Sunday, June 17, 2012

Honeymoon: Days 4-6

I'm going to start shortening and merging the honeymoon posts now otherwise I'll never finish writing them!

The "Guide Map of the Jinshanling Great Wall"
13/04/12 - We were up early on Friday for our trip to the Great Wall of China. It looked like it was going to be a very nice day. Before getting a taxi to the hostel where the tour was leaving from Jen went to the Subway across the road to get sandwiches for lunch. Having found the hostel the day before we got there easily. There were a couple of different trips departing: one to a closer, more touristy, part of the Wall, and another to further away part of the Wall (at Jinshanling) where you could trek along it for about 6km. We were on the latter trip, which had about 32 people on it of various nationalities. It took about 2.5 to 3 hours to get there on the coach (with one toilet stop along the way), although a good chunk of this time was taken getting out of Beijing. The scenery got quite impressive as we heading towards the mountains. On nearing the Wall the guide on our bus gave us a bit of Wall history - the various parts built by different Dynasties over several millennia to keep out changing enemies.

The Great Wall
The section of the Wall that we walked along was about 6 km long and passed through 22 towers. About half of this was reconstructed in 1980s other half was older and wilder. The tour guide had said that the start of the walk would be steep, getting steeper and finishing off steeper still. We'd been warned that along the Wall there might be people (mainly displaced farmers) trying to sell us stuff and following us along the way, but this wasn't really the case - at some towers there were people selling drinks (and sometimes t-shirts), but they didn't hassle us at all. Other than our group there weren't too many people on the Wall, but there was a large school trip going in the opposite direction. We were given about 3 hours to walk the section and we set off to the front of our group (we got overtaken by a couple of couples when we stopped for lunch). It was hot and sunny for most of the walk, but just before we got to the final tower it got windy and a short dust storm came in (with a few large drips of rain too). There was one very steep section, which required hands to scramble up, but otherwise it wasn't too difficult a trek. We got to the final tower about an hour earlier than necessary (we were the second couple to reach there in the end). When everyone had arrived (and the sky had cleared) we headed back off the Wall down to the coach. The coach home took us passed the Olympic stadium. We got off by an underground station and took that back to our hotel.

For dinner that evening we just stayed local and went to the shopping mall (where we'd been for lunch the day before). After looking around all the restaurants we decided on a place where you got a barabeque in middle of table. On this we cooked up some lamb and cod amongst other things. We bought some beers at the local shop to drink back in our hotel room.

14/04/12 - Our massage was booked for 11am, so we got to have a long lie in. Even so we still managed to get down to the hotel breakfast before it finished. The Dragonfly Spa was very fancy. We seemed to be the only people there at the time. We had opted for the one hour Chinese massage (there were a variety a different massage styles to choose from), which at about £16 each were probably far more expensive than you would pay in less fancy establishment. The massage was nice, with a few slightly sore moments.

The Temple of Heaven
The day's sightseeing was the Temple of Heaven. This required another underground journey. The Temple is set in a huge walled park that you had to pay to enter (we got a ticket that got you into the main sites within the Temple grounds), but it seemed that locals with ID cards were able to get in free. As with the day before it was very hot and sunny. We saw all the main sights in the Temple that our guide book had recommended (including the building that was on the front cover of our guide book). Jen had her photo taken with some tourists again. We stopped for an ice cream and sat down near some people playing tennis. The park also had the ubiquitous sight of people dancing.

We decided to walk back to the hotel via some hutongs. We initially thought that they might have all been demolished due to another new underground station being built, but on crossing a major road we found they were still standing (although some recent demolition was evident). We'd heard about a fancy restaurant in the former American embassy in the old legation district, so we tried to find it. We weren't able to find it, but did find a nice old street to walk down (Dongjiaominxiang Alley, which is apparently the longest alley in Beijing) with an old church on the corner. We passed a big sports centre with lots of people playing either football or basketball. We also walked through the huge mirrored Oriental Plaza where the Grand Hyatt hotel was.

Oriental Plaza
For dinner we planned to go to a Thai restaurant back at the Qian Hai lake. For some reason we couldn't get a taxi to take us! We managed to flag down a couple of taxis (which was a feat in itself!) and showed the drivers a map to where we wanted to go, but one looked blankly at it and shock their head and the other wanted to charge us far more than it should be. So instead we went to a restaurant across the road from our hotel - it was busy with locals, so looked good. The food was quite basic, but was very nice - Jen's felt a bit poorly afterwards, and suspects that the food contained MSG.

15/04/12 - For our last day in Beijing we went to the Summer Palace - it's essentially a huge park surrounding a lake on the outskirts of the city. We got the hotel concierge to flag us down a taxi to take us there. The journey took about 40 mins. Again it was a really hot day.

Kite flying in the Summer Palace
When we entered the park it was really busy and we soon hit a massive jam of people trying to go round a narrow path by the lake, so instead we searched around a bit to find a less busy path. We went round all the main sites (again we had a ticket that gave us entry to all these) including the Long Corridor, Buddha Incense temple, the Seventeen-Arch bridge, Suzhou Street (which is a small scale mock version of part of the canal-ringed city of Suzhou, which we visited later on the holiday) and the Marble Boat. In Suzhou Street you could take gondola rides, but a short trip (that an American tourist wanted us to take with him) was going to be £50, so we declined. All round the park there were people selling peeled cucumbers to eat, but we decided to just have ice lollies instead.

We did go on a boat though, getting the ferry across the Kunming Lake, which was far cheaper (a few 10s of pence I think) than the gondola. On the Seventeen-Arch bridge there were quite a few people with kites who had attained a serious height with them! We could have spent hours in the park, but it was hot and we were quite tired out and decided to head home. At this point the wind picked up and blew up dust and also made the lake rather choppy, which was interesting for all the people out on it in peddloes.

To get home none of the officially licensed taxis wanted to take us using the fare calculated on the meter and were all asking for more than it should be. So, we took the risk of an unofficial taxi who was going to charge us less (about £10). Despite it being an unofficial taxi it was all okay and we got back without incident.

Overlooking Kunming Lake in the Summer Palace
For dinner we went to the nearby mall again. We wanted to go to The Grandma's (a chain restaurant serving Hangzhou-style food), which we'd seen huge queues outside every night. We weren't quite sure how the system of getting a table worked, but there was a screen, and automated voice, outside that seemed to shout out when your table number was ready. I got a table number from the reception area and got told something, which the person behind me in the queue kindly translated into the fact that we'd have to wait about one and a half hours for a table (our number was in the 120s and the current number on the screen was in the 60s). It seemed that there was a touch pad that we think you could put your mobile number into and receive a text when your table number was about to be called, but we just decided to hang about and have a look around the mall until it was ready. We also went out on to Wangfujing and had a quick beer, although the temperature had dropped by then, so we didn't hang about. The one and a half hour wait was well worth it as the food was fantastic. We had a pork dish, a fish stew (on the menu it's spiciness scale was 1 out of 3 chillies, but it was very hot by our standards), cauliflower and vegetable spring rolls.

Afterwards we just headed back to the hotel to pack our bags for the trip to Hangzhou in the morning. We attempted to use the huge bath in out hotel room, but it was so big and took too long to fill to a reasonable level, so was abandoned after I had a little paddle!