Our last journey on the Trans-Mongolian, and the best train by far! Much newer – the Kupes were a little larger, and the beds more comfortable. We were sharing with an English lady and a German lady, both friendly and easy going.
The Mongolian countryside is much more interesting than Siberia – more hills, herds of cows and horses, and we saw a huge herd of deer.
A couple of Kupes up from us was the ‘Party Kupe’. A bunch of people who knew eachother from thier previous destination – they started the beers early and moved onto vodka then whiskey as the day went on. All of them were completely hammered by the time we stopped for the border check and the changing of wheels for the Chinese track. The train jolted to a holt, and an English guy (in his 60’s we think) who had been trying to keep up with the young ones went flying down the carriage and came to a painfull stop sprawled out on the floor. He was so drunk he couldn’t stand up so Paul and some others helped him up and got him in his Kupe – completely comatozed at this point! He was sharing with 2 young Dutch lads who had been trying to get to sleep poor guys! They told us the next morning, about 3am he suddenly lunged up looking for his whiskey crashing around the place – they woke up and told him to ‘get back to f***king sleep’! Don’t mess with the Dutch and thier sleep!
So when we reach the Chinese border, each carriage has to be lifted from the ground so Chinese wheels can be attached – this is because the track in China is different to that in Russia/Mongolia. This whole process lasted for 5 hours (including passport checks etc).
We arrived in Beijing on the 20th. The weather was pretty dull – you couldn’t see the sky it was just a haze – apparently a couple of days before they had had a ‘yellow’ smog warning (basically above normal, the highest being ‘red’ which is very bad). About 25% of people i have seen have been wearing masks. We have stayed here for 5 days and only 1 of those days i have seen the blue sky.
It has also snowed whilst we have been here, and again it is cold, about -4/-8. Paul and I are both needing some warmth in our bones now! I also have a cold – typical! I have been wondering if the smog has something to do with that, apart from my poor body being exposed to ridiculous minus temperatures that is!
During our first day we explored the Summer Palace. This is where Chinese royalty would go during the summer months as the Forbiddan City was too hot. Most of the original structures were made in the 18th century.
It was very beautiful, temples dotted around a vast garden setting. Every temple has a different function and name. To name a few that we saw – ‘Hall of Benevolence and Longevity’, ‘Cloud Dispelling Hall’, and ‘Dragon King Temple’. The colours used to decorate the temples were fantastic, and such detail used throughout.
We also visited the Temple of Heaven Park, which was similar to the Summer Palace but on a smaller scale.
The Forbiddan City is in the centre of Beijing. It gets the name from the fact that for 500 years it was off limits to everyone bar the emperor and his party. It’s the largest and best preserved cluster of ancient buildings in China.
This place is massive, and as we felt we had seen many temples since being here we chose the short route! Again some very impressive and beautiful temples, you can imagine the Royal family hauled up here in luxury whilst all the population outside struggled in the bitter winter months.
Our highlight has to be the Great Wall, built to prevent invasion especially from the Mongols. However Chenggis Khan did manage to get over it once! We visted the MutianYu section, which is less touristy than other parts and a little more challenging to climb. I beleive the term ‘little’ doesn’t quite cut it!
To reach the quieter and older part of the wall (some parts have been rebuilt due to damage etc) we got a chair lift up the mountain. It was so high ours ears popped a few times.
We were lucky with the weather – blue sky and the sun made an appearance, so our views from the wall were pretty epic. As it had snowed the previous day the pathes on the wall were very icey, but the snow made it look all the more impressive.
We had 3 hours of walking along the wall. There were a few very steep stretches, and the steps had iced over so it was a little dangerous at times. One particular bit you had to climb some ridiculously steep steps to reach the top, each one iced up. Climbing back down was bloody nerve wracking! There was 1 Chinese lady climbing down with heels on! She freaked out half way down (no suprise) and someone from the bottom had to go up and give her a pep talk. There was a queue of about 10 people behind her all gripping on for dear life whilst she sorted herself out.
Paul climbed down infront of me, so if i slipped and fell i’d have protection (he’s looking after me well haha), and i made a very slow and granny like descent. There was much more granny walking required on the way back, some scooting along on my bum, but i made it back in one peice so i was happy. The icing on the cake was all the cats we found nearby whilst walking back to our coach – i sat with them and had a cuddle! First cats i had seen in China – proof they don’t eat all of them!
On the subject of cats we went into a little shop in Beijing’s version of Convent Garden, and there were cats EVERYWHERE. Pottering around the shop floor, and even above you – they had there very own walkways attached to the ceiling. It was like a gerbilariam but for cats! Fantastic!
Dogs get a mention too – the Chinese seem to like little poodles alot, and we have even seen the odd corgi. About 75% of the pet dogs we see have clothes on – alot of jackets, but we have even seen a dog with a shorts and t.shirt on, and SHOES! Yes, the dog had shoes on.
I must mention the food too!
Firstly we went to the Chinese version of Borough Market. Now, Borough Market is pretty tame compared to what we saw here. Scorpians, grubs, grasshoppers, tarantulas, sea horses, and star fish on sticks. Oooo lovely just what i fancied! Why not go onto the main course – raw squid salad. Or maybe some offal? I know this is just the start of things to come, but it was so weird! One guy had an icecream tub full of live scorpians, and he was just picking them up and ramming them onto the sticks ready for the bbq – they were still wriggling around on the stick!
Hmmmm, not for me.
We went into the local supermarket – now you think Tesco is chaotic on a Saturday morning well no! This place was manic! Anyway, the meat section was interesting – again just piles of offal (hearts seem popular). They had fish tanks with huge fish and turtles all just swimming around waiting for you to buy them. Containers full of live crabs, and some lobster. At least you know you’re eating fresh?
Eating out however has so far been fantastic – we treated ourselves to a Peking duck restaurant. It was delicious. You saw the ducks being cooked in these huge coal ovens, then it is carved up infront of you.
Another restaurant we went to was a Korean Grill – you have a mini bbq in the middle of the table and the meat is grilled infront of you.
All the food we have eaten has been delicious – the subtle spices and herbs. Even standard rice and noodles taste so much better.
We had been warned that we may get people staring at us – we have had this a few times, but the funniest thing is when people try and take sneaky pictures of us! We have had people ask to have a photo taken with us a couple of times now, then they look at it and laugh?! It’s like we are the tourist attraction!
Chinese people are obsessed with thier mobiles – absolutely glued to the screen all the time. They’re taking selfies all the time, even on the tube. Also they pose for thier pictures – they spend 5/10 minutes getting thier pose sorted before the photo can be taken. It’s so funny to watch!
Our train for Xi’an leaves tonight, and we should arrive in the land of the Terracotta Warriors tomorrow morning.