EclipseTrip2017 – Day 1

After monitoring the weather for the Great American Eclipse of 2017, I called an audible and decided to head towards Casper, WY. My original plan was to be near southern Illinois or southeast Missouri where the greatest duration of totality will occur, however the forecast for that area looks to be cloudy and/or rainy – less than ideal for eclipse viewing of course.

The weather in Casper looks to be perfect so this morning I loaded up the car, after returning from a business trip about midnight, and headed out about 10:30. I’m driving the Edge instead of the Solstice on this trip as I may be forced to sleep in the back tomorrow night. Hotels and campgrounds are booked for hundreds of miles around Casper. Such are the hazards of winging things for such an historic event. Only hope for a campsite is a forest service campground which is small and first come first served.

I made it is far as the Grand Island KOA in Nebraska where I last spent a night in 2012 on another eclipse related trip. The path of totality will actually pass directly over this campground, however the forecast calls for clouds – no good, so I’ll be moving on in the morning.

It’s a pleasant evening here with fireflies flickering around the campsite. There are some clouds moving in and a few flashes of lighting. Forecast calls for some overnight rain but I don’t think it will be too bad.

Another 500 miles to Casper tomorrow. Hope to be on the road fairly early so I can get there, scope out a viewing location for Monday and oh yeah, find a place to sleep that doesn’t involve the car…

 There are a lot of Canadians around.

China – Day 13: Homeward Bound

Today we’re leaving Shanghai at 3:55 in the afternoon, so we had a relaxing morning.  I got up at 7 and was down to breakfast about 8.  Watched some TV and then the bus departed at noon.  We arrived at the airport about 1.

After checking in and making it almost all the way through the immigration line, the ticket agent appeared and started looking for people going to Chicago.  When he found Jerry, he motioned him to come with him and I heard something about baggage.  As the rest of us were joking in the line he motioned for me to come along as well.  We walked back to the baggage check room where they had Jerry’s suitcase.  They needed him open it up and then open his shaving kit.  They were looking for a lighter – which he didn’t have.  Then he closed it back up and we returned to the back of the line.  From there it was an uneventful trip through immigration and security.  Then about an hour and a half wait for our departure.

After pushing back from the gate and getting lined up we had about a half hour delay for a passenger medical issue – though we would be heading back to the gate at one point.  Details are a bit sketchy but it sounded like an older woman with perhaps some sort of diabetic issue.  She eventually came around and we took off.  14 hours later we landed in Chicago!

We had a three hour layover so there was plenty of time to get through customs and immigration which was uneventful as usual – always like to hear the “welcome home”!  From there it was a short flight to MSP where Jackie picked us up.  Got my car at Jerry’s and was home by about 10:30.  Had caught my second wind at that point and unfortunately didn’t get to sleep until about 3am – good thing I’ve got one more vacation day before heading back to work!

All in all, it was a really great trip.  China is definitely worth the visit- there’s so much history there that we really don’t get much exposure to here.

China – Day 9:  Yangtze River Cruise

As our days have been packed I have not been updating the blog each day as I’d like to have.  Today is actually the first day with a little down time.  We boarded the cruise in Chongqing about 7 o’clock last night.  We departed about 9 o’clock and had a safety briefing and ship orientation at 9:15 before turning in.  Was up at six as breakfast is served between 7-8 only.  There was an optional shore excursion at 8 am to the ghost city of Feng Du which I chose to skip.  Instead I’m on the sun deck (under clouds) working on some posts and just relaxing.

There is a presentation (with PowerPoint!) about the Three Gorges that I will attend at 11 am and then lunch at noon.  At that point we’ll be shoving off for our next stop downstream this afternoon, the Red Pagoda at Shibaozhai.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing the Gorges tomorrow and then Friday morning we go through the locks to end our cruise.

red-pagoda

The Red Pagoda at Shibaozhai along the Yangtze River.

More updates later…

chongqing-day-9-map

China – Day 7: The Terracotta Army

Back the regular schedule – up at 6, down for breakfast and on the bus by 8:30.  Breakfast here wasn’t as good as the hotel in Beijing – still didn’t walk away hungry though, so I’m not complaining.

Today was our day to see the Terracotta Army museum.  As usual, our first stop was a terracotta factory where we learned a little about how terracotta is made and of course had plenty of time to tour the gift shop.  I made my single purchase of the trip here, a 5 piece set of terracotta army figures.

We arrived at the museum where we joined thousands of other people taking the tour.  There are 3 pits that are part of the tour.  Pit one is the largest and contains the vast majority of the figures.  Pit two is the smallest and contains cavalry and chariots.  Pit three is middle sized and contains a variety of figures.

From there we headed back into the city where we now had to squeeze in a couple of items that we were supposed to have seen yesterday but missed due to our flight delay.  The first stop was a Tang Art museum where we has had a Chinese calligraphy lesson (I could have skipped this completely).  Then on to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda.  We arrived as they were preparing to close so Jack and Yao had to convince the guard to let us in.  Then it was a very quick spin through the park.  I think this would have been a nice place to visit but it was drizzling and we rushed through it in about 20 minutes and had no chance to climb the tower.  Due to the time limitation, I would have skipped this stop today.  However, I think the guides are under contract to hit every point specified in the itinerary…  Given all these stops, we were then stuck in rush hour traffic on the way to dinner.  As the dinner was optional we had to swing by the hotel to drop people off.  Unfortunately, this was a case where Jack was not clear with everyone as to what we were doing so a bunch of people that were going to dinner also got off to run back to the hotel for some reason (due to traffic we had parked a few blocks from the hotel),

With everyone who was going to dinner finally back on the bus we were off to dinner.  As usual dinner was good, there was one particularly odd dish that was served – deep fried chicken (or maybe pork) bits and corn flakes…  Odd combination but it was good.

From there we visited the Muslim Quarter, which consisted of a few blocks of street vendors and sidewalk restaurants.  We were also able to walk over to view the Bell and Drum towers which were lit up beautifully for the night.  Unfortunately due to the other stops we crammed in during the day we only had about an hour to wander around.  Given the choice I would have rather skipped a couple of items earlier and just spent the whole evening here – there were some interesting looking foods that we could have tried for dinner.  Oh well.  We made it back to the hotel and had to get packed for our early morning departure to Chongqing.

I thought the tickle in my throat was due to the pollution, but I definitely have a cold.  Jerry was a life saver though as he had packed some cold medication!

xian-day-7-map

China – Day 6: Not quite as planned

Today is a travel day to Xi’an.  Our flight out of Beijing was schedule for 8:25, which meant we had to be on the bus at 6 am.  As the restaurant wasn’t open, then provided us with a brown bag breakfast (white bread, boiled eggs and a banana).  When we arrived at the airport, we found that due to the thunderstorm that rolled through last nightearly this morning, our flight was delayed.  The plane had actually not yet left Xi’an…  We waited at the airport for about 45 minutes and then Jack rounded us up and said they were taking us to a hotel to wait…  Apparently the government has rules that limit the amount of time they want people waiting around?

We were driven to a local hotel where they gave us breakfast (actually nothing left) and then assigned us rooms.  This was not the nice level of hotel we’d been staying at – rooms were clean, but smelled heavily of smoke and the AC was not working.  Anyway we waited there about two hours and then headed back to the airport.

Our flight finally arrived in Xi’an at around 5 o’clock.  This is a city of around 8 million people and is best known for it’s heavy industry and defense industry.  Also for growing cotton, winter wheat and corn.  We were supposed to have had lunch and visited a couple of places in the afternoon, but due to the delay our local tour guide, Yao, said we would have to head directly to the Tang Dynasty dumpling dinner & show that was scheduled.  As this was an optional excursion those not attending would then be taken to the hotel.

Dinner was supposedly around 16 rounds of various types of dumplings; pork, chicken, duck, veggie, mushroom, shrimp, etc.  Many were actually shaped like what the filling was – the duck and fish were the most identifiable.  After the show it was back to the hotel by about 9:30.

Duck Dumpling

Duck Dumpling at the Tang Dynasty dinner theater.

xian-day-6-map

China – Day 5: The Great Wall

Today we headed to the Great Wall.  We were on the bus at 8:30 again this morning and our first stop on the way out of the city was at a jade factory.  These stops would become my least favorite part of the trip.  The few minutes of introduction about the process they use for whatever we were looking at was interesting but the remainder of the hour or so we had to spend at each place was a waste of time as far as I’m concerned.  I don’t need a shopping trip!

Anyway, once that was over we were back on the bus and continued the drive north to Badaling.  We made the short walk from the bus up to the wall.  We were given about 2 hours to explore the wall before meeting back at a nearby restaurant.  Jack advised one direction up the wall was easier, but that also looked to be more crowded.  Doug and I opted to head up the steeper route and Jerry joined us about half the way to the summit.  We walked up to the fourth tower from which we had a nice view of the surrounding area.  Can’t image how they built this thing way back when.

 After lunch we headed back into the city and made a stop at the Beijing Olympic Park where we saw the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Water Cube before heading back to the hotel.  We had dinner in the western style, revolving, restaurant at the top of the hotel.  The salmon that I had was really good and the view of the city was spectacular.  Then it was back to the room to pack and get our luggage out the door for our early departure to Xi’an in the morning.

beijing-day-5-map

China – Day 4: The Forbidden City

Day four is the first full day of our tour.  So this meant getting started early.  Was up at 6 o’clock, downstairs for breakfast and on the bus by 8:30.  Our first stop was another visit to Tiananmen Square.  Today our bus dropped us off near the south end of the square where we saw the old gate into the city.  Then it was a walk across the square.  As we passed Mao’s mausoleum our tour guide Jack mentioned that there was some suspicion as to whether the body on display is really Mao…  Jerry and Doug were a little disappointed to hear that since they had gone through the trouble of seeing him yesterday.

Leaving Tiananmen Square, we proceeded north into the Forbidden City which is where the Emperors ruled from.  It’s a truly massive place and I’m sure you could probably spend a couple of days touring it, but we rushed through it in about three or four hours.

From there we headed for lunch and then on to the Summer Palace.  This was another residential area for the emporer and is set on a nice little lake.  We went for a stroll along the lake and then from there it was back to the hotel for a short stop before heading to out for a Peking duck dinner and to see the Legend of Kung Fu show.  After all the walking and with perhaps a little jet lag catching up it was hard to keep my eyes open for the whole show, but I managed to do it.  Back to the hotel a little before 10 this evening.

beijing-day-4-1-map

China – Day 3: Beijing

Woke up at 6 this morning and headed down for the buffet breakfast.  The choices covered the whole range of international options from western bacon and eggs to the Asian noodles, fried rice, and soups.  No one would go hungry here.

Our morning was free so we opted to walk down to Tiananmen Square which was about a 2km walk down the street.  Took a few pictures on the square and Jerry and Doug walked through the mausoleum to view Mao’s body.  From there it was back to the hotel for a beer and a nap.

Monument to the People's Heroes on Tiananmen Square

Monument to the People’s Heroes on Tiananmen Square

Later in the afternoon the tour officially began with a visit to a local freshwater pearl factory and then it was on to dinner with the whole group – 31 people in all.  We were back to the hotel around 7.  I watched some shows on my iPad while Jerry went looking for an ice cream cone at a nearby McDonald’s.

beijing-day-3-map

China – Day 1-2:  On our way!

Woke up to thunder and lightning around 4:30 this morning and finally crawled out of bed about 5 o’clock. Made some oatmeal and then got showered and the last things in the suitcase. Was still raining off and on when I left the house at 7:15. Made it over to Jerry’s just after 8. Jerry’s neighbor Jackie took us to the airport. Upon check in we found our flight was delayed about 40 minutes. We met Jerry’s friends, Doug and Nanci, at the gate. The flight out of Chicago to Beijing was also delayed about the same so after about a one hour delay out of Chicago we were finally on our way by about 2pm. Our flight was on a 747 slated for retirement in the next couple of months. So being an older plane it didn’t have the up to date in seat entertainment that newer planes have. Fortunately I had my iPad loaded with shows and a few magazines to occupy the 13 hour flight. Also caught maybe an hour of sleep.

On board a 747-400 headed for Beijing!

On board a 747-400 headed for Beijing!

Due to the delay, or maybe not, we arrived in Beijing around 4pm on Wednesday afternoon along with a few other planes so it then took some time to filter through immigration, make our way through the terminal, find our bags and make our way outside. We found our local representative who directed us to our shuttle bus. Despite only being about a 17 mile drive to the hotel the driver said it would take about an hour. Well with the rush hour traffic and torrential rain that would take place it took about an hour and 45 minutes to reach the hotel. We were greeted by our tour guide for the trip, Jack Du.

Originally we had planned to explore the area a bit and find some dinner outside the hotel but Jack advised to stay in the hotel as no one outside would speak English. Turned that didn’t really make much difference as the hotel staff didn’t speak English either. After a bit of struggle we managed to order a couple of beers and some dishes to share (a barbecue platter of chicken, pork and goose and a lemon chicken dish). Neither were particularly good.

And finally with that day, one came to an end and we turned in for the night after a long day of travel. We made it!

30 days and counting

YMT Legendary China & Yangtze River Cruise

Day 1

Depart for Beijing China

Day 2

Arrive Beijing

Those who booked air with YMT will be transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure. Tonight there is a welcome dinner hosted by your Chinese Tour Director.

Day 3

Full Day Beijing Sightseeing

Today we’ll show you the highlights of Beijing, (sometimes referred to as Peking, which was its old name), and the capital city of The People’s Republic of China. This is one of the most populous cities in the world with over 20 million inhabitants. You’ll visit Tiananmen Square, overlooked by the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao, where in 1989 student protests led to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Next we’ll visit the Forbidden City, a 250-acre complex, comprising more than 9,000 rooms. After an included lunch, you’ll visit the famous Summer Palace and its park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Day 4

Full Day Excursion to the Great Wall of China

Today we visit a section of the Great Wall at Badaling. Enjoy an included Chinese lunch at a nearby restaurant and a photo stop at the “Birdsnest” Stadium and the “Watercube” from the 2008 Olympics.

Day 5

Xi’an

This morning transfer to Beijing airport for your early flight to Xi’an (flight approx. 2 hours). Visit the Tang Dynasty Art Museum and, after an included lunch, enjoy a Chinese calligraphy lesson.

Day 6

Full Day Xi’an Sightseeing

Xi’an was once the most important city in Asia as the end of the Silk Route. Today it is home to the world-famous Terracotta Army, considered by many to be the 8th Wonder of the Ancient World; Discovered by farmers in 1974, there are over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. After an included lunch, visit the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, built in 709.

Day 7

Chongqing

This morning you will fly to Chongqing (flight approx. 90 mins). You will take a panoramic sightseeing tour and visit Ciqikou, where travelers and locals alike mix in the steep and narrow pedestrian streets. Here shops sell porcelain, other handicrafts, and gifts, while restaurants and tea shops give visitors a look at what many areas of Chongqing were like before it became a vast metropolis. Other visits today include the Chongqing Zoo to see the Giant Pandas and the Three Gorges Museum. After an included dinner, you will transfer to your Yangtze River cruise ship, Victoria Anna your floating hotel for the next 3 nights.

Day 8

Yangtze River Cruise

This morning wake up to the sights and sounds of the Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world, and history and culture thrive along its banks.. This morning, there is an included shore excursion to visit Fengdu Ghost City. This afternoon we also stop at Shibaozhai where you may take an optional excursion.

Day 9

Yangtze River Cruise

Today is the day of the gorges – the 3 Gorges to be precise; Gutang, Gorge, Wu Gorge and Xiling Gorge. You cruise by some spectacular scenery today and enjoy an included excursion to a nearby stream or tributary. Later there is an optional excursion to visit the White Emperor City, a National Heritage Site full of historical temples and gates.

Day 10

Yangtze River Cruise & Shanghai

This morning there is an included shore excursion to visit The Three Gorges Dam. At over 600 feet high and 1.5 miles long, this is the largest hydroelectric complex in the world. Late morning you disembark in Yichang and after an included lunch at a local restaurant, take an afternoon drive to the city of Wuhan from where you board your evening flight to Shanghai (flight approx. 2 hours).

Day 11

Shanghai Sightseeing

You will visit the French Concession (a French territory of the city until 1946), Old Shanghai, and the Shanghai Museum to see some of its collection of ancient Chinese art. After lunch on your own, it’s over to the Pudong area, famous for its skyscrapers and night time illuminations. Your tour will end with a visit to The Bund, the river embankment, to enjoy a stroll with locals and visitors. This final evening, your Tour Director will be hosting a farewell dinner.

Day 12

Shanghai

Transfer to Shanghai airport for your flight back to the U.S.