This post is being written in January 2020 but describes our day in Tianjin China back in October 2019.

While most aboard Orion were up very early to head for their 2+ hour bus ride to climb the Great Wall, Mike and I slept in and then enjoyed our first breakfast aboard. For longtime readers, you will remember our love of Viking’s grilled breakfast lamb chops and my favorite, the pistachio-raisin bun. What a tasty breakfast!

We were surprised when we got to The Restaurant to find one of the waitresses from our Spring Transatlantic aboard Viking Sea was serving us. After a hug, she asked where Miss Lois was! The Crew in Viking are really amazing.

Viking offers at least one “included” excursion in each port. In Tianjin, they offered two. One was a walk on the Great Wall and the other was a visit to Tianjin. Because we knew that the trip to the Wall was going to entail at least four hours in a bus and the section of the Wall being visited was likely to be crowded as it was a more restored section and would be visited in the middle of the National Holiday week, we elected to bypass the bus ride and the crowds. This was the biggest reason we had arranged our trip to China to include our visit to the Wall earlier in the week.

Unfortunately I failed to realize how far the port was from historic Tianjin so we still spent waaaay more time on a bus than I like! But nowhere near what those who went to the wall did. From what fellow passengers said on their return, we made the right decision. The ride to the Wall was about 2 hours as advertised, but depending on which bus you were on, some of those returning late in the day spent four hours aboard to get back to the ship. They got caught in traffic and apparently it was very crowded on the Wall also. So despite our long bus ride, looks like we made a good decision!

After our lamb chop breakfast, we met our guide on the pier and set off for Tianjin. On the way, she told us about herself, some history of China and about Tianjin.

After arriving at the historic part of Tianjin, she toured us through part of the main shopping street and pointed out interesting shops for those who wanted to make purchases. After we reached the center square, most (us included) explored further on our own. Mike and I then walked along the river before returning to the shopping streets. As you can see, big vases of flowers were here also to commemorate National Day.

We spent most of our time people watching (with the holiday there were plenty to watch!) and were amazed at some of the street food and especially the containers. See HUGE Coke cup at the top of this post. The top of the cup holds a snack (fries usually) while the bottom has the drink-ingenious! We also liked the fry holder with spots for sauces:

There was cotton candy like we’d never seen:

And an interesting drink poured from a huge teapot:

The variety of street food seemed endlesss:

But even more amazing than the woman making fried quail eggs on a stick was a guy making candy on a stick in incredible designs freehand!

After rejoining our guide, we returned to the ship and once the Wall folks made it back, departed port headed for Dalian. Below is a map of our cruise. As you can see, after three ports in China, we will visit the southern most island of Japan before our last two ports back in China. While there are only two official sea days, we have three overnights so hopefully we won’t be two rushed and get tired…and will have time to enjoy all the luxuries aboard our ship.

Bejing Day 5

This post describing our last day in Beijing is being written long after these events took place back in October. We are currently in Arlington, Va (DC) through the end of January after which we will spend a few weeks in Raleigh.

We awoke to cloudy skies followed quickly be a significant drizzle. After our last big Asian breakfast (I really learned to love a pork bun!) we boarded bus 16 for a quick drive to Tiananmen Square where the picture above is one of many taken with strangers that day.

This HUGE space which had been the seating area for guests during the National Day Parade was still decorated for the holiday with TV screens and huge vases of flower which only help to make it difficult to realize just how big it is. It is (according to Wikipedia) 109 acres/440,500 square meters/4,748,040 square feet. This makes it about the same size as the ground area around the Washington Monument in the District of Columbia. It is just huge. Located on the square are museums, the tomb of Chairman Mao and the official national flagpole which is across the street from the Gate of Heavenly Peace which serves as the entrance to the Forbidden City which is where we were heading.

After our long long walk across the square, we (and several thousands of our closest friends) took a tunnel under the wide street and then crossed a moat to reach the Gate of Heavenly Peace on the other side. That’s it above (and below) with Mao’s picture. This is the main gate into the Forbidden City but which had served the other day as the balcony from which the Chinese leader watched the parade and the evening pageant.

Once inside we toured the exterior grounds of this huge palace. It is quite beautiful but the most impressive thing is it’s size. Just enormous.

When we visited Xi’an (Terra Cotta Warriors) Rocky, our guide, had pointed out the upward curve of the roof. He told us to notice how much more curved they were at the Forbidden City-apparently it was a subtle evolution that each Emperor pushed on their buildings- how curved could the roof be. Rocky was right I think, but it’s pretty subtle. The first picture below is from Xi’an and the second from the Forbidden City. In any case, the roofs are pretty incredible.

After a no photo peek through plexiglass into the main building, we went through several courtyards and reached the area where the Emperor’s wives and concubines lived. These spaces were much more intimate and built to a human’s scale.

Along the walkways and in the courtyard were huge bronze pots-turns out these were water reservoirs for firefighting!

The details both wood and terra-cotta and the pavement patterns were beautiful.

As we exited the Forbidden City, we walked through a garden which I’m sure would have been really beautiful on a sunny day (with less people).

After reboarding our bus we headed out of Beijing passing many new modern buildings. It is impossible to portray just how huge the city is but trust me, it’s big.

The port for Beijing is Tianjin, a city of more than 12 million folks located about an hour and a half away. Unfortunately buses in China are only allowed to go 45 mph so it was closer to a two hour drive. Luckily, we stopped in the way for lunch. This was again a banquet hall in a skyscraper just outside Beijing and we had another delicious multi-course meal.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, though it was interesting to hear our fellow passengers (most of whom had arrived in China just two days ago) remark upon the seemingly endless new high rise towns that occurred every few miles along the entire route. Mike and I had grown accustomed to these towns, but it reminded us of our first thoughts in the train ride from Xi’an to Beijing.

Soon we arrived at the port and joined the long queue to check in. This was a first for us with Viking. Normally, there is very little wait. But since most everyone on the ship was using a Viking transfer-those of us on the pre-cruise extension as well as those who either bought (or were given) their air through Viking, I guess we all arrived about the same time.

But soon we were aboard our home for the next 15 days!

You may recall that when we got the email with the promotion that resulted in us changing our original plans (cruise to Japan/fly to Hawaii/cruise to Seattle) to take this cruise and visit China instead, that the promo was a cabin upgrade. Rather than a Veranda cabin (the lowest Viking offers) we were assigned a Deluxe Veranda. The cabin is the same size but in addition to an in-room Nespresso coffeemaker the refrigerator drawer is refilled daily with sodas and snacks. While we were in Japan, we were offered a $199 per person upsell to a Penthouse Veranda. This room is larger (it’s biggest selling point), the fridge is replenished daily but this time includes alcohol and your clothes are pressed for free. After a short discussion, we decided this might be our only chance to experience one of these rooms (if we had of booked it initially it would have cost an additional $1000 per person) so we took the plunge.

As you can see, the room has a large sofa and a chair as opposed to just two chairs and had much more room at the end of the bed making it easier to move around. And since the room is wider, so is the balcony.

Mike and I disagree as to whether we would splurge on this upgrade again. I think I would prefer to put the money towards the alcohol package but Mike really enjoyed having the extra room and the sofa.

Our first task was to use the complementary launderette since we had only a pair of clean socks apiece! We loaded up all four washers on our floor and soon had a pile of clothes ready for the complimentary (or $199 in our case!😂) pressing and the other clothes put away and could start to enjoy being home again on Viking.

Before heading to dinner, we had a glass of bubbly and our usual sushi, shrimp and crab legs on the Aquavit Terrace on the stern of the ship. Tomorrow, we will take the included excursion into Tianjin and then set sail.


WhooHoo! We’ve booked our ride to Europe for the spring. We leave Miami on March 6 aboard Viking Sky headed to Barcelona. lol Can’t wait!

We will be in Europe (somewhere) until early June when we will return for Niece Madison’s Graduation. She and her BFF are meeting us in London in late April and after seeing Harry Styles and the sights for five days we will spend five days in Paris before they fly back in early May to finish up their studies.

Guess I need to get busy and finish catching up on our fall travels!!!


WhooHoo! We’ve booked our ride to Europe for the spring. We leave Miami on March 6 aboard Viking Sky headed to Barcelona. lol Can’t wait!

We will be in Europe (somewhere) until early June when we will return for Niece Madison’s Graduation. She and her BFF are meeting us in London in late April and after seeing Harry Styles and the sights for five days we will spend five days in Paris before they fly back in early May to finish up their studies.

Guess I need to get busy and finish catching up on our fall travels!!!

Bejing Day 4

This post is being written long after the events described herein took place. We are currently in Arlington Virginia for the month of January.

After another huge hotel breakfast buffet, we joined our fellow Viking Explorers in the hotel lobby to get sorted out into groups.

We then joined our group and boarded our bus. This group of 30 or so (as tall and wide people we love that Viking doesn’t completely fill their buses) would be our companions for the next two days. Most turned out to be great travelers but as always there were a couple of entitled folks who thought everything was about them. “Oh, you meant me when you said to be back to the bus in 15 minutes?” 🤪

After a drive through the city, our first stop of the day was the zoo. Obviously, the pandas were the big draw for us and for hoards of other tourists-it was the third day of the weeklong National Holiday after all.

The zoo appeared to have a lot of other exhibits-would have been great to be able to see some of them also…alas, we (well most of us) were on a tight schedule and followed the timeline. LOL so we only visited the Panda exhibits. Some were inside, others outside. It was great to see these beautiful animals. I was amazed at their size-much larger than I expected. Of course we (along with everyone else) had to take a selfie!

The zoo was the first place where I encountered the first of what would be many interactions with strangers who wanted to have their picture taken with the big tall bearded white man. Sometimes it was children who initiated this but I’m pretty sure their parents may have been pushing them to do so as usually they wanted their picture too! Of course, I made sure I got a picture for my camera too. I will do a post with all these smiling faces at some point, but this should give you an idea!

Shortly after taking the picture above, on the way back to the bus, I tripped over a cobblestone and took a hard fall-skinning my knee & hands and knocking the breath out of me. The number of wonderful Chinese who came immediately to help me up and make sure I was ok was amazing. The first one to help me was the mother of the girl in pink glasses. Luckily, nothing was broken other than my pride and we continued on to the Summer Palace, our next stop.

This palace about an hour outside of Bejing is a beautiful collection of buildings around a beautiful lake. The royals used to come here in the summer to get away from the heat of the city.

Portions of the lake have beds of huge lotus. I can only imagine what it looks like when they are all blooming.

The palace buildings are intricately painted. From what our guide told us, they have to repaint every 7-10 years to maintain the bright colors.

The grounds are beautifully planted and in less crowded times I am sure would be a great place to sit and mediate.

However, this is where we first encountered overwhelming National Holiday crowds. It made visiting here less pleasurable than one would hope for a place designed for relaxation!

We walked along one half of the colonnade that joins two parts of the complex. It’s beautifully painted (the murals are shown a few pictures above) and I’m sure we’re well enjoyed by the Dowager Empress who lived here at one point but as you can see below, during our visit the walk along it was more like an obstacle course!

From the palace, we went to our included lunch. All six buses of Viking guests met here. Four of the buses were the 2 day precruise extension guests, while the other two were folks who had been on the longer (4 day?) extension. They had been to Xi’an as well as somewhere in the mountains before coming to Bejing. The lunch was made up of many many delicious dishes served on lazy Susans on tables for eight in a huge banquet hall. As with all our meals in China, we remained impressed with the food and the huge lunch meant we didn’t have to have much dinner!

After lunch, most aboard were ready for a nap-especially those who had arrived in Bejing just the day before and were jetlagging bad. However we had one more stop on our tour, the Lama Temple.

This complex was originally a royal palace but when the occupant became the emperor in the early 1700s, it was converted into a monastery.

It is very beautiful and we enjoyed seeing visitors washing, lighting incense and praying.

The most incredible sight was the huge carved wood Buddha in one of the temples.

After the temple, we returned to the hotel mid afternoon where we relaxed for a bit after our busy day. I needed some ibuprofen to hopefully ease some back pain and bandages due to my tumble at the zoo and the hotel suggested we go to a store in the next block – Walmart! Who knew???

Walmart was located on the ground and basement floors of a high rise office building. The ground floor was almost entirely groceries while down the moving sidewalk (so you could take your cart) in the basement were clothes, housewares, appliances, etc.

Unlike US Walmarts where most food is prepackaged, in Beijing there were stalls making steamed buns, noodles, and a huge selection of live fish! Also, Peking ducks and huge bins of rice!

Along the long moving sidewalk, they displayed impulse purchase items including “American Prunes”. I wonder if the Chinese don’t eat dried plums?

While we enjoyed visiting the store, we couldn’t find the bandages or the ibuprofen. After asking several clerks (there were hundreds in the store-another difference from US Walmart) and coming up empty, I went to the customer service desk and used google translate to ask. They pointed “over there”. After wandering for a bit, I was still lost, finally one of the customer service folks, took me out of the store proper and down a hallway to the pharmacy section which while in the Walmart was on the other side of the cash registers. There the pharmacist sold me what I needed!

We returned to the hotel and ate our leftover Peking Duck and vegetables from lunch the day before…and some noodles we bought at one of the Walmart booths. Mike was in need of a haircut and we passed two salons the night before on our death march to try to go to Tiananmen Square. So while I relaxed and tried to get my back to stop hurting, Mike went down the street to get a haircut. Using google translate and hand signals, he had the full spa experience-wash, trim, dry, shave, etc. I’m sorry I didn’t go to take pictures as apparently the whole place got into his beauty act. While they trimmed his beard so much that he ended up turning it into a goatee, it still got a thumbs up from the barber and him. And from me when he told me it cost less than $20 including a tip!

So ended our first day with Viking. So far we have been impressed with how they have dealt with the enormous crowds and are happy we decided to splurge somewhat with their pre-cruise extension. Based on some quick math, I think we could have booked similar hotels and tours for the two days and perhaps saves $200 but I think meeting some folks ahead of actually boarding made the cruise itself more enjoyable.

“Tomorrow” we visit Tiananmen Square (finally!), the Forbidden Palace and then will be taken to the ship which is docked in Tianjin about an hour and a half drive from Beijing. So our last act before bed was placing our bags outside the door so that they get moved to the ship.

212 Days Later!

After 15,466 road miles, 7,986 air miles, 921 train miles and 7,647 nautical miles on ships, we made it back to Danville, Virginia tonight for Christmas with Mike’s family.

I still need to blog about the Viking cruise in China, the flight back on Cathay Pacific, and our big road trip east that included Yosemite, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, a Caribbean cruise and visits with family and friends along the way. I promise I will get it done, but it may be after a visit to my family in Charleston just before the new year.

Best wishes to all for a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Cheery Kwanza, Shiny Solstice or Happy whatever Winter Holiday you celebrate and a Great 2020!

Bejing Day 3

This post is being written in Houston almost two months after the events described below.

Introducing Lois Clara Burton-Clayton! Just kidding, while this lovely girl was sweet enough to adopt and bring home, we didn’t. More about her later.

This is our last day spent independently in China. When we booked our hotels and tours with China Highlights I asked them to suggest a half day experience after which they would drop us off at the hotel where Viking Cruises had us booked. (We looked at trying to stay at the same hotel the entire time but the JW Marriott was much more expensive than the Crown Plaza). It was suggested we take their Life Discovery Walking Tour. We would visit a temple, a market and walk through the traditional housing neighborhood. It turned out to be a great way to spend our morning.

Our first stop was the market. Because it was the day after the holiday, it was not as crowded as usual but we still enjoyed learning about the foods and other foods sold here. It was amazing to see how many bottles of soy sauce there were!

From the market we walked a block to the temple which has the oldest pagoda in Beijing. We had to wait a minute or two for the temple to open. It was so nice to be there early when there were only a few worshippers and no other tourists! This temple was definitely off the beaten path. The last picture below is us with our guide CoCo.

From the temple we walked through a late eighties neighborhood and crossed a canal which was originally the most on the outside of Beijing’s City Wall. Except for one small section, the City Wall was demolished when the Communist took over and wanted to expand the City. Along the walk we saw that the parked cars all had cardboard or wooden squares leaning against their tires-CoCo explained to us that this was to keep dogs from christening the tires! We also saw a number of the three wheeled vehicles Mike is standing beside. We figured if we had one of those apiece we could probably make it work for us!😂

We then continued through a decorated park towards the traditional neighborhood. The park was in the midst of a National Day Festival so we got to see some traditional groups singing and dancing along with LOTS of Chinese families out enjoying their holiday. It was also fun to see older folks practicing Tai Chi and playing hacks sack.

After leaving the beautiful park we stopped on the street to have a Jian Bing. This is the Chinese version of a breakfast taco or crepe. A thin batter is poured on a crepe griddle and swirled using one of those crepe sticks, then an egg is broken and also swirled in top, scallions (and other veggies if you like) are them pushed into the egg. The whole thing is flipped, a bean paste (with chili’s if you like it spicy) is spread on the top, a fried cracker is placed on top (along with a hot dog if you want one) and then the crepe/egg is folded around it. Sounds crazy and we weren’t sure we would like it but OMG it was delicious. We now understood why we saw so many folks having them for breakfast.

We went to a nearby park to sit a bit and eat our Jian Bing’s and this is where we met Lois Clara (makes after Mike and my mom). We watched her and some other kids playing while we ate and as had been the case prior and would become even more so as we visited sights during the National Holiday crowds, many Chinese were fascinated with us-my height, Mike’s gingerish hair, and our beards. Lois Clara started staring and after the smile you seen in the title picture to this post, she came over and started rubbing the hair on my arm and legs and feeling my beard. Soon her brother? (Bobby Jack?) joined her and did the same with Mike. I guess since the Chinese have so little, it was probably the first time they had seen anything other than head hair. We had a good time smiling and taking pictures-even if we didn’t get the little “Mai Ling” we have always said we should adopt to do windows and clean up after us! 😂 of course as they we left they and the other children said “bye bye” which is apparently one of the first English phrases Chinese learn. So adorable. Encounters like this were some of the most memorable parts of our visit.

We then walked through a Hutong-the traditional neighborhood in Beijing. These narrow streets have buildings on each side which have four or six apartments entered through a gate into an even narrower alley-more like a tiny long narrow courtyard. Typically a multigenerational family shares each of the small apartments along this secondary alley. So there might be 16-24 people living off each one. Talk about dense living!

While of course we didn’t go through the gates into the actual alley, we learned the apartments apparently have kitchens and showers but toilets are communal for six or eight of the buildings – so 120 or more share the bathroom down the street. CoCo said lots of people like living in the Hutong as it is very cheap but she said she left as soon as she could as she didn’t like having to walk down the street in the middle of the night if nature called. The Hutong we walked through was obviously one of the poorer ones-we saw others (near Tianmen Square and the Summer Palace) which looked to have been restored historic ones and were quite beautiful (in a SoHo sorta way rather than the one below which was more “Brewster project like”).

The driver picked us at the end of the Hutong and we headed to lunch. We didn’t know it until we arrived, but one of the restaurant’s specialties was Peking Duck. We were excited as we wanted to experience this while in Beijing but it appeared from our research that getting authentic duck was expensive and we didn’t want to spend a lot of it wasn’t what it was supposed to be. CoCo ordered for us and said she thought a half of a duck for us would be plenty. She also helped us order some stir fried veggies to go with it as well as stirfried asparagus and mushrooms. Soon one of the carvers arrived to show us our duck (and we failed to get a picture) and then took it around the corner to carve. They do an incredible job of thinly slicing the duck and it’s fatty crispy glossy skin-traditionally a whole duck is sliced into 120 slices. We didn’t count but 60 slices sounds about right for what came back to the table along with the pancakes and the toppings-dark and light sauces, scallions and cucumbers, our veggie side dishes and a delicious beer. It was a yummy and filling lunch especially after our Jian Bing snack.

After lunch, we were driven to our new hotel and said goodbye to CoCo. The JW was swanky with a beautiful lobby where we saw a Viking banner welcoming us. While I was checking us into the hotel, Mike checked in with Viking and got information on what time we would meet for tour of the Summer Palace the next morning. Our room was huge as was the bathroom-we could get used to living the high life!

After checking our our room and relaxing a bit, we headed out with the intention of walking to Tiananmen Square to see it up close in the evening. Unfortunately after the almost mile and a half hike to get there we discovered long lines to get through security and that a passport was needed (ours were in the safe in our room) so we made the death march back to the hotel. Luckily there were some decorations along the way but by that point we were a bit peckish but didn’t need a full meal so after a frustrating ride up and down five flights of escalators at the mall next door and a little hangry induced meltdown (we are so lucky we rarely argue that when we do it seems catastrophic) we bought that most Chinese of food-a tuna fish sandwich from Subway and ate it in the room. LOL