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Archive for August, 2012

Once again, the sound of the wakeup alarm shattered the air, and jolted us from sleep.  We had another early start and a lot to pack into this day, so we were up, washed and dressed and down at the breakfast table in good time.

After fortifying ourselves with a substantial breakfast followed by cups of good hot coffee we once again took our cases down to reception and checked out of our room, before boarding the bus again, where a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Robert greeted us cheerfully and explained the day’s itinerary to us.

Our first stop today was to a factory and large warehouse where they make replica Terracotta Warriors, using the same type of clay and firing method as they believe the ancient originals were made.  The guy showed us models of the different warriors and explained how the soldiers were ranked.  There were all sizes of replicas available, from about 6″ high to life-size 6 feet high ones.  As in the originals, the head and hands are made separately and then added afterwards, and are, in fact, detachable.

As well as the soldiers there were also horses and chariots.  The warehouse was huge and we took some time looking around, where obviously all the models were for sale.  I could just imagine buying a life-size Terracotta Warrior and putting him in our back garden!  I didn’t dare ask the price, and heaven only knows how much the shipping costs would be.  You could also stand behind a headless warrior and have your picture taken, making it appear that your head was on the body of the warrior.  The Chinese version of the cardboard cutouts you see along the front at any British seaside resort.   🙂

There were lots of things for sale in the warehouse, including jewellery, silk bags and souvenirs, wall hangings and Chinese silk screens, and other furniture.  I also came across what I’d been looking for – some good quality loose pearls, on a temporary strand.  I picked out two strands of rondelle shaped white pearls, as well as two strands of rice shaped peacock pearls; the quality was lovely and the size of the pearls was nice and uniform.  The guy gave us a 30% discount so I ended up getting them for about £150.00.  They wanted to make up some necklaces for me out of the pearls, but I said I’d take them loose as I liked to hand-knot pearls onto silk myself.  In fact, when I looked at their necklaces, they had just strung all the pearls onto the silk, one after the other, but I actually put a knot in between each pearl; not only does it look better, but it prevents all the pearls falling off if the cord breaks.

Pleased with my purchase, we got back onto the bus to go to the mausoleum that houses the real Terracotta Warriors, about 8,000 life-size figures about 2,300 years old, and one of the wonders of the modern world.

The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.  It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife, and to make sure that he had people to rule over.

The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals.   The figures include warriors, chariots and horses.  Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits near by Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.  Other terracotta non-military figures were also found in other pits and they include officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.

The figures were discovered by chance in March 1974 by workmen digging a well to the east of Xi’an in Shaanxi province.  There had been reports of pottery finds for centuries in this area, as it was only about a mile from the Qin Emperor’s tomb, but this most recent discovery prompted Chinese archaeologists to investigate, and they unearthed the largest pottery figurine group ever found in China.

One of the curiosities is that each of the warriors has a slightly difference look to his face; it is believed about eight facial moulds were used and the individual features added afterwards.  As I mentioned above, the hands and heads were fired separately and then added afterwards, so quite a few of the figures were still missing their hands or heads, as more of the pottery is still awaiting excavation.

When we arrived at the mausoleum we were told we had two hours to look around, then meet at the Tea House at the end of the park.  We entered the first vast building, which encloses Pit 1, and looked in awe at relics over 2,000 years old.  They were lined up in the pit in armies and in rank order.  In some parts of the pit you could see where excavation was still taking place, and there were many bits of broken pottery, partly re-assembled and party cleaned, still undergoing restoration.  As with most places we had seen in China so far, the place was crowded with sightseers, not least because it is the summer holidays and the children are off school.

In the next pit, we came across lots of horses and chariots as well as the soldiers.  You could tell from the shape of the soldiers’ hands that, originally, they may have held weapons such as spears, lances and bows.  The detail was amazing.

The final pit didn’t have as much in it; it was discovered two years after Pits 1 and 3 and only had about 68 figures in it and was still undergoing quite a lot of restoration.

When we’d seen as much as we wanted, we went outside to find some toilets and sit on the grassy bank for a rest.  As ever, it was a case of hoping the toilets would be “sitty-down” ones rather than “squatty-down”, but the main concern was that they were clean.  Most of the toilets we’d seen so far were less than salubrious, partly due to the fact that the used paper (and sanitary products) were just put into waste bins adjacent to the WC’s rather than flushed away.  Invariably the bins were full to overflowing and, in the heat and humidity of the day, the stench was all pervading.   😦

After the loo visit (and thorough hand-washing and use of hygiene gel) we bought an ice lolly each and sat on the grass to consume them.  We then made our leisurely way to the China Tea House at the end of the park, where we were reunited with Robert and the rest of our party.  In here, the fragrance from all the many different herbal and fruit teas was very pleasant, and we took some time choosing what tea to have from the extensive menu.  I settled on the Jasmine and I love the smell so much, as it is also good for the digestive system.  Looking at the different health properties from all the types of teas, I could be tempted to buy them and give them a try, especially those with anti-ageing properties.    🙂

After tea, Robert gathered up his flock and, leading the way with his Union Flag, led us back to the waiting bus.  We had a short ride before arriving at a restaurant for our lunch, which was the inevitable Chinese buffet selection.   However, there was one thing new today that we hadn’t yet tried: sticky toffee potatoes!  Yes, that’s right; apparently the potatoes are cooked in their skins, then a hot toffee sauce is poured over them.  You have to choose between the fine line of eating them while the sauce is still runny and soft, in which case they are unbearably hot, or letting them cool a bit and risking the toffee hardening so that you almost need a hammer and chisel to break it.  🙂  It sounded an unlikely combination, but believe me, it was delicious.  I might try making it at home!   🙂

After lunch it was back on the bus for the ride, once again, to the airport for our 2-hour flight to Beijing.  We rode through the bustling streets and pulled up at the airport terminal, with our luggage following in the van behind.  After checking in as a group, we received our boarding passes and went into the departure lounge to await our flight.  At this point I was very tempted to start up a sweep, to see if anyone could guess how many minutes (hours!) the plane would be late.  🙂

Joking aside, the flight was late once again.  Despite our frustration and tiredness (all the early mornings and lack of naps were catching up with us) all we could do was wait.  It wouldn’t be so bad if the airline or airport kept us informed, but it was just a case of sitting it out and holding on to our thinning patience until, eventually, we were called to board, about an hour and a half late.

We got on the A320 aircraft, watched the safety briefing which we almost knew by heart, then taxied to the runway and finally took off.  The overhead TV screens showed “Shaun the Sheep” (again!) and a gossip programme about the top 10 celebrity divorce settlements (again!).  Dinner was…. do you really want to know what dinner was?  Pork and rice or chicken and noodles.  Or it might have been chicken and rice or pork and noodles, along with watermelon chunks.  I think we ate the bread and the watermelon and that was about it.

I spent the two-hour flight playing Plants v Zombies on my Nintendo DS, reading my magazines and trying to nap.

Eventually the sign came on to fasten our seatbelts for the final approach and landing, as we touched down on the runway in Beijing.  Then it was the usual palaver of collecting our cases and waiting around until everyone was assembled and ready to get on the bus for the ride to the hotel.

Eventually we were on our way, and after about 40 minutes we pulled up outside the Dong Fang hotel, which was situated out of the main city in a slightly run-down area.  One thing we noticed (so did many of the Brits!) but that there was a mini-market and off-licence directly opposite the hotel!   🙂

As I’ve mentioned before, booze seems quite thin on the ground in China, so a lot of our party were off the bus and straight into the “offy”, even before we’d gone into the hotel!  I bought a bottle of white wine and Trevor got a couple of cans of beer.

Once we were in our room, about 10.00pm, we cracked open the drinks and enjoyed the air-conditioned comfort of our room while watching the London 2012 Olympics on the TV.  We laughed because four years ago we were in Britain watching the Olympics in Beijing; tonight we were in Beijing watching the Olympics in Britain.   🙂

Finally we crawled into bed and, looking forward to whatever tomorrow would bring, we slept soundly.

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Our early-morning wakeup call was even earlier today than yesterday: 06:30 hours, and we had to be ready to leave by 08:00am.  Fancy coming away on holiday just to be up earlier than you are when you have to go to work!

We had our breakfast, a mixture of Chinese and Western style buffet food, then finished packing as we were leaving Shanghai today to fly to Xi’an, China’s ancient imperial capital city, and home of the Terracotta Army.

We left the hotel and followed Robert-the-Rep across the road to where our waiting coach was ready to take us to the train station.  Robert carried the British Union flag on an extendable pole so that wherever we were we could see him.  We were going to experience a ride on the Shanghai Maglev Train (SMT), a magnetic levitation train (where the train hovers above the tracks instead of touching them) and the fastest train in the world.

We arrived at the station and had only a few minutes to wait until the train arrived.  Once seated inside, it set off and its rapidly-accelerating speed was shown on an LED display above the door.  Faster and faster it went until you felt as though you were on the edge of your seat.  The countryside sped by as the digital readout crept towards 431kph, or 268 miles per hour.  The time when we really knew we were going that fast was when another high speed train passed us in a blur lasting a fraction of a second!  Wow!   🙂

The ride to the airport only took 10 minutes, then we got off the train and, with a sense of déjà vu, queued with the rest of our group at the China Eastern Airlines desk for the two-hour flight to Xi’an.  We had about an hour to wait until our flight was called, so we went to the little airport shop and bought a couple of cans of Tsing Tao beer and waited around.

Once again, the announcement came over the PA that our flight was delayed.  Apparently the Chinese air traffic control change the aircraft flight schedules at a moment’s notice, so no-one should really believe what they read on the departure board.  The Chinese all seemed to take it in their stride, but I could just imagine the mutiny the airport staff would have on their hands if this was a regular occurrence in the UK with British Airways!

So I sat and played on my Nintendo DS, read my magazines, had another can of beer, and eventually we were called to board the Airbus A320.  After another delay, the plane was eventually airborne.  🙂

As it was an internal flight there was no AVOD, so after the drop-down screens had shown the in-flight safety advice, there was a showing of the children’s programme “Shaun the Sheep” followed by a gossip programme featuring the top-10 celebrity divorce settlements.  The programmes were in English with Chinese subtitles.

The cabin crew came around with drinks (no wine !!!) and a meal of…. pork with rice or chicken with noodles.  We ate the starters and the bread, had some of the meal (which was singularly unappetising) and ate the fresh watermelon chunks for ‘dessert’.

Eventually we arrived in Xi’an airport and followed Robert and his flag through the throngs of people to get on the bus, where were were able to get our first glimpse of the city streets of Xi’an.

At first, the area looked pretty uninspiring.  There were rows and rows of identical, towering grey blocks of flats flanking the sides of the carriageway.  Eventually the flats gave way to some shops and other commercial buildings, and after about half an hour the bus pulled up at a huge gate which provided the entrance to the famed city walls.

We alighted from the bus and waited while a Chinese woman, in traditional dress, greeted us and welcomed us to the city.  There were several guards standing at each side of the heavy wooden gates.  These portals were opened ceremoniously, and each of the esteemed guests (i.e.us) was given a satin cord with a ‘golden’ key to the gate, an an honour bestowed upon us.

Inside the gates, the men and women in traditional costume did a dance, a parade with flags, and some singing, all to welcome us within the fabled city walls of their ancient capital.  The whole of our group then posed for a photo with the dancers, which we could buy as a souvenir.

We then had some free time to climb up onto the city walls, which are wide enough to carry eight horsemen rising abreast.  Trevor climbed up onto the walls, but it was too hot and sunny for me, so I sat down on some steps and waiting for his return.

We then got back on the bus for the ride to the King Dynasty Hotel, where we would be having our dinner.  We arrived at the hotel at 6.45pm and Robert said dinner was at 7.30pm, so once again there was a muttered protest (among the women!) that 45 minutes was not enough time to get ready.  Our luggage followed behind us in a van.

We pulled up at the hotel, and our first impressions from its lobby was that it was very nice; all marble floors and statues.  We queued for our room key card and were assured that our luggage would be delivered to our rooms.  We were allocated room 2010.

After waiting ages for the lift, with time ticking away, we entered our room to find two suitcases had already arrived.  The only problem was… they weren’t our cases.  Any hope I now had of washing, changing and going down to dinner on time was rapidly diminishing, as Trevor went down to reception to take the cases back and find out where ours were.

After a few minutes, I heard Trevor’s key card in the lock and the door to the room opened.  Only it wasn’t Trevor, it was another couple who, by mistake, had been allocated the same room number as us!  Just as well I hadn’t been standing in my underwear or just come out of the shower; I don’t know who would have had the bigger shock!   🙂

Eventually Trevor returned with the correct cases, but now his key card wouldn’t work!  I let him into the room and decided I would just have to go down to dinner late.  He got sorted out in record time and went down to the dining room, but I was able to get a quick wash, freshen up my hair with the straighteners and change into a cotton maxi dress, so I was half an hour late getting to the dining room.

Again, the meal was a selection of Chinese dishes, all served onto the large Lazy Susan in the middle of our table.  The dishes were hot and tasty, and there was a wide selection of beef, pork, chicken and fish as well as fresh vegetables and sweetcorn soup, rice and noodles.  We also enjoyed a freezing cold glass of beer, followed by a refreshing cup of fragrant Jasmine tea.

After dinner, some of our party had arranged to go and see the Tang Dynasty show, and others were taking a trip to the Muslim quarter in the city to experience their night market, but neither option appealed to us.  It had been one of those long days where you don’t actually do much, but end up pretty tired just the same.

So we went along to the hotel bar but, once again, it proved difficult to buy just one glass of wine (you have to buy the full bottle), so I had a rum and coke with lots of ice instead.  We watched some of the London 2012 Olympics on the large TV screen in the bar, but it was hard to keep my eyes open.  We both slept soundly as we had another early start in the morning.

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Sixty in Shanghai

TREVOR’S 60th BIRTHDAY

Our jet-lagged sleep was shattered by a wake-up call at 06:45 hours this morning (!!) as we were due to leave the hotel at 08:15 to board our tour coach for a very full, action-packed day.

Today is Trevor’s 60th birthday, and here we were spending it in Shanghai.  Certainly a different way to spend a birthday.  I gave him his card to open while I went and got ready; the ensuite bathroom in the hotel is weird in that it has a window between the bathroom and bedroom, effectively giving anyone in the bedroom a view of whatever you were up to in the bathroom (not always a good idea, ha ha) unless you closed the curtains first (from the bedroom side).

When we went down to breakfast Robert, the rep, was sorting out our passports and he said to Trevor “Happy Birthday!”.  He’d obviously been looking at all the dates of birth in the passports because I hadn’t mentioned it to him, because Trevor didn’t want a fuss.  The cat was out of the bag now, however.  🙂

Breakfast was a very large selection of either Chinese or Western-style food.  Some of the Chinese food looked quite strange to be eating it for breakfast; I wouldn’t fancy soup or beef or noodles, or green vegetables such as bok choi first thing in the morning.  So I played it safe and had some bacon, sausage, scrambled egg and tomatoes, along with a croissant and a cup of coffee.  The coffee was actually very good.  I wasn’t keen on their orange juice, which wasn’t really like real juice, more like squash, and was sweetened.

After breakfast we boarded the tour bus and met our Chinese guide, whose English name was Becky.  Our bus driver was Mr. Chen.  While waiting for the rest of our party to get on the bus (there are 37 of us in total) we noticed a whole bunch of ladies with fans, all dressed in Chinese pyjama suits, and moving in unison; we realised we were watching an outdoor morning exercise class!

The bus set away and we were taken through the bustling city streets.  Shanghai is China’s most densely-populated city with a population of 23 million.  Going through the traffic was manic, and we were constantly agog at some of the driving and the risks people, including cyclists and pedestrians, would take.  The rules of the road were constantly violated with lots of lane-hopping, red light jumping, stopping and starting, sharp braking and, of course, a cacophony of blaring horns.  We noticed that motorcycle and scooter riders did not wear crash helmets and cyclists on push bikes often allowed children to sit on the back of the bike as they weaved their way in and out of the stream of vehicles.

After about half an hour we pulled up at our first stop for today, a visit to the Jade Buddha temple.  We entered the sunlit courtyard, heavy with the evocative scent emanating from the incense burners, and took a look at the beautiful buildings.  The original temple had been founded in 1882 to house two jade Buddha statues brought to China from Burma by a monk named Hui Gen.  The temple was destroyed during the revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Fortunately the jade Buddha statues were saved and a new temple was built on the present site in 1928.

There were lots of other statues as well as the Buddhas, some made of marble.  All were beautifully carved and painted or gilded.  There were also many silk and brocade wall hangings and carved furniture.  The atmosphere inside the temple was peaceful and calming, and the building provided us with a temporary respite from the already very hot sun.

Back on our coach, our next visit was to a pearl farm.  China produces over 90% of the world’s cultured pearls, both freshwater and salt water.  I was looking forward to this visit as I make jewellery as a hobby, and I love real pearls and hand-knot them onto silk.

In the pearl farm, they explained to us how the pearls were cultivated, by injecting the mollusc to encourage it to start producing nacre.  The lady brought out a huge bivalve (sort of like an oyster but much bigger) and said it was a freshwater mollusc.  She prised open the shell and there were quite a lot of pearls inside; baroque in shape.  Then she brought out a salt water oyster and opened it up; it had only one pearl inside, but it was rounded and of much better quality.

We then looked around the shop at the different pearl necklaces, earrings and bracelets.  There was a wide variety of different types of pearls, all of different quality according to how much you wanted to spend.  Some necklaces started at only about £20.00 and went up to about £20,000.  We saw a single, beautiful loose pearl of superlative quality; it was over 12mm in diameter and absolutely flawless; the one pearl cost over £12,500.  🙂

I didn’t buy anything as I wanted to get some loose pearls and have the satisfaction of making my own necklace, rather than buy one ready made.

After the pearl farm we were once again back on the bus to be taken to a restaurant for our lunch.  We sat at round tables which all held a central turntable onto which the dishes of Chinese food were brought; we enjoyed a variety of tasty dishes including pork, beef, cashew nuts, fresh vegetables and noodles and rice, cooked in various sauces (sweet and sour, satay, black bean) all washed down with cold Tsing Tao beer and finished with fragrant Chinese tea.

We had time to go to the loo before getting back on the bus, and this was where the fun started; hoping the restaurant would have some Western style toilets, rather than the Asian “squat” type ones.  Even if a place does have the Western style loos, they never seem to include toilet rolls in the cubicles; there is a dispenser when you first go in and you have to remember to collect some paper from it before entering the cubicle, otherwise you’re stuck!   🙂

Once we were all fed and watered it was back on the bus for a city tour and a visit to the tallest building in China, the Shanghai World Financial Centre, which stands at 1, 614 feet tall and boasts the highest observation deck in the world.  For those who didn’t want to go up the tower (we weren’t all that bothered) Robert the rep said he would take us to The Bund.

The Bund is a famous waterfront area which runs along the western bank of the Huangpu River.  It affords a fantastic view of the developing Shanghai skyline and features a pleasant walkway which has several soft drink stations and benches on which to sit, simply to observe life passing by.  We walked along and watched the  pleasure boats, took some photos and waited for the rest of the party to come back from visiting the tower, so we could be on our way.

Later on we had some free time to spend in the city, so we took the opportunity to look around some of the shops.  One caught my eye; it was called “Silk King” and consisted of many floors stocked with rolls of silk as well as ready-made clothes.  The items were beautifully made and the fabric patterns were stunning.  We spent quite some time browsing through the traditional Chinese jackets and cheong sam dresses.  The sizes were all tiny as Chinese girls are far more petite and less busty than British women.   😦

Eventually I found an orange silk chiffon blouse that I liked; it was soft and floaty and had a fine gold thread running through it.  It fitted me perfectly (I think it was an XXL in Chinese!) and it was only 250 Yuan, or approximately 25 quid, so I bought it.

Back on the bus, we were taken through the bustling city before arriving back at the hotel, where we had exactly one hour to be ready to leave again, to go to a restaurant for dinner. We had also booked to see the famous Shanghai Acrobats later that evening.  On the bus Robert announced “Today is Trevor’s birthday” and everyone on the bus sang “Happy Birthday” much to Trevor’s embarrassment!  Robert then gave him a lovely, hand-made card signed by himself and Becky, the Chinese guide.

With only an hour to spare, I had to get showered and blow dry my hair and get changed straight away.  One thing we hadn’t had today was any spare time!    🙂  No rest for the wicked.

Back on the bus again, we soon pulled up at the restaurant where we sat down to another Chinese feast, consisting of many different dishes, soups, meats etc. as well as fresh watermelon.  Robert had also provided some bottles of read and of white wine – yippee!  At the end of the meal they brought out a birthday cake for Trevor, which he shared with a young girl called Lily, who had celebrated her 15th birthday last night, but we’d arrived too late at the hotel for her to have her cake then.

After dinner, we were taken to the theatre to watch an amazing hour-long show featuring the most fantastic acrobatic and gymnastic display, contortionists, high jumpers and ending with a the “ball of death”, where a massive mesh ball was wheeled out onto the stage, into which a dare-devil motorcyclist drove before riding round and round inside the ball.  Then another motorcyclist joined him, then another and another, until there were a total of FIVE motorbikes whizzing around inside this huge ball.  Some went round horizontally and some vertically, but whichever way they went they never hit each other; the timing was perfect and it was just brilliant.

After the show, the bus took us back to the hotel, where our first thought was to go for a drink in the hotel’s bar.  The bar, however, was closed for refurbishment (what?!) so we asked Robert if he knew whether there were any other little bars nearby.  There was a “Cigar Bar” just around the corner, so Trevor and I, as well as another couple, went off with a single purpose.  One thing we had noticed, even after only one full day in China, was the lack of pubs and bars; I don’t think the Chinese are all that big on booze, not the way the Westerners are.   😦

Another thing we noticed, and the Cigar Bar was no exception, is that you can hardly buy any white wine in China; they tend to prefer red.  Also, if you do buy wine, they only sell by the bottle, you can’t just buy a glass.  So I settled for a cuba libre cocktail, in which the rum was drowned by the Coca Cola.

We only stayed for the one drink as we were really quite shattered by now; we’d been up early and never stopped all day, and we were still a little jet-lagged.  We also had to pack our stuff for our journey to Xian the next day.

So it was off to bed, in our lovely air-conditioned room, ready for whatever adventures China had in store for us tomorrow.   🙂

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While watching the Skymap I suddenly noticed that, for some strange reason, the destination had changed from Shanghai to Beijing, and the time left had dropped to one and a half hours.  Strange, as we aren’t due to visit Beijing until later in the holiday.

Just then, one of the flight attendants made an announcement over the PA (in Chinese, followed by English) that because a typhoon had hit Shanghai we were being diverted to Beijing until the storm abated.  Obviously they couldn’t tell us how long it would be.

We disembarked the aircraft into a wall of heat and humidity as we came down the steps of the plane and boarded the little bus which would take us to the terminal, still airside.  There wasn’t a lot we could do but wait.  It was a good job we were allowed off the aircraft into the passenger lounge, as it was much more comfortable.  We hoped we wouldn’t have to wait for long as it would be eating into our holiday time.   😦

In the meantime, Robert the rep came and told everyone he was trying to get priority given to our plane, but it was up to ATC how they scheduled the flights.

We therefore bought a can of Tsing Tao beer in the little convenience shop and just sat and waited it out.  We watched the departure board that said we should be able to get back on our plane in about half an hour, and once again be on our way.

So we carried on waiting, feeling tired and grubby after our overnight flight.  After the half hour was up, the departure board then said we had an hour to wait!    😦

To cut a long and extremely boring story short, we ended up hanging around at Beijing for six hours before our flight was able to take off and continue its journey into Shanghai.

We were offered another meal on the plane… you’ve guessed it…  chicken or pork with rice or noodles.  Because it was an internal flight there was no wine served, just the ubiquitous Tsing Tao beer.  I was completely knackered by then and determined to find a comfortable position for sleeping, but was annoyed to find that my inflatable neck pillow had a puncture.

So it was a tired, dishevelled and slightly disgruntled group of Brits who eventually got off the aircraft and onto the shuttle bus, for our ride to the Greenland Jiulong Hotel.  We should have been having a meal at the hotel followed by a tour of the city, but that idea had gone out of the window as it was nearly 11.00pm when we arrived at the hotel, which did seem to be very good.  Our bedroom was on the 14th floor and we collapsed into bed thankfully, for our first night spent on Chinese soil.  I did manage to have a small bottle of Prosecco (bought at Heathrow Airport) before falling asleep.

So began the great Chinese adventure.

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So many destinations, faces going to so many places where the weather is much better and the food is so much cheaper…

So state the opening lines of The Motors’ 1978 hit single Airport.  An appropriate song as we set off for another holiday, this time to the mysterious Orient, in other words, China.  Another pin in our map which will mark our 70th country visited – quite a milestone.   🙂

At least we didn’t have to leave the house at an unearthly hour the way we often do for long-haul journeys.  Our flight from Newcastle was not until 13:40 hours so we didn’t depart until lunchtime.

We left Newcastle Airport on our British Airways connection to London Heathrow, where we would have quite a few hours to wait before our overnight flight on China Eastern Airlines to Shanghai.

On arrival at Heathrow we could not check in yet as the desk was not open.  We therefore found a coffee shop and had something to eat as well as a cup of coffee, and I read my magazines and did my crosswords and generally whiled away the time until we were able to join the lengthy queue for our overnight flight.

Eventually we got rid of our cases and went to find a bar.  We were disappointed to note that Terminal 4 doesn’t have an executive lounge for us to use our Priority Passes, so we found a Wetherspoon’s type pub called “The Bridge” and went in there for a couple of drinks and shared a burger and chips between us.

If this blog reads a bit boring so far, then that’s about right, because there are few things more boring than hanging around for hours on end in airports.  However, apart from going everywhere by cruise ship as we usually do, if we want to see the world then airport departure lounges are a fact of life.  Unless, of course, we win the Euromillions lottery in which case we’ll travel everywhere first class, therefore  posh lounges and no massive queues to board.   🙂

When we got to the departure lounge we met Robert, the Travelsphere rep, who would be flying with us and who would be our guide as far as Beijing.

Eventually we were called to board for the 21:40 flight.  We hadn’t flown China Eastern Airlines before so we didn’t quite know what to expect.  I had read some reviews online and, to be honest, they weren’t very favourable.  However, our Airbus A330 aircraft was clean and modern, with audio and video on demand (AVOD) and seats with ample leg room.  Our seats were right at the port-side wing.

We took off on time and enjoyed the usual pre-dinner drink before they came around with the meal. There was a choice of either Chinese or Western food; I chose duck with rice and vegetables but it wasn’t really all that nice.  The meat was fatty and I’ve never tasted mushrooms like those ones before.  We had some white wine with the food; again, it was palatable, but only just.  I sat and watched The Shawshank Redemption (a truly excellent film) before trying (unsuccessfully) to get some sleep, or any other way in which I could pass the time on the 11½ hour flight.

Boring.   Boring.   Boring.  Every (wide awake!) minute seemed to last forever.  At some point during the flight they put the clocks forward seven hours, i.e. China time, and served breakfast.  Some sort of nameless meat and rice or noodles again.  I was watching the Skymap and I could see that we still had three and a half hours to go until we were due to land in Shanghai.

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