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Beijing - Xian - Chengdu - Kunming

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06.04.11

A few days before leaving India, I started getting stomach cramps - but didn't think much of it. The day we were leaving they got a bit worse - but again busy sorting out getting to airport etc (which was a whole hassle in itself as our bank card was blocked and we coud only JUST scrape enough money toghether to get the tube to the airport! Nightmare!!!) so ignored it. Our flight ended up taking about 15 hours, but that included a 2.5hour stop off at Sri Lanka airport - and then a stop at Bangkok (but we didn't have to get off the plane here). Towards the end of the flight my stomach got really bad and I felt terrible. We were prepared for a hard time getting through customs in China - but they were fine - no trouble at all - they gave us more hassle in India!!! Ha! After having to race to the toilet to avoid a very unfortunuate accident in the middle of the airport (stomach really bad by now!!) tiredness & illness had set in on both of us by this point as we tried to find out from workers in the airport how we could get in touch with our bank to unblock the card - as we had no money to pay for the call. After being pushed from person to person by people that could not speak any English - we realised China was not going to be easy - not what we needed right then!! Nobody could understand that we needed the call for free - or did not seem to have authority to let us do so & we couldn't seem to get any further with it. A lovely Chinese girl who heard us talking offered us a phone card she had as a gift to use - we made the call but stupid Halifax put me on hold for so long it cut out before sorted. So stuck with no money at all - we resorted to pouncing on the next white person that walked past. I asked a man and Chinese woman (who also spoke really good English) if they knew of a tourist desk as we can't seem to get the help we need - the Chinese lady helped us by translating our questions - but we still couldn't get any further. They were trying to help us with ideas of what we could do - when they said - "you have checked and the bank card def doesn't work here - yes?" Me and Ollie both looked at each other thinking - oops we haven't actually tried it yet - but confident it wouldn't work anyway - we just said that we had and it didn't work. They couldn't help us any further (and they weren't prepared to pay for our call which is what we were hoping for! Ha! Me&Ollie both thought we should have given to more beggers back in India so that our karma is repaid when we need it now!) so we thanked them and said bye. Another man overheard and offered for us to use his mobile - we thanked him but said no as it would cost him too much - we felt bad as we have our own - but just didn't want to have to spend money on the phone call as it would be so expensive. Anyway - back on our own - we decide that we actually better try and see if the card does work on the off chance - just to be sure that it doesn't - popped the card into ATM - money came straight out no trouble at all. HOW STUPID ARE WE!!!!! We had spent the whole flight working ourself up over the fact that Halifax had blocked it in India & that we would have problems upon arrival - in our tired faint state we forgot to actually check if that was even the case. Feeling VERY stupid - we quickly snuck out before the people who were helping us before could see - and got to metro. Would have been so easy to get taxi but needed to save money. By this point Ollie has started to feel really unwell too. We caught two subway trains to our hotel - which was luckily then only a short walk away. Checked in - crashed in our room at 5pm and went straight to sleep. Next Homer Simpson moment: We kept being woken up by staff calling and knocking on door - which we ignored as so tired. I finally answered their call at 11pm - and they told us we had gone into the wrong room - we were in the expensive ones and we needed to go to the one we had paid for!!! (room 220 not 202!) Ha! Ooops!!! We grabbed our stuff - moved rooms and then crashed out until the next day - think we slept for 18hours straight in the end!!!

So what could have been a very very easy journey - was made into a hurrendous one by how ill we are!!!

 

06.04.11 - 10.04.11

Me & Ollie have been ill the whole time we have been in China so far - we slept for 16 hours straight as soon as we got here - and have then only been out of sleep really to use the loo - nice!!!!

So - not the start to China we had been hoping for - but - we had luckily had to spend all our time in the most luxurious room we had been in since our trip started - and not far off the nicest room we have ever stayed in!!!! (So glad we booked ahead at home now!!) Once we had slept off the worst of it - we enjoyed lounging around in the soft fluffy white dressing gowns provided, watching loads of good films on the HBO channel on TV. It was quite nice to have a touch of home comforts for a little while - even though it was a shame we had to be ill. On 09.04.11 we finally decided that we would go for a test run of venturing outdoors, we headed for a local shopping mall to replace our broken camera. We walked - and walked - and walked - with no hope of knowing where we were going - or any possibility of finding anyone who was able to help (the Chinese are all frightened that they cannot understand you - so they run as soon as you try to talk to them! Ha!). We came across a Metro and decided that we would just try and hop on the tube to get there - as time was getting on now and the walking had taken it out of us alot. We tried to find the tube station by the mall as per our LP book - nothing - no idea what we were doing on the self service ticket machine. Luckily an American guy who also spoke chinese stopped to help us - and we were releaved to know that we were not totally useless - with rhe help of metro workerts they couldn’t find the stop either - so LP must have tricked us. We gave up on the shopping idea and just headed back to the hotel - little too much too soon today I think. Walking back it had started to get dark. We had ventured into a very pretty built up area compared to where we are staying so all the street corners seem to look the same. We managed to walk back through the same path we took on the way - which was right next to a huge busy dual carrigge way - but you weren’t aware of this on your walk - as the pathway was surrounded by beautiful plants, greenery, seating areas etc - it was a lovely walk that locals seemed to use to walk their dogs and exercise (exercise including a womens class of aerobics taking place right in the middle - all of them going for it - so strange to walk past! ha! But cute & nice to see!). We got to the end of the path where a little dog group had huddled together - so we sat for a rest and enjoyed watching all the dogs playing. So cute - they really do seem to love and look after their dogs here - much to everyones preconceptions (including ours!! No dog on a stick so far....). We headed back, making sure we got back in plenty of time for our planned Skype calls to home!! Ollie spoke to his lot first, I spoke to my lot after - so good to finally get to speak to home. Brilliant to see Lauren looks REALLY well - sad to see mums face up - but I won’t shout out her via the blog for not going to the doctors! (Well only very quickly - Mum please look after yourself & speak to them again!!!). So good to hear home and see the dogs and rooms at home that are so familiar to us - sitting & being waited on - ha - oh home sweet home!!! Seeing family & home was so strange - didn’t feel like we were away at all anymore!!! Sad not to be able to get to speak to gran and grandad - but we will try again next time we have WiFi!! With us both happy to see how good everyone is at home - we crashed out after our most eventful day for a while - hoping that we would be better again to venture out a little further tomorrow.

 

11.04.11

We checked our of our little snug in the hope that a new place wold kick start us into actually getting back in the swing of things, and give us the energy to start our sightseeing. We only wanted to stay 5 nights in Beijing max as 1. it is very expensive here - all same prices as England & 2. we want to enjoy everything here and then move south to enjoy the scenery with time to just relax there. We moved to a cheaper place just round the corner which would save us £5 per day - not as nice - but does the job (and still luxury in comparison to India). Dumping our bags as it was now later than we hoped (thanks to a lengthy ,India blog summary update) we decided to shop for a camera again - wandering around all the Hutongs - stopping in shops to haggle best price (you seem to be able to do that here too!). Taking a few names that we would look up on the net later - we wandered along a beautiful river that runs through the area - stopping to just sit in the sun! Lovely! Would never imagine you are sat in the middle of such a huge capital city! The river is lined with very funky bars - which Ollie wishes he could pick up and put in Bristol - the entrepreneur in him is sure he would clean up! There are also some lovely restaurants which we have promised ourselves we can treat ourselves to before we leave to celebrate us feeling better. (Oh and of course there is a starbucks shoved in the corner - can’t escape starbucks!).Not up to real food just yet - we have been testing our stomachs with cup-a-soups & McDonalds so far. After enjoying a lazy day - but realising we hadn’t done a very good job of kick starting ourselves - we headed back to the room to check out the camera - confident of making a purchase first thing tomorrow on our way to Tienneman Square. Getting back to the room - we gave the camera one more try for it’s last chance - and it worked!!! I was not pleased at all! I was so gutted to have missed out on so many photos in India - I couldn’t be happy that we had saved money by not having to get a new one. After a min of sadness - I consoled myself that there was not point crying over spilt milk - too late now - oh well!!

 

12.04.11

Got up today - camera in hand - and headed out in search of sights to see - the first being Tienneman Square. We followed our LP map which took us straight to our destination - passing by the forbidden city to wet our appetites for a few days time. We walked through a huge gate - not quite realising exactly where we were until we turned round to see we had passed under a huge red structure, lined with the flag of china, focused around a huge picture of some chinese guy.... we were here - we had found it!!! (Ollie had to tell me this as I had no idea what Tienneman Square was or looked like!) We took some pictures and crossed over to the other side of the road to wander round the the largest square in the world - and all of the comemorative statues and buildings within. We ended up getting chatting to two chinese girls who were also in Beijing on holiday. Their English was really good so conversation flowed well as we chatted for a short while. We explained that we were going to head off to the Temple of Heaven now, they said that they were going to stop for tea before they did anything else and asked if we would like to come with them. Me and Ollie looked at each other - hoping that the other would be cruel enough to say no after we had been chatting to them for so long. Both of us chickened out and we agreed to go - neither of us wanting to - just because we wanted to get to see the Temple of Heaven that day. We are pretty miserable I suppose, it is just hard work overcoming the language barrier to speak to every single person that wants to speak to you - but it is a good chance to get an insight into Chinese people - so thought it would be good from that point of view. We walked along still chatting away - and ended up at a tiny little tea house. They seemed to know what they were doing so we just let them speak rather than us struggle with them to understand our English. We waitied for a few mins until they had room for us - and we were then led into a private room -just for us!!! Oooh very exciting. They asked if what we would like to order - beer, juice, tea etc or a tea ceremony - where they let you sample different types of tea & tell you a little about it. This had now turned into a very good idea joining them for tea if a traditional ceremony was on the cards - how cool is this!!! Me & Ollie still concious of our budget said that we didn’t want much, perhaps just a cup of tea, but I secretly hoped they would have the ceremony so that we could enjoy watching them and hear all about it. They said that they wanted to try the tea ceremony - and asked if that would be OK - we asked a little more about how much it would cost to see if we could join in. It was 50 Yen (£5) per tea - very expensive - but I thought if we get this experience for a tenner total it would be well worth it. They proposed getting 4 teas, a tea each as part of the ceremony where we can try each others and learn about them. This sounded like a good idea - but Ollie just confirmed with them that we would be having one tea that each of us could pick, meaning that it would be 50Yen each - or 100 in total for us. They confirmed this was correct - we were looking through the tea menu on the table, but one of the girls seemed to know what she was doing and keen to study the menu to make her choice as she smelled the jars of tea and passed them round to see what we liked. We didn’t get to see the names of the tea on offer as the girl had the menu the whole time - and wanted it back as soon as we looked at it - but as the names of them meant nothing to us - we didn’t see this as a problem and just randomly picked anything. The tea ceremony began - we were sat round the table with a girl on the other side with all of her equipment. She began by explaining how to make the tea, how to hold the tea cup, how to drink etc etc, and then gave us information on each of the teas she had made for us - telling us how they believe each one is good for your health for different reasons etc. I desperately tried to lap up every bit of information in the hope I could use this story in future reference (and show off basically! Ha!). We nibbled on little crackers and fruit that had been put out for us. We were having a lovely time - still chatting to the girls - not particularly enjoying some of the teas, but the experience was so cool! We were asked if we would like to have extra tea to make it 6 teas in total as 6 is a lucky number in china, whereas 4 is very unlucky, it is linked with death!! Me and Ollie made it clear we were not keen, the girls suggested that perhaps we share the cost of 1 extra to make it to 5, just so that it wasn’t 4. This sounded good to us and we agreed. The tea ceremony came to an end after about an hour, and it was time to get on with the next part of our day. They brought the bill when - SMACK - we were hit with a total bill of £140!!!! Ouch!!! The 2 chinese girls did not seem shocked by this sum - they happily put down 600 RMB and suggested that we pay the other 800RMB. Ollie had started to hand over some cash when he pointed out to me just how much this was - again - takes a little while to get your head around the conversion rates. The penny had dropped - this whole thing was a scam!!!! We were so disappointed - initially with ourselves for not realising this sooner - but after mostly because our authentic afternoon with the locals had just been ruined as it was not real!! We refused to pay this amount immediately - asking why it was this price - when we agreed earlier to a tea each costing a total of 100RMB. Long story short - the menu that we were not allowed to see when ordering (now very clear to see why!!!) was quickly shoved in our face - where it states in small writing that we are charged per tea per person - i.e. we were not sharing as we had thought we had agreed. We explained that this was simply money that we do not have to be able to pay. The main girl who had been ordering etc all the way through quickly got VERY angry, very quickly, being really threatening towards me in particular, waving her umberella at me (Ha!), locking the door to ensure we couldn’t leave, calling the police..!! All very dramatic! They would not let us say a word - they kept going over that they were disappointed in us doing this to them - getting them in trouble for not paying the bill. We kept telling the person who did the actual tea ceremony - as the girls had paid - let them leave - we will stay and speak to the police when they get here to resolve the situation - there was no need for the other 2 girls to stay as they have paid for their share. The main girl did not allow her to speak - she told us how there are cameras everywhere - they cannot walk out without the whole bill being paid for otherwise they will be in trouble - which was obviously rubbish. During the arguing back and forth, Ollie looked in the LP book - and there it was in black and white - Tieneman Square, chinese girls approach as students inviting you for a cup of tea with them where you are taken to a teahouse which scam you for up to 2000RBM!!! Damn it why hadn’t we read this earlier! Ha! I got fed up of the whole story and ended up just sitting quietly while Ollie tried to resolve the situation. As more time passed they said that they didn’t want to waste any more of their day - so they would “help us out" by paying part of our bill - but that we were terrible for letting poor students do so. I knew at this point it was just a waiting game to get the price as low as we could to get out of there. Me & Ollie, on the same page, thanked them for their help (playing the game) but said that we could not pay anymore than 200RBM and that was that, we would happily wait for the police to get there to sort it out any further. After more screaming - shouting - and umberella waving - we sat for a while waiting to see who woud give in first - I knew it wasn’t going to be us. I was right - more charitable help came from their end - offering us more money to settle the bill - we were just 100RMB off of the bill and after sitting arguing over this for about 45mins now me & Ollie agreed that we would rather just pay this now to get on with the day - so we did. The girls stormed out of the room - and had some screaming match, apparently with a waiter from the tea house - we waited until this was over before we left despite being told to leave several times. On the way out Ollie spoke to the girl holding the tea ceremony - who actually hadn’t asked us to pay the bill or be stern with us over non payment once throughout the whole ordeal - he asked, “truthtfully, do those girls work for this teahouse?" The girl said “no", but the expression on her face and her bodylanguage said a whole other thing - she was obviously lying!! We got back into the daylight & poor Ollie was gutted with himself (he has even made me write this particular blog as he is so annoyed over it still). I was annoyed with meeting such horrible people, but that was it really, I don’t mind that it happened to us just because it is not a bad thing to be trusting of others, I don’t think it is a good thing to walk round expecting people to treat you like that - even if it does mean you get caught out sometimes in life - I’m glad to be the better person who just wanted to be friendly. Walking back we bumped into them walking towards the teahouse again - they obviously hadn’t expected us to hang around so long after - most people must get away as quickly as possible - straight back into character, one of them acted distressed saying that she had lost her glasses (i.e. their excuse for them going back there). And that was the end of that really!!!! We were both so annoyed that on our first day of being able to go out in China, after being so ill for so long, our guard was obviously down probably due to desperation to get involved in China and make up for all that time we had lost, stupidly having an image of chinese people being so friendly, shy, timid people it didn’t cross our minds that anything might have been wrong. Now Ollie claims to this day that he had a feeling that somthing was wrong - but I will hold my hands up and say I didn’t have a clue until it was too late - they were very good - we have since googled it and alot of people fall for it and get stung for much more than us - just glad we stood our grounds with not paying it!!!! Talking about it after and analysing everything after we could see exactly how it all worked - we were split up from each other when walking to avoid us being able to talk about things or change our minds, flattery came our way every step we took, they knew exactly where to go even though they were supposedly tourists too, we weren’t allowed to look at the menu for more than a few seconds, they jumped into each others conversations to keep their stories straight, the more time that passed the main girl was disinterested in conversation playing on her phone, they happily paid £110 even though they were supposedly poor students, they were the ones that got very angry when we couldn’t pay not the actual teahouse (locking us in the room etc), they fake called the police, the girl couldn’t hide her lie by saying they didn’t work there, we caught them going back there, ability to understand English seemed to conveniently switch on and off and times etc etc. All in all - very silly of us really - but hey - it’s a very silly story to tell - and hopefully we have just learned from it and got us back onto our India mindset of not trusting anyone - to avoid potentially a much more costly scam in the future.

Despite being down on money - Ollie was pretty fed up about it - so I made the deciosion that we would go out for some chinese food tonight to try and reclaim our china experience they we had been robbed of just an hour earlier. We had no idea what we were ordering as it was not in english - but it did have pictures - so we just pointed and hoped for the best. I was really lovely - we really enjoyed all of it - and even had a a little lesson from the waitress helping Ollie to use chopsticks - she didn’t manage to teach him much - but we both enjoyed laughing at him try!! Ha!

 

 

13/04/2011

Determined not to let illness and a couple of coniving Chinese girls ruin are Beijing experience, today we got up and out reasonably early to go tackle the Forbidden City! Stomachs filled with croissants and tea we made are way first passing through the Hutong area which we are staying in. Just to add to Kay’s earlier blog, we really are lucky to be staying in such a nice looking and cool area! The huge Beijing Drum and Bell Towers rise up and dominate the area giving it that real authentic, Chinese feel. Surrounded by modern shops and many, many food places each extremely popular with the locals. The beautiful river passes right through the middle of it and is lined with dozens and dozens of cool , funky bars each different in their own right. It really is a place I would like to pick up and add to Bristol! Once we had passed through Hutong we came to Jingshan Park, a stunning park with so much greenery and even a huge mountanous hill topped with a Chinese tower that you would never expect to find in a capital city, one that is famed for being so flat you can cycle anywhere! Just after the park is Shenwu Gate one of the entances to the Forbidden City! Once inside the City walls we first made our way through the beautiful gardens, the flowers were so pretty Kay stoped and posed for a few photographs. These were the gardens used by the Emperors and their Cocubines, to just relax and entertain themsleves in. The City really is an impressive place, it is huge, to think that such a massive place was closed off for over 500 years, only the Emperor and a select few could enter it. Anyone who was not invited by the Emperor faced instant execution! The City’s main focal points are the three massive courtyards found in the heart of the city, Hall of Middle Harmony, Hall of Preserving Harmony and the most important the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Which is the largest, it was used for ceremonial occasions, such as the emperor’s birthday, the nomination of military leaders and coronations. Walking through looking at all the various different buildings, reading the plaques which described what each building was for, you could not help but be taken back by just how impressive the place was, steeped with history! Another impressive thing I have noticed here and so far in China is there great use of naming all kinds of things, everything sounds great. The Hall of Supreme Harmony, Gate of Heavenly Peace, Eternal Tranquillity Palace, they even named some clay bricks The Golden Bricks! Once we had reached the end of the city and Meridian Gate, the Gate only the Emperor could enter. We decided to make are way back through taking in everything one last time and capturing a few more photographs. Excited by what we had just seen we were eager to carry the day on and decided thanks to the inspiration of Julie (Kays Gran) to go see the Beijing Opera that night. A couple of weeks before we flew out for India, Julie invited us to watch a Chinese film called Farewell My Cocubine, as inspiration for our eventull China trip. After being so intrigued by what we had seen in that film, the chance to then see it live and on stage was too much of an opportunity to miss! We made our way to the theatre via two metro trains and a very long walk, where we were greeted by Paul, a Chinese ticket tout who had put together a package deal that would include the opera and a trip to the Great Wall tomorrow! Once inside we were able to watch the all male cast put on their make up, very well according to Kayleigh! Ha! Once the show was about to begin we took to our seats, which to our suprise were really good, we had a great view of the stage! The Opera consisted of three different stories, Picking up the Jade Bracelet, Goddess of Heaven Scattering Flowers and White Monkey fights Fire Fiend. Each story was as good and as intriguing as anticipated, the singing was even more different and high pitched as we remembered from the film! There was acrobatics and even fire breathing at one point! We had an excellent time and thouroughly enjoyed the show! Walking away from the theatre we could not stop discussing what we had just seen, it was so different to what you would ever expect from a nights entertainment back home, whilst walking along and discussing what we had just witnessed we stumbled across a little alleyway filled with smoke coming from the various different side restaurants that filled the street. It looked and smelt so good we thought we just had to take a wander through it, we decided on one of the restaurants that gave you your own hot plate to cook your food on. Armed with chop sticks and a hot plate we cooked our roasted duck, noodles and vegetables, adding are own bit of spice along the way. The food tasted delicious and the beer we had to wash it all down with just topped the meal and the day we have had! Making are way back via the long walk and two metro trains did not bother us at all, despite how tired we were from being out for so long. We were just so pleased with the amazing day we had just experienced, China has officially started!!

 

14/04/2011

THE GREAT WALL! - Today we were off to see one of the sights that I have been most looking forward to on our round the world trip, The Great Wall of China. We had arranged a tour with Paul the tout, that included a visit to the wall, one of the Ming tombs, a tea house (which put my guard up straight away, for obvious reasons! ha) and a silk factory. Now even though the tour included visits to places where people would surely attempt to sell things to us and where we have read you may go on a few other detours. It was still worth doing as the package we got with the Opera last night and the wall today which included lunch was too much of a good deal to miss. The minibus picked us up at 8am from the nearby bell & drum tower, there we met our other tour companions, two really cool & wealthy Russian guys, a mother & daughter from Malaysia and a nice old couple from Venezuela. So chuck in a young couple from England and we had quite a good mix covering the globe! Ha Are first stop was our first detour of the day, a visit to a Jade factrory. This is where they make Jade jewellery and ornaments which is extremely popular with the Chinese as it is supposed to bring good luck. Arriving there both Kay & myself agreed we will just look, we are not going to buy anything. Kay seemed more laid back by the whole detour thing, where as I was still a little sceptical about the whole thing and started to wonder how the day would unfold. Walking through the factory we were told by one of the factory guides how Jade is formed from its original stone into bangles, ear rings, ornaments and even Buddhas. We watched a worker demonstrating this, we then moved on with the guide as she explanied more interesting facts about Jade and Buddhas. For example how to check if an item is genuine (weight = heavy, temperature = cold, translucent under light = should see imperfections, can scratch glass & will not be damaged itself), how stories of Jade show it is a good luck item to have and one for you Lauren, how if you rub a Buddas belly it will bring you happiness, if you rub his head it will bring you intelligence and by rubbing his ear lobes it will bring you a long lasting life! Something for you to try out on your many Buddhas. Once the tour in the factory had finished we then entered the Jade show room where we were greeted with quite a few salesmen and women. Time to be strong Ollie! Ha Twenty minutes later we left the Jade factory complete with a set of ear rings! Ha - As it is Kayleigh’s birthday next week and she has said if she did buy anything whilst away it would be a simple pair of ear rings. The chance to get her these simple yet pretty green Jade and silver ear rings was an oppurtinity I could not miss, plus I could see on her face she really wanted them, just Kay being Kay could not make the decision to take the plunge. So I stepped in and told the now gleefully looking sales woman we would take them! Our next stop was in fact, the Great Wall. As we drove up the hills towards it, you would catch a glimpse around each bend you took, each time getting more and more excited about the chance to climb this man made wonder! Once arrived our tour group split between those who wanted to climb the easier less steep part of the wall to those who wanted to climb to the more steep, higher part, which would give you the chance to climb to the highest tower, the 13th tower. Much to Kays delight I chose for us to climb to the 13th tower! Ha - I just had to be able to say I have climbed to the highest point! As we began are climb reality crept in, we had only passed tower 3 and we were already puffed out! Ha The climb was extremely steep and just went on and on, the wall really does bend over the hills creating that snake like impression. Both Kay & myself kept with it though, stopping now and again to take a rest and look back on the amazing sight that was the wall and its surrounding mountanous hills. Everynow and again we would feel bad but still take inspiration from an old man that would shoot past us looking like he could go on and on! Ha As we reached the 13th tower all red faced and breathing like we had just done a marathon, we looked back and just took in everything that was around us. For me it was just great to be on the Wall, a sight you have seen so much and heard about, a place that has been around for over two thousand years, one of the seven wonders of the world! It was a great experience for me! Kay thouroughly enjoyed the experience aswell, though she was still worried about the climb back down, she is always telling me how she has terrible balance and is no good coming down the stairs at home let alone the thousands of steps she now has to climb down with shaky weak legs! Ha As we climbed down the steps, we would stop every so often to take in the views, a few more photographs and for Kay to grab her bearings before continuing down. Taking great satisfaction from those passing us looking in as much pain as we were going up it! Once at the bottom we rejoined are tour group and headed off to a restaraunt for our lunch. The food was great, we all sat around a table and had 8 dishes of all different kinds of Chinese food. Which gave us a chance to get to know are fellow tour companions. Once we had all pollished off the 8 dishes we headed for one of the Ming tombs that were not too far away. These are the tombs where 13 of the 16 Ming emperors now rest, this particular tomb was huge, with two different gateways to enter, set in once again mountanous hills. Are guide for the day explained various different interesting facts about the tomb, legend has it that anyone who has ever entered the tomb has never come out and that is why no tour will ever actually enter the tomb. So with that in mind, Kay & myself appreciated it from a far! After the tomb visit we made are way to a silk factory, on the way though stopping off at the Birds Nest Stadium, this was the Olympic Stadium used for the 2008 games. As a big sports fan, this was another sight I was looking forward to in Beijing and it did not dissapoint. The stadium was huge and the the design really is amazing, hopefully the eventuall Bristol City Stadium in Long Ashton might share a similiar resemblence! Ha We also managed to see the Blue Cube, which was the Aquatics centre for the olympics, that too was impressive! Once we arrived at the Silk factory we were again greeted by a factory guide. Who once again delivered very interesting facts on how they use silk worms, how the different parts of silk are made. To be honest once again I enjoyed are detour here, it proved to be really interesting! Plus I was safe in the knowledge of knowing that we had already picked up a silk bargain back in India, so there was no way I was leaving here with another purchase! After the Silk factory we made are way to the dreaded tea house, just the sheer mention of a tea house would annoy me, not quite ready to let it go yet! Ha Luckily though this time the tea house gave us exactly the experience we were looking for, we had a very interesting tea show, told many facts about all the different Chinese teas and how they prove to be healthy for us. We tried 5 different teas, which to be fair apart from the fruit tea, I liked. Yes they did try to sell us some tea leafs and some gimick mugs, but that was it. We refrained from any purchases and made are way with the rest of our tour. - Tea house therapy over, I think I can now let the previous experience go! Ha Once we had left the tea house we all believed that this was now the end of the tour and we would now all be dropped off back at our hotels. However this was not the case, we were to be taken to a health centre where we would recieve a free foot massage and if we wanted, pay for a full body massage. Now when booking the tour I checked with Paul the tout and made sure we would not be taken to any health clinics or to anywhere men in white coats would come out and medically asses us. As I had read that on some tours they will take you to a health place, a doctor would come out, quickly asses you and prescribe these expensive drugs that only they sell to cure this desease the doctor has found in you. Paul confirmed that this would not be the case, well Paul the tout is a liar! Shock! Ha - Sure enough after are foot massage in came a famouse Tibet Herbal doctor who after looking at our hand for a brief amount of time was going to diagnose what was wrong with us. Before the doctor came in, I quickly told the others about the scam and to just ignore what ever was diagnosed or prescribed to you. The doctor looked at the Russians and the Venezualans hands and diagnosed them with heart and liver problems, he said he had the herbal medicine to cure it at a price of 900RMB about £90. They igonred his suggestions and refused to buy the medicine. For some reason he chose not to read mine and Kays hands, not quite sure why. The whole situation proved to be a funny one, we all shared the experience as a joke and made are way back to the tour bus. The tour and the day had proved to be a very different one to what was expected, yet it still proved to be very interesting, amusing at times and overall an excellent experience. A day that more importantly, I got to climb the great Wall! Once we were dropped off by the minibus we made are way to the train station to buy are tickets for tomorrows train to Shanghai. The station was extremely busy throughout, the queues in the ticket office were huge, Kay & myself joined the foreign que. Once at the window we realised that travelling by trains through China was not going to be easy, the lady at the counter did not speak great English at all and worst still she told us that there were no tickets available to Shanghai until Tuesday, 4 nights away! The only ticket available was 2 nights away and the would be £250 for both of us. We enquired about travelling to Xian, but once again no tickets available. Now this was not great news at all, as due to our illness Beijing has already proved to be costly, so another 4 nights here was going to seriously damage are budget. By this point I could see Kay was getting upset hearing each bit of bad news being delivered to us, so I decided to cut our losses and leave the ticket window. I explained to Kay we would go back to our hostel use the interent and find away out of Beijing, whether by train, bus or even plane. First though I thought it necessary for us both to console ourselves with a Mcdondals! The Big Mac seemed to work and on the metro back to our hostel we both had a positive mood on how we were going to tackle this dilema we were in. Overall we have had another great day in Beijing, just need to find a way to leave the place now! Ha

 

15/04/2011

After spending the rest of last night going through the best possibilities of how to leave Beijing and where to go next, we came up with a few destinations close to Shanghai and Xian. In the hope we could get a train to one of these places and then move on to our eventual destination by train or bus. Up and out early we made our way to the train station to do battle with the ques and ticket staff once again. This time though we were greeted at the window by a much more helpful member of staff, who managed to find us a hard seat for a train today going to Xian! Result! We snapped her hands off and booked the ticket for 3.50pm that day. Now knowing that we had to check out of our hostel by 12pm or risk being charged an extra half a day, we quickly made are way back to the metro station and headed back to our hostel. Once packed and checked out we took the metro this time to West Beijing train station, grabbing some lunch and a Chinese pot noodle for the train later along the way. Finding are waiting room and eventual platform was a lot easier then anticipated (I think we just fear the worse now and anything else is just a bonus!ha) Are first train in China compared to our previous Indian trains was like being upgraded to First Class! And they call this a Hard Seat! The trains carriage was carpeted, nice and clean with four seats to a row sharing a mini table! Still as nice as the train was both Kay & myself are fairly long 'uns! Ha The 15 hour journey that was ahead of us was not going to be the most comfortable one!

 

16/04/2011

As Ollie correctly predicted - we didn’t manage to get hardly a wink of sleep last night - and with still having left over tummy trouble - we couldn’t wait to arrive at Xi’an today to be able to find a hostel & crash. We arrived and booked our train out of there straight away whilst at the train station, for 2 days time - didn’t want to risk getting stuck again - booked ticket no trouble at all - sleeper to Chengdu - £40 for both of us - perfect!!!! Things were going well. But still tired and doubled over with stomach cramps - we decided a taxi was a must! We jumped in and pointed to the chinese translation of a hostel in our LP book - the man understood and started driving. After a little while it became clear he didn’t actually know where we needed to be - he kept asking to see the book again & checked with passers by, he tried to drop us off telling us that we had arrived - but as we couldn’t see a hostel anywhere we thought he just wanted to get rid of us - so we pointed that it was meant to be right next to the South gate of the walled city - which made things much clearer for him and he continued to drive round and drop us off at the correct location. We happily paid the £2 fare and headed off to find the place which we had been directed as being just straight down one path. We walked, it was about 7am, nothing was open... it was like a ghost town - hardly anyone passing by - and everything was written in Chinese - nothing English in sight!!! Oh dear! After walking round for a while having no ability to find our bearings on our map - we followed the vague directions of the odd passer by. We eventually came to a hostel - not the one we were looking for - but it was full - thankfully they directed us to the one we were looking for - and a 5min walk later we were at reception checking into our room! Phew!!! We couldn’t actually get into our room until noon, so we collapsed in their restaurant and ordered breakfast. We could see immediately why this place was the pick of LP, we were greated by the loveliest - friendliest (and fattest! Ha!) golden retriever in the world - was so niceo to be able to have a nice cuddle with a family dog!!! Very homely here!!! Breakfast was delicious - this was dangerous - we don’t usually allow ourselves to eat out for breakfast - but think this one might just be too good to resist!! Full English hard to come by in our neck of the woods!! We crashed on the sofa (again very homely!!) and just passed the time. Another couple were sat by us, we got chatting to them - a French guy & Kiwi girl - very nice - travelled all over & on a very long trip themselves - Kylie very kindly gave us her parents address and said we could stay with them when we get to NZ!!! Very sweet!!! They finished their breakfast and headed out for the day - I fell asleep on the sofa & Ollie surfed the net for a bit. Finally - time to check in - room was nice - we crashed out - but in the end after all that couldn’t sleep - overtired by that time perhaps. We decided to go for a walk around the area to familiarise ourselves with where we were. We headed to the Bell & Drum tower, and then walked through the Muslim Quarter and found a maze of markets which where cool to look round. We attempted to find a mosque but gave up in the end as we couldn’t find it. We bumped back into the couple we had met earlier that day when we were out - they had been to the Terracotta Warriors that morning - (this is the only reason we had come to Xi’an - to see the warriors!) - we asked if they had a good time... They said that they didn’t enjoy it at all - but me and Ollie weren’t deterred by this, alot of people you meet seem to slag off the touristy places - thinking that they are above these sorts of things - but at the end of the day - if there is somthing worth seeing then it is going to draw crowds!! Still looking forward to our trip there - and our 2nd meal back at the hostel (meals here in a restaurant cost about £2.50ish each) we headed back and enjoyed an early night to catch back up on our sleep.

 

17.04.11

After yesterdays reports on the Warriors - we decided that we would miss out on that trip today and go tomorrow instead, as hopefully on a Monday it would be a little less busy. Today we decided to go for a walk outside the city walls to see the Small & Big Goose Pagoda. We walked to the small one first - getting a little lost on the way - (the free city maps provided here aren’t to scale so it is easy to take a turning too soon - also the road signs here don’t help - I can’t believe for such a developed country - their signs to get around the city are shocking!!! They only give you one sign, right ontop of whatever it is you are looking for, or they seem to stop too early and don’t show you the how to get to your final destination! Ha! Hard work!) - we finally made the small pagoda. We had almost given up on finding it as we couldn’t use the map & road names to find where we were - but then we seen it peeping just through the trees. We walked over to it and realised you had to pay a fiver each to get in (we had been warned by people we met in India that you have to pay to see EVERYTHING here), it was a shame but we couldn’t justify this - we tried to peep through any gaps we could find but without much luck of getting a look - seems like it was set in a nice park so it is a shame to have missed it. Never mind. On to the Big Goose Pagoda - we walked and walked and walked along huge great big roads forever - again with not a clue if we were going the right way - but wahoo our navigational skills got us there!!! The pagoda was nice, but the settings that they had created surrounding it definately made it - there was a huge square with ice cream shops around the edges, rows of seating areas shaded by trees, all lined up to view the huge fountain area that families & children played in - the perfect spot to sit in the sun and people watch with an ice cream after such a long walk - and that is just what we did. There are chinese symbols indented into a square of pavement slabs, children were using a pointed sponge filled with water from the fountains to write over the symbols and therefore fill it with water. Me & Ollie sat watching them, we thought this was such a good idea to teach them to write as they seemed to be really enjoying it!! We got chatting to a man next to us who turned out to be the little boys Dad, he was a lovely man, English not great so could only stick tot he basics, but he seemed very impressed with our trip, especially as he only gets 10days holiday a year, he was a train driver. We had received a bit of attention here today, which has made a change as so far nobody pays attention to us being foreign, with people wanting photos etc. A lady had interrupted our conversation with the man, desperate to talk to us - she was trying to be friendly but they come accross so aggressive it can be a little awkward as we are not able to understand what they are saying - helpfully the man translated that she was on holiday in Xi’an and does not get chance to see foreigners where she is from, she is excited to meet us. The next thing we know - she has arranged to pay for a tourist photographer to take our picture with her in the fountains - feeling very embarrassed - we obliged and posed for the photographs - she seemed very pleased and we said our goodbyes. We also said bye to the Dad at this point so that we could stroll around the area, now fully recovered from our long walk to get here. It was such a beautiful day - the sun was bright and hot, making the the bright green trees & red trees look stunning. The fountain show was about to begin so we lined the edges in anticipation along with the rest of the visitors. We were stood next to a family with 3 children, all of which were so cute to watch, the eldest sister enjoying playing Mum to the little baby girl & the boy aged inbetween the two girls, a typical boy, very cheeky & very cute!! They would get a little shy when they caught us watching - but this was soon forgotten when the fountains shot on and the little boy would run into them!! We watched the fountain show which was pretty good & set to chinese style music - Me & Ollie shared a moment of realising exactly where we were - OMG we are in CHINA!!! After the fountains the family asked for a photo with them - I was as usual passed the baby to hold - which she didn’t look happy about leaving Mum so I was just praying she didn’t cry - luckily she didn’t!! (Lou I will be ready for Mia when I get back - Promise! Ha!). We grabbed the opportunity to get a pic with them all too which they all posed for - and then we headed off round the otherside of the pagoda. We found a pretty little park area so again strolled around here for a while. This really is a lovely area to live by & be able to spend weekend with the family, as the Dad we had met earlier in the day was doing. It started getting late so we headed back towards our hostel, concious of how long it takes, we thought we had better get it over with. We enjoyed trying some food from a little stall, I had BBQ corn on the cob, Ollie had BBQ “meat” on a stick (we think it was pork..!?) both of which was covered in their special (spicy!) sauce - it was good! Further along our walk we also tried a cake from a little hole in the wall stand - which was again ver nice and very cheap - our BBQ food & cake were about 20p each - such a shame England don’t have places where you can snack at this price!!! We made it back to the city walls, feet hurting by now - we wanted to walk through the park lining the walls - but decided that this was just too much at this point - we headed back to the hostel for tea instead to recharge our batteries and planned to go out later when it was lit up at night. We enjoyed our spicy chicken & peanut dish & chicken curry with rice dish and headed back out to the local shop to get some drinks (they are more expensive in the hostel - gotta save costs you know!). On the way - we bumped into a couple of drunk men having to hold up their very drunk mate on their stumble home - we chuckled at them as we passed and chatted about how many people drink in China. Seriously - I think these people are a bunch to alcoholics - how we got the reputation I don’t know - I rekon they could drink the Brits under the table! Ha! They sell drink everywhere - they just seem to drink it as if it was just a fizzy drink! They seem to take their dirnk in a much better way that the Indians though - all in very sociable good spirits!! Its funny as when they speak they sound the same as when they are sober - but to me this sounds like a babbling baby or an English drunk dribbling on making no sense! Ha! After getting our drinks we took a short walk through the park lining the city walls (apparently it is really rare to find a walled city in China!) and again headed back for an early night ready for our exciting day at the warriors tomorrow! Wahoo!

 

18.04.11

WARRIOR DAY!!! Wahoo!! Up early, showered and dressed - downstaris for a bit of breakfast before heading out for the day - or atleast that is what we had planned before the French Toast that I had ordered took FOREVER to come!!!! (But I’m glad I waited - it was tasty!!) We hit the road & walked to the train station - right on the opposite side of the city!! Got there quicker than we thought & 30mins later we were at the train station (no thanks to any road signs along the way - seriously - I cannot believe they don’t bother to direct you to these things!) and hopped on a bus that left from here to the warriors - about an hours drive away! We arrived and headed to get our tickets - declining offers of a guide as we had decided we would share the cheaper option of an audio guide £4 (which turned out not really to be worth it as the written plaques inside were really informative). (Me and Ollie managed to have an arguement between the ticket office and the gate entrance! Ha! But it was a good 10min walk between the two so we had sorted it out by the time we were going in! Ha!) We had read in the LP book that it was worth going to the excavation sites in backwards order - leaving the biggest until last - so this is what we had decided to do. We went to the museum first and viewed some of the restored examples of the warriors & charriots that had been excavated - it was so impressive to read all the information on them, bringing to our attention just how much detail and precision had gone into each and every piece. We then continued to Pit 2, this covered area contains a site where they are currently still in the process of excavating - which turned out to be the best way to start our day we thought as it really set the tone and made you realise this is an actual archeological site being excavated! Just this pit alone had already proved everyone else who had criticised this place to be wrong in our opinion - it was facinating!! We wandered round the edges of the excavation perimetre, peering in to see if we could spot the beginnings of a find. It was not difficult to - you could clearly make out soldiers and their horses - it really was cool!!! We read up on all the information about how they have discovered techniques used that had acted as a preservant - which Americans only started to use in 1930s - Qin Shi Huang beat them by 2000 years!! Ha! Also is was really interesting to read how the paved flooring had been laid for the soldiers to stand proudly on, lined up within corridors which had been constructed, and covered to be completely encased in a matted roof - all of which you could see remenants of within the site!!! Very interesting!!!

We then moved to pit 3 which containted 3 different sets of ranking officers, displayed by their uniforms, which they believe may have made up a battle formation as the formation used is unique to Qin Shi Huang. This pit has been excavated further than the last - again really interesting to seem to progressive stages. We also read about a hole that had been discovered which had been used to loot the relics at some point in history! On one side of the pit, fully restored versions of the lifesize officers were encased in glass on display. We enjoyed a really close look at them, being able to pick up every bit of detail from head to toe - it is amazing that every single one of the warrriors are individual - no two faces alike!!! (It is also amazing how lifelike they are - very impressive to be able to achieve this level of skill BC!). Ollie posed for a few pics and we moved to the grand finale - pit 1.... We walked round to the front of the building which covers the site (which are set in beautiful gardens and surrounding scenery) and entered through the doors. Admittedly until now we had not seen the crowds others have spoke of - but here thery all were. This did not matter in the slightest though - we got to the edge of the excavation and the huge scale of the site was revealed - with its perfect warriors all stood to attention in front of us! It was brilliant!!! Quite a blokey thing to want to look at warriors perhaps - but I really cannot see how anyone couldn’t be impressed by this - it was fantastic!!!! Centre stage were 4 perfectly formed horses leading the troops - with 20 warriors stood either side of them - about 15 rows deep - all of them pretty much in perfect condition. Qin Shi Huang had created this enormous army (1000 excavated in current sites - a total of 6000 is thought to exist!) all to supposedly continue his reign in afterlife. We saw the exact spot where the discovery of the warriors was made by a farmer digging a well - the farmer is still alive today. It was mad to imagine the farmer making this discovery - I bet he could never have imagined the extent of his find! We walked around the whole of the site - watching the archeologist as they actually work on the artifacts. After spending much time taking it all in we accepted that it was time to go as we had to catch our train onto Chengdu that evening. We got outside and looked for our bus - all we had to go by is that it was green. After running round lots of green buses up and down the road - we could not find it anywhere! Getting a bit worried that time was passing and we were now later than we should be to make it to our train (well, with time to be able to fit in an amazing pizza that we have been eyeing up at the hostel - but that is £10 so we had to wait until todays 20% off offer before we would allow ourselves it! Ha!) a white bus luckily pulledover by us and a woman shouted “Xi’an” - we ran and jumped on - thankful that my blode hair stands out so much that we are identified in a crowd as needing help! Ha! This bus took longer than it had on the way - so now we really are late - no time for food (boo hoo!) - we jumped in a taxi when we got back to the train station as we had to go back to the hotel to pick up our backpacks. Getting stuck in rush hour traffic & again taking forever to get anywhere the only time you really need to (but pleasently suprised that taxis are so cheap - only £2!) we jumped out as soon as we were close and ran to grab our bags. The hostel told us bus would be quickest at this time so we went to the bus stop (seeing our bus just leave as we got there! Doh!) and hoped on the next one. The hostel was right - we got there pretty quick - traffic seemed to have calmed down by now also - Ollie grabbed a McD’s and we found our platform - all to discover - our train was delayed!!! HA! Oh well! Ollie had already scoffed his McD’s, I had my pot noodle chinese style, and after many false alarms we were able to start our 16hour train trip to Chengdu at 10pm - this time sleeper style - wahoo!!

 

19.04.11

After my first real good nights sleep on a train this whole trip, we arrived in Chengdu at around mid-day eager to find our hostel we had previously booked online. The Sim Cosy Hostel came highly recomended by both Lonely Planet and a guy we met back in Delhi, so we both agreed this would be a good place to stay and possibly book our trip to see the Panda’s. After a good hours walk, taking the odd wrong turn and stopping to ask the odd local we managed to find the hostel and it did not dissapoint. Set back off the street inside some really nice gardens was The Sim Cosy Hostel, the staff were really friendly and helpful, you were able to book any train, bus tour tickets you wanted, there was a great restaraunt and bar, washer and dryers to do your own washing and all complete with a free DVD rental service to watch films in your room. The perfect travellers retreat! Once checked in we made are way to the restaraunt where we could not resist the huge Burger and Chips that were on the menu! After washing it down with a cold beer we decided to go and chill out on their comfy sofas above the bar, I left Kay to go back to the room to fetch the laptop to hopefully make use of their Wifi service. On the way though nipping off as quickly as I could to try and find a cake shop for Kays Birthday that was tomorrow. ( I can write this now as her Birthday has now passed!) After getting a bit lost from the directions given to me by the barman at our hostel, I stumbled across a cake shop. Using my best miming skills not Mandarin, I managed to get a small cake and a 2 and a 5 birthday candles! Thats right 25 Kay! Ha Once back at the hostel I put the cake in the communual fridge, hoping no one would dare eat it before rushing back to the non suspicious Kayleigh. Once back with Kay, we decided to go and book our visit to the Pandas for tomorrow. We would have liked to have done it independantly, but the bus service to the sanctuary leaves at a time that would not enable us to get there before feeding time. And once Panda’s finish eating, they then like to do there second most favourite thing and sleep! So by doing the tour it enables us to get there in good time to catch a real glimps of the big bears. After booking the Panda’s for tomorrow we decided to take advantage of the free DVD rental service and have a bit of an early night as we would need to get up early tomorrow to go to the sanctuary and speak to Kays folks for her birthday. So armed with Vanilla Sky and the Curious Case of Benjamin Button (both films picked with Kay in mind, it is her Birthday after all) we retreated and hit the sack!

 

20.04.11

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!!!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!!!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO KAYLEIGH!!!!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!!!!!!

25!!!! Well aren’t I a big girl now!!!!! I’m all grown up!!!!

Woke up this morning by a little Oliver singing happy birthday to me - with a chocolate birthday cake in hand, with candles of a “2“ & “5“ lit ready for me to make my wish!!! Bless him - so cute - still managed to make sneeky arrangements even though we don’t leave each others side for more than 2seconds! Ha! A very happy (but still blurry eyed) birthday girl made her wish (I can’t tell you what it is otherwise it won’t come true!) and blew out her candles. I then opened my prezzies from Ollie (I thought, ooh I wonder what this could be!?? Ha, as we bought the earings earlier together - but there were more to open - more suprises!!!!) first of all, a packet of pistachios nuts!!! Ooh just what I have always wanted!!! Well not quite always - but for the past week or so I have been craving them, as they are almost £2 I couldn’t allow myself to buy them as they were too expensive (I tried to get some cheap ones I found for £1 but we didn’t realise they were wusabi flavour - Ha! well we have never tasted somthing so painful in all our lives - it literally hurt for it to just touch your toungue for a second!) - so I really was chuffed to bits with these!!! My baberz knows me well! Ha! Next, my beautiful silver and jade earings, I love them - I have been looking forward to wearing them so much - I popped them in - perfect!!! (Look out for em in the pics) Then I had another mystery prezzie - I opened a little pouch to find a necklace! A really pretty necklack made up of small little clear stones all different odd shapes, slightly tinted a pinkish colour - lovely - we had been looking at ones like it in India - but again I wouldn’t treat myself to it - so Mr Ryan seemed to have snuck off at some point to treat me to it instead! I’m chuffed that he did - I love it - just the right length on me, falls right on my collar bone - nice to have somthing to make myself feel a bit pretty!! I’m chuffed to bits and shocked at my lovely prezzies he had manged to get me.

This birthday was starting earlier than ever as Ollie had woken me up ready for a skype call to Mum at 6am! Had a really nice long chat with Mum, who also performed a beautiful rendition of Happy Birthday for me! Told her all about our plans for the day - going to see the Pandas today!!! Can’t wait!!! Explained to her all about why and how our plans had changed so much. Really sad again to hear that Laurens medicine isn’t suiting her as much as she first thought - poor Laur - bad again!! Hope you feel better soon Laur!!!!! Really pleased to hear about Kate & Matt helping you with the flat - that is really nice of them!! Can’t wait to see how it looks!! Bet you love it!! Really glad to have been able to speak to Mum on my birthday - really missing my Mummy at home and can feel a bit homesick over it at times - so really glad I got to be able to speak to her today!

Finished the call a bit late so I quickly got ready and made time for my birthday cake over a cup of tea in the room - then headed to reception to pick up the tour.

We got to the panda sanctuary - which in all fairness is a bit like a zoo really rather than having any sort of wild element to it - but I don’t mean that in a bad way at all - it is set in lovely grounds and the pandas seem to have great enclosures very well suited to their needs. We first arrived at an area with a group of 4 pandas aged 3years old - we had purposely taken a tour so that we would arrive in time for their morning feed, and that we did - they we all tucking into their bamboo which they seemed to be loving!! We stood watching them lazily chew on the bamboo from their awkward lying position - they look very comfy but it somehow doens’t seem natural - like they dont have a spine! Ha! They all seemed to enjoy putting on the show for us - all facing us and wandering around while we oooh’d & aaah’d at their cuteness! You get to seem them fairly close - from far away you only see the big black patches around their eyes - but now we could see past thing right into their actual eyes - they seem to have a real depth and character to them - you know how some animals (dogs) just have those eyes that really connect with you - Marley has eyes like that - well pandas do too! Snapping loads of pics and videos - we eventually moved onto the next area which housed a group of pandas, again all sat together tucking into their breakfast. This group were a little older, about 4-5year and noticably bigger - but still just as cute!! They were still just at the age where they could live together - pandas at a young age like to live together - but then when they reach about 5 they like to live more solitary lives. This information then led us to meet an 8 year old male next who lived on his own - he was again quite the entertainer - playing around in his little pond - posing nicely for photos - strolling right around the edges to be as close as he could to the crowd - allowing us to get a a brilliant view of him! We then went to see the next panda who lived on her own - Mai Lao - she was the VIP of the park (Very Important Panda) as she is the ambassador for China’s panda campaigns - you could again tell she was used to the attention. We then reached the area of the baby pandas. At this time of year there aren’t any newborns here - they are actually in their mating season (lucky we managed to avoid witnessing this for ourselves) so we didn’t get to see any tiny babies - but the youngsters here were 8months old - and the cutest balls of fun you have ever seen. The guide explained that we are able to hold the babies if we want to at a cost of £100 each. Now we had looked into visiting Chengdu before we left England and decided not to include it in our itinerary as the U-Tube videos we seen of people holding them looked mean - it seemed like a conveyor belt of people with they panda being dragged here their and everywhere. From meeting people on our trip they had all been to Chengdu and said how fantastic it was - and that it was a really nice place for them - which to this point I would definately agree - so as much as I would love to have a cuddle with the babies - I didn’t want to ruin that image by taking part in somthing that I felt was cruel. A girl from our tour group had decided to do it - oooh - when I found out someone else was doing it - this made it really hard to say no to!!! Whilst I aggonised over the decision we went to watch the babies - they were all so fun - boistrous little bundles of fur that just wanted to play. They seemed to really enjoy interation with each other - and loved to tumble about playing - which made me think perhaps they might actual like human interation!? I needed to make my mind up as a matter of principle if I thought it was right to do it. Ollie was shocked at the price I think - it is a little high considering you never pay that lump sum out anywhere when you are travelling - but I just thought - French Connection dress - or cuddle Panda - no contest!!!! (Plus I liked that it was this much as I think it stops EVRYONE doing it) I waited by the entrance to hold the baby - I asked if I could watch others do it to see if that helped me make up my mind - but no - nobody other than the person who has paid is allowed in - so if I did do it - Ollie wouldn’t even be able to watch. I waited and luckily managed to see through a crack in the door what was happening - it didn’t seem cruel at all - that was it - I was doing it!!!! I paid my fee and got into my blue gown & gloves and waited for my turn for a cuddle. There were only a handful of people joining in which I liked as again I didn’t feel guilty in the slightest. I sat down on the seat and they placed the little baby girl, Yaou Ri, onto my lap as she enjoyed sucking away on her watermelon. IT WAS AMAZING!!!! WORTH EVERY PENNY!!!! She seemed perfectly happy and content being sat with me, while I had the chance to hold her hands, smooth her head and ears, whilst she enjoyed her fruit treat ensuring she got more from the keepers as soon as she had ran out! The whole time I couldn’t believe I had a baby panda sat on my lap! It was brilliant!!! I could see right into her eyes!! Even thought she was a baby - she was a bit of a lump! Ha! So cute - all I could hear her doing was sucking away on the water melon - she sounded just like a baby having a bottle! Ha! I sat with her for about 5 mins (the staff kindly took a video and pics of me - they couldn’t work it which worked out well as it meant I got a bit longer with her - wahoo!). When my time was up I had my last cuddle and said goodbye to my new little friend and ran out to Ollie BEAMING - chuffed that I had done it! I don’t really know what to say about the rest of the day - the vidoes will show you what you need to know - the next couple of hours I wasn’t with it at all - I was just so chuffed I had just done that - it was all I could think about! I watched the video over and over again - BRILLIANT - that’s all I can say!!!

SMILE FROM EAR TO EAR - BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!!!!

Later that day we were back at the hostel - we enjoyed chinese for lunch!!

Laughed HYSTERICALLY at the e-cards I got from Mum & Laur!

& read all the lovely emails from friends and family!!! So nice to hear from home - glad that you haven’t forgotten us!!! Ha!

We then got a bus to the other end of the city to go out for a Mexican meal! It got really good reviews in LP so we couldn’t miss the chance of Nachos & Fajitas!!! We managed to find it no problem at all - which is really good as English is getting less and less the further through our trip we get. We enjoyed Nachos with a 9 layer dip to start - Fajitas & Burrito for main - and carrot cake for dessert - all washed down with a couple of beers!!! DELICIOUS!!!!!! (But the cake still didn’t match yours gran & gdad!). This was the perfect end to the perfect day! We spent ages over the meal - just enjoying a good old chat - well Ollie pretty much had to listen as I still hadn’t shut up about Yaou Ri yet! Ha! Aboslutely stuffed - we waddled back and hopped on the bus home - again which we found no problem at all!! We totally blew our budget in every way today - but who cares - days like today is what we have saved so hard for!!!!

(Still smiling.... I cuddled a baby panda!!! Wahoo!!!)

 

 

21/04/2011

Time to move on from Chengdu today - so we got loads of washing done while they had a cheaper DIY option here - got it all dry in time before we tucked into a delicious full english breakie (Ollie had a chicked sarnie - shock! Ha!). We then got the bus to the train station - stocked up on our food for the journey and jumped on the train with no delays! Great!

We had a sleeper onto Kunming booked so hopefully again the ride should be a bit more pleasant. We luckily managed to grab some seats before they were taken - we seemed to have also been placed in a berth with nice quite people so would make for a relaxing ride (the Chinese women voices goes right through Ollie when he has to listen to it for 18hours straight on a train - they are very loud !Ha!). This train actually went REALLY quickly - we got on about 4pm - and before we knew it - it was time for tea. We actually look forward to our little pot noodle train food - they are really nice!! As we were sat at the window tucking in - had the views a 5 star restaurant could not offer - it was STUNNING!!! The train ran right alongside a river set at the bottom of a gorge between huge great mountains, covered in every shade of green possible! It really was beautiful - especially when it would open up a little and you could see further down river - the horizon being endless layers of mountains stretching back into the distance before they faintly disappeared - framed by the closed mountains carrying the river and the odd small village. We have filmed it - but as usual - you will never be able to understand what it looks like until you are here! It really was breathtaking! We both looked at each other - this is what we have been waiting for!!!! I can’t wait!!!! Not long after we went to bed - desperate so that we could get to sleep ensuring the next day came as quick as possible - and we were then another day closer to long walks and bike rides along these rivers - can’t wait!!!

On a separate note - me and Ollie have been chatting about our travelling - as you do on such journeys - and we have realised that I think we actually feel a little more trapped whilst travelling than we do at home. Most travellers seem to some away and be relieved to escape the routine of home life. Whereas - routine at home was easy at home - we were happy with the day to day - week to week little routine we have - visiting family, work, shopping etc. I think majorly to do with the acutal countries we have visited first - we seem to feel more pressure to make sure that we are our seeing everything we need to see etc and not wasting any time - and any time you do feel is wasted you kind of feel a bit trapped there and desperate to get on to the next thing. I think this has become more apparent in China, just because in India - when you were having a bad day or ready to move on to the next place - you could never become bored or aware of those feelings really - as India would not allow you to - there was so much going on - your brain was occupied every minute of the day - so even if you were not 100% enjoying a particular thing i.e. Holi - you could never dwell on it or be aware of it as the mad place would never spare you a second to think of it. Whereas in China, Xi’an & Chengdu are places where you would never go to as a city (it does not offer the experience of Beijing as a city for example) - you simply go there to experience the amazing sights they have there (Terracotta Warriors / Pandas) but when you have finished this experience the city doesn’t give you anything else to go out for - which leaves you feeling a little bit low for a moment - so you stay in the hostels - as they are amazing here - set up really well for travellers to enable us to enjoy a DVD in bed one night - which you really miss sometimes - or to be able to chat and meet new people. But as we have been so used to having to be out every minute in India and being entertained non stop for doing so - you start to feel guilty and a bit lazy for spending any time indoors. We have just realised - that this is OK and we can enjoy this side of travelling too - as this is the side of travelling that some people go away to do only. With that in mind - we have started to ease off the gas and enjoy treating ourselves to meals & a few beers here and there & just enjoy our time - no matter what we decide we fancy doing that day - that is the beauty of not being at work!

That said - we are off to Dalit tomorrow - beautiful countryside - so we will be back on our activity days with long walks on the agenda - can’t wait! (That is if I can tear Ollie away from the pool table here! Ha!)



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China & Hong Kong

Beijing, China,Hong Kong



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