Thumper…

April 1, 2013

Beijing and home

Sunday I woke up, opened the curtains and nearly fell over. There was BLUE SKY!!!! BLUE SKY IN BEIJING!!! Almost unheard of! Ev and I spent this day out at the National Stadium – aka Birds Nest, the venue for the Beijing Olympics opening/closing ceremonies, athletics and soccer finals. Walked around the Olympic precinct there, it was extremely hot and humid in the morning, but still, with blue skies above, I wasn’t going to complain.

Birds Nest Stadium from the Olympic precinct

Birds Nest Stadium from the Olympic precinct

Took a tour inside the stadium, which is just like any other really (although I suspect the Chinese would not say that) and they had plenty of Olympic displays there, including highlights of the opening and closing ceremonies running on the big screen for the visitors to enjoy and a wax museum of Olympic presidents.

Inside the Birds Nest

Inside the Birds Nest

Outside there was an honour roll of every Olympic medalist, including the Paralympians. Got the impression that the Beijing Olympics wasn’t just an “event” for China, but something that they have marked as a turning point in the history of their country.

Olympic Rings

Olympic Rings

The food court tent there was enormous, it must have been at least 100m long. The most interesting shop was one that sold insects on skewers. It had the most people gathered round it, but it wasn’t doing a roaring trade! Really enjoyed looking around the Olympic area anyway, definitely the highlight in Beijing for me.

More delicacies ready to eat

More delicacies ready to eat

Sunday we went back to the Silk Market, but I didn’t really buy anything at all (two small things as a present). There were a lot more people than the day before and it almost seemed like the stall holders were intentionally trying not to sell anything – didn’t see many people buying at all. That night, my last in Beijing, a few of us headed to Ghost street. Heaps of lanterns on the street, it looked really good. Food was ok too and yep, big screens set up in and outside most of the shops with the Olympics playing! You could only imagine what it would have been like when Beijing actually had the Olympics there – the atmosphere would have been amazing.

Lanterns in Ghost Street

Lanterns in Ghost Street

So Beijing – spent way too much time in McDonalds (the coffee lovers tell me they had good coffee there, plus they had the Olympics on the tv) and KFC. Beijing has improved a lot for visitors since I was there last (before the 2008 Olympics) and it’s still hazy, crowded, polluted but at least not as much spitting, smoking and it does seem a whole lot cleaner.

Olympics in McDonalds

Olympics in McDonalds

Caught the shuttle bus out to the airport – we scoped out the departure point the night before and I can say that I’m glad we did. We had a bit of trouble finding it then, seemed like anybody with a scrap of english had left town and my chinese wasn’t quite up to scratch yet! We left with plenty of time to get to the airport and find where we had to go – which was a good thing, we went to 3 departure check in desks before we got the right one… That wasn’t really our fault, the helpful staff kept sending us to the wrong one. There’s not much to do at Beijing airport though, if you’re hoping to fill in a few hours browsing the shops before your flight, you may have a problem.

Flew out from Beijing to Guangzhou on an A380. That is a very nice plane. Managed to get a couple of bonus hours in the A380 – we got delayed in Beijing and spent 2 hours sitting on the tarmac after preparing for takeoff. The captain announced he was sorry for the delay – I reckon only 90 seconds later we were in the sky. No announcement, just bang, we were screaming down the runway and 10 seconds later off the ground. The poor hostess was delivering some water to the people in front of us and as soon as she felt the plane move she literally ran for her seat. By the time she got buckled in, I think we were off the ground! After the delay we got rushed through by the airline to make our connecting flight. We all got to the gate there and they said oh yeah, this plane’s been delayed as well, it’s not even here yet… Oh well, meant that our luggage made it to this next flight…

A380 ready for takeoff

A380 ready for takeoff

The last leg of the journey home was uneventful. It ended with me doing some of the exercises that China Southern get their passengers to do when the plane’s not far off landing. It’s funny looking around seeing everybody doing their best to copy the people on the video.

Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound

And with touchdown at Melbourne, so ended a 7 and a half week odyssey and a journey of contrasts that took me from little villages in Uganda to little villages on the opposite side of the globe in Russia and Mongolia, a journey that saw me leave one continent to visit 3 others. I saw things and went to places that many people won’t get to see/visit in their lifetime. I canoed around one of the lakes in Uganda, saw hippos, crocs and elephants and then traveled the Trans Siberian/Trans Mongolian Railway line, one of the great railway journeys in the world. Some things are common to people around the world, regardless of where you are and that is people in 3 continents making the best of their life with all the hardships that go with it and without all the luxuries that are taken for granted in Australia.

For the record – I did the Intrepid Russia and Beyond trip, which I can’t link directly to as it seems they don’t do it anymore. They have similar trips, mine was an “original”, which means you have plenty of time to look around and do your own thing, but the benefit of having a guide around if you need it and your transport/accommodation organised for you (which is often just public transport with the locals).

Now, for those who are waiting, yes, now that I’ve finished the Russian section of my trip, I will get back and post some details of the Ugandan trip!

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Beijing!

Made it to Beijing, off the train for the last time, bringing to an end the epic 6000km train trip from St Petersburg Russia to Beijing China, which started on my blog here. Then to look around. For me it was a repeat visit to Beijing, so no visit to the wall this time. Saw Tienanmen Square again – a couple of extra big screen tvs (like huge – makes our “outdoor big screens” look miniature) – I suspect seeing as the opening ceremony of the London Olympics was on this night, they were having a gathering to watch it. There was certainly something going to happen, we were screened to get into the square (that may be normal now, I don’t know) and plenty people were making their way there.

Tienanmen Square

Tienanmen Square

Our group farewell meal that night was at a restaurant I’d actually been to 6 years ago! I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s tucked away in some side streets not far from the Beijing City Central Youth Hostel where we stayed. The meal was good then, as it was this time, and not a lot had changed in the restaurant. That night, in keeping with capital city tradition on this trip, it absolutely bucketed down as we were leaving the restaurant. We finished up in Macca’s opposite the hostel for coffee and ice cream, which accidentally became a bit of a haunt for us these few days in Beijing.

Farewell Meal

Farewell Meal

Spent the Saturday morning shopping at the silk market – bargain hard with these people who are out to sell fake stuff to westerners at high prices. Don’t be afraid to walk away. Got a few good bargains though – a pair of ski pants for about $38, a few t-shirts and stuff like that. Spent a bit long shopping there, so had to really hurry back as a couple who were in our group were due to catch the plane pretty soon. Helped them pack (read madly squeeze last minute bargains into already overfull packs).

Too much shopping!

Too much shopping!

In the arvo Ev and I went to the temple of heaven and had a quick look there. I know we didn’t get to see it all, but a lot of what we did see was just overgrown gardens (by Chinese standards). Saw some people singing in the park inside. They were actually quite good. That was until they started singing jingle bells. We’d had Jingle Bells played to us on the bus a few days ago (just after crossing into Mongolia), so we’re like what’s with the jingle bells at this time of the year…

Tennis at the temple of heaven

Tennis at the temple of heaven

We went for hot pot that night for tea, a restaurant tucked away in the basement of the shopping center opposite our hostel. It was not as good as the night before, so after that we headed back up stairs to finish with some supper at Macca’s… I was just there to watch the olympics on the tv’s they had there! Actually that was one thing, the Olympics were playing everywhere you went. Train stations, shopping centers, big screens in public places – you were never too far away from the action. There were 3 channels to choose from on free to air tv and they showed sports that we never get to see in Australia, although the commentary and writing on the screen was all in Chinese and just like every other country, they mostly showed their own athletes…

Watching the Olympics at Tian Tan Dong Men Station

Watching the Olympics at Tian Tan Dong Men Station

Found Beijing subway/metro to be much easier to get around on this time round. The Olympics were good for Beijing in that respect – they have made the town much more accessible for non Chinese speaking tourists – English is written underneath in many places, including all of the subway.

Ok, I’ll leave it there, and finish off Beijing and my trip evaluation in the next post!

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