Day 10: Our attempts to get up early fail as usual. Initially waking up at 8:30, then 9. Finally making it outside just before 11am. Not before changing our room and booking our onward journey to Xi' An the following day (888RMB - about £88 for the both of us). We get some breakfast at our local bakery "Auspicious Phoenix", eating it outside the tube station due to their "no food or drink" policy.
We paid 2 Yuan (20p) for a go-anywhere ticket and spent the next hour on various packed trains to get our destination. Outside was noticeably colder, the tubes were claustrophobically hot though.
Our destination for today is the Summer Palace. Only a few minutes walk from the tube station we arrive, pay are 30RMB (£3) each and head in.
The place is MASSIVE. It's hard to believe that there is a place so big in a city so crowded (on top of all the other big spaces in the Forbidden City, temples etc). We start off by walking west-wards round the humongous lake, stopping off for pictures with the many pagodas, temples, boats and leafy autumnal scenery as we wander. We had met someone in the hostel that said that when they went on Saturday (we went on Monday) the visitor figure was 39,000 people that day. When we were there it was nothing like that. Walking out from the main temple/palace complex to the lake was genuinely peaceful. You could see the big skyscrapers off in one direction (pagoda topped mountains in the other), but you couldn't hear it.
It took us around 2 hours to walk round the lake, stopping to read the history at the different bridges and buildings, most of which had to be rebuilt as the Allied Forces (France and England) burnt most of it during the Boxer Rebellion in year 18-something-or-other. There were numerous temples to go in and look round including on huge Buddhist temple that you could see from anywhere on the lake, unfortunately we didn't stop there though.
After a full day of walking around we left at 4pm and headed for our hostel. By 5:15pm we were grabbing food from the dumpling place from last night. We had beef and coriander dumplings, noodles and some mystery meat. The meat tasted ok, but looked and had the texture of something not very nice (maybe intestine?). But the thought that "it tastes ok, so what should it matter?" only got us so far. A lot was left.
We had to then rush back to our hostel for 6pm because at 6:15 we were picked up for the Peking Opera - the reason we extended our stay in Beijing another day.
The show started at 7:30pm in a fancy hotel. It was an hour and a half show, and was very different to what we expected. There was 4 acts that followed no coherent storyline. It involving a drunk empress, a concubine that killed herself, an emperor that had changed his name and wanted to see his mother in another town and a kung fu slapstick act that was the highlight where a tavern owner was going to assassinate some guy and the two where trying to find either other and fight in the dark along with a couple others. Complete with high pitch singing throughout (and thankfully subtitles on a screen), long, slow dances with elaborate costumes and a small orchestra with all-Chinese instruments. I really enjoyed it, Alicia didn't so much (she almost fell asleep).
Free day as our train wasn't till 8pm.
We check out, get breakfast of a sandwich for me and raisin bread for Alicia both had hot chocolate (with weird jelly bits at the bottom), and then we decided to took a short tube ride to visit The Temple of Heaven - lucky because it was by far the nicest temple we went to. The highlight was the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests which was a big 38 metre high, 3 tier, circular temple. Inside was a single altar with a high roof and ornate carvings and paintings across ceiling. Outside was a large courtyard and stone steps leading up to the structure. It was definitely the most impressive temple we had been to in Beijing. Just along from the Hall was an unassuming door, but it was called the Seventy Year Old Door. It was built in 1779 for a 70 year old emperor who was in ill health so had a door build as a shortcut to the Hall, but he feared his offspring would abuse it. So he decreed only emperors of the Qing dynasty who reach 70 years of age could use it. Not one of the successive emperors reached that age. So emperor Qianlong was the only person in history to use the door.
We then visited a smaller 1 story circular temple which was like a mini Hall of Harvest. The wall surround it was called the Wall of Echos as the acoustics was suppose to make anything you say directly at the wall echo.
Then we sauntered down a stone walkway and through archways to the Round Altar. A big white marble structure with 3 tiers that you could walk around. At the top was a platform with a round stone in the middle. At this exact point the shape of the Altar would play another acoustic trick, greatly amplifying the voice of whoever was stood there (usually only emperors).
Afterwards we headed on the subway towards the Silk Market and got a totally legit pair of Vans trainers for ¥100 (£10) and a Ralph Lauren polo top for ¥70. Bargain. Alicia bought a Chinese dress that she got down from ¥2000 to ¥130, but got a bit upset at the harassment they gave (they would block your exit, physically hold you back or pull your arm, even shout at you - accusing you of being rude for walking away). She wasn't the only one, we saw a European lady shouting full pelt at one shop owners. She also bought a "silk" dressing gown. A total of ¥180(£18).
In the food court we bought more dumplings and some noodle soup. Although they forgot our order, they gave it to us eventually and half way through came over and accused us of not paying. Crazy. On the way out picked up some chopsticks.
We headed back to our hostel to pick up our bags. We had to get our train to Xi' An but because of the departure time it meant having to go through the centre of Beijing on the subway at rush hour. Unsurprisingly it was so very busy and our bags are very large. Not convenient. We left the subway extremely hot, but we'd survived.
We boarded the train OK in soft sleeper again, this time sharing with 2 Chinese men. 1 of them snored very loudly and the other got up at 5:30am and continuously cleared his throat (like he was going to spit - spitting is common everywhere in China) as though he was the only one in the room.
Day 12: We arrived in Xi' An at 8:30am and were met by Catherine, a Chinese receptionist at our hostel who had agreed to meet us when we got our hostel in Beijing to ring and ask for more detailed directions. When she met us we got on a bus and took it for half an hour till the hostel. It was a good thing she met us, the hostel was set back off the road without any real signage, we would have never have found it by ourselves. When we got in we found out we couldn't check in till midday so we left our stuff in reception and went for a walk around.
The area the hostel was in was nice. It was surrounded by parks, pagodas and pedestrian walk ways lined with statues. Nice although it was no where near the centre. We would later find out it was a 2 hour walk to the centre.
After getting our bearings we decided to walk to the centre, we walked through our nearby park and checked out the "Big Wild Goose Pagoda", but didn't pay to go in as we felt we had our fill of pagodas in Beijing. Eventually walking all the way into town with the sole purpose to buy our train tickets for our onward train journey to Chengdu. After consulting the Lonely Planet guide a couple of times we found the booth and an English speaking rep! It turns out they had 2 tickets left, but they wouldn't sell it to us because we didn't have our passports. There was no way we could get back to the hostel in time, so disappointed and a little annoyed we had to leave it. By this time we were wanting lunch and did what any self respecting annoyed, hungry and tired traveller would do. We got Pizza Hut (Alicia: XL stuffed crust Meat Feast plus Oreo milkshake :D)
After dinner we decided to walk back from town and stop off at a museum on the way. The guide book said it was a great museum and even better, was free. We found the museum but the queue was massive, slow moving and you more importantly needed your ID (ie passport) to get in. So we just headed back.
Having felt like it'd been a wasted day, in the evening we went to Asia's largest water fountain show situated in the grounds of the Big Goose Pagoda. It was nice but we did get a bit bored and wandered off before it finished. We had a walk round the park that was lit up at night and pedestrian areas that were filled with stalls before heading back to the hostel. We didn't bother with food, Pizza Hut is enough for lunch and dinner.
Back at the hostel Alicia and I sat and had a few beers. We were joined by another hostel worker and we talked through differences in language, culture (for example, did you know China has 2 dates for the same day, the Western calendar and the "second date" which is a month or so behind, based on old Chinese time keeping - which is why Chinese New Year isn't the same as ours) and our onward journey. After some discussion and research we had decided to drastically change our journey. Initially we would go Xi' An - Chengdu - Shanghai - Yangtze River - Guilin, but now we planned Xian - Shanghai - Chengdu - Guilin. We hadn't completely ruled out the 3 gorges cruise at Yangtze, but we heard and read that in 2009 they built a dam there and the gorge had filled with water and flooded most of the sights. So I guess it was a good thing we didn't book our train tickets after all.
Day 13: The first thing we did in the morning was to head to a much, much closer ticket office and buy our onward journey - this time to Shanghai.
We then hopped onto a local bus for an hour or so out towards the famous Terracotta Warriors. When we got off the bus we had to walk for 30 minutes or so before reaching the entrance. Unfortunately the ¥150 to get in was a surprise (the guide said it was ¥90), but at least it was still a lot cheaper than booking it with a tour.
Once inside on the LP guide book's (good) advice we went round in reverse. We started at pit 3, a small, fully excavated room where all the generals, high ranking officers and animals (mainly horses) were held and fully restored. We then headed to pit 2 which was a large room that was currently under excavation. There wasn't too much to see in pit two, much of it was undug, but the bits that were, give you a good idea of the state they were found in. Hundreds of bits of terracotta lined the sites, occasional you could make out a bit of a horse or a foot of a warrior. Around pit 2 they had various types of fully restored warriors of different rank and in different positions along with information on each one as each warrior they've found has been unique in every detail, down to the tread on their shoes. They also showcased some artefacts along with interesting facts like the weapons had been through a process of Chrome plating that stopped it rusting, hundreds of years before it was (re)discovered by the Western world.
We then headed over to the finale of pit 1. Held in a massive hangar, pit 1 showcased over 6,000 fully restored warriors lining the vast trenches that had been dug discovering them. Pit 1 had a walk way around the hangar that allowed you to view the warriors for every angle, they even kept more modern tombs intact as part of the display. This was where people were buried hundreds of years later only feet above the Terracotta Warriors, without ever knowing they were there until 40 years ago. Towards the back of the pit, even more excavation continued and you could see the pain staking process of uncovering the mountain of shattered bits, identifying them, slowly rebuilding them and then restoring them (filling in the gaps) ready for display.
To round off the day we visited the on site museum before we left, which offered more of a history of the various dynasties and China in general, more warriors on display and impressive artefacts - notably the 2 large solid bronze chariots.
On our way back to the bus we grabbed a Dico's chicken take-away for lunch as we knew what it was we were eating and it was cheaper than the other food in the area. We then jumped on a bus back to the train station, then another bus back to the hostel.
For dinner we headed to a restaurant called First Noodle Under The Sun for dinner. It was wicked! We ordered their famous 3.8 metre long single noodle with 2 soup side dishes for dipping. (Interesting with chopsticks) dumplings, rice and Iron Beef (no idea what the "Iron" referred to, but it was nice). The menu was huge and the food was excellent. It made us feel a bit bad about opting for western food so much, so we said we'd try a bit harder with our food in China.
Day 14: We had planned to get up early and see some more of Xi' An. This turned into a bit of a lay in. We rose at a responsibly respectful 10, but then took till just before 12 to pack up, checkout and book onward hostel in Shanghai.
When we did make it out we wandered through a different park with a peaceful vibe. There were various sets of elderly people doing Tai Chi, their balance was amazing. Alicia picked up some candy floss from one of the stands for breakfast and we headed towards the museum we tried to visit the other day. This time we were armed with time and passports.
We got there at the right time (12:30ish) as the museum ticket office shut between 12-1pm for lunch most of the queue wandered off, but as we joined it started to form quickly behind us until it was again spilling out onto the street. All they wanted from us for a free ticket was some ID and personal information, I scribble some nonsense down in my least legible handwriting, don't want the commies having our home address! Because we were at the front of the queue the museum was practically empty when we got in, giving us time to browse a lot of the exhibits at leisure. The museum itself was well laid out. There was a lot of terracotta warrior info and some of them on display as well as more artifacts from the dig site, including some pottery unicorns and jade dragons and a solid gold carving of a monster (Alicia pointed out that it was strange such a different culture had the same "mythical creatures" as we did before eastern and western man even met..hmmm, interesting).
We ended up about 3pm and headed over again to eat at First Noodle Under The Sun. We had 2 pepsi's, a big bottle of beer, sweet and sour pork, bowl of pork strip noodles, dumplings, rice and a pork filled flat bread all together that was £9 between us. We are going to put on weight in China, I can just feel it (mainly around my midriff).
After the food we had to quickly pop back to the hostel, collect our bags and grab a bus to the train station. Unfortunately the bus took longer than expected, then there was a big queue to go through security and ticket/passport checks, all making sure that a run with all our stuff to the platform followed. It was a bit manic. At one point Alicia's day bag randomly opened and stuff started pouring out! We just about made it though. As we got into our soft sleeper cabin the train pulled away. We shared the cabin with a man, woman and young child. Surprisingly, we had no issues with the child, who was as good as gold the entire 14 hours, even stroking her mums hair when she was asleep (she must of only been 4-5 years old). The man however, I would say he snored like a train, but actually he was a few hundred decibels louder.
Day 15: Shanghai (Saturday) about 8am, we followed the hostels instructions and jumped on the metro from the train station for a couple of stops. When we got out the information said to walk through the park. Unfortunately there was park left and right of us. We just lumped to go left. We walked round a nice, albeit, large park with all our stuff without any joy so we decided to go out onto the road and get our bearings. A couple of guys could see we were a little lost and took the time out to try and help us, including one elderly gentlemen who spoke some English who actually walked with us for 30 or so minutes until we found the hostel, helping us with directions and showing us where he used to live. Me being a little sceptical, half expected him to ask for money or for us to go and see his "free painting / calligraphy exhibit", but no, he did it just to be nice (plus, there was a random guy who stopped to help us with a tube map...could this be the friendliest city in China? It's looking good so far).
We found our hostel, but had to wait until 12 to check in.
Once we get into our room we have a nice hour long nap. After we head out to towards "The Bund" a long road by the river that separates the 2 main districts of Shanghai. We read and heard that this is the main sight in Shanghai. To get there we took the metro and walked through the busy, high-end shopping street of East Nanjing. This was where the first department stores were opened in China, so it's famous amongst locals. Once we got to The Bund, we stroll up road as dusk sets in, watching the boats and the high rises on the shore opposite slowly illuminate. It was a nice walk, we got to see their (lame) equivalent of Big Ben, complete with a funky bell song followed by the out of tune hour chimes.
I really wanted to see the expo centre light up. I'd seen it in pictures and it looked great, but of course it was one of the last buildings to light up. At around 6pm all the buildings had turned their lights on so we took some more pictures and headed back down East Nanjing Road towards People's Square and then off one of the side streets to find a restaurant.
We find a fancy looking restaurant with a menu that had pictures (yay!), so hungry, we went in. The menu was wired. It was such a posh place, but they served dishes like Ox head, which was a whole head, horns and all on a plate, various snake dishes like snake head soup, turtle claws, snark fin soup, intestine and all kinds of other nasty ass looking stuff. We have seen strange stuff on menus all over China, but this really took us by surprise (maybe because it looked so fancy. You expect Chicken Feet in a grubby hole in the wall). We found a nice selection of stuff including Shanghai dumplings, noodles, rice, a plate of veg, beef in oyster sauce, and chilli pork. We had started to eat like the Chinese, which involved ordering a lot, putting it all in the middle when it'd comes out and just dive in and share.
After a pleasant meal we headed back to our hostel ("Rock and Wood") for a couple of beers, use their Internet to upload pictures and phone home, ET style.
Day 16: This is our last day in Shanghai before we head to some smaller places surrounding Shanghai. So there was a lot to see.
Our first stop was to walk through People's Square, had some lunch from a noodle stand, then head to the free museum. When we got to the museum though the queue was massive and although we were getting closer to entering, after about 30 minutes we gave up in favour for a park and market that was an hour or so walk away.
The area was very nice, it was full of old-style red stain buildings with slanting roofs, the streets were bustling with market vendors trying to sell their wares (it worked, Alicia bought a couple of Happy Cat ornaments, and I bought some Beats headphones for a bargain price of £12). The gardens were a little hard to find, we almost ended up in a fragrant Tibetan temple with a large amount of incense burning in it's courtyard. But we push on to the gardens. When we arrive at "Yu Gardens", the entrance fee is ¥30 each which we thought was a little steep (Forbidden City was ¥40), but it turns out it was worth every penny. The gardens were compact, but we're like a maze filled with pagodas, water features, statues and interesting rocks (the Chinese do like their interesting rocks - we've seen them in all the important gardens and parks we've been too). We took more than our fill of pictures and even managed to catch a musical performance with a small, traditional dressed group playing traditional music from that age. Very nice, better than a museum any day.
As dusk was setting in, we walked towards The Bund again to try and get through to the other side of the river (Pudong district) Options were a ¥4 subway, a ¥2 ferry or a ¥50 underground cable car called The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. We went for the tunnel, money well spent. It was a 5 minute journey of complete weirdness, the likes I hadn't seen before, but expected more of in China. We hopped into our cable car with the tunnel flashing with various lights, looking like an epileptics nightmare. On the journey strange "space" music played with a voice over who would cut in at random points with such insights like "star sparkle" and "magma". There was even wacky waving inflatable arm men at one point and a video of a crap computer generated shark. Nice.
At the end we both left laughing in disbelief at what we had just seen and why someone thought it'd be a good idea to build.
We then walked amongst the huge buildings that were all lit up until we reached a skyscraper called "Jin Mao Tower". We were off to a very fancy bar on top of the Grand Hyatt Hotel called Cloud 9. It was on the 87th floor and took 3 lifts to get there. We tried our best to look smart, paid the ¥100 entry fee (at least it gave us a drink included - beer was ¥85), sat down and admired the views. You could see down onto many skyscrapers, across the water and over Shanghai. Amazing. We decided to splash out on a cocktail (I had an Amarreto Fruit and Alicia had a Cloud 9 Ice Tea), when it came out though they gave Alicia the Amarreto Fruit and me the Ice Tea. What, a man can't enjoy a fruity drink??
After we finished the cocktails we finished off the expensive evening (over ¥400) in the least posh way possible. We left the Jin Mao tower, but hungry and despite my protests we ended up at McDonalds sharing a chicken nugget meal. (Alicia: You can take the girl out of Leicester ... :P)