Thursday, May 19, 2011

19 May: Back to Alaska - why the blog was not kept up

Blogspot URLs are blocked in China, so we have not been able to post the updates of our trip that we had hoped to.  The current plan is to upload photos to Facebook and allow "everyone" to view them.  In the meantime, enjoy these photos from the Panda Preserve.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday 23 April

Two people, two dogs;
Comfortable sculpture seat;
Texting in the sun.

Friday 22 April

Friday Midnight
Where are we going?
Anonymous hotel room
Too far from SeaTac

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Our Itinerary

26 Day China’s Imperial Wonders & Yangtze Cruise With “South of the Clouds”

IM: In-flight Meals, B: Breakfast, L: Lunch, D: Dinner, SL: Special Lunch, SD: Special Dinner

 Day 1 / APR23: Depart Seattle
Board Hainan Airline nonstop flight to Beijing, leaving Seattle at 2 pm. En route, cross the International Date Line and lose one day. You will pick up one day on your return portion of the trip. (IM) 

Day 2 / APR24: Beijing
Arrive in Beijing in the afternoon. Meet your local representative and transfer to your hotel. Relax and enjoy the evening in China’s historic and vibrant capital city.     Marriott Beijing City Wall

Day 3 / APR25: Beijing
Tour Beijing’s imperial treasures. First, Tian’anmen Square, the largest public square in the world, capable of holding one million people. Stroll across its vast expanse. An assortment of historical buildings, Communist monuments and huge museums, including Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, and the Great Hall of the People – home of the National People’s Congress, flank the Square. Walk through the Gate of Heavenly Peace, under the famed portrait of Chairman Mao, to enter the Forbidden City, a 9,999-room compound, where the 24 emperors of the Ming and the Qing Dynasties ruled the Middle Kingdom for nearly 500 years (1420-1911). Experience the architectural splendor of the palaces, ceremonial courtyards and private quarters. Lunch at a local restaurant, afterwards, you join our Culture InSites™ Program and experience the world of Beijing’s Hutongs, via rickshaw. This network of courtyard homes and narrow lanes traditionally linked the Old City. Tour the maze-like alleyways and neighborhood residences. See the locals as they go about their daily activities. Highlights include visits to a traditional courtyard style home. In the evening, you attend a welcome dinner of Beijing Duck, cooked to crispy perfection. (B,L,SD) 

Day 4 / APR26: Beijing
After breakfast, you take a drive to the northwest of Beijing to visit the Sacred Way of Ming Tombs, regarded as China's finest example of imperial tomb architecture. Situated in a peaceful valley, the site was chosen by the Ming emperors as their burial place for its auspicious Fengshui alignment — a ridge of mountains to the north cradles the tombs on three sides, opening to the south and protecting the dead from the evil spirits carried on the north wind. Here you will walk along the elegant Sacred Way that leads to the tombs. Beginning with a grand marble gateway more than 400 years old, the long avenue is lined with 36 massive stone sculptures of officials, lions, elephants, camels and mythical beasts.

Lunch at a local restaurant, followed by a visit to a Jade factory
, you take a scenic drive through the countryside and mountains to reach China’s most renowned monument-the Great Wall. Since the Great Wall is the single greatest attraction of China travel, we take you to the less-visited and more "original" Mutianyu section and try to avoid the most accessible and consequently the most crowded section of Badaling. The wall was begun in the 5th century BC to keep out foreign invaders. Construction continued for centuries, eventually linking up the walls of the former independent kingdoms. The Great Wall meanders through China’s northern mountain ranges from the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert — a distance of over 3500 miles! Chairman Mao once said "You haven’t walked on the Wall, you haven’t been a good Chinese".  You will take a gondola up to the Wall and then have ample time to explore this ancient edifice.  (B,L,D)

Day 5 / APR27: Beijing
In the morning, you visit the Temple of Heaven; this remarkable building is considered the supreme achievement of traditional Chinese architecture. During each winter solstice, the Ming and Qing emperors would perform rites and make sacrifices to Heaven praying for good harvest for their empire. The most striking edifice is the “Hall of Prayer of Good Harvests”, which according to the emperor’s Fengshui masters, is the exact point where heaven and Earth met. Built in 1420, this masterpiece of Ming architecture, features triple eaves, dramatically carved marble balustrades, and gorgeous glazed azure roof that symbolizes the color of heaven. Built without a single nails, this 120-foot-high structure is fixed by four inner pillars represent the seasons, and two sets of 12 columns denote the months and the traditional Chinese division of a day.

In the afternoon tour the idyllic Summer Palace, with its sprawling encampment of temples, pavilions, the marble boat, and the 728-yard Long Corridor. Enjoy a boat ride on Kunming Lake. Dinner is followed by the Peking Opera.

Day 6 / APR28: Beijing
Today is a free day for you to explore this magnificent city on your own.  (B)

Day 7 / APR29 (FRI): Beijing - Yangtze Cruise
Today you fly to Yichang, in preparation for a memorable Yangtze River – Three Gorges cruise. Board the 5-star M.V. President Prime. Settle into your cabin and check out the numerous amenities on board. The Yangtze River originates on the Tibetan Plateau and traverses a distance of 3900 miles before flowing into the East China Sea, near Shanghai. It is the third longest river in the world, after the Amazon and the Nile. With over 700 tributaries, the Yangtze River has been the lifeline and major commercial thoroughfare in China for millennia.   
M.V. President Prime    (B,L,D)

Day 8 / APR30: Yangtze Cruise
M.V. President Prime makes a stop at Sandouping, the site of modern China’s most ambitious engineering project – the construction of Three Gorges Dam and its hydroelectric power plant. View the current phase of this 17-year project. When completed in 2009, the dam will be 610 feet high and over a mile wide. The hydroelectrical power plant will be driven by the world’s largest turbines and have the generating capacity of 18 nuclear power plants. A reservoir 372-mile long will be created, with the end result of displacing 1.5 million people, submerging 1000s of their towns and villages and wiping out numerous archaeological sites. Whole cities have been relocated, precious topsoil brought to higher elevations and centuries-old lifestyles altered forever. Relax as your cruise continues. Choose your vantage point as the ship transits the five-stage shiplock and enters the spectacular Xiling Gorge – the first of the magnificent Three Gorges. For the next 150 miles, the Yangtze forces its way through a spectacular barrier of solid limestone ridges known as the Three Gorges. Attend the Captain’s Welcome Banquet in the evening.    (B,L,D) 

Day 9 / MAY01: Yangtze Cruise
Another day of incredible views awaits you upon entering Wu Gorge. The softly layered peaks form a surreal backdrop as the ship courses through the rugged canyons. Wu Gorge, celebrated for its twelve misty peaks soaring above, has been the inspiration of Chinese painters and poets throughout the centuries. Transfer to the "Peapod" boat for an excursion to the Lesser Three Gorges or to the fabled Shennong Stream, depending on the water level. Notice the ruins of the ancient plank road along the cliff face as well as the coffins of the Ba people suspended from the cliffs above. The contrasting heights of these gorges and the narrowness of the river make this area one of the most dramatic scenes in the world. Tonight enjoy a dinner featuring local cuisine and onboard entertainment.      (B,L,D)
Day 10 / MAY02: Yangtze Cruise
Your cruise continues into Qutang Gorge, the shortest and narrowest of the Three Gorges. Go out onto the deck to take in the natural beauty. Your boat then docks at Fengdu – China’s “City of Ghosts”, where you visit temples and shrines dedicated to the gods of the underworld. This is the place of final judgment in the Yangtze basin. Landmarks in the town bore horrific names – Ghost Torturing Pass, Last glance at Home Tower, Nothing-to-be-done Bridge etc. Tonight, enjoy a Farewell Banquet and a cultural show onboard.      (B,L,D)
Day 11 / MAY03: Chongqing – Dazu – Chengdu
Your remarkable Yangtze cruise concludes at the mountain city of Chongqing, China's largest city with a population of over 30 million. Disembark your ship and take a scenic drive to the Dazu. Literally means the “Big foot”, Dazu is famous for its Buddhist grottos and stone carvings. Enjoy an authentic Sichuan style lunch.

In the afternoon, you continue your trip to Chengdu by motor coach through the fertile Sichuan Basin. On route, you enjoy the famed landscape of southwest China with lush rice fields, fish farms, water buffalos, and small villages. Arrive in Chengdu in the late afternoon, meet your local guide and transfer to your hotel. Chengdu is the capital city of China's most populous Sichuan (Literally, Four Rivers) Province and home to China's most notable Sichuan cuisine. With 2,500 years history, Chengdu has managed to preserve some of its older characteristics and traditions, and today you still find famous teahouses, numerous markets and some of China's the most interesting and spicy food. No visit is complete without a meal in a local Sichuan restaurant. The cuisine is spicy, and peppercorns and chilies abound, but often in a surprisingly subtle way. Whether it's hotpot, meat or a vegetable dish, your mouth will water and your taste buds tingle with delight.

After dinner, you will be offered an opportunity to attend an optional performance of "Changing faces" at the 200-year-old Sichuan opera. Full of local color and flavor, Sichuan Opera, is a combination of music, comedy, puppets and acrobatic performances, including Changing Face, Spitting Fire and Bowl-lamp Rolling. The opera is performed in old halls or courtyard buildings and is a feast for the eyes. Chengdu Minshan Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 12 / MAY04: Chengdu – Kunming
In the morning, you enjoy a rare opportunity to visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Center to witness the conservation efforts being made to save this endangered species. The center is the largest giant panda reserve in the world. Whenever China dispatches its animal ambassadors to zoos around the world, they have usually started their life in Chengdu. Eighty percent of the world's 1,000 remaining giant panda reside in Sichuan Province. It's no surprise the Chengdu center is heavily involved in their preservation and research. Today you will see a dozen of pandas wandering through a sizable domain of bamboo groves and forest. There is also a panda museum that has detailed exhibitions on panda evolution, habits, habitats and conservation efforts. Occasionally, you are allowed to make intimate contact with baby pandas and hug them for a photo. Giant Panda is officially considered "National Treasure" by Chinese government and is often used to cultivate relationships with other countries with "Panda Diplomacy". This massive ecological and zoological park offers a wonderful chance to get face-to-face with China's gentle giants. There are other rare species at the base, including the little-known red panda.

Chengdu has long been famous for its steamy teahouses, where locals recline on bamboo armchairs, play mahjong and meet with friends. On today's exclusive Culture InSites™ Program, you sample a Sichuan style afternoon tea with locals in one of the many traditional bamboo teahouses scattered in parks across the city. Apart from quaffing tea, activities include reading newspapers, playing Sichuan opera, debating, playing chess, cards, and mahjong. You may even be invited to give it a try yourself. Chengdu is commonly regarded as the most laid back city in China and today's visit gives you the answer why. Later, you fly to Kunming
.   Kunming Golden Eagle Summit Hotel  (B,L,D)

Day 13 / MAY05: Stone Forrest
Enjoy a day excursion to the Stone Forrest, a myriad of pinnacles of limestone formed some 270 million years ago. This geological wonder is composed of closely knit outcrops of dark gray limestone karst that have weathered into various shapes since their formation beneath the sea. Their twisted and shattered forms have been given names to describe their resemblances to animals and people (e.g., Buddha Stone and Rhinoceros Gazing at the Moon). The journey to the “forest” is as beautiful as the landscape that surrounds it. Scatted around the Stone Forrest are villages populated by local Yi minority. Visit a Sani minority village and admire their colorful ethnic dress and unique life style. This evening, you enjoy a local flavor dinner – Cross-bridge Noodles and Steam-pot Chicken, followed by a musical and dancing performance.   (B,L,D)
Day 14 / MAY06: Kunming – Guilin
Kunming and Yunnan is a world of a magnificent patch work of minority cultures stitched into a lush and dreamy landscape. The southwest’s secret lies with its unique combination of geography and ethnic culture. Yunnan, (means "South of the Clouds") situated high up on the Yungui Plateau, is overlooked to the north by the roof of the world – Tibet. The jungles of Myanmar encroach from the west, while the flavors of Laos and Vietnam spill over from the south. The province’s sheltered relief endows it with clement weather in both winter and summer; Kunming is known as China’s “City of eternal Spring”. Today, you visit the Western Hills, a band of sheer cliff faces, rise 2,000 ft. above the shore of Lake Dian, with a series of paths, stairways, and tunnels that carved into the faces of the cliff, spiraling ever upward to Dragon’s Gate – the Cliffside grottoes with Buddhist carvings, at the summit.

In the late afternoon, you fly to Guilin and indulge yourself in China’s most amazing natural landscapes. Guilin is celebrated for its picturesque karst limestone pinnacles and meandering Li River. An old Chinese saying describes Guilin’s landscape as “the best scenery under heaven”. Its misty limestone peaks “rise as suddenly from the earth as trees in a forest, and surrounding the city like mountains floating in an imaginary sea”. Meet your local representative and transfer to your hotel in the heart of the city. Guilin Sheraton Hotel    (B,L,D)  

Day 15 / MAY07: Longsheng’s Dragon Spine Terraces
This part of the country encompasses China's most famous scenic landscapes. Before discovering the best treasures Guilin has to offer, we start an off-the-beaten-path hiking tour to Long Sheng's spectacular Dragon Spine Rice Terraces. Over the centuries, the Zhuang and Yao minorities have sculpted 2,000 feet peaks with remarkable step-like terraces for growing rice in the hilly areas of Southwest China. This transformation over time has created landscapes of utility as well as immense beauty. In Spring, when the terraces are full of water, they resemble irregular silver ladders; and in autumn, when the rice ripens, the mountains turn into golden waves. Visit the unique culture of local minorities and their villages where life has remained unchanged for thousands of years! we are able to hike between the villages following tiny stone paths carved out by the local people. This memorable journey is rarely included in the conventional itinerary. (B,L,D)  

Day 16 / MAY08: Li River Cruise – Yangshuo
A beautiful day waits! You take a scenic motor coach ride through the countryside, past lush green fields and rice paddies. Arrive at a local village and embark on a memorable Li River cruise. The 52-mile trip has countless twists and turns. The scenery is reminiscent of classical Chinese landscapes – bamboo groves, sleepy villages, fishermen on bamboo rafts, cormorants, water buffalo, soaring karst pinnacles and mist shrouded peaks... your cruise concludes at the famed Yangshuo, a small town, amidst a haunting and surreal setting. In the afternoon you are free to explore this fascinating town. Lease a tuk-tuk to visit local farmers’ fields and homes, or rent a bicycle to the Moon Hill. Tonight, you may attend an optional singing & lighting show "Liu Sa Jie" which was directed by Zhang Yimou who also choreographed the opening ceremony of 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Yangshuo New West Street Hotel     (B,L,D)  

Day 17 / MAY09: Guilin – Xian
After breakfast, you tour the Reed Flute Cave, Nature's subterranean wonder filled with stalactites and stalagmites. The grand chamber known as the Crystal Palace, is an awesome spectacle, not to be missed. Lunch is a tea banquet. Afterwards, you tour the Fubo Hill for an bird-eye view of Guilin. In the evening you fly to Xian. An ancient capital and the historic gateway to the Silk Road, Xian was the capital of the Middle Kingdom for 11 dynasties. In a time when ancient Beijing was just a remote trading post, Xian was the capital of China and one of the world’s largest and richest cities, with a population exceeding one million in the 10th century. Xian Grand Noble Hotel      (B,L,D)

Day 18 / MAY10: Xian
Today’s excursion will take you to modern China’s greatest archaeological discovery – The Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses, which silently guarded the tomb of China’s First Emperor for over 2,200 years. In 1974, a local farmer uncovered the first of three massive earth and timber vaults, while digging a well. The extensive excavation, still in progress, has yielded over 6000 life-sized terra cotta warriors, each individually sculpted, with the physical characteristics of the humans they were modeled after. Archers, infantrymen, horses and bronze chariots have also been unearthed. A Circle Vision documentary is available on site.

Lunch at a local restaurant and see a noodle making demonstration. Today’s Culture InSites™ Program will offer you a rare opportunity to witness a real rural life at a typical village in central China. You stop at a “Yao Dong” (Literally an arched tunnel) – a typical cave dwellings that stretches across six provinces in north central China. The “Yao Dong” is caves dug into mountainsides with a signature arched front. Usually, one family unit consists of three arched openings, and the units are interconnected inside. The center cave can be termed the "living room", which includes a stovetop cooking area. The two side caves are sleeping quarters. Outside of the cities of this region, some 90% of the rural population live in yaodongs.

Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), traditionally regarded as the golden age of China, was a time of patricians and intellectuals, Buddhist monks and Taoist priests, poetry and music, song and dance – a period of peace and exceptional creativity lasting 300 years. This evening, you attend a feast of culinary and cultural delights with a special meal followed by a fascinating Tang Dynasty stage show at Tang Opera House. Indulge yourself in this remarkable show and reinvent your China dream with a travel back in time to the world of China’s Golden Age, then come back to the present with a greater understanding of this amazing time.      (B,L,SD)

Today, you tour the Wild Goose Pagoda, a Tang Dynasty landmark. This seven-story pagoda was initially constructed in 652 AD to house the Buddhist sutras brought back from India by the monk, Xuan Zang, who later translated them into Chinese. His pilgrimage to India is immortalized in the Chinese classic – The Journey to the West. Later, you take a walk through one of Xian’s most fascinating areas – the Muslim quarter, to the 7th century Great Mosque. Stand in four beautiful courtyards of ancient trees, ornate arches and stone steles, the Mosque is the center of life for the Muslim community – the descendants of the merchants that ferried the religion into China along the ancient Silk Road. Tour the lovely and unusual area with bustling stalls and witness some of the best street food in China. At lunch, you attend a special Dumpling (dim sum) banquet at Defachang, In the afternoon, you visit the Shanxi History Museum, built in grand Tang style. (B,L,D)
Day 20 / MAY12: Xian – Nanjing
After breakfast, you fly to Nanjing. Literally means “Southern Capital”, Nanjing has been the capitals for over 6 dynasties. Today you will visit the Purple Mountain, which is a picturesque area of gentle hills shaded by woodland and bamboo groves, dotted with villas. It homes to the Mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yatsen. Visit the chronicles of Dr. Sun’s life with paintings, photos and personal effects. Afterwards, you tour the Ming Dynasty Shipyard. 
Nanjing Grand Hotel     (B,L,D)

Day 21 / MAY13: Nanjing
You tour the Ming Tombs and Sacred Way, an avenue of stone animals and officials. Later visit the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, an impressive piece of engineering, completed in 1968. It is also one of the great achievements of the Chinese communists, who took over the project after the Russians marched out in 1960. Other highlights of today’s visit include Xuanwu Lake and Confucius Temple.  (B,L,D)

Day 22 / MAY14: Nanjing – Suzhou
After breakfast, you travel by China’s latest bullet train to the fabled water town of Suzhou (1 hour 15 minutes). Suzhou is often referred, by the Chinese, as the “Venice of the East”. It is a 2,500-year-old town renowned the world over for its traditional gardens, ancient canals and silk production. In 1997 Suzhou was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The construction of the Grand Canal in the 7th century created a means whereby silk, the prized commodity from this region could be transported to the Northern capital, Beijing, a distance of over 600 miles. With prosperity came prestige as merchants and artisans plied their trade. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Suzhou flourished as a place of refinement, drawing an influx of scholars and merchants, who built themselves numerous elegant gardens.

The Chinese garden developed as a synthesis of two concepts linked in Taoist philosophy - scenery and serenity: the contemplation of nature in isolated meditation led to enlightenment. Therefore, the educated and wealthy built natural-looking retreats for themselves with an urban environment. The garden creates poetic and painterly concepts, and aims to improve on nature in creating a picture that looks natural but is in fact entirely artificial. For this the Chinese garden designer used four main elements: rocks, water, plants, and architecture.

After lunch, you visit the Garden of the Master of Fishing Nets, and experience all of the elements of a classical Chinese garden. It is said that the Master of the Nets Garden was named after one of its owners - a retired official who wished to become an accomplished fisherman. Dating to 1140, it is considered by many, the finest of all Suzhou’s gardens. Although exceptional small, it succeeds, with great subtlety, in introducing every element considered crucial to the classical Chinese garden. It includes a central lake, discreet connecting corridors, pavilions with miniature courtyards, screens, delicate latticework, and above all, points which "frame a view", as if looking at a perfectly balanced photograph. The best known building is the "Pavilion for Watching the Moon", from where the moon can be viewed in a mirror, in the water, and in the sky. Later, you tour the Silk Spinning Mill, where you will learn how silk is created from the mulberry-munching silkworms to produce thread and fine cloth. Marco Polo once reported that so much precious silk was produced in Suzhou that every citizen was clothed in it.

Enjoy the evening at your leisure. Your hotel is centrally located in the quaint old city and surrounded by art studios, silk shops, tea houses and handicraft stores. It’s the place where you want to take an evening stroll on the street, enjoy bargain shopping or sip tea at a traditional tea house.      Suzhou Garden Hotel  (B,L,D)

Day 23 / MAY15: Tongli – Shanghai
In the morning, you travel to Tongli, a pretty little water town typical of the region. Tongli gives visitors a good idea of what Suzhou must have been like in its heyday. Reminiscent of scenes from traditional Chinese paintings, it is complete with canals, arched stone bridges, cobbled lanes, and tile-roofed wooden houses. Visit a courtyard mansion to learn about the lavish life style of its residents. Then, learn about traditional Chinese wedding customs at a local folklore museum. Take an exciting ride on a gondola and experience the charm of Tongli’s waterways. You will have free time to browse and buy some local specialties along Old Street, which is lined with Ming style homes and storefronts. In the late afternoon, you travel by motor coach to Shanghai, China dynamic financial and cultural center.

Shanghai, literally means "above the sea", is China's largest and most dynamic city, with a population of 18 million. In the 13th century it became a minor county seat and so it remained until the mid-19th century when British commercial ambitions led to war with China. The ensuing Treaty of Nanking allowed the British to trade freely from certain ports including Shanghai. The city soon became an outpost of glamour, high living, and ultimately decadence. In the 1930s, Shanghai is renowned as "the Pearl of the East". Some places are forever associated with a single landmark and in the case of Shanghai it is surely the Bund. Today, you take a leisure walk along the waterfront promenade of the Bund. The Bund was at the heart of colonial shanghai, flanked on one side by the Huangpu River and on the other by the hotels, banks, offices, and clubs that were the grandiose symbols of western commercial power. See the ships and barges on the Huangpu River, en route to the sea or going upstream to the interior of China. The modernistic Oriental Pearl TV tower looms in the background redefining the skyline.   Pullman Shanghai Skyway Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 24 / MAY16: Shanghai
Begin your tour in the heart of old Shanghai at the 16th century city bazaar. This complex, with its classical architectural details, maze of walkways and reflecting pools, has been a marketplace and social center for over 200 years. In contrast, is the futurist Pudong area. Transformed from once fertile farmland, this new area is rapidly becoming the symbol of modern China with its clusters of shinning metal and glass skyscrapers of world class hotels, international financial institutions, and commercial centers towered above the Huangpu River.

You visit the 88th floor of the Jinmao Tower, the third tallest building in China. At 1,380 feet, it is the world's fifth tallest building, as well as home to the world's tallest hotel - the Grand Hyatt Shanghai. From its lofty platform, you enjoy a stunning view of Shanghai including some of its landmark skyscrapers such as Oriental Pearl Tower and World Financial Tower, etc.

Afterwards, you visit People's Square and tour the famed Shanghai Museum, an unique and inspiring piece of architecture, home to more than 120,000 cultural relics of ancient China, including a priceless collection of jade, bronze, ceramics, paintings, furniture, etc. After dinner, you attend an unforgettable performance of the Shanghai Acrobats. (B,L,D)

Day 25 / MAY17: Shanghai
After breakfast you are free to explore this magnificent city on your own. (B)

Day 26 / MAY18 (WED): Shanghai – Beijing – U.S.A.
Transfer to Shanghai Hongqiao Airport for a flight to Beijing then connect to transpacific flight to Seattle. Arrive in SEA later today. (B)