Yesterday was a really tiring day, so everyone was ready for a laid-back, relaxing journey to Wuhan, our next stop. For the remainder of the week, we will have three single nights in different cities before we finally board a boat for our cruise in the Yangtze River. Not being fans of one-night stands (as in, hotel nights!) we repacked our suitcases to ensure the absolute minimum unpacking each night. It took an hour or so, but we reckon it was time well spent.
Some of our group took the opportunity to have massages to relieve the aches from yesterday, but we decided to just take an easy stroll across the river. We had a late check out followed by lunch in the restaurant, after which Ting Ting escorted us to the Huangshan Railway Station to catch a high speed train to Wuhan. She warned us that it could take an hour to get there instead of the usual 30 minutes, again because of holiday traffic, but in the end it was only a 20 minute drive.
Ting Ting gave us our tickets and some instructions on how to enter the station through security, said goodbye and sent us on our way! It may have been more helpful if she had escorted us all the way to the platform waiting area, but perhaps she was not allowed through security if she was not travelling. It didn’t really matter, as between us we managed to work out the necessary procedures. By the time we were settled down, we only had nearly three hours to wait for our train! Perhaps the day is getting a bit too relaxed for some!
The station is new, spacious and very well organised. There are numerous shops, a bit like an airport, and even a McDonalds. Sadly, they don’t seem to have heard of McCafe yet, so no latte for Ray! The time actually passed quite quickly and soon we were through the boarding gate, down to the platform and on the train. Our group is spread across two carriages but, considering how recently this part of the trip was rescheduled from a river cruise to a land journey, and in the holiday season to boot, the fact that we were seated so close together was something of a minor miracle.
We are now about 40 minutes from Wuhan and this has been a very enjoyable trip. For the first leg, the train travelled backwards and we were afraid we would be in reverse for the whole journey. Fortunately, after the first stop, the train must have switched lines and we have been travelling forwards ever since. The fastest displayed speed we have seen was 234 kph and the train has typically been travelling around 200 kph, but it has been an extremely smooth journey. This is not a bad way to travel. We should arrive at Wuhan in around 30 minutes, so this entry will be finished after we get to the hotel later tonight.
Arriving in Wuhan, our little party of 16 managed to negotiate the big crowd and link up with our guide, Frank, as we exited the station. On the drive to the hotel, Frank informed us that he will escort us for the next few days, until we reach Yichang, where we will (finally) board our river boat. Frank provided a brief summary of Wuhan, a city of a mere 13 million, and of its strategic importance not only in modern China, but through more than 3000 years of history. Along the way, we had our first view of the Yangtze River as we crossed over the number 2 bridge. It is very impressive and it is also obvious why it has the ancient nickname of the Riverside City.
This part of the tour is showing signs of the haste with which it was reorganised, following the cancellation of part of the river cruise. The revised itinerary suggested we would be getting a morning train, as we had a visit to Jiquing Street, a ‘walking’ shopping street, scheduled after arrival. However, there is only one high speed train per day between Huangshan and Wuhan - the late afternoon train we caught - and our late arrival meant that no one was interested in a shop stop. As a result, we went straight to the hotel, which is the extremely impressive Howard Johnson Pearl Plaza, located on the banks of the Yangtze River.
We dropped our bags in the room, which was on the 14th floor, and admired the awesome views of the river below and the surrounding, brightly lit skyscrapers, before joining a few of our group in the bar on the 39th floor. The views were just as spectacular, but the bar service was treacle-slow! After much sign language, finger pointing at the bilingual drinks menu, and being gazumped by locals, we finally got our drinks. We were not game to repeat the experience, so made one drink last and headed off to bed.
Tomorrow, we have another 3-4 hour coach trip to Yueyang, although it may end up being longer as we are still in the peak holiday season. We considered getting up early tomorrow to take a walk by the river, but have decided to maximise our rest as we have an 8:30 am departure - so sleep it is!