So, once again I have been completely slack at keeping my blog up to date. Apologies to the handful of people that follow the inane outpourings of my brainbox. We’ve done quite a bit since my last blog post so I’ll write a little bit about the most interesting bits.
We arrived in Beijing on the 7th after another long-ass night train journey, during which me and Kate hardly got any sleep because one of the men we were sharing a compartment with snored all night, sounding like a pig with a bad case of the flu. Bleary eyed and knackered we stepped out into the insanity of Beijing West train station and tried to find the nearest Metro station, which wasn’t the easiest task in the world. But, once we found it, it was a lot easier than having to find our hostel on foot, like we had done with the majority of our previous hostels. So being in the capital was showing it’s benefits immediately.
After checking into our hostel, the amazing Sanlitun hostel in the Chaoyang district of the city, we hopped on the metro and went to Tiananmen Square for a bit of a wander around. After going through countless security checks we got into the square which, considering there are so many armed guards about, was pretty uninteresting. You can go and see the Body of Chairman Mao in his glass coffin, if you can get up early enough to beat the crowds, but we’re pretty lazy so gave this “attraction” a miss. So we went back to the hostel, gorged ourselves on western food (there was an all you can eat buffet on, with all you can drink beer for 70 yuan, about 7 quid so we completely rinsed it) and got an early-ish night as we had booked to go on a tour of the great wall the following day.
We were up bright and early(ish) the next day, we were told to be in the lobby for 7:30 where we got our breakfast and then got on a coach which took us to the Wall. We opted to go to Mutianyu section of the wall, which had both restored and unrestored parts, wasn’t too far away and wasn’t teeming with tourists like the Badaling section is renowned to be. When we arrived we were told we had to pay for a cable car up to the top of the mountain, where we could get on the wall, and for a toboggan ride down (more on that later). So we took the cable car up to the wall and had about 3 hours up there, it was pretty amazing, especially as much of it was covered with snow. Although it was a pretty hard slog at times as there were so many steps, my legs felt like jelly by the time we came back down. The most amazing part was the unrestored section of the wall, past the sign that said “no entry for tourists” but we weren’t going to let a puny sign get in the way of our good times. Here’s some pictures:
Naylor-B on the wall
Some rebellious Yanks
Screw you signs! Trying to ruin our good times
Nice bit of Chinglish
Standard tourist photo-op
Naylor-B having a frolic on the wall
Wall hawkers. The militant looking one on the right tried to karate kick me, which was nice of her.
After we’d finished, we descended the mountain, Kate opted to take the cable car back down as she didn’t want to go on the toboggan and I (like the chivalrous gentleman that I am) left her to take it on her own as I had a hankering for a high-speed, near-death experience on the toboggan! It was a metal run that went all the way down the mountain, and you sit in a tiny plastic cart with a handle for the brake in the middle. It seemed strange that they would have this at the great wall, almost as though the great wall management committee (which definitely exists, as they bloody love bureaucracy over here) thought:
"there is no way people will be satisfied with a pile of crumbling rocks, after taking a one and a half hour bus journey to get here, how can we remedy this to ensure they feel like it was a worthwhile journey?"
"I know! Let’s rebuild the wall and put a giant slide down the mountain! and erm, let’s open a Subway there as well, let’s face it riding a toboggan is enough to give anyone a hankering for a foot-long meatball marinara!"
But I enjoyed the toboggan nevertheless and, in spite of the fact that I sliced my hand open on one when I was a kid in Llandudno, I was bombing it around the track. Once again I adopted a blatant disregard for signs (telling me to “slow down” pah, what did they know!? they were just bits of wood with writing on them) and had a much better time through doing so.
I met Kate at the bottom of the mountain and we went to a nearby restaurant (not Subway) and met the rest of our coach group where we were provided with a banquet which was food closest to something resembling the Chinese food we get back home, with sweet and sour chicken, fried rice and, erm scrambled egg with tomatoes….
So with full bellies we got back onto the coach and went back to the hostel for another lazy evening of western food, music and booze (all cocktails were 18 yuan £1.80, we had Whiskey sours aplenty).
The next day we went into full tourist mode and managed to see all of the Forbidden City (a lot bigger than I thought it would be, and a lot less impressive), climb up Jinshan Hill, behind the forbidden city, where we got a view of the entire city(more impressive than being in the actual city and only cost 2 yuan each to go in) and we went to see the temple of heaven which was easily the most impressive thing in the city, and was nowhere near as busy. And after this we went to the pearl market, which is about 7 floors of everything you could ever want to buy (including pearls, whodathunkit?) and if we weren’t so knackered from all the walking we probably would have been (a bit) more interested, but here’s some pictures anyway.
Inside the Forbidden City
Tourists inside the city walls
Roof inside one of the buildings in the Imperial Garden
(A very grainy) View of the city from JinShan hill
The Temple of Heavenly Peace (avec Naylor-B)
The next day was a boringly long one, we had managed to get tickets to Haerbin on one of the fast trains, but it didn’t leave until 9:45 pm so after checking out of our room we were sat in the hostel bar eating western food (I think there’s a trend emerging here) until it was time to leave for the train station. For this train we went to the main Beijing train station, which was pretty heaving, what with Spring festival approaching. We were glad we got the train tickets, however the train that we got was a seater only train so it meant we spent 9 hours sat upright in uncomfortable seats. Not much fun.
As the journey went on there was an LCD screen which displayed the speed we were travelling at (around 150 Km/h) and the temperature both inside and outside the train. When we first left Beijing the outside temperature was about -4°C and it gradually got colder and colder until we reached Haerbin. When we arrived, we stepped off the train at 6:00 am from the relatively balmy 18°C of the train interior, to the bitingly cold -24°C of Haerbin. It’s hard to explain just how cold it felt. I have never felt that cold in my life, and I’ve been to Scotland. I had on a t-shirt, shirt, jumper, hoodie, coat, scarf, gloves, hat, long johns and Jeans and I was still numb with the cold after about five minutes. It was so cold that the snot in my nose froze, it hurt to take deep breaths and my beard stuck to my scarf because of the condensation from my breath (Sexy, aren’t I?).
But it was an amazing city and, if it weren’t for the Chinese people everywhere, I could have sworn we were in Eastern Europe. The architecture has heavy influence from Russia (as it’s very close to the Russian border) and it feels like you’re in a different country. The main reason we were there, was evident all over the city and after an obligatory power nap in our amazingly warm hotel room (it’s like it’s the only place in China where they have discovered the joy of radiators) we went for an explore.
We wandered around the streets of Haerbin which were dotted with Ice sculptures for the Ice festival, and made our way to the Songhua River, which snakes through the centre of the city. Where there was a massive entrance made out of ice, through which there were steps descending to the river which was frozen solid, on top of which were hawkers selling lots of warm clothing, horse and carriage rides across the river and tickets for the massive ice slides that had been built on the river banks. They also had lots of dance shows on in the walking streets of Haerbin, mainly consisting of elderly people, which were quite amusing to watch.
In the evening (after about an hour of trying) we managed to get a taxi to take us to the main area of the Ice Festival, in a part of the City called Sun Island. Although the entrance fee was a bit steep (about 30 quid each), it was incredible, I was amazed that everything we could see was actually made of ice. But at times it was quite hard to appreciate because it was just so damn cold. We had to keep moving at all times and had to go inside to warm up after about twenty minutes of walking around as it felt like we might die otherwise (no exaggeration…..maybe). Here’s some pictures:
Entrance to the snow and ice festival
The “Magical Colours” of the festival
Snow Yaks that you could pay to sit on and have a photo taken, didn’t fancy it myself
Dancers on walking street
Old lady dancer, she was the best.
Hanging out with the band
Warming up in the 70’s cafe. Don’t exactly know what made it 70’s, but they had bloody good cakes.
The next day we took a train back to Beijing (a soft sleeper this time) and spent the day at the Natural History Museum (which was a MASSIVE disappointment, if you’re going to Beijing don’t bother with it as it’s just plain shit) and wandering around the markets in the shopping district of Beijing, where I was planning to eat some fried bugs but saw the that the scorpions on the sticks were still alive so swiftly changed my mind, (maybe I’ll do it in Hong Kong).
We also bought our train tickets for Qingdao for the next day, which is where we are now. Shall be blogging soon about Qingdao and will try to keep this updated more often.
In a bit!