We booked this trip through a travel company that offers both structured and unstructured days so that travelers can fashion their trips in the manner they feel most appropriate. I went ahead and signed up for all of the optional activities, sacrificing most of our free time in the process, because I wasn't confident about my ability to deal with the significant language difference, as well as navigating buses and trains on our own. (All the travel books I referenced warned that the bus system in China is difficult to master, and rather unreliable to boot.) We do still have some free time in our agenda, which I'm looking forward to using to get out on our own, walk about, and meet some of the local citizens. My daughter assures me that since we will stick out like sore thumbs in China, we will draw a steady crowd of people interested in seeing how our visit is going, or who may simply want to practice their English on us. I'm hoping she's right, because having exchanges with the local residents, even if limited due to language barriers, is one of the aspects of travel I enjoy the most.
Photos and a trip report when we return in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, feel free to poke around the website of the travel company we're using, Gate 1 Travel via Virgin Vacations, to see if anything looks appealing. But consider yourself forewarned . . . poking around after booking our China trip is precisely how we ended up booking our next trip . . . more on that one a bit later.