We currently have 11 posts. Just scroll down the page to read them...
Yet another early start - 5.45am wake up call and breakfast at 6.30am.
The by now well oiled machine of checking rooms, relabelling cases and counting luggage sprang into effortless action and for the first time nothing was left or had gone astray - a clean bill of health was issued by the hotel- hurrah! We left for the airport in good time and missed the usual traffic carnage. Although check in was painfully slow - the luggage was checked through to Manchester (avoiding having to collect it and recheck in London). And we were all sat together as one big happy family on the plane.
After a quick visit to drop off the oversize baggage and sad goodbyes to Karen our guide, we started the usual rounds of passport controls, security checks and the dreaded frisking that had haunted us at every airport!!
And then before we knew it we were homeward bound!
We arrived at Heathrow after over 11 hours on the plane and thankfully we sailed through customs, security and recheck.
Finally we arrived back at QES 5 minutes after the original scheduled time of 11.45 - not bad after 11 days of touring China, 2 days of travel to get home - over 8,000km in total!
Thanks to everyone involved - this has been a fabulously successful tour. We will all have some wonderful memories (some of which for obvious reasons are not published on the blog!!) of sights, people and unforgetable experiences.
This tour group has been fantastic. As was mentioned before - a really special group of people who just went with whatever was thrown at them ( and there was plenty), adaptable,flexible and without a word of complaint. From eating strange food, to playing in challenging venues, endless early mornings and late nights - throughout it all they have all been a complete pleasure to be with.
Well done everyone - the photos will say it all once we get them all up. Details to follow
Another bright and early start - except not quite so bright as it was raining! But we headed for the airport and our flight back to Beijing - all went smoothly and before we knew it we were back where we had started our tour - once again bathed in sunlight.
After retrieving our left luggage at the hotel we all set about repacking before our final 'show' - a performance given by chinese musicians at the hotel and a final chinese dinner.
Staff were presented with gifts and thank you speeches ended a really great evening.
This morning we travelled to an orginal old part of Shanghai called the Venice of the East - complete with canals and boats and after a tour around a traditional house cum mansion we took to the water to visit the oldest bridge in Shanghai. After wandering the old shopping streets and bartering for our souvenirs we headed for a fast food lunch at a Shanghai shopping mall.
After another blistering change into our tour uniforms on the bus (we've almost got it down to a fine art - although the girls still take forever!)we headed off to one of the best middle schools in Shanghai.
The same format as before ensued with welcoming speeches and alternate performances from each school but this time these were real musicians! They gave some great performances on traditional chinese harps, accordians and a full wind band. Our group really upped their game for this final set of performances and everyone did a superb job especially the choir who finally nailed it and gave an extra 'Trouble' song after swapping gifts.
We ended the day with a trip to the old city with a spot of shopping for a change and then up TV Tower to enjoy stunning views across Shanghai by night.
Our first views of Shanghai last night were just mesmerising - skyscapers like you've never seen before. The most futuristic designs - lit up with lights and giant TV screens - simply breathtaking.
This morning was a little cloudy and drizzley but we started the day with a cruise down the Huangpu river to get a closer look at the Pudong - the new business area of Shanghai and the home to all those amazing skyscrapers. The TV tower is simply spectacular and looks like something that wouldn't be out of place in a sci fi movie.
From here we descended on the Shanghai Museum where we able to learn about the art of calligraphy and see other ancient crafts before checking out the coffee shop for a well earned breather. After the obligatory group photo we headed off for a chinese lunch fast food style and hit the local noodle house.
And then our fast paced tour hit the real speed with a trip aboard the Maglev train - which reaches a top speed of 431 km per hour.
Then it was off to see the acrobats - quite amazing if not a little weird watching various contortionists and then 5 motorcyclists whizzing round in a tiny little metal cage! A real highlight of the trip.
This blog comes from a teahouse at the Terracotta warriors which are simply the most awesome sight! So while the group sample 9 different types of tea I am happily blogging away in the entrance area!!
So this morning we packed up ready to move on again and had our 2nd fabulous British/Chinese breakfast at our hotel (at 6.45!) and headed off to the Wild Goose Pagoda - a Buddist Temple - a truly serene experience as we were there so early. We spent the time wandering around the pagoda and gardens in relative calm and tranquility the first time we've manged this at a tourist venue!
En route to the actual warriors we visited a warriors factory and saw how they were made - not the real thing but the tourist version. However they did have some life size versions which gave us a real idea of the scale and which we could have bought and had shipped home!.
We spent around 4 hours at the 'pits' and were been blown away by the scale of what we saw. It is a truly awe inspiring place from an historical perspective but also in the hundreds of warriors on view and the thousands still to be excavated.
Tonight we are off to Shanghai this time by plane and are due to arrive at around 10.30!
We are now starting to get a little tired - the schedule has been relentless but the group have been absolutely outstanding - never a moan or word of complaint - they have been willing to try anything and have a go! We are having such a fantastic time. And we must be the only western group who when offered knives and forks turn them down!!
More to follow from Shanghai hopefully....
Most of us enjoyed a reasonable nights sleep - one or two had a problem locating various items of their luggage during the night but apart from that it was a relatively quiet night! We awoke to enjoy the delights of Xian - China's ancient capital before it moved to Beijing.
We headed off to our new 4* Hotel for breakfast and what a feast awaited us! 'Real' food - bacon, eggs, fruit - we could hardly contain ourselves!
Our rooms were fabulous and the showers never felt so good.
We started the day with a visit to the City walls which are more than 8 miles in length - we didn't walk the whole wall but visited one section of it before moving on to the Feng Shue Museum - the actual birthplace of Feng Shue. We were treated to a really interesting tour and talk and were shown examples of good Feng Shue buildings and those not so good (we were later to actually see some of these in Shanghai). Water to the front and mountains behind is essential and if the building that faces you is in the shape of a meat cleaver you need to counteract this by installing a machine gun on top of your building!
Many of the group purchased Dragon-Horses - a Feng Shue symbol to bring you luck and prosperity.
From here we set off for our second community performance. We had no idea what to expect and as we crocodiled down the street we were greeted by an entire local community - initially a group of brightly coloured dancers and musicians formed a corridor through which we walked and then into the local square surrounded by high rise flats.
We were treated to 2 performances - traditonal dancing and then Tai Chi. And then it was our turn - this was quite a challenging venue as we were surrounded by tens of small children running around and playing plus the same numbers of adults all talking - but our group once again did a great job.
We then split into 2 groups to visit 2 families. The chinese live with their extended family in one small apartment - grandparents, parents and children plus often aunties and uncles thrown in as well. The apartments consists of 3 to 4 rooms and toilet facilites are shared - with 1 toilet between 4 families. They were tremendously welcoming and at one point the whole group crammed into the one apartment!
After escaping the hoards of children craving autographs from us we set off back to the hotel to change into our posh gear for an extra to our original programme! We had dinner at the Shaanxi Grand Opera House followed by the Tang Dynasty Palace - Music and Dances show. 10 performances in all from the Tang period. We had fabulous seats at the front on the second tier balcony and grouped around tables. There was a wonderful variation of both dance and music but I think our favourite was the trumpet solo. A most unusual playing and vocal performance by a really funny musician!
Another fabulous sunny day! We started bright and early at the Great Wall - a truly amazing site and after a group photo we set off en mass to climb the 90 degree wall (in places) some of us making it to the top of the section. This part of the Wall is now restored and very wide in parts - up to 6m but also very narrow in others. Following the advice given by Anne at the parents info evening we were all thermally prepared for arctic temperatures with several layers and hats. scarves and gloves - what a mistake - they were all peeled off and most were carried all the way up and then all the way down! The views across the valley to the other less steep section of the wall and surrounding mountains were simply stunning and this certainly was the highlight of the trip so far.
From here we visited the Cloisonne factory and enjoyed another Chinese lunch - we are all so proficient using chopsticks now! And enjoyed watching the process of creating this unique pottery. Again much shopping ensued!
Then we headed back to Beijing to see the Birds Nest Stadium and Water Cube. Simply breathtaking! The group were pounced on - not for the first time - by the 'locals' many of whom have never seen foreigners and are completely intrigued by the colour of our hair and eyes. They were desperate to take photos of us to take back to their villages and show to their friends and family . From here we added a trip to Beijing Zoo to visit the famed Giant Pandas and then just for good measure we squeezed in a visit to Tiananmen Square (by this time open and now lit up) before heading off for dinner.
Tonight we travelled by overnight train to Xian - the whole train station experience was exactly that -a real experience - be thankful we have British Rail! Beijing Railway station was crowded, busy and a bit of a nightmare and we were shepherded from one area to another to avoid blocking the way - very difficult with a party of 48! After much hot debate between our guide Karen and the guards at the platforms entrance we were finally let through.
Our compartments were compact and bijou - with 9 compartments of 4 in each carriage. Everyone moved in with great ease and after swamping the provisons trolley on the platform off we set.
Everyone is still well, fit and happy - if not a little tired by this point.
After another interesting chinese breakfast, today we headed off for the Summer Palace. Yet another glorious day in Beijing. This is where the Emperors decamped to during the oppressive summer months. The palace complete with the longest corridor (700m long) in the world, magnificient lake and stunning pagodas impressed us all. The red tour uniform came into its own today. The site was extremely busy with chinese tourists. During the Olympics the 'locals' were largely banned from Beijing and were encouraged to watch the Games from home. Tourist numbers were heavily restricted during this time and the result is that thousands of them are now pouring into Beijing. In the midst of what seemed like an ocean of people the red jacketed QES group were easily recognisable and thankfully trackable.
Today we also visited a pearl factory and saw oysters being opened with over 20 pearls inside. We were all given one as a souvenir and then hit the pearl shop - it was amazing how many of the boys bought pearl face cream! And the real professional shoppers in the group started to emerge - no names but they know who they are!
In the afternoon we visited a local neighbourhood and did a joint concert with a group of alumni university students - a group of around 50, 60 to 70 year olds who treated us to traditional mongolian and chinese folk songs. We were told to dress informally so we donned our tour shirts but left on our jeans and casual trousers. Unfortunately we were met with their choir in dinner jackets and dickie bows! But it was a great concert and a real experience to hear some traditional chinese songs and they enjoyed our vocal pieces too. At the end we all sang Auld Lang Syne (some of the group doing a great job of miming since they didn't know the words!) and traded gifts.
We attended our first show tonight at the Red Theatre - billed as the most exciting Kung Fu show in the world - and it didn't disappoint. It followed the story of a young boy training to be a monk and was a stunning performance of sword swirling, martial arts and breaking metal bars whilst sandwiched between two layers of nails - all very scary but impressive!
We started the day with a chinese breakfast! An interesting mix of rice, salads, vegetables and cake/dough balls!
Our first concert was this morning at a Chinese School of Excellence linked to a University (their excellence was in art which became very apparent after their first singer!!)
We were greeted en masse by staff and pupils at the entrance to the school and various official photos were taken.
The concert started with welcome speeches by both schools in chinese and translated into English. We took turns in performing a mixture of solos, ensembles and the whole samba and choir.
We were treated to a traditional peacock dance and our dancers also performed. We did a great job!
At the end everyone mingled and exchanged gifts, emails and photos.
After a fabulous cantonese lunch we headed off to the Forbidden City - an amazing old walled city - completely protected by huge outer walls and 15 layers of brick on the floor to stop the peasants from tunnelling in and 'getting' to the Emperor! It was another glorious day - sunshine and blue skies and great to wander from building to building and pagoda to pagoda. All brightly coloured and decorated with vivid reds, golds and blues.
On the way to dinner we visited a silk factory and saw how duvets are made from silk cocoons. And had a go at stretching the cocoons to make the layers of the duvet. And then after another chinese meal of 8 different dishes and rice we finally got back to the hotel at 8.30pm. All desperate for bed!
The weather again was superb - sunny and warm.
We arrived a little earlier than scheduled and were greeted by the most amazing airport - very futuristic, huge in scale and immaculately clean. And sunshine, blue skies and great visibility (no sign of the infamous smog).
We were met by Jing the tour company manager and our guide and chaperone for the entire tour Karen (also Chinese). The journey to the airport was an experience in itself - Beijing is vast - a city of 16 million people and most of them seem to be on the road either riding a bicycle, a rickshaw type taxi or driving a car in the most bizarre fashion. They don't do give way or anything else you might expect in China! You can create your own lane whenever it takes your fancy, blow your horn at every opportunity and aim for any pedestrian or vehicle and hope for the best! All without the meerest hint of road rage!
Our first stop was Tiananmen Square which was closed due to the "Credit Crunch" conference! Apparently Gordon Brown and all the other major world leaders were there. So instead we managed a walk around the square and a visit to a traditional shopping street currently undergoing redevelopment back to its original state.
We then checked into the Evergreen Hotel. The rooms were really modern and well appointed. Our first meal was at the Hotel and we learned the art of real chinese eating. Some shaky use of chopsticks, correct placement of the teapot on the lazy susan and a choice of 7 dishes later we all felt much more refreshed and ready for a good nights sleep.
Sorry it has taken so long to get this first blog up but there was no internet access at the Hotel in Beijing and even if there had been there has been no time - it has been extremely busy.
We are now in Xian and I have 10 minutes before we are off for dinner and out to a show - so I'll cram as much as I can in, in the time and try to update in Shanghai tomorrow if possible!
The journey to Beijing was reasonably uneventful! We had our own private plane from Manchester to Heathrow - a 49 seater and 48 of us plus one lone man!
Things became a bit manic at Heathrow as we literally had to run through the entire airport from the first flight and made it to the gate during boarding! But all went well and the flight was comfortable.