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Summer Vacation Fun – Germany & UK

The summer arrived in Shanghai, school finished and that means – time to leave Shanghai!!  The kids last day of school was June 27th and on the 28th we were all on a plane heading back to the UK.  Both children had EXCELLENT school reports – which obviously made us very proud.  They are happy, excelling and trying their best at whatever they do – I cannot ask for more.

We arrived to glorious weather in the UK.  Blue skies, brilliant sunshine and heat!  We spent several days with family: my parents had celebrated their 50th Golden Wedding Anniversary earlier in June so we had a family meal out to celebrate.  It was wonderful to see Isabelle and Oliver re-connecting with their cousins – they picked up as though it was only yesterday that they had seen them!

Happy Cousins: Oliver, Oscar, Isabelle and Maeve

Happy Cousins: Oliver, Oscar, Isabelle and Maeve

I love this family photo: Back - Owen, Emma, Peter and Sara Front - Isabelle, Maeve, Oscar and Oliver.

I love this family photo: Back – Owen, Emma, Peter and Sara
Front – Isabelle, Maeve, Oscar and Oliver.

We also had a brilliant day with my favourite Uncle and Auntie who live in a lovely village next to a Country Park that the kids loved.

Then it was off to Germany!  We flew into Munich and drove 1.5 hours to Steinberg am See in Bavaria, passing lots of hops growing on the way – it is beer country, after all!  What a wonderful reunion with Steffi!  Steffi was our first Au Pair in America and quickly became a part of our family.  She has visited us many times since she returned to Germany and we keep in close contact.  It was our turn to visit her, especially to celebrate the occasion of her wedding!  Even though we had not met her Fiancé, Heiko, before this trip, he and his family welcomed us although we were family members.  Both sides of our “German family” treated us so well and we felt like we were at home.

We had a couple of days to settle in, re-connect with Steffi’s friends and family, before all the festivities started.  First was the “official” wedding.  This event was in Regensburg at the Rat House (Town Hall) and was just for immediate family.  We were shocked and stunned to find that we were also invited to this celebration.  After a short ceremony, with Steffi and Heiko in traditional Bavarian costume, it was off to a lunch celebration.

Just Married (first time!)  In Regensberg with Steffi and Heiko.

Just Married (first time!) In Regensberg with Steffi and Heiko.

Immediate family (plus us) after the ceremony.

Immediate family (plus us) after the ceremony.

Stopping for photos on a bridge in Regensburg after the Town Hall ceremony.  On our way to lunch!

Stopping for photos on a bridge in Regensburg after the Town Hall ceremony. On our way to lunch!  It was a lovely walk through the town and many people commented on the new bride and groom.

We were lucky with the weather here too, as they have had so much rain that many areas had been flooded.  But, it was sunny and hot with beautiful blue skies for our whole week in Germany.  The town hall wedding was on Thursday, with the church service on Saturday.  So, Friday we went to the “Moving Ground” which is a large play area by the huge lake.  There was so much for us to do there and we had a lot of fun on water slides, trampoline bungie jumping, normal trampolines and a giant inflatable bouncy dome.

Enjoying the Moving Ground at the "Am See" part of Steinberg!  Fantastic things to do for the kids - big and small.

Enjoying the Moving Ground at the “Am See” part of Steinberg! Fantastic things to do for the kids – big and small.

We woke to another beautiful day for the wedding.  Rushed off to get Isabelle’s done – as flower girl/bridesmaid she had to look perfect!  Oliver also got his hair cut so he would look super smart in his new suit!

Gorgeous children!

Gorgeous children!

Posing by the wedding car.  The flowers made it to the church, lake and reception!

Posing by the wedding car. The flowers made it to the church, lake and reception!

The wedding was so much fun.  Even though it was all in German and I could only follow bits of what was going on, the atmosphere was terrific.  All of Steffi and Heiko’s friends and family were so open and friendly.  Steffi, of course, looked absolutely gorgeous – Isabelle thought she looked like a Princess.  After the church service, we went to a local cafe for cold cuts and beer.  This is when Steffi and Heiko were off at the lake having photos taken.  Meanwhile we were all socialising and enjoying the sunshine.  Once they returned we then drove in a long convoy to the reception hotel about 10 minutes away.  Even this was fun as all the cars were honking their horns and driving in a wavy crocodile fashion.

The beautiful bride and groom with 2 wonderful children!

The beautiful bride and groom with 2 wonderful children!

The flower girls, plus Oliver and Patrick (Steffi's nephew).

The flower girls, plus Oliver and Patrick (Steffi’s nephew).

There was traditional Bavarian music playing as we arrived and it was time for coffee and cake.  Heiko’s mum and Steffi’s mum had spent several days making the most gorgeous range of cakes for this part of the day.  We all ate several!  While everyone was enjoying the cake, the music kept playing and the dancing started.  Then it was time for the “Bride Stealing”!!  One of their friends stole Steffi to another location and Heiko now had to win her back.  We all walked to another restaurant to the bride’s secret location  and enjoyed some games while waiting for the Groom to come and rescue Steffi.  This was very different from any other wedding we have attended and we all enjoyed this part.  After several humiliations on Heiko’s behalf, he won her back and we returned to the restaurant for dinner and more dancing.

All of the guests had their picture taken with the frame - it will make a lovely photo album for the happy couple!

All of the guests had their picture taken with the frame – it will make a lovely photo album for the happy couple!

After more food, much dancing (I enjoyed learning some bavarian dances!) we had to leave as the kids were fading fast.  As it had been such a full, fabulous day, I was surprised that they made it to 10:30pm!  The party was still going strong as we left – such a brilliant event.  🙂

We spent the next couple of days enjoying the Moving Ground at the Lake, site seeing in Schwandorf and the Pony Hof in Steinberg.  Steffi and Heiko have delayed their honeymoon until later in the year, so we spent these days catching up with them and relaxing after all the lead up to the wedding.

We took some boats out on the lake – one even had a slide on it that the kids loved.  I had a go at water ski-ing which I had not done since living in America.  I had also never water skied on a cable system before so it took a couple of attempts to master the corners of that!  (I ached soooooo much the next few days after!)  Both children mastered the paddle boats while I was water ski-ing – displaying great balancing skills.  They had plenty of fun in Germany!

Isabelle and Oliver had swam across to Steffi and Heiko's boat.

Isabelle and Oliver had swam across to Steffi and Heiko’s boat.

Both of them stood up and could work these boards.

Both of them stood up and could work these boards.

Water ski-ing!

Water ski-ing!

All too quickly our time was up and we had to return to the UK.  It was a fantastic visit and so wonderful to be able to see our lovely Steffi get married.

Back in the UK and time to catch up with other family members and friends.  It is always a whirlwind visit and impossible to see everyone.  Mum and Dad babysat a couple of times so that Owen and I could enjoy adult nights out with Laurence and Mark & Sandra.  We also arranged for Isabelle and Oliver to see special friends from the UK.  It was a joyous reunion and Isabelle was especially thrilled to see her best friend again.  The 2 of them were thick as thieves, just like they had never been apart.

Isabelle and Aimee spent the entire day in the pool!

Isabelle and Aimee spent the entire day in the pool!

Sam and Oliver - 2 buddies back together!

Sam and Oliver – 2 buddies back together!

The giggling did not seem to stop between these 2.

The giggling did not seem to stop between these 2.

Happy chappies!

Happy chappies!

Grandad soaking the kids in the garden.

Grandad soaking the kids in the garden.  He also got a little wet from their water pistols!

We had 1 scare with Oliver – a severe allergic reaction to something (probably peanuts) meant a visit to the A&E / ER to reduce the swelling and rash.  He is now going for an Allergy panel test to let us know exactly what we need to avoid.  He gave us all a scare though.

The weather really makes a difference to a British Summer.  When it is sunny and warm, it is so easy to fill many hours at the park, with the hose or at the pool.  That is all Isabelle and Oliver wanted to do, anyway!  The time seemed to fly by too fast.  Not enough time spent with my Mum & Dad or with Sandra (my BFF), never mind so many other people that I really wanted to see.  The downside of the Ex-pat life 😦

I returned to Shanghai after 3 short weeks away, leaving my 3 loves in UK.  It is heart-breaking to be apart and I miss them all dreadfully.  But, they would all be so bored in China as no-one is here.  So, I am busy working, working, working and trying to stay out of the blistering heat and humidity that is Shanghai in July and August.  It is countdown mode for me until they return.

Fathers Day Brunch celebration

Father’s Day sneaked up on me this year and came around very quickly!  Nevertheless, I managed to find a card, which is no mean feat in China!  The kids made beautiful cards for their Daddy.

To celebrate, we went out to the Kerry Parkside Hotel for brunch with 2 other families.  This was a new brunch location for us, and it did not disappoint.  All of the food stations were marvellous – I especially enjoyed the noodle soup station.  All of the kids loved the pasta station (plus the fantastic kids club area).

Georgia, Isabelle, Ava, Saskia, Ethan and Oliver at the children's area of brunch.

Georgia, Isabelle, Ethan, Ava, Saskia, and Oliver at the children’s area of brunch.

In the photo above you can see the abundance of sweeties and goodies for the chocolate fountain behind the kids!  The kids area also had a big screen tv, beanbags, face painters and other activities.

Isabelle getting her face painted at the Kerry Parkside Brunch - children's area.

Isabelle getting her face painted at the Kerry Parkside Brunch – children’s area.

The end result!

The end result!

Ethan and Oliver chilling out on the bean bags!

Ethan and Oliver chilling out on the bean bags!

All of the girls getting pampered.

All of the girls getting pampered.

Shanghai can be such a small city sometimes!  While we were at Brunch with Jo, Scott. Emma and Matt, we bumped into Rob and Jen who were out with their boys.  After we had all eaten, they joined our table to socialize!

Jen, Matt, Jo, Scott, Emma. Owen, me and Rob

Jen, Matt, Jo, Scott, Emma. Owen, me and Rob

The Fathers on Father's Day - Scott, Matt, Rob and Owen

The Fathers on Father’s Day – Scott, Matt, Rob and Owen

Georgia, Saskia, Ava and Isabelle - good friends enjoying a lovely day.

Georgia, Saskia, Ava and Isabelle – good friends enjoying a lovely day.

After a very leisurely long lunch (4+ hours!) we finished with some lovely family photo shots – it is great when you have friends who can take photos of the whole family 🙂

Saskia, Scott, Georgia and Jo

Saskia, Scott, Georgia and Jo

Emma. Ethan, Ava and Matt

Emma. Ethan, Ava and Matt

 

Sara, Oliver, Owen and Isabelle

Sara, Oliver, Owen and Isabelle

Then, it was back to Jo & Scott’s home to continue the party!  Lots of water fights, trampolining and running around screaming at the tops of their voices – well, that was the kids anyway!

For us adults, it was more fizz and bubbles!  A lovely Sunday with friends 🙂

Get ready for the water......

Get ready for the water……

It's coming......

It’s coming……

 

YEAH!  Drenched and soaked!  And.... repeat for many, many times!

YEAH! Drenched and soaked! And…. repeat for many, many times!

WOW - that was AWESOME!  Let's do it again.....

WOW – that was AWESOME! Let’s do it again…..

Round 105.......

Round 105…….

What a fantastic way to end the day :-)

What a fantastic way to end the day 🙂

 

Shanghai Sculpture Park

The Shanghai Sculpture Park is a wonderful day out, especially with a dog!  The Park opened in 2005 and is located in Sheshan area in West Shanghai.  It covers an area of 85+ hectares, surrounded by the Sheshan mountains with Lake Yuehu (Moon Lake) at the center.  It is a beautiful location with more than 70 sculptures located around the park.  They were truly magnificent and the park encourage you to touch them, sit on them and experience them!

On a lovely sunshine day, the whole family plus Tetley piled into the car for the 1 hour drive across to the other side of town.  We had prepared a picnic so that we could spend the day enjoying the sunshine.  John, Dan, Luke and their dog, Poppy, also joined us for the day.

Dan, Isabelle, Luke, Tetley and Oliver - climbing all over  1 of the sculpture displays.

Dan, Isabelle, Luke, Tetley and Oliver – climbing all over 1 of the sculpture displays.

2 of the beautiful sculptures by the lake

2 of the beautiful sculptures by the lake

These tall poles rotate around and catch the sunlight.

These tall poles rotate around and catch the sunlight.

This park is quite unique in China as you are allowed to have your dog off leash.  Tetley and Poppy both loved this and were racing around all day.  Poppy (being a Labrador) was in the water as soon as she saw it!  Tetley was so busy chasing her around that she was in soon after, much to her disgust!!

Clever rock formations - into a village of people.  The 2 in front are real!!

Clever rock formations – into a village of people. The 2 in front are real!!

I was amazed that not only are you allowed to climb and touch the exhibits, but it is encouraged!

I was amazed that not only are you allowed to climb and touch the exhibits, but it is encouraged!

The sculptures are made of all sorts of different materials and are of varied style and design.

The sculptures are made of all sorts of different materials and are of varied style and design.

Me and Isabelle trying to re-create the poses.

Me and Isabelle trying to re-create the poses.

Everyone enjoyed climbing all over this one!

Everyone enjoyed climbing all over this one!

The walk around the lake takes some time if you are doing it at a leisurely pace.  About half way around there is a man made beach (with people sculptures on the beach too!).  There is a small amusement park, several attractions for kids and places to eat and drink.

Tetley paddling at the man made beach.

Tetley paddling at the man made beach.

All of the kids - Luke, Oliver, Dan and Isabelle, sitting in a rock boat!

All of the kids – Luke, Oliver, Dan and Isabelle, sitting in a rock boat!

Oliver got quite wet here – thank goodness it was a hot and sunny day!

A tree house.  87 steps take you to the top where there are some gorgeous views.

A tree house. 87 steps take you to the top where there are some gorgeous views.  You can also see a water Zorb that is available to rent for fun on the lake.

One of the views from the top of the tree house.

One of the views from the top of the tree house.

Looking down into the water park from the top of the tree house.

Looking down into the water park from the top of the tree house.

One of the activities in this area of the park is a giant bouncy sculpture.  It is called the Fuma Fuma Dome and is a cross between an inflatable bouncy and a trampoline.  I had a go with the kids.  They loved it and spent considerable time running, bouncing and rolling around on this huge bouncy “thing”.

The Fuma Fuma Dome.

The Fuma Fuma Dome.

As you can see from the photos, this park is not crowded.  It was an absolute delight to discover this park that is well maintained, clean, quiet, fun and a great day out.

Isabelle riding on one of the attractions at the small fair at the back of the park.

Isabelle riding on one of the attractions at the small fair at the back of the park.

Here is Oliver - telling us all how he is controlling the plane going up and down!

Here is Oliver – telling us all how he is controlling the plane going up and down!

This reminded me of a Dr Suess character.

This reminded me of a Dr Suess character.

I liked this stone fish on the top of the water.

I liked this stone fish on the top of the water.

Almost all the way round the park at this point.  We were all tired, sweaty and hot!

Almost all the way round the park at this point. We were all tired, sweaty and hot!

I like the frame of the shade.  The

I like the frame of the shade. The main museum can be seen in the background.  There is a magnificent church on the top of the mountain .  (This is a rare sight in China!)

Even the toilets were lovely!  They were set in man made caves and the water comes down the stalactites!  (Normal too - no squats here!!!!)

Even the toilets were lovely! They were set in man made caves and the water comes down the stalactites! (Normal too – no squats here!!!!)

I can highly recommend this day out.

Sunday Brunches at Le Royal Meridian and Westin

 

We have had a couple of lovely Sunday Brunches out recently.  We had an extremely leisurely, drawn out, stuff-your-face-full, drink-lots-of-champagne, eat-too-much brunch at the Le Royal Meridian with our friends Earoel & Graham.  This brunch location has a fantastic children’s area set up with face painting, movies, balloon animals, clowns, a separate children’s buffet area and awesome desserts!

Isabelle's body art at brunch

Isabelle’s body art at brunch – Butterfly and Dolphin

Scorpion and web for Oliver

Scorpion (on his cheek) and Angry Bird for Oliver

There is a prominent pink theme at this location, pink chairs, pink table clothes, pink champagne and pink uniform on the Margherita Nurses!!  They have nurses who come around with big syringes filled with the Margherita mix.  Of course, Owen had to partake!!

"It had to be done!"

“It had to be done!”

The Pink Champagne lounge

The Pink Champagne lounge

"Check out this Champagne Tower, Mum"

“Check out this Champagne Tower, Mum”  “What happens if I pull this bottle out…..??”

The restaurant is located on the 3rd floor of the hotel and has a lovely terrace with great views across the city.  After our very long brunch where we made way too many rounds around the stations, we enjoyed the sunshine outside.

Oliver, Earoel and Isabelle

Oliver, Earoel and Isabelle

Sara & Owen enjoying the sunshine (while feeling rather stuffed!)

Sara & Owen enjoying the sunshine (while feeling rather stuffed!)

The food was very good: a great seafood station that was stacked high with sushi, lobster, crab and prawns.  The noodle station was one of the best I have seen and I enjoyed a delicious soup with lots of different herbs and fillings.  The carvery had plenty of lamb, chicken and pork.  The salad bar was one of the most varied I had seen and then the desserts were out of this world.  I went back for 4, yes 4, of the salted caramel chocolate mousse!

Another Sunday and another Brunch!  This time we were back at the Westin with our friends from Emerald.  Table for 25 please!  We all like the Westin because the entertainment there is first class.   They have opera singers, an orchestra, gymnastics display and face changing display.

The Emerald Girls: Jane, Marie, Sara, Suzanne, Emma and Jenny

The Emerald Girls: Jane, Marie, Sara, Suzanne, Emma and Jenny

Brien, Marie, Matt, Emma and Kevin

Brien, Marie, Matt, Emma and Kevin

The Emerald Minis: Seren, Isabelle, Lia, Siobhan, Ava and

The Emerald Minis: Seren, Isabelle, Lia, Siobhan, Ava and Amelie

The kids had so much fun with so many friends to play with after the food!  They all had balloon animals or swords made.  They loved the margarita machine that made non-alcoholic slushy drinks.

Playing on the balcony and pretending to be singers (after the Opera).

Playing on the balcony and pretending to be singers (after the Opera).

Oliver and Ethan

Oliver and Ethan with their slushies!

You caught us!

You caught us after we raided the Popcorn machine!

Fantastic Gymnastic Display

Fantastic Gymnastic Display

I love this photo of me and Owen.  The sunshine is streaming in through the windows and we are caught mid-laugh.

I love this photo of me and Owen. The sunshine is streaming in through the windows and we are caught mid-laugh.

The Sunday Brunch (especially the Champagne Brunches!!) are a strong part of Shanghai weekends.  It is not just for Ex-pats – many Chinese enjoy this too!

St Patrick’s Charity Ball

Saturday night was the St Patrick’s Day Ball at the Kerry Parkside Hotel.  This ball is supposed to be the event of the year, so we were very excited to get tickets. Our group of friends was split across 3 tables of 10.  It was certainly a busy night – there must have been over 1000 people there – all ex-pats of course!

Menu, champers and hat

Menu, champers and hat

The ballroom was packed full of tables  that were laden with glasses and goodies.

The decorated table

The decorated table

The tables all had opened (with no lids!) bottles of Baileys and Whiskey.  There were hats, feather boas and masks.  The glitter from the green hat got everywhere!  You can also see the “goody bags” on each chair.  These were filled with a strange mix of crisps/chips, umbrella, eco water bottle, flash drive, miniature bottle of Jamiesons, bottle of milk tea and a baseball hat.

Feather Boas, Mask and Glitter hat

Feather Boas, Mask and Glitter hat

Because this was a fancy ball with everyone dressing up, my friends and I all went to the fabric market to have dresses made.  I had seen a dress that I really liked – Jodie Foster wore it to an Award Ceremony in USA.  Here is her dress:

The Jodie Foster dress that I really liked and wanted copied!

The Jodie Foster dress that I really liked and wanted copied!

And, here is my fabulous copy:

The front

The front

and the back:

I love this dress!

I love this dress!

I was absolutely thrilled with the end result.  It fits like a glove, is a great copy and cost me about £60/$100!  This took a week to make.  It was the same people who had made Isabelle’s beautiful dress for the Daddy/Daughter ball.

All of the ladies looked lovely in their dresses.  All the men were very smart in their Dinner Jackets!

Owen's broken arm

Owen’s broken arm

As you can see from this photo, Owen could not get his jacket on due to the fact that his arm is in a cast.  He broke it last Wednesday.  Oliver and Owen were riding their bikes and Oliver got a little distracted – Owen went over the handle bars and BAM, CRASH, CRACK – 1 broken arm (bruised ribs and arms too).  He has been assured that in 4 weeks time it should be mended. 😦

We tried another photo later that evening:

I stood the other side this time.......

I stood the other side this time…….

It was a fun night with our friends.  There was plenty of entertainment – alot of it Irish, but some Chinese too.  Later in the evening, a band played so that everyone could dance.  The Chinese dancers were fantastic.

Chinese dancing

Dancers from Thailand

With acrobatics too.

With acrobatics too.

It was quite the mix of music and displays.

A traditional Irish band

A traditional Irish band

The St Patricks Ball is a charity event which meant that not only were the tickets very expensive, but we also got “persuaded” to buy some raffle tickets.  I would have liked to be the lucky winner as it was a fabulous trip to Ireland – all expenses paid!  We were not lucky that night……

As the tickets were so expensive, we were a little disappointed that some of the drinks ran out early in the evening.  However, I was impressed with the food – for mass catering it was a very good meal.

John & Jenny.  Jenny had just returned back to China on Saturday morning and was doing really well to stay awake!

John & Jenny. Jenny had just returned back to China on the Saturday morning and was doing really well to stay awake!

Marie & Tim

Marie & Tim

Jane & Kevin

Jane & Kevin

Jane & JC

Jane & JC

Brian & Suzanne

Brien & Suzanne

Katrina & David

Katrina & David

Oh, how I laughed.....

It is so nice to be with people who make me laugh until my sides hurt.  It really does make a difference to life 🙂

Right before the bell struck for us to turn into pumpkins

Fun & Giggles

It was a lovely night out.  I love an excuse to get dressed up!  We will not be going back next year, so it was nice to have it done it this year.

BISS Art in Action Auction

Year 3E Art.  The Queen's head is made up of photos of the entire class.  The 10p is a clever play on the theme of 10 for BISS's anniversary.

Year 3E Art. The Queen’s head is made up of photos of the entire class. The 10p is a clever play on the theme of 10 for BISS’s anniversary.

BISS is celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year.  BISS is also very proud of the impact that they provide to the local community in Shanghai.  Every year the school, parents, students and friends raise over £60,000 for several charities that are chosen each year.  This year, the 10th Anniversary event was in the aid of Shining Star.  It is very exciting to know that the Art in Action event last Friday evening raised an incredible 85,100RMB (approximately £8,500) for the selected charity, Shining Star.  Their Operations Manager has confirmed that this amount is enough to provide the operations required to restore a childs sight!

Back of the 10p

Back of the 10p

The back of the 10p had the entire class signature’s – students and teachers.  We also bid on Oliver’s class art work.  They had created bi-lingual glass jars with English numbers on 1 side and mandarin on the other.  We also won this although we will be sharing the glass jars with other parents of his class.

Oliver's class - Reception Alder Glass Jars

Oliver’s class – Reception Alder Glass Jars

During dinner there was a live bid.  The school had selected 10 pieces for this and Owen was very excited because there was 1 other piece that he really liked.  After a couple of to-ing and fro-ing across the room with the bids getting dangerously close to our upper limit, suddenly the others dropped out and Owen won.

Our other winning bid.  What do you see when you look at this?

Our winning bid during the live auction. What do you see when you look at this?

It was a lovely evening.

Sara and Owen

Sara and Owen

The art work was phenomenal.  There were several pieces that I really liked.  All the students are so talented and so creative.

A bid going on display at the live auction during dinner.

A bid going on display at the live auction during dinner.

This was my very favorite piece of art – I think it is a great representation of China and would spark memories for me years after our time here.  Obviously I was not the only person to think so as this piece generated a fierce bidding war!

We also bid on this piece which we both liked very much.  However, it went for way more than we could afford!

We also bid on this piece which we both liked very much. However, it went for way more than we could afford!

After the dinner, there was a fabulous band playing great music.  We danced into the wee hours!

Suzanne, Emma, Sara, Owen and John.  Towards the end of the evening!!

Suzanne, Emma, Sara, Owen and John. Towards the end of the evening!!

Harbin – Tigers, Snow and Ice Spectacular

We had a fabulous weekend in Harbin.  Friday January 18th, we collected the kids from school at noon ready to fly up to Harbin in the very north of China. In fact, any further north and we would have been in Russia!  Evidence of this can be seen in the town centre:

Chinese and Russian signs above the shops in Harbin.

Chinese and Russian signs above the shops in Harbin.

This was an “Emerald” weekend away as there would be 6 families staying in the same hotel and doing all the same site seeing!  We had travelled up with John, Jenny and their 2 boys: Daniel and Luke, and the others were arriving at different times during Friday and Saturday morning.  Once we had walked off the plane into the baggage claim area, we (along with every other person on the plane) immediately started to bundle up: ski gloves, scarves, additional layers.  It was cold, cold, cold!  We stepped out of the airport and felt the cold air on our faces.  It was only minus 27 degrees centigrade that night!  Luckily it was a short walk to the waiting car.  It was funny to see the inside of the car windows frost up during our 45 minute drive to the hotel.  Once we got to the hotel (Shangri-la – highly recommended in Harbin) it was time for dinner.  We dropped bags off and decided to eat in the hotel restaurant.  It was buffet style and the kids loved being able to help themselves.  We also met up with Marie and Tim and their 3 children: Cai, Lia and Seren.  They had arrived earlier this morning and had already done some sight-seeing.

We got up early on Saturday morning and began the long task of getting dressed. Layering up with thermals, long sleeves, 2 pairs of socks, sweaters and then ski coats.  Then add ski gloves and liners, hats, ear muffs, face warmers and scarves!!  Poor Isabelle and Oliver did not like wearing so many clothes and they weebled their way down the hotel corridor to the elevator!  They both look the Michelin Man!  We had arranged for a mini-bus to take us, John & Jenny + family and Tim & Marie + family to the Tiger breeding station first.

Tiger Breeding Organization

Tiger Breeding Organization

The Siberian Tiger Park covers an area of more than a million square meters (250 acres+) and it was set up as a place to breed and house Siberian tigers.  The Siberian tiger is the largest of the big cats.  The breeding program has been very successful, and there are now about 800 Siberian tigers (about 100 can be seen here) along with other large cats like lions and pumas.  This is amazing, since it is estimated that there are only about 500 Siberian tigers left in the wild.  Almost all of these wild ones are in Russia, and maybe 12 are in China.  The facility includes a museum, breeding areas, and cages/pens for the other large cats.  It is amazing to see a group of striped golden tigers walk and run together.   You can also have the option to buy some live animals to feed the tigers with:

Tiger Menu

Tiger Menu

We were full of good intentions to buy a chicken but by the time we had walked through to the bus, we had lost our opportunity.

All of the kids waiting to go into the Tiger Park.

All of the kids waiting to go into the Tiger Park.  Dan, Isabelle, Seren, Lia, Oliver, Cai and Luke.

Riding in the tiger cart

Riding in the tiger cart

Once we moved into through the gift shop, we got into the bus that would drive us through the large open areas filled with the tigers.  It was fantastic to be so close to these magnificent animals.  They are beautiful.

Beautiful White Siberian Tiger.  Quite Rare!

Beautiful White Siberian Tiger. Quite Rare!

So many tigers here......

So many tigers here……

This tiger has just fed on a chicken!

This tiger has just fed on a chicken!  You can even see a feather hanging down near its mouth!

At the tiger feeding area - there must have been between 30-40 here.

At the tiger feeding area – there must have been between 30-40 here.

Wow Mum, we saw a lot of tigers!

Wow Mum, we saw a lot of tigers!

Owen and Oliver getting eaten by a Tiger!!

Owen and Oliver getting eaten by a Tiger!!

After spending a good few hours here, our feet and our faces were starting to get numb.  The temperature was minus 35 degrees centigrade and you cannot stay out for too long!  We all got back into our lovely warm bus and drove back to the Hotel for lunch and to warm through!  After we were toastie again, it was back in the bus to check out the snow sculptures at Sun Island Park.

The Harbin Snow and Ice festival officially starts January 5th and usually lasts one month.  Ice sculpture decoration technology ranges from the modern (using lasers) to traditional (with ice lanterns).   Some of the most impressive ice sculptures are full size buildings made from blocks of 2–3 feet thick crystal clear ice directly taken from the Songhua River.

Sun Island Park Entrance

Sun Island Park Entrance

The first sculpture we saw was this one of the 7 dwarves.

The first sculpture we saw was this one of the 7 dwarves.

Snow sculpture

Snoopy Snow sculpture

more snow

Oliver and me by a beautiful sculpture.  This gives you an idea of the scale of a lot of the sculptures in this park.

Just the girls posing by the greenery at the Snow sculptures at the Sun Park.

Isabelle, Lia, me and Oliver posing by the greenery at the Snow sculptures at the Sun Island Park.

Getting ready for mass slide

Getting ready for mass slide

Slide executed!

Slide executed!

Isabelle and Oliver by a sculpture

Isabelle and Oliver by a sculpture

Ludwig Beethoven in Snow!

Ludwig van Beethoven in Snow!

More music in snow

More music in snow

Amazing sculptures here in China

Amazing sculptures here in China

Snow egg

Snow egg

The sculptures are absolutely amazing.  Many of them are huge – towering above us.  They are all intricately carved with exquisite detail.  There was even a building with a slide.  We all rode down this on a rubber ring – it was thrilling!

Waiting to ride the slide

Waiting to ride the slide

Harbin - Snow and Ice Capital!

Harbin – Snow and Ice Capital!

The detail is amazing.

The detail is amazing.

I loved this simple design.

I loved this simple design.

More detail.......

More detail…….

Almost the same.  Minor changes in these heads make you look twice!

Almost the same. Minor changes in these heads make you look twice!

Cinderella shall go to the ball.

Cinderella shall go to the ball.  I laughed at the fact that Cinderella and Prince Charming cannot possibly get into this carriage!  Still a fabulous sculpture though!

Another wonderful sculpture

Another wonderful sculpture

Solider shooting in snow.

Solider shooting in snow.

The magic flute

The magic flute

We spent all afternoon here and as the sun began to set, the light was amazing and the photos that we took later in the day were spectacular.

Such wonderful detail

Such wonderful detail

And then the evening lights came on too!

And then the evening lights came on too!

Back to the beginning, this time this is all lit up.

Back to the beginning, this time this is all lit up.

We had been overwhelmed enough for 1 day!  Tigers and snow sculptures and we had been outside for most of it.  Our feet were cold and it was time for dinner.  All the other families from Emerald had arrived earlier in the day so we were looking forward to a lovely meal with everyone!

We had booked several tables at the back of the restaurant in the hotel.  All the boys gravitated towards one, while the girls took another and that left all the adults to enjoy an evening together at the main table!  🙂

The boys at Dinner

The boys at Dinner – Ethan, Oliver, Luke, Cai, Daniel and Harry (Joseph is missing from the boys table).

The Girls table - Maddie, Lia, Isabelle and Ava.  Seren and Amelie are missing from this photo.

The Girls table – Maddie, Lia, Isabelle and Ava. Seren and Amelie are missing from this photo.  Isabelle is getting quite good with chopsticks!

A selection of the adults"

A selection of the adults: Nick, Owen, Marie, Lin, Tim, Kevin, Jenny and Emma

Obviously towards the end of the evening......Kevin, Jenny, Emma, John and Jane

Obviously towards the end of the evening……Kevin, Jenny, Emma, John and Jane

Oliver, Seren and Ethan

Oliver, Seren and Ethan.  Oliver and Ethan both love Seren and she knows exactly how to make this work to her advantage!  All 3 play so well together and they are wonderful to watch.  They had a great weekend!

girls

Isabelle, Ava, Maddie, Lia and Amelie chilling out after dinner!

We had another early morning on Sunday so that we could go down to the Songhua River.  We wanted to walk on water!!  The kids laughed at this!

The ice sculpted entrance to the river slides.

The ice sculpted entrance to the river slides.

The view from the top.  So many activities on the river.

The view from the top. So many activities on the frozen river.

Time to slide down to the River so we can ride in a tank!

Time to slide down to the River so we can ride in a tank!

And down we all went......

And down we all went……

Time for a ride in the Tank!

Time for a ride in the Tank!

Owen and Isabelle on the left, with Oliver and me to the right.  This was HUGE FUN!!!!!

Owen and Isabelle on the left, with Oliver and me to the right. This was HUGE FUN!!!!!  Of course, with Owen’s Army background he drove it perfectly.  I had to be rescued off the center divides several times!!!!!

Isabelle cheering a perfect round!

Isabelle cheering a perfect round!

Oliver and I cheering the fact that it was a straight run!

Oliver and I cheering the fact that it was a straight run!

So. Much. Fun.

So. Much. Fun.

The ice is so clear.  It is taken from the river and carved into wonderful sculptures.  This block is almost 2 feet thick.  You can clearly see my victory salute through the this.

The ice is so clear. It is taken from the river and carved into wonderful sculptures. This block is almost 2 feet thick. You can clearly see my victory salute through this.

We spent hours on this slide.

We spent hours on this slide.  The only downside was pulling the tires back up to the top each time!  Eventually Isabelle had been down enough times with Owen or John, that she decided she was brave enough to do it herself.  There was no stopping her then.

Oliver posing!

Oliver posing!  So many layers on him!

Fruit on a stick

After all the fun on the river, it was time to warm up before going to the Ice Festival.  We saw this fruit on a stick display and the kids immediately wanted to try one.

Oliver's choice was huge.  He ate it all!!

Oliver’s choice was huge. He ate it all!!

Just cherries for Isabelle.

Just cherries for Isabelle.

Tourist attractions again in Harbin.  They are getting used to all the photos that the locals want to take of them!

Tourist attractions again in Harbin. They are getting used to all the photos that the locals want to take of them!

We had found a Costa coffee shop and warmed up with coffee and hot chocolate.  After that, we needed to get from downtown to the Ice Festival and so jumped in a couple of taxis.  This was a very interesting experience as Owen watched our driver signing the driver of the other taxi (where John, Jenny, Luke and Daniel were) and then both taxis pulled over into a side road.  The drivers were trying to negotiate an exorbitant fee to take us.  Thank goodness for iPhone’s with maps as John saw that our hotel was right around the corner so we just got out the taxis and started walking.  A little bit scary and I was sad that we were targetted for a rip off (especially with young children with us).  Once back at the hotel, we (hotel concierge!) negotiated taxis to take us to the Ice Festival at Zhaolin Park and then wait to bring us back to the hotel when we were done!  A much better solution.

Ice Time!

Ice Time!

We took so many photos of the fantastic ice sculptures.  It is amazing what is built and how beautifully lit up they all are.  This was truly a fantastic experience.

We took so many photos of the fantastic ice sculptures. It is amazing what is built and how beautifully lit up they all are. This was truly a fantastic experience.

We tried the Harbin beer!  A little too much like Bud Lite for us!

We tried the Harbin beer! A little too much like Bud Lite for us!

Ice, ice and more ice.

Ice, ice and more ice.

A lot of the buildings had ice slides incorporated into them.  Everyone enjoyed these - "big kids" and little kids!

A lot of the buildings had ice slides incorporated into them. Everyone enjoyed these – “big kids” and little kids!

A mass tumble down this slide!

A mass tumble down this slide!

More slides

Oliver trying different moves down the slides

Some of the ice buildings are HUGE.

Some of the ice buildings are HUGE.

Lots of different themes this year.

Lots of different themes this year.

...

Quite the view from the top of this one.

A slightly different angle.

A slightly different angle.

More ice

You can just see the top of Oliver’s hat on this slide.  The kids had sooooo much fun here.  We stayed until quite late and they had not even started moaning about being cold!  It was us adults that had had enough of the cold for one day!

The Temperate reads

The Temperate reads minus 26 degrees centigrade

People

Harbin is a very popular destination in January and February.  Even so, it does not feel too crowded as you walk around.

Spectacular architecture surrounded us.

Spectacular architecture surrounded us.

There was a ski lift and ski slope at the back of the park.  There was also some cool rides down.  What I especially liked here is that this slope was just for children 16 and under.  There was a slightly steeper slope for the adults.

There was a ski lift and ski slope at the back of the park. There were also some cool rides down. What I especially liked here is that this slope was just for children 16 and under. There was a slightly steeper slope for the adults.  You can just see me escorting Isabelle and Oliver up (dragging their tyres to sit in).  I then had to run down as I was too old to ride!!!

Not just ice sculptures, some snow ones too!

Not just ice sculptures, some snow ones too!

Even the transportation around the park was lit up!

Even the transportation around the park was lit up!

Owen and John inside an Ice Bar.

Owen and John propping up an Ice Bar.

Movie entertainment inside the park.

Movie entertainment inside the park.

The kids liked the detail of the Ice Age animals.

The kids liked the detail of the Ice Age animals.  Oliver immediately named Diego, Manny and Sid!

More Ice

More Ice

And more ice.....

And more ice…..

And even more ice

And even more ice (with some snow!)

Isabelle and Oliver playing peek-a-boo at the Angry Birds sculpture.

Isabelle and Oliver playing peek-a-boo at the Angry Birds sculpture.

I had to join in too!

I had to join in too!

Restaurants and bars were made out of ice too.

The Angry Birds sculpture.

Restaurants and bars made out of Ice.

The Angry Birds catapult!  This was a very clever sculpture.  There were people dressed up as the birds putting on a show every 15 minutes.

The lights in all the sculptures are very cool.

The lights in all the sculptures are very cool.

Lots of very cool lights

Lots of very cool lights in very cool sculptures

Amazing

Amazing…….

It was all so wonderful.  So much effort for such spectacular results that last such a short time.

It was all so wonderful. So much effort for such spectacular results that last such a short time.

The scale of the layout

The scale of everything was over-whelming.

Me and my little chicks....

Me and my little chicks….

John playing with Oliver in the Ice Bar

John playing with Oliver in the Ice Bar.  Oliver won that arm wrestle!

Family Jones - proof that we were there!

Family Jones – proof that we were there!  Only if you can tell who those people are underneath all the layers!

We safely returned to the hotel (not to be under-estimated, given our earlier experience with the taxi ride!)  It was hot chocolate all round before we all crashed into our beds.  An exhausting day with so much walking and the biting cold.  I definitely could not live in this climate!  We had decided to get up early again to take advantage of a couple more hours on the frozen river.  Our flight back to Shanghai was early afternoon on Monday January 21st and we wanted to make the most of our final hours.  Isabelle and Oliver both wanted to ride in the tanks again, do the tyre slide down a few more times and try out the ice bumper cars:

Bumper cars on ice!

Bumper cars on ice!  Isabelle and Owen having fun.

This was a fantastic, fabulous, wonderful weekend.  It would not have been on our “must see” list if it were not for Jane Steele, lovely Emerald friend.  She organised all the families, researched transportation, hotels, things to do and gave us the inspiration to go!  If you come to China in the Winter, Harbin should not be missed!

Party time – Emerald style…..

I have been travelling so much in 2013 and now I am trying to catch up on posts.  We have also had some issues with our internet access (it is the season of changing Party officials, after all!!)

The lead up to Christmas was full of festivity and there were lots of events that Owen and I were invited to.  Jane and JC hosted a Stars and Stockings Party which was huge fun.

Stockings and Stars!

Stockings and Stars!  Most of the girls showing off their stockings.  I just wore Star earrings!!

Some of the Boys

Some of the Boys

Thanks to plenty of champagne and some great music (Jane and JC's 14 year old son was DJ!) there was plenty of dancing.  And dancing in 80's style!

Thanks to plenty of champagne and some great music (Jane and JC’s 14 year old son was DJ!) there was plenty of dancing. And dancing in 80’s style!

And, remember this one?

And, remember this one?

It was a fantastic evening.  Not only was Jane and JC’s son the DJ, but he also tended bar for us all – mixing perfect cocktails dressed in a tux!  I am sure we all gave him some good stories for his friends!!

The party that kicked off the Christmas season celebrations!

The party that kicked off the Christmas season celebrations!

More Christmas parties the following weekend: friends from work on Saturday night and then Sunday was open house at Jane and Kevin’s house.  She had over 12 children all doing arts and crafts – decorating cookies, making Christmas tree ornaments and colouring.  It was loud and noisy with so many kids having so much fun.  It was a lovely relaxing Sunday afternoon catching up with friends, discussing Christmas plans, sipping mulled wine, eating mince pies and other traditional goodies.

Open House at Jane and Kevin's

Open House at Jane and Kevin’s

Shanghai Christmas

What a wonderful Christmas in Shanghai. We are so fortunate to have a large “family” of Ex-pats here who host so many wonderful events and look out for each other. The season started with a “Stars and Stockings” party at Jane’s house.  A fabulous night of laughter, 80’s dancing, great food and booze.

The next day, Isabelle and Oliver were at the Shanghai Expat Association’s Christmas Party at the 4 Seasons in Downtown Shanghai.  Even Santa came to visit them there! Kids from all nationalities from all over Shanghai were enjoying the festivities – so many crafts that the kids did not get through them all.  They came home laden with home made Christmas tree ornaments, gingerbread houses and presents from Santa.

Santa and Isabelle

Santa and Isabelle

IMG_8546

Santa and Oliver

On Christmas Eve, we were all at Marie and Tim’s house – with the same lovely group of people that we would be enjoying the rest of Christmas with.  This was a lovely relaxed affair and we were home by 7:30 pm ready to continue exciting the kids about an imminent visit!

Christmas Eve with Oliver

Christmas Eve with Oliver

Our Christmas Tree - ready with presents.

Our Christmas Tree – ready with presents.

Christmas morning the children woke up at 6:30am. We could hear squeals of excitement and giggles as they opened their stockings together.  They managed to contain themselves until 7:30 and then came in to “wake” us up.  We had a wonderful relaxing morning opening presents, playing with toys and enjoying a leisurely breakfast.

What could these possibly be??

What could these possibly be??

Just what we wanted!!

Just what we wanted!!

At 12.45 we walked around the corner to Lin and Nick’s house as they were hosting Christmas Dinner.  Nick works for Intercontinental Hotel group and they were catering it, so no-one had the burden of preparing the meal.  The staff had completely taken over the kitchen (using the garage as a staging area) and had even set up a bar!

Half of us at the table (bar is in the background).

Half of us at the table (bar is in the background).

We were 5 families in 1 house – 22 of us, including all the kids.  We had a fabulous meal – 5 hours at the table, laughing all the time.  The kids managed about 45 minutes of eating before they were all off playing together.  Again, it was so relaxing – no cooking or clearing up to worry about.  When you are so far from home with no family around, this could not have been a better celebration.

Daniel, Cai, Harry, Oliver and Luke.

Daniel, Cai, Harry, Oliver and Luke.

Lia, Isabelle, Amelie, Maddie and Seren

Lia, Isabelle, Amelie, Maddie and Seren

A choice of desserts.  The mini Christmas puddings were delightful!

A choice of desserts. The mini Christmas puddings were delightful!

What a wonderful group of friends to celebrate Christmas Day with.

What a wonderful group of friends to celebrate Christmas Day with.

After a brief 90 minute re-charge back at home, we were off to more friends – Suzanne and Brian’s, for the evening.  Another fantastic get together.

Boxing Day, and it was our turn to host.  The morning was a flurry of activity; cooking sausage rolls, legs of lamb and preparing for 30 people at our house at 3:00pm.  Our wonderful Ayi, Angela, was a huge help and stayed through the afternoon to help with the kids.  We had set up a craft activity area for them downstairs and some other friends had brought their Wii system for the older children to play upstairs.  While they were occupied we played our traditional Boxing Day “Dirty Santa” game.  Absolutely hilarious to see the tacky, gaudy gifts that people had found for less than 50RMB (£5/$7)!!  It was the perfect wind-down from a very hectic Christmas and we were cleared up before 10:00pm.

Jane winning Michael Fish fridge magnets in our Annual "Dirty Santa" game.

Jane opening Michael Fish fridge magnets in our annual “Dirty Santa” game!

All in all, for a very different Christmas, it was perfect.

Owen's fabulous Christmas Cake

Owen’s fabulous Christmas Cake.  Beautifully fed over the last 2 years and then beautifully decorated.  Better than any “professional” cake!!  It was YUMMY!

We decorated the house

Our house all decorated for Christmas.

A Shang-high and Shang-low week or Juggling Act Part 2

Last week, Owen was in the UK for the week.  I took Thursday and Friday off so that I could focus on the kids (plus all the Christmas activities that were taking place or needed to be done).  I am so fortunate that the Ex-pat community is so supportive of one another.  My friends here all know that I work (sometimes long hours) and I had many emails offering to look after the kids, feed us or cover school bus drop off and pick up.  It is such a relief to know that I am not alone when Owen has to travel back to the UK for his pain relief medication.  In fact, I was over whelmed with the emails that came pouring in.  I am not alone here. Neither is Owen.    This is truly a community that cares about one another.

So, the Shanghai-high part of the week was the support that I received.  The Shang-low part of the week was the juggling act…..

I feel guilty calling upon my friends to help.  I know that they really want to help and that they do not think anything of it.  But, I still cannot help feeling guilty.  In my head, I am trying to work out when I can repay.  And, I know that they don’t want repaying!  It is part of the Ex-pat life to support one another and I am trying really hard to be a part of that.  It is so difficult to release some of the independence and “I can do it” mentality.  Work is especially difficult at the moment as we approach year end with lots of changes for 2013.  I am feeling under pressure all round.  It is a constant juggling act between home and work – the experts are right – you really cannot have it all 😦