Thursday, 16 April 2009

New friends in Chengdu

We have spent a whole week in Chengdu and it has gone so fast but we have done so much! It has definitely been my favourite place of the trip so far due to the wonderful people we have met. K has a friend in London who is from Chengdu and her friends have been so helpful and generous taking us out and about the city. We had certainly underestimated how difficult it would be to get around China with the huge language barrier and surprising lack of tourist facilities. However, we have noticed that apart from the people in our hostel we have seen very few western tourists which leads me to assume that the demand for English speaking services is not as high as I thought. There are certainly plenty of Chinese tourists everywhere we go (and many of them want to take our photo...) but we do feel rather stared at most of the time.
While in Chengdu, we have visited the Panda breeding base (very cute), sang karaoke for 2 hours (Gloria Gaynor, eat your heart out), burnt our tastebuds on spicy food (including pig's blood, yeuch!), climbed down a 1000m mountain, learned how to play majhong and drank lots of tea....
We are heading to Hong Kong tonight on a 40 hour train journey, arriving Sunday morning - see u there!

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Great Walk

We climbed the Great Wall of China today - and what a climb it was - absolutely knackerred! Early start at 0545 (groan) and very hot today which made it even harder but the foot massage this evening sorted my feet out - lovely :)
The views were incredible and I would definitely recommend it but walking boots are essential as are SPF 30 and plenty water. We walked 8km from Jinshangling to Simatai (steep inclines and declines) and there were far fewer people than I had expected. It was pretty intense at times but we felt really good once we finished - what an achievement!
Yesterday we went to one of the famous duck restaurants near Tian'men Square for Peking duck with pancakes - it was amazing, best I have ever tasted and probably will again. I think the staff were quite amused that we ate a whole duck between us - oh it was a banquet for 4 you say? Heheh...
Afterwards we wandered along the tourist souvenir shops and some chinese tourists wanted me to hold their child while they took a photo of me - strange, but I obliged of course...the wee boy was very cute but clearly too young to know what was going on and why this strange woman was holding him.
So an early night tonight after the exhausting day we have had and last full day in Beijing tomorrow - hopefully going to get some shopping done and of course plenty of eating....

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Beijing - City of Chaos

We are so lucky to be staying in such a nice part of town: Mao Er Hutong (Mao's alley) - the area is so chilled out and bohemian. Lots of great bars and tea houses and nice restaurants. The calm however was shattered when we visited Tian'man Square today. We queued for 20 minutes in the longest queue I have ever seen (95% chinese tourists and this is supposed to be off-season) for Mao's mausoleum. The guide book said there was a bag store to leave your items in once inside the building however, some people had guards pulling their bags off them and were dragged out of the queue (quite aggressively). Also the queuing system was mad - if you didn't walk fast enough they made you run so there were people pushing in all over the place. An English family were told they were not allowed to go in because they had a pushchair (after having queued for half an hour) and we realised after 20 minutes that the queue was only halfway and there was no guarantee that when we reached the doors they wouldn't turn us away with our bags. So we left and took some photos of the outside instead. We decided to walk to the tourist info centre and it was much further than we thought and roasting outside (note to self: get taxis everywhere - only 2 quid max) - the chaos is exhausting! However when we got there it was shut - no reason given and the guidebook was no help. So we headed to a dim sum restaurant (by taxi) we read about and it was fabulous - delicious dumplings and at 10p each we had 20 each - such greed but oh-so delicious!
From here we walked through a nearby chinese garden to the entrance to the Forbidden city. Again the area was heaving but we managed to get through without too much hassle. The sheer scale of the area covered by the Forbidden city is impressive but the actual sights were a bit of an anti-climax in my opinion. Very beautiful and definitely a must-see when in Beijing but each square we came to looked the same and the volume of people slightly runied it, but obviously it is one of the most visited sights in the world.
Feeling extremely hot we headed back to the hotel before heading out for dinner and a head massage (4 quid - amazing). Our hotel and a local hostel have been very helpful for planning tours and train tickets - it seems the tourist info in China's capital city is still under development along with money-changing facilities and convenient ATMs - however did they manage during the Olympics?? We plan to visit Great Wall on Mon or Tues - will keep you posted.....

Friday, 3 April 2009

Russia, Mongolia & China in 10 days!

It has been non-stop everyday and I have been rubbish so far at keeping this up to date - so much to say, where to begin?! Again, I am short on time so this will be a brief update so far with more detailed insight to come.
We have been travelling for only 10 days and have been to 3 countries - incredible!
Travelling Business class to Moscow was fantastic - the only way to travel - fine dining on a plane and as much free food and drink as you like in the lounges. Moscow itself was a bit of a let down. We were only there for one day but most people were incredibly glum and rude, shoving you out of their way without a word. We quickly worked out that the only way to get people to help at info desks etc was to get angry - hmmm I don't think that would work anywhere else....Red Square was impressive but absolutely baltic and none of the museums were open - having had no sleep certainly didn't help my tolerance levels but it was quite bad.
The train journey was indeed epic and we had the loveliest cabin. Wood-panelled, 2-berth, private shower - v comfortable and cosy. Incredible views of Siberia.
After 4 days on the train we arrived into Ulan Bator, Mongolia for 4 days of non-stop sightseeing. It truly is a beautiful country, warm people, stunning landscape...however the cuisine was certainly not a highlight. Mutton dumplings filled with 'sauce' i.e. mutton grease/fat - bleurgh, 3 days of eating mutton in various forms was more than enough: mutton noodle soup, mutton biscuits you name it. I never experienced the 'shared rag' to wipe the grease away that I have read about - disappointing! We did find some amazing restaurants in the city and their food was excellent. I have taken so many photos and will try to get them on here asap so you can see how beautiful it is and also how ridiculous I look in traditional Mongolian costume!
We left UB yesterday morning and arrived in Beijing this afternoon and I already love it! Our hotel is lovely - traditional and small (only 4 rooms) but also quite modern - good balance. It is located in a beautiful hutong (traditional alley) and there are many more all around us - it feels almost European in a way.
Just about to go to bed now as it's 11pm and we have a jammed pack itinerary for our 5 days here. So far Beijing feels really safe and friendly, delicious food - dim sum mmmmm I am in foodie heaven....

Sunday, 22 March 2009

The Trans-Mongolian adventure begins...

I can't believe it's finally here!! Flying to Moscow tomorrow (business class - oh yeah) to start the epic train journey K and I have read so much about. We will be on the train for 5 days continuously before we reach Ulan Bator in Mongolia on 29th March. I've got my maracas, castanets, playing cards, sudoku, travel scrabble, dvd player (& dvds), magazines and books a-plenty so I don't think boredom will be a problem. We will obviously stock up on minstrels and wine/party drinks to entertain ourselves and our train buddies along the way (the minstrels are not for sharing). I'm pretty hopeful that we won't need the other items...except for the maracas obviously...
I'm not expecting the train to have electricity never mind internet access so I reckon the next update will come from Ulan Bator - see you there!