China 2020 – Staycation Pt 5 – Shanghai

It’s hard to believe how quickly three weeks passed by. It seems like we were just talking about Beijing and here we are finishing up in Shanghai.

To get to Shanghai, we would have once again navigated an airport and an airline. While we’re always up for an adventure, I must say that I didn’t miss the stress of getting to Shanghai.

Shanghai, China’s largest city, is well known for its combination of history and modernization. The many skyscrapers light up the skyline at night with their glowing lights, but day or night the skyline is quite impressive. At the same time, the waterfront area known as “The Bund” offers a delightful contrast with its historical buildings, many dating back to the 1800’s with some art deco architecture to admire.

There are also many great international restaurants to tempt your taste buds, and for shoppers, you can find shops for just about every luxury and non-luxury brand you could want.

We had planned a day trip to visit to the beautiful cities of Suzhou and Tongli. There are so many quaint places to visit and we were looking forward to seeing them. Some of the many highlights are the beautiful UNESCO gardens, the Pagoda on Tiger Hill and the Tongli Ancient Town.

I happen to know someone who lives in Suzhou and was hoping that we might be able to meet while we were there. Sorry Marta, it was going to be a surprise.

Our last meals were just as tasty as first ones. I can’t say enough about how much fun we’ve had trying the different recipes and tasting real, freshly made Chinese food. Our past experience has always been Americanized versions of the foods and there really has been no comparison. Our final meal was Kung Pao Chicken.

Our flight home would have been direct from Shanghai to Toronto. As the flight was scheduled for just over thirteen hours, we were counting on snoozing a little bit; since when we returned to Toronto there would be another couple hours of getting home via shuttle – but that was not to be.

We’ve had fun on our little staycation. We hope you’ve enjoyed the ‘highlights of the highlights’ that we would have shared. Hopefully, the next time we’ll be talking about someplace we are actually visiting.

Wei Wei says:

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China 2020 – Staycation Pt 4 – Chengdu

Our trip from Xi’an to Chengdu would have been on a Chinese Domestic airline. From everything we’ve heard, it may have been an adventure in and of itself. Getting people to line up and sit in the right seat is supposedly a challenge. I guess we’ll never know.

A few days in Chengdu are well warranted- there are many wonderful things to see and do in this ancient area. While we planned to see many of those sites, we’re going to focus on the PANDAS! I know, gripe all you want, but we’re tourists, thousands of miles from home – Show me the Pandas!

While there are a couple places you can visit, the gold standard is the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. It is a non-profit facility with the goal of breeding, researching and conserving giant pandas, as well as other rare animals – including red pandas.

Hey, Buddy. You happen to have any bamboo on you?

There are thought to be about 1,850 giant pandas in the wild, plus another 200 in captivity. In collaboration with partner facilities and zoos worldwide, they are working to increase the population.

These little pandas are just adorable.

So, since we couldn’t be there to see them in person, we went with option number two and we just got our own. Meet Pen Pen – our very own giant panda.

Pen Pen joining in on the fun.

Wei Wei says: When life brings you bamboo, chow down!

I know it’s not bamboo in the picture; it’s also not a real panda.

So after our Panda fun, we would have spent some time checking out some of the area sites. Which ones, you ask? I don’t know, because our plans grew sketchy with the tremendous rains and flooding in southern China. In fact, we likely would have had to change a good portion of the itinerary. Take a look at the photos below to see just how much flooding we’re talking about:

This is the Leshan Giant Buddha. It was carved into the hillside in Leshan between 713 and 803 AD (during the Tang Dynasty) and is 71m tall. Notice the water level in the right picture, the water is actually covering part of his feet.

Flooding in Guilin Photo: Xinhua

The entire area suffered from similar flooding. From news articles, it seems that there was much damage and clean-up from all that water. We wish the people well in their efforts.

However, since we are not in the area, we didn’t have to work around those issues. Instead, we just had to come up with a few new recipes for our dinners. And come up with recipes we did!

Our culinary treats included Egg rolls with a dipping sauce made with Chinese five spice powder and Hoisin sauce, General Tso’s Chicken meatballs with Lo Mein, Roasted BBQ pork, and Mongolian beef and noodles. All of the meals were gong ringers and delicious.

While our movie selection is limited, we did sneak in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Also, while not a real depiction of Chinese people, I indulged in “Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum” on a rainy day.

So we’re off again, our final stop would have been in Shanghai. It’s another one of those must see places when visiting China. We’ll see you there.

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China 2020 – Staycation Pt 3 – Xian

The next part of the journey would have been the area around the city of Xian. To get there, we were to take one of the new, sleek, fast bullet trains. They travel between Beijing and Xian at a speed of 300kph and the ride is supposedly very smooth.

Photo by David Dibert on Pexels.com

Xian is said to be a very nice city. There are ancient walls that surround the city, a beautiful city-center with a lovely old Bell Tower and restaurants serving up some delicious meals.

But let’s cut to the chase: Xian was on the itinerary because of the Terra Cotta Warriors. I have been fascinated by the Warriors since I first learned about them twenty years ago. The story behind them being found accidentally, by farmers digging a well, is just incredible. Even more incredible is Emperor Qin Shi Huang, sitting on his throne and thinking that he would need protection when he departed the physical world. So he said to his advisors: “Craft me an army of terra-cotta warriors to protect me in the afterlife, and make sure to add in some entertainment for the troops. You know… maybe a couple of musicians and some acrobats to keep the warriors’ spirits up”.

Knowing that the tomb of the Emperor is nearby and not going all-out to find it is also intriguing. There is the respect factor, but I’ve always heard that the Chinese Government is not so excited about unveiling the past as it has the potential to make people not so interested in the communist party’s teachings. I’m sure they know more than they are willing to share with the world, but that’s just conjecture on my part.

A few years ago, friends bought me a set of terra-cotta warriors that I absolutely love. I really wanted to see the full size ones, but you can’t win them all.

My guys hanging around the new gong!

Once again, while we aren’t in China, we try to make the best of the situation. My friends, meet our newest friends = Mai Nie, Zhuo and Mei Nei (he asked us to call him Steve).

We originally met them while visiting the Great Wall, as they asked if we could take a photo for them. Since then, they’ve been a part of our adventure.

Ok, back to the excavation. The site is officially known as Emperor Qinshihaung’s Mausoleum Site Museum. The Emperor’s Tomb is located there, as well as several excavation pits where the warriors, chariots and bronzes have been uncovered. In the photo below, you can get a feel for just how big the excavation area is. The enclosure was built to protect the warriors from the weather while the restoration goes on.

The Terra Cotta Warrior Excavation site.

To date, there are 8,000 known warriors that have been found and are being restored.

Wei Wei Update: Recently, 200 more have been discovered.

Close-up of some restored warriors. (Photo from our Audley Travel Itinerary)

Wei Wei Fun Fact – Did you know that the warriors face east? That is the direction that the Emperor’s enemies came from.

There is a very good documentary from the Smithsonian Institute that talks about the tomb, the warriors and shows the restoration process. It’s available to view on YouTube.

All that imagining makes me hungry, so we also managed a couple more tasty dinners. This time Sue made Chow Mein with Shrimp and a Cabbage and Pork Stir Fry. Both were delicious and full of healthy vegetables – we may need to slide in a taco night just to offset the healthy food.

So after some fun, it’s time to move on again. For the next few days, we would have been enjoying the city of Chengdu. See you there soon.

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China 2020 – Staycation Pt 2 – More Beijing

Over the past few days we would have been exploring all around Beijing. The number of historical sites and UNESCO sites, as well as more modern sites throughout the city, is staggering. Around every turn is a new adventure, especially the hutongs or small alley neighborhoods, with shops, tea houses and restaurants.

Our journey was to begin at the Summer Palace. Our hotel was located just outside of the gates and it was a peaceful place to start. The Summer Palace was built back in the mid 1700’s by Emperor Qianlong and is a vast complex of gardens, palaces, lakes and hills. In fact, it is the largest and best preserved royal garden in all of China. It was actually destroyed by the British during the war of 1860, and was then restored on its original foundations in 1886. It is just a short distance from the center of Beijing, but feels like you’re out in the middle of the countryside. (At least that’s what the brochure says!)

From the Summer Palace, we would have next moved to the center of Beijing. Our plans included a tour of the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and a few other sites, including a day visiting the Great Wall.

The Forbidden City is in actuality a palace complex that dates back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It was continually used from 1368 through 1911. Commoners (that would have been us) were “forbidden” from entering without prior permission. Only Imperial families and invited High Officials could enter. All of the buildings were painted red and yellow, which were the Imperial colors, and those were the only buildings painted that color. I hope everyone else was good with beige and brown!

Tiananmen Square is a big public space that the Chinese Government doesn’t like to talk about, so neither will I. However, there are many temples and museums around the city that we’re told are ‘must sees’. So much for that. Speaking of ‘must sees’, being a tourist or a resident of Beijing likely means that you are part of “Must See TV”. There are over 1.2 million CCTV cameras located throughout the city. Big brother is watching – so is big daddy, big uncle, big auntie and probably big cousin.

Hutongs are narrow alleys with residences, shops, restaurants and tea houses. They are the places to visit to get a real flavor of life in Beijing. We had a motorcycle sidecar tour planned, as well as a dinner at a restaurant called the Black Sesame Kitchen.

The highlight of this portion of the trip was to be our visit to see the Great Wall. We were planning to drive a little farther and visit a section that is not as crowded as some of the main points. This incredible world wonder was originally built more than 2,700 years ago to protect against the invading Mongol Hordes. All together, it stretches over 13,170 miles, with the main portion of the structure coming in at 5,500 miles. It was built at an average height of about 20 ft and an average width of 21.3 ft. Over 1 million laborers worked on its construction over many years.

Wei Wei Fun Fact – More than 1,000 bricks and stones were used to build the wall.

Unfortunately, it didn’t really work to prevent the invaders – it just slowed them down. In my mind, I just picture Genghis Khan’s Mongols getting mad and having to send someone to get a sack of coins, as in the toll booth scene from “Blazing Saddles”.

Not being in China was not going to stop us from enjoying the Great Wall. We managed to enjoy a little picnic and glass of wine while gazing across the miles. Imagination is a wonderful thing!

So this week wasn’t spent just imagining things about China. It was also spent enjoying some wonderful meals, made by my lovely Chef, who also happens to be my wife. Sue put some of those wonderful ingredients we bought together and turned out some delicious dishes – Sesame Chicken, Pork and vegetable dumplings, Hunan Beef and Vegetables, and Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry.

We enjoyed these Chinese dishes with some nice wines too. A little malbec from France, a California zinfandel and a delicious Napa Valley red blend. No Chinese wines, but we did finish up our evening with a nice cup of tea. My favorite has been the Oolong tea and Sue’s has been the traditional green tea.

Hard to believe but the first week of our trip would have been over and we would be moving on. So we shall do the same here. A quick journey to Xi’an is up next. Hope to see you there.

Beijing West Train Station – Off we go!
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China 2020 – Staycation Pt 1 – Beijing

The Mid-Autumn Festival has passed, as has the National Holiday Week, so you would think everyone would be happy after eating all those Mooncakes and dancing in the streets, but it isn’t the case.

Mooncakes – these little beauties can pack a punch depending on their filling.

My understanding is that there are pockets of people who are not happy after finding out we won’t be traveling to China. Sorry folks, blame it on the virus!

I’m not proficient in Mandarin, but I think the signs say: “Please come visit us, Tom”.

We were to travel today and it would have been a lovely day to fly, however, we were even more comfortable and less stressed watching Netflix and sitting on our comfy den chairs. Instead of our fold flat seats, we were forced to sleep on our spacious king-sized bed with our fuzzy comforter. So far I’m not too put out!

And so today we are officially kicking off our Chinese Staycation! That initial nervousness of landing in a foreign country and hearing a different language needed to be a part of our adventure, so we went to the Chinese Market to pick up a couple of last minute supplies. As some of you know, I was using Duolingo to learn a few phrases, so I was excited to use them.

With my best pronunciation skills I said: “Nǐ hǎo. Wèishéme shānyáng shì lǜsè de?” Instead of showing us where the Oyster Sauce was located, the woman just burst into laughter.

Once she stopped laughing, she asked me to repeat my question in english. Apparently, using my new language skills, I said “Hello. Why are the goats green?” So much for that skill set. That’s why we would have had a translator with us in China. We should have brought Wei Wei along.

At least we got the oyster sauce, along with many other tasty ingredients for some good eating ahead. One of the days will be our joint cooking class, so we’re looking for some items that I can’t mess up. If only the Chinese were known for their outdoor grilling of hamburgers.

Wei Wei approved our purchases, but thought we should have bought a couple bundles of bamboo.

The Chinese market also provided us with access to many different varieties of tea to try. No Red Rose or Lipton on this trip. We’ll be trying a few different green teas, black teas, oolong teas and white teas. We were also able to obtain some jasmine tea, which smells delightful.

Driving home, we were surprised by the lack of ancient structures and interesting architecture along our route. Many were probably rebuilt as a Walgreens or Tim Hortons. We thought we saw a Buddha in the distance, but as we approached we realized we were just passing by a Jenny Craig’s. Oh well – Peace, Brother!

Once we were home, we sat down to enjoy some beautiful and tranquil music. Here is a sample for you to enjoy too.

Later, while Sue was making dinner, I was listening to a podcast about sports and recreation in China. Two gentlemen, Mr. Wat and Mr. Hu talked about the love of table tennis, gymnastics and basketball throughout the country. Additionally, baseball has gained some popularity in both Beijing and Shanghai. I’m still not sure I believe what they said however, as in the introductions they said Mr. Hu would be on first and Mr. Wat would be on second. Hmm?

Tonight we had a simple dinner and began planning for some of the upcoming activities. We’re looking forward to the many sites that lie ahead during our stay in Beijing.

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China 2020 – Staycation

Yes, we’re a little bit odd at times, but odd can be fun. We decided that since we can’t go to China, we would bring a little bit of China to Williamsville. A little taste of the cuisine, a few videos of the sites we were going to see and maybe a surprise or two along the way.

Our preparations have changed from obtaining Visas and buying hygiene products to looking up recipes and buying spices, which I might add has been an enjoyable endeavor. We can’t wait to cook and eat some of the goodies – I’ll be sure to share some pictures and a review or two.

Let me start by introducing you to our travel companion and guide. Ladies and gentlemen, this is “Wei Wei”. Wei Wei will be helping us with commentary, historical facts, menu choices, a little philosophy and just looking cute and fuzzy (which was my former job).

Wei Wei says: Life is not a problem to be solved, but rather a reality to be experienced!

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Sue is ready. Wei Wei is ready. My irreverent humor is stockpiled, and I’ve found plenty of photos to document our tongue-in-cheek Chinese journey. I guess that means that I’m ready too. The trip starts on Saturday, October 10th. Hope you’ll join us and have some fun along the way.

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China 2020 – Epilogue

So I’m better now…still disappointed, but better. All of the follow-up items have been taken care of; not exactly the way I had hoped they would, but at least for now we’re not out any money.

So first, a little bit on the airline tickets. As I have previously mentioned, we had found non-stop flights on Air Canada from Toronto to Beijing and then back from Shanghai to Toronto. Not cheap, but definitely more convenient. While the airline canceled our first flight, they didn’t cancel our second flight, which means we would have to cancel the reservation instead of them. The significance of that is that since we were canceling the reservation, their cancelation policy would kick in and our options would be a flight credit or a travel voucher – no refund.

While I understand, I still don’t like the policy. Once they cancelled the first flight, that should have made us eligible for a refund. Though I like Air Canada and Pearson Airport, it will mean that any recommendation I would offer up to folks will come with a caveat.

That said, we did get a travel voucher, which is essentially a gift card that we can use for any future flights. I don’t think they’ll be going out of business any time soon and they do fly to locations we like, so we’ll get to use that up eventually.

As for the travel agency, here’s where my bias towards doing things myself proves out once again. The trip is cancelled. They can not send Americans to China, however the best we can do is a travel credit. Our three choices were to postpone the trip until a future date, take a travel credit that we could use towards another tour (both with a two year expiration period) or just cancel and walk away – giving up the 25% we’ve already put down.

We took the travel credit and are hoping that we’ll be able to use it towards another trip when things settle down. Hopefully, they’ll go somewhere we want to go and somewhere that we’ll need help with.

So our next step will be to think about where we might want to go if life normalizes. Wherever that might be, it will be somewhere that Air Canada flies and Audley provides services, so we can recoup the money we have tied up in credits.

生活仍在继续 Life goes on…

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China 2020 – Cancelled due to Everything

So our trip of a lifetime is not going to take place. After holding out hope that things would get better, it appears that that hope has faded away. COVID-19, flooding and political tensions have changed excitement and anticipation into sadness and disappointment.

The reality of the situation is that we no longer feel comfortable and safe traveling to China. A thirteen hour flight wearing a mask is not in my plans. Of course, we still don’t know what the rules regarding quarantine will be and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take.

As of now, the Canadian border isn’t open for us to even catch our flight from Toronto to Beijing, but they say it will likely be open sometime in July. However, there is talk of a pre-trip fourteen day quarantine. Then there is the question of what happens when we arrive in China. A fourteen day quarantine period on a twenty-one day trip is unacceptable. Then traveling throughout the Chinese provinces adds another layer of concern, as there have been outbreaks of the virus in different areas.

Then we fly home with the possibility of another fourteen day quarantine when we arrive back in Canada? And what about then returning to the US? It truly is one big cluster.

So during my working days I was an Accountant and the Accountant in me always considers risk aversion. Without even weighing the plusses and minuses – the buzzer says ‘NO!’. The remotest possibility of being quarantined for forty-two days is not even a consideration.

So after hundreds of hours of research and planning, my remaining tasks are to complete the cancellation of the trip.

Since the airline has not cancelled our flight, we will only be eligible for an airline credit. Two business class tickets to China will leave us with quite a large credit to use up. Hopefully, things will settle down and we’ll be able to travel again in the not-to-distant future.

Then there is the question of what happens with the travel agency. We booked with an agency because China presented so many obstacles with the language differences and amount of travel we would be doing. They also provided many different features that would have made our trip more enjoyable. After a brief conversation, we’re on hold for a little while but it looks like we’ll be able to postpone going to China or perhaps receive a credit to be able to go to another location. A cash refund is not going to happen though.

So I’m currently mad at the world. With all the contradictory information currently circulating, I don’t know who to believe and I’m leaning towards believing nobody.

The hopeful side of me thinks that things will get better and we’ll return to some semblance of normality. The less hopeful side of me just thinks and doesn’t say much!

So the remainder of 2020 will include trips to the mailbox and maybe a few car rides to get away from all the hubbub. Such is life…

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Shanghai

Our final area to explore will be the city of Shanghai and the surrounding region.

Last stop – Shanghai

From Guilin, we fly to the east coast and the city of Shanghai. It’s a 794 mi / 1278 km journey and the flight should take between 2 and 3 hours.

We should not feel lonely in Shanghai. With a population of over 24 million people, we should have plenty of company wherever we go. I believe it is the second most populous city in the world, trailing only Dehli, India.

We will be staying four nights at the venerable Fairmont Peace Hotel. It is located in the area known as the Bund, which stretches along the shore of the Huangpu River and lies across from the modern Shanghai skyline. The area is renowned for its art deco styling and tree lined streets.

The city is considered very upscale and international in nature. Lots of financial institutions make their home there and we’re told that every luxury brand is represented in the shopping district. You can also find food choices from all over the world! We’re definitely looking forward to the mix of old and new and Chinese and International throughout the city.

The surrounding region will also provide a chance for some day trips. Two areas in particular are Suzhou and Tongli. Suzhou is known for its beautiful gardens and silk production, while Tongli is referred by many as the Venice of China. Both look like beautiful places to visit. Once we have a chance to look at train schedules, we can decide how adventurous we will be.

Shanghai is our last stop, so after what we hope is an amazing experience, we will be flying back to Toronto and then shuffling back to Buffalo.

So that’s a look at our itinerary. Hopefully this little peek will give you an idea of what we’re looking forward to and whet your appetite to also visit or at least follow along with our blog updates. What do you think of the itinerary?

All that’s left is to cross your fingers and hope for sunshine to accompany us on our journey.

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So here we are in mid-March and a pandemic has been declared. While the virus seems to have peaked in China, it is now spreading like crazy worldwide. Italy, South Korea, Iran and the US seem to be the hardest hit areas, with others close behind. But that may just be because so many others haven’t tested their people yet – like the US.

We’re still hopeful, but definitely not stupidly so. There is so much to consider. First and foremost on our minds is if the Chinese even issue a Visa when the US is in the middle of an outbreak. Why would they want to re-introduce the illness from abroad?

Then there is the issue of being quarantined. Will we have to be quarantined when we arrive and what about when we get home? Since we’ll be leaving from Canada, we may have an issue there as well as when we return to the US.

Watching the illness map change daily, I think that our “Plan B” has been changed to staying home. With the whole world a little crazy right now, we might be better off waiting and just enjoying a so-called “stay-cation” and then venture out next year. (Did I really just say that?)

Cross your fingers, say a prayer and most of all — Stay Healthy!!

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Guilin, Yangshou & Longji

Continuing on, we next head southeast to the area around the city of Guilin.

Our itinerary locations are indicated by the stars. Hubei Province and the city of Wuhan are inside the circle.

We will be flying from Chengdu to the city of Guilin. The distance between the two is 855km or 531mi and the flight should take about one and a half hours. The trains between the two take about 7hrs, so that wasn’t a good choice for this leg of the trip.

Over the next four days, we will be moving through a picturesque section of southern China in the Guangxi Province. This region is famed for its beautiful scenery – green fields, caves and interesting rock formations – which border the Li River.

We start off in the city of Guilin where we will be staying at the Shangri-La Hotel for one night. We won’t have much time to really see a lot of Guilin as we leave the next day on a river boat cruise on the Li River to Yangshuo. The cruise is about 4.5 hours and will give us views that promise to be photo-rific! We’ll be staying for two nights at the Li River Resort in Yangshuo. On the fourth day we will drive to the rice terraces of Longji and will stay overnight at the Baike Hotel, before heading back to Guilin.

Guilin has a cultural history of over 2000 years. The city was founded during the Qin Dynasty and was made the provincial capital by the Ming Emperors until 1914.

Guilin and the Li River

Yangshuo rests along the Li River and is described by the Chinese as ‘the most beautiful place in China’. The town is supposed to be very charming with many western-style shops and cafes. While in Yangshuo, we will be partaking in a cooking class at a small, culinary school – which should be interesting and provide a few laughs as I hack my way around the kitchen.

Yangshuo – Photos from Klook

Longji will be our final stop in this region. Longji, the ‘Dragon’s Backbone’, refers to the region made up of five local Zhuang villages set amongst steep rice terraces in the mountains to the north of Guangxi province. The views from Ping An village stretch across the mountains, offering stunning views of the rice terraces.

Longji and the rice terraces – (Stock photos)

After a day in Longji, we’ll be heading back to Guilin by way of a drive through the beautiful countryside. From there, we’ll be off to Shanghai.

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So the novel coronavirus is still expanding as of the middle of Feb. 2020. Many more people have been confirmed to have the virus and there are many people waiting to be tested. While the outbreak is centered in China, the virus has spread around the world with cases in many countries.

We are still hopeful that things will get better in time for us to travel to China in the fall, but my hopefulness is dimming. Most of the airlines have suspended flights to China as have most of the cruise lines – although they are talking about re-opening the casinos in Macau. They are hoping that the warmer weather will help to kill off the virus, as it doesn’t appear to handle heat well.

We have until July before we need to make our final payment. If the travel bans are still in place, we have been talking about possible “Plan B” or “Plan C” destinations and we’ll postpone visiting China until next year.

Cross your fingers for us, and say a prayer for the people in China. Let’s hope this doesn’t keep expanding and threatening everyone in the world.

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Chengdu

Our third stop will be the city of Chengdu in the Sichuan Province.

3rd stop Chengdu

From Xi’an, we’ll catch the Bullet Train to Chengdu. Chengdu is about 658km or 409 mi southwest of Xi’an and the train ride will take about 4 hours. This will be the most westerly location we’ll be visiting.

Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province, and like most other Chinese cities, has a history of 2,500 years or more. The current population is about 12.4 million, making it the 6th largest city in China. It is mostly associated with the arts and craft trade and it is said that despite its size, the pace of life is more relaxed – we’ll see!

We’ll be staying for three nights at the Sofitel Chengdu Taihe, located in the center of the city right along the Jinjiang River. We will be within walking distance of the Tianfu Square, which is the largest square in southwestern China and a starting point for exploring the city.

Our most anticipated highlight will be visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, also known as the Chengdu Panda Base, to visit with the Giant Pandas and other endangered animals. This is not a petting-zoo type of place; it’s more of a ‘watch from a distance’, so I’ll be sure to bring along a zoom lens.

 Photo: STR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES 

Ok, so besides the big, fluffy adorable pandas, we’ll also have a chance to explore the city, visit nearby Leshan – home to the Giant Sitting Buddha and take a short river cruise, visit the Chengdu Museum – famous for it’s puppetry exhibitions and, of course, take in a Hot Pot dinner. There is so much to see, so we’ll have to decide what we can squeeze in.

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So there’s a 600 lb gorilla in the room that is called “novel coronavirus”. Over the last few weeks, the news of a new SARS-like virus has been spreading. This week, the Chinese government took the extraordinary steps to virtually quarantine multiple cities to help stop the spread. I say extraordinary because it is the weekend of the Chinese New Year and millions of people would be traveling inside and outside of the country. This is not only a health issue, but will also be an economic drain as well.

There are thousands of people who are ill in China and there have been many reports of the virus spreading to other countries via travelers returning home. So far, the number of confirmed cases in the US is not high, but many more people are being monitored as this spreads. Vacation aside, we hope that they can figure this out to prevent it from becoming a worldwide pandemic.

We are watching the news and staying in touch with our travel representative to determine if a postponement will be necessary. For now, we are keeping our plans intact, but will be vigilant in deciding what we will do or not do.

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Xian

Our second destination will be Xi’an – capital city of the Shaanxi Province.

To arrive in Xi’an, we will be taking the Bullet Train from Beijing. It’s about 1216 km or 755 miles away and the train trip will take a little over 6 hours. The Bullet trains travel between 250 and 300 km/h, so we’ll be able to relax and watch the scenery zip by.

Xi’an (pronounced Shee-an) has a population of about 8 million, and has always been a significant city. It was originally known as Chang’an, and was China’s ancient capital during 13 different Dynasties. It is also the starting point of the Silk Road – the overland trade route that connected the east and the west for 1,500 years.

We’ll be staying for three nights at the Sofitel Legend Peoples Grand Hotel Xi’an. It’s centrally located and looks fairly close to many of the other sites around the city that we’ll visit.

We are most excited to visit Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site – home to the Terracotta Warriors. I have wanted to visit Xi’an and see them since I first learned about them. They date back to the Qin Dynasty or about 200 BC. It’s thought that they were created to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife.

The story behind their discovery is fascinating. Back in 1974, a farmer was digging a new water well and was having problems, so they dug down and found pieces of the warriors. Digging around further they discovered that there were many more of these ‘statues’ underground. So far excavations have unearthed over 7,000 – including warriors and horses; with each one having been created with different facial features, so they weren’t just mass produced. I can’t wait to see them in person.

Besides visiting the Terracotta Warriors, there are other places such as the Shaanxi History Museum, the old city walls, the Muslim Quarter, the Big Goose Pagoda, and the Xi’an Drum Tower that we hope to visit.

The food in the region is made with many different spices, usually a combination of Asian and Middle Eastern flavors. Since the Arab traders would come through the city, they contributed to the spices found and used here. With peppercorns, cumin and chili being prominent spices, we will definitely be packing the Tums!

And we will be packing them for sure, as we booked our airfare this weekend: a direct flight from Toronto to Beijing, with a direct flight home from Shanghai to Toronto.

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Beijing

Our first destination will be Beijing, the capital city of the People’s Republic of China.

Our current plan has us flying directly from Toronto to Beijing. The flight will be about thirteen and a half hours and we’re hoping to get business class seats so we’ll be able to stretch out and sleep a bit on the way over.

We will be spending a total of five days in Beijing. Our first two nights will be at the Aman Summer Palace Hotel near the Summer Palace. The hotel provides easy access to the summer palace and is a perfect location for us to start our journey. The Summer Palace dates back to about 1750 when the royal garden was first started. It is recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After two nights, we’ll move on to the center of the city of Beijing where we’ll be staying at the Park Plaza Beijing Wangfujing . While in the city, we’ll be visiting the Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, the Temple of Heaven and the Olympic Park. In addition, we’ll be traveling to visit the Great Wall at a spot that is not so heavily congested with tourists.

There are so many places to visit. As I’ve always been interested in the history of the various Chinese Dynasties, the museums will definitely be on our agenda.

The Wangfujing district, besides being centrally located, is the shopping district in Beijing. As you all know how much we both enjoy shopping, I’m guessing that during our walks we’ll be dodging people on the streets and scoping out restaurants.

Speaking of restaurants, since we enjoy Chinese cuisine, you know we’ll be seeking out a place for a delicious Peking Duck dinner. There are restaurants for just about any kind of food you would like including French, Italian, Indian and American. We’ve also been told that the markets have some great street food that we’ll need to try, though even the Herkeys will probably avoid the scorpions and other insects.

After our five days in Beijing, we’ll board the bullet train and head to Xian.

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China 2020 – Itinerary Planning

Ok, just for the record.. No, we’re not crazy. We are excited though and looking forward to what should be an incredible adventure.

As I mentioned in the last post, we are working with Audley Travel to plan out the details. We are working with their China Specialist, Virginia, and she has been great to work with. In fact, we have already come up with an itinerary that we are super excited about.

Backing up a little, after some discussion about where we would like to go, Sue and I decided that this would be the right time to visit China. We tossed around some ideas about places and things that we were interested in seeing and made a list.

Our list looked like this:

  • Beijing
  • Forbidden City
  • Great Wall
  • Terra Cotta Warriors
  • Giant Pandas
  • Heaven Temple
  • Tiananmen Square
  • Olympic Sites
  • Shanghai
  • Yangtze River

Our next step was to take a look at available options. I love planning out vacations and finding cool hotels and places to go, but there are so many extras with going to China that I thought it would be better if we worked with someone. We knew that we didn’t want to be part of a big structured tour. So, we looked around the web, contacted a couple people who we knew went to China and looked through some tour guides.

I was interested in the offerings from Audley Travel, so I sent an email to request a brochure and call-back. I had included a little info about us, where we wanted to go, the types of things we were interested in and the amount we were thinking of spending. I received a call the next day from Virginia and we talked a little bit about what they could provide. Since we were in the middle of planning for Italy, I asked for a little time to decide what we would do.

We liked Virginia right from the start. Very professional, but also very laid-back. I never felt any pressure to rush our decision. Though I told her we’d decide within the next few weeks, I called back a few days later and said we decided we wanted to work with her and couldn’t wait to start the process.

Armed with a plan to proceed, we started to look more closely at some of the places we wanted to visit and things we’d like to see. We looked at the hotel list that they provided and found most of the hotels that I had looked at were on the list. Documenting our proposed itinerary, we called Virginia back and over the phone in about two hours time, we laid out a preliminary itinerary.

At this point Virginia took over and tossed in some extras to fill in our days based on what we had talked about. A few days later, she sent over a proposed itinerary for us to look at. We were both excited to see things taking shape, but there were a few tweaks that needed to be addressed.

Another telephone conference to discuss the changes was arranged. As some of you know, my back is a problem and I keep looking for bottled water from Lourdes to make it a problem no longer. However, for now we needed to adjust things so hikes became walks or rides. Virginia also suggested a hotel change, since one that we had chosen required a bit of an uphill climb. When we finished, Virginia had an updated itinerary back to us in just a couple of days.

We perused the itinerary and then got back to Virginia with the good news – “Looks great, let’s book it!”

I had been saving my lunch money for a while, so we sent off the deposit and Virginia went to work on her end. Just before we left for Italy, we received an email saying that the hotels were all booked.

With that said, here is the itinerary. Our tour will be for twenty-one days and will take us to Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Guilin, Yangshuo, Longji and Shanghai. Everything on our list above is included, plus so much more.

We will have some adventure time on our own, but for the major visits, we will have a driver and an english speaking guide. We will travel from place to place by trains (including the bullet train), planes, boats and car. We’ve included a few fancy dinners, a couple of group dinners at restaurants, and some street food tours.

There will be museums, temples, palaces, monuments, a rice plantation, a tea plantation, a wall – a great one at that, and a visit to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Next steps will be to book flights, get our travel visas, check for any needed vaccinations and read, watch and research.

Leading up to the trip, I’ll add some info about each of the locations we will be visiting to peak your interest.

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China – October 2020

Welcome – 欢迎 – Terra Cotta Warriors

One year from today, we will be traveling to China. There are so many wonderful things that we want to see and experience.

Over the next year, I’ll tell you about the process and our itinerary. We are working with Audley Travel to create a personal itinerary for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It will be a self-directed trip with drivers and guides to help us along the way.

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