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 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 – 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!