|Let the adventure begin!|
Where we stayed:
|Top L to R: Bathroom, bedroom|
Bottom L to R: Automatic toilet, toilet controls
|Four and one-half carrots|
Weston (Bund Center, 88 Henan Central Road, Shanghai, Shanghai, 200002, China, 86-
|Left: View of the lighted buildings|
Right: Statue of warrior
|Left T to B: Bedroom, bathroom|
Right: Safe sex
Viking Emerald was close to what we expected from the tour line. It was interesting to find
|Top: Bedroom and balcony|
What we ate:
|Four and one-half carrots|
The Peking Duck Dinner was in a very upscale shopping mall in the middle of the city: Hua’s Fine Dining Restaurant at Wangfujing (3/F Macau Center, No. 8 Wangfujing East Avenue, Dongcheng District, Beijing, 86 10 5128 3326). We were seated at a table for 10
|Left: Dinner selections|
Right: Chef deboning duck
Kerry Hotel (86 Guanghua Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100020, 86 10 6561 8833)
provided a breakfast
that was a spectacular visual and epicurean treat. Asian and western foods were
prepared as you ordered at the buffet that probably had well over a hundred
items from which to choose. Dave and I both went back for more. We also had a
buffet lunch was at the hotel – again, more food than any group of people could
possibly eat. It was all good. Dave had chicken, pork and beef along with
vegetables. I had everything cold that I could find: salad, fruit, sushi,
potato balls fixed as if they were in potato salad. The food was all fresh and
the presentation, even on the buffet, was appealing. It was interesting that
beer was considered a ‘soft drink’ throughout China, making it included with
your meal while wine was an additional cost.
|Dumplings and fruit|
Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show (75, Changan North Road, Xi’an, Shaanxi, China, 86 29 878 22222) was a special treat. The food was excellent and the chefs went to great pains to
make sure that I didn’t get any onions or spinach. We were
introduced to warm, rice wine. It was sweet but I couldn’t detect any alcohol;
I had substantial amounts of this beverage while I waited for my food to come
out. The dinner and show certainly were worth the extra cost and effort to go
to this presentation.
|Center: Women playing traditional instruments|
Top L to R: Ribs, shrimp
Bottom L to R: Soup, barbecue
Viking Emerald had the quality and quantity of good food and service that we expected. If I
pictures of all the food we ate and enjoyed on the ship, there would be pages
of images; it was all very good. It has been months and a trip or two later and
I still miss Lucy and Neal, our servers. They were neat kids: Neal was a
talented dancer and Lucy was just stinkin’ cute with a great sense of humor.
The service was what we expected from Viking, but I will say that there was no
one except ‘hotel manager’, who was Italian, who didn’t need more practice with
English. The chef talked to me quite a bit, trying to make sure that I got the
right foods; he would make some things especially for me, but really encouraged
me to choose foods that didn’t require extra preparation – no chives was not a
problem; no onions was in some cases, particularly the Chinese dishes. However,
he and the maître d' did try their best to communicate with me. I loved all of
the noodle dishes and found that I could eat them daily without growing tired
of the flavors. Dave commented at the end of the trip that he could bypass
Asian food for a while once we got home; he was ready for a burger and fries.
|Left T to B: Soup, braised beef, mousse cake|
Right T to B: Fish cake, cheese plate
Weston (Bund Center, 88 Henan Central Road, Shanghai, Shanghai, 200002, China, 86-21-6335-1888) Dinner buffet was spectacular with on-demand food cooked to your
|Top: Tiny part of the buffet|
Bottom: Breakfast noodles
|Three and one-half carrots|
Food and shopping (various places during the trip) were standard lunch activities throughout the tour. And while they were certainly acceptable, only a couple particularly stood out. At the jade store they prepared a head of broccoli for me so that I would not go hungry by missing the one dish with onion in it. There was also something called ‘firewater’ that Dave and another guy drank – it was a lot like grappa. At the store that sold the Terracotta Warrior replicas there was a man making fresh noodles – fun to watch and good to eat.
Sheraton Xian Hotel (San Hao Lu, TuMen ShangQuan, Baoan Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China, 710077, +86 29 8426 1888) was, again, quite a comedown from our usual experiences. At breakfast, some of the food seemed to be left over from the previous day because it was cold although presented under a heat lamp. The fried eggs were like eating rubber. There was sushi that looked fresh and some hot cereal. The bread seemed day-old, too. Dave and I were under-whelmed.
What we did:
|Learning to play mayhjong|
Much of what we did has already been chronicled in the blogs, so there are links to these rather than a re-hash. There is nothing I wouldn’t do again, and several things I’d like to do more of – such as visiting museums. The main issues were time, the number of other tourists, and our lack of contact with local entrepreneurs rather than state-approved vendors.
|Four and one-half carrots|
Bund cruise was spectacular. Although it was raining, we still got to see lots of lights and the buildings doing their thing. (see 踏上上海 - Stepping out in Shanghai)
Cenhe Elementary School (Outside of Jingzhou): see 跳到荆州和武汉 Jumping over to Jingzhou and Wuhan.
Forbidden City (4 Jingshan Front St, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100006): see 在北京 - Being in Beijing.
Goddess Stream Excursion (Qingshi Town, China): see 穿過重慶和三峽 Chugging through Chongqing and the Three Gorges.
Legend of Kung Fu (The Red Theater, 44 Xing Fu Da Jie, Chongwen District, Beijing, 86 29 671 42473) was the site of an interesting performance. When I see the title ‘King Fu’ I sort of expect Bruce Lee or David Carradine to jump out on the stage kicking bad guys, bricks, or other offending items. This was the story of a little boy who goes to the monastery to learn the art of kung fu. It follows his life from that time forward. The men and boys in the production did a mixture of martial arts and acrobatics. Two women also were there, but they did something along the lines of ballet. There were special effects such as smoke, projected images, flying on silk, and flashing lights. My favorite parts were those that included the dancing dragons.
Sacred Way (Changchi Rd, Changping Qu, China, 86 10 6076 1422): see 在北京 - Being in Beijing.
Shanghai Museum (201 Renmin Ave, RenMin GuangChang, Huangpu Qu, China, 200003, 86 21 6372 3500): see 踏上上海 - Stepping out in Shanghai.
Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show (75, Changan North Road, Xi’an, Shaanxi, China, 86 29 878 22222) is the story of how an empress came to power. The musical instruments used were traditional Chinese ones; some of the atonal parts were a bit hard to take. However, when the warm-up singer sang Red River Valley, we all about had a fit. The dancing for the musical wasn’t traditional al la Shen Yun Performing Arts. This was more ballet for the women and acrobatics for the men. It was interesting and entertaining. There were great costumes and a very thought-provoking story!
Terracotta Army (Lintong, Xi'an, Shaanxi, China, 86 29 8139 9001): see 与勇士一起走 - Walking with the Warriors.
Great Wall at Badaling (Yanqing, China, 86 10 6912 1226): see 在北京 - Being in Beijing.
Hubei Museum (160 Donghu Rd, Wuchang Qu, Wuhan Shi, Hubei Sheng, China, 86 27 8679 4127): see 跳到荆州和武汉 Jumping over to Jingzhou and Wuhan. It’s pretty amazing what Viking can do. On a Monday with all of the museums closed, we still got in to see the main exhibit.
Hutong Tour (intersection of Gulou West Street, Gulou East Street, and Di’anmen Outer Street): see 在北京 - Being in Beijing.
Shanghai Acrobatic Troup (West Office Tower, Suite 710, 1376 Nanjing Road West, Shanghai 200040 P.R. China, 86 21 6279 8600) performed acts that were a mix what was of really ‘old hat’ and amazing. There were four men who slung porcelain pots in the air and caught them on their necks, heads, noses, arms, and other body parts. The older/bigger guy slung a bigger pot. There were several sets of acrobats, who performed strength moves while others exhibited their flexible moves. There were some girls spinning drums, a couple who balanced crockery, chairs, and other household things, and a guy who did the flex/strength moves on stilts. The magician would have been better if we could have actually seen what he did rather than just that he produced pigeons. A girl did a lovely dance/tumble act with a giant hula hoop. There was, however, and act with a couple of flexible bars that two guys held on their shoulders while two other guys bounced around on the bars. The most incredible part of this act was when one came out with a young girl on his shoulders and proceeded to do a flip on the bar with her staying in place. We couldn’t figure out if she had Velcro on her knees or was just pinching his neck with her thighs; in any case it was pretty spectacular.
Shibaozhai Temple (Zhongxian, Chongqing, China, 86 23 5421 5063): see 穿過重慶和三峽 Chugging through Chongqing and the Three Gorges.
Three Gorges Dam (China, Hubei Sheng, Yichang Shi, Yiling, 86 717 676 3498): see 穿過重慶和三峽 Chugging through Chongqing and the Three Gorges. Dave loved this tour, but I was not as impressed.
Tiananmen Square (Corner of West Chang’An Avenue and Gangchang East Side Street, Beijing Shi, China, 100006): see 在北京 - Being in Beijing.
Yuyuan Garden (218 Anren St, Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 86 21 6326 0830): see 踏上上海 - Stepping out in Shanghai.
Where we shopped:
|Street art showing the bringing of water|
For me, shopping was problematic. I am not into high-end souvenirs, but rather hand-made ‘of the people’ sorts of things. I also want to know about the artist rather than be greeted by a rather pushy sales person. Street vendors had lots of goods to sell, but most seemed massed produced for the tourists rather than by some local artisan. John did say that if we bought things from street vendors to give them exact change because we could get back counterfeit or foreign (not Chinese) money – quite a curious practice if you want to keep attracting tourists.
There were always vendors at the dock near the boat, but two groups actually had titles. These were the ‘Hello’ group and the ‘Maybe Later’ group. These were catch phrases for them to grab the tourists’ attention. The vendors’ English was pretty good, and they did have a wide array of things for you to peruse. One of the bits of technology they used was the language translator – we spoke English into their phones and they got the Chinese version back.
One of the state approved shopping areas is a place that makes replicas of the Terracotta Warriors. You can get any size from about six inches to full-scale. They make these by
pressing clay into a mold, removing it once it is dry, then cleaning up the
model. It is then fired in a kiln: once to harden the clay and once to set the glaze.
Full-scale and half-scale models are shipped to the consumer by boat; smaller
once travel via UPS, and tiny soldiers can be packed in your luggage. There are
also other statues you can order and some were very nice. I briefly considered
a dragon with a five-foot wingspan and a substantially smaller rabbit, but
passed on both. Outside the shop, Dave pretended to be a warrior and I found a
real rabbit with which to commune.
|Left: Statues for sale|
Right T to B: Making the warriors, friendly rabbit
We also toured a silk embroidery store and saw women doing the embroidery and the rug
weaving. I was glad to watch the women at work and to hear about how the
art was accomplished. It was an informative tour, but there wasn’t anything
there I couldn’t live without – meaning there were no bunnies. Their products
were also extraordinarily expensive, although lovely. Some of the embroidered
pictures included the traditional cranes and carp, but others were
reproductions of ‘old masters’ such as van Gogh’s Starry Nights.
|Left: Starry Nights in silk|
Right T to B: Cranes, woman embroidering
The jade ‘factory’ was attention-grabbing, but I was disappointed at the workmanship on the carvings. The men do the carving and the designing; the women do the polishing
because they are more patient and pay more attention to detail – or
at least that the story we got. Granted the carved rabbits were for the
tourists, but still, for the price the workmanship wasn’t worth it; a three
inch jade rabbit for $99 is a no. Dave asked about loose beads and they said
they would take some off a necklace for me, but for $30 a bead, again, no. This
factory is run by the state so I think this was a required stop. They did have
good food and surprisingly a wedding party going on in one of the dining rooms.
Evidently shops do more than one thing.
Bottom: Jade dragon
Shanghai Old Town Market was what I had anticipated shopping in China would be like. It
reminded me of the markets in Turkey. I did find the patches I wanted and I
would have looked at a few more things, but the vendors were pushy and won’t
let you just look. The government no longer allows open markets, but it does
help small vendors secure a place to sell their ‘stuff’. We did find a tea
convention with people talking about the benefits of this beverage and Dave was
interested in what the men in an open booth were doing. They were working on
watches and other pieces of jewelry.
|Top: Tea convention|
Bottom: Working on watches
Odds and ends:
|Four and one-half carrots|
Informational tours are one of the main reasons we go with an organized group and we expect to get our money’s worth out of them. Local guides were provided at each stop and
they did a good job of educating us about
a particular area. All spoke English well and were quite able to answer our
questions or to expand on some particular bit of information. One very nice
feature of the tours was our ‘whisper box’. This is a receiver with an earpiece
that picks up what the guide is saying. You can be as far as about 100 feet
away, with lots of people in-between and still hear all that is being said. Our
personal guide (ours and the 18 other people in our group), John, provided more
general and historical information as we rode in the bus. When he did lead
tours, he was as meticulous and well informed about that particular area as he
was about general history; his knowledge is exceptional. We also appreciated
receiving a schedule each evening so that we knew what was happening the next
day and at what times things would occur. Once we were on the ship, we were
given even more written information along with a daily briefing about where we
would be docking and what we could expect to find in the immediate area. This
attention to detail and to making sure the tour groups know what is happening
at all times is one of the elements that makes travel easy. As we found on a
previous trip, Viking is a class act.
|One of our wonderful local guides|
Flying around China is an efficient way to see places that you couldn’t get to in a timely
fashion. And while there may still be some out dated stereotypes of
rather dilapidated planes servicing this country, there is no truth in that
image. We flew on new, comfortable, planes with all of the safety gear we’ve
come to expect, and with FREE food and beverages. The airports are also quite
nice and offer all the amenities one would like including chilled water in
dispensers that fill provided cups or your own water bottle.
|Left: In the airport|
Right T to B: Getting ready to fly, Lunch
Security is stringent. Everyone is patted down and everyone is ‘wanded’. However, there is a line only for women with female security guards; these ladies were polite, respectful, efficient, and quick. The other positions have both male and female security personnel and you are welcome to go through these gates, but the lines are slower because you have to wait for the guard who matches your gender. All of your electronics (mouse, camera, phone, tablet, e-reader, computer, etc.), including the cords, are required to be taken out of your bag to be scanned in a bin. I threw all my accessories, including my phone, into a giant plastic zip bag for scanning; it was quick, easy, and although the lines were long, we didn’t have much of a wait. Either security in China is better organized or the people going through the lines are, because it was much less of a hassle than it is in the States.
We were also pleasantly surprised by the way Viking handled our bags. For travel on our tour, these were picked up at the hotel by couriers and taken to the airport or to the ship. We were checked in to the flights by our guide who handed us our boarding passes; the bags had already been put on the flights. Once we got off the plane, the bags were brought to a special area where we identified them, checked for any damage, and then walked away. Whether it was another hotel or the ship, our bags were delivered to our rooms. This was an incredibly stress free way for us to deal with luggage. And what were we doing while all of the loading and unloading of bags was proceeding? Going on tours included in the cost of the trip, of course.
|Entertainment by part of our Viking crew.|
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