Seasons Greetings

It is January 15th, as I type this and still there are Christmas trees up, so I am not completely mad by wishing you seasons greetings.

Term ended on Friday 9th December and with UCAS applications all submitted it was time to look to someone’s 8th birthday and see family, friends and ex-students. As soon as Eleanor finished school we got a car to take us to a hotel ready for our Disney adventure the next day.  We hadn’t told Eleanor we were going, but woke up nice and early the next morning to get the metro. We arrived just after 9am, and the queues to get in were miniscule. The following I have taken from Wikipedia…

“Upon the company’s promise that the Shanghai resort would be “authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese”, Chinese architects and designers and teams of researchers were hired to find ways to incorporate Chinese cultural elements.[19] Many usual Disney park features have been redesigned or are absent from Shanghai Disneyland Park to cater for Chinese visitors’ penchants. The park does not feature a steam railroad surrounding the park’s perimeter nor does it have an earthen berm to obscure the outside world from guest view. As a replacement for a central spoked-hub, the center of the park features a 4.5-hectare (11-acre) collection of Chinese zodiac gardens called the Gardens of Imagination.[20] Main Street U.S.A. has given way to Mickey Avenue that introduces Chinese visitors to classic Disney characters.[19] Conventional-themed lands such as Adventureland are reimagined into Adventure Isle, whereas other lands, such as Frontierland, are omitted entirely.[21] Several staple attractions, such as Space MountainJungle Cruise, and It’s a Small World, are excluded as Disney wanted to avoid criticism of cultural imperialism.[22] Restaurants seating has been revised upwards after studies found that Chinese guests take longer over meals and extensive picnic areas better adapted to extended families with grandparents; there is more live entertainment as many Chinese patrons prefer these to thrill rides.”

As someone who HATES the music for “It’s A Small World”, I was delighted not to be subjected to this ride. There is still a boat ride that takes in small moving displays of some of the favourite Disney characters with exerts of music before entering the underneath of the Castle.

Tron is the main thrill ride which is amazing. An inside rollercoaster in the dark has the feeling of Space Mountain, but you aren’t upright. You are riding a “motorbike”. There are two queues for this ride – one for the lockers and one for the ride. In Adventure Isle Pirates of the Caribbean is phenomenal. The sound and lighting effects are astounding. The film is really brought to life on this ride – though “Yo Ho Ho” in sung in Chinese.  Queuing wasn’t too bad. We have queued for the same amount of time in both Florida and in Paris. On this visit we didn’t do any of the characters or parades, that is on the list for next time.  We watched the finale light show from the entrance so that we could make a quick getaway on the metro. Confession time – we didn’t actually watch it all. We saw no one urinating/defecating/picking flowers/spitting as had been said there would be and thoroughly enjoyed our time. It felt like Disney, and it felt as if we weren’t in China despite the fact that as “Westerners” we were in the minority.

The next day we flew to the UK and on Monday we went to Harry Potter Studios for Eleanor’s 8th birthday (just 6 days early). If you let them know you are celebrating a birthday, you get a badge, and when you enter into the 1st room, make sure you go through the door on the left. (That is what we were told!) As this was Eleanor’s birthday treat she was also eligible to open the door into the Great Hall.

Whilst there we also met up with friends from school who teach with us. They bought the Butterbeer, we tasted it. For anyone who has watched the films, the tour gives the films an extra dimension.  We had watched them prior to going, but we have also revisited some of the films since visiting, and all of us have commented on things we saw during the studio tour.

Martin and Eleanor then went to Westfield and the cinema on the Tuesday, while I went to Shrewsbury. We were staying in the Hackney (London) area at my friend’s house, so Westfield for them wasn’t too bad.  I on the other hand, aided by jetlag, left the house at 5am to get a 6am train from Euston to Shrewsbury. I wouldn’t be returning until 11pm. WHY??? I have three very dear friends scattered all over the country and Shrewsbury seemed to be a central (ish) place to meet. However, if you leave London at peak time, then you have to be prepared to pay 170+ GBP. I love my friends dearly – but not that much. So I left super early and got back late (thank goodness for alarm clocks on phones otherwise I am not sure I would have got on/off trains at the right time) all for the sum of approximately 25 GBP. In China it doesn’t matter when you travel or when you get your tickets the price is still the same.  I know I have made the point before but UK rail travel is expensive and not accessible for all. Even when we met our ex-students in London the next day they all complained about the “public” transport costs.

The Mecure Hotel outside Shrewsbury was very hospitable for they served us tea on tap, lunch and a scrumptious afternoon tea, whilst letting us take over their sofa area in the bar for well over 7 hours. It was not busy. It is true what they say, if you are true friends, it doesn’t matter the distance or the fact that we don’t talk to each other often, but we can just pick up and talk for hours. I hope that Eleanor sees that friendships can last despite the distance. We proved that when we had a trampolining party for her birthday in Yeovil with friends from Leweston and friends that originally orginated from NCT classes. (National Childbirth Trust)

Our time in London was also spent with meeting up with ex-students which resulted in a maths lesson in a cafe. Enough said. The “guru” that is Martin was in his element. But all joking aside, it was lovely to see 4 of our students in London, and 1 in Bath doing so well.

Then it was down to Castle Cary in a lovely brand new Ford C-Max courtesy of Hertz. The highlight of our time in the South West, was of course Eleanor turning 8, but we packed in a Cider and Carols night at the pub, a party for Eleanor and a trip to Longleat.

The elephants are actually made up of thousands of small china teacups.

IMG_9861.JPGThe lanterns at the Festival of Light celebrated Longleat’s 50th anniversary as well as the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter.

Having been with our fantastic and generous friends in the southwest, we started to make our way north to Stoke on Trent, where thanks to Eleanor’s friend from Suzhou, Poppy and her parents and brother, we discovered that Trentham Gardens is more than a shopping area. The parkland there is beautiful. We also spent the next couple of days  with Martin’s family catching up and relaxing before going to Belfast.

We spent 6 days in Northern Ireland, the longest time to spend in one place this Christmas, we saw more family, ate copious amounts of Turkey (thanks Mum and Dad), bought another suitcase and went to the Pantomine at the Grand Opera House in Belfast on Boxing Day. This is most definitely a family tradition, though not one that my parents follow on their own(!) Only with me…Eleanor is now the excuse we use to go and see it.

We then headed to Germany to see Martin’s older sister and her family. Eleanor had some great chilling time with her older cousins whilst Martin, Sarah and I went exploring the Mosel valley and drinking Glühwein. img_6913

New Year’s Eve we returned to China and 3 days later, 2 of us returned to school, whilst one of us had another week off.

This year Chinese New Year is early and so having just come back, we are off again in 6 days…