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 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.

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 12 – Beijing

Our alarm was set for 6.30 am this morning although hubby and I were awake about 5.30 ish. Not sure why hubby was awake, but for me, whenever I have something important to do, I worry I will oversleep.

Today we have to leave our room by 8.30 am to be on the bus. We are flying to Beijing today!

I’ve made tea and showered. I start to get dressed as my worse nightmare happens! The night before we had to take our clothes out for today as our cases had to be out by 10.30 pm. In my head I’ve taken out shorts, vest top, bra and pants. Now dressing what I’ve actually taken out is 2 vest tops, shorts and bra!

I cannot believe it. I checked it twice last night. I’m usually so careful. I check with reception but my case is already at the airport. It’s not good, I’ll have to go commando!

Hubby looks at me and my shorts! He doesn’t think it’s a good idea so offers to take one for the marital team! He gives me his underwear! My hero!

Now, as I grew up, my mum always said my underwear should always match. I mean, what if you had to go to hospital. Since then, I always make sure I’m suitably dressed! Today though, needs must!

I look in the mirror and feel a little bit like Mr Bean! I can’t help but laugh!

The plan is, as soon as we get to the airport we go shopping, either for hubby or me!

It’s absolutely lashing with rain as we leave. I hope it improves for Beijing.

We arrive at the airport and quickly check out the shopping. It’s not looking good. We have 10 minutes until we need to be at our gate and ready to board! We have to accept that hubby is going to have to stay commando! Then we see it. Is it a mirage? Thankfully no! There is in front of us a Victoria Secret. I quickly run in and bought a pair of pants.

We have 5 minutes so I run to the ladies and change and swap with hubby! Phew! He really is my hero today. One of the many reasons why I love him so much.

We board the plane. As we arrived at the airport we were handed 2 very large lunch boxes. Probably 30 cm square each, from the same restaurant we are at last night.

On board, we open them and wow, so much food. The sandwich was 5 layers! A pot of what looked like sausage rolls but sweeter, a punnet of cherry tomatoes, almond Croissant, 3 slices of a sponge slice and a banana. Just as we opened it the air hostess came round and gave us a bag of food too, with a bottle of water.

I currently feel like I’m going to pop with food. I eat some of it but a lot is left.

On the way to airport our guide Terry had told us about his childhood. The struggle and sacrifice his parents made to give him and his brother a good life. I felt so guilty that I had food here that could help a family out. If you have read my previous blogs, you will know how I like to help the homeless out. Now I felt even worse. I might not be rich, but I have a lot more than some, and I’m so humbled.

The flight is very quick. Less than 2 hours. It is actually very comfortable.

What Viking do well is making travel easy! Our luggage is always taken care of, so we only have the look after ourselves. It takes all the stress out of it.

When we land it’s raining again! Seriously, it needs to do one!

We are still going to do a tour so are praying the rain eases, which it does. First we visit a bell tower. It’s only rung once a year for Chinese New Year.

Opposite is a beautiful chinese building.

Inside the bell tower, we get a tea tasting experience. I’d been to the presentation on the ship on tea, but this was actually tasting the tea.

The lady doing it was so funny and the whole experience was really good fun.

She explained why the tea was so expensive, so now I understand why it seemed expensive on the ship.

After the taster you could buy the teas. I love my tea, but I’m still struggling to pay so much for it.

We then walk down the back streets. It’s so narrow and I’m intrigued. We suddenly arrive at someone’s house.

Terry jokes that the owner looks like Jackie Chan and he does. We sit in is lounge while he tells us his story. He has birds in his yard that are taking away in chinese. It’s really fascinating.

When you see how they love, you can’t help wondering how they cope when temperatures drop!

The owner was so lovely and it was an enjoyable visit.

We then take an early dinner.

On the third floor (our second floor) we were treated to another chinese banquet and a new beer – U8.

The group we have been with for the last 2 weeks mostly come from different parts of America. We are loving hearing all their stories and getting to know each other.

After another meal where I feel like a beached whale we head to our hotel. It’s 6.30 pm and the traffic is bad, but it gives us a chance to look at the buildings.

We finally reach Kerry Hotel and get our room key. Our cases are already in our room. As we open the door we wonder what it will be like.

I’ll be honest, we were disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an amazing room. I’m currently laying on the fabulous grey chaise lounge writing this! It’s the bath that disappoints. The previous 2 hotels has a free standing. This is still really nice, we have just been spoilt so much.

On the other hand, the toilet is something else! It’s all electronic. You can even have a sit down shower and dry, if you know what I mean!

Tomorrow we have a 5 am start, so we have pooped to a local shop and picked up some wine and beers to drink in our room. Tomorrow the Great Wall awaits us !

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 11 – Terracotta Army

As we expected, the bed was so comfortable last night. The room is really comfortable especially the bathroom. We had a bath last night, but this morning is shower time. The shower has 2 different shower heads including a rain shower, which we have at home. I opted for this one and it was so relaxing.

The hotel has an assortment of toiletries if you need them from shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body lotion, toothbrush, and razor set etc, so if you forget anything you are covered.

In the wardrobe are 2 really soft gowns and slippers.

As dinner in the hotel was so amazing last night, we had high expectations about breakfast and we were not disappointed.

You can choose from sushi, pastries, fruits, cooked breakfast, as well as Chinese food. You won’t go hungry that is for sure .

Today we are off to see the Terracotta Army and I’m quite excited. We leave early to try and miss the crowds.

It takes about 45 minutes to get there. When we first arrive we park in the car park and go through the ticket area. There you pick up a golf like buggy which takes you to the main museum area.

There are 3 buildings. The first one is the amazing one. It’s where we meet the Terracotta Army. I’ve seen them so much on TV or in books etc but to be this close to them is amazing.

Each soldier is of a variety of ranks and with individual features.

As well as the army it also included horses and carts. The carts were made of wood, so sadly didn’t survive, but the horses were equally spectacular.

Not everything is excavated yet, but with the help of modern technology they are able to see what is still to be unearthed.

Out of all the pieces, only one Crossbowmen was found in one piece.

In total over 8000 pieces are part of the collection, which was discovered by farmers in 1974 when they were digging a well to find water.

Amongst the Terracotta figure, bronze statues were also found.

Although the statutes are grey in colour, they were originally painted, however the change in humidity caused the change.

It really was incredible to see. I can’t begin the comprehend how they were made, and who by. Every detail was there. The photos just can’t do it justice.

After the museum we went to see how they make the statues you buy today, as well as lacquered items of furniture. I have so say, the furniture was amazing.

After the tour we had lunch in a restaurant in the same place. Terry recommended we tried the beef noodles and hamburger, which I did and both were really tasty. The hamburger was not a beef burger but like pulled pork in a ciabatta type roll. It’s hard to describe so I’m gutted I didn’t take a photo to show you. In addition there were so many more dishes available on the buffet. I’m definitely putting the pounds on with this trip!

Afterwards we have some free time. Outside they have some figures that you can have your photo taken behind. It was so much fun.

On the way back to the hotel I was surprised to see their local crop being grown in so many fields. Pomegranate is a major crop to them. As you drive past the trees you see that all the fruit is wrapped in clear plastic bags part filled with water. This apparently stops birds eating them.

What further surprised me was that I’ve never seen anything pomegranate related here, so I assume it mainly exported. The next time I buy some at home, I shall definitely be checking it’s origin.

We then had a couple of hours free to just relax. We decided to just chill in our hotel room.

We left the hotel at 6 pm to go out for dinner. It was a chinese of course again at the Tang Dynasty. Dishes included beef, Kung po chicken, a couple of Tofu dishes (which I don’t really like), cabbage with chill and so much more!

Outside the restaurant we found these old instruments on the wall and were quite fascinated by them.

We were hoping to go for a walk afterwards but it’s raining too hard so I have to satisfy myself with a quick photo from the hotel porch.

This used to be the TV tower but is now a restaurant. It is right in front of our hotel and looks lovely all lit up at night.

As we can’t walk, we buy some beers from a store and take them to our room. We fly to Beijing tomorrow, so we need to pack as our cases are leaving at 10.30 pm tonight.

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 10 – Pandas and Bullet Train

I have been so excited about today’s activities for so long, but today I would have given anything to stay in bed. My cold has really taken hold. We have set the alarm for 5.30 am as our cases have to be ready for collection at 6.30 am. We also needed to pay our bill and have breakfast before disembarking.

We managed to get everything ready with 40 minutes to spare so I headed back to bed.

Finally it was time to leave. I left the Viking Emerald with a heavy heart but the trip was not over. This morning we are going to a zoo to see pandas.

We left the boat to board a bus. Our cases were being taken by road and would meet us in our hotel in Xi’an .

Just as we arrived at the zoo the rain started. This made photography a bit more challenging as we didn’t want to get the cameras wet. But that didn’t stop us!

The first pandas we saw were ‘red pandas’. I’d never heard of them before but they were so cute. They are quite small in comparison to the usual panda, with long tails. They too love bamboo. They were a little hard to photograph as they were quite active, running up and down trees.

Just as we are watching these a normal panda comes out for breakfast. By the time we get to her pen, she has her back to us, leaning against a concrete block munching away at her bamboo.

She is refusing to turn around so we head to another pen to look. Oh my, there was my first real view of a real life panda. They are absolutely adorable. I think we have hundreds of photos now. The mannerisms were so funny I could have watched them for hours. Sadly, we couldn’t as we had a train to catch.

As you know, I catch a train every day for work, but this wasn’t just any train. Oh no, this is a bullet train. Viking had sorted our tickets out in advance, so we had time to wander around the station before our 12.15 pm departure.

We first headed to a shop to get hubby some beers and me a Diet Coke. As we walked around we found a chemist. I went in to see if they had anything for my cold but it’s all in Chinese, obviously. The staff member didn’t speak English either. I decided to find one of the Viking guides to help me. I couldn’t find Terry but Leo offered to help me. I’m not sure what I have but he assures me they will do the trick!

I’ve taken the pills and keeping my fingers crossed they will work. I don’t like taking pills on an empty stomach so had the lunch Viking gave us. This was more successful than the last lunchbox. Ham and egg salad sandwich, sponge cake and a banana.

Our train is late due to a small earthquake somewhere, but finally we are boarding. What surprises me is that it doesn’t feel as fast as I thought. The tannoy warns you as it comes to a station that the stopping time is short. The train will not wait for you to get off so you have to allow plenty of time to get to the door. We don’t know the name of our stop, only that we are going to Xi’an for 2 nights. No doubt Terry will give us plenty of notice.

My cold has not improved and I’m fully aware I’m sniffing a lot. I’ve tried clearing my nose but it only helps for a few seconds. It’s going to be a long 5.5 hours.

During the trip my ears become blocked so I can’t hear a thing so decide to just read my book. We are sat on a table of 4 with another couple – Ruth and Bill. Ruth is watching a movie so hubby and Bill settle down with a few beers and have a good old chat.

The time flies. Finally Terry tells us we are shortly arriving at our station, so we all get ready to get off.

A bus is waiting for us to go to our hotel. We are staying at the Renaissance. It takes about 45 minutes to arrive. Our cases are still on their way, so as it’s 7.30 pm it is suggested we go straight to dinner after checking our rooms.

We open the door to our room and are just blown away. It is out of this world. A stand alone bath, glass walk in shower, super kingsize bed and a huge chaise lounge. Being on the 21st floor, we have great views of Xion. There is white marble everywhere.

If that wasn’t enough, we went to the restaurant for dinner. Wow! You would never go hungry. You could choose everything you could think of from sushi, roast meats, Peking duck, noodles, freshly cooked food from lamb chops to lobster. I had the latter.

Beer and soft drinks are free flowing too.

If you have a sweet tooth you will love this place. The only difficulty is what to choose!

By the time dinner has finished, our cases have arrived, so after a long soak in the bath it was time to get some sleep. Tomorrow is another exciting day.

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 9 – Shibaozhai Temple

I am just about to go to bed but then as we sit on the balcony, we start to see lights ahead of us. There in front was the most amazing bridge I have ever seen. A light display plays in a routine. I have never seen anything like it before. It is stunning. I have to delay going to bed until we have passed the bridge.

The next morning it’s an early start again. Today we are going to visit Shibaozhai Temple. Instead of catching the usual bus, we are walking to the temple. From our balcony we can already see the temple opposite us. Towering over the river.

As we step off the boat, we see people washing their clothes in the river. It still amazes me that in 2019 people still live this way. They all seem very happy though.

It’s a steep walk up to what they call ‘the village’, passing lots of little stalls selling everything from scarfs, purses, tops etc.

The village is relatively new. In fact the road we are walking on was only completed the day before. The old village was relocated when the dam was created and the river levels rose. As they couldn’t move the temple they built a wall around it to protect it from the river.

We walk through the village as shop owners are setting up their stalls. The all mostly sell the same things but it’s still interesting to walk along and look.

As we near the temple we approach a suspension bridge which joins the village with the temple. As we step on it, it starts to bounce up and down. I’m not great with heights, so this was a little scary. If I was brave enough to look up I could see some amazing views though.

Finally I’m across, the bad news is that I have to go the same way back!

The temple sits above the Shibaozhai Hill adjacent to a 12 storey Pavilion. We walk up all 12 floors. It’s extremely humid today so we are all struggling. Sweat is pouring off us as we climb the steep stairs. The view at the top is worth it though. You then get to walk through the Temple. The bright colours and statues are beautiful.

The walk back down is so much easier.

My hubby wanted to take a photo of a little girl selling nuts and biscuits. I give her some money and hubby snaps away. Her mother is across the road and thanks us, but the little girl is upset that we haven’t taken something from her. I tried to explain that we gave her the money for the photo but she didn’t understand. As we walk away she comes running after us with some biscuits in her hand. When I take them she smiles. It was so humbling.

As we walk back past some the shops, I want to buy some gifts to give something back to these people. I choose 2 purses for my nieces. You haggle here which is fun. Eventually the owner persuades me to buy 3. I don’t need 3 but I couldn’t say no.

Next I look at silk scarves for my mum. Apparently they are 100% silk. I eventually agree to buy one. It’s not until I get back on board and look at it that I realise it’s 100% silk like polyester. I had to laugh. I’ve just been ripped off, but it’s still pretty and there need is more than mine.

Before we get on board there is a man begging on the street. We still have the biscuits from the little girl that we won’t eat as we have so much food onboard, so I hand them to the man. He is so grateful it warms my heart. One simple photo has helped 2 separate people.

We start to sail by 10.30 am. I’m full of cold today so not feeling great, so we Plan to just have a relaxing morning. At 11 am there is a talk on Tea which I’m really interested in which I decided to go to. I’ve learnt about the different types of tea and their benefits. For example, the first tea was found by Shen Nong. He added water to some leaves and apparently because of his transparent stomach, he was able to see all the toxins clearing. Imagine that – a transparent stomach.

Chai means clear in Chinese, hence how it got it’s name! Well that is what she said but when I tried to look it up I couldn’t confirm that.

The different teas include dark tea which is anti aging, helps with weight loss, cures sore throats, is anti cancer, caffeine free, clears toxins and lowers blood pressure.

Black tea cures headaches, regulates the stomach to relieve pain, takes away toxins and is also anti aging.

Green tea is something I drink daily at home. It is a diarrhetic, relieves fatigue, prevents diabetes and cardiovascular disease, enhances immunity and diminishes inflammation. What I didn’t realise is that it also has caffeine in it, so maybe that is why I don’t sleep too well.

White tea is good for your liver and hives, anti radiation and lowers blood pressure and body temperature.

Snow chrysanthemum tea I’d never heard of before. It’s caffeine free, lowers blood pressure and sugar, good for eyesight and sleep, cures colds, maintains youth and beauty and reduces body temperature. I definitely need some of this.

And finally another one I’ve never heard of – Oolong tea. It helps prevent heart disease, weight loss, digestion, lowers cholesterol and relieves fatigue.

I would have bought some tea on the boat but it was quite expensive. About £50 for a small tin, so I will see if I can pick some up elsewhere cheaper. Mind you, with my cold I’m certainly in need of it.

Lunch on board today is a Chinese themed menu but with a difference. As well as the usual array of Chinese food, you could try chicken feet, pigs tail, feet and ears and a few other weird things. I’ll be honest, I did look but I certainly didn’t touch!

After lunch we then had the opportunity to visit the bridge. I’m not totally interested in this but hubby is keen. Coming from a shipping background he loves this sort of thing. We had a 20 minute tour to see the controls and devices to sail the boat safely.

I was then torn. I wanted to go to the session on China, but I also needed to go back to bed. Hubby offered to wake me in time for the presentation so back to bed I went .

The presentation on china was really interesting. Elliot talked about their culture, dating, marriage and religion. The Chinese have a huge respect for family.

We were given some interesting facts like the selective abortion for girls was introduced in 1978. This then caused an imbalance in the number of boys and girls. This has meant that it has been harder for men to find a wife.

A lot of marriages are arranged through match makers. There is even a park in Shanghai where parents place umbrellas down on the ground and attach resumes of their children which includes their height and weight. Their children don’t know their parents are doing this. If someone thinks their child might be a match the parents set up a meeting.

I’m not sure if this was true or a joke but their wedding car is usually a BMW as it stands for ‘be my wife’!

During the talk I was looking out at the river bank. There seemed to be a lot of fires going on, and the haze was getting worse. When I left to join my hubby on the balcony I was shocked by the poor air quality. It hurt by throat and eyes. I couldn’t stay outside. Hubby soon joined me. It was horrendous. We don’t know for sure but we think they may have been burning their rubbish. Whatever it was, it cannot be good for the environment.

Tonight was our last night on board. We should have been making the most of it but all I wanted was to go back to bed, so after dinner hubby and I retired to our room. It will be sad tomorrow To be leaving the cruise part of the trip. Tomorrow we will disembark at Chongqing to take the bullet train to Xion.

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 5 – Sailing up the Yangtze River

Today is a sailing day so there is no need to get up too early however as we have a safety exercise at 9.30 am we decided to set the alarm for 7.30 am. I have to say this was a good decision as I had the best nights sleep last night in so long. I think it was the sound of the water that must have relaxed me so much. If the alarm hadn’t have gone off, I’m not sure when I would have woken up.

There are no kettles in the room so hubby was keen to get up and head for breakfast so he could get a coffee.

I really wasn’t that hungry today so settled for just some fruit and a mint tea.

After breakfast I’ll be honest I went back to bed for a couple of hours, while hubby sat on our balcony reading and watching the activity on the river.

I think we are both very surprised how wide the river is and how much commercial traffic is on it. I don’t think we have seen any other passenger ships on the river yet. It’s so peaceful you can’t help being relaxed.

As I had a light breakfast I was getting quite hungry so around 12.30 pm we headed to lunch. You can either eat from the buffet or off the menu. You will never starve on this trip that is for sure.

I opt for a tuna salad to start followed by spaghetti bolognese and Chinese green beans, while hubby had the same starter with a lamb curry. I really fancied sorbet but it wasn’t on the menu. I asked Eddie our waiter who said it wasn’t a problem and quickly returned with some.

Drinks run freely over lunch so I opted for the fizz while hubby had a beer.

During the day there are activities going on. I was gutted to read I’d missed a lecture on the Yangtze River this morning. Now reading the programme I see there is a talk on Chinese medicines after lunch and a lesson in Chinese. I am planning on going to the latter. In the meantime I’m going to chill out on the top deck watching the world go by.

It’s nice and warm but there is quite a haze today. As I sit watching the activity on the river it’s hard not to fall asleep. It’s really is calming sitting on the deck. There are fishes jumping out of the river. I don’t know what they are but they come right out.

The staff come round offering ice tea or water to keep you hydrated.

When we pop back to our room the maid has been. Again, they have left some really lovely extra touches such as bookmarks. Hubby had been reading his book but didn’t have one so had folded it over. She had noticed and gave him a Viking one. She also left a card each for us with our own Chinese year on and what it means. They must have got our years from our details. Hubby is a rabbit and myself the rooster. The description for both of us was actually quite accurate.

I did go to the Chinese lesson but couldn’t get into it so decided to return to our balcony to chill. Later we have welcome drinks with the captain as well as a Chinese themed menu. Eddie assured us at lunch that if we didn’t like Chinese they would make us something else, but you can’t scare me with Chinese food.

Before dinner we were invited to deck 5 for the welcome party with the captain. On arrival we were given champagne which was continuously topped up. Canapés were offered too.

The evening started with a dance performance before the key staff were all introduced to us. The captain had been sailing this river for over 30 years so we are in safe hands.

As we were listening to the speakers, we looked out of the window and saw the most spectacular sunset. Sadly we didn’t have any cameras with us but will definitely be making a plan to get some photos tomorrow night.

After a quick briefing about the next days tours it was time for dinner, and what a dinner.

As it was a Chinese menu, food plates of different dishes were placed on our Lazy Susan for us to help ourselves. Kung po chicken, ribs, fried rice, fish etc etc. It kept coming. A lovely dumpling soup and banana sorbet completed the meal. Oh of course more bubbly.

After dinner we retired to the bar for a couple before bed! Tomorrow we are off to visit a school and the old wall.

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 4 – Saying Goodbye To Shanghai

It was a bit of a lay in this morning. The alarm was set for 6.40 am. Today we leave the Westin hotel in Shanghai to go to the airport, to fly to Wuhan where we will board the Viking Emerald.

I’d packed most things last night so this morning I only had to shower and pack the toiletries into the case, ready to be collected at 7.30am.

We don’t leave the hotel until 10.45 am for a 1.25 pm flight, but Viking are sending our luggage ahead. We don’t see it now until we are on the boat!

After the cases are outside our door, we settle to have our last morning cup of tea in our room before heading to breakfast.

As we have scales in our bathroom hubby thought it would be good to get on them as see how much Our weight has changed in the last 5 days. We seem to have eaten so much I wasn’t sure I wanted to know! In for a penny, in for a pound, I got on them. I had stayed the same! Woo hoo I was so pleased. Then hubby got on. Drumroll please………….. he had lost 1.4 kg!! How on earth did he do that ? I was gutted! He is always lucky that he can eat and drink what he likes and not worry too much about it. That’s men for you ladies! I can put weight on just eating lettuce!

Talking of food, we then went down for our last breakfast in Shanghai. I’m sure the breakfasts for the rest of the trip are going to be just as good but in the meantime we savour the selection available to us.

We now have just under 2 hours before we leave for the airport so I relax on the chaise lounge in our room and catch up on @MYDIY on YouTube with Kathy. Today she is making scarecrow wreaths. They are so cute. I do enjoy watching her videos. The only challenge is in China you have to use a VPN to use your phone or iPad. It keeps cutting off, which frustrates me. I do finally get to watch it all though.

Right, it’s time to check out. We still have 2 weeks left of the holiday, but it’s still sad to be leaving Shanghai. We really have had a great time and our room has been so comfortable. The bath especially which is free standing and big enough to fit 2 people side by side! The boat will only have a shower but fingers crossed our rooms on Xion and Beijing will have baths too.

We are now on the bus to the airport. Terry is giving us an update on what will happen when we get to the airport. He is a character. He was telling us that when he sees phrases on movies he has to check it is suitable for tourists.

We arrive at the airport and are given our passports and boarding passes as well as our lunch boxes. Viking do make things so easy for you. All we have to do is go through security again.

We head to our boarding gate and all open our lunch boxes. It was supposed to be a club sandwich. When we all opened the bags there was a roar of laughter. Many of us instead of a club sandwich got something with a purple and orange layer! It tasted of butternut and yams. Hubby was lucky and got a club sandwich so kindly split it with me.

We were also given a banana and 2 madeleines which were nice. I was craving bananas so it was timely.

Our flight is boarded as I settle down. Hubby has taken the window seat again. The gentleman next to me has an awful habit of picking his nose. Not a little go by a full on rummage for most of the flight. To make it worse he was flicking it or wiping it on his table. I was literally heaving. I was desperately trying to not look, but it was so difficult. I was desperate to get off the flight.

There was some positives though. The air hostess noticed I was reading my book so put my light on for me. They also brought around water for us which I kept on my lap, not wanting to put anything in the seat pocket.

I did have a look at the duty free shopping magazine though. Now, I have to say I have never seen anything quite like it. When I first opened the magazine I came to knives, saucepans and kettles! If that wasn’t bizarre enough, I turned over and saw fridge, cooker and bikes! I couldn’t wait to see what their trolley looked like. Sadly I didn’t buy anything as my baggage allowance might have been exceeded!

The flight landed and thankfully the guy next to me rushed off so I was able to get my antibacterial wipes out without offending anyone !

As Viking were taking care of our luggage we just had to identify it so they could check everyone’s had arrived. As we left the airport Terry informed us that the sandwich issue was a mistake and had ordered us all a KFC to eat on the bus. That was a really thoughtful gesture and went down well with everyone.

Unlike UK KFC this wasn’t fried but marinated chinese style and was delicious.

Before going to the boat we did a detour to Hubei Museum where we first were treated to a traditional bell performance followed by a tour of one of the exhibitions.

The Bell performance was so relaxing I could have fallen asleep. I was so enchanted. The musicians and dancers were in traditional dress using old musical instruments, which were beautiful in themselves.

We were then given a private viewing of an exhibition of Marquis Yis. When he died, he had buried with him 13 girls and women whose ages ranged from 14 to 26. All were killed as human sacrifices. Within the tomb were musical instruments, food and wine vessels along with furniture. He believed in the afterlife, so all the items were placed in the 4 chambers for him. The women were to care for him and play him music. The tomb was discovered when some soldiers were trying to build their houses. It was really fascinating.

After the museum, we headed to the boat. As I got off the bus and I walked down the gang way I was so excited.

When on the boat we are greeted by the staff who take us to our stateroom and show us around. The staff are all very friendly and really want you to have a good experience.

The stateroom has a king size bed, sofa, coffee table, dresser and plenty of wardrobe space. On the balcony we have 2 more chairs.

The bathroom is basic with just a shower but I was over the moon when I saw they use l’octaine products. They had these on our previous cruise with them, and I have to say I do love them.

As it was after 7pm we went straight to dinner. Tonight was a western menu. You choose off a menu and as is Viking, they cater for all tastes.

I had ham and melon to start, salmon with new potatoes for main and sorbet to follow.

Alcohol is free during mealtimes so they keep you topped up with a drink of your choice. Mine was white wine.

The dining room is set out in tables of 8 so you get a good chance to meet and get to know the fellow passengers.

After dinner we have a briefing on floor 5 in the bar area so get ourselves a drink. Carey who took us to our room earlier serves us and he has already learnt our names, which I think is brilliant in such a small amount of time.

We are due to sail at 9.30 pm so hubby and I go onto the top deck. The buildings around us are lit up and change colour in unison. It is spectacular.

We sit on the desk for a while over a glass of wine, until the lights are now a distant memory.

We planned to have one last drink in the bar before bed, however we got talking to another couple and settled in for the rest of the night.

As we were outside of meal times you pay for your own drinks. We were recommended the drinks package. For £250 for both of us, we could have unlimited drinks. We decided this was a really good deal and signed up for it. I was even more glad I did it when I found out you could have fizz too.

Finally it was time for 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 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!

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!

Reliving a special day from my childhood

Today is going to be a real blast from the past!  It isn’t going to be the usual day you would expect someone to want to do to celebrate their 50th, but for me it is very special.

As I have said before, having a birthday which always fell during our families 2-week summer holiday, meant that most birthdays just blended into the holiday.  Don’t get me wrong, my parents made a fuss of me, but you know what it is like as a kid, once you hit the beach the day itself isn’t important.  That was until one very special birthday.

We had driven to Ilfracombe and my parents suggested we walk along the harbour. There moored up was a big boat!  Well as a kid anything larger than a dinghy is a big boat.  Dad thought we should go on board and have a look around!   Little did I know was that they had booked it as a surprise trip for me to visit Lundy Island.

Now, this is where the story of that day is told over and over and over again!  I have always been a bit of an independent madam!  It is no surprise then when offered help to board the ship I declined it, and the inevitable happened.  I fell in.  To make it worse, I refused help on the way back too and the same thing happened.  On the plus side, it has entertained my parents for many years.

When I was thinking about how I wanted to spend my birthday, that birthday surprise always came to the forefront of my memories.   I researched it and the boat still went, but not from Ilfracombe on my actual birthday. 

I really wanted to spend my birthday with my friends but wasn’t sure either if they would be interested in going to Lundy.  If you don’t know about it, it is a little island off the shores of Devon.  It is a nature reserve run by the National Trust.  Puffins use it for their breeding grounds and seals and dolphins can also be seen there. 

There are only 28 people living on the Island, with just a pub, church and shop in the way of facilities.  That said, there is something calming and magical about the place.  Well for me anyway.

I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t go to the Island on my birthday.  I did see though that a boat left from Bideford the next day.  Unfortunately, it was due to leave at 8 am due to the tide.  Now, not being funny, but having to get up and be on a boat ready to leave by 8 am the morning after your 50th was not a realistic option!

After further explorations, I found a lovely man – Colin – from Lundy Charters who was based in Clovelly who could take us over to the Island on the Saturday at a more leisurely time of 9.30 am!   My amazing friends all agreed to come with me.

So, the morning came, and we all headed off to Clovelly.  We were told to park in the Anglers car park.  As we get there, we soon realise it is also the same day as a festival so there is absolutely no parking.  If you haven’t been to Clovelly, it is built on a very steep hill.  The road down to the harbour is a 25% hill!  The road is single track so there are wardens at the top, middle and bottom with radios ensuring that traffic is only flowing one way at any given time.

After a lot of worry about where to park, we were advised to park up in the main car park and get the land rover back down which was shuttling people that day.  Hubby suggested rather than all 8 of use going back up to come down again, why don’t the drivers just go up and us ladies stay at the bottom.  A very good idea. 

As I jump out of the car, I ask hubby if he would like me to take his rucksack with me, which he did.  I head off to take in the activity of the harbour while hubby takes the car back up the steep road to the main car park.

I’m stood chatting when it hits me!  I have the car keys!  My car is one that doesn’t need a key to start it, but it does need to be in the car when it is being driven.  In a blind panic I find the warden at the bottom.  I explain the situation to him.  I now have visions of my car broken down halfway up the hill, no-one being able to go up or down!  He kindly radios to his colleagues to see if there is a problem.  The land rover that went up after him has arrived at the top. Thankfully the car somehow made it without the keys! 

I’m now panicking as to how is the car going to be locked?  The warden kindly tells me to take the land rover back up, lock the car then come back with the land rover.  Roger the driver was so lovely.

The journey back down was with a group of pirates that were performing that day in Clovelly.  I hadn’t even boarded the boat and the day had already been memorable!

Finally, I can relax, and I meet up with Colin to board his boat.  As I get on, I can’t help but say the most ridiculous thing!  ‘Ooh it smells of fish’.   This brings roars of laughter from my friends.  Why?  Well it’s a fishing boat we are on!

The boat sets sail and we are taking longer than I remember the journey to the Island to be.  As we sail, I take in the views.  I do love the sea so much.  So many seabirds hunting for their dinner.  A seal passes us just long enough to see him, but not enough for a photo.  I am desperate to see dolphins but sadly that isn’t to be.

Gradually the island comes into view just as a puffin flies past.

We land on the island and I already feel nostalgic.  It is a long steep walk up to the main part of the island where the only public toilets are.  We have a stop to look at the shop.  We only have a few hours so prioritise what we want to do.  One of my friends hasn’t seen puffins up close before so we decided to head off to their nesting site.

After a short while, we find out that they have already left.  Gutted and being short of time we head back to the pub for a spot of lunch.

After lunch 6 of us head to the disused lighthouse to explore.  147 steps up give you a 360-degree views of the island.  It is very beautiful.

After heading back to meet the rest of the group it is almost time to head back to the boat.  We decide to pop onto the beach first and dip our toes in the sea.  Well it has been a long time since I got wet here so it would be rude not to.   At least this time it is just my feet!

As I look amongst the rocks, I find some amazing sea creatures. A poor crab is rescued by a friend. It really has been another great day.

We walk back up to the jetty where the boat will come and get us.  As I look down it dawns on me!  When we arrived, the boat was level with the jetty.  Now the tide was out it was about 10 feet lower!  How on earth were we going to get onto the boat!

Hubby points to a rusty ladder going down to the sea!  Is he serious?  Sadly, he is.  One of my friends is even more in a panic as she is wearing a dress!

As Colin arrives back with the boat, he confirms our fears.  We are going to have to climb down that ladder and land on a bobbing boat!  Then walk around the edge to get into the main part of the boat! Oh boy.

I am the last to go on.  My body is shaking.  I am willing myself to stay calm and not to let go of the ladder!  I slowly make my way down.  Colin is there to steady me.  I step off the ladder onto the boat.  It was scary but I made it, completely dry!  I was so happy!

All safely aboard we head back.  The sea is no longer calm.  As we hit the waves, we get soaked.  Thankfully it is a warm day.  I could move to somewhere less in the line of fire (or waves), but suddenly I am that child again.  I am having a great time. 

After 1.5 hours we arrive back in Clovelly.  My friends probably are not as enthusiastic about the day as me, but they don’t show it.  They really have proven they are great friends today.

We walk back through Clovelly itself to the car park just as the rain starts.

When back at our apartments it is a quick shower and change before heading down to the seafront for fish and chips. As we call for our friends in their apartment, I realise surprise number 2. Another fabulous birthday cake. This one has red shoes, a handbag and bottle of bubbly on it. So me! More bubbles flow. I really have been spoilt.

The sun is back out, so we sit on a bench eating our chips and taking in the surroundings before heading back to the apartment.

We return to our apartment for more drinks, some of that amazing birthday cake, and a game of Mr & Mrs.  If you have never played this, you should.  It is hilarious.  My hubby and I always lose, as hubby is useless at answering the questions, even after nearly 12 years together!

It is time to draw the day to a close!  It was everything I hoped for and more.

Tomorrow we head home.  I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday weekend.  I have my 6 friends and hubby to thank for that. 

See the day here on my Youtube Channel: –

If you ever get a chance to visit the island you should.

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.

When the train causes the strain!

I absolutely love it when that big yellow thing in the sky appears.  You can’t beat the feeling when you step outside and you don’t need your coat!  Even at 5 am!  For me though, it is also bittersweet!

Take this week.  Whilst I am cheering on one hand that the weather has finally improved.  That we can use our braai every night for dinner, sit outside until late at night drinking a nice cold glass of wine, or even just be able to keep the patio doors open so the dogs can run in and out.  On the other hand, it means the inevitable chaos that is our public transportsystem.

If you read my blogs regularly, you will know that I commute 3 hours a day for work.  Most of that is by train.  It is never a dull moment on the trains here in the UK.  It is either too hot, too cold, too wet, too many leaves, not enough drivers, not enough carriages, the list goes on!

Twice this week I have had the journey from hell.  I’m going to save the best until last!

So yesterday saw the second highest temperatures recorded in the UK.  Our weather station at home recorded a maximum high of 36.3 degrees, so it was a hot one!  The BBC news in the morning warned of the potential for chaos on the railways so we were prepared.  Apparently as the track heats up it expands, which can cause the track to buckle!  Now I get that, but what I don’t get is how countries with hot climates cope!  Surely, we should have built our railways to cope with all types of weather.  Apparently not!

From around lunchtime, we are all checking our phones to see what is happening with our trains.  When I come back from lunch, a colleague warns me to check my line.  It is cancellations after cancellations.  He has taken the wise decision to take some leave and go early.  I decide to hold out! 

As the afternoon continues it becomes evident that we are not going to be going home on our usual route tonight.  After a quick check, I notice a train is due to leave another station going in the direction of my parents.  It means leaving work 30 minutes earlier, but I feel we have no choice.

Hubby and I quickly walk to the other station. It is uphill and the heat is intense.  We arrive with seconds to spare!  We are so grateful for the staff who hand us both a bottle of water as we get to the station.  The train should be 4 carriages but today only 2.  We are like sardines.  The heat is intense, and I can feel beads of sweat pouring down my face.  I’d be embarrassed if it wasn’t for the fact that everyone else on the train is looking just like me!  Obviously, I’m standing which makes it worse!

Thankfully the train journey isn’t too long, only 35 minutes.  I am so happy to finally get off and get some fresh if not hot air!  My dad is waiting for us.  Thank heaven for dads!  He is going to drive us home so we can collect hubby car, then drive back to our station to get my car!   It is all very long winded, but when I look at my phone, I am relieved we took that decision.  It’s 8 pm and so far, no train have left to go to our station.

It may have taken 3 hours to get home, but we are home!

Now, let me take you back a few days earlier to the worst day ever in my commuting history!

Tuesday was another hot day.  Not the hottest but still hot!  I left work in preparation to get my train.  There was no indication that there were any problems.

As I arrive at the station, I check the boards.  My train is due in on Platform 4, so I head down to it.  I am then told by a member of staff that it is now coming into Platform 7.  I grumble and head off to platform 7. The train is already late, I’m hot and I just want to get home!

When I arrive at 7, I am told that the platform change was a mistake and it is still coming in on 4.  I turn around and head back to 4.  I’m then told it is coming in on platform 1!  So,another trip up to 1.  When I get to 1 I’m told no, I need to go to 3.  By this time, I am not very happy to say the least.  I get to 3 and am told its back on 1.  Off I go again, to be told it is on 5.  Oh, no, we think it’s 6.  I arrive at 6 again to be told it is definitely coming in on platform 2a!  I get to 2a as the announcer says platform 4, but thankfully says she is sorry that was a mistake it is coming in on 2a.  

We are all waiting on 2a.  It’s very crowded and hot.  It is now almost an hour since I arrived for my train!

They then announce the train is actually waiting on platform 2b!  We all have to quickly try and get through the crowds to get to the other side of the platform.  This is really testing me now!

As I get on, I grab the first available seat.  I’m so grateful for it.  The train fills up and I now have a man’s crotch in my face.  Lovely!  The train then sits there for half an hour whilethey try to find a driver!  It is so hot, and I am extremely dehydrated by this point.

Finally, the train moves, and I head home.  What should have been 1.5 hour journey home is now 3 hours!  I’m hot, sweaty and tired.   I have the most amazing hubby ever though.  As I finally walked through the door, he handed me a lovely glass of Slimline Wine.  Just what I needed.  He had also prepared the food for the braai, so all I had to do was shower, sit in the garden with my wine and relax!

Now they say, ‘let the train take the strain’, but in my experience it is the train that courses the strain!

I’m definitely not a fan of public transport.  I appreciate we need to try and use it to save the planet, but when you have days like this, you really have to question if it is worth it!

Thankfully tomorrow is Saturday, and I do not intend to go near a train for the rest of the week!  Have a good weekend!

 

When did a piece of rope become art?

We had to go down to London recently to sort our Visa’s out for China. We decided we may as well make a night of it. I booked a hotel close to Kings Cross, nothing fancy, just a Travelodge, but it was perfect for what we needed.

We were out of the Chinese Embassy a lot earlier than we anticipated. Having been to London many times, hubby and I were thinking what we could do that was a bit different. We decided we should go along to the Tate Modern. I can’t remember ever going myself and hubby hadn’t been for over 11 years at least.

It was a lovely sunny day. Walking over the Millennium bridge, you could take in all the tourists from so many nationalities. Boats going back and forth on the river. Everyone was in such good spirits.

I’ve heard all sorts of stories about what we may find inside the Tate Modern, so I was already expecting to see some bizarre pieces of art. Nothing quite prepared me for what I found though!

One of the amazing things about the Tate Modern is that for most of the exhibitions, it is completely free to get in. I think this is brilliant as it allows everyone, regardless of their background, a chance to experience it.

As you walk around, you really start to understand why art is a personal thing. We all like different things. Well that is certainly true here! There are some beautiful pieces as you walk around, but there are some absolutely weird things too! I’ve put together a Youtube video on some of the bits that stuck out to me. Here is the link-

I loved a statue of a little girl with her arms behind her back and a cream ribbon in her hair. A 3D piece really captured me. There was so much to look at. Another piece was strange. I don’t know how to describe it? It looked like someone had poured water over a painting, but it was strangely enchanting.

Now onto the weird! I’m sorry if you have seen these and liked them. As I say, art is very personal. First one was a piece of rope on the floor. I kid you not!! There is a joke there I think! Another was 3 bottles of diet coke all with different levels of liquid inside from a full bottle to an empty bottle. How about a mans urinal? I overhead someone talking to a group of students about its beauty!! Men – next time you visit a toilet, have a look and see if you can see its beauty!! I’m not sure I could! I did try honest!

There were 2 that I can’t decide which one gets the top award for being the most ridiculous! Was it a concrete pot full of stones – not nice ones, just grey ones? Or was it the picture frame that was well, just white?

There was so much I didn’t get or understand, but isn’t that what makes them interesting? I have to wonder though as to how some of this becomes so important that it ends up in the Tate? They are so simple? Who decides that it is a masterpiece and worthy of having millions of people looking at it? I’d love to know.

I have to say that despite some of the art, I really had a great day! I would definitely recommend you going along if you are in London. You never know, you may be inspired to start painting yourself afterwards!

The one thing I took away from the day is that we are all different. And isn’t it a good job. Life would be so boring if we all thought the same!

Have a good week.

How am I doing on my 50 things to do in my 50th year list?

Do you remember at the beginning of the year I decided to write a list of all the things I would like to achieve during my 50th year?  Well we are now officially half way through that year.  Where has all that time gone? 

How have I done so far?  Below is my update:-

1)  Travel to China

 Still on schedule to achieve.

2)Visit Croatia

We went as planned in May and oh wow!  How amazing.  Following where we went on my YouTube channel

I still have my last day to publish – but it is worth waiting for!

3)  Weekend away in a VW Campervan 

Still not on my radar!!


4) Re-visit Lundy Island

Well after a tricky time sorting out a boat, this trip is scheduled to happen and I can’t wait!

5)    Eat at a Michelin star restaurant

Still not happened!

6)   Bake with Paul Hollywood

Sadly Paul hasn’t popped over to help me in the kitchen yet!

7)  Be my own boss

I’m still searching for that ‘ah ha’ moment that will make me rich!!

8)   Buy a new car with the registration of the year I was born

It is still a few months away before the 69 plate is out. Sadly by bank balance isn’t matching this wish yet, but you never know!

9)    Get at least 1000 subscribers on my YouTube Channel

I’m at 149 at the moment so a few more to go!

10) Take a hot air balloon over my home town

Still need to do!

11) Have a weekend away with my parents

Sadly this hasn’t happened yet, but I hope to make it come true!

12) Fly first class

@Emirates – can you help me with this one when I fly with you to China in August? Pretty please!!

13) Complete a successful ‘Dry January’

Woo hoo!  I absolutely smashed this.

14) Walk 5,000,000 steps in 2019

As I am still half way through the year, I have time to complete this!

15) Learn to crochet

I think this is for a winters evening don’t you!!

16) Visit Stonehenge

I made this happen in March this year and loved it!

https://youtu.be/j9PDDkP5dg8

17) Swim with dolphins

Not sure if this will happen, unless they appear in Lundy!

18) Run 10k

This was always going to be a tough one!

19) Learn to decorate a cake with icing

Oh wow, I forgot about this one.  Work had a festival week and one of the sessions was about Cake decorating!  I’ve done it without even realising!

https://youtu.be/yOTVetHzo5Y

20)Learn to ballroom dance with Anton De Beke

Well I haven’t danced with @antondebeke but I did get to meet him at @thismorning Live this year.   He is still a delight to spend time with!

https://youtu.be/Qln3XrVmjgI

21)Be on the panel of Loose Women

I’m still waiting @LooseWomen

22) Own a designer handbag

Maybe I’ll get one for my birthday!  Hint hint

23) Replace my greenhouse

Oh it is looking pretty sad at the moment so I think this may need to happen soon!

24) Reduce my daily commute to work

I’m still having fun with the trains!!  At least the morning commute has changed thanks to 4 extra carriages, which means I mostly get a seat now!

25) Teach Lola to walk off a lead

Yer right!  Hmm, not sure this is not going to happen!

26) Teach Fido to not bark at the door

We have been trying very hard!  I’ve now applied to the programme ‘Dogs Behaving Very Badly’ for help!  Fingers crossed!

27) Teach Fido not to bark at noises

As above!  Eek!

28) Have 5 minutes of fame on T.V. – preferably on This Morning

I’m still waiting for them to snap me up lol!!  I did get to meet Ruth and Eamon at the @thismorning Live at the NEC in Birmingham.  Eamon even had his hand on my knee!!  Lol!  They were such a lovely couple!

29)Go to see a musical at least once in 2019

Still to do, but we are in London very soon so who knows!

30) Go to a music festival or concert at least once in 2019

No happened yet, but the summer isn’t over yet!

31) Write a blog at least once a week

I’m smashing this with 2 – 3 some weeks!

32) Improve my photography skills

I’ve not had chance much to take many photos but when I have, I’ve really tried to be creative.

33) Clean out the garage

Don’t tell my hubby but, nah, not yet!  I will though promise!

34) Help raise awareness of homelessness

I’m still promoting this.

35) Help out someone at least once a month

Ooh now I really have to think about this one.  I think I have, but I could do more!

36) Have a professional make over

Still need to sort this one out!

37) Have a ‘hot’ Christmas

This may not happen this year, but one day!

38) Remember friends and family’s birthdays

I’m doing better.  I could be a bit quicker poster but it is an improvement.

39) Be surprised

Not yet!! 

40) Have dinner out once a month

We have done this and it has been really nice to have someone cook for me.  It hasn’t had to be posh, but good food.

41) Take an hour out a week for ‘me time’

I’m trying but some weeks are just so busy.

42) Get 8 hours of sleep a night as much as possible

I’m totally failing this one.  Only 6-7 hours a night at the moment. 

43) Drink more water and less diet coke

Right now I am drinking a litre of squash!  I’m trying!

44) Have a girls night out at least once every 3 months

I’ve just about done this, but I really need a few more!

45) Have a date night with hubby at least once every 3 months

I think we have done this – yes, definitely.  It is good to spend quality time together.

46) Take a canal trip

Well I did say a trip not a holiday so does the 30 minute trip with work count?

47) Go to see Wasps at least 3 times during the year

We have been once but will go more later in the year – promise.

48) Learn the rules to Rugby

Oops!  I really must talk to hubby!

49) Take up a new hobby

I just need to find the time!!

50) Keep in touch more with family and friends who live away

Facebook is great, but I really need to put some weekends away to see friends.  We have managed a couple of weekends this year, but we should do more!

So, there have been some things ticked off, I really need to start doing a few more!  I will keep you posted!!

It’s time to go home!

Today is a very sad day!  We have to leave this amazing place and return home.  This place has been absolutely amazing and has exceeded our expectations a thousand-fold!

Our flight is scheduled for 10 am so its another early start.  I have already packed most things the night before!  If you know me, I can’t leave anything until last minute.  Obviously, the toiletries we need for today can’t go in until last minute, but you know what I mean!

I’ve pre-booked our pickup.  They have confirmed they will be here at 7.15 am, and they are punctual.

I take a last look across the old town from our balcony.  I’m going to miss that view!

This morning I made sure I was up early enough so I could sit one last time on the balcony, drinking my tea, taking in the view!  I wanted to make the most of every minute here!

As we travel in our taxi to the airport, I get one last chance to look back and see the view from above of Kings Landing and the Red Keep – aka Dubrovnik!  The sun is shining on the orange roofs below.  The sea is clear and bright blue.  This place certainly has some magic!

It is only a short trip to the airport.  Getting through security is very quick and easy.  We have 2.5 hours to kill.  There isn’t a lot to do here but as we are early, we decide to grab a drink and something to eat.  Whilst small, it is very comfortable.

After a while we decided to head down to our gate to wait to be called for our Easyjet flight home.

Just before we board, I decide I should pop to the ladies!  I have a middle seat so its not always easy to get out on the plane, without disturbing the person next to you! Plus what if they are sleeping, do you wake them? I’m not sure if you should!

I pop off and do what ladies do.  I’m walking back to the gate.  I’ve seen a man looking out across the runway looking at the planes and think nothing of it.  Suddenly he turns and gets his leg in front of mine!  There is nothing I can do.  I’m falling at a pace.  Ahead of me I can see the edge of the lift and metal bollards, they are heading towards my head at speed.  I can’t stop myself.  I quickly put my arm up to try and protect me.  With a thud I hit the floor, bollard and lift! 

At first, I can’t move.  I’m somehow wrapped amongst the bollard.  Thankfully I didn’t hit my head, but my leg, arm and hand really hurt.  The man has rushed to me so apologetic.  He knows he was completely to blame and is mortified.  I’m suddenly aware of a lot of people around me waiting for their flight home!

The man wants to call for help but I assure him I’m fine.  I need to get my flight home and its boarding soon!  He helps me up!  I’m trying hard not to cry.  The pain is horrendous.  I can’t show the man how I’m feeling, he feels so bad as it is, and it was an accident.   These things happen.

As he helps me up, he apologises again and asks if I need anything.  I say I’m fine and not to worry.  I slowly walk off trying to put a brave face on it.

As I walk back to my seat, I don’t know what to rub first.  I think I’ve broken a finger at least!  I quickly mention to my hubby that I’ve had a fall but then our flight is called so we board the plane!

I travel home feeling very bruised and battered.

After a horrible drive home in the pouring rain we relax and unwind!  As I take my coat off, I see the extent of the damage.  A beautiful bruise on my right arm.  My right hand is also swollen, and I can’t move my little finger.  The pain is horrible.  Bruises start to appear on my leg and knee too!  My hubby suddenly realises it wasn’t just a little fall after all!

I soldier on for 10 days now.  The bruises are starting to fade a little, but my hand is still in pain.  I decide that maybe I should have got it checked out sooner, so book an appointment with my GP. 

After checking it he confirms that yep I have a fracture!

It is amazing how in a split-second things can change.  I’m not cross at the man.  It was an accident.  I’m sure he is still feeling mortified about it.  And if anyone knows me, if an accident is going to happen it has to be me who will have it!

At the end of the day, it was still the most amazing holiday.  It isn’t goodbye Dubrovnik, it is until we see you again!  We will be back!

Day 3 – Montenegro

Today was a very early start. We had arranged a private tour for the 5 of us to Montenegro. Due to having to go through border controls, we had to be ready by the old gate at 7 am.

If there is a small group of you this is a great way to get around! Your guide will custom your trip based on the time you have. For us it was a full day tour, 11-12 hours. It worked out at about 64 Euro each but this included our own minibus and guide just for us!

It’s important to check if you are doing some day trips if you need your passports. As we were going to a different country, today we did.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect in Montenegro.

As we drove across the border the landscape really unfolded. Beautiful mountains framed the view!

Our first stop was a chance to get out and see the view across the ocean. Stunning. An old abandoned building to our left showed us the reality of this country.

Our next stop was to take in views of 2 small islands, both with churches in the middle! Both very tiny but beautiful. Our guide explained that we could take a boat over to one of the islands if we wanted to, which of course we did!

The trip went from Perast and took only 10 minutes and cost only 5 Euro each. I should mention that Montenegro only accept Euros.

There was so much history in such a small place. The views again were breathtaking.

Back on the mainland we took a few minutes to visit the old town before heading to our next destination.

Kutor is a stunningly beautiful old city. Walking around the tiny streets it is steeped in history. There is a city wall however you can’t walk around it like you can in Dubrovnik.

If you look carefully at the photo above you will see the wall stretching up into the mountain. This was a theme over here. You could walk up that part of the wall however you would need a full day and proper walking boots to fully experience it, which we didn’t!

We did go up the parts of the wall you can see in the main frame which gave great views over the harbour.

There were some amazing yachts moored there! A girl can dream!

Budva was our next and final stop! A smaller old town greeted us. Our guide took us around again and explained the history to us.

A quick stop off for a late lunch over looking the ocean was perfect. Food and drink is a lot cheaper here compared to Dubrovnik. Beer for example is under €3 a pint.

At around 3pm we headed back to Dubrovnik. Our timing was perfect as the heavens opened!

As we reached Dubrovnik the sun blessed us again!

I’d decided to cancel our original restaurant booking as it was slightly too far. We were later home than expected so only had 30 mins to shower and change, so we decided to go back to Restaurant 1838. It was so good last night, why not !

It didn’t disappoint! I had the mussels again! Oh and of course they gave us those amazing drinks again. I’m definitely going to try and make them when I get home!

Another great day in Dubrovnik! Well mostly in Montenegro, but this was turning out to be a fabulous trip!

I’m looking forward now to preparing my YouTube videos over the weekend to really share with you the beauty of this trip.

Tomorrow is our last day in the beautiful country. We have another trip planned! Stay tuned !

Day 2 – Game of Thrones

Today I’m so excited. We have booked on the GOT walking tour. It’s scheduled for 2 hours and promises to show us where some of the episodes were filmed.

I’d booked the tour through a company called – Get Your Guide. I’ve used them before and find their website really helpful. At only £17 per person it is very reasonable.

We met our guide Boska at the meeting point. Today was an unusually large group – around 19 of us, so we were given headsets so we could hear him fully.

To say Bosko was passionate about GOT is an understatement. In fact he auditioned to be an extra and was successful, but for personal reasons he couldn’t take it!

Funny enough, our taxi driver from the airport was an extra. He showed us very proudly a photo of him waking behind Cercei when she did the walk of shame!

We started our tour by walking up to the old fort! As with Dubrovnik it’s a bit of a steep walk, but the views are really worth it!

The entrance fee to the fort isn’t included in the tour price so you need to factor another 50 Kuna per person (approx £6).

Once inside the fort the magic of GOT unfolds. You do need a little bit of imagination due to the fact that on the set the fort has more levels due to special effects, but Boska has plenty of pictures to help you visualise it better.

Filming was done in July and August mainly, when Croatia is at its hottest! Can you imagine how the actors and extras coped in that heat in their costumes! It apparently got a little bit smelly as the weeks went on with long days and no time to wash the costumes!

I was amazed at how many different scenes were filmed from this small location. It was mainly used as the Red Keep, but other locations were also filmed there!

The view of the old town from the top is spectacular. If you are not a GOT fan it’s worth going up for that alone!

It was reassuring to see the local cat keeping guard for us !

You can also see the park where Joffrey and Sansa were married! Hubby and I had walked through it the day before completely unawares.

You learn all about the tricks of filming including using mirror image to move islands ! How do you tell? Check how many left hand people are in the scene!

Next stop was the harbour where Jon Snow said his good byes along with other scenes.

We then walk back into the old town. Thursday and Saturdays are cruise ship days so the town can get very busy. To avoid the crowds we were led down some lovely old alleys until we reached the steps where the walk of shame was filmed.

I was stunned at how much they compensated residents to move out or close businesses down to allow them to film. Even paying per window for them to keep their shutters closed!

All in all this was an amazing tour. I would certainly recommend it as a must do.

The tour ended with a photo opportunity in the iron thrown!

At the harbour was a lovely restaurant which we visited for lunch. Such a stunning setting and a perfect end to the morning.

As we finished lunch the rain started. Not hard but enough to send a lot of the people from the cruise ship back so the town wasn’t so full.

We decided to visit an exhibition on Photography of War. The Entrance fee is about 50 Kuna but worth it.

It’s not a joyful experience. Very humbling and heart wrenching. Photos over 2 floors on wars in Iran, Yugoslavia’s, Croatia, Afghanistan, Bosnia etc. The truth behind war! I’m so glad we went but it brought tears to my eyes.

It’s hard to imagine that Dubrovnik was in a war zone not that long ago. You would never know today.

After a relaxing walk around another part of the harbour we headed back to our apartment to get ready for dinner.

Tonight’s restaurant was called 1838. It’s right on the waters edge by the main entrance to the old town.

This restaurant is an absolute must.

The food is amazing. I had the mussels (89 Kuna) with a side salad (35 Kuna) and shared a litre of their house white (140 Kuna).

As with the previous night we were greeted with a complementary starter and plenty of bread.

When we paid the bill we were given the best drink I’ve ever tasted! Prosecco, lemon sorbet and vodka! OMG, I loved it!

It had been another great day. Tomorrow had more surprises to come !

Don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss when I start uploading my videos next week. Here is today’s : https://youtu.be/niVu4o0xHdw

Day 1 – Dubrovnik exceeded my expectations!

I’m currently sat on an EasyJet flight from Dubrovnik airport en-route to London Stansted! I live in the midlands so I really have no clue why I chose Stansted, but hey ho!

The flight is under 3 hours. Not too bad.

We arrived 5 days ago. Our flight was 6 am so we arrived with almost the whole first day ahead of us!

We arrived at our apartment before it was ready! Apartment Lukre is a 2 bedroom apartment, 5 minutes walk from the main entrance to the old town. Off a small kitchen area is a beautiful balcony with fabulous views of the old Town. Perfect for having dinner on or as I did, sit and enjoy a lovely cup of tea. If I was lucky the church bells would be ringing out. I never tired of it!

The owner of the apartment was lovely. So friendly. They can collect you from the airport if you wish and arrange trips for you.

They also have a double room next door to our apartment which our friends had. At 115 euro for ours and 55 Euro for the room, it is definitely value for money and a great find.

Even though our apartment wasn’t ready, the owner let us leave our bags so we could get out and about.

The 5 of us in our group headed off to the old town.

If you are a fan of Game if Thrones, you will fully understand why it was used for filming the movie!

As you walk through 2 sets of gates you come upon the Main Street! It’s beauty takes your breath away.

There is a water fountain like no other to your right. The water is cold and refreshing, so don’t forget to fill your water bottles up there.

One word of warning! There are a lot of steps in the old town! The pavements can become very slippy when it rains. It is definitely a place where you leave your heals at home! Comfortable shoes will ensure you enjoy the best of this beautiful old town!

The town is full of small streets and alleys packed with churches, beautiful buildings, shops and restaurants. It might feel daunting but you don’t need to worry, you can’t really get lost.

A must do is to walk around the city walls. It costs 300 kuna (£25) each, so not cheap but worth it! It certainly is a good workout, but the views make it something not to be missed.

Food and drink inside the old town is more expensive than outside, but you can still get some reasonably priced restaurants and cafes.

We had been warned to book our restaurants before coming, as they can get busy, especially on peak times, so we had prebook all nights.

Our first night was at a lovely restaurant in the old town – Konoba Jezuite. The menu was quite varied with mains ranging from £15-£20. Beer is £6 a pint and a bottle of house white around £23.

After placing our order they brought out baskets of bread with a pate dish. All complementary. I opted for the Tuna salad which was gorgeous as my main.

As we paid the bill they brought out cherry liquor! Gorgeous.

We took a slow walk back to the apartment via a local supermarket where we picked up some local wine and beers. It is so much cheaper. About £1.20 a can of larger and £3 a bottle of white wine.

We chilled out in our apartment excited at the day just gone and the days ahead!

I’m really loving Dubrovnik!

Tomorrow is our GOT walking tour.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to see the old town in my video.

The madness that is Ryanair! You

Ok. Before I start, I know Ryanair are a budget airline! I get it! You get what you pay for! But come on guys, there are some things that they do that make absolutely no sense. Even to say, bonkers! Or is it their last ditch attempt to bleed money from their passengers?

Are you sitting comfortably? Let me explain!

So my hubby and I booked a return flight to Dublin from Birmingham airport! 1 booking for both of us!

First add on – the price they advertise is effectively for you to sit on the plane. Ok if it’s a day trip, but how often does that happen?

So as we are staying over we need a small bag! That will cost you extra! We only need 1 bag but as both of us are on the same booking we have to pay for 2!

Well at least they acknowledge we are both on the same booking!

So we now want to check in! You can only do this online unless you want to pay an extra £55!! No thank you!

So we check in online! You can only check in 48 hours before! So if you are away for more than a day you need to make sure you have access to WiFi or a printer, as you will need to arrange your check in for your return while you are away. Or pay £55 extra ! Your choice !!

So you check in online ! It’s 1 booking don’t forget! You can’t add just 1 bag as it’s a joint booking ! Yep, now, this is where they choose to treat each passenger as an individual.

When you check in, their lovely computer picks your seat at random. Well unless you want to pay up to £14 a seat each to sit together !

So, if you don’t want to pay extra the computer picks seats on different sides of the plane! Of course it does!

Now the sceptic would say ‘surely not if you had a child’. Oh you may wonder! My hubby was asked when seated if he minded moving to allow a father and child to sit together. He obviously said he would be happy to! Why could he do this? Well, the seat next to him was empty!

As it happens he didn’t end up moving but I did! Next to him!

Seriously, I am at a complete loss to the madness that is Ryanair! It’s not rocket science. They may use a computer to allocate seats, but how hard is it for them to programme it to seat passengers on same booking together. I get as plane fills up it gets harder? But if you can pay to sit together at this time? The computer can sit you together!

There is one obvious answer! They want to make more money!

Imagine if their original plan to charge for the toilet took off! Women would be buying those gadgets that allow them to pee into a bottle so they don’t have to leave their seats !

I’d love Ryanair to give me a full explanation as to their true rationale. I doubt they will!

Air regulators really need to deal with these pricing ripoffs before they get out of hand!

So now I’m on the plane the next rant!!

The flight is said to be 1 hour 10 mins! It never is!! We have left almost 30 mins late! If we arrive within the 1 hour 10 mins, they will reward themselves with a fanfare!

I can’t wait to see if they do on this trip, but when we have already built in a great contingency, it’s going to happen more often than not’. Is that false SLA’s?

Rant now over until next time! I don’t mind getting what I pay for, but it still has to be logical and fair!!

6 mins to expected arrival and captain has already said ‘prepare to land’. It does make me laugh!

I wish my SLA’s at work could be that flexible!

On this occasion touchdown was 6 minutes late but not bad for a 40 minute late take off !!

It would be great to know your experience or views !

Here is a link to my vlog of the trip including our amazing hotel !

And then it was Friday!

Another week has flown by! I can’t believe it’s Friday already! So much has happened in just a few days!

Technically for us it was only a 4 day week as we took Monday off. If you read my previous blog you will know we spent the weekend in Gloucester. As we hadn’t had a break for 6 months, I really needed to charge my batteries!

So on Monday, we decided to extend our weekend and head to Stonehenge for the day!

I can’t believe I’ve never been before. It’s only a couple of hours drive away. It’s also free if you belong to English Heritage, which we do, so there has really been no excuse.

The weather was on our side! It was a beautiful spring day. Don’t get me wrong, it was blooming cold and windy, but the sun was out.

When you drive to Stonehenge you may be surprised to see it from the road. Well I was! It was just like the first time I saw the pyramids in Cairo.

I had visions of them being in a remote area. Next to a busy road was not what I expected!

Although it is free to enter for us, you still have to book a slot. This is such a good idea as it limits the crowds.

Once you collect your tickets, you can go into their visitor centre which tells you all about the history of Stonehenge. English Heritage are really good at giving you information in the form of audio equipment. Sadly, in the excitement we forgot to get ours! It didn’t matter though, there was still a lot of information about.

Next you get to walk around a replica village. I was a bit disappointed here as only one little house was open for you to view! This meant everyone was focused on the one building rather than spreading it around.

Next you board a shuttle bus that takes you to the stones. They run every few minutes, so it’s all relaxed! You can walk it if you like, but as I said, it was a tad chilly!

Nowadays you can’t get very close to the stones. I can’t believe people used to try and damage them!

There is a good footpath around so you get a great 360 degree view of the stones. With the sun out and perfect blue skies, our cameras were busy!

If you go, look out for what is left of the old road next to the stones! Being so close, I can see why they moved it!

Here is an account of our day.

It was such a lovely day we decided to call into Bourton-on-the-Water for a very late lunch.

One of the benefits of going to tourist places this time of the year is that you miss the crowds.

We only had 1 extra day off, but I felt like I’d really had a good relaxing break!

Tuesday was back to work. Boo hoo! We live in hope to one day win the lottery so we can both travel more! It probably won’t happen, but you have to have a dream!

Have a great weekend!

I blinked and you were gone!

Does anyone else feel like that when Monday morning comes round ?

On Friday I was so excited at the prospect of a couple of days off. The next thing I know, the alarm is going off for work! It’s like Groundhog Day! How can it be Monday already?

I suppose I shouldn’t complain though as this weekend, whilst disappeared in the blink of an eye, was really fun.

If you have been following me you will know I have been doing dry January! As my hubby didn’t think I would do it, we had a bet on! Whoever lost the bet paid for dinner out at Lambs in Stratford-upon-Avon.

I thought I had booked our table for 1 February, back on 2 January. It was for 7.30 pm, to give us chance to get home, walk the dogs and get dressed up!

On Thursday last week, by chance, hubby checked the email confirmation. I’d some how booked a restaurant in Gloucester ! Eek!

I quickly cancelled that and rang Lambs! Thankfully they could fit us in but only at 7 pm! So on Friday it was a mad rush to get ready and make sure the dogs got their usual walk!

Dress is on my 21 Buttons page

https://bit.ly/2WMsRuh

Then there was the issue of parking. If you know Stratford-upon-Avon, you will know that there isn’t many places with on site parking . So after finding a carpark a little way away, I then had to try and walk rather quickly in heels! When you haven’t worn them for a while, that’s about as easy as trying not to spill a glass of wine while rowing a boat on choppy seas!

Finally, after a very rush start to the evening, we arrived at the Restaurant only a few minutes late !!

The meal as usual was amazing! As I completed dry January, I enjoyed my first glass of wine this year !

Ok, I actually had a bottle. Eek! I have to say, if you want a nice meal out, check out Lambs in Sheep Street. You won’t be disappointed!

https://bit.ly/2MRLI2F

The meal over, I now had to manage the walk back to the car with the added challenge of alcohol in my system !!!! Don’t worry, I had a secret weapon! Flat shoes ! Oh yes! I had a pair of folding pumps in my handbag! They were like slippers! The walk back was now relaxing ! Phew!

We had a 5am wake up call the next day as we were off to London for the day, so it was home to bed !

5am came far too quickly! It was a brisk walk with the dogs before a quick shower, change and out.

We had booked an early Virgin train. Mainly because it was cheap and fast. The only drawback was that it went from Birmingham so we had to leave home earlier than we would for work!

Isn’t it funny how on a week day it’s a struggle to get moving, but when you have something on you enjoy, it’s almost a joy to be up so early !

The train trip was really relaxing. I’d taken food with us, but bought teas and coffee on the train. It was lovely to sit back and look at the countryside. Most of it was covered in snow. It really was beautiful!

Now I’m not a fan of London if I’m honest. It’s too busy and people just don’t seem that friendly!

We hopped onto the tube and underground easily. We then have to go onto overground to the Olympia. This trip, everything was literally there in minutes. It was hassle free!

We arrived with almost an hour before the exhibition opened so went for coffee.

Not knowing the area we went to the first place we found ! It wasn’t the most fashionable place but it did a good cup of herbal tea! The toilets on the other hand ! Well, let’s not go there !!!

As we still had time to kill, we decided to have a walk around . We first passed some flats which I commented looked quite nice ! There was a sale board in the windows so we had a look! £3.25m! Seriously! I’d want a mansion and grounds for that!

We then came across a shop selling cars! There was this horrible looking 4×4 outside. Second hand and a few years old but still £280k! I’m seriously doing something wrong!!!

We decided to start heading back to the Olympia before we got anymore shocks!

The Holiday and Travel show was brilliant . We both love to travel and there were so many ideas! There was also a lot of free bags and brochures which we seemed to have picked up!

My favourites were a classic car holiday and the railway holidays ! Both very different but looked amazing !

The classic car holiday was based in 3 countries, Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia. You have to make your own way to those countries, but when there, they pick you up from the airport and take you to your hotel. There you will get to see your car for the week. It will be a classic car from that country – a Trabant. They give you a Sat Nav, mobile phone and vehicle tracker. There is also mechanical support throughout. You drive each day taking in heritage sites, vineyards, Cold War sites, and ancient historical sites. Each day you only drive about 2 hours, at your leisure and all fuel is included. You will end up at new hotels each night which are all organised for you too, including breakfast.

I think this would be a amazing holiday for a group of friends. They only have about 5 cars in each group.

If you are interested check out their website www.classiccarholidays.co.uk

We would also love to do a train holiday, but sadly I think they are out of our price range!

We spent a good 4 hours wandering round, wishing we had won the lottery, so we could book some of these amazing holidays. Getting hungry and loaded up with ideas and brochures, we decided to head back to Euston and find somewhere to eat.

Not far from the station is a Prezzo which seemed the perfect place . We had a lovely meal chatting over the day and planning where we would get if we won the lottery ! You have to have a dream !

We headed home chilled and in good spirits ! During the journey home I needed the loo! I will share my experience on my Youtube channel!!

It had been a good day!

England had played Ireland at rugby earlier in the day which we had recorded, so we snuggled up in sofa up watch it. Hubby with a beer and me with my slimline wine ! If you still haven’t tried it, you so should. My favourite is the sparkling which is available at Tesco, or visit their website for their full range!

The day just got better as England won! Woo hoo!

Sunday was going to be busy but our plans changed last minute . It was a cold day but the sun was out ! We decided to take the opportunity to take the dogs on a long walk along the canal!

There is a lovely pub on the canal side called Fleur De Ly in a little village called Lowsonford. It’s a beautiful pub! Inside it’s so cosy on a cold winters day. On days like Sunday and in the summer it has an amazing garden, where you can sit out and have a drink or dinner, overlooking the canal!

We parked up and took a 4 mile walk! The canal was still frozen, it was cold, but with the sun out, it was perfect.

On the return, it was only right we stopped off at the pub for a quick drink !

https://bit.ly/2MUsA3R

We headed home, having had an amazing weekend! Hubby caught up on his rugby while I visited my parents and updated my YouTube channel!

Check out my amazing biscuits and update on my month!

Sunday roast was the order of the day to complete the weekend !

The next thing I knew, the alarm was going . It was Monday already !

It was a wonderful weekend, but it was over in the blink of an eye!

Check out my vlog on YouTube on the weekend which includes more photos!

New Year, New Start

So 2018 is almost over! I still can’t believe how quickly this year has gone.

I am now like millions of other people! I’m sitting here planning what changes I am going to make for next year!

First one – lose weight! This year, I have really struggled to maintain my ideal weight. I think a big part was to do with my hubby, family and friends constantly telling me I was too thin! I decided that the odd pound on didn’t matter then! Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there!

Over Christmas, I feel I have just eaten rubbish. I am not having the balanced meals I would normally have. I am actually craving fruit and salad!

So from 1 January, I am back on Slimming World properly. I’m also going to put one of my temptations out of my way! I am going to do Dry January!

My hubby couldn’t stop laughing when I said this! Ok, I fully understand why. I mean, I do like to have a glass or 2 of wine at the weekend, but that doesn’t mean I can’t go without it too! Slimming World have dropped down the syns you can have daily. You can now only have 12 per day, so with Slimline Wine, that is only 3 small glasses. I know I could stick to this, but I want to be able maximise my weight loss by having the minimum of syns possible.

By not drinking, I can save my syns for other things like the odd piece of chocolate or hot chocolate!

I plan to get fitter too! Don’ get me wrong, I’m not unfit. I already do a lot of walking and go to the gym around 4 times a week, but this year, I want to see if I can start running again. If not running (I’m not sure my knees could stand it), power walking!

I’ve also stopped doing my 100 sit-ups a day. I used to have quite a toned stomach. I need to start making sure I do it every night while watching my soaps.

So what else to I plan to do? Well I’m going to keep telling the stories of Lola through my blog – The Adventures of Lola, as well as building on my website and Youtube channel. I’m still a novice on Youtube, but it has been fun doing it and trying to improve.

I’m also going to hit a certain birthday in 2019! I have a list of things I want to achieve during the year. I will share that list with you in a later blog!

The main thing for me is to be happy and healthy! Life is too short to waste it!

Whatever next year has ahead for you, make sure you enjoy it!

Oh what a night!

Aaahhhh! Sometimes I get so frustrated ! Take the other night. What should have been a 10 minutes drive, turned into 2 hours in my car and not actually going anywhere!

So what happened ! Traffic happened !

I planned to go and visit my parents after working at home.  Between my house and theirs, is an island which leads you to a motorway, a bypass, and two other roads leading to Warwick and Stratford Upon Avon! There had been an accident northbound on the motorway at our junction, which brought the motorway to a standstill!

It’s amazing how much traffic a motorway takes. You only realise this when all those cars then try to find other routes to get to their destination!

Initially, I started off down my usual road.  As I said above, it should only take about 10 minutes, maybe 15 when its busy.  It involves 2 main roads, but they are usually moving!

I knew I was in trouble, when only minutes into my journey, I came to a standstill!  After about 15 minutes of not moving more than a few inches, I decided it might be a fabulous idea, to do a U-turn back into the village, and go up the back road!  Perfect!  Or so I thought!

What I hadn’t thought about, is that the thousand of cars that wanted to go northbound, had also left the motorway earlier on, and had used the same back roads!

An hour later, I was no further getting to my parents that I was when I left home!

Now, I am usually quite resilient.  Its the evening, so apart from cooking dinner, I’m not under a strict clock to get to my parents.  I say that, but then when you factor other drivers, that goes out of the window.

To help me through the boredom of sitting in a traffic, I decided to speak to my brother using my hands free phone.  We are not moving at this time.  We haven’t moved for a while.  Then for some unknown reason, I hear a car horn behind me!  Now, I don’t know if it was the direct car behind me, or the one behind him, but come on!  The car in front of me is only inches away from me.  The car in front of him the same, and so on.  What did they want us to do?   If that didn’t wind me up enough, 5 minutes later, they started doing it again!  I mean, what planet were they on?  The only way I or any other car could move, was to open the boot of the car in front and get in!

It’s time like this, I wish I was brave enough to get out of my car, and ask them, politely of course, what they feel hitting the horn was achieving!  The spot I am in, has views of the 3 roads ahead.  All of them are at a stand still too!  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out, that no-one is not moving just for fun!

At this point, by brother persuades me to turn around and head back home, which is actually a fabulous idea!

There is an island in front of me so I edge myself towards it.  I mean, I am now going to be going against the traffic.  In theory, I should be able to get around the island and do a U-turn.  Oh, that would be too easy!  It would actually mean someone would have to use their common sense.  Something, that once you get behind the wheel of your car, in a traffic jam, goes!

I’m at the Island.  Its taken me some time to get here, don’t get me wrong, but I am here!  Traffic is backed up, because the 3 roads off it are at a standstill.  The only exit that is free, is the one I want to go back up the road!

So I am there, i’m excited that I could soon be on a road which is moving!  That was short lived.  The car to my right on the Island is in the lane that wants to go to the exit that isn’t moving,  sees me and moves forward and blocks my entry onto the island!

Seriously, why would you do that!  I’m now stuck again! Great!

After some time, the traffic has moved enough for me to get through.  Yey! No!  The car to my left decides she is going to cut across me to get onto the motorway!  Thankfully, I’m going so slow, I can stop to prevent us from colliding!   I tell myself, it’s ok, she obviously wants to get out of the traffic too and is doing a U-turn, so taking this opportunity to do this!  I’m annoyed, but I get it!

That would be too simple wouldn’t it!

What actually happened is, she thought it would be a good way to get through the traffic onto the road she wanted, rather than sit in the correct lane.  She now realises, she can’t.  What she has now done, is stop anyone else getting around the island to escape this madness, including me!

So once again, I am stuck there until the traffic has moved enough to give me room to get by!  I was tempted to drive on the grass around the Island, but I thought better of it!

I decide to relax and stay calm!

Finally I am free!  I call my hubby and leave a message to say i’m coming back home.  I should home soon as I am now going against the traffic!

Happily, i’m singing along to the radio.  Then I see the car lights in front of me!  They are not moving!  Aaaah.  It seems every other car has decided to turn around!

Thankfully, there is no-one on the horn, or cutting me up!  I’m just sat there!

After 2 hours, I finally see my village.

I am now very stressed and frustrated.  Not because I have been in traffic.  I had my radio, had made some calls, and it had given me some time to have some thinking time.  Usually these are positives.  No, the reason I am stressed, is because I still can’t believe the behaviour of drivers!

I fully appreciate, that everyone has probably had a long day at work, and just want to get home.  The reality is, there has been an accident.  Someone at best has been hurt, at worst died!  They are healthy and safe in their cars! Getting road rage, or doing stupid things to get to your destination sooner that isn’t practical, isn’t going to help.

The next time  you are stuck in a jam, think about what you are doing, and the impact of others around you!  Everyone is in the same boat as you.  Use the time to reflect on your day, plan something, make calls to those people you have been promising to speak to (only if you can do so hands free though).

If you have children at home waiting for you to read them a story,  can you do it hands free over the phone.  I know you won’t have a book with you, just make it up!  Use the situation you are in to inspire you!

There is nothing you or anyone else can do to change the situation you are in.  Turn it into a positive.   You never know, you may feel better about the situation too!

Let the train take the strain!

 

Does anyone else remember that advert from 1988? It was launched to encourage us to take the train, instead of blocking our roads up with cars!

I was commuting by train back then. Whilst it was 30 years ago, from personal experience, public transport hasn’t improved!

I don’t know whether it’s the demand that has increased, or the fact that the rail companies haven’t kept up with the demand!

Back then, I used to do a 45 minute trip into Birmingham. I always got a seat, and in fact, there was a group of us that used to meet up along the journey, and still be able to sit together.

We had quite a little community going on. We would do crosswords, competitions and in cold days, the guard used to share his tea flask with us!

I may be seeing those days through rose tinted glasses, but I don’t remember it being late or cancelled that often at all! Certainly, not that busy either!

After a 19 year break, where I used to drive to work, I once again in 2012, joined the thousands of others commenting by train!

So why should we all ‘be letting the train take the strain’ still some 30 years later? Well the simple answer is, that the Climate Change Act of 2008, set a long term framework for us to reduce greenhouse gas within the UK.  The Government needs to reduce it by at least 34% by 2020, and 80% in 2050, based on the levels in 1990.

To achieve this, they need more and more of us to ditch our cars, and take public transport.  As a commuter, that is easier said than done!

I for one, cannot get to work without some form of car travel.  Where I live, I would first of all have to walk about 15 minutes to the nearest bus stop.  From there, I would have to catch 2 buses, which takes just under an hour to the train station.  I then would catch a train for a 45 minute journey.  In total, to get to work it would take me over 2 hours, including then the walk to the office from the station.

I currently drive to the station, which reduces my travel time to approximately 1.5 hours each way per day!  To add an extra hour each day on an already 3 hours daily commute, just isn’t practical, or good for a work, home life balance.

Cost is also a factor.  At the moment, we are paying each day to travel by train to work.  It is £7.30 each day.  This is with us driving 14 miles to the station.  Thankfully, the car park is free.  It is not so at other stations!

If we went from our closest station, we would face £1000 a year more in train costs, plus £8.90 per day to park the car!  We would still have to drive there, so there is a petrol and emission cost!

When you get the train, there is certainly no relaxing for us either!  It definately doesn’t take the strain for us!  Wherever we catch the train, the following factors come into play:

  • Is the train on time?
  • Is the train running
  • How busy is it going to be?
  • Will the journey be terminated part way?
  • Who will I have to sit next to, or stand next to?
  • Am I going to pick up any coughs, colds etc from fellow commuters

Sadly, all of the above will come into play more frequently than you would think.

Our morning commute is on a 4 carriage train.  It is packed everyday.  You don’t get a seat, unless you are very lucky to be standing next to someone who is getting off at another stop!

When you are standing, you are being pushed against the next person also standing.  You often don’t have anything to hold onto, so when it hits a point or goes round the corners, you are thrown into the person next to you.

If you have got a seat, you are also not always lucky, as the persons standing will be on top of you, falling on you occasionally, or treading on you!  Then there is the size of the seats.  On the 6 seat section, space is extremely tight for the average size person.  You struggle to move your arms in fear of knocking the person next to you!

Don’t think you can get on, and pull your laptop out and work, or read a book!  Oh no, that would take space and comfort.  The best you can hope for is to play Candy Crush or read the news on your phones!

And don’t get me started on some of the behaviours of some commuters!   My most annoying is the person who walks through the crowded train, looking for an empty seat!  Of course, there must be one free with hundreds of us standing. Not!

What about the person wearing the headphones, whose music is so loud, we can all hear it!

Then there is the person who can see we are all like sardines, but still shouts into the train ‘can you move down please’!  I feel like shouting back ‘would you like us to get into the storage shelf’ as that is usually the only place where you might find a gap!

Even on crowded trains, some people don’t have volume control when talking either on the phone or face to face!  I have over the years heard many conversations, from whether someone should have sex with their boyfriend, or more recently,  a school girls asking her friend how to get him to have sex with her, to someone telling their friend about the guy they were having an affair with them.  Unfortunately for them, the friend of the women he was married to was also on the train!  I’d love to know how that story ended!

Long distance travel is no better!

Last year, I decided to take the train to Darlington for work. It’s about a 4 hour drive for me and takes a tank of petrol, so about £60.  Everyone said to me, I should take the train and relax, rather than the stress of driving!  Never again!

I had a 1.5 hour trip to the station to get the connecting train to Darlington.  Then a 3 hour train trip.   Yes I had a reserved seat, but the table was too small to even contemplate getting my laptop out!  My suitcase was miles away, so anything of value had to be at my feet, as the overhead shelf was too small.

I did a vlog on the experience at the time.  You can see my experience here!

The cost of the fare was about £140.

I had a reserved seat on the way back too.  When I went to my seat, it was taken by a pushchair.  The whole trip home, I had a newborn child crying next to me!

Was I relaxed when I got home – NO!  The next trip there I drove!

If the government wants us to use public transport more, they really need to start working with the transport companies.  Everyone I know who commutes, wherever they live, all have the same issues.

We need more carriages, competitive pricing, more trains and please keep the parking free!  Or if they do need to charge, again at a reasonable price!  Oh and it they could be on time that would be even better!  Maybe then, we may be more likely to let the train take the strain!