Thursday, 14 October 2010


Having tried and failed to download photographs on to a DVD, I have now added a selection of photos (from Vancouver to Busan) to Flickr. More photographs from the remainder of the trip (China + some extras) will be added next week.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Lovely Lymm

Hello again

We're home.

We flew back from Beijing yesterday. Our flight was 11.15 a.m. local time (around 03.15 a.m. English time), and landed at Heathrow at around 3.00 p.m. It was a good flight but the food was the worst we've had the entire trip (and that's saying something)! It was more or less inedible. The world's favourite airline? The motto on the side of the plane was 'we're flying the flag'. Not in our eyes! We then contacted our car parking firm and the car was waiting for us in the short-stay car park as soon as we walked out of the airport. And we set off north. We had thought to stay the night somewhere en route, but Richard felt fine and we just kept going. It was daylight all the way (very sunny, actually), and we used the M6 toll road which helped (£5.00, can you believe!). We got home around 6.30 p.m, which was great. We were met with an urgent 'phone call from no. 1 son - bad news, we thought! But, no - just to say they have got a new kitten. Lovely Nala died a few weeks ago, and left a hole in their household, obviously. This one is ginger (shades of Vaclav) and is called Oscar. Hooray for Oscar!

Our time in Beijing was amazing. We disembarked in a port called Tianjin which was an amazing city in its own right. There happened to be a World Climate Conference going on there as we landed. They seem to be building all round it and reclaiming land from the sea - you'd think China was big enough, wouldn't you? But no - they need more. We then got on a coach and went up to the Great Wall. The journey - as mentioned in the previous post - was something else. Coming back to this country and driving here just put it all into perspective. China is mad! We saw at least 5 accidents, and there were more that we didn't see. You take your life in your hands every time you get into a car or bus. The road up to the wall was crowded with enormous lorries (longer and bigger than ours) which were going up to Outer Mongolia or somewhere to collect coal and bring it back to somewhere in Beijing - presumably for power stations. This part of the road was the one that had a 10-day traffic jam a few weeks ago - and we could see why. The wall itself was incredible and we managed to walk a few feet up some steps to one of the little houses that are all along it. It was so hot and crowded that we retired to a rather elegant tea-house for a good argument and one latte coffee. We had stopped on the way up at a government-owned jade factory. Jade is considered very lucky and most girls are given some at birth, when they marry, etc. And jade comes in many different colours. It was all very expensive so we didn't buy any. But they had some good toilets - which was great. They actually had seats, a door you could lock and - wonder of wonders - some toilet paper. This tells you a lot about some of the other toilets we used!

We got back to the hotel at around 5.00 p.m. and booked in. We were shattered, and, after finding the executive room where the computers were, we hastened to bed. For some reason, I couldn't log in to this site, so sent an email to Lucy which she added to the blog - thanks, Lucy!

Next morning we were booked on an all-day trip and set off very early to Tiannenman Square. 1st October is one of the Chinese national holidays, and it lasts for 7 days, so you can imagine the crowds. The biggest queue in the world was already in the Square waiting to get in to see Chairman Mao's embalmed body - whatever turns you on I suppose - and it could only have got worse through the day. We were escorted down the side of the square, which is enormous - biggest in the world, we were told. Then we crossed into the Forbidden City and walked right through up to the far end, where we got back on to our bus. This place is truly staggering. The colossal ego of the emperors was evident everywhere - you can't imagine what life must have been like back then. I must watch 'The Last Emperor' again to get a better idea of all this. After the Forbidden City, we were taken the Silk Factory, where we were shown how silk is made and what they can do with it. Once again, we were under pressure to buy - but we resisted. From there we went to a small (and rather dirty) restaurant for an 'authentic' Chinese meal - which Richard loved and I didn't - but I managed to eat some of it. And then we went to the Temple of Heavenly Pleasure, where the emperor processed once a year to pray for that year's harvest. This was the most beautiful building - I think my favourite of all the ones we saw.

Back to the hotel, and we decided we just had to go up to see the Bird's Nest Stadium. We took a taxi up to the northern part of the city (just £5.00). Again, it was very crowded, but we went in. It cost 50 RBN to enter but fortunately I had copies of our passports with me. As I was over 60, I had to pay 25 RBN but Richard - because he's over 70 and is much venerated - got in free! He was well chuffed. We walked through the stadium - and what a building. Truly inspirational. Again, because it was their national holiday, there were all sorts of different shows going on there - a military band was playing, there were tumblers, dragons, acrobats, drummers. Next door to the stadium is the Cube, the building used for the swimming events at the Olympics, and further down were two more huge buildings used for other events. We had passed the velodrome on the way back from the Wall. The Chinese certainly put on a terrific show and these venues are all obviously still much in use. Let's hope London can come up with as good a show in 2012.

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was after 6.00 and already dark. Another quick meal in the hotel, and then bed. Beijing is a huge city, nearly all of it high rise, and so crowded.

And then on to the bus again yesterday morning and off to the airport. Once again, the Chinese had surpassed themselves with a brand-new airport terminal (3), built to resemble a dragon and a carpark outside built to resemble a turtle. Everything in China is done to bring luck, fortune, good health, etc. All buildings - in fact most of the city - are built on the Fung Shei principle and every symbol has a meaning. Even the car registration number that you're given is considered lucky etc. No. 4 is very unlucky indeed, and you don't see many with that number on.

So - home. Washing underway, post read, email quickly scanned - already thinking about what we have to do next. But so many memories in our heads from this holiday. And around a 1,000 photos to download!


Monday, 4 October 2010


Posted by Lucy - via email

Hi all.

Sorry - can't access the blog tonight, so this is a quick email instead.

We've had a busy few days - Qingdao on Saturday (smelly, noisy, but interesting), then Dalian on Sunday (beautiful, graceful city but it rained) and today we're off the ship and have visited the Great Wall. What a busy exhausting time, particularly today. We had to get up at 5.30 a.m. only to sit and wait for over an hour before the Chinese authorities would let us off the boat. We then got a bus which took us up to the Great Wall, the journey mostly through the suburbs of Beijing and the traffic was mad! We passed 5 accidents on the way, and the traffic was continually changing lanes and honking horns. Quite nerve-racking.

When we got to the Wall, it was very hot, busy, noisy and dirty!!! But amazing. We managed to walk a few steps and then retired to a tea room. How people were walking up and down the thing I can't imagine. It went on for miles, and that was only the bit we could see.

The bus then took us back in to Beijing, where we're staying at the Marriott City Wall Hotel - very sumptuous and grand. We've just had a quick meal and then it's bed - we're shattered. Tomorrow we're off to see the Forbidden City, Tiannenman Square, lunch, the Temple of Heaven (or something ) and then a visit to the Silk Factory. Probably another early night, and we'll be making an early start to the airport for the flight home.

No idea what hour we land, and we may stay over somewhere on the way back from Heathrow. We're both well, though tired, and looking forward to getting home. The weather has been very mixed - very hot today - what's it like back in England?

Happy Birthday Tony

Love to all
Christine and Richard

Friday, 1 October 2010

Still at sea!


Yes - we're still at sea. Today (1st October) we're in the Yellow Sea en route for Qingdao, a port city that has belonged at different times to Germany and Japan. It has China's most famous brewery as well as lots of German-style architecture. We're not going on an organised tour but catching the shuttle bus downtown to see what there is to see. The weather has got progressively warmer as we've come south, today is around 20o and the sea is calm. I've just done a load of washing (last one before we get home again) and this afternoon we have to present ourselves to the Chinese immigration people to see if we're fit to let in! Apparently, if you're not in good health, they won't let you land. How we're supposed to fly home from Beijing next week if you're not allowed into the country I don't know.

Tonight is our last formal night. Two things have been decided for us while on this cruise - one is that we are not cruise people and we'll probably never do another one. The other is that we're not dressing-up people either. Having said that, we've had a fantastic holiday and seen places that we'd never otherwise see. Most people on the ship are lovely and we've had fun talking to people from all over the world. The dynamics of the ship have shifted in the last few days and there are now lots more Chinese and Japanese on board, with the consequence that all the announcements etc. are done in two or three languages. For instance, last night the film "Invictus" was put on and it was dubbed into Japanese. Very strange.

Since the last blog, we've been to Muroran in Japan and to Vladivostok. From Muroran, we took a tour up to Sapporo - an enormous city that was celebrating its Autumn Festival - just like Manchester the week before Christmas! We also went to a traditional Folk Village - that was very interesting.

Vladivostok was a very different place. It was dull, grey, everywhere crumbling, nothing much to show us in the way of museums, etc., and made us quite depressed. The people must be depressed too - living on the edge of the Pacific Ocean with no other Russian cities nearby. To get to Moscow on the train takes 8 days and costs a fortune. We heard that they send some of their children to Australia for their high school education as it is so expensive in Russia, and the universities likewise. We went through a submarine museum but there was no Roman alphabet signage to help. The only place that was interesting was the train station which, I think, dates from before the revolution - it was beautiful.

Yesterday, we were in Busan in South Korea. What an amazing place that was! The industry and life there was buzzing. We took a tour up to some beautiful temples in the hills around the city, and then came down to explore the fish market. It must be the biggest one we've ever seen. Half was selling dead - though extremely fresh - fish, and the other half was selling live fish, kept in enormous tanks. I've never seen such a variety. There were little sea slugs that we crawling around their little plates - quite disgusting. After that we took the shuttle back downtown with the intention of finding an internet connection. The whole city is wi-fi free, so we thought it would be a doddle! But what we hadn't reckoned with was that, although the keyboard had both Korean and western letters, when I typed in our name and password on AOL it came up with Korean script. The place where we were couldn't understand that we wanted to switch to western script, so we gave up. We went to Macdonalds and had a coke instead! That is why I'm once again using the ship's very expensive internet cafe. Hopefully, we'll be able to get a connection at the hotel in Beijing where they might be able to understand what we want better.

We've been remarkably lucky with the weather. The sunshine and calm seas that we had in Alaska seems to have followed us all the way across. We've had the occasional choppy sea, but it's never bothered us. I know that the captain has been dodging a typhoon that was much further south, so he obviously knows his job. And it looks like China is going to be quite hot.

So - we're nearly at the end of our holiday. Qingdao tomorrow, Dahlian on Sunday, and Monday we land at Tianjin where we are doing a trip to see the Great Wall before getting to our hotel. I can't believe it's been nearly four weeks.

Hope Martin had a happy birthday yesterday.

Richard is getting progressively better, just coughing - but that's nothing new. All we've got to worry about now is if the Chinese let him in! They look a stern lot, very official and officious.

Will try and blog next week - if not, see you when we get home. Oh - for a good cup of tea!