A Travellerspoint blog

Tongli and Suzhou - China

I can't believe how lucky I was to experience today thanks to Tina who organised for me to be shown the sights by locals. It was an early start but more than worth it. I was picked up from my hotel by my amazing guide for the day Rioo and our driver. we set off on for the 2 1/2 hour journey to Tolgelli. What a gem. A real old Chinese town where the only transport is by river or rickshaw. Nothing modern at all with the random exception of one coffee shop selling illy coffee - could have been in Italy.

I had great fun trying out some more musical instruments for the grandchildren. Matt and Ali you are gonna love me! I can't believe I have another package to send back when Tina only took the last one for me the day before yesterday! I will post the video of me demonstrating onto facebook in a bit. A little challenge to Matt, Rhian, Ali & Jeff, before you give them to the girls I'd like you to have a go yourselves and work out a group tune you can video to me :). You know you want too!

Onto Soducko and first stop lunch. It makes a real difference going to a Chinese restaurant with Chinese people and we had a nice lunch.. I discovered a bottle of coconut milk I really liked and took a photo of the label for you Jo, in case you can get it at home. Still can't say I'm converted to Chinese cuisine though. This was reinforced when strolling through Suzhou later and coming across chickens feet as a tasty treat!

We had a stroll around the Admistrators Gardens which were pretty but it was so very hot and humid. My host was struggling with what she described as being wet, but I am so used to looking like I've just jumped out of the shower every time I step outside that I wasn't too bothered.

We just had time do a little shopping and a stop for a delicious handmade yogurt then it was time to make our way back. we dropped Rioo off on the way back as she then had to go to work and the driver took me back to the hotel. All in all a lovely day and a huge thank you to Tina and for organising it for me.

Posted by ClareRoach 04:12 Comments (0)

Shanghai, shopping and Tina

Landed quite late and thought I'd fall asleep in the taxi from the airport but all that changed as soon as we hit The Bund. There was so much to look at, I couldn't wait to get out of the car and join the thousands of people out for the evening. I literally dumped my bags in my room and set off exploring all traces of tiredness miraculousy disappearing.

I think it was a bonus landing here after dark so my first glimpse of the skyline was all lit up. It is outstanding. Sort of like, New York, LA and Dubai all rolled into one. But so many people. At one point I was standing in the street and realised I was walking against the crowd. I stopped and noticed my side of the street were walking one way and the opposite side were walking in the other direction. I don't think it's a rule, but the sheer volume of people seems to make it sensible and it sort of happens on its own I think. Anyway, I crossed the road to walk in the direction I wanted to go. Barking!

So many shops, all lit up and all packed. I saved them for a revisit the following day so I could really do them justice. In fact I ended up only buying a pair of shorts. Since my second pair went too big for me I've been managing with only my denim ones and I think your probably getting as fed up of seeing them appear in photos as I am of wearing them!

The highlight of my day was still to come, and it wasn't doing my washing in my sink..... It was meeting my friend Tina for dinner. She was coincidently in Shanghai on business and it was surreal seeing her here. When I met her, she was looking her usual glamorous self and there was me in harem pants and traveller Frizz hair. I didn't let that stop me mind and We still went to one of the most expensive restaurants on The Bund. I think it was anyway, average main course price was £40 and bottle of wine was from £50. We discovered this after we were seated, so decided to have a glass of wine and take it on the roof Garden. Grabbed some photos then told them we'd changed our mind about eating and went in search of something more realistic.

We ended up in an equally spectacular place with an amazing view, had lovely food and best part of a bottle of wine before making our way home. Me walking and Tina in a taxi. Such a lovely treat :)

I felt a bit flat this morning after such a nice evening and the bloody Internet died on me again, so off I set anyway determined to visit the opposite side of the river. Once out and about I quickly perked up. You can't fail to when your in this sort of surroundings. Took the ferry over, which at one staged crashed into the bank and everyone was screaming. Don't think that was part of the plan but I suppose it added to the excitement. Happy to skip on the way back though.

The other side is equally as nice as where I'm staying, more restaurants and more shopping including a great big Mall which I lost a couple of hours in.

All in all a tiring, hot and humid day which I'm recovering from by having a manicure and pedicure. They also have wifi, so I've been able to sort out plans tomorrow, which are rather exciting thanks to Tina and one of her suppliers but more of that in my next update xxxxx

Posted by ClareRoach 02:28 Comments (0)

Xi'an - China

You may have realised I didn't manage to get a photo of the bullet train as I'd hoped. The platform was too chaotic and by the time I would have worked my way to the front for a good shot it would have left again. I did get a shot of the screen reading that we were travelling at 291 km/hr so will post that here for you to see.

My stay here is in a Capsule Hotel. They are really small 'coffin' shaped pods lined up and stacked on top of each other. You keep your luggage elsewhere and just sleep in them. I thought it would be something a bit different to try out and they were surprisingly good. Each pod is equipped with a pull down t.v. Which obviously is no use to me as it was broadcast in Chinese. What was helpful was the individual air con, the plug for charging equipment and the large light up mirror. The host was absolutely outstanding. She couldn't have been more helpful, even taking me out on the first night into the food district to make sure I found it ok.

The 'hotel' was in reality, part of a family home that had been converted to accommodate the pods (8 of them). The family also lived there and we all shared the same bathroom and kitchen. For me this didn't really work. It was a bit off putting using a bathroom packed with other people's toiletries, towels, toothbrushes and even dog shampoo and towels. The host kindly said to put my fruit in the fridge which felt like an intrusion into their family life. Less so when the following morning my grapes had disappeared!

All in all, I would stay in a pod/capsule style hostel/hotel but would ensure its purpose built next time.

I was intending to do a tour to see the Terracotta Warriors but I knew it was about £15 to get in and the tours were charging over £100 including transport. My host assured me I would be able to do it by metro and bus. Full of apprehension and armed with a Chinese note with the name of the metro stops and the bus number I set off. It also contained a sentence in Chinese asking for directions to my home (hotel), just in case I got lost.

I found the metro and managed to get someone to help me buy a ticket by showing them the note. Only £2 first success! Metro was the same principle as tube, so that was straightforward enough. Then made my way across town, waving my note in front of about ten different dis-interested Chinese people to find the bus station and joined the longest queue ever (Honest Shona, I think it would have beaten Gastonbury lol!).

On the bus I met my new best friend, he was lovely, and spoke English. Actually he talked more than me! He was from Croatia and turns out he was a quiz buff, winning a load of money which funded his trip. He was also a professional linguist and a host on our equivalent to Countdown. we went around the site together and he knew all about the history etc. and answered my questions about what we were seeing. Perfect.

Going home was trickier and I did get lost, after I got off the metro and was walking back. Some guy offered me a lift on his motorbike, funnily enough I refused lol!

Back in the hotel I totted up my spend. 2 x £2 metros; 2 x £7 bus; £15 entrance. Total of £33. Much cheaper than over £100 and all in my own time, plus I conquered the local transport (feeling proud!)

I wish it could have been so easy booking tickets to Shanghai. Every time I tried to organise online the system crashed. I think because of the Chinese web securities and the work around to use certain Internet sites. It even got to the stage where I had Jaquie book tickets from the UK for me only to find out this morning (as I'm due to leave for the airport) that they had sent me an email saying they had cancelled my tickets, at no extra charge, because they couldn't verify my details - tamping! Couldn't believe it when I had one last try to book myself and it all went through fine :)

Anyway, least I got my flight and hopefully will get to meet up with the lovely Tina Green in Shanghai. See you there x

Posted by ClareRoach 07:17 Comments (0)

Beijing - China

Well this is the first time on my trip that I wasn't ready to leave somewhere and wished I'd booked longer. There is so much to see and it's an amazing place. I hope to get back. This was also the first place I've travelled into on my own and I was apprehensive, mainly about the difference in language.

It has been tricky and harder to organise things than anywhere else so far but I totally love it. Nothing is easy here. Even getting money out of cashpoint or logging onto free wifi and of course you can't ask anyone because hardly anyone speaks English. And why would they? They can speak to each other fine of course, and they do, very loudly and animatedly. Every conversation sounds like an argument and they don't smile at each other at all.

It turns out my hostel is exactly what I had imagined hosteling would be like. When I arrived there were a group of people Rhys and Cerys' age sitting in the street drinking and it turns out one of them was the receptionist. lots more partying people inside but I didn't care, I just needed a bed. Straight to my room of four (2 girls, 1 boy) already sleeping so at least they weren't going to be one of the drunken ones coming in later. Not that I would have known - I climbed onto my top bunk being as quiet as I could and was asleep before my head hit the pillow - literally! Safe to say Jo and Jaq you would still be awake!

I have struck the jackpot with the area I'm staying in,it's perfect. The little street I'm in is known as a Hutong which is one of the oldest types of streets in China and disappearing. Such a shame because it is amazing. Full of culture and character but also with everything you could want. I absolutely adore it! It's right at the start of the main shopping district, full of bars and restaurants and at the end of my street, turn left and I'm a five minute walk from Tinnanamun square. Loving my hostel, shared dorm and all, and so booked an extra night there,

Trying to sort out tour guides, ordering my time here is extremely hard with intermittent wifi, language barriers etc. I realise quite quickly that I'm not going to be able to fit everything in as Beijing is huge and travel time around it is lengthy. I decide my priorities are 'the triangle' - Beijing for Tiannimun Square and the Great Wall, Xi'an for the Terracotta Warriors and Shanghai where I'm flying out of. Disappointed not to have time to see The Summer Palace or the Pandas but realistically to catch the train to Xi'an and have time there I have to catch the next available train which is already Day 4 of my ten days in China - far too short!

I enjoyed wandering around Tianninum Square and The Forbidden City but realised a guide explaining things would have been invaluable so much So that although I could have got to the wall using local transport, I decided to find a tour company. Not easy! I eventually sorted one out with an English speaking guide about 7:00 the evening before the tour the following morning. It was to be a full day tour with about 20 people.

It did run from 6:30 to 5:45 but included a stop at a jade factory and a tea ceremony which we hadn't been told about and which we didn't want to go to, but had to as part of the tour! There were 3 other adults and one child as well as me. They were nice, from Argentina and Utah. They were equally unimpressed with the tour experience. In a nut shell, the guides English was so heavily accented it was impossible to follow. He talked really fast with no attempt to check our understanding, didn't want to engage with us, was sullen and didn't provide any information unless really pressed for it. That included basics like toilets. He also walked at such a pace, we hardly had time to look, let alone take pictures. He frequently lost us, then yelled at us all in Chinese to keep up, like it was our fault!

We stopped at the Ming tombs on the way to the wall. We all thought we'd be able to enter them but were told no. The carved animals that mark each of the tombs were spectacular from what I saw as we legged it through the centre of them. I couldn't see any entrances and the area was clearly marked Ming Timbs but we all speculated there was another part that we were missing. We somehow felt like there was more that we weren't seeing and of course attempts by the group to ask the guide weren't met favourably.

The wall however was incredible and the highlight of the tour. Luckily enough it didn't need a guide to explain it, although it would have been nice to hear some of its history. The hundreds of steps did feel reminiscent of Macchu Picchu on times, Dave and Dawn. I took some photos especially for you both, which I will post to Facebook. I split off from the others and enjoyed being on the wall on my own. I was able to walk at my own pace, read the signs and really appreciate what it must have been like without any chatter or interruptions.

All in all a mixed day and even though it's been long and hot I look k forward to enjoying the evening which will be my final in Beijing. clearly could do with at least another week. Reflecting in the bus on the way back what strikes me is the order that there is to the apparent chaos. The roads and even the pavements are divided into sections and the thousands of people are very orderly. There are queues everywhere and people are polite in them, plus there are police everywhere you turn. Sitting and standing in groups of two or three and often armed they are on every corner and constantly stop and check individuals. They seem to enter their identity card into a portable machine and then send them on their way all in a very loud and officious manner.

First place I've not been impressed by the food. I thought I'd struck lucky when I spotted Latte on the menu. It arrived and was so sweet it nearly took my teeth out! I gave up trying to explain I didn't want sugar. The menus are all heavy into meat and even the street snacks are all meat based. I've tried to ask what sort of meat but have been put off by the response of meat. Or if I ask chicken, they nod yes chicken. If I ask beef they nod yes beef and it all looks identical. I've been trying to stick to vegetable based dishes but even that's not plain sailing. I ordered Vegetable fried rice as I'd had some success with this in India so thought I'd give it a go. OMG, my mouth is still burning at the thought of it, plus, there wasn't a Vegetable in sight. I must confess I did have salad in an Italian I found and ice cream from MacDonalds!

The other thing I wasn't expecting is the shopping. I can't believe how incredible it is and I can't even share it with Sharon, she would be in her element! It was so hard trying not to buy things. I had to keep reminding myself, you'll have to carry it and your backpack is already heavy! Still picked up a few bits which I'm now working out how to pack and post to the UK, Probably cost more than the goods, but we will see.

I failed to find the night food market with the interesting 'food'. I really wanted to go and although I was tired after walking around in the heat all day I knew it didn't shut until 10:00. So I asked some random person for directions (not sure I'd been understood) and set off. About 45 mins later around 9.30 I had to admit defeat as the area looked too dodgy to be wondering about on my own so I made my way back and headed to a tiny bar next door to my hostel for a well earned beer. It struck me as funny that if anyone arrived the same time as I had the night before, I would now be one of the people sitting outside drinking!

I'm writing this on the Bullet Train to Xi'an and will try to get a photo when I get off providing the station isn't as chaotic as Beijing! I had to go first class as they were they only seats left so all is good. I'll write again from Xi'an hopefully when I've seen the Terecotta Worriors.

Posted by ClareRoach 07:48 Comments (2)

A bit of blighty and some amazing people

My unexpected de-tour

sunny 28 °C
View The Big One on ClareRoach's travel map.

Stress levels have been off the scale this last week as we attempt to work with the insurance company Global-Response to organise Jaquies repatriation. The whole experience has been beyond shocking. We bought this premium insurance policy from Trail Finders and paid £500 each following their recommendation. We obviously hoped not to have to use it but when we did, expected things to run relatively smoothly. I can not reiterate strongly enough how much that wasn't the case. As a direct result of the delays and incompetence of Global Response Jaquie had no choice but to ask the Embassy for assistance. I strongly believe Trail Finders shouldn't be selling this policy as Global Response are unable to operate it and I believe both organisations are equally liable for the failings. I will say no more here as the list of their competencies would take over the blog but if you are considering travel insurance please contact me and I will be happy to share our experience to try and help avoid anyone else suffering in this way.

We both have mixed emotions leaving the Xandria Hotel Inn, Cochin. The staff at the hotel are absolutely amazing and they went way above and beyond our expectations to ensure we were as comfortable as possible. They even learnt how to make UK pancakes especially for us, which were delicious. On a practical level, they allowed Jaquie to use their reception phone for calls to the insurance company for hours on end essentially 'blocking' their phone line and any potential bookings. Obviously Jaquie has to go back to the UK for her operation and I am so annoyed that she doesn't have a medical escort as recommended by the consultant and that I am now having to acompany her. I couldn't even take her blood pressure let alone help if something goes wrong! There's also the emotions surrounding her having to cut her trip and miss SRI Lanka, China etc. etc. Realistically, we don't know if she will make it back at any stage. Jaquies hopeful she will rejoin me towards the end of the year, but there is a lot of water to go under the bridge by then, including rehabilitation and physio!

It was nice to see Alex again for our trip to the airport. We left the hotel at 5:00 a.m. On Saturday 27th June and after 5217.1 air miles plus 129.5 land miles. 13 hours actual travel time plus the usual, airport hanging around we finally hit the UK.

Should say this wasn't the usual flight experience. Emirates and their staff were incredible. Because of Jaquies broken leg we were escorted through check-in and customs straight into the plane. No queing at all! we were in Business Class with flat beds which I put to use before we even left the ground. We were both exhausted at this stage.

Reality really set in when we were met by our UK taxi driver who after dropping me took Jaquie onto South Wales and straight to the hospital (due to arrive around midnight on a Saturday night!) and then she dropped off the face of the earth! I sent several emails, and messages to find out if she got there ok and what was happening to her leg - but nothing! Finally Sharon James, got to the bottom of things by phoning the hospital. Turns out Jaquie had no charge on her IPAD or Phone arrgghhhh!!!! When I eventually heard from her she was expecting an operation at 3:30 but it got cancelled due to an emergency and is due to have it today instead...... You couldn't write this! It's a bit worrying as she will now be two days over the maximum time window for the operation so praying it goes well for her.

I won't know for a little while, as I'll be making my way to Sri Lanka whilst she will be in theatre! On the up side, I'm on the same flight as Jo Frazer Jones so will have some company going back and for the next two weeks before hitting China on my own.

Next post will be Sri Lanka :)

Hurry up and get well Jaquiline :)

Posted by ClareRoach 01:14 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

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