Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Silk Road Day 5: on the train

After leaving the hotel at the crack of dawn this morning, we spent the whole day on the train. We have two very small but gorgeous compartments with a tiny washroom in between them. It's all rosewood with gold handles; very opulent. We had lunch on the train, then a lecture on the history of the Silk Road from our resident expert Tony Pritchard.

Chinese Train

Dinner on the train - yet more Chinese food - then relaxing in our cabin watching the world go by until we arrived in Luoyang, quite late. Our hotel room was perfectly nice, with a bed approximately one acre in size.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Silk Road Day 4: Beijing

Today we saw the big three: the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. All were amazing. Wish I could say the same about the weather. It was foggy and raining all day. This did not seem to deter approximately 200 million Chinese people, all of whom seemed to be in the places we went today.

Standing in Tiananmen Square, you could picture the tanks rolling in to stop the student demonstration in 1989. And that huge queue of people? Those are all people waiting to go into Chairman Mao's mausoleum and pay their respects.

Tiananmen Square 01

The Square is huge, much bigger than you expect. It is bordered by Mao's mausoleum, the Houses of Parliament, and the Forbidden City. You could probably fit a million people in it, it's so big.

The Forbidden City was ridiculously enormous; it must have been so intimidating for foreign dignitaries to visit.

Forbidden City 01

Forbidden City 02

Forbidden City 03

I couldn't get over how steep the Wall was, and although I had a migraine today I still managed to climb part of it so I was pretty proud of myself.

Great Wall 01

Great Wall 02

Quiet night tonight as we have an early start to our train journey tomorrow!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Silk Road Day 3: Beijing

This morning we went on a rickshaw tour to the old part of Beijing, the Hutong houses. These are traditional houses and most have been demolished to make way for high rise apartment buildings, but the Chinese government has realised the historical value of the remaining residences and is making an effort to restore and preserve those that are left.

Rickshaw copy

Hutong Alley copy

Hutong Courtyard copy

After lunch we visited the Summer Palace of the last Emperor, which was massive and insanely ornate. The Emperor used to go there in the summer (duh) to escape the oppressive heat of Beijing. It is built right next to a massive lake which contributed to the cooler temperatures, and it's still in the city itself.

Forbidden City 03 copy

Forbidden City 02

I would just like to point out that EVERYWHERE you go in Beijing, there are so many people. Millions of them, in fact. There is no escaping the crowds. That's why there are always going to be lots of people in my photos. Be warned!

Forbidden City 01

We then visited the Temple of Heaven, where the Emperor used to go once a year to pray to the gods for a good harvest for the year. Apparently he would walk from the Forbidden City to show his humility (it's about a three mile walk).

The temple was built 300 years ago but is wooden and was completely destroyed by fire in 1899, and rebuilt the following year. No nails were used in the construction, which is pretty amazing.

Temple of Heaven

The weather in Beijing has been less than impressive so far; very soggy and overcast. Not great for taking photos but I did the best I could.

Tonight we had dinner at the best restaurant in Beijing. The food was good and they did a little floorshow which was very funny, especially as they made Kendall get up and join in. Early start tomorrow for a big day: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Silk Road Days 1 - 2

We left Melbourne today, flying with Singapore Airlines. A few weeks ago we got offered an upgrade to the Suites on the A380, which we gladly accepted. Best decision of the year! We were the only passengers in the Suites and so were totally spoiled. You know it's a tough life when your biggest decision is to drink either the Krug or the Dom Perignon. We even had our own separate bedroom to nap in. What a life. We had a four hour stopover in Singapore and landed in Beijing at 7am on Sunday. Met some others from our group at the airport (Beijing airport is HUGE) and have settled in at the Westin Beijing. It's bloody cold - it was -3C when we arrived.