Saturday, May 24, 2008

Beijing (Part I)

Our last stop in China and our longest. We're in Beijing now until Wednesday next week. Having spent Tuesday night on a train again we arrived here Wednesday morning an hour later than expected. We managed to find the bus to our hostel without too much difficulty although Anna did have to use some of her Chinese skills to ask directions from some friendly Police officers.

We'd decided to use Wednesday to catch up on a few chores, pick up our Trans-Siberian tickets etc. As it turned out both took much less time than expected. The ticket collection was far too simple. We shall see if things are ok next week! So with the chores out of the way and as we were already downtown we had a stroll through a park near Tiananmen Square before walking along the edge of the square itself which is enormous 400,000 sq metres to be precise! Bumped into the American lad we'd been to the Warriors with, he stands out in a crowd here with his ginger locks...

That evening we went to a restaurant recommended by the hostel where they serve authentic Peking Duck for a reasonable price. So we indulged in some fine dining before seriously cheap beers in the hostel.

Thursday morning saw us rise with the early birds, to get to the Forbidden city before the crowds arrived. It would appear the crowds had the same idea as they were there before us... Thankfully we could avoid them as they were herded through the centre of the city leaving us free to explore the side courtyards relatively alone. The Forbidden City is exactly what it says on the tin; a city within a city, off limits to the Public for 500 years and where the ruling classes seldom left. There are 9999.5 (Half a room less than the Jade Emperor's palace) rooms in the palace, needless to say we didn't visit them all, but we did get lost in the city for over 4 hours. We've since found out that the audio tour is narated in English by none other than Roger Moore, if we'd have known that we'd have gladly forked out the extra RMB40 for it!

We continued our exploration of Beijing by leaving the Forbidden City by its North gate and into Beihei Park to see the White Dagoba, before meandering round its huge lake to the Hou Hai bar area for afternoon refreshments. It was fun sitting watching the antics of the rickshaw drivers, sleeping, chatting, playing cards as we supped our beers. They all scattered when a boss like figure arrived complete with his walkie talkie...

So we decided to amble back through the dusty hutongs to the hostel. The hutongs are where daily life unfolds for millions of inhabitants of Beijing, these dusty cramped streets are thriving from dawn till well into the night. Many have no plumbing or power, its hard to imagine living like that in such a large city.

One of the major reasons for our visit to Beijing was to walk the Great Wall which we managed to do on Friday. We joined a group from the hostel in a minibus for the 1 hour drive to Mutianyu, a quiet section of the wall which has been somewhat restored. As we only had 4 hours to enjoy it we caught a chairlift to the wall itself, before walking along it for an hour and a half, past cool guardhouses dotted along its length. The sun was quite strong and before long we were both pink and sweaty from the exertion of walking up and down the inclines as the wall follows the contours of the mountains it sits on top of.

We met some really nice people on the trip and we even bumped into Alan an old friend of mine from Singapore who was there with his wife and daughter... Small World.

An unexpected finish was the metal tobbogan/luge down from the wall, which was a great end to our Wall visit, even if Anna did nearly break a Spanish bloke by ramming him...

1 comment:

Paula said...

Great Wall of China - so cool - hope to do that one day looks absolutely amazing. Pics are fab apart from the edibles on sticks not sure on them! Paula x