A brief summary of our Asian trip (so far):
There was a four-hour delay at Heathrow on our Virgin flight to Shanghai, but after that everything went smoothly:
The transfer from the airport to the Crowne Plaza hotel in Pudong and the overnight stay was fine.
The transfer from the hotel to the cruise ship went as planned.
The cruise around Japan and South Korea was excellent. The onboard entertainment, food, and shore tours are to be recommended.
The return transfer from the cruise ship to the Crowne Plaza was efficient.
The transfer from the hotel to the airport never happened! An unpronounceable volcano in Iceland decided to erupt and prevented our immediate return to the UK.
Our impression of Japan was surprisingly better than expected, it is an exceptionally disciplined, picturesque and tidy country. Throughout our time there we saw no litter or mess and it appeared to us that the entire population dress exclusively in Armani, or perhaps Gucchi. Their manners are impeccable but confusing to we Europeans, they take politeness and a willingness to help to the extreme. The countryside is a picture on a chocolate box, somehow they have managed to manicure the environment, making each plant or flower so photogenic. Even the urban areas seem to be designed to be pleasing to the eye.
Shopping is a clinically controlled experience where goods and foodstuff are laid out impeccably, competing for a customer’s attention through the perfection of environment and display. Each time I removed an article from its carefully placed position I felt as if I was destroying the demeanour of the whole establishment.
Our impression of South Korea is nearly, but not quite the same, we saw rubbish in the streets and the school children are rather noisy and ill-disciplined. British pupils seem well-behaved compared. The country is to be admired, it has developed expeditiously over the last few decades and become a very successful nation, achieving an economy that is to be admired through sheer enterprise and hard work.
Our impression of Shanghai is that the city is very large, very polluted and very busy. However, the technology on display everywhere you go seems futuristic to we yokels from rural Market Harborough. Our hotel is deemed local to the international airport, yet it takes a taxi 40 minutes to get there. The road system is complicated but works well, many of the vehicles using it are electric. Users of the highways appear to consider themselves contestants in a Grand Prix race, and taxi drivers have little regard for the lives of their passengers.
We were to fly home today, but like all aircraft flying in or out of Europe, we cannot. Virgin and our booking agent, Cruise1st, have become notable for their reluctance to help, so we now have to rely on our own resources. We have moved hotel to a much cheaper establishment across the road. It is 1200 RMB per night at the Crowne Plaza, and just 268 RMB per night at the Ibis Hotel, Pudong with breakfast and free WiFi.
This morning (against Virgin’s advice) we went to the airport at our scheduled flight time. The airport was completely deserted apart from a few staff wandering aimlessly about. Surprisingly, at the Virgin check-in desk was a very nervous operative. After convincing her that we were not irate travellers and just wished to speak to someone in authority from Virgin, she reluctantly gave us instructions on how to find the main Virgin office. Fortunately, we arrived at the securely locked door as a staff member appeared and we followed her in. Again, we had to assure them we were not angry, but just wished to know the date of the next flight out that had not been cancelled and requested that if there were seats available, could we have them. Relieved, they confirmed the first flight out would be on the 5th of May unless it too was cancelled. This gave us 16 days to kill unless we could find another route home.
As we checked out of the Crowne Plaza to transfer to the Ibis, we were surrounded by other guests eager to know what we were doing. I explained that I preferred to be hit with a smaller bill if Virgin refused to pay for accommodation and so have changed hotels. When we returned from our trip to the airport, we were amused to see a long line of guests from the Crowne Plaza doing likewise.
The current news is still bad, no one is flying into Europe or is expected to for many days to come. Thankfully, back in the UK Charlotte has been looking after Sarah and Jamie, texting us daily with information on the situation there. We are resigned to making the best of our situation and have slipped into holiday mode. We shall see the sights of Shanghai, unfortunately, Chinese food is not my favourite but there is no alternative. On a positive note, I met the captain of an Emirates flight in the hotel bar and he said, “What better place to be trapped in than Shanghai?” I replied, “How about the Maldives?” But he had a point.