China - our two trips there.
"China - its people"
I love people watching while on holiday!!
Burning incense in the temple.
Picking tea leaves.
"China in 1991"
So this is another holiday diary from Margaret and Koos,a groups trip to China. An early start today - a cup of tea and then off to Schiphol. I think that our little Micra knows its own way there now. We were a bit early at the desk of Cathay Pacific but we weren't the first of the group. The time went by quickly though with a cup of coffee and a chat with the others from the group
We took the northerly route and flew over Russia because of the Gulf problems. That meant we also flew over Beijing to Hong Kong. We had to check in again in Hong Kong for our flight with Air China to Beijing. The departure lounge at Hong Kong airport was an eye opener for China really, the toilets were awful with no water, so the smell can be imagined (then multiply that to get a bit nearer reality). The flight to Beijing was 2½ hours long. Very quickly through customs which was a bit of a surprise. Met by our local and national guides and with the bus to our hotel. Very nice hotel although they are still finishing it. Cantonese dinner and our first meal with chopsticks which gave some laughs.
So our first sightseeing day in China. Morning call at 7 o'clock-I had slept very well. Buffet breakfast and a few cups of tea (nothing more to drink until lunchtime, so tanked for the day). With the bus into the inner city and the " Temple of Heaven Park" which was beautiful. Strange as we had seen the copy of it in Epcot Centre two years ago. Hadn't thought then that we would see the original one day. After an early lunch (well early for what we are used to) we went to the Forbidden City. The lunch was in a restaurant in a shopping area just off the Tien'anmen Square. The use of chopsticks was improved today. We had thought that the sticks were disposable but that is not so. Went to the toilet (not a pleasant experience in China) and saw there another use for chopsticks. You can use them to lock the toilet door!!! First we went to the special exhibition of the jewels of the city. It was especially arranged for us to visit that and we had a Chinese guide to tell us all about it, but she only spoke Chinese so first she gave a long explanation in Chinese which our local guide then translated into a long explanation in English. It was nice to see the things but really it lasted too long, especially as we were all keen to get into the Forbidden City. One lovely thing in the exhibition was the jade funeral garment. The Emperors had a suit made of little blocks of jade sewn together with gold thread. Finally into the city which was fascinating, only some parts are in very bad condition. Pity that the windows of the rooms are so dirty that you can hardly see into the rooms (which are often bare). Don't think that the windows have been cleaned since Puyi was there for the last time. We had lovely weather today, hope it stays like that. The Forbidden City closed at 4.30; we had to change our route out several times because gates were already closed
Up early today-5 o'clock- because we have to catch the 7.14 train to Chengde. Breakfast today was bacon 2 eggs and toast. With the bus to Beijing Central station which was already very busy so early in the day. The station was fascinating and so different to what we are used to. The people had everything by them for the journey loaded down with so many packs and parcels. We had soft seats for the 4½ hour journey- not that they were so very soft. Served with tea throughout the journey. Jasmine tea made with loose leaves. The cups were topped up with water throughout the journey. It is said that the second brewing of tea with the leaves is the best cup. The carriage attendant served the tea. Later she came along with picture books of the trip, maps and film rolls for sale, which is very different to the Dutch trains. The net curtains at the windows had seen brighter and whiter days. The scenery was colourless and it's so dry and empty. What I really missed was the colour, very few trees and absolutely no flowers. Chengde is 250 kilometres north of Beijing. Just before 12 in Chengde and with the bus to our hotel- which was all of three minutes from the station. Our local guide in Chengde spoke good English. They don't seem to have a vacuum cleaner in the hotel, as there was a thick layer of dust on the carpet. My bed was supposed to have three sets of feet to lift it a bit off the ground but two pairs of them were broken off. Only the middle pair was good which meant I was gently rocked everytime I moved in bed. Lunch in the hotel at 12.30 not so nice and very cold. I ate peanuts with my chopsticks though so it seems that practise does make perfect! After lunch we had some time free before our next outing so Koos and I went to the local market. The market was huge with everything for sale from fruit and vegetables to clothes and shoesThe snow began to fall heavily and the sky was completely grey. We were going to go to the summer palace but because of the snow that was changed to the silk factory. That was very interesting in the weaving rooms though the girls have no ear protection at all and the noise is terrible, after only a few minutes several of us had headaches. The explanation was that they soon got used to the noise level!
Our morning call was at 7 today and then breakfast was 7.30. It was the Chinese idea of a western breakfast-fried eggs and toast. Then we went sightseeing, to three temples. Everything was covered with a thick layer of snow and that made the temples even more beautiful. The third temple, the little Potala (a copy of the Potala in Lhasa) was closed because of restoration work and was less interesting. Restoration was very necessary for it as the walls were crumbling away. Saw the rambling walls of the summer palace, they are ten kilometres long. Lunch was at 12.30 and after it I had a half-hours nap before our afternoon trip. Lunch in our hotel today was very varied with dishes such as snails in a mushroom sauce, octopus arms with peppers and seaweed. I dined on peanuts and dry rice. My face is a bit sunburnt from the wind and snow. At 2 o'clock we left for the afternoons sightseeing- the summer palace The rooms were not decorated or furnished as in the time of the Emperors but used as museums for exhibitions of pottery etc
Our morning call was at 7 today and breakfast at 7.30. It was once again 2 fried eggs and toast, if we get that every day our arteries will not survive the trip. We were on our way at 8.30 with the bus to Beijing. It was a very interesting ride through the snow-covered hills. Held up for a while because they were still digging the road at one spot. We only stopped once on route- a pitstop so we could go to the toilet. The name was good, as the toilets were what the Americans would call "the pits". Three of us had to go and we came back an experience wiser.... and it was not a pleasant experience. The toilet was "the Hall of the Supreme Hygiene" according to Tom. It is best to avoid a public toilet in China or carry a clothes peg and have a very strong stomach. Certainly never go after a meal or you will lose that meal. We then changed to another bus and went to the airport for our flight to Xi'an. The flight to Xi'an was 30 minutes late leaving Beijing. We got sandwiches, sweets and tea on the flight. China Air is not really so bad was it was paintedThe local guide told us a bit about the city and what came across very clearly was the Han Chinese dislike of "those Muslims". The Muslims make up a minority of the population in Xi'an, but they have private houses, pay less tax and are allowed to have more children.
Awake at 7.30 and breakfast at 8 o'clock. We were early this morning and that was good because later we heard later that the late comers got very little breakfast. We left for our days sightseeing at 9 o'clock first we went to Banpo, which was very interesting. It is a Neolithic settlement 10 kilometres east of Xi'an. The excavated village shows the outlines of the houses and there are also the urns that the children were buried in. There are a few skeletons as well, one is buried curled up and that was how slaves were buried. Then we went on to lunch in a restaurant of the way to the terracotta army. The restaurant was very cold and draughty and lunch I am told was bad. I sat in the bus during lunch hour as once again the Chinese roads had caused nausea. Still during lunch I managed to take some photos of the local children with the split in their trousers. Chinese children do not wear nappies but have trousers with a large split in them. If they want to go to the toilet the parents only have to hold their legs apart and they can do the needed wherever they are perhaps its handy but with the cold weather there not so warm I think. After the lunch stop we went to the terracotta army which was fantastic. I can hardly believe that I saw it with my own eyes. I remember going to an exhibition about it in Brussels years ago, never thought then that we would see it all in China. The guide had said that hall three was not worth visiting but we decided to test that for ourselves and I am glad we did because it was super. Hall one contains the bronze chariots they discovered Hall two is the largest and is the whole of the army which has been uncovered until now and hall three is small and is with terracotta chariots and a few soldiers. We bought post cards, as you cannot take photos of the army. We then went into the market outside the exhibition gates. Paul Theroux visited it and hated it but it was fun to see.
30 March- We went to the Provincial museum in the morning to see the stone tablets. Only a Chinese description so it was disappointing for us. After a very good lunch we went to the Great Wild Goose Pagoda. Then we went to the southern city gate and then walked back to the hotel. On the way there I was among loads of Chinese by the bus stop and filmed them getting in the bus or rather being pushed in. Before dinner Koos and I went for a little walk and a look around the department stores. We were in one when I heard a sound and looked around to see a little boy with his legs apart peeing on the floor of the shop. Koos and I were the only ones to pay any attention to it for everyone else it was normal.
We went to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda where we walked through the gardens for a while. At 3.15 we went to the military airport for our flight to Beijing. It was a good flight1 all tourists and we arrived at 7 p.m. The departure lounge was very cold in Xi'an and several of the group caught a cold there. I am told the toilet was up to the usual Chinese standard but I did not try it out this time. Getting a very good control over my bladder here, mind you I would hate to think of having cystitis here.
Had a lovely breakfast today making the most of a good meal because you never know what the next one will be like. Then we went to the Ming Tombs; it's a Chinese Valley of the Kings with 13 of the 16 Ming Emperors buried there. We went along the Holy road first with the statues of 24 animals and 12 human figures of military dignitaries and officials. Then we went to the Changling Tomb which is open to the public actually its more like a funfair than a tomb. The tomb is 27 metres under the ground but all the original grave contains have been removed and it was very busy and very stuffy. Then it was lunchtime; today that included a cock with head still on. Usually I like chicken but I don't like it looking at me while I am eating it. Fresh fruit with our meal today though so it was a feast. Then we went to the Great Wall at Badaling. That was really fantastic but, for me, we didn't have enough time there. I would have liked to have walked further along the wall because it was then that you really got away from the masses of people. The Trans-Siberian Railway runs parallel to the road for a while.
We then walked along the Nanjing Donglu. It was very very busy. We saw the local hairdresser and doctor and bicycle repairer at work on the street. The hairdresser could only cut one style though- my grannies old hairstyle with a bowl on your head. We looked in a couple of shops but truth to tell we were a bit fed up with all the dirt, pushing and spitting that we soon called it a day. We had a cup of soup in the hotel for lunch- their soup is good. At 2 o'clock we were picked up to go to the airport It was so busy in the departure lounge; it looked like all China was flying somewhere this afternoon. There was hardly any place to stand; sitting down was completely impossible. Going through the gate resembled a rugby scrum. The flight to Guilin was on time. We had a nice hotel in the centre of the city.
We went by bus to the Bamboo landing stage for the boat for our 4-hour trip down the Li River. It was a really lovely trip and for the first time we saw beautiful scenery in China, the steep points of hundreds of hills along the river. Tea with refreshments and then lunch was included in the price of the trip. Lunch was not bad when you think that everything was cooked on board. Perhaps it is better not to think about how they cleaned the pots and pans and plates or how they washed the vegetables- the river water not being crystal clear. Spent some time on the lake edge watching the people there. Moved from our first spot because of the overpowering smell of urine. We passed the local restaurant on our way back to the hotel- complete with the choice of dishes set out for inspection in large basins on the road various snakes and fishes. Glad that we had decided on a club sandwich.
7 April- The guide picked us up at 2 o'clock and we first went to the reed flute cave. That is really beautiful and so big. Don't think I have ever been in such a big hall in a cave. The guide had a very vivid imagination as she saw something in absolutely every rock formation. From there we went to the windy cave with the Buddha's in the walls. Koos climbed to the top for the view but it was far too steep for me. Then we went to the "Little Forbidden City" which was really a complete waste of time. It used to be a palace but now it is used as a university and there is a tourist shop there. Then we went to the restaurant for dinner, it was not very clean and the tablecloth was filthy with stains from the last few Chinese meals. Actually now I cannot see any more Chinese food. We will not be eating at our local Chinese place for some months I think. We checked in for our flight to Guangzhou. Koos and I sat on a bench to wait but very quickly moved to another as the one we chose first was down wind from the public toilets. So glad I didn't have to go. My bladder can now hold several litres if necessary. The flight to Guangzhou was 40 minutes late and then we had to wait a while for our guide
Then we decided to look around the area just across from the island. Took the street map with us, which was good. Walked through an old part of Guangzhou very dirty and dilapidated. Saw a man pick up a dead rat from the street and take it with him. Looked at the edibles on display in several restaurants... snakes, fish, and turtle. They were all alive and waiting to be the chosen one. Cantonese have the reputation of using everything that walks or crawls or swims in its meals. It is said the only thing with four legs that is safe from the stew pot is the table. Another dinner in the coffee shop. I had to move places though before I could enjoy my meal as the Chinese opposite me was enjoying his two meals. taking a bite from his meal and then picking his nose. The sight of that does take away your appetite I find.
Our guide picked us up at 9 o'clock and took us to the station for our train journey into Hong Kong. We went through customs there. We had booked soft seats for the 2½-hour journey. It was nice to be going by train again for a change. Passed by some lovely scenery and the time went by very quickly. Arrived on time in Hong Kong and then it was push and shove through customs and passport control. I will never ever complain about the Dutch pushing to get on the bus or metro- they could really learn something from the Chinese. We headed first for the McDonalds for lunch and then walked along the Canton road looking at the shops. It's a shopper's paradise there and we treated ourselves to a shopping spree. We spent more this afternoon then we had the rest of the holiday. He bought a talking clock, a cock crows and the time is said out loud. Think it will be a shock to wake up to that. About 8 o'clock we caught the bus to the airport which is right in the middle of the city. Had a drink and waited there. Our flight was only a few minutes late leaving and we took the route over Iraq tonight
"China and the Three Gorges 1997"
When we read about the Chinese building a dam over the Yantze river and flooding the three gorges we decided that it was time to go back to China and see them before it was too late. We had first been in China in 1991. It was an organised trip and started in Shanghai.
Crossing the roads in Shanghai is an experience as well. You need eyes in the back of your head really. We had the train to Hangzhou. The train left at 9.48 exactly on time and we were in the soft seats, bought our cup of tea, which cost 3 yuan (75 cent) and was continually filled up during the journey. You do have to get used to the taste but I like it and with the warm weather you do need to drink a lot. The journey lasted 3 hours but the time passed quickly with the travel shop, girls selling scarves, stamps, ties, coins, lunch boxes etc. The countryside, which flashed by, was green and fruitful and you could really see so much progress from six years ago. Arrived in Hangzhou just after 12 .00 and met our local guide here, Song, and started on our sightseeing straightaway. Through Hangzhou to the temple stopping first at the restaurant at its gates for lunch. The smell from the toilets was all too well remembered but the lunch itself was lovely especially the caramelised pineapple. After lunch we visited the temple which was large and very interesting, there is also a hill there known as the flying mountain which has lots of Buddha's carved into it.
"The moon festival"
Today it is the Moon festival, celebrated once a year with a full moon. Already we have tried the special moon cakes and today we are invited as foreign guests to attend the special celebrations to see the tidal wave, which happens during the moon festival. Up at 6.30 and a good breakfast before leaving for the 50-kilometre bus ride to the festival. We had on arrival the chance to go to the toilet but I passed it up. They were the usual public toilets and awful if you believed the stories from the people who did use them. Then we walked to the arena for the festival. We had seats on the third row. The television crews were there and taking many pictures and films of us!! There were the usual long speeches from one after the other dignitary and then folklore dances and songs. Then we had to go to the shore side for the tidal wave viewing. We had our lunch boxes with us but they were filled with Chinese food, which was very hard to describe, you could not be sure just what you were eating. I just had the dry white roll and the pear and three biscuits but Koos did eat the 1000-year-old eggs and something, which was soft and brown and smelt sweet.... Just what it was we still don't know. We saw the tidal wave which was 1.70 metres high and then left for the drive back to Hangzhou where we visited the 6 harmony pagoda. We didn't climb the 7 storey high pagoda but bought our postcards and some tea. Then it was back to the hotel where I had shower and a nap. We left the hotel at 6 o'clock for dinner, which we had in a restaurant in the botanical gardens. By the time we got back to the hotel I had a migraine so Koos gave me an injection and I slept. Koos saw us on the Chinese television; they had interviewed one of the groups while we were at the festival this morning. There were so many television crews and photographers at the festival and we were certainly the centre of attention there because we were the only foreigners there. Usually on holiday we are the one behind the cameras but today we were the subject of many photos.
Up at 6.15 and breakfast at 6.45 then we left the hotel at 7.30 for the station for our 8.42 train to Suzhou. It is nerve racking to go through the traffic in the cities. The train was a double-decker train and dressed up with curtains and lace and flags and it left exactly on time. First it was back to Shanghai where we had a 20-minute wait and then it was a 1 hour 20 minute journey to Suzhou, we arrived just after 12.00. The bus was waiting for us, went to the hotel and checked in. Lunch at 13.00 and it was good but very spicy. Then without any time to waste it was off on our first sightseeing trip. We went to see the Garden of the Humble Government Worker, which is really lovely and so peaceful. In the garden is a huge collection of Bonsai trees. All Chinese gardens include four elements - water, rocks, buildings and plants. This is supposed to reflect everything that is in the creation. The buildings often have windows opening to give a view of the water so that the family could sit and watch the moon, which is also of course reflected in the water. Often one wall also has a mirror on it so that the moon can be seen three times. Then we went on to the silk weaving factory, which was very interesting. It of course ended with a visit to the factory shop.
We went to the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute. There the technique was explained and we visited the workshops. The ladies use silk thread to embroider on silk material. One silk thread is sometimes divided into 100 fibres to work with (usually for the fish tails). They also have a special technique using two needles and different coloured threads to make a different design on both sides of the material. The ladies get 10 minutes rest every hour and daily eye massages and they would honestly need it. Lovely embroidery work and because I embroider myself I enjoyed seeing these artists (and they really are artists and not workers) sewing. Then it was on to lunch in the NanLin hotel - tasty as always on this trip.
After lunch it was on to the pearl fishers on the Great Roosters Lake. First by boat to the centre of the lake where we changed over to little boats for 4 people to go to the oyster beds where the 'farmer' fished out a net of oysters. We then went back to the centre where we each got an oyster and the pearls (sweet water pearls) in it. Mine included 2 good round pearls and lots of others ranging from pale pink to pale purple.
Time seems to be passing very quickly, almost a week gone now. Up at 6.45 and breakfast just after 7.00. We were the first of the group into breakfast as usual and got a seat but the restaurant was very quickly full and the latecomers had to stand in the queue. After breakfast it was off sightseeing again. First to the Tiger Hill, this is a tomb of an earlier ruler and to keep the tomb safe from robbers the family said they had seen a tiger on the hill over the tomb so that the locals would be too frightened to go to the tomb. Above the tomb there is a pagoda, which leans 2.70 metres to the Northeast so it is known as the Pisa pagoda. It was lovely because there were dances and folklore groups there because of the moon festival, which lasts a month. After that we went to the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute. There the technique was explained and we visited the workshops. The ladies use silk thread to embroider on silk material. One silk thread is sometimes divided into 100 fibres to work with (usually for the fish tails). They also have a special technique using two needles and different coloured threads to make a different design on both sides of the material. The ladies get 10 minutes rest every hour and daily eye massages and they would honestly need it. Lovely embroidery work and because I embroider myself I enjoyed seeing these artists (and they really are artists and not workers) sewing. Then it was on to lunch in the NanLin hotel - tasty as always on this trip. After lunch it was on to the pearl fishers on the Great Roosters Lake. First by boat to the centre of the lake where we changed over to little boats for 4 people to go to the oyster beds where the 'farmer' fished out a net of oysters. We then went back to the centre where we each got an oyster and the pearls (sweet water pearls) in it. Mine included 2 good round pearls and lots of others ranging from pale pink to pale purple. Then it was back to solid ground and a visit to the smallest garden in Suzhou - The Garden of the Master Netmaker.
Then it was by bus to the landing place for the boat trip along the canal to Zhouzhuang, which is known as the Venice of the east because of its many canals. The streets are so narrow that you can, in some places, shake hands with your neighbours across the street. There we went to the best local restaurant for lunch but it was not very nice, more like the standard meal of 6 years ago. The toilets were certainly the standard of 6 years ago!! Then we had 45 minutes to wander through the narrow streets and to look in the shops.Then it was back to the bus for the trip back to Shanghai where we had an early dinner before going to the airport for our flight to Wuhan. On the way back to Shanghai Rong told us all about her childhood in the Cultural Revolution as daughter of two intellectuals. Her parents were both teachers and loved books. Rong was sent to the countryside to be re-educated and had to stay there longer than the other children because of her parents. In total she had to stay 11 years in the countryside. The flight was an hour and a half.We were in Wuhan by 10.15 and went by bus to the Holiday Inn for the night.
We were in Wuhan by 10.15 p.m. and went by bus to the Holiday Inn for the night.It was a late night but after putting an extra blanket on the bed (the room was so cold) I slept well.Lovely breakfast and then at 9 o'clock away for the days sightseeing. First of all to the Hubei museum to see the things that were excavated from the tomb of one marquis. Saw the musical instrument made of 69 bells, which we had seen on television about 18 months ago. Then we visited the oldest carpet factory in Wuhan and wandered through the streets close by it. It was a really poor area there. One old man with a really ' beautifully' wrinkled face was as pleased as punch to be photographed. Then it was time for lunch in a restaurant in the former French concession. After lunch it was a four hour bus ride to Shashi/Jiangling (was once called Jingzhou). We stopped in Jiangling to view the old city wall and for dinner. Then it was on to the quay for the ship, the China Sunshine for the cruise.
"The Three Gorges"
Today we got our first glimpse of the mighty Yangzi river or as it is known in China Chnagjiang - the long river. It is wide and very dark brown with mud. When I turned on the tap for a shower the water was just one shade lighter than then river!! Reminded me of our showers when we visited the Amazon. You have the idea that you are just as dirty after your shower as you were before. The cabin is good and big but we will have to leave the air conditioning on in the toilet because there is a definite 'Chinese toilet' air to it. After a long bus trip and a long wait for the cabin keys it was good to freshen up though. Bed a little earlier than yesterday especially as we were very late yesterday.Wake up call at 5.30 today because we pass the locks at 6.00 this morning. It was a gentle wake up call with soft romantic Chinese music. It was quite cool on deck and there was a lovely soft light. The lock was very high and there were about five ships in together. This cruise will take us 815 kilometres up the Yangzi. After we were through the lock it was time for breakfast, that was Chinese and a 'sort of Western' breakfast.... Very dry toast and jam, Actually the Chinese rice pudding was tasty if you added sugar or jam. Only if you added sugar you had to be patient because it took ages for the sugar lump to dissolve. Then it was onto the deck to watch the landscape go by. Then at 9.15 we passed the point where the new dam is being built. When it is finished and fully operational in 2008 the height of the Yangzi will have been raised 175 metres and 1.3 million people will have been rehoused. At 9.30 (just as we were passing the first gorge - Xiling Gorge) we had to go to the briefing by the boat guide. This gorge is the longest of the three gorges, and is 78 km long.
Lunch was at 12.00 and all the dishes were on the table when we went into lunch with the result that everything was lukewarm!! We all complained, not about the cool meal but about the fact that we had been given forks and not chopsticks!!! Lunch actually was not very nice. At 13.30 we got onto a smaller boat which took us to the shore were we got on to small boats for 12 people which were navigated by 1 of the minority Chinese people of the area. They took us up the Shennong River. They navigated the boat with bamboo poles and part of the way two or three men pulled the boat with long bamboo ropes upstream. The journey upstream took about two hours and we then stopped at what turned out to by a tourist market quickly set up on our arrival by the wives of the boatmen. After a half-hour rest for the men we returned downstream to the cruise ship. By that time it was after 4.00 and we were going to go under the shower when it was announced that we were just entering the second gorge (Wuxia or Witches gorge). So instead of a refreshing shower it was quickly up on deck (5 decks up and no lifts!) and we got a good seat for the 40 kilometre long gorge surrounded by 12 mountains and seeped in legends. It was very busy with cruise ships all going in the opposite direction.
At 6.30 it was the captains welcome on board party where he said exactly the same as the guide had said this morning. Then at 7.00 it was time for dinner a very spicy mixture of different dishes from the Sichuan kitchen.
Up at 6.00 and breakfast at 6.30 because the trip through the three lesser gorges on the Daning River departed t 7.00. We had to ask for our warm rice pudding/ cereal this morning but when it came it was nice and warm so of course the sugar dissolved quicker. We had to take our life jackets with us on the sampans. The trip lasted 5 hours through the gorges going through rapids and very shallow water. At one point we had to walk through a market street for ten minutes while the sampans went through very rapid and very shallow water. The last gorge is actually the most beautiful and spectacular of the three. The town where we anchored for the night will actually be flooded when the dam is finished and already they are building the new town behind it. Lunch at 13.30 and then we sailed through the last of the three gorges (Qutang Xia), which is breathtakingly beautiful. The welcome cup of coffee in the cabin before lunch and I got my diary up to date, you really have to do it each day otherwise you so quickly forget things or muddle up the days so much happens and there is so much to see. After lunch, which was not very nice, it was up on deck to watch the scenery as we passed through the third and last gorge. It was misty and that gave the mountains their beautiful shades of grey. Anchored in Fengjie where we transferred to the local ferry to go to the hill to visit the White Emperor City. There is, behind the mountain, a cable car going up the mountain but we went the traditional way.... Climbing the 898 steps, which as made in the mountainside. It took us 30 minutes to reach the top where there was a temple. The worst though was still to come... going down 898, in places windy, steps I felt unsure of my feet in places and it took us longer to come down really.
With the ferry back to the ship. While we were waiting for the rest of the party to get back to the ferry we had a nice chat with Lieve our guide from Holland. Back just in time for dinner and it was a good dinner. We had certainly worked up an appetite with the climb. We started sailing during dinner, and it was pitch dark by the time we were finished dinner. Oh forgot to mention that we had our chopsticks ready for us with each meal today. After dinner it was time for a very welcome shower and a cup of coffee.
Already more than half the holiday has passed by. and the cruise is almost over as well. Gently woken at 7.30 with the soft sounds of the 'Butterfly Lovers' followed by the Chinese girl telling us that it was Wednesday, cloudy, between 17 and 27 degrees and breakfast was at 8.00 and to get up now. There is something very civilised though about being woken to the very gentle slowly increasing sounds of classical music, I could get used to it. Its far better for the mood of the day than a rough buzz of the alarm clock shocking you awake to the work of the day. So it was a lazy morning with nothing to do but watch the river pass by. Early lunch today at 11.45. For me it was peanuts and rice as I just cannot face the pieces of chicken with all the big bones and even worse tiny little splinters of bone, also the fish is always full of bones and lays on the plate looking at you!! At 12.30 it was time for our last shore excursion, which was a visit to Shibao town and the Emperor Hall there. First of all though we had to work our way through the line of quite aggressive sedan chair carriers who pulled on you and who we saw pushing and pulling some people into chairs. Then it was through the local shopping street to the wooden complex. It was built in 1662 and it 12 storeys high and built against the high rock face. The Emperor Hall on the top of the rock was built in the Ming dynasty (about 400 years ago) and it is very elaborate and colourful. Then it was back down the steep 12 floors and into the street again. Wandered back to the ship taking pictures of the local shops and people. We sailed away at 14.30 heading towards our destination Chongqing.
Arrived in Chongqing at 100.00 in the very old downtown area and had to climb up 100-120 steps through a very narrow dirty and very smelly street to get to the bus. Then it was two and half-hours by bus to Dazu our next stop. The first hour was on the highway but the last part was on as our guide said 'the back road' which was partly dirt track or mud track and very bumpy in places. Think we had a mad driver as well because he raced along the road. Lunch in the cheaper hotel in Dazu and then onto our hotel to check in before going to the stone carvings from the scenes of the life of Buddha. It is called the 'Buddha Bible' as it tells how to live your life in the Buddha religion. The carvings date from the Tang and Ming dynasty and were built over a period of 70 years. There are no repeated carvings in the story of Buddha in the area. The guide started giving a very long and detailed and often repeated description of each and every carving but was told by the Dutch guide and then the Chinese National guide (Rong) to make it shorter. She was not very pleased about that, think she was trying to convert us to Buddhism. Then some of the people bought guidebooks there and not in the hotel, as she wanted us to do, which didn't please her either.
Then it was away by 8.30 to the North Hill Stone Carvings. That was 2 kilometres from Dazu, it is older than the carvings we saw yesterday and was built by several generations of stonecarvers is there are many repeats of the same Buddha not like yesterday where it was built in 70 years and there are no repeated scenes. These Buddha's are from the Song and Tang dynasty. The guide had a very strong accent, which was sometimes difficult to follow. This morning I spent a while wondering what doughnuts had to do with the Buddha carvings until I realised that she was talking about donors and that their names where on the walls around the carvings. Yesterday she was talking about, what I thought, was the manufacturing of drugs in Chongqing when she was saying that many trucks are made in Chongqing. Then by 10 o'clock we were off back to Chongqing for the afternoon and night. Arrived in Chongqing by lunchtime. We are staying in the Holiday Inn tonight. We were re-united with our suitcases, which had not go with us to Dazu. Lunch was a very crowded affair with 12 people on the table instead of the usual 8. So it was more difficult using chopsticks because we were so close together.
Away for a days sightseeing in Chongqing. We went to the lookout hill (Loquat Hill) but because smog/mist there was not much of a view. This traffic in Chongqing is really terrible. After lunch we went to the zoo to see the Giant Pandas there. The zoo has 4 Giant Pandas and we were there for their feeding time. Before the visit to the Pandas we visited the painting institute and of course combined shop. The Pandas certainly have more room than in the zoo in Shanghai. Then it was once again through the awful traffic to visit the house where Mao had a meeting with Chiang Kaishek for 45 days to try to work out a peace pact to work together. The pact only lasted 6 months. That left just time to visit the little folk museum were marriage rituals from years ago are shown plus some little 3 inch silk shoes from the bound feet. Only that museum had been moved a week ago and the local guide didn't know about that! So we had an earlier dinner before going to the airport for our flight to Xi'an. That left at 19.45 and lasted an hour and 15 minutes. The plane was an old Russian plane and I was sitting next to two oxygen tanks, which is not a very pleasant feeling. After arriving in Xi'an we had a bus ride of nearly an hour and a half to our hotel. The city walls were beautifully illuminated. Lovely hotel, which is a joint, Japanese/ Chinese venture. Slept well although it was very late before we get into our room and our luggage didn't arrive until the next morning.
Well after a late night we still had to be up early today. Wake up call at 7.00 and breakfast at 7.30. Lovely breakfast but I stuck to toast and yoghurt. Away for our full day sightseeing in Xi'an. First of all we went to the city wall and walked a little of it. The walls are complete and are 14 kilometres long. After that we visited the Neolithic village, Banpu. We had been there during our last visit but it is so interesting that seeing it again was no problem. Then it was to the factory to see the terracotta soldier miniatures being made. Then it was time for lunch. I had taken some toast from breakfast with me for my lunch. Didn't want to risk another tummy problem today. After lunch it was time to go to the terracotta Army. They were discovered by accident by a farmer digging for a well in April 1974. The farmer is now 59 years old .The Terracotta Army lies 35 km south of Xi'an and was built to guard and protect the first Emperor of China - Qin Shi Huangdi. After he found the army his land was taken off him and he got a plastic medal and a certificate about his find. This year though he was finally ‘rewarded’.... He now has a job signing books in the museum shop. Had my photo taken with him and he signed my book. He sat there smiling and shaking everyone’s hand. His signature is lovely and he also gives an official red stamp in the book. Koos got his CD-ROM and video CD about the army as well. Then it was on to the Huaqing Palace on the way back to the hotel.
Up at 5.30 and breakfast at 6.00 and away by 6.40. Our flight to Beijing was at 9.15 and the plane was certainly in better condition that the last one. In Beijing by 10.15 but had to wait ages for our luggage. Onto the bus to hear that because of a very tight schedule in the city we were going sightseeing straight away and going to the hotel in the late afternoon. It more than hours' drive to the city though, so we had lunch before going to the Temple of Heaven. It was very busy by the Temple and it could do with a fresh coat of paint now. Then we went to the Llama Temple (Yonghegong temple) which was also very busy. That temple is lovely though, it was founded in 1742 and was originally a private home of a prince. It was turned into a temple in 1723 when its owner was promoted to Emperor because according to Chinese custom the former home of a Son of Heaven has to be dedicated to religious purposes. When the Dali Llama visited Beijing and the Emperor invited him to stay in the temple. The Emperor then painted the roof yellow in honour of his visitor, at that time only the Emperor could use the colour yellow. Then after getting out of the parking lot, which took some very fancy steering, we went to the hotel. The hotel is actually only 5 minutes walk from the temple but at 5 0'clock it takes about 45 minutes by bus. Checked in and had a very welcome shower and cup of coffee before dinner.
Wake up call at 7.00 today. Breakfast at 7.30 and away at 8.30. First to Tiananmen square which was decorated for National Day 1 Oct. we had 20 minutes free there to wander around before walking to the entrance of the Forbidden city. There the guide gave us some explanation and then in several areas gave us some free time to wander around before moving onto the next area. Two of the group got lost right at the beginning which did not please Lieve (our VNC leader) we saw them two hours later by the bus but they had missed a good bit of the city. Then we went onto Beihei Park for lunch, which was not very good, and the service was very much on the level of what we had had 6 years ago. After lunch we went onto the Summer Palace unfortunately by that time it was very hazy so the views were not very good. Saw the Marble Boat. Then we went to the large art and craft department store where I got a lovely blouse and Koos got a new jacket. Then it was time for dinner but before that it was a long journey through the very heavy Beijing traffic. After dinner we went to the Beijing opera which was marvellous. Then it was once again into the bus and back through the awful traffic to the hotel.
"The Great Wall"
We were away at 8.00 as we had a long drive to the Wall. We went to the wall at Mutianyu, which is less busy than at Badaling (where we went on our last visit), you have to go by cable car from the parking area and local market. Mind you we were there on the first of October, which is the Chinese National Day and public holiday so the crowds were awful. One side of the Wall at Mutianyu was closed because of about 50 brides parties having their photo taken and that of course increased the crowds on the other side. The autumn colours were lovely although it was a bit misty. After returning by cable car to the markets we wandered through the stalls and got some T shirts with the text "I climbed the Great Wall" on them. Then it was a trip through the mountains to the Ming Tombs. Had lunch on the way but it was not very good. 13 of the 16 Ming Emperors are buried in one area, although only 1 tomb (Dingling) has been excavated. and one more (Changling) is open to the public although the burial mound has not been opened. Then it was back to Beijing, which was a long journey, on the way we stopped at a cloisonné factory, which was very interesting. It is the art of making jewellery and decorations such as vases and other things using copper thread and enamel powder, which is fired and then polished to give it its shine. On the way back to the city we heard that there had been a bad accident at Badaling with buses and that one tourist had been killed.
We stopped at Tiennamen Square for our last dinner "Beijing Duck" lovely restaurant and a lovely tasty dinner. It is said that the best part of the Beijing duck is the skin, in fact only the skin is used in the little pancakes with the Soya sauce and onions, but I don't like the spices or herbs used in preparing it. So I ate some of the meat in my pancake! After dinner we had to fight our way through the crowds on the streets and in Tienanamen Square to get to the bus which was missing!! Everyone was out on the streets celebrating National Day of course. Luckily our guide and the lost bus driver both had portable phones (unheard of 6 years ago) and so we were able to locate our missing bus and then it was through the awful traffic back to the hotel to do our final packing and then to bed. We slept a little later and had no wake up call, away by 10 o'clock to the airport, an hour’s drive where we checked in for our flight to Zurich. Nine-hour flight to Zurich where we had a quick plane change for our flight to Amsterdam. Arrived in Amsterdam just after 9.30 in the evening. Said goodbye to the group and got the bus to the long-term parking where the car was reluctant to start!! Fortunately after a few minutes it forgave us for leaving him there for nearly three weeks and took us home where we were glad to fall into bed.
Don't leave your bike at this "guarded" bike parking!!