We started off in Beijing. It was mid-September and very hot - about 35 degrees - but most of the time it was overcast. This is a feature of the weather there, because of the pollution apparently.
Everywhere was very crowded. Tourism in China has become very popular during the last few years - not just with overseas visitors but also Chinese people, now they are becoming more affluent, wanting to see the sights for themselves.
One exception was Tiananmen Square, which is so huge it didn't seem crowded! There's very heavy security in the square, police very conspicuous, and our guide told us that no discussion of (as they refer to it) the 'incident' in 1989 is allowed.
One of the most striking things, was the cleanliness everywhere: not a scrap of litter, no graffiti anywhere. (Our tour guide was bemused when we asked about graffiti - she couldn't understand what it was). I'm sure there would be very heavy penalties for litter dropping!
On the second day in Beijing we visited the Great Wall of China. There are apparently several places where the Wall can be accessed from the Beijing area, so I don't know how they compare in terms of difficulty etc. We started out early, with the aim of beating the crowds - and I certainly wouldn't have liked to be there later in the day! - as in places where the steps were narrow, there was quite a bit of pushing and shoving through the crowds. This is another feature of life in China which surprised us, by the way: the people are so very polite in so many ways, and yet we were shocked by the way they push and shove! - not caring who is elbowed out of the way, old or young, man or woman. I guess it comes from living in such crowded cities but I was nearly knocked over on several occasions, finding it hard to stand my ground and push back!
The average age of our tour group was probably 60+, and our guide warned us to take the climb steadily and not go further than we could manage. The steps up the Wall were uneven and many were steep. I'm normally reasonably fit but had a bit of a bad back at the time, so didn't climb right to the top.
Himself went on ... only to turn back soon, saying the view wasn't much better from the top because of the cloud/mist.
Nevertheless it was an impressive sight and an experience I wouldn't have wanted to miss.
Later that day we were taken to the old area of Beijing (the Hutong), where we were driven around on a rickshaw. I just felt sorry for the guys pedalling the bikes. We're not particularly massive people but bigger than most Chinese! - and pulling the weight of two of us must have been really hard work. Of course, this was all laid on specifically for the tourists, including a visit to a 'typical' home. I felt a little uncomfortable as we all crowded into this lady's tiny house and nosed around ... but I suppose she is being well paid for opening her home to the likes of us.
The third day in Beijing, we visited the Summer Palace. It's situated in lovely gardens on a lake, which made a nice contrast from the crowded city streets. Later we were taken to see the Olympic Village - and in the evening, saw a very impressive acrobatic show. There were several shows during the course of our trip - some included in the schedule, others 'optional extras', and all were different and definitely worth seeing.
From Beijing, we flew to Xian, famous for the Terracotta Warriors. This was definitely a highlight. I'd seen photos, of course, and had naively believed that when the warriors were first discovered, they'd looked exactly the way they do now - but no, they were lying in pieces and have been painstakingly put together ... a process that's still ongoing. The ranks of completed warriors in the pits is an absolutely amazing sight. Every one's face is different! The hairstyles and various features indicate their rank. I particularly liked the cavalry men, and the kneeling archers which are preserved under glass in the museum.
We had a hot sunny afternoon for our stroll on Xian city walls, which are decorated with all manner of flamboyant animal and flower illuminations: I'd like to have seen it at night. We also visited the Muslim quarter of Xian, including the Great Mosque which was a peaceful oasis in the city.
On the last morning in Xian -which happened to be our Ruby anniversary! - we visited the Little Wild Goose pagoda - again, set in beautiful gardens. The Chinese love their parks and public gardens by the way - because most of them live in apartment blocks in the cities and don't have any open space of their own. We were astonished by the crowds of people in all the parks, often doing tai-chi or impromptu line-dancing or keep-fit in big groups! They also sit in the parks to play mah-jong or cards, to chat together, knit or play music together. Our guide explained that the retirement age is 55 and retired people enjoy their social lives in the parks, which benefits their physical and mental health.
That afternoon, we took our next flight, to Wuhan, and from there we had a long coach journey to the beginning of our Yangtse River cruise.
We boarded our boat in the evening. Himself and I had decided to splash out on an upgraded cabin - as it was a special occasion - and the facilities and comfort on the boat were very good. We spent three days on the Yangtse; each morning there was a shore excursion, and the afternoons were spent resting on the boat, watching the scenery, which was quite a pleasant break in an otherwise hectic schedule!
The first morning, we visited the Three Gorges Dam, which was an impressive sight, probably far more interesting to those with technical minds (!).
But the next day's trip was more up my street - a cruise to the Shennong stream (a tributary of the Yangtse), where we were 'loaded' onto 'pea-pod' boats and rowed along the stream by a team of very strong guys (again, I felt sorry for them!). The scenery was lovely and we enjoyed such things as the music of a pipe being played by a goat-herd on the bank of the stream ... until we were told that he was actually a government employee who was there purely as a tourist attraction! There was quite a lot of this kind of thing!
The final trip on the Yangtse cruise was to the riverside town of Fengdu, known as the City of Ghosts, where the many shrines and statues depict judgement day and the tortures of hell. Actually a lot nicer than it sounds!! This was a drizzly day, and as the ghost city was at the top of a mountain we went up there by cable car rather than walking up in the rain. That afternoon, it rained properly for the first time, putting an end to our afternoons of sunbathing on the boat! The weather became much more unsettled after this, with less heat and some showery days.
We ended the cruise at Chongqing, another huge Chinese city and major port, from where we were driven to Chengdu for the next part of our tour. Which seems a good place to pause ...
To be continued!