There was now only 3 of u left on the tour, and we were told that as there was less than 6 of us, we didn't get a dedicated tour guide and would be picked up and dropped off at places by various local tour guides along the way. We all wondered how we were going to know what was going on and felt a bit abandoned by the tour company, which is ironic as it was certainly going to be more like proper travelling than the last pampered week had been!
The first day didn't go so well. We were picked up at the hotel and taken to the airport for our flight to the start of our cruise along the Yangtze River. So far so good. The plane was an hour delayed which was fine, but when we were picked up at the airport the other end we were told that because the river was quite low (or as they put it, the boat was thirsty, so for a while I thought he meant they were refueling it til I worked out what he was going on about!) we would need to get on a bus for a 3.5 hour drive further down river. This wasn't the best news. We were given the option of having a tour round the random city we had landed in (the name escapes me right now) and get the bus that the cruise company had organised to leave in 3 hours time, or to go to the bus now and leave within the hour. We opted to leave straight away as we were keen to get settled on the boat. At the bus stop we were told to get on the first bus which was an 'English speaking bus'. What they meant was, that other westerners from another country would be on the bus which they obviously thought was the same thing. The other passengers took the form of 32 Germans with a German speaking Chinese tour guide, none of whom spoke more than a few words of English. This in itself was not a problem but did mean that when an announcement was made in German and everyone got off the bus we had no idea what was going on and had to hunt around for someone who did speak English to explain to us that the German group's luggage was yet to arrive from their hotel, and it should be here in about 10 mins. 10 mins turned into 2 hours before we finally set of!! Ironically the same time as the later bus we opted not to take! Luckily Grant and I had found a shop that sold very cheap beers and snacks so it made the 3.5 bus journey to the boat a bit more enjoyable.
Although spirits were not particularly high when we finally got to the boat, once we'd checked in and were shown to our room, the journey was immediately forgotten. The room was lovely, more luxurious than any of the other tour hotels we stayed in, with a lovely balcony looking out onto the river. After a quick explore round the boat we spend the first night sat on the balcony with the beers we had left, watching the world go by and the stress of the day melted away.
Day 2 on the boat started with 'morning music' as 6.30am followed by an announcement that breakfast would shortly be ready... Although I was frantically turning buttons and flicking switches trying to turn the elevator music off, nothing worked, I even considered taping a pillow over the ceiling speaker to shut it up but eventually gave up and just got up for breakfast. Later we found out that the morning call was not optional and there was no way of turning it off! Another couple of mornings of that to look forward to then!
Breakfast wasn't that special but we had been seated on a table with the only 8 other English speaking people on the boat so it was a good way to get chatting to people, and we formed a little group for the rest of the boat trip.
We spent the morning sat on a the front deck by the bar - it seemed that no one else had even realised that this deck was there as most people were crammed onto the roof deck instead so it was nice and quiet. It was wicked sitting on the sun loungers in the sun watching the 3 Gorge River pass by, exactly what we needed after the hectic and busy week we'd had. In afternoon there was a shore excursion organised where we spent the time wandering round a cute little local village and people watching locals.
That night there was a Chefs banquet dinner (which wasn't overly special!) followed by a party. The party consisted of a bit of entertainment by the crew then a few games; pass the parcel, when I won a 'special dish' at dinner the next day, and our friend Hannah took part in the musical chairs (I'm sure you get the sense of how good this entertainment was!) and then at 9.30 everyone apart from our group went to bed!! It was a funny night thou, nice to chat to our new 'boat' friends.
Day 3 we were armed with ear plugs and slept thru the 6.30am morning music and decided against breakfast. Another day of chilling on the deck followed by another excursion, this time to little pea body boats to cruise up one of the side canals. Dinner was better than the night before, with an even quieter party so Grant and I chilled on our balcony reading... it was lovely...
Day 4 and we're off the boat and picked up by another tour guide and taken to the train for a 6 hour train journey to Nanjing. I was quite sad to leave the boat it had been so relaxing. I'm definitely up for doing another cruise, although maybe one with some young people on it (if there is such a thing!) as i'm sure Grant, Hannah and I were at least 20 years younger than everyone else on the boat!
In Nanjing we were picked up by Jimmy, who was a definite character. I don't think he took a breath for the entire ride back to the hotel trying to explain stuff to us about his town. The 3 of us had to take it in turn to pretend we were interested (it had been a long day!) and practice our head nodding and smiling while not really paying attention! After a quick wander round near our hotel it was bed time.
The next day Jimmy picked us up for more head nodding and took us into town to have an explore. Nanjing was smaller than the other towns we had been to and didn't feel so built up so we had a nice wander round the side street markets. It was a lovely hot day, hotter than it had been in China so far. Next stop was the massacre museum which told the story of when Japan invaded China in the late 1930's and massacred thousands of Chinese people. There were pictures of mass graves and stories from the survivors, it was really sad. It wasn't something that I knew about before coming to China. There was no real explanation for it, apparently Japan still deny that it even happened so it'll be interesting to see what Japan's side of the story is when we get there, if they have one...
That evening was free time so the 3 of us went and to a wicked little Mexican restaurant that Hannah found in the lonely planet for dinner and cocktails. It was amazing having food that wasn't Chinese for once! And I love Chinese food!
In the morning we got the train to Suzhou and were picked up by another guide Jackie. He was lovely, the most enthusiastic guide ever! He took us on a boat tour on the Suzhou canal (more head nodding amd smiling) and then to visit a silk factory - which although it was another one of those tours where there is a massive shop at the end and they expect you to buy something, it was actually really interesting how silk is made from worms and seeing the whole process.
For lunch Jackie took us to an unscheduled local noodle bar which was awesome, followed by a wander round a lovely garden called the humble administrators garden - i'm sure there was a story behind the name but we had allbswitched off by this point and couldn't take on any other information so just wandered round the garden in a daze instead...
In the evening we went to a cute little canal area that Hannah had read about (I don't think Grant and I pulled our weight really with the investigation part! We'd done too much planning over the last 6 months!) and after wandering around in the rain for a bit, had a nice local dinner.
Then it was off to the final stop of the tour Shanghai! We didn't get a tour guide in Shanghai so once we were picked up from the train station and dropped of at our hotel we were left to our own devices.
It was pissing it down with rain so we got a cab into the main town and found somewhere for lunch. We tried wandering around the sites for a bit but after visiting a not very inspiring museum decided to do the only sensible thing and head for the pub!! :-) The pub we found took the form of a mall which had a restaurant with happy hour in it, and we sat in the window and got drunk on 2 4 1 cocktails for a couple of hours. After which, we went on the hunt for somewhere else to move onto and found a really cool (but expensive!) street of trendy restaurants and had a lovely burger (I suspect how drunk I was may have contributed to how nice the burger was - but still it hit the spot!).
The next day was still more rain. It was Hannah's last day with us tho and so we were determined to do something. We found a city bus tour which had a couple of different routes and managed to entertain ourselves with that for a good few hours before heading back to the trendy restaurant area for more cocktails!
Then it was back to the hotel to say our goodbyes and it was just me and Grant again!