Hello. My name is Emma and I go on cruises. Mostly, so far on P&O ships out of Southampton, but other perfectly good cruise companies are available. ;-) When I can, I con my parents into paying for my ticket.
When I travel, I blog. If you would like to read it all, it can be found at my PS. The Post have asked me to proffer some edited highlights of my ramblings, which I shall now inflict on you forthwith. Enjoy.
It's cold out. I may have mentioned this. We are now running three hours late on our way to Beijing tomorrow morning. Why? Ice. The sea has turned to ice. I kid you not. It's creepy. It doesn't help to walk through the pub and hear 'My Heart Will Go On', I can assure you. Not iceBERGS, obviously, but large chunks, several metres wide some of them, and heaven knows how deep they go. So we have slowed down. We're a cruise ship, not an ice breaker. We're solid but we're not reinforced to that extent! If I had to describe the sight, and I will have to, because it was impossible to get a picture in the darkness, it was like your local lake when it freezes over in winter. Small bits floating on the top, that gradually join together to form bigger and bigger bits, rather like the way the universe came into being. Then the bigger bits stick to bigger bits and form bigger bits, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera and so forth1. These bits didn't look particularly big, but we were looking from a hundred feet up, so they were probably a metre or so across. And the whole sea was covered in them. Not just one or two floating past here and there. As far as the eye could see in every direction with nary a gap between them. Just like you see on documentaries about the Arctic or Antarctic. So cool. I wish I could share a photo with you, but I don't think anyone got a good one. I'll ask around and see if anyone did, just in case, but you may just have to use your imagination, I'm afraid.
On the plus side, all this cold over the past two days has meant that the ambient temperature down in the bowels of the ship has dropped, which has meant that I have been able to brush my teeth in cold water for the first time since Egypt. Usually, it's all a bit tepid, verging on the warm at times, which is singularly unpleasant, I have to tell you. It's not a major problem in the grand scheme of things, which is why I haven't whinged about it (there are plenty enough whingers on here without my joining in, I can tell you!), but it is nice to have cold water for a change! I have had to turn the shower up from 15 to 20 degrees though, to compensate! (Cos when the cold feed is warm, you don't need much hot!)
We make our own water. I think we can produce about 100,000 gallons a day, but we can only do this when we're doing over 12 knots (the desalination equipment can't run at less than that, apparently). This meant that we made no water for two days when we were in Egypt (Port Said and the Suez Canal transit, where the speed limit is 9 knots). Mind you, when we were running past pirates in the Gulf of Aden we were doing over 22 knots, so I guess we made up for it then! We got so low on water that we loaded several tankers-full at Sharm El Sheikh, but when it came out it was such a dodgy colour, they quarantined it and I think they decided not to use it in the end! The yellowness may have just been caused by sand, but I prefer my water to be as near colourless as possible with a vague tinge of blue, if it's all the same to you!
I should warn those of you that have never taken a cruise that the tap water isn't as lovely as that you get at home. Not by a long chalk. Some days it's salty, some days they go a bit nuts with the chlorine, sometimes it just tastes plain odd, but it's nothing that a couple of ice cubes can't fix! And the bottled stuff we buy on is nice enough, usually. On a previous cruise, we had some bottled stuff that was absolutely horrid, but so far, the Buxton we loaded in Southampton and the Krivos we loaded in Athens have been lovely. Now we have stuff called Splash that we loaded in Singapore, which is also very nice, so when the tap water is having a bad day (it varies considerably depending on which tank we are drinking from!), there's always something drinkable somewhere!
Talking of stuff we've picked up on the way round, the cucumbers we are now consuming are delicious. They have to be the most yummy cucumbers I have probably ever eaten. Not pickled cucumbers, there are none of those on here, oddly enough. No, proper cucumbers. Their skins are a much paler colour green than the ones we get in the UK and, I kid you not, are two inches in diameter. Honest. I've taken a photo next to a packet of sugar so you can get a sense of the size of the things. They're HUGE. Yummy though. Trez yummy. Sometimes the seeds are a bit woody, but that's a small price to pay for such yumminess, I assure you.
Just the best day ever. Just brilliant. P&O offer rather expensive excursions at every port, but the ones at Beijing didn't interest us. They offered us EITHER the Great Wall OR Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City OR the Olympic Stadia (although without going inside them) OR something else. We took one look at it (back in November) and said "Nah, we can do better than that". We found a tour company on the internet and booked a tour with them. They picked us up from the ship in a beautiful Dodge minivan-type thing. Leather seats, air con (or rather, today, heating!), working seatbelts, just lovely and comfy. They drove us into Beijing which took a couple of hours, and we saw Tiananmen Square, Mao's Mausoleum, the National Museum of China and the Monument to the Nation's Heroes. We didn't get out of the car because (a) it was bloomin' freezing and (b) we could see fine from the car! You're not allowed to see Mao, the Monument is an obelisk-type thing, the Square is... a square (not nearly as big as I expected, to be honest!) and we REALLY didn't feel like doing a museum. Maybe next time...
We then went to the Forbidden City and a little electrical bus like a long milk-float took us around to the entrance (the entrance near the parking area is closed). We went in and had a look around. It's very nice, and Susie, our guide, told us all sorts of facts. Such as, although 6 and 8 are now considered lucky numbers to the Chinese, back in the Emperors' times, it was 9 that was lucky. Which is why there are 9,999 rooms in the Forbidden City. And all the statues and gargoyles and bits and pieces add up to nine.
Factoid of the day: The ancient Chinese believed there was a purple star at the centre of the Universe, where God lived in a palace with 10,000 rooms. The Emperor's Palace had 9,999 because he didn't dare project himself as equal with God.
We were then running ahead of schedule, so Susie took us to a tea house. No, me neither. I associated them with Japan as well. We tried four different types of tea and were taught the different ways in which you're supposed to drink them. You slurp Oolong, but only Oolong. We also had Jasmine (the one we get in Chinese restaurants in the UK), Puer (pronounced pure) which has no caffeine and is like whisky – thirty years old is best, apparently – and Litchi (lychee, to you) tea, which is naturally sweet, because of the lychees, funnily enough, which was REALLY nice, which is interesting, because I don't like lychees themselves. Then we walked down the road and round the corner to a silk factory. We were shown how silk is harvested. Vegetarians shouldn't wear it. Basically, when the silk worm is five years old, it builds itself a pupa from a single thread of silk about a mile long, so that it can become a moth. To get the silk, they drop them in boiling water, which kills the worm and softens the pupa, so that it can be peeled apart. It's fascinating, but I did feel a bit bad for the worms. (They don't waste the worm, they eat it. Apparently it's a very nutritious, high-protein delicacy, but still...)
Then we got back in the minivan and went to lunch. We took a detour, however, to find some posh loos. They had to be posh because due to the broken wrist, mum is currently one-handed and she needs a handle to hold onto in order to be able to stand up again! Only hotels aimed at Westerners seem to have grasped the concept of disabled toilets, which seems odd, no matter how low the average age of your society... We ended up at the Pangu Hotel, a SEVEN star hotel with VERY nice loos indeed! Then on to the Dragon Land Jade Gallery, the largest jade shop in Beijing, where we ate lunch in the restaurant. Lunch was yummy. Chicken in sweet chilli sauce, beef in black bean (I think), cucumber, broccoli, greens, mushrooms, all stir-fried, pickled cabbage (which is especially important at New Year), an egg and tomato dish, tofu and egg soup, steamed rice, green tea and watermelon for dessert. We then admired the jade on offer, including some ENORMOUS pieces, including a ship that was probably eight feet long and five feet high, a virtually life-sized bull and eagle and a set of eight virtually life-sized horses made from a single piece of jade. We bought a few souvenirs and then we drove to the Wall.
We were planning on going to the Badaling section, which is the usual one, but Susie said that this wasn't very accessible for mum, so she took us out of the city to Ju Yong Guan, which is a section which is an almost complete circle built by the Ming Emperors. By now, the sun was out, so it wasn't nearly as cold as it had been earlier in the day, so Dad and I climbed up. He did one tower, I did two. This means two watchtowers, which are dotted along the entire wall and seem to be the standard method of measuring distance on the Wall.
It is quite spectacular, the Great Wall, there's no other way of describing it. It stretches as far as the eye can see, climbing mountains, running along ridges, 7000km long, several metres wide and very high indeed. It must have been very daunting to approach from the other side, as an outsider. It was daunting enough as a tourist, so what it must have looked like bristling with soldiers, I dread to think!
So that was Beijing. We returned to the ship and all three of us fell asleep during the drive back! Well, the car was very warm... The clocks go forward again tonight, so we lose another hour. I suspect I will have quite an interesting set of aches and pains tomorrow...