, or buy 1 get 1 free?

Would you have bought them if they were not on offer?  If not, you didn’t get a great deal did you?  What has happened, is that you have spent more money than you planned to.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great bargains out there.  If you are genuinely looking to buy something, and it has been discounted, go for it.  I know I did get a bargain myself yesterday.  Not because I was caught in the hype.  It was something I have been wanting to buy for a few weeks.  I had a discount voucher which was running out yesterday, so I just looked on the off chance that it might be reduced.  Bonus it was, so I bought it.

I can honestly say, I did get a bargain, as I would have bought it anyway.

Black Friday now seems to last for a good week, so you have plenty of temptations to test you. How will you do? We all love a bargain, just as long as it really was one!  

Enjoy your shopping but just remember not to get carried away!

Do you like to give or receive gifts?

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With Christmas only just over a month away, many of you like me, may have already started your Christmas shopping.  Some of you will be running around on Christmas Eve, still shopping for ideas.

With the exception of my food shopping, I have completed mine!  I start almost as soon as New Years Day has passed!  Yes, it might be early for some, but there are many reasons why I do it early.

1).  I really can’t stand shopping in crowded shops, queuing at checkouts, or finding parking spaces!

2). I like to make sure I have everyone’s present early, so if for any reason I’ve forgotten someone, I still have time to buy it! (not that that actually happens!)

3).  I can get it all wrapped and under the tree from the beginning of December, so it looks more festive under the tree.

4). December is such a busy time, to have to make sure I have time to shop, something else would have to give!  That would be too much pressure!

5).  By buying presents over the months, I can ensure I spread the cost.

6). I can buy presents when on offer, so I can either save more, or buy more for someone.

There are also downsides though!

1).  I forget what I have bought, and duplicate presents.

2).  You have to store them somewhere.

3).  You see more things you like for someone, so you end up buying them more presents!

I absolutely love shopping for others.  I make a list of who I have to buy for.  During the year, I make notes of what they like doing, sizes, dreams etc.  I then try and match the presents so they mean something to them.

I’m not a fan of giving money to people, as I don’t feel that there is any thought gone into it.  Also, if they are like me, it is so easy to just spend it on something like food shopping, just because its in your purse.

I will however buy a voucher for a specific shop, if I know they really like to buy things like music.

Children are great to buy for.  I know I always spend a lot more on my nieces than I plan to every year.  I always buy them something they have asked for, then lots of other things I have seen throughout the year that I think they might need, or enjoy.

Older family members are more difficult as they tend to have everything.  By buying early, I have time to think about what they might need, more than a last minute rushed buy.

Even Fido and Lola get presents.  I will still hide them from them, so its a surprise to them too!

Its not only Christmas that I like buying things for people.  I’m a very generous person by nature, and will treat people to things throughout the year.  I am not however good at telling people what I would like or being treated.

I dread every year that question!  ‘What would you like Maria’!  That could be Christmas or my birthday.  I really hate giving people ideas.  I don’t like imposing a set cost onto them.  I don’t want them to have to go out of their way to get something, and also, I love surprises.

My hubby is terrible.  I can say it on here as he knows how I feel.  Every year he asks, and every year, I ask him to surprise me!   He never does.  I have to tell him exactly what I want.  Many times, I have even bought it and he has given me the money back.  It takes the joy out of receiving presents for me.

We are all different.  He likes to know what he is having.  He doesn’t like surprises as I do.

So how do I get around this?  I put together a list of things as I think of them.  Amazon is great.  You can easily set up a ‘Wish List’.  You can select items at varying price levels.  This can be emailed to family and friends if they ask the dreaded question.  They can choose off there or not.  You don’t know.  If they buy something else, it really doesn’t matter.

On Christmas Day, hopefully there will be a surprise under the tree.  That’s the excitement and pleasure of receiving gifts.

For me, it isn’t the amount of money someone has spent on me, it is the thought that has gone into the gift.

I know many people find Christmas stressful.  The cost of presents has gone up year on year.  What children ask for these days, compared to most of us at that age, has significantly changed.  Instead of asking people for specific things, maybe ask them for a list?  Think out of the box and buy something thoughtful.

Don’t feel pressured to spend money you don’t have.  It is the thought that counts.  If you have really thought about the present, and you know it is something that they will use or like, the price tag doesn’t matter.   And if the person receiving it doesn’t agree, then ask yourself why you are still buying for them.

If money is tight, try making your presents.  It could be homemade fudge, toffee, biscuits or cakes to knitted jumpers, scarves and hats.

Happy shopping!