Saturday, April 15, 2006

and so I return, cleansed mind, weary feet and stretched stomach accompanying the rest of me on the final leg from Hangzhou back to Beijing. I've been keeping diary on papyrus with a flamingo stylus, or where this wasn't available, on my handy notepad with a bic. It's been a fantastic couple of weeks and of course there's much to tell. As I'm aware that this blog is often read during lunches at work crouched over the keyboard with a ploughman's I shall write up jonsminitraveladventures in bitesized installments over the next week so as not to overwhelm and bore too many.

First, in brief summary, I've used all my MS paint skills to create this interactive map detailing the trip that the five of us have taken over the last 11 days.

As I wrote the contents of this blog predominantly on the move, tenses and positions may change in a confusing manner as you read, so my apologies for that. So I guess I shall leave you with the first couple of days installments for now and update next for Tuesday lunchtime.

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I'm sitting, scribbling this on the ship which will be my home for the next three days. We're in Chongqing and I'm pretty awestruck. Even for someone who lives in Beijing, the scale of this place is absolutely astounding. Chongqing has a population of 31 million and is growing at quite an unbelievable rate. Nestled on a rugged landscape at the heart of the Yangtze in Szechuan province this booming metropolis snakes and writhes up the slopes and down the valleys in clinging barnacle fashion. The number of cranes and skyscrapers leaves this relatively seasoned Beijinger somewhat astonished.

So, we're four days into our China tour and have packed in a vast amount already. I let the jet-setters off the leash for a day in Beijing and they had a great time at the summer palace while I removed the last vestiges of a cold which was threatening my enjoyment of the trip. I did head over to meet them in the evening for dinner and on the train on the way there I got this snap of a Jon's eye view of a Beijing subway.

A lovely but sizzlingly hot Szechuan meal made sure that no cold germs remained. A fine array of dishes including potted bullfrog with Szechuan pepper was a spicy challenge to all and unfortunately some fared better than others. This probably means that their taste buds are more intact but it did detract from their enjoyment of it a little. Still, a lovely meal and worth a try if you're into spicy cooking.

The next day we headed to the wall, finally, the Great Wall which is truly spectacular, truly majestic and truly crawling with tourists. You clearly only get a taster of the scale of the wall from going to one small part of it but Badaling (the most tourist-ridden site) gives a pretty decent impression. You get an idea as you see it winding through the mountains at seemingly unclimbable gradients (70 degrees in places). The scenery is wonderful and so stereotypically Chinese as to feel almost cliched. Even with the throngs it's a must see, so Dan you shall have to return to see it ASAP.

Some parts of the wall seem to have been better planned than others.

Tourists flock in great hordes, including of course myself.

Though we took a cable car to the top, the walk down is still pretty tiring and as we puffed and panted, old Chinese men and women passed us walking up looking fresh faced if a little wobbly.

Badaling was followed by a trip to see two of the 13 tombs of the Ming emperors which, though in a beautiful setting, are somewhat underwhelming. Several stories underground in their ancient sarcophagi, once you reach the bottom, the burial vessels themselves are simply unassuming boxes containing the remains of some of the most powerful people who've ruled this land. Not a spot on Napoleon's, Lenin's or Mao's tomb but worth a wonder through the gardens if you're in the area.

We were all rather famished by a long day's walking so went to one of the top Beijing duck restaurants to sample a must-eat dish. A few more culinary trials for M,D,P and M were gobbled up with gusto including duck heart which is wonderfully tender and rich. To finish off the meal a plate of fruit was produced complete with dry ice.
A somewhat unwelcome early start was necessary the next day to catch the plane to Xi'an for leg two of the journey. This was my first internal Chinese flight and as someone who isn't terribly comfortable flying these days (though I seem to be getting better again), the reputation of CAAC (crashes all around China) made me a little nervous. The hour and a half flight was absolutely fine though unfortunately complete cloud cover meant we didn't get to see any of the landscape between the new Capital, Beijing and the ancient capital (of 2000 years ago), Xi'an. The ancient city is still surrounded by all 9 miles of the original city walls, complete with imposing fortifications

and modern sentries

We were staying near the predominantly Muslim area of the city and a short walk from the hotel led us to winding streets where daily life seems to consist of building, fixing things, cooking and eating. A plethora of gastronomic delights assails the senses as you wander around with giant woks, steamers, griddles and tandoor type cookers prepare the evening meals and daily snacks. Having just eaten, our sampling was reduced to looking and smelling the fantastic looking flat breads, dried fruits, and strange cuts of meats, freshly hung and ready to be cooked.
M and D ahead walking through Xi'an's streets.


We were en route, somewhat circuitously, to the central mosque, the largest in China and another great opportunity to see not only a beautiful temple but also a place still used for worship, which is not the case for many of the temples in Beijing.
On the way back from the Mosque, M and I headed to the bell tower where the bell is free for all to ring and it seemed rather rude not to give it a go.

Due to completely archless feet, I struggle to spend all day standing up but a foot massage back at the hotel sorted me out, soothed my soles and set me up for the next day's mammoth tour. If you're coming to China I can recommend the foot massage as a perfect way to unwind without the pain of a full massage (which I often find completely excrutiating). Your feet are soaked in a spiced hot water for ten minutes or so before being covered in lotion and pummeled gently for the next hour and a bit.

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That's seems a suitable place to stop for now so I shall update more for Tuesday.

2 comments:

Cornelius Crunch said...

Awesome tales Biscuit! Love it. There's a travel writer in you yet. As for me, I have two weeks (minus a bank holiday) left in full-time employment (most of which I intend to spend out at lunch, both literally and figuratively) before, with a bit of luck, I'll never have to work on a Monday again. Happy Easter! Go and eat some chocolate, Shockolate.

Jonathan Shock said...

Cheers CC,

Enjoy your last two weeks in work and take advantage of all the perks while you still can. I'm sure you can wangle another trip to the Fat Duck! Next time we talk I expect you to be breakfasting at three in the afternoon and wandering across Wandsworth Common in your dressing gown for comedic inspiration.

Happy Easter and chat soon,

J