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Published: January 6th 2008
Thursday 3rd January
We got out of bed before the alarm went off at 0615. Rags as usual before going somewhere new, hadn't slept well and had been awake since 0300. Hans & Marion were already up and after wishing Marion a happy birthday and giving her a small present in appreciation for having us we had breakfast.
Hans had originally intended on accompanying us to Schipol Airport to “make sure you leave”, but Rags talked him out of this as we would be in a hurry booking in and only have a short while with him. Even so, he stayed with us at the station and we were glad he did; the train we were meant to catch had been delayed 1 hour due to signal problems. This meant a rush trip by car to the airport. The journey was swift due to the light holiday traffic, Hans saying it was the first time in 20 years he hadn't seen delays on that section of freeway! You can be lucky.
After landing at Stansted we rang Peter & Nessie and they delivered the other backpack we had left behind. After buying them a coffee in appreciation ,and
catching up with each other's adventures in the respective homes we caught the transfer bus to Heathrow.
Here we were let off at a bus station and it took us some time to work out where we had to go to catch our plane. Nowhere could we find any signs, a helpful Indian gent finally showed us where we had to catch a train to get to Terminal 4. Someone who couldn't speak English would have an impossible task in front of them.
British Airway staff were extremely helpful, even though the flight details weren't up yet they told us where to check in and then they allowed us to do so before they were officially open. To add the icing, when Rags mentioned that Judy would have her birthday on the flight and asked if we could be upgraded we were put on a short list.
On check-in we were upgraded to World Traveller class, which even though is not as good as the Business class he was hoping for, did give us bigger seats and more legroom.
Friday 4th January
We arrived in Beijing at 1100 to a cold, foggy/smoggy day. Customs and
A view over the hutongs
From the Drum Tower. Many of these hutongs are being bulldozed to make way for the multistory buildings of modern Beijing.
Immigration were very efficient and we were soon outside looking for a taxi. This would be the first taxi we have caught this trip, preferring the challenge of public transport. However as we had the extra bag and we were both tired, not having slept well on the plane, we relented.
Taxis were being directed very efficiently and there were plenty of them. We were accosted by a couple of drivers who offered to let us jump the queue but when asked what the fare would be were quoting 3 times what we had been told by others before we got here. The offers were rejected even though they said they were cheaper than the official rate this decision being vindicated when our original fare estimation proved correct. Wonder how many suckers they get!
The Hutong Inn, a hotel/hostel is set in a very local area amongst the hutongs or alleys where many of the Chinese live. It's great being in amongst the local life. Judy's feet were so swollen that the first thing she did was to lie with her feet up on the bed. We have a wifi connection here so Rags logged on and read
View of the Bell Tower from the Drum Tower.
Not sure if you can see it but our hotel is the triple storey building that can just be seen on the left.
the emails aloud to her. It was lovely hearing from friends who had remembered her birthday. Thank you.
We spent time this afternoon orientating ourselves and exploring some of the hutong. We paid 20 yuans for 2 huge noodle soups for lunch (approx $3). Once refreshed with food we walked on until we found the Drum and Bell Towers. We paid and entered the Drum Tower which at 46.7 meters (153 feet) high is a little bit lower than the bell tower that is 47.9 meters high (157 feet). Being the first huge, colourful Chinese historic building we had come across we were pretty impressed. We even paid for the local guide but as he tried to hurry us around we remembered why we don't usually do this. The Drum Tower was the time keeping centre for the whole city and was equipped with bronze clepsydras (water clocks) and drums that were beaten to mark the hours.
We thought we'd eat at the hotel tonight if it looks ok but there are plenty of restaurants nearby. We were both tired after walking around for a few hours so came back to the room about 1730 and sat on
the bed with a Scotch and coke. (cokes - about a third of a litre for less than 50 cents and Scotch we've carried with us.)
Dinner at the bar attached to the hotel was interesting as they have a deal where after 1900 they give you a free beer. This ended up being a 600ml bottle each with our meal! It appeared the kitchen here is limited as the pork & noodle dish was cooked there, the green vegie dish and the eggplant dish being delivered from elsewhere. The food was absolutely delicious, we are going to enjoy the food here. The cost couldn't be complained about either seeing as we had free drinks, 20 yuan (less than A$4)!
Judy crashed by 2100, Rags following 30 mins later. Hopefully we'll be fresh and ready to go tomorrow.
Saturday 5th January
Last night we set a goal of using the Metro to visit Tiananmen Square and then the Forbidden City/Palace. After a meagre Chinese breakfast, the soup, tea & coffee being too cool, we set off. Judy still being hungry we stopped when we saw a dumpling restaurant and managed to purchase some pork dumplings. No
The White Pagoda
Judy hated these steps. She's still getting her fitness back!
problem with the train, the only problem with them is that when you emerge from the station you have no sense of where you have come from or what direction you are facing. We passed the entrance of a walled area, it being heavily guarded by both police & soldiers. Reaching a street corner Judy deduced our location from the street names and we confidently strode along the road. After walking about 2kms along a the still guarded wall Rags started to query this decision but Judy was adamant she didn't want to retrace her steps but would rather walk around the block. Eventually we reached the end of the wall and found some street signs. We had walked away from Tiananmen Square but towards a park called Habai.
All was not lost, we found the Beihai Park, once part of Kublai Khan's palace and the centre of Beijing before the creation of the Forbidden City. It contains the beautiful White Pagoda, sitting on high ground so it can be seen for miles, and spent a couple of hours walking around it and admiring the somewhat stunning coloured buildings and smoggy views. As it was now after lunchtime we
went to one of the restaurants there and had a curry chicken dish and a delicious fried tofu in a soya sauce.
Refreshed, we walked along the edge of the Forbidden City to the grandiose Tiananmen Square, the world's largest public square, and were both amazed by the size of it and by the vast crowds there. Wherever you looked you could see either military guards or police officers. We had been told of this, they were there, prior to the Olympics, to stop any problems before they happened. Beijing is an exciting city, everywhere we looked is a new sight or impressive building to marvel over.
Here, as we had been forewarned, and as well as street sellers, we came across the students who asked “I want to practice my English”. They then want you to look at their artwork which they say they have on exhibition or they invite you to a teahouse for a social talk, except you are hit with a huge bill afterwards. We were happy to talk with them, but the moment they mentioned either of the above we let them know we were not interested.
We followed our map to
Wangfung Dajie, a street with many of the top hotels and shops. We looked in many of these (in Rags' opinion) Judy buying a few things to take home as gifts. At a crossroad we found the Donghuamen night markets where stalls were selling all types of food including some exotic dishes such as fried centipede, scorpion, larvae, to mention a few. It was magnetic and we walked back along the stalls for a second look. We didn't try anything too unusual, but did have a few steamed rolls plus a dish of oysters cooked with very strong garlic.
The road became darker further on with us having to dodge many of the cyclists using the same path. It is interesting that at intersections with traffic lights there is a 'walk' signal, but we were made aware yesterday cars still continue through without slowing so we were very careful!
Just before we reached the street our hotel is in Rags found a hairdresser to cut his hair. He indicated how long he wanted it to be. Hairwash, cut, hairwash again, blowdry, all for less than $3. Great haircut, luckily it has 3 weeks to grow to a reasonable
length before he gets home!
There is a travel agent attached to the hotel and we had them buy the train ticket to our next destination, Xian. As they didn't try to rip us off on this, openly telling us that they would charge an extra A$10 total as their commission, we have used Lee & Amanda to book our day excursion to the Great Wall for Monday, as well as a 3 day tour of Lhasa including the obtaining of the permit into Tibet. Their price was much less than advertised by other companies on the Net, this confirming what we found in Egypt last trip, that locally bought tickets are much cheaper.
Sunday 6th January
Today we awoke early so made a cup of tea while we looked at our photos from yesterday and then showered ready for breakfast. This was pretty inedible thought Judy but Rags managed to eat some of the pastry bits that were offered. Judy ate cereal that she'd brought with her.
By 9am we had left the hotel and were headed to the subway, probably the best and cheapest (at about 30 cents) way to get around. The trains
The Donghuamen Night Market
Originated in 1984 and sells over 60 specialty snacks
are old but there is evidence of some rejuvenation ready for the Olympics.
Arriving outside the Forbidden City we were almost lost in the crowds streaming in but many were in tours and ticket lines didn't reflect the numbers of people entering. Near the centre of Beijing, the Forbidden City, was the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Now known as the Palace Museum, it is the world's largest palace complex and covers 74 hectares. It is surrounded by a six metre deep moat and a ten metre high wall and includes 9,999 buildings. Buildings had names like “Gate of heavenly Peace” and were guarded by such things as stone lions. Needless to say we quickly tired of exploring this. It was all very much over the top and many of the exhibits were behind dusty glass. Many of the buildings are undergoing renovation ready for the Olympics but we didn't mind, in fact Rags let out a few audible groans when Judy insisted on entering another building in case she missed anything!
Leaving the Forbidden City behind we went for another subway ride, this time to the Silk Markets. These markets were indoor markets (yippee,
says Judy whose nose runs continually out in the cold) and contained about 7 floor of shopping and eating. We only managed to visit about 3 floors of shops awash with fake brand clothing, shoes, bags etc. Stallholders were very aggressive and once we'd shown an interest in something rarely let us go until we bought it. We drove a hard bargain (we think) but their starting price were absolutely ludicrous, sometimes over 20 times what we ended up getting something for. The Lonely Planet said “that bargaining was hard because of all the foreign tourists willing to throw money around like water” but we think that their aren't many around at the moment because it's low season so they were reluctant to let a sale go. Only one said bye bye when Judy wouldn't go any higher than $A10 for a handbag. She bought a similar one but paid twice that at the next stall she visited. Rags bought us another trolley case to put all our loot into. We have already arranged to leave our extra bags at the hotel until we return at the end of January before flying back to Australia.
All that walking and
shopping tired us out so we have returned to rest at about 4.30 and Rags is now snoring on the bed. This is the first blog Judy has written since before she was sick.
For Dana from Judy: I must comment on the toilets. Luckily I haven't needed them much, I think all the fluid is going out through the nose! However, so far I have been lucky to find fairly clean ones at tourist attractions like the park and Forbidden City. They are squat ones but manageable even with my bad knees. In the hutongs many of the buildings still don't have their own toilets so there are many public ones available and I needed to use one of these last night on our long trek back to the hotel. It contained about 4 stalls with no doors and only half height dividers. The end one was a pedestal toilet although one still doesn't sit on the seat! Luckily no one else came in while I was there so my modesty remained intact.
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