A Travellerspoint blog

Chapter one hundred and two - Hometime

Homeward Bound!

sunny

Day 365: Beijing, China 28/09/2012

OMG, we check out of the hotel for the last time this year. The last day of the trip has arrived, twelve months of sun, sea, sand, adventure, laughs, tears, exciting experiences, incredible food, new friends and one hell of a learning curve coming to an end, an experience that will never be forgotten and stories that will surely only get taller and taller as time goes on. Such mixed feelings on this - pride, sadness, happiness and a sense of achievement on so many counts. Even the last packing ceremony of the year - for so long the bane of my life - brings a tear to the eye.

We enjoy the Super 8 facilities for the day, go for a stroll and buy a few little bits for those few people back home we haven't got anything for. An average tea before we are back on the subway for the last time. Arrive at the airport at 8. Our flight is not until 2am. Long wait for check-in...time to replay the last 365 days over in our heads. Gemma gets a good four hours kip on a bench before we finally get to lose the bags and go through to the departures lounge.

Day 366: Maidenhead, Berkshire, UK 29/09/2012

A quick change at Doha effectively gives us our thirteenth country of the trip (though I don't think we'll count this one) and before too long we are back where it all started, London Heathrow, and in another mirror of the start of the trip we are greeted by someone holding up my name on a piece of paper. The taxi flies back home through the familiar environs of the M4 and a knock on the door from two world weary travellers could be perceived as a nice surprise by some. Shame my family don't think so...Everybody shocked, most of all us. Culture shock catches us out for the first time! Time for a well earned rest and a few beers. The Champers starts to flow and the realisation that we are back home finally starts to sink in. Which leaves us with one thought...

Some trekkers are good, some trekkers are bad, but some trekkers, some trekkers are unbelievable trekkers!

Posted by tevs 14:40 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged home Comments (0)

Chapter one hundred and one - Beijing

A hundred and one train stations...it seems

all seasons in one day 22 °C

Day 361: Beijing, China 24/09/2012

Arrive in Beijing at around ten am, tired, greasy and bedraggled, with stinking hog breath and an emergence at a station different to the one advised by the stupid woman at the hostel in Pingyao. Manage to ring the hostel and arrange a pick up from outside the station and after a short minibus ride we are surprised to find ourselves at a Super 8 motel - not quite the small, independent hostel we expected the 'Beijing Dragon' to be. Shower, pull ourselves together and head out into the frighteningly big metropolis that is Beijing, China's capital and second most populated city.

A decent lunch sets us up for the afternoon ahead, though nothing could quite prepare us for the horrendous air quality amid the traffic strewn streets - the smog reduces visibility to less than a hundred metres and the first place we have really noticed it. No wonder Beijing is considered one of the most polluted cities on earth. After a bit of time trying unsuccessfully to get our bearings, we enquire into Great Wall trips before heading back to the room, both knackered after the journey to get here. After watching a DVD, we go out for dinner, discovering that crispy duck pancakes are not a myth and in fact taste better here than they do in any Chinatown....accompanied by a sauteed lotus root dish and some nice rice we leave well and truly stuffed. Worryingly close to the end of the trip.

Day 362: Beijing, China 25/09/2012

Today's goal is to get a few little gifts for those people we feel deserve a little something, so we head to the Pearl Market, which is lauded by the Lonely Planet. Well, we find it [i]eventually[i] after getting lost in a strange little sports shop district (some amazing tracksuits on offer here - think loud, think synthetic fibres, think 80s scouse with a Team China twist) and must say that it is a highly disappointing chavtastic tourist trap of an indoor market. About the only highlight was the food and a huge African man's ruthless haggling technique. Lots of idiot tourists and naming no names, the Russians and the Americans are the repeat offenders. Cue exit stage left to battle for a cab (some drivers trying to pull a real fast one) and a journey to the nearby flea market, which sounds deliciously tacky.

After paying about a pound to get here (some old lady cabbie quoted eight quid) we step out of the Hackney Carriage to have a million litres of water dumped on us as the craziest rain storm begins. Luckily, we have our jackets so we venture into the market, where most of the unfortunate stall holders have no such rain protection, huddling under parasols and draping polythene sheets over their wares to protect them from the elements. With a puddle about three inches deep around each and every item, there are bargains aplenty and a whole lot more interesting looking bits and pieces that in other circumstances may have demanded a closer look. Soaked to the core we take the 'short' walk to the subway station, traipsing and dripping for about twenty minutes in the driving rain to find a successful entrepreneur flogging ponchos to the hundred thousand people huddled under the station entrance. Looking like a pair of drowned rats, we expect the cold air conditioning of the subway system to make life miserable, being pleasantly surprised by the relative warmth of the subterranean den of the Beijing underground. After a soaking like that there is little to do other than dry off and eat.

Day 363: Beijing, China 26/09/2012

Sun is shining, Beijing is our oyster. A welcome change from yesterday's weather, we decide to take advantage of the sun, naturally heading underground. We take the subway to the Olympic Park, passing through some very shiny and impressive shopping centres (another successful Asian shopping mall food court lunch) and some rather striking - and clearly well funded - public open spaces and enjoying the improvements to the public realm clearly brought about by the 2008 Olympic Games.

We take a wander down the HUGE and intimidating Olympic Walk, flanked either side by the Bird's Nest Stadium and the strange, almost extraterrestrial, Aquatics Centre. A trip into the Bird's Nest reveals a seriously impressive stadium and it is incredible to think of the blood, sweat and tears that went into producing some of the memorable moments of recent sporting history that happened here. After taking the self-guided tour and exhausting the stadium, we jump back on the subway to Tiananmen Square - another site of important modern world historical events and another one to tick off the list. Bar the thousands of people, huge Mao portraits and some soldiers doing a little march, we head back to the hotel after it emerges that Mao's mausoleum is closed. We have an evening out at the Great Wal-Mart of China and an uneventful dinner.

Day 364: Beijing, China 27/09/2012

'He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man' - Mao Zedong.

'He who has not frozen his bollocks off and got a soaking on the Great Wall with the missus is not a true man' - Thomas Evans

So, off to the Great Wall this morning, doing it ourselves after looking at a number of tours before realising we have done every other sight off our own backs, catching the bus and listening intently to the Chinese tour guide (who is clearly quite amusing - or so the other passengers think). Arrive at the Great Wall to be advised that due to the incumbent weather conditions, ascending in the cable cars is the best course of action. Dry and warmish at present...

A tackier mess of things you cannot hope to see as the entrance to the Great Wall of China, with a horrible succession of black bear enclosures and crap souvenir stalls. A reject rollercoaster from a shitty theme park acts as the cable cars and immediately proceeds to give us a wet arse. We get up to the Great Wall and the wind and rain really give it a go, with the rain coming in sideways. Our hands are pretty soon a very pink, very cold and very numb. The wimpy Chinese tourists are all hidden in the built up bits of the wall, leaving the wall almost exclusively to us, allowing us to walk and conquer the wall in some seriously extreme weather conditions. Cue some great snaps and a decent hike back, before getting back on the cable cars and seeing the sun come back out. Typical!

Our last night of the whole trip (how are we here?) and whilst getting ready to go out for some dinner, I somehow manage to delete all of today's photos, which is disappointing. Crispy duck pancakes and a few drinks to celebrate the best year of our lives and try to block out the fact that we are off home tomorrow...

Posted by tevs 13:06 Archived in China Tagged food city china beijing great_wall_of_china Comments (0)

Chapter one hundred - Pingyao to Beijing

We took the midnight train going anywhere

sunny 24 °C

Day 360: Pingyao, Shanxi to Beijing, China 23/09/2012

Incredible and deflating to think that tonight will be the final journey of the whole trip, with our eight o'clock departure time making for a bit of a nothing day in Pingyao. Where has this year gone? We head out again in the same sort of direction we have taken before and nothing much has changed in this day or so. We even find the same pig asleep in the same position as it was last time we walked through this way. We do, however, find ourselves some new places and new sights to add to the list of the past three hundred odd days, leaving the confines of the city walls and the ancient world and stepping through a portal into a bright, modern part of the city, with a nice water feature. An old man comes to wash his hyperactive, fluffy white dog in the water around the wooden decking walkways, shampooing his pooch before being left stranded as the dog took flight and charged off in any direction it thought necessary. Highly amusing and one made more surreal when the dog jumped back in the water to find it came up only to its knees.

Walking back towards the city gates, we find a two hundred metre red carpet leading up to a twenty foot tall camera found in the middle of a host of international flags. Seems the photography festival we came across was a pretty big deal. We grant several requests for photos and are welcomed to China by a teenage welcoming committee. A bit late but very kind all the same. Walking around the perimeter of the city walls we find ourselves at an open air theatre performance, where a sizeable crowd of locals are gathered to watch an uncomfortably loud and seemingly very violent Chinese rendition of what I guess was Punch and Judy. Fun to watch, but being the only white faces around there is more gawping at us than at the poor actors.

A catch up with the blog and a decent cup of tea before dinner sees us right up to taxi time and we are soon boarding our sleeper carriage. Destination Beijing. A little more uncomfortable than the last train but the ten o'clock lights out rule makes it impossible to see a thing. Not so much fun when sleep doesn't come too easily...

Posted by tevs 12:38 Archived in China Tagged train theatre china beijing pingyao Comments (0)

Chapter ninety nine - Pingyao

Pinged back in time

overcast 19 °C

Day 357: Pingyao, Shanxi, China 20/09/2012

A nice sociable start today, catching a cab around eightish for the bus station and enjoying the fact that the upcoming journey is short haul and not some behemoth overnight monstrous jaunt. After stopping briefly for a pot noodle and after a welcome afternoon nap, the journey comes to a bizarre end as we are unceremoniously kicked out at the side of the road to helpful shouts of 'Pingyao! Pingyao!' So, abandoned at the side of the road with not a taxi in sight, we are approached by an old man who starts to negotiate a price. Hmmm, strange we think. Stranger still as we speak to the man in a 'Police' uniform, who is professionally sat in the back of a car with a young woman. Points at old man when asked about a taxi and promptly winds up the window.

Five minutes later we hop out of the old man's car in the middle of an ancient Chinese city. With such a remarkable journey back in time, we pay Doc Brown and find our way to the hostel. Check into the old style building centred around a courtyard, which is nice but perhaps not quite worthy of the seriously overinflated reviews it gets in the Lonely Planet and Hostelbookers. We go for a quick walk and a nice little drink, with Gemma receiving a nice straight shot of Pimms. Find an amazing little cafe for tea and have an early night.

Day 358: Pingyao, Shanxi, China 21/09/2012

The hostel's beanbag pillows allow for a surprisingly good night's sleep and we enjoy a slow morning before heading out for the day. Despite the vast swathes of tourists, Pingyao is a quaint and interesting town, rendering images of a China that existed three thousand years ago. Narrow alleyways, traditional industries and hanging red lamps juxtapose the bars and restaurants advertising their free wi-fi services for patrons and the thousands of people with huge digital cameras.

Pingyao proves to be quite a small town all in all, so we take it steady for the afternoon, watching noodles being pulled and flung into pans, sweets being made and shawls being woven on looms. Gem feels a little unwell so we head back to the hostel, where we enjoy a few games of cards and are befriended by Ken, an ageing hippy who has been, seen and done just about anything you could ever mention. Back for dinner at the excellent place we discovered yesterday evening. Friday night so a few beers makes trips to the worst toilet of the trip more than a little funny.

Day 359: Pingyao, Shanxi, China 22/09/2012

Another quiet morning and a brief lie in before a distinctly average lunch at the overrated hostel then out and about again with the thousands of extra tourists that have found themselves at a loose end this weekend. So, we try to see some more of the picturesque little town and stumble upon the 'real life' parts of the town, with hundreds of homes and factories situated within the ancient walls of the city. The huge number of people we have seen around town with huge cameras and massive lenses are suddenly explained by the pretty serious looking photography festival we find ourselves at. Our small camera is sneered at by the throngs of proper camera users. We particularly enjoy the exhibition of British rock over the past fifty years.

Back to the hostel, for a few more of games of cards and to be cornered by Ken the Hippy once more. After hearing an account of just how many lives he's saved and how he deals with the constant queue for his photo by the Chinese masses. We manage to wriggle free and get out for another fantastic dinner at the place we have found, being greeted like old friends by the staff before we realise that we have been sat outside in the relative cold when there was a nice warm indoor part to the restaurant.

Posted by tevs 10:09 Archived in China Tagged history city china ancient photography pingyao Comments (0)

Chapter ninety eight - Xi'an

Enter the warriors!

sunny 28 °C

Day 354: Xi'an, Shanxi, China 17/09/2012

Our overnight train pulls into Xi'an at around five forty am, and we are soon fighting the sizeable crowd that have alighted our train for a cab, aided by Jason, our pilot friend from the train. Driven by our woman cab driver - whose photo licence looks remarkably like who I guess to be her husband - we soon find ourselves lost in Xi'an and unable to find the hostel we have booked. A quick phone call to the hostel helps us locate the rogue venue and we are checked in and settled down before half past six. This then begs the question 'shall we sleep, shall we not?' After agreeing that we won't, nay, can't sleep, we wake up about three hours later...

A nice hot shower in the brand new hostel (and the first shared dorm room of the whole trip - we had to try it!), with its pristine new pool room complete with leather sofas, sees us ready to go out and have a bit of a wander round. Taxi to station. Bus ticket booked to Pingyao. Getting the hang of this ticket booking thing now we have booked our last journey...

Stroll through the town for the rest of the day, through the some beautiful and busy parts of the city, past the bell tower and the drum tower, through the sense bombarding Muslim quarter and into a traditional Chinese Wal-Mart. A night spent unsuccessfully trying to find good food, ending up with some strange sweet rice porridge in the Muslim district and trying to get to know our new Ukrainian room mate Andrew (though I suspect he means Andrei).

Day 355: Xi'an, Shanxi, China 18/09/2012

Up a little later than anticipated (9am) to accompany our Ukrainian/Russian roomie to the Terracotta Warriors. A cab to the train station then a bus on to the warriors themselves sees us arrive at the right place at around eleven. After a bit of confusion on where to go, we buy our (quite pricey) tickets into the Warriors and face a ten minute walk from ticket booth to site entrance, passing the obligatory noodle stalls and stand upon stand of crap souvenir stands, though many are selling the much needed Alsation skins to the passing tourists. Odd.

Eventually find our way in to the pits full of the thousands of terracotta warriors. A seriously impressive piece of history here, with row upon row of individually made clay soldiers being preserved for a seriously long time (thought to date from the third century) with a huge number of them being found in almost mint condition. The most amazing thing about them is the fact they are all unique, from their facial features to their hairstyles to the tread on their shoes. No mass production plants in China back then! Lots of tourists here but only to be expected from such a world renowned site and definitely worth the trip out to see. Not sure how our Eastern European friend has found spending the day with us but a spectacle nonetheless for all involved.

We head back to Xi'an on the bus and make our way back to the hostel. We spend a bit of time chilling out before moving back into the Muslim Quarter and being disappointed once again by the dinner we manage to procure here. A large number of old people dancing together in the park makes for an entertaining trip back to the room and a couple of games of pool sees off a good day.

Day 356: Xi'an, Shanxi, China 19/09/2012

A quiet day in Xi'an today and with the sun blazing outside we take a stroll to the small park nearby, where I catch up with the diary and we get a bit of vitamin D. In search of a 'traditional market' a bit later on we find the map we have is referring instead to a fruit and veg market and though not as expected the usual suspects make an appearance as in any Chinese public space - the intimidating woman, the gobbing/retching old man, the small young kid with an ice cream and the small dog.

Continue our jaunt and end up in a trendy bar district of the city. The price is right so we sit down for a couple of beers. While away the afternoon with a few more and order some average food before hailing a cab home and packing the bags in a slightly inebriated state...

Posted by tevs 14:03 Archived in China Tagged food traditional city china xian Comments (0)

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