A Travellerspoint blog

Pre-wedding week-week

Reporting from London

rain 9 °C
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We made it. Minor panic when we arrived at Pudong airport and queued to check in as Mum was handed a letter that advised that because our flight was overbooked we wouldn't have seats on the plane... however as soon as we questioned it, the attendant said that we had been given the wrong letter. Then we were given another letter that offered £125 if you voluntarily gave up your seat... now we are travelling on budget seats anyway, so can't possibly get another flight for that price, would get no refund and would have to pay 130RMB to get home again anyway and would not get to London! We hadn't checked in online because Dad had identified a possible issue with the seat allocation after they had already paid AUD150 to pick specific seats, and then they reallocated them and gave them seats window and aisle and kindly put Didi between them... although we had said we were travelling together British Airways shouldn't have decided to sit a three year old away from his mother, and should have given three seats together to me, Jie Jie and Didi. Anyway, boarding done, safety demonstration completed (physically not a video, because the player was not working... ), take off complete and we were on our way. But, after managing to delay the kids from starting the in seat entertainment until the seat belt sign went off, there was clearly a problem... time and again the announcements indicated they just needed to reboot the system and it would start up... come on hurry up, we want Ceebeebies! Alas, as time went on, I and the kids were getting restless, I opted to let them crack into the iPod personal entertainment units... we then had a relatively quiet and tantrum free flight. Of course the kids both fell asleep as we were coming in to land.

Arriving at Terminal 5 at Heathrow was a shock... the number of people was staggering. I was carrying Didi in the Ergo, but he'd woken up, and wanted to walk, and encouraging Jie Jie to walk, but she wanted to sleep, and I pointed out to her how easy it could be to lose her, but we managed to move through the terminal, catch the little train and get to the arrivals hall, where we were shepherded up more escalators, with additional people and then at the top, what could be more horrifying, but to be directed away from the immigration hall to join a queue which was easily over 100m long... With Mum, Dad and Jie Jie close behind, I asked an official if there was any possibility of being fast tracked as the kids were exhausted and their bodies were telling them it was well and truly bed time in Shanghai! Fortunately we were whisked through and told to join another queue at least in the immigration hall! There was a sign on the ropes that assisted the queue to snake towards the desks that indicated that waiting time was expected to be at least 45 mins from that point. So as we got to a bend in the line, I managed to attract another official's attention and again asked if there was anything we could do to jump the queue, and explained to him that we'd travelled half way round the world and with kids about to collapse, and although he let us through to the 'Special Assistance' desk where there were only 3 groups ahead of us, he said that there were too many people travelling with children to provide a special family lane. I was so happy that I'd been the one to ask - and could see a few unhappy looks from other parents still in the queue. Half the immigration desks were closed in the foreign passport holder section, it was truly hopeless, and I cannot imagine what they are planning to do with additional crowds in July/August for the Olympics, but it didn't look much better for EU passport holders either!

Collected our luggage, and finally made it out into the airport, where with much relief I found our driver, who was taking us to the flat in Islington, our home for the next fortnight! Traffic and roadworks in London was heavy going, but we made it there in about an hour, and were relieved to see Marns waiting for us on the street when we pulled up. Our flat is small and basic, and I am in very close quarters with the kids sharing a double bed every night.

The weekend was busy, starting off with a delicious cooked breakfast at Bills, a restaurant in White Lion Road, Islington with great hot chocolate for my chocoholic kids, amazing jams and preserves, and only a short walk from our flat. We met up with Marns to start on a few of the jobs for the wedding and let Mum and Dad start to explore Islington. We went to the florist, into the Gallipoli restaurant, where my parents are hosting a pre wedding dinner next week, into the town hall, which is the venue for the reception and then down to see Marns and James new home. It's beautiful, and has an amazing kitchen, which I would love to give a good work out!! While we were there, Jie Jie tried on her flower girl dress - oh my, she was just a gorgeous princess, especially when adorned with a tiara from the hens night! Didi was funny, because when he saw Jie Jie come down in her 'fancy' dress, he wanted to get dressed up too, and started pulling off his clothes, and was most upset that she was getting so much attention! We headed home after coffee and pastries, feeling a bit sluggish with jet lag. Not much time though to rest, as Mum, Dad, Marns and James were out to the theatre and dinner, and a friend of mine was coming to visit for dinner... she and her partner don't live in London, but came down especially for dinner with me... the kids were terrific, fell asleep on the lounge and left me to enjoy catching up. It wasn't a late night, as they had to be on the last train out of London! Sunday was pretty quiet, started off going to the church where the wedding will be held. It's a very pretty sandstone church, not very far from our flat. Later in the day, we wandered around and took the kids to a couple of playgrounds to run around!

What we weren't' prepared for though is how cold it is... this spring weather in London has not been very warm at all. I think it has been hovering around just under 10 degrees... wish I'd brought some warmer jumpers and overcoats for the kids!!

On Monday I packed the kids up and we set out to see the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace. We left just after the morning peak hour and headed to the bus stop to catch a double decker London bus, with some disappointment of not getting the front seat, we were at least comfortable on the top deck. The kids loved looking out and down on the passing cars, bikes and pedestrians. We got to Green Park, and bought a picnic lunch from a nearby Pret a Manger and then skipped down through Green Park towards the Palace. I could see a fair crowd collecting, all under the statue of Queen Victoria, and barricades were holding people back from the road, and a pretty thick crowd had collected around the fence of the palace. I asked a policemen if something unusual was going on, or if it was really just the audience for the Changing of the Guard - yep, just there to see the guards change! And his view was that the crowd was not that big... I was terrified I would be separated from the kids, or I would lose one! We couldn't get near the palace fence, but did manage to secure a bit of barricade facing the road and Queen Victoria. There were a number of mounted police for crowd control, and the kids were happy to watch them. We saw the marching band, the new guards and the mounted guards all parade along the street. Once they'd all entered the palace grounds, Jie Jie tried to squeeze her way into the front to have a look, and Didi sat on my shoulders, but I doubt he could see much! Jie Jie asked if she could take the camera in amongst the crowd, and she actually got a few good pics. I called out to her a few times when I couldn't see her to check if she was ok, and she'd call an answer back saying she was fine. Didi was quite devastated, because having been told we were going to see the Queen's house, he had actually been looking out for Lightning McQueen, and when we left he was dragging his feet and pouting looking around for his favourite racing car.

After the ceremony was over, we headed over to the playground in St James Park, but were distracted by a number of the cutest squirrels. We tried to have our picnic, but the kids wouldn't eat the sandwiches, only the chips and brownie. After a long play on the equipment and in the sand pit, Jie Jie had a hot chocolate and Didi had an ice cream and then we headed for home. We were about half way back through Green Park, when Didi wanted cuddles, and wouldn't walk any further.

One of the planned highlights of the trip was having tickets to see The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre. The kids didn't really know what to expect, except probably watching the movie in a theatre, and were suitably gobsmacked! The show started with Rafiki singing, and two antelopes singing from the top of the theatre, and then as all the animals in the circle of life paraded through the theatre to gather under Pride Rock, Didi jumped out of his seat (and onto my lap for the rest of the show) when one of the antelopes 'sniffed' at him. The costumes were phenomenal, the elephants, rhinos, zebras, elans, big cats, all so cleverly done. The set was amazing too! Each time Simba left the stage, Didi would say quite loudly "where Simba gone?". I'm a bit of an emotional wreck in live theatre, so was crying my eyes out at the start of the show, blown away by the magnificence. Grandma and Bob were also suitably impressed, and watching the delight on the kids faces was perfect. The kids were engaged and entranced for the first act, and wanted more when it finished, but got a bit restless during a long Simba solo during the second act, but were involved to enjoy the finale. Of course both wanted more when it was over, but it was a long show, and they actually did pretty well staying involved for that length of time. Knowing the story as well as they do definitely helped. Thanks Mum and Dad for such a special day out!!

The next day, I took the kids on an adventure to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs. Last year when we were here they were closed for cleaning. Didi loved the big brontosaurus in the main hall, the one which has been in the museum's collection for about 150 years! We went into the dinosaur exhibit and the shadows cast some eerie light. It was packed, there were so many school excursions there, and keeping the kids together was tricky. Jie Jie was looking at everything closely and wanted me to read every bit of information to her (she takes after me a bit), but then Didi raced through and into the room with an animated T-rex. I was calling and calling him, but couldn't find him... until another mum pointed him out. Jie Jie and I caught up with him just as he was about to come face to face with the T-rex, and Jie Jie suddenly realised what she was going to come face to face with, and planted her feet down so firmly we couldn't move. I picked Didi up and then tried to reason with Jie Jie that we couldn't go back because it was a one-way path. She eventually clung onto one leg and kept her eyes tightly shut and we inched past the dinosaur. Then it roared. I thought she was going to rip through my jeans! We got almost to the exit, and then I knelt down, told her that it was a robotic dinosaur, and not real, ever. Even though the bones that we had looked at before had come from real dinosaurs. Then suddenly she was all brave. We had a look, it roared again, and then she was in denial about having been scared! Although today we only looked in one room, I knew it was time to head home. We left the museum, and had a quick look at an outdoor photo exhibit and then got the Tube home. Two changes. Didi was sound asleep by the second change, and I texted Dad to ask me to meet us at Angel with the stroller... I have never been so grateful to see that stroller as I was after I'd carried Didi as a dead weight on the train and up... knowing that Jie Jie wouldn't really be able to walk home, so being able to put them both in was a relief, especially as it continued to rain.

For the weekend, we headed up to the Cotswolds to visit and introduce Mum and Dad to their (other) daughter's new in laws. We hired a car, but the traffic getting out of London was awful, and it took us about 4 hours to drive up. A couple of wrong turns added about 45 mins to the trip, but we got there and were glad to be there. We stayed again in the 16th century house, which is exquisitely maintained and decorated. The kids again enjoyed playing with the permanently set up train set, and going to see the chickens and collect eggs. We visited Daylesford, a gorgeous organic food supply place. Would love for it to be my 'corner store'. We had a wander around Stow-on-the-Wold, an old market village, enjoying the small streets and pretty churchyards. Then back to London on Sunday, in half the time it took us to drive up on Friday!

Posted by aboo10 03:42 Archived in England Tagged planes london wedding family_travel jet_lag Comments (0)

The big London wedding

Reporting from Jinqiao


View London Wedding on aboo10's travel map.

It feels like we haven't had time to pause since getting back from Yangshuo and Guilin, and indeed we have had a couple of interesting days just home in Shanghai... we had a lovely lunch out at Di Shui Dong, with a friend from home; went to a birthday party; hired a big six seater bike and rode around Century Park enjoying the blossoms and spring weather; had a beer at Paulaner in Lujiazui; started the kids back at school for the new term and then tomorrow, Mum, Dad, the kids and I fly to London to prepare for my little sister's wedding in a fortnight.

Her wedding coincides with the first anniversary of Will and Kate's Royal wedding and I'm sure London will be as gorgeous over the next two weeks as it was last year! I'm sure James and Marnie's wedding will be as grand and as beautiful, but I assure you there will be no global televising of my "bridesmaid bum" as I assist my sister with her dress and attend to her needs on her big day!!

Congratulations Marnie and James, we look forward to a fun filled fortnight in Islington and wish you all the best for a happy marriage!! See you tomorrow!!

Posted by aboo10 21:00 Archived in England Tagged wedding family_travel Comments (1)

Guilin

Reporting from Jinqiao

overcast 16 °C
View Spring Break - Yangshuo on aboo10's travel map.

Over the few days we were staying in Yangshuo, we really got to know all the staff at the Village Inn, and also many of the drivers. For the trip to Guilin, Didi was particularly impressed when we climbed into the van to spot an unrequested 'baby seat' - he knew he could sit there independently for the car trip, and also see out the window, and we knew he'd be comfortable and safe!

We arrived in Guilin and checked into the Waterfall Hotel. This was a huge contrast to Yangshuo, as it must have had about 600 rooms versus about 15 at the Village Inn!! The rooms were comfortable, with an enormous King Size bed and room for an extra bed, a lounge, desk and free floor space, plus an enormous bathroom with bath - we were looking forward to dunking the kids properly!! After settling in, we inspected Mum and Dad's room and then all went down for a walk along the nearby pedestrian street, admiring the Guilin version of the market stalls and yet more stuff to buy.

Looking for somewhere for dinner, and secretly searching for something Western, we ended up at an Irish Pub... but it was not very Irish, no Guinness on tap! Dinner was ok, nothing to rave about, and I noticed on the menu that they had breakfast items. The following morning however, we were searching for breakfast (not being prepared to pay 118RMB per person for the buffet in the hotel), but with little success. Starbucks has not yet landed in Guilin! And for some inexplicable reason, we could not find a shop with coffee and pastries under one roof. We did on our search for breakfast though stumble across the entrance to the Jing Jiang Prince City and Solitary Beauty Peak, which was going to be our destination for the day. Eventually we did find some raisin bread and coffee, and the kids were satisfied with a big chocolate milkshake.

Back to the Jing Jiang Prince City, which is a little like the Forbidden City in Beijing, and is topped with Solitary Beauty Peak, a steep Karst peak with a look out and a little temple on the top. It was lovely to walk through the gardens, a beautiful hedge with pink flowers lined the path to the first building, inside which is now a museum. The gardens were gorgeous, with buds and spring growth blossoming. And then we started the steep climb up the peak, there were steps carved into the mountain, and the climb went up fast. I was impressed with Jie Jie who climbed up consistently and also Didi did very well climbing the big steps. The view was great once we got to the top, and they sold ice cream! So the kids each ate one while sitting on the steps of the little temple. When Jie Jie finished, she asked me for some paper money to give to the God, put it in the donation jar knelt down on the cushion, put her hands together, bent over and started praying. When she was done, she told me she'd asked God for a dog.

The view across Guilin was great, and it was an achievement to see how high we had climbed. We went down again and met up with Mum and Dad at the bottom and had a pot of Osmanthus Tea. The word Guilin means osmanthus forest, so this is the local tea. Then we headed back through the grounds, basically heading back to the hotel for a swim, stopping on the way for some lunch - lamb skewers, pork filled and plain fried bread street food - delicious, and enjoyed by all.

The pool in the Waterfall Hotel was nice, a huge square, but randomly instead of swimming laps of the pool the other swimmers were swimming circuits, all following each other around the edge of the pool, creating a little challenge for us to work out where to play. There were also three spa type pools, a cold, a warm and a hot (40 deg) pool and which looked out to the Karst Peaks surrounding Guilin, and across the lakes. Both kids loved going for a swim, a real kid-friendly activity!

After that we headed out again to walk around the lake to visit the Elephant Trunk Hill scenic spot on the bank of the Li River. It looks like an enormous elephant drinking from the stream right on the point of a bend in the river, but they've captured the market there, and any possible places to view it have been blocked off, until you pay to enter the park. It was very pretty, and we walked all the way around the park to the other side of the point. Didi was exhausted and fell asleep on my back in the Ergo baby carrier - you know he's there now though. We opted on this trip to leave the pram at home, and the kids had done really well walking, with just occasional carrying Didi.

We headed straight out for dinner and went to the Guilin Good Luck Restaurant in the pedestrian street. I ordered from an English translation menu, which was particularly sweet when you read some of the dishes and the language used. Granted, my Chinese is far from perfect, and I sure can't write anything, so I shouldn't criticise! We had a fried rice that the kids loved, an eggplant dish, a bamboo shoots with mushrooms and pork (amazing) dish, honey pork with peanuts, green veg and a pork and beans one - all delicious.

After dinner we wandered down to Central Square behind our hotel. Our hotel called the Waterfall, actually turns into a waterfall at 8.30pm each night for ten minutes. We had about 40 mins to wait for this spectacle, and fortunately in the mean time the kids were distracted by a lady launching 'helicopters' with bright lights into the sky. After being told it was 5RMB for two, why wouldn't our kids be able to have them? 5RMB well spent, kept them completely occupied until the water fell. Hotel turns into a waterfall? What the...? Well the back section of the hotel has double windows, the outer of which cannot be opened, and there are enormous tanks on the roof which then spill the water down the outside of the building. They program the water flow as well to show patterns or waves and possibly in time with the music and light show which are in conjunction with it. It's kind of odd. I think possibly more at home in Macau or Las Vegas, but a bit odd for Guilin. Anyway, interesting to see, then home to bed.

After the breakfast debacle of this morning, we arranged to have separate brekkies on our last morning. We stocked up on some bread the night before, and thought I'd just duck out for coffee to the same place we got coffee from the day before... went into the shop, exchanged pleasantries with the girl behind the counter, asked for 2 cups of coffee and she said "no coffee" and sat down and resumed texting. Then I asked a manager about the coffee, and as matter of fact as anything, she said "no coffee". I then asked where I might find coffee near by and she shook her head and said again "no coffee". I left and ran into Mum and Dad also on a coffee hunt, explained to them the situation, and then went to order the local Guilin Noodle breakfast speciality, which for a non-western breakfast, was delicious.

Our last day was wet, and we set off to climb the Sun and Moon Pagodas in Shan Hu (the lake). We walked around the lake which in the damp weather was quite serene and calm. Then started climbing. The Moon Pagoda is made of wood, and has a spiral staircase up the centre. Both kids marched up to the top, eager to get to the next level - the view from the top was quite magnificent, all across the city, and being in the lake, felt like we were in a bit of an oasis. It was pleasing to spot Beauty Peak too. Going down the pagoda, we bribed Didi to keep walking by giving him 2 M&Ms (or M-M-Ms as our kids call them) at each level, and he made it all the way to the bottom, but then was desperate to be carried for a bit through a tunnel under the water to the Sun Pagoda, which is made of copper, copper walls, copper floors, copper ceiling and copper roof. Was really quite remarkable, and I would love to see it when illuminated with bright shining sunlight. This one though, has a nice elevator in the centre which was much appreciated really, and then some steep stairs up two additional levels to a small prayer room. Didi had had enough, and was sick of walking, so we kind of helped him where possible. This growing up thing with the kids is making tourist visits far more accessible - a year ago we would have looked at the peak and the pagoda and decided against it, so we were overall pretty happy with their efforts.

By the time we came out of the pagodas it had started to rain quite heavily, and we headed back to the hotel, but along the way, had to take refuge from the rain. Despite having raincoats, our legs and shoes were soaked and we were a sodden mess when we finally reached our hotel. We'd arranged a late check out, which was a quite generous 2pm, so after a little snack, took the kids for another swim, then back to the room to dry off and pack up. Left our bags and walked down through the pedestrian street once more. Mike and I had been admiring some Guilin landscape paintings, and had seen one being painted earlier, and so went back to the gallery and bought it. We all then settled down for a cup of coffee, and after a milkshake, Didi collapsed exhausted. Mum and Dad went off for another walk, and while we were sitting there, Mike went in to order another coffee for us, but ... you guessed it. "No coffee". Apparently the restaurants along the pedestrian street have a number of periods during the day, when they have no water available... probably because the Waterfall Hotel needs to refill their tanks... but that's just speculation!

Then finally, off to the airport for the flight back to Shanghai. All exhausted and home in Jinqiao around midnight (after an altercation with the cab driver)... what a week!! I have a load of gorgeous photos, and will post as soon as I can!!

Posted by aboo10 07:42 Archived in China Tagged landscapes family_travel Comments (0)

Yangshuo

Reporting from Guilin

17 °C
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Yangshuo was everything I anticipated and more!! We were up and at it on our first full day. Primed with a full breakfast, we set off to go rafting. Rafting sounds far more adventurous than our trip was, but it couldn't have been more enjoyable!!  Getting on the raft was the first challenge as they were all moored together and we had to negotiate walking across all the rafts to ours. I was with Didi and my guide just scooped him up and bounced across and deposited him on our raft. We were on 10 pieces of bamboo skillfully tied together and sat in deck chairs while our guide used a long pole to propel us downstream. every so often we would come to a concrete weir where we would drop over to the next level, a little like rapids!!  Along the way there were loads of photographers taking happy snaps and then selling prints on moored rafts kitted out with full computer paraphernalia, powered with an extension cord dropped into the water and I presume plugged in somewhere on the bank! The scenery was stunning. The karst peaks and mountain ranges were more beautiful than I'd imagined and the mists and soft, muted colours blended beautifully. It had been suggested that we do this trip early in the day to avoid the hordes of tourists traveling during the Qing Ming festival.

Arriving at our destination we wandered around a little market and watched the rafts being hoisted onto tractors to be driven back upstream.  We started walking home and then the kids were starting to tire, so jumped in a tuk tuk to take us home to Moon Hill Scenic Village.

After trying to get some local lunch and being told there was about a two hour wait, we headed back up to our hotel restaurant for some dumplings. 
That evening we went to the highly recommended Liu Sanjie Impressions light show. Which was amazing! The stage was about a kilometre deep and was part of the river and surrounded by more karst peaks. The number of performers was enormous and each scene seemed to outdo the one before!

The next morning we joined forces with an American family of 6, who reversed our numbers by being 2 adults to 4 children, hired a van and went to visit an old Ming fishing village called Xing Ping- best known for being very close to the actual site of the picture on the back of the 20RMB note. It included a long boat trip along the Li River and meandered through farmland, past fishermen (some with cormorants) and of course more karst peaks and cliffs. 
After a pizza dinner we were early to bed for our last night in the gorgeous Yangshuo Village Inn.

Our last morning we headed down to the Dragon Cave. Randomly we would have been charged 108RMB at the gate, but a woman on a bike told me she could get us in for 60. How? Why? Sometimes better not to question these china deals... But her price worked and our tickets let us in and onto a boat before going through various well lit caves to look at stalactites and stalagmites and reflections in still water pools. There were a number of short boat trips and lots of stairs and walking too. Along the way I made up a story about the cave being the home of a Chinese princess to keep Jie Jie entertained!!

After the cave we caught another tuk tuk home, packed up and checked out. Loaded ourselves into a van to take us to Guilin. 

What a wonderful time we had in Yangshuo!!

Posted by aboo10 05:11 Archived in China Tagged landscapes mountains family_travel Comments (2)

And we are off again...

Reporting from Yangshuo

sunny 20 °C
View Spring Break - Yangshuo on aboo10's travel map.

"How would you like to go on a plane?", I asked my three year old. He replied "Yes, let's go to the airport".
What I neglected to mention was that we would get up first at silly o'clock, then take a one hour taxi ride to the airport squashing six of us in to one regular sized car, then we would have to queue for forty minutes to get our boarding passes and check in our luggage (no, you have to carry your bag!), work our way through security and then wait some more for our flight to be called. This time we were 'really' getting on a plane, as we got a bus across the tarmac and climbed up a movable staircase to enter the plane. We then sat for an hour, delayed, because of air traffic control prior to take off, but with no electronic devices to pass the time. Jie Jie immediately commented on boarding the plane that there was no in flight entertainment, but managed to spend an hour colouring a gorgeous picture of an Easter Bunny. Then we finally were airborne... Flew for two and a half hours, got off the plane, found our stuff and immediately got in a car for another two hours... Six hours door to door... Not really ideal for a three year old who just wants to run around and explore!!!

But we are now in a beautiful part of China... We are staying in Moon Hill Village, near Yangshuo. The mountains around us are beautiful, we have stunning views from our balcony. And we are here with my parents in their mid-sixties, somewhere they never expected to see. We walked along the street in our village which has a loads of sellers selling stuff from little carts. At every spot with a clear view if Moon Hill, there is a little set of steps on which to pose for photos, underneath these there are people with traditional Chinese dresses you could try on and then pay for the privilege of having your photo taken.

Our accommodation is gorgeous- the Yangshuo Village Inn, which prides itself on being sustainable. For example refillable water bottles in each room, rather than wasting single use water bottles. Gorgeous rustic bamboo furniture. Lovely gardens... And an amazing rooftop terrace, happy hour last night was well deserved and the pizzas which they served were delicious. Could not have pictured a more perfect dinner last night.

It's early morning now, and we are up to seize the day... Breakfast first, then rafting on bamboo rafts.

Posted by aboo10 15:43 Archived in China Tagged landscapes children family_travel Comments (1)

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