This post is being written well after our visit to Qingdao in October 2018.

After a short overnight sail across part of the Yellow Sea from Dalian we awoke in Qingdao-another huge city-about 6 million people. You may know about the city’s most famous export. Which is the phonetic (and an alternative) spelling of its name:

The included excursion here was a panoramic bus trip but with only two stops. But before we could get on the bus we had to do a death march to reach it. There is a new and beautiful terminal which serves ferries and cruise ships but it is huge and requires an incredibly long walk. According to the counter on my phone it was 3/4 mile from the ship to the immigration counter and then another 1/4 mile to the bus!

The terminal is new and there was a television reporter there interviewing some of our fellow guests. They said the questions were all about how much they liked Qingdao which were difficult to answer since all they had seen was the inside of the terminal! 😂

Once in the bus we rode through high rises (including some more ugly ones that must of been designed by that same architect from Dalian).

We eventually reached a sea side park where we had free time. We walked along the boardwalk a bit which had an interesting suspension portion, red National Day decorations and explored a couple of stores. One had nothing but dried seafood-fish, shrimp, scallops, etc. They also had Tsingtao beers so we bought the one pictured above.

From the boardwalk we were driven to a pier in another part of town. This pier is located at the public beach and as it was almost the end of the National Day holiday, there were lots of families enjoying a nice day walking to the pavilion at the end of the pier, some even were in the water though it was a little too cool for us.

We also a big rubber duck floating in front of some nearby high rises. Turns out it is public art and was originally installed as part of the 2014 Olympics-Dalian served as the location for the sailing completion. This duck and many others around the world were designed by Florintijn Hofman a Dutch artist.

From the pier we returned to the ship and enjoyed an “American BBQ” dinner on the pool deck. While not quite an American picnic-no potato salad??? For those of us who had been away from any bbq for a month at this point, we certainly enjoyed it!

After a relaxing day at sea doing not much but enjoying our balcony and the spa, we got ready for the cruise critic “Meet & Greet”. Cruise Critic is an online forum with cruise news, reviews and most importantly “boards” where one can ask and answer questions and “roll calls” where one can meet digitally fellow passengers on “your” cruise before you leave home. Many cruise lines host an event for the roll call members to meet face to face. Viking does a nice job serving cocktails, wine and beer and passing hors d’ouvres. They hold it in the Winter Garden and usually have one of the entertainers provide background music. Ours was attended by the Captain and all the Senior Officers.

It was great to put some faces with names and to meet some of the crew. After the meet and greet we decided to have a casual dinner at The World Cafe and started with escargot for me and sushi for Mike.

I don’t have any pictures of any other food so I suspect we were full and called it an evening!



This post is being written in Arlington, Virginia well after the events described below took place.

After a lovely evening aboard Orion we docked in Dalian, China. Like Tianjin, the city was so much bigger than expected. When cruising most places in the world, the embarkation ports are typically big cities while the ports of call tend to be smaller. That certainly isn’t the case in China. It’s population in 2018 was over 5 million and its urban area is about 550 square miles. So it’s area is about the same as Houston, Texas with twice as many people!!!

It also has some buildings where the architect appeared to work just a little too hard to make it stand out.

As we would do in every port, we only took the excursion included in our cruise fare. One of the reasons we decided to do this cruise was to experience how Viking was on a real cruise-one with lots of ports, as opposed to the repositioning cruises we have taken with them before.

Typically, the excursions were “panoramic” (bus) tours with a stop or three at important places in the port. While we aren’t normally bus people, we wanted to figure out whether the included tours are a value to us if we decide to take any future cruises with Viking.

After joining our tour Groupons leaving the port, our first stop was at the People’s Square. In addition to the little fella at the top of this post there were many folks were enjoying the fourth day of the weeklong National Day holiday at this park with a huge fountain with synchronized music.

From the square we headed to another park, this one more wooded with a lovely lake. At the entrance was a man playing his guitar and the music could be heard throughout this part of the part making it very relaxing.

But the most memorable part of this park and in fact of all of Dalian was that this was called Marriage Square. Each Saturday, parents of unmarried children come here and place resumés of their children on the sidewalks (some with photographs) and then walk along and try to make dates for their kids. I expected there to be maybe fifteen or twenty parents doing this, but there were hundreds of resumés!

Just as Mike had experienced in Japan, the many Chinese want to use their english skills. I had two different gentlemen approach me obviously just wanting to practice their already very good English. One was there to try to find a date for his daughter. The other was a retired man who was just enjoying his day as were so many. As everywhere, the locals were taking pictures with China flags or having special entertainment just as we would on the 4th of July. Some others were in costume…was this our first Chinese Draq Queen?

From the park we headed out to the coast for our last stop where we walked across a suspension bridge that overlooked a lovely lighthouse.

From here we headed back to the ship passing along more beautiful parts of Dalian.

One of the many advantages of sailing with Viking is that rather than 2000-3000 passengers, there are only 930. Typically this makes returning to the ship very easy, just walk on, never a line. Well, this was not the case in China 😢. Due we think to the Chinese immigration and security, combined with the fact that almost all passengers were taking the included or ship’s sponsored excursions, we returned to a horribly long line. It took us over 45 minutes to get back aboard.

When we boarded in Tianjin, there was an envelope in the room for each of us notifying us that Viking had provided us with $150 credit to our onboard account. While I didn’t remember this being part of the promotion when we booked, I figured we had just forgotten about it. When I asked guest services at some point about it, they said it was too make up for some of the issues we would face in China. So I guess we shouldn’t complain too much about the long wait!

Once aboard, we had a delicious lunch of fish and chips with mushy peas while watching the sail away from Dalian. Tomorrow we will call at Quindao.


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.

Happy 2020!

Mike and I hope everyone had a great holiday and that 2020 will treat each of you well.

After spending Christmas in Danville with Mike’s family (including the Burton family traditional Long John Silver’s Christmas Eve dinner pictured above and at Lois’ church’s Candlelight service) we spent the interval before New Year’s with mine in Charleston (where we cheered on the Clemson Tigers to victory and hope they will do the same in the National Championship next week-that’s Niece Madison below ready for the game to start and me in my last year’s shirt)

We had a great time with my brother, Steve, his wife Georgette and niece Madison and nephew Jack (pictures above).

Food was abundant everywhere. We had Christmas dinner in both Danville and Charleston

as well as osso bucco prepared by sis-in-law Jennifer in Danville and prime rib in Charleston.

All of this was augmented by baked goods Mike made in Danville before Christmas. We made cookies, white trash crackers, cranberry bliss bars, coconut cake, sausage balls, three kinds of bark. Some was packaged and taken as gifts to friends in Raleigh we visited during the weekend before Christmas and others were (and continue to be!) desserts.

Before leaving Charleston, we had a quick lunch with my college chum Chris (that’s him Vanna is pointing to below)

That reminds me, on our way from the cruise to Danville, we stopped in Greenville and visited friends Claudia and Klase. It was great to catch up!

Oops, now that I’ve mentioned them, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that we stopped and saw the other person in this pack-Barry (and his wife Sherron and daughter Grace) in Orlando before the cruise.

Oh crap…now I’m going backwards instead of forward in time. One more shoutout to Karen and this whole college group will be done.

We saw Karen in Dallas before we got to Houston back in November. Anyway, seeing friends and family is what this tie of year is all about!

I promise I’m gonna catch up starting with boarding the cruise in China and all of the roadtrip that got us back to Houston. But for now, let me tell you what’s happened since we left Charleston.

We drove to Richmond in New Year’s Eve-the title picture of this post was taken as we reentered Virginia. We had a great New Year’s Eve dinner with my high school friend Frances and her hubby Larry. That’s her and Mike below.

On New Year’s Day, we drove to Arlington and checked into our home for the month of January. We are in the same building as Mike’s college chum Yost and his husband Sam. Longtime readers may recall that we have traveled with them several times (river cruise, Mike’s and Yost’s 50th Birthday in Italy, etc) and that Yost was the impetus to us retiring early. When we found an Airbnb available in their building we thought now was a great time for us to spend some more time with them.

We are working on our plans for 2020-it is likely to include a spring transatlantic cruise and in April, Niece Madison is going to come visit us as her high school graduation present. It will be great to be with her the first time she see Europe!

A short budget update, we just reconciled 2019 and as expected we were over our budget but by less than $3000 which given the unplanned China trip we feel pretty good about. Also, until the stock market reacts to this craziness in Iran, we currently have significantly more money in our portfolio than we did on February 2, 2018 when we quit work!

Best wishes to all for a great 2020 from Vanna, the Christmas Unicorn and me!