Day 254, Sat 19th Oct
A day spent traveling from Sydney to Shanghai. Caught the Maglev (train on magnetic rails) from the station in Shanghai (another way round the world!) & it took just 8 minutes due to 301km/ hr! V impressive…Nice 10 hour flight to Sydney, where I managed to read a very good, completely random bookswap, Jo Nesbo thriller for the entire journey. Got to Shanghai – fortunately managed to talk the Chinese passport officers into not stamping one of my rapidly dwindling unstamped passport pages, whilst only knowing a single word of Mandarin – before catching our first ever MagLev train; very cool. Arrived at our lovely (and cheap) hostel, after a slight getting lost detour, and tried out the rooftop bar; it would have been rude not to…
Day 255, Sun 20th Oct
A day spent sightseeing – the old buildings on the Bund facing the new skyscrapers in Pudong. The sight was impressive but nothing special in my opinion.
The Bund was a nice walk and I enjoyed seeing the skyscrapers across the river – we had to wonder if the idea for the Pearl Tower came from an Ann Summers store… Most of the older buildings on the Bund are very European in style.
Had a huge meal in the restaurant across the street – it is nice to go out to eat again after all that home cooking in Australia!
Day 256, Mon 21st Oct
A day trip to Suzhou – the Venice of the east. V pleased with ourselves as we sorted out our own train tickets & headed out there without recourse to any travel agents, etc. I’m not sure it lived up to the reputation but it was very beautiful & we had a lovely day ambling around there. We were hoping to cap it off with a boat trip around the town walls at night, but there weren’t doing it on the low season.
Suzhou was touristy, but stunning, lots of beautiful gardens to wander around, and walks along the canal flanked by cafes and restaurant stalls. Met some Chilenos on the way so had a bit of Spanish practice too!
It was a shame we didn’t get to do the boat, but we got some nice pictures of the river at least, and it was good to see some of the locals practising their Tai Chi to music – at least that is what I think they were doing, perhaps it was some kind of dance practice…
(looked like Whigfield to me…. “Saturday night, da da da da de da da da, ooh baby…”)
Day 257, Tue 22nd Oct
A chilled day on my birthday visiting the French concession before catching the overnight sleeper to Beijing. I’m not sure we really got to see the best of the French concession, but it was a nice amble. Lovely to receive all the birthday felicitations now I reached the grand old age of 45… is that middle aged now..?!
I am feeling terribly guilty about us being in a shared train sleeper compartment for Keir’s birthday, he did say he didn’t mind, but I would have! French concession was ok, not sure we really saw the bits that we should have seen, but we found some nice little cafes and boutique stores – a bit like the back lanes at High Street Ken.
Day 258, Wed 23rd Oct
The overnight soft sleeper wasn’t too bad… so good in fact that I had to wake sleeping beauty (Tracey) up as we approached Beijing. Dropped the gear off at the hostel & straight out to see the Temple of Heaven Park – cool introduction to Chinese architecture – Pagodas, etc.
Blissful 12 hours of sleep on the soft (it wasn’t) sleeper, sharing with a very sweet Chinese mother and daughter who did not speak a word of English – we had fun trying to communicate with the book for a bit, but eventually resorted to smiling and nodding – before arriving in Beijing at about 7am. A bit of a mix up (caused by me as it turned out) meant that we had to stay all 3 nights in Beijing in different places, not great, but this hostel, Springtime, is one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in – more like a hotel!
(Hilarious, Rod & Tracey had been conversing for a couple of weeks at least about different months! It was only the day before we arrived that they realised & a quick bit of re-organisation ensued on both fronts )
Temple of Heaven Park was interesting, probably took too many pictures though
Day 259, Thu 24th Oct
We spent a fantastic day at the Emperor’s Summer Palace; the original Disney fun park! The dowager Empress Cixi apparently spent the entire Naval budget on upgrading the park in the late 19th Century…. The only thing Naval to come out of it was a beautiful marble ship fixed permanently alongside the lake.
The Summer Palace was beautiful, the touristy little canal town was very cute too – sort of a mini Venice – I liked this place better than the Forbidden City or the Temple of Heaven Park, AND they had a gigantic rubber duck floating in the bay
(what a surprise there then…!).
Day 260, Fri 25th Oct
A mad dash around the Forbidden City – brought about by our usual inability to get up, protracted breakfast, and the fact that we had arranged to meet up with my 6th form friend Rod, who now lives in Beijing and who I have not seen since his wedding 6 years ago, at midday – it was never going to be a realistic undertaking…Forbidden palace was a must see; it was impressively grandiose but a little Spartan inside for my taste & we were battling through the crowds.Rod then took us to one of the hutongs (alleyways) for lunch – luckily he does speak Mandarin – the bell tower (not very exciting, would probably give it a miss) and drum tower (better as we got there just in time for the drum performance) and the Llama temple. The latter was pretty spectacular, especially the 23m gold Buddha carved from a single tree(there was even a ‘record breakers’ plaque from Norris McWhirter testifying to that!). Lovely afternoon with Rod, particularly for Tracey as they haven’t seen each other for years but also for me as he’s a bloody nice chap! Then off to meet Rod’s wife, a heavily pregnant Judie, for a drink and fabulous dinner – lots of lovely food for me and I am sure Keir will mention the duck!Judie was absolutely lovely & made us feel very welcome. They obviously took pity on the poor, destitute travellers & kindly took us out for dinner. We (the Royal ‘we’ obviously) had Peking duck in… Beijing (Peking in old money ) & it was delicious!Day 261, Sat 26th Oct
Woke up at Rod and Judie’s and met their cute little daughter Kai, a very precocious 2 year old, who fortunately seemed to like her replica of the giant Summer Palace rubber duck; one that was fortunately not quite so large, and somewhat fluffier…
Had some lovely fruit and yoghurt for breakfast (treat!) and then took our leave, and Rod & Judie’s driver, off to the Great Wall at Mutinyu.
Kai was very cute & once her initial reticence at seeing us had worn off, was very talkative – especially after T had given up the ducky (T was secretly hoping to keep it!). They even had dogs & a cat as well…. So I was in heaven .
Today the weather was just spectacular and The Great Wall looked phenomenal, we obviously had to do the cable car and toboggan as well as the wall! Then a long drive back to town for our overnight to Pingyao – hard seat
The wall was really impressive; the way it snakes around the contours of the hills was beautiful, particularly with the autumn foliage. The toboggan was fun, but we had an old lady holding everyone up… like Driving Miss Daisy. Beijing, China
Day 262, Sun 27th Oct
Arrived in Pingyao at 5:30 after not much sleep; the seat, whilst not as hard as I had feared, was extremely upright with no reclining facility. The actual boarding of the train was an experience in itself though – they sell standing room too and EVERYONE seemed to have a large amount of luggage to accommodate. Keir and I decided to sleep in shifts over the 12 hour journey (luggage protection), but it was difficult to be comfortable and we were both pretty grumpy at that point, had to take a nap on arrival
We eventually made it out for some exploration, and a very good (albeit London-priced) breakfast in Sakura café. Pingyao is an old walled city and is virtually untouched - not too much of the over ‘restoration’ that we saw in Beijing – so we bought a ticket to walk the city walls and some temple visits. It is very photogenic, though pretty touristy with all of the shops.
Train was a nightmare, but a real experience – unfortunately we have to do it again in another 48 hrs. The Chinese loved the fact that 2 Guilos had been stupid enough to take the train! Pingyao was marvellous – surrounded by intact city walls & full of old shops & buildings… actually started to feel like we were in China for real.
Day 263, Mon 28th Oct
Day trip to the Underground castle today – interesting tunnels, but not as amazing as the fort we visited in Cartagena – and the Wang Family Courtyard.
The latter was just incredible; a mini-walled city with over 100 courtyards and lots of different avenues to explore – the Lonely Planet comment of it getting a bit samey almost made us miss this, but it was amazing!
Off on the train to Xi’an tonight, another hard seat
Wang Family courtyard was beautiful; something like over 130 different courtyards in a mini, deserted, town surrounded by city walls – another castle!. The underground castle was interesting but not a patch on the Wang Family – fun running around the tunnels beneath the village though.
Day 264, Tue 29th Oct
Arrived in Xi’an with a very cricked neck and having achieved approximately one hour of broken sleep. Not ideal, but we decided we would never have time to visit both the Terracotta Warriors and the tomb of Emperor Jingdi if we had a sleep first. So, off to the Jingdi tomb, which was frankly a bit disappointing. If you are visiting Xi’an, I probably wouldn’t bother, but maybe we are just spoilt now…? Interesting seeing the tomb of emperor Jingdi – lots of terracotta figures etc, that have been part excavated & then covered or encased in glass so you can walk above & around them. I think that we’re a bit spoiled now after all those Incan/ Mayan/ Aztec ruins; this was meant to be a Lonely Planet must see… I don’t think so.
Day 265, Wed 30th Oct
Terracotta warriors today – a lot more impressive than the Emperor Jingdi tomb! Then we caught our (thankfully) soft sleeper to Chengdu. 16 hours, a hard seat would have been disastrous…
Our cabin companion was a nice young Chinaman called Alex (or Lu in Mandarin). Hundreds of life sized warriors; all individually sculpted with different likenesses. Now this is impressive & they’ve only excavated a small part of it.
Day 266, Thurs 31st Oct
Arrived in Chengdu around midday. By the time we got to the hostel (a not quite so clear metro trip as we had experienced elsewhere; none of the maps showed anything other than Chinese!), it was a bit late to shower, breakfast AND make the trip to Leshan. Sadly the much vaunted high speed rail link is still not in existence and the 2.5 hour bus is the only option… Pandas definitely have to be in the morning and the man at the hostel told us we could do both in a day if we started early, so easy day then
Day 267, Fri 1st Nov
Up at 6 for 7am breakfast, which failed to materialise due to the missing chef, though one of the other staff turned up around 7:15 and very kindly made us coffee – and in Keir’s case, toast. So, a little later than planned we grabbed a cab to the panda breeding centre.
This really was a highlight. Keir spotted a giant panda early on, and after that we saw 1 year olds, 2 year old, 3 year olds, and some little babies of 3 months trying to crawl :-). The red pandas were also super cute, and super curious, they particularly liked Keir’s feet for some reason – a highly questionable form of masochism…
The giant pandas were as cute as you see on TV; quite playful. But to me the highlight was the red pandas – they’re like a very small bear with a racoon’s tail. We could walk through their enclosure & they were quite unafraid & bold – running around our feet. T loved the baby Giant pandas – little bundles of fluff crawling around their little baby playpen. As she put it; Sooo fluffy (name that film…?!) & cute!
We headed back to the bus station for Leshan with what we thought was plenty of time, but despite Keir’s repeated requests for a bus to the Buddha, we ended up on a town bus to Leshan, necessitating a further bus, with no idea where we were going. Finally reached the area 3 hours after leaving and ran around frantically trying to find the boat to see the giant Buddha – except there were no boats for 45 minutes as we were the only people who wanted to go! – this was somewhat at odds with the internet advice I had read, indicating queue times of up to an hour – so, we decided just to pay and run into the park for a view and some pictures, and we did run! 10 minutes later we were back on the bus to Leshan, then Chengdu and an extremely tight run to the airport. Just made it, phew.
Buddha ended up being a bit of a farce; everyone else was queuing up to climb down the 250m from the head to the feet, whilst we just ran up & took a couple of pictures from the top & buggered off again. That being said; amazing sculpture – the ears alone are 7m high… make’s Noddy’s mate’s look tiny in comparison! Keir seemed delighted to find that our Guilin hostel had put us on the 5th floor; no lift
Deep joy… slightly lost my rag for a second…. Until I got a beer down me…