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.