29 October – Terracotta Warriors 

Today we visit the Terracotta Warriors. Discovered by chance by a couple of farmers digging a well. Now one of the world’s most incredible archeological sites. The work here has been on going for 40 years and will likely continue for many more. Only a fraction of the site has been uncovered to date. All the warriors were originally found smashed to pieces due to vandalism which took place not long after their original creation and burial. Needless to say, while the unearthing is taking years, the restoration of the 1000s of broken warrior bits is taking even longer.

Remarkable to see this place and learn a tiny bit more of the history that led to the creation of such a massive tomb. This is a very popular destination for every tourist in this country, both Chinese and foreign. I think everyone visited today. However Koby assures us that the crowds we experienced today are in fact not crowds. So a suggestion to anyone reading this who thinks they will visit. Do so first thing in the morning and for sure not on a Chinese holiday. Otherwise I think the experience would be anything but pleasant. Judging from what we witnessed today, I think it would be possible to not see a thing other than the backs and heads of throngs of people squeezing in front of you. There is no concept of taking one’s turn here and personal space is rather less than what we westerners are used to. Even little old ladies are brutal with their pushing and shoving! Thankfully, while we did have to deal with some of that towards the end of our visit, for the most part our time with the warriors was without undue trampling.

I’m not going to summarize the history here because even the most brief synopsis will take too long.

With out further comment – –

28 October – Oh soooo cute!

We enjoy our last breakfast onboard the Viking Emerald and by shortly after 8am we’re disembarking and climbing up the many steps to the top of the embankment. Once again our docking facilities lack any finesse. There are numerous porters on hand to help with carry-on baggage. (Our checked bags have already gone to the airport). One of the porters helps Dad up the steps as well as his back pack! For this he is very grateful as it is a pretty steep series of steps to get from river to street level. 
We pile onto our bus which is parked randomly in the middle of a lane of busy traffic. None of the other drivers seem the least put out. We set off with a very amusing local guide regaling us with amusing accounts of life in this city of 30 million inhabitants. Yes, 30 million, all living within one massive mega city. Our destination is the city zoo. Big city. Big zoo. We are nice and early so there are no crowds. Viking is really skillful at arranging our tours during optional times. We head directly to…… can you guess?

I’m sure you guessed no animal other than Panda bears.

The first enclosure holds three year old pandas and they are in a playful mood. 

I’ll let these pictures speak for themselves.

Our zoo visit is pretty quick as we need lunch before heading to the airport for our flight from here in Chongqing to Xian.
Lunch is at a new place for Viking. We are the first to enjoy this upscale restaurant commanding a fabulous view over the river. The meal is traditional Chinese and much of it quite spicy. Even our tour escort Koby finds a couple of the dishes on the hot side. As usual there is way too much. The dishes keep coming and coming in an odd order. Rice shows up about half way through and two vegetable dishes arrive after we’ve all eaten much more than enough. We have none of us quite figured out how to pace one’s self through a meal of unknown numbers of dishes. This one consisted of about fifteen shared between ten of us.
Our flight is uneventful except for a hard landing. Barely two hours after leaving Chongqing we are climbing aboard our bus taking us to the Sheraton hotel in Xian. Weird hotel. The elevators are ridiculously complicated. Take 10 people all going to different floors, all of whom need to get to a slot by the door to insert their room key card card. The elevator will not stop at a floor unless a room card for that floor has been inserted and left in place until the floor registers. Pressing the floor buttons does nothing. The slot is not easily accessible if more than two or three people are in the elevator. The floors are not marked so one needs to look at the number showing within the elevator to figure out where to get off. The lights in the room have created mystery for everyone we’ve spoken to. They seem to work or not work randomly. The bathroom walls are fully retractable. Pictures coming of that oddness. I know – really weird! And dinner – not very good. We’ve been spoiled in terms of service and food quality on the cruise.

Enough from me this evening. I’ve sent all the catch up blogs from the past week so you’ll have more than enough to wade through.

27 October – Shibaozhai Temple

This morning we tie up at dawn and after an early breakfast our shore excursion takes us to Shibaozhai Temple. Once again the dock facility is dreadful. We are tied up to a typically rusty barge. We step out onto that then cross a series of smaller barges tied side by side until we get to shore. There is a rickety series of metal plank walkways across all the barges so we don’t have to climb in and out of each one, its simply a matter of walking along the planks, but it seems so ramble sham. We are far from the only cruise boat. There are at least four others tied up here. All are disgorging numerous passengers. Once on shore there is a veritable gauntlet of venders selling the usual polyester silk, and other genuine made in China junk to wayward tourists. We’ve been warned. Buy a red shirt that fits, one wash it will be a pink shirt for a child, two washes and it will be a white shirt fit for a dog. 
Our tour escort dawdles so all the other groups get well ahead and then we run the gauntlet, pass through the entry gates, cross a very odd bouncy suspension bridge to an island. This of course is a very new island, created by the flooding river. There is a large cement dyke surrounding it. We walk along the dyke to the temple entrance which is below water level on the dry inland side of the dyke. Only seven of us ascend the nine story Pagoda entry up into the temple. The rest watch our progress as we wave out the little round windows at each successive level. I mentioned our tour escort dawdled. This is why – the crowds have surged ahead in throngs and we now have the place to ourselves. The Pagoda is a crazy structure which is actually only half a Pagoda built against the steep rock face. It is quite old – 500 years or so – and was built with no nails. Once at the top we continue through a temple which includes a funny little bridge which is supposed to be crossed in three steps. We take the challenge and all manage this feat before descending down the back side of the cliff. Most of us find a scenic riverside way to get back to our ship thus we avoid the horrors of the venders and their tacky wares.

I’ve added a picture of some workers trying to install a lighting rod on the Pagoda’s roof. It all seems pretty haphazard and quite dangerous!

26/27 October – The Dam and more Gorges

We finally reach the monstrous Three Gorges Dam in the late afternoon and are bussed to the viewing area. From here we ride a series of long steep outdoors escalators to the top of a hill which commands an excellent view down onto the five step lock systems. They are massive. Later this evening our ship will begin the long process of passing through. Our view across the dam is so obscured by the haze that we can really only guess what it looks like. An enormous very solid cement structure disappears indistinctly into the mist. Presumably it is much more substantial than it appears in this weak light.

Our eventual progression up through the lock begins after dark. There is some excitement during the first lock’s opening, our passage into it, the closing, the rising, the opening at the top….all to be repeated with appropriate grinding and screeching of metal on metal five times over. Needless to say, I’m sure not one passenger follows the entire procedure as it continues for several hours. The following morning finds us sailing into sunshine and ever more scenic gorge. We are now in the second gorge, which is called Wu Gorge. The river has narrowed again and is much more interesting due to its bends and the steep cliffs rising vertically from its jade green depths.

We stop at a dock – as dilapidated as all the others where we disembark onto a rusty barge tied up to the bank of the river. We board small sampans, each with a bright yellow awning and holding about 18 of us. We head up into a much narrower steep-sided tributary known (in translation) as Goddess Stream. The scenery is stunning and the sun is now making a serious effort at burning through the smog. Our guide tells us about her life as a relocated mountain person. She describes the government relocation of the millions of people affected by the rising waters of the Yangtze. She does so with little commentary, simply stating facts as she knows them. Move or drown. If your house was 40 square metres your new one will be 80 square metres. You had a farm, now you do not, but you have a new TV and new furniture. Your farm was on land surrounded with fields and trees. Your new house is in a city (referred to as a village), in a multi floor walk up apartment. If you are too infirm to walk up all those stairs too bad. The dam has reduced flooding, improved navigation, provided a source of cleaner power. A few million displaced people, thousands of ancient treasures under water etc is seen as an acceptable and reasonable price to pay. 
Certainly this is not something about which this foreigner should make comment. The fact is, we are now sailing on the world’s longest reservoir and it is very beautiful.

This brings me to wonder if the reason for the awful docking facilities is because the water has been rising for the past few years and perhaps it is a really bad idea to build permanent infrastructure in an area with an as yet unknown high water level??

Once returned to our Viking Emerald we head off up river again into the third gorge. This is even more narrow and now that the sun is shining, it presents itself as being quite a glorious place. Qutang Gorge is also the shortest reach of the three so quite soon we are headed out the other side. The river widens, but the shore line remains hilly and picturesque. We pass several large and brand new cities, under more bridges and past pleasant rural landscapes.

24 October – City Walls and School Children 

The weather is warm but continues to be very hazy so the views are minimal. We occupy ourselves with eating ridiculous amounts of wonderful food, having tea, listening to more lectures and generally being rather indolent.
Upon our arrival in Jingzhou a few school children are brought on board to give a little performance. They are quite young, six to maybe as old as nine or ten. Of course cute. They dance, sing, smile shyly, eat treats, say a few rehearsed words, and set out a donations box. Many of us have brought gifts such as pens and school supplies from home countries. One woman donates a huge pile of the types of large cheap plastic drinking cups that one gets at amusement parks and the like. No one knows how this is supposed to be useful or why she thinks these children would want them. Viking assists financially with a couple of schools in poorer rural communities. Definition of a small rural community here seems to be some place of only three or four million inhabitants. Quite often Viking passengers go to the schools to visit the children but as it is getting later in the day it has been decided it would be better for the children to come to us. From what I heard about the mass noisy visits to the schools, this seems to be a wonderful alternative.

The children’s visit is immediately followed by most of us disembarking for a tour to the ancient city walls. A short bus ride through the city. More high rises. Then a walk through a large pretty park, over a humped bridge, onto a little people-carrying extended golf cart type of transport to a massive gate with a temple building above. Free time to scamper around and take pictures. Night falls, the lights come on and the scene is magical. More pictures. However the walk back to the bus parking area is a bit tricky in the dark as the park and bridge are not lit. Not everyone is too impressed. Footing was a bit tricky and some of the less sure footed really struggle. Dad wisely elected not to come on this excursion 

24 October – Our Yangtze Voyage Continues 

We’ve sail all night, yet this morning the smog and scenery remains much the same. We slide by slower moving vessels heading up-stream and others pass us by on their passage out towards Shanghai. We continue to pass flat farmland, treed areas, a few skyscraper cities and under several more high suspension bridges. The river remains very wide and fast flowing. The landscape continues to be monotonous gray and somewhat indistinct. While the view beyond our windows is unexceptional, we are busy within the confines of our comfortable ship.

The past three days have been punctuated by several lectures and activities squeezed between delicious meals. So far we’ve had an interesting class on traditional Chinese medicine, a fascinating lecture on the history of Buddhism in China, an introduction to speaking Chinese (which provides ample opportunity for hilarity), a lesson on Majong (followed by the opportunity to play a few games), a history of tea and demonstration of a Chinese tea ceremony, plus informative talks about the Yangtze River and Three Gorges Dam. So despite being inactive in the physical sense, we’ve been kept very busy. 

We are now entering the first stretch of the renowned scenic gorge scenery. Most of us are on deck to watch our ship proceed through the first lock. This was built as a test lock in the 1970s and is still a fair distance from the larger series of locks associated with the Three Gorges Dam. It is a tight squeeze with just a few inches to spare on either side of the boat! Once we’re into the lock the water level increases amazingly quickly and we’re soon sailing out the top side. 

The temperature has dropped significantly and the cloud or pollution haze is thick and low so visibility remains quite poor. Regardless, the scenery is improved and limestone cliffs rise steeply on either side of this much narrower stretch of the river. Thick forests grow above the cliffs and reflect their deep green into the water below. There are still many other boats plying passage up and down. Most of them are very rusty and belch clouds of stinky diesel fumes into the air. There are a few small villages along the less steep areas of the shore and several private lodges and resorts are pointed out to us. Nothing is old or quaint. The villages are not unattractive, but they aren’t exceptionally photogenic either. Rows of quite homogeneous white three story buildings line a road that snakes above the river. These are some of the houses built by the government to relocate the people who’s homes were flooded by rising water above the dam.

This area is cited as being the most scenic reach of the Yangtze. Hmmm. So far I’m rather underwhelmed. It is interesting but not particularly scenic. To my mind the Li River is much more the quintessential picture-book Chinese River. I reserve judgment for now.

Off to bed. While we sleep, our voyage will continue so we’ll be lulled by the gentle throb of two big diesel engines and the whisper of the Yangtze flowing past our bow.

22 and 23 October – Cruising the Mighty Yangtze River

Our flight from Shanghai to Wuhan, where we board the Viking Emerald, is managed with clock-work precision. Moving 220 people and all their luggage certainly offers a considerable challenge. We are divided up into several flights departing at different times. Some of us have a bit of extra time in Shanghai so we enjoy an impromptu walk along the magnificent Bund waterfront promenade one more time. The flight is short – less than two hours. The meal served on board is absolutely hideous. I’ve had some poor in-flight meals. This one wins the prize for being the worst, hands down! We have been given box lunches prior to check in – thank goodness. 
Wuhan is an immense city of 11 million people. It stretches across a vast area. We drive for some time (over an hour) through a sky-scraper jungle to the dock. The dock is very ramble sham. Not the first destitute place we’ve seen, but the first we’ve actually been in close contact with. Despite the less than charming surroundings. Our arrival is accompanied by vigorous Chinese drumming on a massive drum and the antics of a large red dragon who leaps and frolics about in apparent glee. It’s a colourful and grand reception despite the rusty relic of a dock. There is also the red jacketed crew all lined up to welcome us on board and whisk us off to our cabins. The boat is not one of the traditional Viking long boats due to Chinese regulations which only permit Chinese built ships on inland waters. None the less, while quite old, the ship is a well maintained elegant classic. All the carpets and furnishings have been recently replaced so it is very lovely and comfortable. 

We roam around the five decks to get a feel for our home for the next six nights. Our cabin is on the main deck which is also where the dining room is. The sweeping staircases connecting the decks are around a beautiful circular central area with shops and Chinese decor details on each floor. There are several inside and outside observation areas and a couple of bars. All is light and spacious. The crew of course is well turned out in their Viking distinctive uniforms. We are all greeted by name (we’ve been encouraged to wear name tags) upon our arrival. 

Our cabin is a nice size. Two twin beds, a desk and small couch with coffee table. Very nice toiletries in the bathroom which is also a reasonable size. We have a balcony with two chairs and floor to ceiling glass sliding doors connecting it to our cabin. Lots of closet space. All very fine indeed.

I’m a bit disappointed that the tables are only set with western utensils for meals. I’ve been using chop sticks since arrival in China and have been enjoying becoming quite proficient in their use. That however is my only complaint in respect to the dining experiences to date.
Our first night aboard is at the dock. The next morning we troupe off to the Hubei Museum. As it is Monday the museum is closed to the public. Not all our fellow Vikings come so we have a very exclusive visit to see many of the artifacts removed from the 433BC tomb of the Marquis Yi. This includes a fabulous performance, featuring the playing of replicas of a musical instrument composed of 64 bronze bells of various sizes. Several other interesting instruments of bygone times are included. We are treated to several Classical Chinese and western selections. A perfect blend and just the right amount. The music is enhanced by the vivid period costumes worn by the musicians and accompanying dancers. It’s an outstanding performance made even more enjoyable by not having to deal with crowds.

Within minutes of returning to the Viking Emerald we are casting off and set sail up the Yangtze. The weather is extremely hazy (industrial smog – the sun is a dim orange globe) so visibility is limited. The scene is a fairly monotone gray/silver. The river here is very wide and the landscape flat. For the first several hours we pass by more high rises, industrial areas and under numerous bridges. We also are going much faster than the many freighters and barges labouring up-stream. We are, by a long stretch, the prettiest cleanest vessel on these fast flowing opaque waters. The scenery is frankly quite boring and not at all attractive. The atmosphere within is festive and there’s general excitement as we begin our voyage.

Good night from somewhere just west of Wuhan on the Yangtze River.

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.

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.