A Cruise in the Pacific – December 2019 to January 2020

I didn’t give any warning that we (The Navigator & Moi) were travelling prior to actually leaving, as I normally do, and now I’m 5 days into the cruise and last night I lost all of my blog notes, no explanation, other than, maybe, my own stupidity. Today is Friday 3rd January 2020, and we’re just getting ready for breakfast before checking out the Pacific Island of Mare’ – part of New Caledonia. Yesterday (2nd January) wasn’t my finest day, I lost my notes that I had stored on the new Samsung tablet – didn’t RTFM ( choice words to do with reading the manual), I was lost for a few hours (not according to me but according to my fellow travellers), and I stubbed my toe on a tree root on a Pacific Island – metaphorically I was “rooted” (the physical pain from the bleeding throbbing toe plus the mental pain inflicted on me when I’m “found” by The Navigator not more than 20 metres from the rest of the mob on the boat and suitably admonished for my recalcitrance by the Navigator / Ginger)

Background information
The Touring Party – let’s call them characters from a 60’s -70’s TV show called Gilligan’s Island :
Gilligan – Stewart Adlington – A 50’s something resident of a central tablelands town
Maryanne – Leanne Adlington – 2nd youngest of the travellers and she has a “thing” going with Gilligan
Ginger – Genelle Reid – AKA “The Navigator” – Likes intelligent blokes, does not suffer fools
The Professor – Paul Reid – named for a lack of intelligence
Thurston Howell III – Andrew Williams – AKA “Thursty” – a renowned athlete who has featured in the medals in the Paddington Gift/Dash for many years. Doesn’t like Old Fashioned Cocktails but occasionally forgets this
Mrs Howell – Jane Williams – Lets call her Jane, long suffering wife of “Thursty”
The Skipper – John Peden – He knows nautical stuff, or at least knows what “nautical terms” mean and can salute like Benny Hill
The Deckie – Sonya Hogan – Travel Agent, Real Estate Agent, youngest traveller therefore the deckhand – can’t throw a rope but can cook and smells nice (a nautical priority I heard from “Caro” a nautical type chap we know)

The trip was planned by The Deckie for 4 until it was gate crashed by the older (in average age) crew of 4, taking the sailing party to 8 – the real Gilligan’s Island had 7 on the shipwrecked SS Minnow but the Deckie takes our party to 8

Day 1 – Saturday 28th December 2019 – Dubbo – Sydney – Pacific Ocean between Sydney & Noumea
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story – so I was once told by a scheming, devious, bulldozing work colleague. Only the crew of Gilligan’s Island will know the truth. And that’s the way it should remain.
As usual before a trip that is a holiday or travel I don’t sleep much the night before, the anticipation of a new experience, adventure, or whatever it is, keeps me awake wondering what the cruise is going to be like and things like;
• Will I, and/or The Navigator get seasick?
• Will the food and accommodation be good ?
• Will the Navigator get seasick?
• Have we got enough clothes, too many clothes, the wrong clothes?
• How much money will The Navigator spend on shopping

As we head to the airport The Navigator realises she’s forgotten her car keys, this is either the brow beaten son’s fault or my fault, or, both of us are at fault, and so the so the said son is sent back to the house to get keys while we check in for the flight to Sydney, all other travellers are there except the Captain who has taken the road option to Sydney.
The Blue Mountains are still smoking from the bushfires as we fly over the top, things don’t look like getting any better with the seasonal forecasts looking depressing. Caution – smoking is a health hazard!
The Captain is waiting for us at the International Terminal – Circular Quay, as our shuttle bus rolls in. We get though the immigration, check-in process despite my knees setting off a metal detector for the 2nd time of the day, and we are finally on the ship at lunch time. We settle into our first drink and food near the main pool. Lots of people.
Our cabin, 6283 on Deck 6 is amidships (Nautical term for middle of the ship) is great position, easy to reach, the balcony is nice and the view of the ocean and the access to fresh air I think is helpful, Ginger isn’t so sure yet and has popped her Qwell tablets a while ago in anticipation of maritime motion sickness at some stage – sea sickness actually never really comes except for a few moments of queasiness when the sea gets a bit rough on the last night of the cruise. She finds the Qwell has left her so dry she can’t spit, especially good I feel as she’s normally spitting chips at me.
The others are on Deck 7 at the back with bigger balconies over the back of the ship, nice cabins as well but will rock and roll more due to their position.
The Professor and Ginger forget their cabin number, it’s not written on the card you get – * TIP – first time cruisers – write the cabin number on your hand until you get your bearings (a nautical term! = where the f… you are at). We reconvene at the Serenity Bar after lifeboat drill – An Adults Only area at the back of the ship on Deck 9 as we leave Sydney with the smoke haze from bushfires hanging over the city. The Bridge and Opera House and the whole thing is great as we head out to sea with a drink in our hand and a few deck chairs under our bums. The first dinner at the Gold Pearl Restaurant is pretty good, our service team Manilyn, Ludi and Santosa are great. We explore after dinner – a long day – nobody in the brig, nobody drunk and disorderly, a reasonable start to the trip I feel.

Day 2 – Sunday 29th December – At sea Sydney to Noumea
We wake to see a deep blue/indigo ocean outside our cabin – even the foam from the bow (nautical term for sharp bit at the front) is blue. After breakfast we try and get a spot in the Serenity Bar but the buffed, tattooed, bikini up bum people have taken all the chairs so we explore – tomorrow we have set a task for Thursty and The Captain to get there early and secure a spot for us. We’re heading into a north easterly wind so the top decks are closed off because the wind is making it dangerous to be up there, so no putt putt golf – a challenge for later in the cruise.
Today we settle in and learn the ropes, trying hard not to get lost. There are shops, bars, a spa clinic, pools, more bars, musicians everywhere and some good ones. We find the Piano Bar after dinner and hear the singer do an Elton John night.
No real memorable events today. The 80’s Rock N Glow party is a fizzer, from my perspective anyway, 80’s music wasn’t a great highlight in my life and the show we go and see is largely uninspiring , although they try hard, they can dance but they don’t really sing that well.

Day 3 – Monday 30th December – At sea Sydney to Noumea
Thursty and The Captain are up early to secure a space for the group around the Serenity Bar pool, so after a morning walk they find us a space on the starboard side (nautical term for “right”), at 6.30am – they say, – bulldust I say but as I’m still sound asleep at that time of the my view is not what you’d call evidence based. After breakfast we gather at the said point reserved by Thursty and the Captain with towels, books and other bits and pieces, despite a mob of 50-60 year old people speaking a Russian or Polish like language, interspersed with the odd English word trying to encroach our space, we hold firm to our prized hard won 6 chairs & bed space under shade sails. The morning goes slowly, reading, chatting, listening to our neighbours who sound like they are arguing but have smiles on their faces (Italians sound a little similar), watching the tattooed buffed boys and the beautiful young things with barely there bikini’s with a zero tolerance bikini line, the pool sitters who don’t get wet, the spa crew – shoulder to shoulder in hot bubbly water with a perspex screen to keep the boiling recycled body fluids and high chlorine levels in the spa. A pleasant relaxing morning and in no time lunch time has come around, we’ve had enough of the sun, and our neighbours and retire inside to the air conditioning. And, we really need something to eat – that’s a joke, we don’t need anything to eat, food and hydration are in no shortage at any time of the day or night.
So far the voyage (nautical term (nt) for trip) has been fair weather (nt for good weather) and a flat sea, hardly a sway in the ship so far.

Day 4 – Tuesday 31st December – Noumea – Trip to Amedee Island Marine Reserve
This morning early we can see land for the first time since we left Sydney, we slide into Noumea’s version of Circular Quay, a container wharf with what looks like a cement plant on the other side. Noumea (approx population 250,000) is the capital of New Caledonia (approx population 400,000) and I think it’s a French territory still? The city is mostly looking pretty unspectacular even though its mountainous down the middle of the island which is a nice backdrop for the city and has a reasonably pretty coastline. Noumea looks like its dry, not a place with a high rainfall. We have paid extra money to do a trip to Amedee Island Nature Reserve where you can swim with huge sea turtles off a beach, the island is quite a way out to sea so we have to take another boat.

We disembark (nt = get off) and catch a bus to our luxury motor yacht (nt for smaller than a ship) The Mary D – Seven, a 38m boat costing about $15m AUD. Its about 30 minutes voyage to the island and we go out to sea past Noumea’s Club Med. Things to watch out for = 1. Banded sea snakes which are 10 times more poisonous than a cobra but move slowly are shy and only come on land to digest their food. 2. Giant Sea Turtles. Amedee Island is UNESCO World Heritage listed because of the variety of sea life and birds.
We have set a task for Thursty – he of the Paddington dash fame, to get off the boat and get us a good beach position.
Thursty is off before the boat has docked, almost anyway, and he strides down the beach after a walk/jog along the jetty, steps over a sea snake which he didn’t see and gets a great position. Gilligan is immediately in the water, followed by almost everyone else and almost everyone has seen one of the giant green turtles feeding on the sea grass, except Thursty. He’s pretty pissed as this was the main reason he came to Amedee, second reason was to see a sea snake (which he stepped over but didn’t see).
With a little direction from Gilligan and a few other well meaning clueless snorkellers Thursty finds a turtle and I’m guessing he dives and swims alongside the turtle with a smile on his face, or maybe not because he hasn’t got the dive bit sorted yet and is reluctant to suck a lung full of air, dive without breathing then come to the surface and blow the water out of the snorkel before you inhale the next lot of air – get the order of operations wrong and it’s not a good look coughing or drowning in front of so called friends rolling in the sand laughing.
There is a colony of Ternes (birds) on the other side of the island, there are thousands of them and it’s a bit smelly so I don’t hang around them long.
There is a steel light house built in panels freighted out by the French in 1863 in 1300 pieces weighing about 157 tonnes.

Lunch is in an open shed near the beach, the food is great and washed down with a rum punch which is even better, then the islanders are dancing a hula type hip swinging dance with the local ukulele and guitar players with islander drums as well, young girl dancers with one well build 18-20 year old young fella. I almost dislocate my hip just watching them dance.
While we’re eating 2 sea snakes wander up the beach near us and Thursty gets his chance to see a sea snake, he’s now euphoric, especially with him being a task oriented sort of chap who has achieved what he set out to do for the day. We see more sea turtles from the glass bottom boat that takes us out on the reef.
It’s a quick trip back to Noumea on the Mary D – Seven, a shower, drinks at the bar and dinner tonight is upstairs at Fahrenheit 555, a fine dining restaurant, we’re not sure we’ll see the New Year in at midnight. Everyone is pretty tired after a long day
The meal at Fahrenheit 555 is pretty special and the Chef’s Art Dessert is spectacular, a piece of art which is 100 % edible and delicious.

We all pike and decide on not seeing in the new year – instead we go to bed.

Day 5 – Wednesday 1st January 2020 – Isle of Pines – New Caledonia
It’s a lovely sunny day as we wake to the site of the Isle of Pines, lots of pines on a sub-tropical island in the Pacific, could be a worse way to start the day and new year.
Today we learn the ship to shore shuttle stuff, getting to shore and back on a life boat shuttle, some life boats fit 250 people and some fit 150, it’s a pain but you have to line up, wait, shuffle, sit in a crowded stuffy life boat, motor to a jetty and then find a space amongst the 1000’s of other who landed before you. It’s a pretty little island with a resort, the local islanders look pretty poor and charge high margins to make a few extra New Caledonian Franks. The water is chrystal clear, greenish/blue, stunning. Not much to snorkel for so today is just a swim from where we sit on the skinny beach near the resort. A lovely relaxing day at the beach.
It’s now 2020 – the year I turn 65 – wonder what the year will bring????? But this is a great way to start 2020.
We wait in a line in the tropical sun on a 23 degree C day that feels like 35 with no breeze before we wander back to get a shuttle back to the ship, shower, and return to the bar to swap stories and sing sea shanties ( we actually don’t do this – surprising I know) Tonight after dinner at table 558 I buy a deck of cards from the casino and we start up a eucha school, Mrs H, Ginger and Thursty abstain due to lack of interest in cards, Maryanne, Gilligan, The Deckie and The Professor start things rolling. The Deckie needs some coaching as she’s new to the game and concepts of suits, bowers, trumps, tricks, reneging etc are pretty foreign to her. The Captain tries some coaching but retires to the cabin for an early night, we all sense some frustration from the Captain with his mentoring of the Deckies card playing.

Day 6 – Thursday 2nd January – Lifou Island – New Caledonia
We breakfast in 2 groups then the lifeboat shuttle to Lifou, we get here early in the morning and the ship is sitting at anchor in a large wineglass bay with a small church – Lourdes – Notre Dame sitting at the top of a raised headland. The shore has local stalls selling services like hair braiding, massages, Chinese made cotton women’s clothes, some local New Caledonian made stuff as well. I leave Ginger, Thursty and Mrs Howell and trek to the church after a 3 second inspection of the local retail activity. The walk is warm and after about 15 minutes walking, then a climb up steep steps I can see the bay with The Splendor sitting in the middle. The church is a small, Pacific Island church, a small table as the pulpit, wooden windows that open onto flower laden frangipani trees and other colourful plants with a beautiful sea breeze blowing through it, I can almost hear the Islanders singing a hymn with their distinctive south sea island sound.
I try to find Ginger at close to the allotted rendezvous time, instructions were they would be at the beach until 12 and they would leave and if I wasn’t there they were to head back to the boat, after 2 looks I stubbed my toe on a tree root, I stumbled cursing while a few smart arse onlookers giggled at my misfortune and maybe a little bit of clumsy incompetence in trying to do a non male thing of doing 2 things at once (walking and looking). The toe hurts like anything, its bleeding over my thong so I leave fractionally early for the ship. Big f….g mistake Professor! I dress my toe after a shower, send a HUB message to say where I’m going (wifi it didn’t send it), go for a coffee at Juice and Java – write my blog up (subsequently lost all of what I wrote), all the while sitting next to a group of eastern European speaking people, possibly from Australia but hardly and English word is spoken – different lot to the day near the pool. Same as the other lot they talk like there’s an argument going on but they all look happy – maybe it’s a cultural thing, dunno!!! Then I go to Deck 9 as I advised, get a pizza, some iced tea and wait for the others, who don’t seem to be around. I then run into Ginger and get both barrels of the cannon and the icy stare with the news that they had been looking for me for 2 hours and I was 20 metres from them!! Anyway it was a lose – lose situation for me, the Professor, a man of distinction being lambasted in public by a fiery redhead, lots of fun! And I wasn’t lost , just misplaced, according to me, but not them.
This afternoon Thursty, The Captain and the Professor play the Putt Putt Splendor Open – 18 holes of intense competitive golf around a difficult windy course, with mandatory sledging, walking on peoples line, non golf etiquette is the order of the day, Thursty and the Professor are all square on the 18th but Thursty cracks under pressure and drops a shot to tie with the Captain for 2nd Place – no more needs to be said about who won. A few drinks at a bar on Deck 12 to settle the atmosphere of dejection for the 2nd placegetters.
Drinks in the sports bar at 6.30, before dinner then a late night walk up along the top decks for the non pro golfers to have a social/practice round before tomorrow’s Pro Am which will mean the losers going down the big yellow water slide. The poolside is humming with a breakout of mass dancing, a disease I got vaccinated for long ago, although earlier, The Deckie broke out into the Maccarena at the dinner table – the dancing disease is very contagious. The ship trundles along slowly towards Mare’ Island.
After dinner a few of us listen to Travis playing Johnny Cash in the Red Frog Bar, he plays his own style, not the best singer but a great guitarist.

Day 7 – Friday 3rd January 2020 – Mare’ Island – New Caledonia
Breakfast at 8.30, Thursty gets our tickets for the shuttle and we get to the island earlier than we thought. We are then shuttled to a beautiful beach with a lagoon surrounded by a coral reef, water as clear as glass and a Mare’ Beach patrol of locals selling bbq chicken and dear beer – The Skipper and Thursty buy 4 cans on New Caledonian No1 Beer for $12 a can, I think I heard that correctly, the old lady who took them for a ride looked so honest. Mrs Howell had a nasty surprise in the loo when her stall was gate crashed by a local man who was cleaning the lavatory – trying to work out who got the biggest surprise! We have a spot under a large tree, lots of people from the ship at the beach along with a supply of local mongrel dogs looking like they need a wash and a good drench hanging around, I don’t befriend the scraggy infested infected looking mongrels but some do.. There is late talk of having a look around the island but time runs out and we get the bus back to the jetty where elite retail athlete Ginger and mentor Mrs Howell go shopping assisted by Gilligan and Maryanne.
Back on the ship a shower and food is in order and plans for getting to ships happy hour at 6pm are locked in. We convene at Happy Hour for the free drinks and find the place chock a block with people, cheap skate grog swagglers, looking for free cocktails and beer. The blue cocktail, a poor excuse for a Blue Lagoon is wishy washy, tastes like a sports drink BUT, the beer is good. Dinner at 7.45 as per usual and then the Splendor Pro Am golf later in the evening – the wind will be up so the shots will need to be punched low into the wind, it’s going to be a much harder course to play than yesterday.
The pro-am is delayed until tomorrow due to poor weather conditions, dinner tonight as per usual, is at table 558 and another good meal eventuates. An impromtu game of eucha at the bar gives The Deckie some hard eared lessons in the Eucha School of Hard Knocks, she’ll be better tomorrow after some patient coaching by Gilligan and good partnering by Maryanne.
The Captain heads to bed, the much dreaded rub and scrub at the spa this arvo has done his head in, the mental anguish knowing that other people know he’s had a “massage” and the unknown factor of whether it’s going to be pleasure or pain has taken a toll on him. Thursty also heads to bed, today has been draining, he’s missed the Paddington Dash for the first time in many years and is desperate to know the cricket score between Australia and NZ at the SCG, we find out its mostly good news for Australia.
On the Beach at Mare’ Thursty beachcombing, contemplating cricket scores

Day 8 – Saturday 4th January – At Sea – Noumea to Sydney
Breakfast is on the Starboard side of the restaurant this morning, not up to our usual standards but ok all the same. Eucha is on Deck 9 at the back near the Indian Restaurant, Gilligan & The Professor v The Captain and the Deckie. The Deckie is under immense pressure from the Captain, despite being a learner and still trying to get the terms “following suit”, reneging, bowers etc etc, they win the first game, then its 1 game apiece and in a boil over Gilligan and the Professor come like a thief in the night and steal the match. Its tense but nobody gets shot – round 2 is tomorrow.
Golf is set for 4.30pm but wind conditions are again abysmal, and it turns into a practice round with a few highlight holes in one from Maryanne and Thursty and a some healthy sledging. Gilligan takes the water slides on like a 12 year old who has been eating red frogs all day, it takes the pressure off the rest of us as he’s now the centre of attention, and amongst the 10-15 year old’s, this hairy old bloke shoots down the slide scrabbling for relevance, wiping his eyes of the chlorine with a bit of water in it to kill the festering snot ridden water from hundreds of enthusiastic adolescents.
A busy night planned for tonight – a show, group photo, dinner, comedy club, horse racing in the casino, hope we’re up to it.

Day 9 – Sunday 5th January – At Sea – Noumea to Sydney
Today is the last day at sea, we get a great breakfast spot at the back to the Gold Pearl Restaurant looking over the sea, it’s a brunch day so we have a long relaxing breakfast. We actually see a large buoy in the water that we pass with about 50 meters gap between it and the ship.
As we wander up to Deck 9 for cards, we see a sea mist or smoke haze on the Australian side of the ship, a sign of what to expect when we dock tomorrow morning I suppose. During the day the sea gets a little rougher and by nighttime we’re really rolling, not sure how Ginger is going to hand this if it gets worse or stays this way.
Cards again and The Deckie has got better, her style still baffles the Captain and late starter Thursty, but its effective as she plies crushing blows to opponents at the end of tricks rather than drawing cards out, she smashes them late.

The last dinner is a Japanese option, the women get all sorts of facials, wraps, scrubs, massages, pedicures during the day and turn up to dinner glowing. No spare skin cells are going back to the mainland with this lot.
We present our tip to our table waiters, Manilyn, Ludi and Santosa with a little limerick that gets put together at the bar before dinner with a bit of help from Gilligan and the Captain

To our friends on the good ship Splendor
A ship so big you couldn’t upend her
Manilyn, Ludi and Santosa we commend yer
Keeping us happy with the service you render

A bit corny but hey, I didn’t have time to write an ode or a masterpiece piece of poetry.

The ship is really pitching and rolling as we wander into the Casino to go horse racing, Maryann hollers every time she gets a winner, and the security guy edges closer to her trying to work out what the fuss over winning $10 is about. Thursty wins as well and then Ginger loses it for him. At the back of us a Texas Hold Em or something like that table, has a big pot of about $16,000 at risk – I assume it was real money. This area reminds me of a saying that goes something like “Slow Horses and fast women will often split a fool from his money”

Back to the cabin to pack, but Ginger doesn’t get far sorting her gear out, the ship’s rocking and rolling in the heavy seas has beaten her and she isn’t well. A tablet under the tongue and her head hits the pillow quickly.
Dinner in the Gold Pearl dining room – note the pearls on the ceiling – aka various other bits of anatomy

Day 10 – Monday 6th – Sydney
About 5.30 am we sail in through the Heads, it’s a grey muggy warm Sydney morning, no sun with heavy clouds and a rumbling storm north of the city.
As we glide up the beautiful harbour a few kyakers are paddling, a couple of small outboard boat buzz past with fishing rods off the back, ferries trundle past taking early workers to the city and a few early morning walkers heel and toe it along harbourside paths in their athletics gear.
We are first in the line off the ship, the captain is heading to pick up his vehicle at the Opera House and the rest of us find our shuttle to get us to the airport to get us home and to work or in some cases to rest.

The Summary
What did I like;
• The company – travelling with friends is terrific, its hard to coordinate a group of more than 4
• No shortage of food or drinks and the breakfasts and dinners were very good
• Our wait staff were brilliant – Ludi, Manilyn and Santosa (Indonesian and Balinese)
• Getting on to the islands and seeing the locals and the beautiful beaches
• The cabin with the balcony was great, very clean, comfortable bed , big windows
• Lots of things to see and do – good musicians
• Swimming with giant green turtles and snorkelling over coral reefs with colourful fish in a warm sea
• Overall the ship staff were lovely and made you feel welcome

Things I didn’t like;
• There are 3700 passengers on this ship if its full – a lot of people
• The internet – wifi and Hub messaging was hit and miss – very poor service for the expensive price. You never knew where or when it was going to work
• The queuing up and being stuffed into a life boat for shuttling
• The garish internal design – looks like an LSD induced psychosis influenced the design – with pearls in oyster shells resembling breasts with the pink bits, shells that somebody called a close resemblance to fallopian tubes and other weird things
• Prices – drinks were on the expensive end of the price spectrum but if you don’t have a drinking problem its manageable
• Too much food – too tempting to just hoe in as though you won’t be able to eat for the next 3 weeks

Tips;
• Get the Carnival Hub App before you get on the ship – info on it is useful eg ships maps, what’s on that day and where
• Write your Cabin Number on your hand or on a card and keep with you for the first few days in case you forget what the cabin number is – Its not on your Card that’s around your neck – for security reasons
• If you are big drinkers – look at the drinks package BUT you’d need to be a big drinker to justify the cost – in my opinion
• You don’t need many clothes just practical clothes and one pair of good jeans and a good shirt – recycle and was in your room, clothes dry pretty well in the airconditioned cabins

Standard

A Review of the China Trip

Hopefully I’ll be able to keep this short, I know, I know, I tend to dribble on a bit in the daily blogs, and all I can put it down to is either I’m too tired and dreaming after a long day travelling, or I’ve drunk too much, or a combination of both.

After a few weeks back home in Dub Vegas its time for a little reflection on China.

What Impressed Me

  • The Infrastructure in China is fantastic and getting better very quickly
  • Xi’an – a beautiful looking city (where the Terracotta Warriors are) its a long way out but worth the visit to Xi’an
  • The food – the food was pretty good, loved sweat & sour pork, Peking Duck (don’t ask for Beijing Duck!), I didn’t eat grasshoppers or scorpions though. Food also gets a mention in what didn’t impress me
  • The beer – Tsing Tao and the local Beijing brews were very easy to consume and formed part of my fluids management regime for the trip.
  • Snake wine – firewater with a snake fermenting in it – I didn’t try it – but others did and I liked that.
  • We did a cheap and cheerful Trip A Deal trip but our group was fantastic, we really enjoyed the company and made some new friends
  • The trains, especially the bullet trains were efficient, fast and very well fitted out – 2nd Class was fine, but I reckon 1st Class would be very nice. Seats are allocated but make sure you do a little research and get to the station well ahead of time for security and check-in and find out which gate and platform to get to your carriage (Yes – your passport and luggage will go through a security check like an airport to get inside the station). Once inside there are lots of shops and food outlets and there is plenty to occupy you. A must do is the 430km/hour Maglev magnet train in Shanghai, 30km in 7 minutes – blistering speed.
  • Our guides were really helpful. China is a difficult place to travel on your own without language and knowing the nuances, the cities are so big – so travelling on an organised tour is the way to go – certainly first time anyway
  • Xi’an – this city was the nicest we visited, only for a short time but it was somewhere that I’d like to come back to see more of.
  • There is no graffiti ( that I saw anyway), and hardly any beggars. There are lots of poor people but you don’t get hit up a lot to buy trinkets, around tourist spots some of the poorer people are trying to sell fans, flutes etc.
  • Trip A Deal – the guides were great, they were organised with pretty good English and we were also blessed with excellent bus drivers.

What Didn’t Impress me

  • A couple of the hotels were a bit average and one location was a bit average, but it was a cheap and cheerful trip so I think to myself – suck it up Paul. On the flip side some of the hotels were beautiful.
  • There isn’t a lot of English spoken in China, not surprising really and my problem not theirs – so make sure you have an off line translation app Chinese -> English on a mobile
  • Most toilets are squat toilets, even in modern facilities like train stations, but there are a lot of sit down toilets as well, you have to go and hunt them down. For people with dickie knee’s – be patient and hunt down the 4-5 star toilets.
  • There really is no access to Google and Facebook and some other App’s and programs – UNLESS – you have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) such as Nord which you can up to about 6 devices off – but there is a small cost.
  • Some food – in Zhengzhou Mark (The Mechanic) had what he thought was going to be lamb chops from a hotel menu – it turned out to be raw meat spinkled with pepper, chili and other spices – it was gross and I think an attempt at a western style meal – better to stick with Chinese food that you like. There are plenty of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks, McDonalds in most cities – but when in China where possible you should eat Chinese, in my opinion.
  • They don’t know much about “black tea” – or as they call it fermented tea – in China green tea is the go and the expensive types such as Dragons Well tea are more expensive than beer in most places. Hint – get to like green tea before you go.
  • Not much didn’t impress me – really !

TIP’S FOR TRAVELLING IN CHINA – From a first timer

  • If you are taking a mobile phone or ipad
    • There is plenty of free wi-fi in hotels
    • Get a VPN (eg Nord) if you want to access Google, GMail, Facebook etc
    • WeeChat is the Facebook of China – apparently everyone uses it
    • Local Sim for data via China Mobile or China Telecom is good – you get a local number but Google Maps only work if you have a VPN
  • Travelling with a Group Tour, especially first time, is way better with the language and scale of things in China.
  • Like we were told, be careful mentioning the 4 “T’s”  – especially around local officials and guides, they will be limited in what they can say – so don’t embarrass them
    • Tibet
    • Taiwan
    • Tienanmen
    • Trump
  • Don’t miss the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an – if you have the opportunity don’t miss it.
  • Take lots of Chinese Yuan (RMB ) with you, credit cards are note as widely used as other countries. Take a little conversion grid ready reckoner with you at the current exchange rate to carry in your wallet or pocket – current rate is about 4.5 yuan to $1 AUD.
  • Bargain for most things, especially in markets, some shops have fixed prices but a lot/most have negotiable prices. When you start, start with something small to get practice and to get through the guilt that you are doing the locals out of money – a guide;
    •  Ask how much? Only start negotiations if you intend to go through to the buying stage
    • If they say 200 yuan, shake your head and say “no, no” , offer 50 with the end game to be around 100 yuan, move up to 80 and then 100, if they don’t agree at 100, walk away (the old closed book trick car salespeople use), they will probably chase you and agree, at worst buy for 120 yuan tops. then its a win win. Don’t be embarrassed to haggle, they expect it, the locals do it, but be gracious.
  • Be adventurous with the food – I didn’t eat grilled scorpions or grasshoopers but the sweat and sour pork, the Peking Duck, the wontons, the dumplings were all delicious, sometimes a little spicy but not as hot or spicy as I thought (mostly anyway)
  • Travel on the trains – the Bullet Trains run at 300 kph, so 1500 km goes pretty quickly.
  • Summer is pretty warm – you won’t need many clothes, shorts and t shirts are acceptable everywhere, wash the necessaries in the bathroom and dry near an air con outlet.
  • Do yourself a favour and check a trip to China out.

Cheers, Ciao, Sayonara

Pauolo


Links to the Blog – In Order

June 2019 – China Here we come!

China – More stuff

1 Week to Go

Day 0-1 to Day 0+1 Dubbo-Sydney-Shanghai

Day 2 – June 12th 2019 – Suzhou – Hangzhou, ChinaDay 3 – Thursday 13th June – Hangzhou to Shanghai

Day 3 – Some Photos

Day 4 – Friday 14th June – Shanghai, China

Day 5 – Friday 14th June – Shanghai, Chinai

Day 6 – Saturday 15th June 2019 – Shanghai to Zhengzhou

Day 7 – Sunday 16th June – Zhengzhou, China

Day 8 – Monday 17th June – Xi’an

Xi’An China

Day 8 – Monday 17th June – Zhengzhou to Xi’an

Day 9 – 18th June – Xi’an to Beijing

Day 9 – Late Breaking News

Day 10 – Wednesday 19th June – Beijing

Day 11 – Thursday 20th June – Beijing

Day 12 – Friday 21st June – Beijing

Day 13 – Saturday 22nd June- Beijing to Sydney

 

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Day 6 – Saturday 15th June 2019 – Shanghai to Zhengzhou

5 hours sleep, the Navigator is up at 5am, after washing last night and getting to bed at about midnight, she’s organised and wants me to be organised for a 7.30 start. Why get up at 5 ? I reckon genetics might be exposing some pretty solid dominant traits inherited from Keith McLeod – but don’t say anything to her please. Breakfast at 6 and we’re all standing around 1/2 an hour before we have to be, it’s going to be a long day!

John and Kojak ( bald headed bus driver) get us to the train station, Shonqui ( I think it is) where the bullet trains heading to the north west leave from. A magnificent modern building, highly organised and it needs to be it enormous, there are thousands of people siting for trains. We get through the security check and the passport check then minor panic – Mark can’t find his passport even though it had just been checked. Obviously he just had a blokes look because a second look finds it in his pocket. The blood starts to flow back into the Navigators face, and she calms down.

We are train G1806 from Platform 18B, Carriage 4 , seats 6a and 6b. As we are waiting I can’t help but think of how clean, modern, and organised this place is, every thing works, and it gets thousands of people to distant destinations very quickly and cheaply, but the bookings need to be done pretty well in advance, seats are in high demand.

We say our goodbye to John ( or his real name Hu) a 50 something bloke with a 22 year old daughter, he has been a great guide and organiser. I’ll mention that to Trip Advisor. We can board 15 minutes before departure, and the standard bedlam occurs when everyone tries to find their seat and somewhere to stow bags, we opt for the over head racks ( our Kathmandu 70 litre bags are ideal for this sort of travelling). 8 of another group are joking our group of 28 to do the terra cotta warriors at Xian, we’ve met some of them, and in particular 2 women who look a little wild.

We leave Shanghai and are running at 300 kph pretty quickly, heading northwest to Zhenzhou over the rich Plains that have rivers, canals, cities of sky scrapers almost all the way with market gardens and orchards mixed in as well. Fantastic roads with little traffic and parks with manicured gardens are abundant.

The Navigator has a nasty rash on her feet and ankles, so she’s a bit worried about that, not that she ever worries about much really, however it does look like something I should look concerned about. She’s going to try and find a pharmacy in Zhengzhou when we get to the hotel for some magic Chinese medicine.

After 5 hours we’ve travelled 1500 km and we arrive at Zhengzhou, it’s got the Asian haze going, it’s much hotter than Shanghai, and quite a bit drier, although the parks and gardens look magnificent.

We meet out new guide for Zhengzhou, his English name is Sean, I can’t pronounce or spell his Chinese name. He’s young, probably 30ish, he is a bit harder to understand than John, but he’s ok, he’s doing well.

A few basics of Zhengzhou, it’s a place few of you will have heard of, but it’s one of the major ancient Chinese cities, the capital of the Hunan province, population of 10 – 11 million, a commercial base for northwest China.

First stop is the Hunan Museum, which is interesting but we don’t need a lot of time there. It’s hot and sticky, and a welcome break back at the hotel is something everyone is looking forward to.

The rooms are average, the hotel is in an area where there isn’t much in the way of food options or shopping, maybe a point to mention to Trip A Deal. The 3 food options are 1 – Hotel, 2 – A Chinese Restaurant, 3 – a Russian restaurant, we opt for the hotel. It’s good except Mark ordered lamb chops, but they were fatty, spicy and inedible, the other dishes were great.

A short walk to check the neighbourhood, I find a massage place and decide on a foot massage to try and ease swollen feet and ankles, they do a good job.

Then I need a sleep, it’s been a big day

Tomorrow we’re off to the Erqui Tower and then Shaolin Temple for lunch and the afternoon, we’ll come back tomorrow night ready to kick the crap out of any potential threats Kung Fu style. This is the place Jet Li filmed his first movie Shaolin Temple – apparently?

Caio for today

Paul

Some photos;

At the Shanghai train station – big crowds

Woman Making brooms in Zhengzhou

 

 

PRC flag off a building near the Hunan Museum

Day 6 – Saturday 15th June 2019 – Shanghai to Zhengzhou

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Day 5 – Friday 14th June – Shanghai, China

A 6.30 rise, the Navigator had a migraine last night and didn’t get much sleep, which means I didn’t get much either, but no worries I’ll catch up.

Breakfast in the Holiday Inn is bedlam at 6.30, it’s chock a block, hardly any seats, and the food is pretty average. But it’s fuel for the day so I shovel a bit in.

Today’s program is a big one, we start with the Maglev train ride, 30 km is 7 minutes at a top speed of 430 km/ hour, 2nd the Bund – an area on the river on the old side of the city that looks over to the new centre of Shanghai, 3rd is Shanghai Museum, 4th is a 1/2 day tour of the city and 5th is an evening boat ride on the river to see the city at night. I weary just thinking about this!

The drive to the train is through the heart of Shanghai, we see all the landmark buildings, the massive bridges, the sea of sky scrapers with a few bits of the old Shanghai in between the new.

The Maglev train is an experimental train, there are 2 of them, it has no rails and it levitates and rides on a magnetic field, and I’m assuming it’s very expensive because there aren’t any others like it. It’s super fast, and gets to top speed of 430 km/ hour in a bit over 3 minutes, it takes 7 minutes to get to its destination 30 km away. When it’s slowing down 300 km/hour feels like it’s a canter and 160km/hour feels like you could walk beside it. When the train going the other way passes it’s like a gun going off, 2 trains at 430k makes for an 860kph effect when the meet. It was phenomenal.

The heart is still pounding when we head to the Bund and walk along the river on the old side looking over to the new side of Shanghai. The buildings are spectacular feats of engineering and design, the “Bottle Opener” is particularly interesting. Coffee and a snack before we head to the Shanghai Museum. All travellers are behaving so far, can’t really have a shot at anyone yet.

The Museum is interesting, we aren’t there all that long but the best part for me was the jade exhibition, some pieces from 2000 bc. The Chinese furniture from the Ming Dynasty period – about year 1300 for a few hundred years was good as well. The obligatory fridge magnet was purchased for 15yuan ($3)

Then it’s on the the French Quarter where few of the old buildings remain, we go to an area some are still standing and have been renovated and are full of funky expensive food operations and name brand outlets. Ironically it’s also the area where the original Chinese Communist Party headquarters was located. On a walk I find a film shoot going on, lots of people in red army uniforms singing a song and waving red flags – a director with the megaphone yelling “cut” or whatever the Chinese word for it is. 2 Paul’s from the trip don’t move from a bar and consume copious amounts of German beer, it is a warm day after all.

We then end up in and old market area, very traditional Chinese architecture, the Navigator is dribbling in anticipation of the shopping, but in the end doesn’t buy much at all. I buy a green tea and some Chinese bean cake and watch the seething crowd below. So many Australians in China, and they all look alike, I don’t know how the Chinese stand it!

A short trip to the British area, food, beer and conversation are the order of the day, we’re all getting a bit weary and it’s around 5pm

The night river cruise is more than I thought it was going to be when I saw the heaving mass getting on to the boat. The crowd spread out fairly well over the 3 decks, and I reckon I’m correct in saying that the Shanghai night time sky is spectacular – every night, not just special occasions like Sydney’s Vivid.

We get off the boat letting the rushing locals go ahead, they all clearly had somewhere to go that was more important than what we had on.

The Electrician and I head out for dumplings for dinner, as well as picking up our new glasses ( ones for the eyes). The dumplings are good, the service is a bit average, I think we arrived right on closing time.

Tomorrow we’re off early to catch the bullet train to Zhengzhou in central western China, 1500km in 5 hours.

Arrividerci from Shanghai.

Paul

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Day 13 – Saturday 22nd June- Beijing to Sydney

Day 13 – Saturday 22nd June- Beijing to Sydney
A quick debrief on yesterday, we were all very tired by the time we got to the Beijing Airport so now some observations on what happened.
We arrive at the airport, it’s enormous, and Beijing will have another airport finished next year which will be the largest in the world. Michael, our guide is still with us and gets us sorted at the Qantas Checkin desk but we are early and have to unpack, repack with shopping, lock up the bags again, get changed for the plane and cold weather back home, life is tough eh.
We get checked in, say goodbye to Michael, he has been fantastic, very honest, very informative, and can still do the travel company line.
We’re in through the first immigration bit, then customs when the Mechanic causes the Navigator to almost have a heart attack, again, over a passport issue. Genelle is busy emptying drinks, food, old deodorant etc out of her carry on backpack and Mark is sorting stuff out before we go through security, ready to go and he can’t find his passport, meanwhile I’m through but have my bag pulled out for a rescan and also I have the pleasure of another frisk from a non smiling officious young girl because my knees set the bells ringing, again.
Anyway, all ends up good, his passport was knocked off the table and was on the floor, if he hadn’t found it he’d have been in limbo land – though immigration but not through customs. Our gate is E 12 in Terminal 3, we have to take a train to the terminal, that’s how far away it is. By now The Sparks’s toes and feet are swollen, I can hardly walk and it feels like my feet are going to explode – must be the circulation issue the Chinese doctor said is my problem. Maree from the trip gives me a celery tablet which is meant to help with fluid reduction, it’s a diuretic and I know it’s working because I nearly wear my sandals out walking to the toilet on the plane.
It’s nice to get on a plane and know 34 other people well and another 26 or so we know a bit, although the plane is 1/2 an hour late leaving so it’s after midnight when we leave, I take a few pain killers and am asleep before they bring the gin and tonic and the food, but as usual it’s a very difficult sleep.
Sydney finally arrives, we do the zombie walk out through immigration and customs after buying some cheap grog in duty free.
It’s been a great trip, we have met some lovely people and the trip has been an absolute pleasure. Much better than I expected. We say our final good byes once we’re through customs and head to the Holiday Inn for a shower and a rest. Dinner at the hotel and I reckon we’ll sleep the sleep of the dead tonight.
A final sum up when I have regained composure, got my sleep debt sorted, and I’ve had some clear air to look back on the trip, it’s pluses and it’s minuses. Cheers from Sydney
Paul

Sent from my iPad

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Day 12 – Friday 21st June – Beijing

9 am start today, very civilised, just like my work days.

What do you think about Chinese for breakfast, I’ve sort of grown used to it now, dumplings, fried rice, spicy omelettes, tasty steamed rolls, it will be hard going back to corn flakes and weatbix, washes down with a cup of tea.

We leave the big bags at the hotel, they’ll meet us at the airport later tonight. It’s a hazy day, not too hot, if I was home I’d say rain was on the way.

Some China information;

The main religions of China are

  1. Buddhism – largest by a long way About 90%
  2. Taoism – Michael doesn’t rate Taoism very highly
  3. Christianity
  4. Islam – there are 1m people in a Beijing who say they are Muslim but Michael feels they are mostly more interested in money than Religion

Language ;

Bing Shrr – Cold Water

Bing Piego – Cold Beer

Choolamaa – heave you eaten yet

In 1987 China went to a market economy

In 1949 life expectancy was 49 year in China

In 2019 Life expectancy is 75, so health services have improved considerably, but is still very expensive in China, even though the doctors work for the government.

Retirement Age in China – men 60, women 55

First stop this morning is a traditional Chinese medicine facility in central Beijing, it’s a sales show again but very interesting, we all have a personal diagnosis by a Chinese Dr, with an interpreter, pulse, tongue, eyes checked and questions asked and they tell you pretty closely what problems you have and what should help fix them. Very interesting, then a 10 minute neck massage for 30 Yuen ( $5).

A wander in the expensive shopping / pedestrian mall, with Rolex watches and all the expensive brands. I buy a fridge magnet for 10 Yuen, the suckers don’t get my money.

Then on to the cheap markets, knock off watches, t shirts, electronics stuff. Heaven on a stick for The Navigator, she bargains and buys the afternoon away and fills our bags up with all sorts of stuff.

Then the airport, an hour and a half through the peak hour Beijing traffic, we’re ready for checkin at 7pm. QF 108 leaves at 12.45, after a stressful time getting through checkin, immigration and then to Gate E12 via a train ride all is good except for my feet swelling. I need the Chinese medicine!

Cheers from China for the last time

Paul

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