Tuesday, August 10, 2010

China, day 5

Saturday we took the overnight train back to Beijing. Although we only had seats (as opposed to beds), considering our journey to Xi'an they were the best seats ever.

We met our taxi driver John, who we hired for the whole day, when we got to the station. First, we went to the Summer Palace - it was very pretty, and full of tourists.

These water lilies were as big as my head!

The covered walkways

The boat made of stone - so useful!

After the Summer Palace, we went to the Great Wall. Most people go to Badaling, which is the closest site to Beijing. John took us out to Mutianyu, which is farther away and therefore has fewer tourists. Plus, since we went in the afternoon, most of the people had already left, which meant there were times when I had the whole thing to myself.

Our last day was definitely the highlight. Before we left, everyone talked about how wonderful Beijing was. Until that last day, I had no idea how it was possible for people to enjoy the city.

Anyway, now there's fewer than three weeks remaining, and I'm deep into planning for my upcoming trips. Very exciting!

Friday, August 6, 2010

China, days 3 and 4

Day three (which really felt like day two) was the day we set aside for seeing pandas. Pandas were one of the main reasons my friend decided to go to China with me, so this was an important activity.

Needless to say, just like everything else we did in China, this trip did not go as planned. It was so hot outside that the pandas were hiding inside in the shade. We did get to see a few, but my friend though she would get to touch one (no such luck). Additionally, the treatment of animals isn't exactly to the same standards as it in the U.S.

That afternoon we went to the Muslim Quarter of Xi'an. It was busy (like everywhere else), but it was a really interesting area.

On our last day in Xi'an, we went to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. Even though it was boiling outside, it was a really interesting trip. We went to the three different pits that were open to the public (the recently discovered fourth isn't open to visitors). All of the pits are oriented toward the east, to face the rising sun. The emperor who commissioned the army is buried to the west, protected by the warriors.

The second pit is still mostly untouched, so there isn't much for visitors to see. It does have great examples of the four classes of warriors.

The third pit is almost completely finished, but it's the smallest. This is considered the "command center."

Our guide took us to the first pit at the end of the tour in order to save the best for last. Pit one is the largest and most recognizable.

Only one more day to cover, but it was a big one - the last day in Beijing!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

China, days 1 and 2

China was a very... different vacation. First off, it wasn't particulary vacation-like. We got very little rest or relaxation. Secondly, I have never been anywhere quite like it. It's huge and busy, there's a huge air pollution problem, it's just hectic and crazy.

We started the trip on just a couple hours of sleep, and upon arriving in Beijing we went directly to the bus station. Before we left, we tried to get train tickets but it always fell through and I thought that we would still be okay. It turns out that buying in advance is really important, and we ended up with standing only tickets (much more on this later).

Of course, this put a terrible damper on the mood, but we decided to forge ahead and we went to Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen is HUGE, and wasn't really what I had been expecting. I knew it would be big, but I though that it would be an open area. Instead, there are streets and buildings scattered around. It also didn't help that it was 100* outside, and the air was filled with smog.

Afterwards, we headed back to the train station to wait for the train. A lot was going on while we waited, but long story short, we ended up not being able to seats. We spent the twelve-hour overnight trip to Xi'an standing up. It was one of the most horrible trips I've ever had, made even worse by how excruciatingly slow the time passed.By the time we got to Xi'an, we were exhausted.

In the middle of the night, the standing room passengers try to sleep in squatting positions. There was absolutely no empty floor space in the entire train.

The first thing we tried to do was get train tickets for the trip back to Beijing. We did eventually get seats through the hostel, but that day was still tough to get through. I was barely able to walk and I my equilibrium was totally thrown off for the rest of the day.

After a short rest, we realized that we could do a bit of sightseeing in Xi'an because we had one more day than planned in the city. First we went to the bell tower in the center of the city.

We finished the day walking along the wall that surrounds the city. It was very nice, though it might have been nicer if the air wasn't so polluted.

Next up, days three and four in China!