Well. I had a nice, juicy, yawn-achingly long post ready to go, and it appears that it’s been eaten by my phone. So it looks like you’ll be spared!
Today we leave Beijing by train to Lhasa, Tibet, exactly a week after we got here. While we wait for our first western food since arriving (pizza!), I’ll fill you in on what’s been going on.
Firstly, you may have noticed we went a bit quiet after the first few days of blog-filled mayhem. I’d like to say this is because we’ve been so frantically busy checking out Beijing’s nightlife that we haven’t slept let alone found time to be online, but that’s not quite true. We have been busy though!
Basically, we forgot the first rule of ‘net travelling: the more expensive your accommodation, the worse the Internet. First hostel – cheap, six bed dorm, great, free wifi. Second hostel (from where I now write this) – bit more lively, but Internet unusable at night. And the hotel where our tour is putting us up? No wifi at all. Which prompted a dash to Starbucks yesterday, only to find (after a frapuccino and scone later) that wifi is only for Chinese nationals. So we’re back in the cafe of the lovely Happy Dragon.
Right. So where have we been?
Temple of Heaven. Big park, with temples, and open air place for ritual worship during the winter solstice. All lovely, including a ‘9 dragon tree’, where we counted at least 15 (but
9 is a lucky number here). But the park’s weird. Some very old (2000 years apparently) Cyprus trees, and then acres of others – but everything was lined up. Having paths in a pattern makes sense, but trying to make nature conform is just odd. It’s as if the Forestry Commission took inspiration from here for their acres of pines blotting out the sky.
On the upside, we found two Geocaches, and weren’t arrested! There was a minor incident involving a spider’s web and me squealing like a pig, but I won’t go into that…
The following day, the Summer Palace. Before I go any further, I need to introduce a new term we’ve coined : Peking size (hereafter PS). This is colossal – and applies to the roads, the size of city blocks, Tienanmen Square, and the Summer Palace. Thankfully, in contrast to the USA it does not apply to the people or the food, which remain manageable!
So, the Summer Palace is a PS park for emperors to escape the heat (and smog) of the city, filled with, well, palaces. Lovely hill, great view over the (yes) PS lake – which trivia rules dictate that I must tell you was expanded by 100,000 peasants (read slaves) working for the emperor. And in an attempt at history, a summary of the not-exactly-well-written signs outside the plethora of buildings : basically, it was all built for Empress Cixi (who it turns out was pretty unpleasant), before the Anglo-French allies burnt it all down in retribution in 1860. The Chinese then cleaned it up to it’s former glory, only for the same thing to happen again at the turn of the century. The delights of cultural destruction in the name of power. Not a proud moment to be a Brit! Anyway, it looks great now, and a lovely afternoon was spent there, albeit with us unable to hire a pedalo. Highly recommended.
Oh yes, I said this would be shorter than the post I lost…
On Sunday, we really pushed the boat out and decided to attempt the death-defying feat of TWO ATTRACTIONS IN ONE DAY! Yes, we’re pleased with ourselves.
Now, there’s something you need to know about Laura. I myself hadn’t realised before we went away (and she claims, neither did she) – but she’s addicted. To bells. And so the Bell Temple seemed a pretty good bet. I have to admit, it was pretty darn good too. If I was feeling bold, I’d say it really chimed with us both.
Anyway, witticisms aside, it was great – with the central feature being the Largest Bell In The World – a PS two story bell weighing 46 tonnes, with the sound said to carry 40km. For some reason they wouldn’t let us ring it though! Lovely museum, really struck a note. (ok, no more)
Bell Temple complete, next stop, Olympic Park. Needless to say PS – the LOCOG/ODA folks preparing London will have their work cut out in producing something comparable. We went for a quick trip around the Birds Nest Stadium, which was magnificent – we even made it up to (breathless) seats right at the top. The only pity was that Laura and I couldn’t hold our much-planned 400m race to prove for once and for all who’s the better. It turns out that the track was only for use by those who’d hired Segways to do laps. Very odd!
Sunday night we joined our tour group – a bunch of folks of our age and older, and from various places worldwide – England, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, USA. Seem like a fun bunch, we’ll see how it goes!
Anyway, we’ve spent the past two days with them seeing the Beijing highlights – Great Wall, tick (and very sweaty too); Fake goods market, tick; Acrobatics, tick; Forbidden city, oh yes! All great, and deserving of a writeup another time.
At 7:15, we start our 46 hour journey west, on the sleeper to Lhasa – we’re now off to buy bread and wave goodbye to Beijing. We’ve been warned that laundry (and hence we’re inferring, Internet) is sporadic until we get to Katmandu – so if you don’t from us for a while, that may be the reason why. Or we’ve been got by the Yeti.