From silk to terracottaComment on this story
London - The magic carpet spins on the marble floor before coming to a stop, the pastel hues of the silk suddenly transformed into vibrant reds, deep blues, and rich greens.
I'm in a silk market in the Chinese city of Shanghai, learning about the work that goes into producing a carpet like this: from gathering the fibres from mulberry-munching silkworms to weaving it into magnificent works of art.
Of course, there is no actual 'magic' at work here: the change in colour is simply due to the way the light hits the carpet's pile.
But while I may not have a magic carpet at my disposal I am at the beginning of an unforgettable journey of this fascinating land.
We had been met at the airport by Dennis, our witty Travel Department guide who would stay with us throughout our multi-centre trip. As well as knowing pretty much everything about China's history and geography, Dennis also impressed our group of Northern Irish and Scottish holidaymakers with his knowledge of British and Irish culture and literature, (I couldn't decide if I was more impressed by his Oscar Wilde quotations or his Gay Byrne impression).
Shortly after touchdown we swapped the high speed of our jumbo jet for that of the world's fastest train - the Maglev - which zipped us into downtown Shanghai at 431 kms.
We soon reached our destination: the 468 metre high Oriental Pearl TV Tower which was featured in Mission Impossible III starring Tom Cruise.
Daredevil Cruise bungee jumped from the skyscrapers in this Pudong Park district, but our stomach churning experience came courtesy of the 360 degree glass floor platform, a wrap-around sightseeing deck 90 metres above the ground - not for the fainthearted.
That evening, after we'd checked into our five star hotel, it was time for a cruise with a small 'c' - on a riverboat along the Huangpu River,a tributary of the mighty Yangtze. The river attracts countless tourists, keen to take an evening stroll along the Bund (the beautiful waterfront area) or view the illuminated city skyline from one of the many boats.
There is so much to see in Shanghai - the Shanghai Museum has a huge collection of ancient Chinese sculpture, ceramics, jades, calligraphy, and paintings, while there are a wealth of markets for bargain hunters.
We also visited Chinatown - yes, even in China! Our destination was the tranquil Yu Garden, a classical Chinese garden with Ming Dynasty pavilions, rockeries, bridges and ponds.
The next day we admired more from that period after taking the short flight from Shanghai to Xian, one of the four great ancient capitals of China with over 3,100 years of history.
Xian's ancient walls also date from the Ming Dynasty and are the best preserved in the world.
They offer the perfect vantage point from which to survey this fascinating city and there are also bicycles for hire, taking around three hours to cycle the complete circuit.
The crenellated wall and its pavilions are illuminated every night - an incredible sight we were lucky enough to see from our hotel room.
Xian had so much to offer: the spectacle of the Tang Dynasty Music and Dance show is not to be missed, while another of my favourite trips was to an art gallery where we bargained for beautiful artwork and had a lesson in writing Chinese characters.
One day we travelled deep into the Shaanxi countryside, visiting a village school where the pupils serenaded us.
A local dairy farmer hosted us for lunch, gave us a tour of his farm and showed us underground caves where he and his family lived until just a few years ago.
Most tourists who make their way to Xian however come to see the life-size terracotta warriors and we were no different.
This would be a major highlight.
The collection depicts the armies of the first Emperor of China, and was buried with him in 210 BC, remaining hidden until 1974 when they were discovered by a farmer sinking a well.
Walking among the statues is forbidden unless you are a VIP - but there are plenty of replicas to pose beside for souvenir photos which we made sure to do.
All too soon it was time to leave Xian and fly to Beijing, but I knew the wonder of the terracotta army would stay with me for ever.
This 'magic carpet' ride was proving wonderful indeed. -