Searching for locations: The Silk Factory, Suzhou, China

China is renowned for its exquisite silk, so naturally, a visit to the Silk Spinning Factory is part of today’s tour.

After that, we will be heading downtown to an unspecified location where we’re getting a boat ride, walk through a typical Chinese shopping experience, and coffee at a coffee shop that is doubling as the meeting place, after we soak up the local atmosphere.

The problem with that is that if the entire collective trip a deal tourists take this route then the savvy shopkeepers will jack up their prices tenfold because we’re tourists with money.  It’ll be interesting to see how expensive everything is.


Before we reach the silk factory, we are told that Suzhou is the main silk area of China, and we will be visiting a nearly 100 years old, Suzhou No 1 Silk Mill, established in 1926.  Suzhou has a 4,700-year history of making silk products.  It is located at No. 94, Nanmen Road, Suzhou, Jiangsu, China.

Then we arrive at the Silk Factory, another government-owned establishment with a castiron guarantee of quality and satisfaction.

The look and feel of the doona cover certainly backs up that claim

And the colors and variety is amazing (as is the cost of those exquisite sets)

We get to see the silk cocoon stretched beyond imagination, and see how the silk thread is extracted, then off to the showroom for the sales pitch.

It isn’t a hard sell, and the sheets, doonas, pillows, and pillowcases, are reasonably priced, and come with their own suitcase (for free) so you can take them with you, or free shipping, by slow boat, if you prefer not to take the goods with you.

We opt for the second choice, as there’s no room left in our baggage after packing the Chinese Medicine.

Searching for locations: New York to Vancouver

The flight from Newark via Air Canada to Vancouver is about 5:30pm so we are slated to be picked up by the limousine at about 2:30.

We have to be out of our room by 11am so we decided the day before that on our last day in New York we’d go to the Times Square red lobster. It gives us about three hours to get there, eat, and get back.

It’s always fun packing bags the day you leave, so most of the hard work was done earlier. This time it’s particularly a trial because we have so much stuff to fit into a small space, and weight considerations are always paramount because of the 23kg limit.

Outside is has gone from minus four to minus two in the two hours before we leave the hotel at 11:30, but that’s not so much of a problem because we have a long walk from 56th street to 41st street to warm us up.

At least today it’s not as cold, as it has been previously.

At Red Lobster it’s not difficult to make a decision on what to have, the mix-and-match special, with Lobster alfredo, filet mignon, and parrot island coconut shrimp, with Walt’s special, though what that will remain a surprise until it is served.

To drink, it was the Blue moon beer, wheat type.

For appetizers, we had scones that are supposedly bread but to me are dipped in garlic butter and baked like a scone. Australian style. They are absolutely delicious.

There is an expression a one-drink screamer and we’ve got one, but the truth is the drinks are very lethal. Pure alcohol and ice with a touch of soda.

The meals at this Red Lobster are definitely better than those we had in Vancouver, except for the pasta with lobster I had which was little more than a tasteless congealed mess after it reached the table. This did not detract from the deliciously cooked and served seafood that accompanied it.

All in all, after such a great lunch and the thought of having to walk ten blocks the decision was unanimous to get a cab which took us back to the hotel by a rather interesting, if not exactly the most direct, route. I think the driver guessed we were tourists.

We are picked up at the hotel by a driver in a large Toyota which had enough space for 3 passengers and all our bags. The driver was chatty and being foreign, preferred soccer to the other traditional American sport. Don’t ask me how the conversation turned to sports, but we may have mentioned we went to the ice hockey.

At Newark airport, all I have room for is a glass of burned beer, whatever that means, though it has an odd taste, and a Samuel Adams 76 special which was rather tasty.

Today we are flying in a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with a maximum of 298 passengers in three classes.

It looks very new even though it is about 6 months old. It has seating of 3 x 3 x 3, and we are in row 19, just behind the premium economy cabin, and the closest to the front of the plane of all the Air Canada flights.

Engine startup is loud at the lower revolutions with the vibration going through the airframe. Like all planes, the flaps being extended, it is very noisy. All of the vibrations go away when the engines are up to speed. On take off the engines at max are not as noisy as other planes and are relatively quiet. It will be interesting to see what the landing is like.

In-flight when not experiencing turbulence the ride is very smooth and reasonably quiet which is better than the other planes with seeming continuous engine whining and the flow of air past the fuselage.

The seats are comfortable but still just a little small and the middle passenger can be tightly squeezed in if the two on either side are larger than normal. The seats fully recline but the seatback is not completely in your face, and bearable when you recline your own seat.

There are several seats by the toilets that would be terrible on a long-distance flight because the passenger inevitably comes very close to the seat when entering and leaving. As for the toilets, they are larger than any of the other aeroplanes, and so too, coincidentally, are the windows.

The plane also makes the same amount of noise when it lands so I’m failing to see what’s so good about it. I’ve also been in an Airbus A350 and those planes are nothing to write home about either.

I suspect the only advantage of having planes is for airlines. Fewer costs and more sardined passengers.

It’s something else I can write off my bucket list.

When we arrive back in Vancouver it’s the same reasonably simple process to get through immigration.

Outside our driver is waiting and this time we have an Escalade picking us up. A very large SUV that fits us all and our luggage.


We were lucky because we were supposed to be picked up in a sedan and the baggage would not have fitted which would have involved one of us taking a cab with the extra luggage.

He was in the neighbourhood and picked up the call. His advice, called the service and request a bigger car and pay the difference. We did. It was going to cost another 20 dollars.

As for the hotel, what is it with hotels and late-night arrivals? We get in, the check-in was smooth, we get to the room. Very large with a separate bedroom. But only a sofa bed.

It was not a desirable option, not before 24 hours in relatively squashed plane seats, so it necessitated a change of rooms to one a bit smaller, but a corner room with a reasonable view, and two proper beds.

Late night, need rest, but we have free breakfast so there will be no tarrying the next morning. We have to be down by 9am being Sunday.

Besides, we have a mission. There is a toys-are-us nearby and it does have the toy we want. All we need to find is a cab.

Searching for locations: The Henan Museum, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China

The Henan Museum is one of the oldest museums in China.  In June 1927, General Feng Yuxiang proposed that a museum be built, and it was completed the next year.  n 1961, along with the move of the provincial capital, Henan Museum moved from Kaifeng to Zhengzhou.

It currently holds about 130,000 individual pieces, more of which are mostly cultural relics, bronze vessels of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, and pottery and porcelain wares of the various dynasties.

Eventually, we arrive at the museum and get off the bus adjacent to a scooter track and despite the efforts of the guide, there’s no stopping them from nearly running us over.

We arrive to find the museum has been moved to a different and somewhat smaller building nearby as the existing, and rather distinctively designed, building is being renovated.

While we are waiting for the tickets to enter, we are given another view of industrial life in that there is nothing that resembles proper health and safety on worksites in this country, and the workers are basically standing on what looks to be a flimsy bamboo ladder with nothing to stop them from falling off.

The museum itself has exhibits dating back a few thousand years and consist of bronze and ceramic items.  One of the highlights was a tortoiseshell with reportedly the oldest know writing ever found.

Other than that it was a series of cooking utensils, a table, and ceramic pots, some in very good condition considering their age.

There were also small sculptures

an array of small figures

and a model of a settlement

20 minutes was long enough.

Searching for locations: From X’ian to Zhengzhou dong by bullet train, China

Lunch and then off on another high-speed train

We walked another umpteen miles from the exhibition to a Chinese restaurant that is going to serve us Chinese food again with a beer and a rather potent pomegranate wine that has a real kick.  It was definitely value for money at 60 yuan per person.

But perhaps the biggest thrill, if it could be called that, was discovering downstairs, the man who discovered the original pieces of a terracotta soldier when digging a well.  He was signing books bought in the souvenir store, but not those that had been bought elsewhere.

Some of is even got photographed with him.  Fifteen minutes of fame moment?  Maybe.

After lunch, it was off to the station for another high-speed train ride, this time for about two and a half hours, from X’ian to Zhangzhou dong.

It’s the standard high-speed train ride and the usual seat switching because of weird allocation issues, so a little confusion reigns until the train departs at 5:59.

Once we were underway it didn’t take long before we hit the maximum speed

Twenty minutes before arrival, and knowing we only have three minutes to get off everyone is heading for the exit clogging up the passageway.  It wasn’t panic but with the three-minute limit, perhaps organized panic would be a better description.

As it turned out, with all the cases near the door, the moment to door opened one of our group got off, and the other just started putting cases on the platform, and in doing so we were all off in 42 seconds with time to spare.

And this was despite the fact there were about twenty passengers just about up against the door trying to get in.  I don’t think they expected to have cases flying off the train in their direction.

We find our way to the exit and our tour guide Dannie.  It was another long walk to the bus, somewhat shabbier from the previous day, no leg room, no pocket, no USB charging point like the day before.  Disappointing.

On the way from the station to the hotel, the tour guide usually gives us a short spiel on the next day’s activities, but instead, I think we got her life history and a song, delivered in high pitched and rapid Chinglish that was hard to understand.

Not at this hour of the night to an almost exhausted busload of people who’d had enough from the train.  Oh, did I forgot the singing, no, it was an interesting rendition of ‘you are my sunshine’.

The drive was interesting in that it mostly in the dark.  There was no street lighting and in comparison to X’ian which was very bright and cheerful, this was dark and gloomy.

Then close to the hotel our guide said that if we had any problems with the room, she would be in the lobby for half an hour.

That spoke volumes about the hotel they put us in.

Searching for Locations: The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Sorry, reminiscing again…

It was a cold but far from a miserable day.  We were taking our grandchildren on a tour of the most interesting sites in Paris, the first of which was the Eifel Tower.

We took the overground train, which had double-decker carriages, a first for the girls, to get to the tower.

We took the underground, or Metro, back, and they were fascinated with the fact the train carriages ran on road tires.

Because it was so cold, and windy, the tower was only open to the second level. It was a disappointment to us, but the girls were content to stay on the second level.

There they had the French version of chips.

It was a dull day, but the views were magnificent.


A view of the Seine



Sacre Coeur church at Montmartre in the distance.

Another view along the river Seine

Overlooking the tightly packed apartment buildings

Looking along the opposite end of the river Seine

Searching for locations: From Beijing to X’ian by bullet train

Beijing West train station.

Beijing west railway station is about eight kilometers from the Forbidden City, located at East Lianhuachi Road, Fengtai District.  Most trains traveling between south central, southwest, northwest, and south China are boarded here.

This place is huge and there are so many people here, perhaps the other half of Beijing’s population that wasn’t in the forbidden city.

Getting into the station looked like it was going to be fraught with danger but the tour guide got us into the right queue and then arranged for a separate scanner for the group to help keep us all together

Then we decided to take the VIP service and got to waiting room no 13, the VIP service waiting room which was full to overflowing.  Everyone today was a VIP.  We got the red hat guy to lead us to a special area away from the crowd.

Actually, it was on the other side of the gate, away from the hoards sitting or standing patiently in the waiting room.  It gave us a chance to get something to eat before the long train ride.

The departure is at 4 pm, the train number was G655, and we were told the trains leave on time.  As it is a high-speed train, stops are far and few between, but we’re lucky, this time, in that we don’t have to count stations to know where to get off.

We’re going to the end of the line.

However, it was interesting to note the stops which, in each case, were brief, and you had to be ready to get off in a hurry.

These stops were Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou East, Luoyang Longmen, Huashan North, and Weinan North.  At night, you could see the lights of these cities from a distance and were like oases in the middle of a desert.  During the day, the most prominent features were high rise apartment blocks and power stations.

A train ride with a difference

G Trains at Wuhan Railway Station

China’s high-speed trains, also known as bullet or fast trains, can reach a top speed of 350 km/h (217 mph).

Over 2,800 pairs of bullet trains numbered by G, D or C run daily connecting over 550 cities in China and covering 33 of the country’s 34 provinces. Beijing-Shanghai high-speed train link the two megacities 1,318 km (819 mi) away in just 4.5 hours.

By 2019, China keeps the world’s largest high-speed rail (HSR) network with a length totaling over 35,000 km (21,750 mi).

To make the five and a half hours go quicker we keep an eye on the speed which hovers between 290 and 305 kph, and sitting there with our camera waiting for the speed to hit 305 which is a rare occurrence, and then, for 306 and then for 307, which happened when we all took a stroll up to the restaurant car to find there had nothing to eat.

I got a strange flavored drink for 20 yuan.

There was a lady manning a trolley that had some food, and fresh, maybe, fruit on it, and she had a sense of humor if not much English.

We didn’t but anything but the barrel of caramel popcorn looked good.

The good thing was, after hovering around 298, and 299 kph, it finally hit 300.

We get to the end of the line, and there is an announcement in Chinese that we don’t understand and attempts to find out if it is the last station fall on deaf ears, probably more to do with the language barrier than anything else.

Then, suddenly the train conductor, the lady with the red hat, comes and tells us it is, and we have fifteen minutes, so we’re now hurrying to get off.

As the group was are scattered up and down the platform, we all come together and we go down the escalator, and, at the bottom, we see the trip-a-deal flags.

X’ian,and the Xi’an North Railway Station

Xi’an North Railway Station is one of the most important transportation hubs of the Chinese high-speed rail network. It is about 8.7 miles (14 km) from Bell Tower (city center) and is located at the intersection of the Weiyang Road and Wenjing Road in Weiyang District.

This time we have a male guide, Sam, who meets us at the end of the platform after we have disembarked.  We have a few hiccups before we head to the bus.  Some of our travelers are not on his list, but with the other group.  Apparently a trip-a-deal mix-up or miscommunication perhaps.

Then it’s another long walk with bags to the bus.  Good thing its a nicely air-conditioned newish bus, and there’s water, and beer for 10 yuan.  How could you pass up a tsing tao for that price?

Xi’an is a very brightly lit up city at night with wide roads.  It is very welcoming, and a surprise for a city of 10 million out in the middle of China.

As with all hotels, it’s about a 50-minute drive from the railway station and we are all tired by the time we get there.

Tomorrow’s program will be up at 6, on the bus 8.40 and off to the soldiers, 2.00 late lunch, then train station to catch the 4.00 train, that will arrive 2 hours later at the next stop.  A not so late night this time.

The Grand Noble Hotel

Outdoor scene

Grand Noble Hotel Xi’an is located in the most prosperous business district within the ancient city wall in the center of Xi’an.

The Grand Noble Hotel, like the Friendship Hotel, had a very flash foyer with tons of polished marble.  It sent out warning signals, but when we got to our room, we found it to be absolutely stunning.  More room, a large bathroom, air conditioning the works.

Only one small problem, as in Beijing the lighting is inadequate.  Other than that it’s what I would call a five-star hotel.  This one is definitely better than the Friendship Hotel.

In the center of the city, very close to the bell tower, one of the few ancient buildings left in Xi’an.  It is also in the middle of a larger roundabout and had a guard with a machine gun.

Sadly there was no time for city center sightseeing.

The Trials of Traveling: Arranging a trip for 7 passengers

I’m in the middle of arranging a holiday.  It started out as a week away in a remote plate away from everyone, ideal for editing one of my stories without interruptions or distractions.

That’s how it started.

The thing is, family members know we have a three-bedroom timeshare, and there are two bedrooms going begging, and as soon as everyone knew we were going, they decided they wanted to go too.

Simple, I thought, they could go off doing touristy things and I’d get the balcony and silence to myself.

How mistaken I was!

As for their holiday….

No big deal, really.  Airfares, accommodation, rental car, simple.

I know where I’m going from, I know where I’m going to.

How hard can it be?

Oh, did I forget to say there are seven people travelling, four adults, and three children?

OK, airlines do not class 14-year-olds as children, but as adults.

But this time it seems that booking the airline seats was the easiest of the tasks.

Of course, we have yet to the seating arrangements on the plane, and at the moment we are supposed to be on an A320-200, which has a 2-4-2 seating plan.  8 across when we have 7.  Who is going to sit by themselves?  Someone else can sort that out.

So, try using any combination of 7 to book hotel rooms.  I tried several times with all sorts of whacky results and expensive options.  Seems you have to use a more basic combination, 4 adults and 3 children, and these two options bring up a multitude of different room scenarios, but one or two hotels recognize the fact you may have a larger family and accommodate it.

Yes, I booked what we needed, three adjoining rooms with twin queen beds.  You try putting two children in the same bed, you need space between them.

Now we have to do something about transportation.  A car is not going to be big enough.

We have 7 passengers, this time it doesn’t matter how old they are.  7 passengers, 7 bags, 7 cabin bags, computers, handbags, etc.  You get the drift, plenty of luggage.

No matter which car site you go to, putting 7 people in, doesn’t do anything but give you a list of all their cars, so I move to the end of the list.

Small cars, medium cars, large cars, aha, down to the SUVs, seating 5 and space for 4 cases.

Not enough.

Going down.

An iMax, seating for 8 and 4 cases, quite possibly more.  A bit iffy.

Keep going.

Aha!  A Toyota Hiace, 12 passengers, 12 cases, bingo.  And a reasonable cost too.

Now all that’s left is the travel insurance, that’s reasonably easy, but not necessarily cheap.

All of this was not easy, and it took nearly a week.

One thing I discovered is that you need a travel agent, and make sure you know what you want.  It may take a little longer but it’s worth it.

But there again, somehow I don;t think I’m going to get much work done.

The Perils of Travelling: The Case of the Missing Passenger

It is not always a problem with the aircraft that causes delays.  Whilst often it is a case of technical difficulties, but this time it wasn’t.

We are missing a passenger.

Yep, on a plane that carries 301 passengers, we were missing the one.  And because they have not made the boarding cutoff, their baggage has to be offloaded.  Since there are 300 plus other bags to sort through, it will take time.

Scheduled departure time 8:45, an announcement about the offloading at 8:35, it’s now 8:50.  Ok, now we’re closing the front door.  Let’s see what happens now.

8:52, the captain says we’re sorted, but…

Oh, the dreaded we’ve missed our slot and now have wait for the next.  Last time that happened, in France, we waited an hour.  This is Brisbane, not so large an airport so it may not be long.

9:01, we’re pushing back.  Finally a slot.


There are five other planes in front of us, so it’s all adding up to a delayed arrival.  9:15 and still taxiing.

9:30, 45 minutes late we finally take off.  Let’s see how this affects our arrival time.  The flight time is advised to be 2 hours and 25 minutes.  This means if the flying time is correct, we should be landing in Auckland at 13:55 pm, local time.  New Zealand is, by the way, two hours ahead of Brisbane.

11:45, (or 13:45 local time) we commence our descent.  Landed at 14:10 local time.

It could have been worse.

What am I saying? We have now to negotiate immigration and baggage, and that’s a whole new can of worms.

Who said travelling isn’t fun?

Searching for locations: The Opera House, Paris, France

This was one of the more interesting experiences for the grandchildren as they were, as all young girls are, interested in ballet.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit which included some time watching ballet practice.

I could not convince anyone to take the elevator back down to the ground floor as it was suspected we might be ‘attacked’ by the ‘phantom’.  Certainly, the elevator was very old and I think at the time it was being repaired.


Part of the Grand Staircase in Palais Garnier Opera de Paris


The ceiling above the main staircase.  The ceiling above the staircase was painted by Isidore Pils to depict The Triumph of ApolloThe Enchantment of Music Deploying its CharmsMinerva Fighting Brutality Watched by the Gods of Olympus, and The City of Paris Receiving the Plan of the New Opéra.


The ceiling of Chagall at the Palais Garnier

On 23 September 1964, the new ceiling of the Opéra Garnier was inaugurated with great pomp.  It was painted by Marc Chagall at the request of André Malraux


Amphitheatre and Orchestra Pit entrance


Interior, and doorways to boxes


Box seats in the auditorium


Ornate ceilings and columns


Seating inside the auditorium


The day we were leaving Paris, was the first night of the Bolshoi Ballet.  My two granddaughters were greatly disappointed at missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime, to see the Bolshoi Ballet at the Paris Opera House.


But we did get to see the principals practicing.

Searching for Locations: The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Sorry, reminiscing again…

It was a cold but far from a miserable day.  We were taking our grandchildren on a tour of the most interesting sites in Paris, the first of which was the Eifel Tower.

We took the overground train, which had double-decker carriages, a first for the girls, to get to the tower.

We took the underground, or Metro, back, and they were fascinated with the fact the train carriages ran on road tires.

Because it was so cold, and windy, the tower was only open to the second level. It was a disappointment to us, but the girls were content to stay on the second level.

There they had the French version of chips.

It was a dull day, but the views were magnificent.


A view of the Seine



Sacre Coeur church at Montmartre in the distance.

Another view along the river Seine

Overlooking the tightly packed apartment buildings

Looking along the opposite end of the river Seine