Category Archives: travel
Just a quick blog to update where we are. After a protracted and arduous 10 day journey from Chagos to Seychelles we finally arrived on Tuesday 14th June. After checking in and fulfilling all the normal formalities we were able to explore the town. As most of you know I like my cappuccinos and a nice coffee shop was found.
The next task was find somewhere to put Camomile so she would be secure for 3 weeks because we were planning a trip.
Where are we going?
Within 2 days Camomile was ensconced in Eden marina and we had booked our airline tickets. This is the airplane we flew on. It’s an A380 with Ethiad. The sky looks a bit bleak doesn’t it?
Where are we?
This looks like the London tube. Bill was a bit sleepy, he’s also wearing a coat!
This was our goal. Our youngest son Thomas was 30 last week and his fiancee Sonal had arranged a surprise party for him and we were the surprise guests. He had absolutely no idea we were in the country. We didn’t tell anyone, in fact we only knew ourselves the day before. It was impossible to plan and say for certain we could come because we had to make sure Camomile was secure first.
Our eldest son James didn’t know we were coming either and Bill and I managed to get to Maidstone without being seen despite the fact that James had been walking around Victoria station at the same time as us! Sonal was informing us of his whereabouts so we didn’t bump into him by accident. Once we knew he was on the train we caught the next one and Sonal secured us in her Mum’s house just a little way down the road. We organised an amazing entrance. James was filming the ‘Surprise’ for me live on skype thinking we were still in the Seychelles. At the same time we were walking around to the back gate and I walked in to face James. The look on his face was amazing and he shouted ‘what are you doing here?’ then when Thomas saw me his face was fantastic as well. Meanwhile Bill was still standing outside. I opened the gate and said ‘look who’s here’ Thomas was so excited to see Bill here too and then James joined them and there were lots of group hugs.
This morning Thomas cooked an amazing Father’s day breakfast for Bill and we ate it sitting in the sunshine.
We’ve got 3 weeks here so if you’ve got a spare room be careful you might get a pair of church mice standing on your door step!
The first couple of days of our second week were spent doing domestic jobs. Washing was top of the list and we had heard it was possible to take it to the Villa hotel across the bay. So I changed our sheets, bundled all our washing into my large washing bag and we jumped in a tuk tuk to take it there. It was agreed I would pick it up the next day.
Tuesday morning Jacqui, Jackie and I sat in the Dutch Bank cafe for coffee and started to organise our trips. It was agreed that to preserve the batteries our trips would be divided into 3 to allow us to come back to the boats and charge our batteries for a few days before setting off again. Collective booking can be a bit drawn out but we agreed on our first trip and it was booked. It was decided we would leave for Polonnaruwa on Thursday, go to Sigiriya rock on Friday and a safari on the Saturday staying 2 nights in Sigiriya. Wednesday was spent on board with Bill running the portable generator most of the day charging the batteries right up. Later in the afternoon we went to pick up our washing – not good. Over 1800 rupees about £9 twice as much as we had agreed plus the two tuk tuk rides to drop it off and pick it up bringing the total cost to about £14 for one reasonably sized bag of washing! Need to find a different option. (Bill won’t let me use the water on board to wash it by hand.)
Thursday morning at 7am Gary and Jackie off of Inspiration Lady, Kevin and Jacqui off of Tintin and Bill and I met on the jetty to start our trip. We had agreed to go with Yoosef, a local guy who had a 6 seater mini van. It was a bit beaten up but then they all are here. Yoosuf was very good stopping whenever we asked him too. These road side shops are selling a type of curd that looks and tastes like a creamy yoghurt. Delicious.
The scenery outside of Trinco was beautiful. Not in a British rolling green fields way but in a Sri Lankan padi fields with palm trees dotted across the land sort of way. The different shades of green are astounding; rice fields, lily ponds, palm trees. So many wonderful scenes around every corner. People seemed very poor living in mud huts but happy to wave as we pass. Although Yoosuf stopped quite a few times to take photos we couldn’t keep stopping but the views are locked in my memory.
After about 3 hours we arrived at Polonnaruwa and went into the excellent archaeological museum first. There were some wonderful models of how the site once looked and amazing before and after photos of the many sites to see in the area. After spending a couple of hours wandering around the many exhibits Yoosef took us to a great restaurant to get some lunch before we started exploring the ruins.
Kings ruled the central plains of Sri Lanka from Polonnaruwa over 800 years ago when it was a thriving commercial and religious centre. For three centuries Polonnaruwa was a royal capital of both the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms. It was abandoned by the early 13th century and in 1982 UNESCO added it to it’s World Heritage list.
We started our visit at the Royal palace which was built during the 12th century. It is said to have had 7 storeys but today it’s crumbling remains look like giant cavity ravaged molars. The 3m thick walls have holes to receive floor beams for two higher floors, the other four levels would have been made of wood.
In a few corners there was evidence of what the decorations would have looked like.
We were freely allowed to walk around the ruins, they were simply amazing but then I love archeological sites.
We continued onto the Audience hall which has a wonderful frieze of elephants, all different in varying position.
In a corner of the palace grounds was the bathing pool which has been superbly renovated. I could just picture the king and his entourage descending the steps into the water.
We moved onto the Quadrangle a compact group of fascinating ruins. The most impressive was the Vatadage or circular relic house. It’s outermost terrace is 18m in diameter and the second terrace has four entrances leading to the central dagoba with it’s four Buddhas. Each entrance has impressive guard stones. The columns once supported a grand roof structure.
At the base of each of the guard stones was a moonstone . This is a ‘door step’ carved out of granite. It was amazing to us that we were allowed to walk on these fabulous carvings. Even though we had to take our shoes off at the entrance to the quadrangle bare feet will wear it away eventually.
Just across from the Vatadage was the Hatadage monument said to have been built in 60 hours. It was originally a two-storey building. The symmetry of pillars receding into the distance is always an impressive sight even if I did have to wait for ages for all the tourists to move out of the way. We spent about an hour wandering between all the buildings in the quadrangle area. It would get a bit boring if I listed them all. You’ll have to come here to see for yourself.
The last area we visited on the sight was Gal Vihara. A group of beautiful Buddha images cut from one long slab of granite. This reclining Buddha measures 14m long. The standing Buddha to the left of the photo is 7m tall. Quite impressive.
There were lots of Langur monkeys around.
After a wonderful day visiting the sites Yoosuf drove us to our hotel. We stayed at the Sigiri Holiday Inn. Firstly it was NOT part of the Holiday Inn chain and looked different to the photos on the website. Secondly it was a long way from the town so we had to eat there. The menu consisted of ‘western style’ food, always a mistake in this area, and we all ordered chicken and chips. The chicken was cooked within an inch of it’s life and the chips weren’t much better. The breakfast consisted of bananas, lots and lots of toast plus a scrambled egg or omelette washed down with the most disgusting coffee. It only cost about £20 a night, it was clean and the bed was reasonably comfy but I don’t think I would recommend it.
On to our second day we got up early so we could get to Sigiriya rock to beat the tourists……hahaha, so did everyone else. There’s a set of beautifully landscaped water gardens at the entrance to the complex then as you approach the rock it’s base has been landscaped to produce terraced gardens.
The rock rises straight up from the jungle and a series of steps leads up through the lower boulders. The ascent is a steep climb which is mostly steps.
Halfway up the rock there’s an open-air spiral stairway leading up from the main route to a sheltered galley in the sheer rock face. In this niche is a series of paintings of buxom women. They are protected from the sun and photos aren’t allowed so in remarkable good condition. There are various theories of why they are there and how old they are but I think it was a monks naughty boys corner! These two doggies had followed everyone up the stairs. but they were a real pair of mutts.
This photo was taken from the spiral staircase looking back down on the queue that was building up with Kevin and Jackie, Gary and Jackie standing in the line. So much for getting up early to beat the crowds.
At the northern end of the rock, after more steps, the narrow path opens out onto a large platform from which the rock gained it’s name – the Lion rock. During the 1898 excavations two enormous lion paws were found. At one time a gigantic brick lion sat at this end of the rock and the final ascent to the top commenced with a stairway that led between the lion’s paws and into his mouth. It must have been quite spectacular. The 5th century lion has since disappeared, apart from his paws, and to reach the top now it was up more stairs, more narrow and more steep. These last set of steps were too much for Gary’s fear of heights and he stayed by the lion’s paws but the rest of us managed to get to the top. It was hard work. Once at the top we were told there were 1208 steps not that I was counting. The view from the top was spectacular, well worth the climb.
The terraced summit of the rock covers 1.6 hectares and is thought to be the site chosen by King Kassapa for is fortified capital. Today only the low foundations of structures exist and one can only imagine how grand the original structures would have been. The astonishing views across a sea of green forest is captivating.
This looks like it might have been a swimming pool but the 27m by 21m tank was more likely to have been used for water storage. The acid leeching out of the rock around the tank looked like it had been painted on. The colours were amazing.
After spending over an hour exploring and admiring the magnificent views we made our descent. Fortunately there are a second set of steps for descending alongside the ones to go up. By the time we got to the bottom our knees were like jelly but we were all pleased with our achievements.
A visit to the superb museum alongside the gardens was very enlightening about the theory of Sigiriya and it’s past uses. It also had a computer generated programme of what the building might have looked like. It must have been spectacular when it was originally built which could have been several thousand years ago.
Yoosuf took us to another great restaurant for a buffet lunch. In the tourist area there are lots of these type of places offering fairly good food at reasonable prices. After lunch he drove us south to visit one of the famous spice gardens of Matale.
The Heritage Spice and Herbs garden is an attractive shady spot that runs informative tours about the herbs and spices they are growing.
It was very interesting learning what the different herbs can be used for.
Our tour guide was got very excited when he realised we were yachties and offered us free massages by his trainees. I won’t embarrass everyone with the photos. There was a bit of hard sell at the end but I resisted. Everything was very overpriced but it had been an interesting afternoon.
Then it was back to the Sigiri Holiday Inn for a second night with equally inedible food. Why did we do that again?
The next morning after breakfast we headed out to the safari park area. Yoosuf had a friend of his cousins that knew the best park to go to for elephants. Your choice is in the lap of the gods at the end of the day because these elephants are completely wild and free and wander where they want. There’s no feeding stations and they are free to roam where they want although a lot of the local villages had electrified fences erected to keep them out because they can be quite destructive. We swopped Yoosuf’s van for a safari jeep.
The entrance was by a wonderfully scenic watering hole.
This lady was washing herself and her clothes by the water’s edge.
We drove on into the park. The park is made up of a series of dusty tracks and our driver drove around the circuit.
It was possible to stand up in the jeep and we took it in turns in spotting an elephant. I was the first to see a lone male with big tusks standing under some trees. When he saw us he disappeared into the undergrowth. Our driver edged forward and then luckily the elephant decided to come back out again and sautered across about 50 metres in front of us. We followed him for about 10 minutes then he disappeared again.
We carried on driving and saw lots of peacocks but no elephants. We were just thinking we weren’t going to see any more when Kevin spotted a group right next to the road.
We were so lucky because there in front of us were 3 big females each with little babies and quite a few juvenile sized ones.
We watched them walking around on one side of the road when suddenly one of the big females came charging out of the undergrowth towards us, quite scary. Our driver drove forward very quickly and she stopped. We can only assume she thought we were too close to her babies. After that they crossed to the other side of the track and were happy for us to watch. They were then joined by about 3 or 4 more also with babies. It was the most amazing experience there was just the six of us watching these wonderful sedate creatures going about their daily lives.
As they moved around our driver was able to reverse back into a little side track to give us a grandstand view for about an hour. The Mummy Jumbo seemed to be ok with us watching but the adults were always in between us and the babies. I could have watched them for ever. I’ve got some video clips and I’ll try and put one on facebook.
The driver took us to a lookout on top of a small hill for a better view of the area but no more sightings. We had been very lucky to have seen our little family of elephants.
It was time to head back to the boats for a couple of days before our next trip.
A bit more of our Chinese trip
Tuesday 8th September was our last day in Beijing and we intended to spend it in the forbidden city. First we checked out of our hotel and put our bags in their baggage store. I had found 161 Hotel on www.bookings.com and had been pleased with it. The three young girls on the front desk spoke very good English as had the lady on the tour desk. As I’ve said before it was 2 blocks down from the Dongsi metro station and was set in an area that had some nice places to eat. It was set among a hutong area which looked a bit grotty but once inside it was very comfortable. Our room was on the fifth floor without a lift but it was ok because they call the ground floor the first, small flight of stairs to second floor, no fourth floor (Chinese are superstitious of the number 4) so there was only 2½ flights of stairs to climb. Our view wasn’t brilliant, we looked out over the roofs of the adjoining buildings, but the room had only cost us the equivalent of £154 for 4 nights which we felt was good value and we had only been there in the evenings. The bed was a bit firm but the bathroom was clean. I would stay there again and would recommend it to others.
On the ground floor was a lovely little coffee shop which sold sandwiches, cakes and breakfast pastries as well as very good coffee. This photo shows the reception desk with the tour desk on the right and the coffee shop tucked away on the left with the first flight of stairs to the second floor beyond.
This was looking into the road from the main rood and the 161hotel is about 4 doors in on the left. Although the hotel is within walking distance of the Forbidden city we took the Metro to save time.
Tian’an Men Guangghang – the Square of the Gate of Heavenly Peace- is a vast open concrete expanse at the heart of modern Beijing. It’s bordered by 1950s Communist-style buildings. The square has traditionally served as a stage for popular demonstrations and is most indelibly associated with the student protest of 1989 and its gory outcome. We were still plagued with closures and crowd control from the weekend but were able to walk into Tian’an Men square where this Monument to the people was erected in 1958, that’s a good year!! The granite monument is decorated with bas-reliefs of episodes from China’s revolutionary history but this was as close as we were allowed to go.
Along one side of the square is this huge building which is the Great Hall of the People and is the seat of the Chinese legislature. The vast auditorium and banqueting halls are normally open but they had been used over the weekend and hadn’t reopened.
We didn’t spend very long in the square because the whole area was fenced in and to get into the Forbidden city you had to follow a route which, despite being fairly early, already had a fair amount of people snaking along its path so we left the square to join it. I was worried we wouldn’t get into the Forbidden city because everywhere was still very crowded. The road was closed giving me a chance to take this photo looking back into the square of the vast flower arrangement created to mark the 70th anniversary of VJ day. You can see how crowded it was. It’s just possible we were walking past that fateful spot from 1989. We continued for about 20 minutes until we came to the ticket office. Amazingly there wasn’t a queue because many people were on tours and already had their tickets so we just walked straight in.
The Forbidden city, officially known as the Palace museum, is China’s most magnificent architectural complex and was completed in 1420. It has seen s4 emperors rule during it’s 500 year history. It was the exclusive domain of the imperial court and dignitaries until the 1920s. In front of us was the Meridian gate, a U-shaped portal at the south end of the complex. In former times the emperor would review his armies and perform ceremonies from the balcony marking the start of the new calendar. He would also pass judgement of prisoners and oversaw the flogging of troublesome ministers! I took a panoramic shot of it because it’s difficult getting some of these buildings in one photo.
Once through the gate the courtyard opened out towards the Gate of Supreme Harmony. Originally used for receiving visitors and later for banquets during the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1912) I walked to the corner of the courtyard to get this photo.
This photo was taken from the steps on the eastern side and just shows the vastness of the area. This courtyard could hold an imperial audience of 100,000 people.
Before passing through the gate we veered off to the east and made our way to the Hall of Literary Glory to look at the ceramics gallery in one of the eastern buildings. Some of the exhibits were stunning. I love vases but these were amazing.
Once back in the main courtyard we made our way back to the entrance with the five marble bridges symbolising the five cardinal virtues of Confucianism. They cross the golden water which flows from west to east in a course designed to resemble the jade belt worn by officials. We crossed over them.
In front of us was the Gate of Supreme Harmony with a pair of Chinese lions guarding the entrance to the halls. The male is portrayed with a globe under his paw representing the emperor’s power over the world. The female has her paw on a baby lion representing the emperor’s fertility.
The Gate of Supreme Harmony, like many of the Palace buildings, sits on a raised marble platform which is encircled by dragon head sprouts. They were – and still are – part of the drainage system. It was very difficult to take photos but this photo of the side buildings of the Hall shows the beautiful restoration work and the same little rows of dragons as seen at the Summer palace. The more beasts, the more important the building.
In front of us now were the three great halls raised on a three-tier marble terrace; the glorious heart of the Forbidden city. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the most important and largest structure in the Forbidden city. Built in the 15th century and restored in the 17th century, it was used for ceremonial occasions such as the Emperor’s birthday, the nomination of military leaders and coronations.
Inside the hall is a richly decorated Dragon Throne from which the emperor would preside over trembling officials. The entire court had to touch the floor nine times with their foreheads in the emperor’s presence. This became known as kowtowing.
I managed to elbow my way to the front of the visitors and get my photo. This is what I had to get passed, 100s of Chinese all trying to get the same photo. It was quite mad.
Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the smaller Hall of Middle Harmony, seen here to the right of the photo behind the imperial sundial with the Hall of Preserving Harmony to the left. The Hall of Middle Harmony was used as the Emperor’s transit lounge. Here he would make last minute preparations, rehearse speeches and receive close ministers.
The third of the great halls was the Hall of Preserving Harmony used for banquets. Seen here from the rear with the 250 tonne marble imperial carriageway carved with dragons and clouds. The emperor used to be carried over this carriageway in his sedan chair as he ascended or descended the terrace.
From this narrow courtyard gates lead to the east and west. We took the east gate towards the Complete Palace of Peace and Longevity, a mini Forbidden city constructed along the eastern axis of the main complex. At the entrance stands the beautiful glazed nine dragon screen, one of only three left in China. The five clawed dragon represented the power of the Emperor and could only adorn his imperial buildings. The Chinese dragon is a beneficent beast offering protection and good luck, hence its depiction on screens and marble carriageways.
We turned northwards and made our way through a number of halls each a smaller version of the structure of the great halls of the central axis. The forbidden city is often compared to a set of Russian dolls. The renovation work of some of the buildings was superb. These buildings where the empress dowager and the imperial concubines lived during the Ming dynasty. It now contains a number of fine museums known collectively as the treasure gallery.
Among these buildings was the Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies, a wonderful 3 story wooden opera house which looked exactly like the Garden of Harmonious Pleasures from the Summer palace although the Pavilion hadn’t been restored as well as the rest of the palace. If you look carefully there are areas around the stage that are deteriorating quite badly. You could still imagine what a spectacle the performances would have been with events happening on all three stages. There were trapdoors in the ceiling and in the floor to allow actors to make dramatic stage entrances.
We worked our way to the far north of the inner palace and came out in the area in between the various palaces (Russian dolls again) there were walls within walls. Many of them with beautiful eaves tantalisingly over hanging the walls.
We walked along the north wall to the Imperial gardens to find the bronze kneeling elephant. The anatomically impossible position symbolises the power of the Emperor; even elephants kowtowed to him.
The garden was a classical Chinese garden with 7000 sq metres of fine landscaping including rockeries, walkways and ancient cypresses. On the west side was the Pavilion of a Thousand Autumns with its impressive circular roof. The ceiling inside was exquisite.
That brought us to the Western Palaces, a collection of courtyard homes where many of the emperors lived during their reign. Much of this area is closed to the public.
Finally we were back in front of the Gate of Heavenly Purity. I had given up taking photos by now because there were so many people there and all the palaces look very similar with the same lay out as the three great halls in the centre. The Gate of Heavenly Purity led to the Inner court with the last three palaces, again mirroring those of the Outer court but on a smaller scale. These were the sleeping quarters and it was here that the last Ming emperor wrote his final missive in red ink before getting drunk, killing his 15 year old daughter and his concubines and then hanging himself as peasant rebels swarmed through the capital.
We had spent the whole day wandering around the many palaces. We’d enjoyed a lovely lunch but were now ‘palaced out’ and we walked back to our hotel to collect our bags. The next part of our adventure was to catch the train from Beijing to Xi an. Using the Metro for the last time we arrived at the train station and picked up our pre-booked tickets with relative ease. They had been booked for us by www.china-diy-travel.com who are an excellent company. Train tickets in China are released 60 days before the date of travel. This company’s website lists the train timetables, you are able to select the train you wish to take and send them an order form. They will either reserve or diarise your booking for you and send a quotation for payment. They accept payments through paypal. Once they have booked the tickets they send an eticket which you take to the train station with your passport and swop for your tickets. They also sent detailed information about how and where to go with photos and all instructions in English and Chinese. I printed everything out so if all else failed I could just point to the writing.
Chinese railway stations are a bit like airports and you need to find out which waiting room to go to because you don’t go to the platform until the train is in. It’s all on their website.
There are 4 categories
soft sleeper – with 4 beds (2 sets of bunk beds) in a cabin with a door and air-conditioning,
hard sleeper – 3 beds to a set of bunks, no doors or air-conditioning,
soft seats – booked seats in air-conditioned carriage
hard seats/standing ticket – don’t, really don’t.
We had booked an upper and lower soft sleeper. The mattress was still hard, so goodness knows what the hard sleepers are like, and we shared our cabin with two young Chinese girls who giggled every time they attempted to speak English.
So it was goodbye Beijing; A wonderful city. 4 days was barely enough time to see all it has to offer. It was a shame that some of the sites were closed but it gives us the excuse to come back again. Next stop Xi An.
After our exhausting day on the Great Wall for our last evening in Beijing we decided to treat ourselves to Beijing’s specialty Peking Duck. Our hotel gave us directions to a restaurant not far from our hotel called Da Dong. At the time we didn’t realise it was the famous Beijing Dadong which the Lonely planet describes as “Ultra modern Dadong sells itself on being the only restaurant which serves Beijing roast duck with all the flavour of the classic imperial dish, but none of the fat; the leanest roast duck in the capital. For some it’s hideously overpriced and far from authentic. For others it’s the best roast duck restaurant in China”. We would see. The restaurant was on the fifth floor of a very swanky mall. We should have realised we were probably going to blow a weeks budget on one meal when we saw what they were selling on the ground floor.
We were shown to our table and given a menu. I wondered if they counted the little duck chopstick holders at the end of the day; do you think they would miss it?!!
The prices were eye-watering. The waitress came to take our order and we said we just wanted to have crispy duck with the little pancakes. She showed us to the back of the menu where they had the ducks as a set menu and not nearly so expensive as the a la carte prices. So we ordered that.
Each duck came with it’s own chef. If any one is going to China to do the same thing, make sure you order a whole duck between two people, half a duck wouldn’t be enough. The waitress brought us our soup while we watched our chef carve our duck beautifully.
The waitress brought a tray of condiments each with the spring onions, cucumber, melon (?) and various sauces along with the bamboo basket with the little pancakes in, just like the local Chinese take away – except that it wasn’t. It was the most beautiful duck we had ever tasted. The meat just melted in your mouth, it was delicious.
To finish they brought us a bunch of grapes but not just on a plate. No. It was a glass dish with dry ice under it. I’m not joking; it looked amazing pouring onto the table.
So that was our last evening in Beijing, we just had the Forbidden city to do on our final day.
And no I didn’t take the little duck chopstick holders!
I have wanted to walk the Great Wall of China for a long time and today, the 7th September, we were going to do it. The day was perfect with blue sky and sunshine. We had decided to go with the hotel tour because although you can get there on public transport there was only 2 days left in Beijing and I didn’t want to miss it. The coach journey took about an hour and a half so we were ready to stretch our legs when we arrived. The Great wall was created after the unification of China under Qin Shi Hangdi over two thousand years ago. It snakes through the countryside for several thousand miles and enabled speedy communications as well as the rapid transport of troops throughout the country. There are 4 main areas to visit the Great Wall from Beijing. Badaling is the most touristy part of the wall followed by Mutianyu which is less commercial. There are also 2 areas that are only partly renovated and apparently a bit of a struggle. We decided to go to Mutianyu in the hope there wouldn’t be too many people there.
With our cable car tickets we got on and rose slowly to the top.
I felt so emotional when I got to the top and saw the Great Wall for the first time I burst into tears. Memories of my childhood walking the Seven sisters near Eastbourne with my Dad and my Uncle Terry as a little girl came flooding back. How Dad would have loved this, maybe he was walking with me. I took this photo from the terrace of the cable car platform. You can see the wall winding ahead with the very steep steps half way along. This is a close up of the Chinese lettering on the hillside.
What a great place to have your wedding photos taken.
The first section was quite crowded but soon started to thin out as we continued. Some people just want to go to the Great Wall, have their selfie taken, and leave. Total madness.
Famed for its Ming-era guard towers, of which there were 10 in the section we walked, the wall is largely a recently restored Ming dynasty structure that was built upon a earlier Qi-dynasty edifice. The watchtowers served as signal towers, forts, living quarters and storerooms for provisions. They were spaced two arrow shots apart to leave no part unprotected (I was lucky to get this shot without any one in it).
The first section wasn’t that difficult with a mixture of level wall and steps but we could see the steep section up ahead.
The wall took advantage of the natural terrain for defensive purposes following the highest point and clinging to ridges. The ramparts enabled the defending soldiers to fire down on their attackers. Although despite its impressive battlements the wall ultimately proved ineffective because it was breached in the 17th century by the mongols and then in the 17th century by the Manchu. Today only certain sections have been fully restored and offer superb panoramic views.
But this wasn’t the top, it went on, although this was as far as a lot of people went. We were the only ones in our group to continue.
It looks like I’m leaning backwards but the walls really were this sloped. It had taken us several hours to get this far but we wanted to continue.
We were now level with the Chinese lettering.
This was why I had come to China
The path was more overgrown this high up.
Would you believe this high up there was a lady selling souvenirs! I asked her if she carried all her goods up every day and she replied yes every day. She deserved a sale for working all that way every day.
We had made it to tower 23 which is as far as you could go on this section. Sadly most of the wall is still unrestored and is crumbling away. We walked along it for a little way but it was difficult and probably dangerous. Up ahead we could see another steep section which if unrestored would be dangerous so we turned round to start our descent.
Coming down was harder than going up. Our legs were tired now.
By the time we got back to the cable car our legs were like jelly but I for one felt elated. At the entrance is a piece of stone with this inscription on it
Once intended to ward off enemy attack today it brings the peoples of the world together. The Great Wall may it continue to act as a symbol of friendship for future generations.
Continuing on with the Chinese story.
Sunday 6th September was one of our few sunny days. The plan was to visit the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in the Temple of Heaven park first thing, walk up to Tiananmen square and spend the rest of the day in the Forbidden city. After a short ride on the Metro we arrived at the park to find lots of elderly Chinese people using the park for Taichi, singing, card games and a game that looked like a cross between chess and draughts. Whatever it was it caused a lot of shouting and light hearted arguing.
Then we found another closure, the whole of the Tian Tan complex of the Hall of Prayer, the imperial vault of heaven and the marble platform was closed. I was SO disappointed, apparently some of the visiting dignitaries were due to have a tour of the temple that morning and it was shut for security. Having seen some of the photos of the inside it’s supposed to be stunning but all we could see was the triple eaved blue roof from a distance. We were also on the wrong side of the park for the walk to Tiananmen square so we walked back to the east entrance and took the Metro there.
When we got to Tiananmen square we found throngs of people all heading in the same direction. As it was a Sunday we assumed it was extra busy, we were later to realise that all Chinese monuments are always busy. So what to do? We only had 4 days in Beijing and the Forbidden city is closed on Mondays so we continued with Tuesday’s plan of the Summer palace and got back on the Metro.
We were very impressed with their metro. This station is open but most of them have barriers built along the platform which don’t open until the train stops plus they are all very clean. No graffiti or rubbish anywhere.
The summer palace was a way outside the city so took about half an hour to get there and cost a whole pound for two of us. We’ve found China to be very cheap so far.
There were pedicycles waiting by the station to take us to the entrance. Not being sure how far it was we got on. It turned out to be about a KM could have easily walked it and it cost Y25 about £2.50 more than the Metro ride half way across town! Live and learn!
Along the street there were beautiful flower displays again as part of the city celebrations.
The summer palace was a former playground for emperors fleeing the summer heat. The grounds, temples, gardens, pavilions, lakes and bridges are most striking. It had olng been a royal garden before being considerably enlarged and embellished by Emperor Qianlong in the 18th century. It is said a 100,000 army of labourers deepened and expanded Kumming Lake which swallows up three-quarters of the 716 acres and takes about 2 hours to walk round. The lake is overlooked by Longevity hill topped by the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha along with other impressive buildings. The palace has been rebuilt twice after it had been vandalised first by Anglo-French troops during the opium wars in 1856 and secondly by foreign troops who torched it in 1900 prompting further restoration work. By 1949 it had fallen into disrepair prompting a major state funded overhaul.
The principal structure by the east gate that we visited first was the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (I love these wonderfully translated names) with a set of bronze animals decorating its courtyard cast during the reign of Emperor Qianlong which includes the mythical kylin. The kylin was an auspicious legendary animal that had the power to punish evil and repel the wicked, it has a dragon’s head, lion tail, ox hooves, deer antlers and scales all over its body. Please note the amount of people around, it’s impossible to get a photo without someone in it.
We moved onto the Garden of Virtue and Harmony which was a three-story building that had served as a theatre where the court’s 348 member opera troupe entertained the emperor who watched from a gallery opposite. The restoration of the decoration around the eaves was superb.
This is the major stage on the ground floor but there was also a second stage on the floor above as well as trapdoors above and below the stages.
There were private boxes around the courtyard for various dignitaries to watch the show. It must have been a spectacular scene.
We walked around part of the lake to South Lake island which had this wonderful entrance gate. A graceful 17-arch bridge spans the 150m to the shore. The island houses the Dragon King temple which again had been beautifully restored.
As we had arrived late there wasn’t time to do the two hour circumnavigation of the lake so we hopped onto a boat that took us diagonally across the lake to the Imperial boathouses giving us this wonderful view of Longevity hill as we passed it.
In front of the boathouses was this magnificent marble ‘boat’. The Empress Dowager Cixi, a right little madam by all accounts, paid for this extravagant folly with funds meant for the modernisation of the Imperial navy at the end of the eighteenth century but she squandered the money and this was the only vaguely nautical thing that she spent it on.
After walking along the fore shore we arrived at Longevity hill with its slopes and crest adorned with Buddhist temples on a north-south axis. As with many of these temples the lower part is square and the upper part is round in accordance with the notion ‘Tianyuan Difang’, ‘Heaven is round, Earth is square. The first building you enter is the Hall of Dispelling clouds. The original construction here was the Hall of Great Buddha of the Temple of Immense Gratitude and Longevity in the Garden of Clear Ripples – what an amazing address, which was burned down by the Anglo-French allied forces in 1860 and this building was constructed on the same site to celebrate one of Empress Dowager Cixi’s birthdays.
Bearing in mind its title this cloud formation, which appears to be coming off the roof, looked very striking.
After the hall the steps start. To get to the top there are a lot of steps. The lower steps were covered protecting you from the sun or the rain.
The rafters under the roof are covered in a plethora of paintings.
You can see in this photo how the steps climbed up the side of the building to the next temple and continued up behind it. The view from the top was amazing looking back across the lake to the Seventeen Arch bridge and the city beyond.
The crowning glory was The Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha. It was gloriously painted and impossible to get into a single photo.
The side of the hill is adorned with little Buddhist temples all exquisitely painted.
The attention to detail was amazing. We had had some discussion about the row of doggies along the roof because Bill said they were dragons. Further round the temple looking across at the roof we could see some others and they were indeed dragons – I still think it would be nicer if they were doggies!
Look how the eaves are painted, just stunning.
We sat and got our breathe back while admiring the buildings. There were more beautifully painted cloisters surrounding the tower. We stepped into the tower to admire the frescoes although photography wasn’t allowed and it was a bit dark inside. The whole scene was just stunning – all for one emperor.
After about half an hour we made our way back down. The steps were numerous and steep.
On our way down Bill spotted another set of little temples but this time there was something extraordinary in the middle.
This entire temple is made from exquisitely detailed cast bronze. Bill was fascinated by it. He thought it would have been cast in sections and assembled on the site. Goodness knows how much it weighed or, more importantly, cost! A lot on both counts. There wasn’t any information of it’s origin or use but for Bill it was his favourite of the day.
After reaching the bottom step we made our way towards the north of the park. This was a good sign!
We walked along the west causeway towards the delightful hump of the grey and white marble of the Jade Belt bridge. It crosses the point where the Jade river enters the lake . It dates from the 18th century and must surely have some stories to tell of the people who have used it and been photographed on it.
Continuing towards the north palace gate our final walk took us onto Suzhou street. An entertaining diversion of riverside walkways linked with quaint bridges where Emperor Qianlong and his concubines would shop. Today it houses souvenir stalls but was very picturesque in the sunshine.
We stopped for Chinese tea which turned out to be the most expensive tea in all of China, literally!
We’d had a wonderful day.
There are a number of other sites in the area such as the Botanic gardens and the Fragrant Hills park and I believe the tours visit all three in an afternoon but we prefer to spend more time enjoying one site rather than rushing around them all. If you visit Beijing I would recommend the Summer Palace as a must see. A day is better but an afternoon is possible.
From the north gate we walked back to the Metro station and headed back into the city.
The next morning it was still raining but we continued with our planned itinerary starting with the Metro about 200m from our hotel. Easy peasy! The automatic ticket machine had an English button which magically turned everything into English but we still couldn’t work out the system so reverted to the ticket office. With a copy of the underground system and pointing we acquired 2 tickets to the Lama temple which was 3 stops north from Dongsi on the same line so we managed that.
We knew the Forbidden city was closed today along with the surrounding area for the big parade to celebrate VJ day so our first stop was the Lama Temple. The most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet, the Lama Temple was converted to a lamasery in 1744, before that it had been a residence of Emperor Yong Zhung and is one of Beijing’s must see’s.
The entrance gate was superb which led down a leafy walkway to the numerous temples within. The first sight to greet us was one of dense clouds of burning incense. They were giving away boxes of incense sticks to be burned and we were encouraged to join in.
The magnificent decorative arches with their beautifully painted frescoes and shaped roofs on all the buildings were superb. Even in the rain it looked stunning.
Inside the ceilings were also beautifully painted and decorated and, like a lot of Chinese temples, each building led to a courtyard that led to another building and so on.
Inside the fourth hall, with a catchy little title of ‘Hall of the Wheel of Law’, was a substantial bronze statue of a benign and smiling Tsong Khapa (1357 – 1419) founder of the Gelugpa or yellow hat sect dressed in yellow and illuminated by a skylight.
The fifth hall known as the Wanfu Pavilion houses a magnificent 18m high statue of the Maitreya Buddha in his Tibetan form reputedly sculpted from a single block of sandlewood. Unfortunately the light was very dim and flash isn’t allowed so the photo is difficult to make out.
Each of his golden toes is the size of a pillow. After visiting each of the building we made our way back outside and continued 5 minutes along the road to the Confucius temple.
As China’s second-largest Confucian temple it had a magnificent archway at the entrance. It was very quiet and peaceful inside.
Next to the Confucius temple, but within the same grounds, is the Imperial college. Built by the grandson of Kublai Khan in 1306, the former college was the supreme academy during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. This is the marvellous glazed, three-gated, single-eaved decorative archway.
Beyond that is the Biyong Hall with its twin-roofed structure with yellow tiles and surrounded by a moat. It’s topped with a shimmering gold knob but I managed to cut it out of my photo.
Inside is a replica of Chair (throne?) that Confucius used and the decorated ceiling was exquisite.
Outside we noticed a number of entrances had these wonderful causeways with carved base reliefs.
Wise Bill with wise Confucius.
Just down the road from the Confucius temple was the Confucius café where I had a delicious hot coffee to warm me up – strange concept for us, and lunch. Then it was back to the Metro for another ride. It was only 3 stops south on line 4 but we are taking things in small hops. The ticket machine wasn’t going to beat me this time. Bill and I had been discussing this infernal machine and worked out that the numbers along the top were the route lines and you needed to pick a line before it gave you the option to choose which station. Sure enough that’s what it needed, I chose our station, taped 2 for 2 tickets, fed the machine 4 yuan (about 40p) and hey presto out came 2 tickets – cracked it!
The afternoon’s excursion was into the Hutong alleys of the Nanluogu Xiang. The popular way to see the Hutongs is in a pedibike (a modern version of a rickshaw) but we decided to walk around by following the walking tour in the Lonely Planet. Unfortunately we were scuppered fairly early on because the instructions were ‘At no 19 turn right through a connecting passageway.’ After no 19 there was a new public loo built in the passageway so that was that. In fact there seemed to be lots of public loos dotted around the alleyways and it wasn’t until later that we realised these buildings had been built long before any one had private bathrooms. Not sure what they used to do!
So we just wandered past the many entrance ways to these charming courtyards, usually at the southeastern corner as prescribed by feng shui. Although many of them were shut I couldn’t help wondering what stories these lovely gates could tell.
The drum tower
The walk leads into the Drum and Bell tower square. Sadly the two towers were closed although we couldn’t find out why. We assumed it was because the guards that normally look after these places were needed in Tiananmen square for crowd control. So we didn’t get to see inside but there was a beautiful flower display outside the drum tower.
We returned to our hotel via the Metro pleased with our first day in China. Later we ventured two doors down from our hotel for a very tasty meal of stir fried duck and a shredded beef dish both with rice and chopsticks. The menu was translated into English so it was all very easy. I’m sure it’ll get harder.
We are back on the boat now and have moved her down to Tioman to meet up with Bill’s sister. We are up against our usual problem of lack of signal but I want to start uploading my blogs. So going back to the end of Hong Kong…..
Friday 4th September
We spent our last morning in Hong Kong packing although finally the sun had come out. I wanted to run round and take photos of all the sights in the sun but it wasn’t practical. We had stayed in the Bishop Lei Hotel up in the mid-levels. It was a short walk from the top of the escalator system that goes up through the mid levels and was quite close to the nice eating area of SoHo. Having been recommended to us I would continue the recommendation but with the following comments.
The staff were helpful although a little formal. Our room was on the 21st floor, which felt a bit strange being that high up. The rooms are quite small but clean, the bathroom was very nice. It was quite expensive at £260 for 4 nights but I wanted to be near the city centre and it’s difficult to find anything cheaper. We hadn’t paid the extra for a front room with a view and I believe they are bigger but it would have been a waste because we were only there in the evenings. There’s a bus stop outside the front door. It has a pool but it’s small so we didn’t bother. We also didn’t bother with the breakfast at £10 a head for bacon and egg, toast, juice and coffee, extra for French toast or fruit, there are much better value places in town but on the whole we liked it there and I would stay there again.
Our flight was leaving at 1.20pm and we had to get the airport express train. Fortunately the Bishop Lei runs a free shuttle bus to the entrance of the underground system that leads to the airport express (as well as one to the downtown area) and we caught the 10.00 and made our way to the airport.
Everything went smoothly until we got on the plane. Everyone was on board, the doors were shut, we were ready to leave on time, the plane was pushed onto the taxi road and then nothing, we sat there and we sat there. The pilot moved the plane twice to different parts of the airport and each time we thought we were off but then we sat there again. An hour and a half later we finally took off, we think the air traffic controllers forgot us.
The plane banked round and flew over Hong Kong, I managed to get some good photos of the city.
As China and Hong Kong are in the same time zone as Malaysia jet lag hasn’t been a problem. The plane landed in Beijing just after 6pm and it was RAINING. The cloud cover was so bad that we didn’t see the airport until the last minute. I had memorised the train route to the hotel but as it was late AND raining I reluctantly agreed to take a taxi to our hotel. I felt it was cheating. I had printed everything for China for the visa application and bookings.com supplied the hotel name in Chinese so after showing this to the taxi driver he put it in his gps and off we went on the next part of our adventure.