21 October – Shanghai a la Viking

Once again Viking does not disappoint. Super organized. We are divided into groups of 28 people per group and all have a slightly different itinerary. Our group escort  -Coby – is excellent. If he says be there at a time because we’re moving on – he means it. His assistant stays behind to collect those who have yet to learn the courtesy of punctuality. There is only one couple in that category and I think they get the message.

Viking has preferred entry status to the attractions we visit, so while those many tourists waiting in long line ups look daggers at us as we whisk by them – we do not wait in lines.

We begin our day in the Yuyuan Gardens – again! This place is just as enchanting the second time. We see more nooks and crannies. The light is a little different as it is earlier in the day. There are fewer other people. Coby is a fountain of knowledge and his English is so good we don’t have to struggle to figure out exactly what he is saying.

An aside here. While we’ve been in contact with a considerable number of people who speak English – in that they understand our questions and have the vocabulary to respond – their accent is sometimes such that we can’t understand what they are trying to tell us. There is a tendency to blur phrases of several words into one unbroken string of sounds. For instance “We have two for one drinks.” Comes out something like, “weha-vetw-ofo-ro-ned-rinks.” A bit of a challenge to get the drift.

We have a bit of retail therapy time. It’s in a very busy tourist area. Lots of kitch. On the a silk embroidery art gallery. We learn a little about the creative process. Takes 10 months to over a year to creat some of the pictures. Lunch with the round susan offers a time to meet some of our travel companions and sample some highly peculiar dishes.

Off the the world renown Shanghai museum for the afternoon. It is well deserved of the reputation of being one of the world’s premier museums. Excellent exhibits. We explore only a few, but on our own so at our own speed and in accordance with our own interests. Back to the hotel I enjoy a luxurious bath in the enormous tub. Dinner, then out to an extraordinarily fantastic acrobatics show. Some very young and talented gymnasts. Truly incredible feats of physical strength and flexibility. Very colourful.

Need to get this sent as we are about to depart for the airport. May not be able to blog from ship.

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20 October – Madly sight seeing in Shanghai 

We have had a very busy day. It is late and tomorrow begins early so a  brief blog this evening.

We spend the majority of the day engaged in the assorted activities of getting to and riding one of those hop-on-hop-off bus tours.

We begin by getting on the wrong bus with the wrong ticket – purchased from the hotel. However the young fellow checking tickets was very accommodating. He gives us credit for the ticket we have and up sells us on his bus tour package. We set off happy as clams.

We have to move hotels in the middle of our bus riding bliss so that involves a bit of extra walking to and from but we need a lunch break anyway. We manage to be at the top of one of Shanghai’s tallest buildings for sunset. We stroll the riverside promenade first in the sunshine then later at night. We get great views from our upper floor vantage point as the bus spins us through the scenic highlights of this immense city. 

Except for a supreme rip off of a so called “sight seeing” tunnel involving a very cool we tram ride under the river – no sightseeing involved as it turns out – just some very tacky poorly done sound and light nonsense and a one way trip so one has to purchase a return ticket for extra, the day has been most successful. You know the phrase – being Shanghaied – hmmm I. Guess we got off lucky!

We are now checked into the fancy Westin on the Bund. A very palatial room on the sixth floor. Will send some pictures tomorrow the bathroom is to die for! Soft robes and slippers too.

Here’s some pictures from today. Obviously better internet here. Good night from Shanghai.

18/19 October – good bye Guilin, hello Shanghai 

So those of you who pay attention to details will have noticed that in my last post I lost the plot and had us back in September. Must have been the warm weather.

Anyway you will see I’ve got myself back on track and this is indeed October.

Dad and I spend our last morning in Guilin walking around the little twin Pagodas lake for a final time. This time the sun is shining so we take a bunch more pictures! Our driver and Tang Li show up at noon and after loading our suitcases into the car we head off for one more tourist stop on our way to the airport. 

Reed Flute Cave. Now if you are staunch lover of untouched natural phenomenon you would perhaps be appalled by this place. I however loved it. This is an enormous limestone cave which has been carefully made accessible to all. There is a stone pathway winding through the cave’s various large caverns and the lighting is such that the numerous incredible features present themselves in greens and blues, soft yellows and pinks. The stalagmites reaching up from the floor and stalactites hanging down from the roof have, over millions of years of dripping, formed all manner of glorious shapes. The place has a feeling of a cathedral complete with pulpits, vaults and high reaching columns. One of the areas is so vast that for an equally enormous sum of money, weddings or other special events can be held within. We are  lucky to be there during an excellent video show. Up on the ceiling, a great dragon comes alive, then dinosaurs, earthquakes, ocean bottom, ice ages, mammoths, vegetation…..the entire history of the cave’s formation is displayed in about 10 minutes amid all sorts of appropriate sound effects. The path through the cave takes us about an hour and every moment is fabulous. The only down side is the compulsory pathway through the really tacky kitch shopping area right outside.

From there to the airport, where we have about a two minute wait before boarding our flight to Shanghai. Less than three hours later we are being met by Abby (her Chinese name is very difficult to pronounce and I have no idea how to begin spelling it).

We are staying in a quite posh hotel in old Shanghai. Our room on the eighth floor commands  a fine view of old and modern parts of the city and has a comfortable window seat stretching across an entire wall of window. (Nice soft robes and slippers and two types of body wash – one for day and one for night, free mini bar, coffee and tea making in the room etc). By the time we settle in it’s time to go for a beer and light supper at the bar then head to bed.

Today Abby meets us at nine, and we return a bit after four after a very busy day of full on sight seeing. Shanghai is ….. I’m a bit lost for words. Here’s an attempt to describe my sense of the place. It is a blend of old and new, tradition and innovation, tranquility and extreme urban bustle. 27 million people live here. 

We begin our day in some of the pedestrian streets of old Shanghai and visit the truly remarkable Yuyan Gardens that were first planted in 1559 and completed in 1577. Paths wind among fanciful arches and dragon topped walls, under trees and past carp filled ponds. There is even an artfully hand crafted yellow-stone hill  in the center. It was once the highest land mark in Shanghai. Within the walls of this garden there is no sense at all of the busy city a few metres away.  There were however a great number of foreign tourists like us. Thankfully not too many are wheedling selfie sticks. We avoid a large group of French and another of Italians who seem to be on a speed tour and are glad to be enjoying the place at a more leisurely pace. 

Our next stop is to see the jade Buddha. It is within a large Buddhist temple complex and again is a quiet retreat from the city outside the walls. The statue is beautiful almost white jade. In Nepal, Buddhists always circle the sacred to the right, here worshippers rotate in the opposite direction. Various acts of worship such as incense and candle lighting, prayer, and acknowledging the deity are distinctly different as well. Offerings to the Buddha are similar and I hear the mantra “Om mani peme hum” being chanted in a familiar manner.

Then to a viewing area where we can get a good wander around on a raised pedestrian walkway and marvel at the architectural marvels of the new Shanghai skyline. This is an example of fabulous urban planning. The raised walkway enables pedestrians to cross multi lane streets at an enormous traffic circle without having to deal with traffic. Escalators whisk people up and down from street level. The large centre of the traffic circle below is a beautiful flower garden. The walkway is as wide enough to accommodate looky-loo tourists and locals getting on with their busy lives. Traffic rushes to and fro below and massive uniquely designed sky scrapers rise all around.

Next is lunch in a high rise where we sit by a window offering a tremendous view. As usual the meal is tasty. We’re very adept now with our chop sticks, having not used fork or knife since arrival over a week ago. Now there would be a travel hint. If you are coming to China and don’t want to look inept at the table – get used to using chop sticks. 

Then we go to a silk factory which is really a shopping opportunity. The woman there gives us the fastest introduction to silk worms and production imaginable – her sole interest to get us into the shopping area. First is silk bedding. Next is silk clothing. I look, but see nothing that tempts me. They have some nice silk underwear but they aren’t interested in negotiations over price (I do try even though price tags are on all the items) so we leave and head off down a wide vibrant pedestrian shopping street that sports a very wide selection of world renowned brand name stores. Consumerism is alive and thriving in this town! 

Quite a lot of walking today but all on pretty level ground and Dad is definitely now getting into the tourist stride. He’s sitting here telling me he wants to go out somewhere for dinner instead of just riding the elevator down to the fourth floor! Gee! However the hotel scammed us last night. We’d been warned about this scam but forgot. Tea was delivered to our table – two small glasses of it and it was barely luke warm. We’d ordered beers so I thought it was odd. We drank it up in a gulp. It was very sub standard tea. When the bill came we’d been charged for it. This is a common cheeky practice. So tonight we’ll go else where – unless it is raining. Rain is in the forecast. A typhoon is supposed to be coming but today was mostly sunny so who knows. The weather forecasting here seems very inaccurate.

So good night from brash glorious Shanghai – an over the top city, with the capacity to overwhelm, but with an exciting pleasant vibe.

17 October – When is a cable car not a cable car?

Today we have some low cloud and occasional drizzle to deal with but it’s not too chilly so it doesn’t curtail our enjoyment.

Our first stop is to wander around the ancient town of Daxu. A couple of cobbled streets reaching down to a fishing wharf on a tributary of the Li River offer some scenic snap shots between rampant renovation construction work. I buy a truly delicious soggy donut sort of thing just fried up by a street vender. She’s pretty delighted with my enthusiastic response. I gather it is made with ground beans and something else that grows nearby which is sweet. How’s that for a detailed identification? I know lame! We get some candied ginger from a funny little shop and pop into a traditional Chinese  pharmacy. Among the mysterious herbs, fungi and lord know what, there are large bottles crammed full of dead snakes in fluid. One is supposed to drink this fluid each day for longevity and good health. We do not!  We leave pretty quickly, I find the place creepy and Dad doesn’t even enter! We stroll through the immaculate vegetable gardens which stretch neatly behind each home. The houses are all wooden, with ground floors open to the street for shops and storage. The people live upstairs. There are neatly strung new electric wires, electricity having only recently arrived to this place.

As with much of what we’ve seen so far, there is a huge amount of renovation and new construction. This does detract a fair bit from what may have been a perfect tourist’s look at a quaint picturesque village.  It is now leaping happily into modern times, and I hope once the construction is finished the inhabitants enjoy all the new amenities.

While in the village we wander around in a dilapidated house which has been bought for restoration. The government has sold an adjacent piece of property for a new hotel development which will be incorporated into the older building. The place was clearly once palatial and very beautiful. There are numerous dusty treasures inside, it is itself a treasure, so I hope it is restored to something of its former magnificence.

Our next stop was to ascend the area’s highest mountain – Mount Yao – via cable car. We arrive to find a chairlift with cute little fringed canopies over each chair. It is a scenic ride up and a stunning ride back down. About 30minutes each way. From the top the view across the karst mountains is incredible. While our river trip provided us an intimate look at these formations, this more overall view really enables us to more fully appreciate the vast scope of this landscape.

We enjoy a pleasant wander on the mountain before returning to Guilin for another terrific lunch. As usual there is way more food than we can manage and many new flavours and combinations of foods to experience.

Our last stop of the day is a stroll through the very large and beautiful Seven Stars Park. The park is anchored by an impressive rocky karst in the shape of a camel. There are many forested paths to explore, bridges, flower beds, even some Pandas. Unfortunately for us, the Pandas have recently moved south for the winter as it is too cold for them here at this time of year.

Back at our Inn we enjoy a beer before heading off to our noisy local restaurant for dinner. As usual we are well looked after with smiles, sign language, and the picture menu. One dish we have is strips of pumpkin or squash coated in salty egg and fried. Soooo yummy. The best French fries in the world pale by comparison.

Upon our return for the evening we visit with a lovely English woman traveling here solo (with private guides at each port of call). A very enjoyable chat about travels.

I hope I’ll be able to continue Blogging from Shanghai but no guarantee. I gather the fire wall can be set up and let down in various places for various time frames for various reasons. So if I go silent that’s likely the reason.

Cheers from Guilin – a place that for sure should be on a China visit itinerary! Thank you Karin for the recommendation!