Thursday, May 31, 2012

Honeymoon: Day 2

11/04/12 - We got up at a reasonable time in the morning as we wanted to make the most of the day and get down to breakfast before it was cleared away. Breakfast in the hotel was nice, although not the best out of the hotels we stayed in - generally during the whole holiday we stuck to eating western food at breakfast (all the hotels had egg stations!), although there was always a selection of Chinese dishes that we could have tried.

Entrance to the Forbidden City
The day's plan was to go to the Forbidden City, which was only about 10 mins from our hotel. The rain of yesterday was pretty much a one off for the honeymoon and on this day the weather was hot and sunny (it stayed like this in Beijing). Walking to the entrance there were a lot of tour guides touting for business and saying that they could get passed the ticket queues quicker, but we just wanted to sort it by ourselves. At the entrance there were huge queues of Chinese tour groups in which each group had there own colour and style of hat. The ticket queue for non-tour groups folks was quite long, but actually took under 10 mins. We then got our audio guide and went into the City. It was interesting place and really big - we probably spent a couple of hours in there, but Jen was quite shocked by her first (and worst of the whole trip) experience of a Chinese public toilet. Near the exit people were being stopped going through by soldiers and there were official looking cars about, so we thought it might have been state officials going by. We went back the way we'd come and found another way through (we ended up at the same place, but after our detour the officials had passed and people were allowed through). Also, whilst in the Forbidden City it was the first time on the trip that Jen had someone request having their photo taken with her (due to her red hair we assume.)

Across the road from the exit was Jing Shan park, which has a happy story of an emperor hanging himself in it! The hill in the park was actually constructed from the soil excavated during the making of the moat around the City. While walking up to the top Jen attracted the attention of a large group of photographer with telephoto lenses trying to discretely take her photo. The tower at the top of the park contained a large Buddhist shrine and offered great views back over the Forbidden City. The park also offered a better second toilet experience than that in the City.
The Forbidden City from Jing Shan Park
From there we walked back down the side of lake in Beihai Park and the side of the Forbidden City to Tianamen Square. There were a lot of soldiers about including some rather obvious plane clothes soldiers/police. We saw the famous portrait of Chairman Mao and headed and through the gate at the north of the Square, which turned out to be the wrong way and just headed back to the Forbidden City entrance! Going back out to the Square we got accosted for the second time, so that a man and his son could get their photo taken with Jen. Initially I was in the photo, but they then asked me to move out the way, so it was just Jen and the man's son! Crossing under the road via the subway (which had X-ray machines) we were in the main part of the Square. We wandered past Mao's mausoleum (not going in to see his body) and saw the changing of the guard. At the south of the Square we went into the Qianmen Gate building - this offered a good view back over the Square, but didn't contain much of interest.
Mao's mausoleum in Tianamen Square

We walked down Qianmen street and went for a pot (well many refills of a pot) of tea at Haos Tea House. We'd not eaten since breakfast, so also had an ice cream from the Hagen Das across the street. After passing a shop for London Olympic merchandise (presumably a reassignment of a previous Beijing Olympic shop) we found a physics-themed footbridge at the bottom of the street. Around this area our guide book had said there were Hutongs (the narrow alleys and courtyards where people would traditionally live) that you could walk round, so we attempted to find them. But, they seemed to have all been flattened for new buildings (we did find some others over the next few days), so we just walked back to our hotel.

We booked dinner at the Pure Lotus vegetarian restaurant, which required us to take our first subway journey. We had to use two different lines, but it was very simple and cheap (20 yuan each). The map we'd brought with us didn't quite extend to the restaurant location (and we hadn't even noted down the address!), so we had to wander around slightly randomly for 30 mins before we found it. It was a rather fancy place with a huge wooden door at the entrance. The food was all served in very elaborate dishes and it looked rather impressive. There was a huge wooden menu that was very confusing. This confusion meant we ordered far too much including a chilli and fake "chicken" thing served in a huge banana-shaped dish (which we didn't really ask for, but just got told about and accidentally brought). But it was all very nice albeit very spicy (given the large amount of chilli). At the end we got complementary fruit served in dry ice!
Complementary fruit

After dinner we went to find bar we had found on the beijinger website, called Q bar, which was supposed to be good for ex-pats. After a 20 min walk we found the bar, which was above a slightly dodgy looking hotel - it was packed, but a bit odd and we couldn't get drink! We left with the feeling that we'd stumbled across a special singles, or swingers, night!?

It was now too late to get the underground home, so we tried hailing a taxi. Eventually one did stop for us. We had a card from our hotel with its address in Chinese script, but the driver had very thick glasses and didn't seem to be able to read it. The driver did seem to have understood the card though and got us back to the hotel for a fee of about £2.40.

Honeymoon: Day 1

It's been over a month since my wife and I got back from our honeymoon. While away we kept notes of what we did each day with the plan to write these up here as soon as we returned. Well it took a bit longer than planned to get round to it, but here is the first of our day-by-day instalments: travels to Beijing (we went to China in case you couldn't guess!) It may be a bit more detailed than absolutely necessary, but it's also there as a reminder to us.

Day 1 (and a bit)

09/04/12 - Just over a day after the wedding we boarded our flight to China. We flew with Emirates going from Glasgow to Dubai, with just a couple of hours in Dubai airport, and then on to Beijing. We arrived in Dubai airport late at night feeling pretty exhausted mainly due to finally starting to come down from the wedding high. Having realised I'd forgotten deodorant and Jen needed some make-up we did a bit of duty free shopping before trying to find somewhere for a snack. After much indecision we settled on a fish-based cafe where I had a beef sandwich, Jen had a croissant, and we drank some Sprite. This slightly revived us for the second leg of the flight. Originally the Beijing leg was supposed to be in an Airbus A380, but in the end it was downsized to a more standard Boeing 777.

10/04/12 - We arrived at Beijing airport in the early afternoon. We passed through a thermal imaging machine to check if you've got a fever and need to be quarantined, and then went into the impressive immigration hall. We passed through immigration without any problem and after a short monorail ride our luggage was waiting for us (this can often be an issue for me - in the past Jen has blamed my luggage woes on flying with a big back pack, so I'd been made to buy a proper suitcase for this trip). Our taxi driver from the airport was friendly and kept trying to point our things for us to look at, but as he spoke no English and us no Mandarin we just looked, smiled and nodded. Getting in to the centre of Beijing we were mainly struck by the size of the place and the buildings - everything was massive. We arrived at our hotel (the Hotel Kapok) in late afternoon just as rain broke.

Our first room in Hotel Kapok
The hotel had a quite funky facade and looked pretty swish when we got inside. They didn't have the style of room we'd booked available, so they upgraded us to a bigger room (it even had a small outdoor garden area) for a day (this turned into 3 days, but unfortunately not the whole stay). The room was massive, with a huge bathroom, and even came with its own gas masks in case of fire!

Night street food market
After having a brief rest we headed out to get some food and have a bit of an explore. Just about 100m from our hotel there was an outdoor food night market and one of the major Beijing shopping streets called Wangfujing. We perused the food market starting off with corn-on-the-cob-n-a-stick (rather than tucking straight in to the starfish/seahorse-on-a-stick) before heading down Wangfujing. Just off that street we found another small alley containing more colourful street food. With the rain having eased off we headed back to the main street market where we had crab dumplings, fried dumplings,spring rolls and banana fritters, which were all very tasty.

The band at a Qianhai lake bar
Despite the long day we'd got a proper second wind and decided that we'd try and find a pub. We briefly went back to the hotel to check our options before deciding to try and find a bar on Luogu Alley. We also decided that we'd try walking there as it didn't look too far on out map. It turns out that the city blocks in Beijing are larger than they look, but after about half an hour of walking (and seeing our first instance of the Chinese street dancing craze) we arrived at where the entrance to the alley should have been. Unfortunately it seemed to be a building site for a new subway station (a few days later we found out that there was a way through to the alley), so we decided to carry on walking to Qianhai lake where there were more bars. Another half an hour later we found it (after passing a bizarre Christmas display!) and walked round to look at the bars. All of the bars had live music going on in them and none were that appealing, but we wanted some alcohol after our long day and eventually just went into one after being accosted by a bar promoter type. The band in this place weren't that bad, but hadn't attracted much of a crowd. We both had a single drink and left to head home.

I made a slight wrong turn on the way back, but I realised my mistake quite soon and we headed in the right direction back to our hotel. After another long walk we made it back without any problems and quickly got to sleep.

I expect the following posts will get shorter than this!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Slalom in the sunshine

Today was one of the final canoe club trips of the academic year. But, unlike most club trips this one was happening on a gloriously hot and sunny day rather than the standard weather of cold, wet and windy.

Seven of us headed up to Grandtully to go on the section of the Tay there. We travelled quite a scenic route to get there at the behest of our SatNav (via Crief and Aberfeldy), but still got there with plenty of time to paddle. At this section of the Tay the Scottish Canoe Association has it's national slalom site, so there were easy parking facilities there. This river section has a short series of rapids (with slalom gates set up) followed by a long flat section, so we just stayed at the rapids and ran down them several times interspersed with a lunch break. There wasn't a huge amount of water, so the rapid weren't particularly big, but we were able to practice getting into eddies and play about a bit. We didn't attempt making the slalom gates though, although there were quite a lot of other paddlers on the river, so of who were slalom-ers. There was also a  group of rafts heading down the river.

It was nice to get off the river and be able to get changed in the sun and get kit mostly dried before packing it. We took a more direct route back home with a brief stop at a service station outside of Perth for an ice lolly.