Posts Tagged ‘sightseeing’

Another day another city

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

On Saturday I boarded the Z53 overnight sleeper train from Beijing to Xi’an. My berth was a soft sleeper. There are four classes of train tickets in China

  • hard seat – cheapest, nastiest, least comfortable.
  • soft seat – more comfortable, recline a bit.
  • hard sleeper – six bunks in a cabin, bedding provided. Supposedly better than it sounds but I’ve yet to find out.
  • soft sleeper – four bunks in a cabin with a lockable door, thicker mattress. Hot water provided so you can make your own tea or coffee.

You can only buy tickets in person at the station you’ll be travelling from and only a few days in advance. They sell out fast so getting the class you want on the day you want is unlikely. You pretty much have to take what’s available for the day you want, or buy a ticket for further into the future or for a higher class than you want.

I couldn’t get a hard sleeper for any day from Beijing to Xi’an and could only get a soft sleeper for two days later than I wanted. Anyway, I made it to Xi’an and the journey was easy and comfortable. The train was punctual and left Beijing at precisely 20:03. My cabin companions who spoke no English at all were OK.

Xi’an was grey and much cooler than Beijing when I arrived at just after 08:10 on Sunday morning. I deposited my backpack in the left luggage facility and took a bus straight to the Terracotta Army. The museum comprises three halls constructed over the excavation sites. None of them are fully excavated. Of the much fabled 6000 warriors only a little over 1000 have actually been excavated. So it was interesting but overrated in my opinion.

By the time I got back to the city the rain had started and two days later it is still raining. My sightseeing has been seriously curtailed. Yesterday I visited some of the city centre sights but gave up on the idea of walking the city walls. Today I’m catching a sleeper to Chengdu. Tomorrow morning I’ll visit the giant pandas and in the evening catch a plane to Guilin. Unlike train tickets, plane tickets can be booked and bought in advance and remotely. So rather than hang around in Chengdu for an unknown number of days waiting for a train I’ve decided to fly one leg of my itinerary. And I’ve cut a few places out because it’s just not practical to see as many as I wanted given the restrictions imposed by train travel.

The weather hasn’t been conducive to taking many photos but you can find those from Beijing and Xi’an at Flickr.

More Beijing sightseeing

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

After the previous night’s milonga I had a well deserved lay in and then ventured out for more Beijing sightseeing. First though I did a recce to find out where the buses to the Great Wall leave from. Actually there are several, it depends which part of the wall you want to visit. I decided on Mutianyu and after the recce decided to go for the more expensive but simpler option of taking an organised tour.

I had ambitious plans to see both the Lama Temple and the Summer Palace but ended up enjoying the tranquility of the Lama Temple for too long. The Summer Palace will have to wait for another day.

It was an early start this morning for the great wall tour. I booked it with Happy Dragon hostel and at 7am was enjoying their breakfast. We set off at the appointed time – 7:30am to pick up participants from other hostels. None of them were keen to be on time. Eventually we set off for the wall at Mutianyu and arrived about an hour and a half later. There were a bunch of stalls selling souvenirs and snacks, including “Manual dumplings” at the start of the walk up to the wall. I wonder what an automatic dumpling is like? Most of us opted for the (extra) 65CNY chair lift up to the wall. Five minutes of extra sightseeing or thirty minutes hot and sweaty walking in the trees; no contest really. The Mutianyu section of the wall is 2.5km long and includes 23 watch towers. The walkway is in places smooth slabs, in others steps. I for one would not want to assault the wall. Nowadays artillery would punch a hole though it without any difficulty but at the time it was built an attacker would have needed massive superiority of numbers to have a chance of overpowering the defenders. I walked the full 5km round trip in a couple of hours, grateful that the temperature was a few degrees cooler than yesterday and the sun was mostly hidden behind the clouds. As an alternative to walking or taking the chair lift down they have a toboggan run. The attendants waved their arms theatrically and shouted at me to slow down but where would the fun have been in that? Full speed is the only speed!

Fog, traffic, tango – part 3

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

I’m in Turkey for the Istanbul tango ritual, staying with a tanguera friend I met in Buenos Aires. This is the story of the third day of my visit.


Today I wake at least an hour later than on Saturday. Again no classes or seminars for us. The fog is really only mist today and there is no need for multiple bridge crossings so the sightseeing should be better. But after a long leisurely breakfast and faffing about we don’t actually set off for the European side of the city until about 3:30pm. Given it’ll be dark in about 2 hours that doesn’t leave a lot of daylight for sightseeing. Oh well, I’ll have to come back another time.

The traffic is the lightest I’ve seen it and we park up in the Fatih district close to the Spice Bazaar and the Yeni Mosque. We wander fairly purposefully around the outside of the mosque and through the bazaar. Cigdem buys more green tea since I’ve drunk most of what she had left when I arrived. We stop at a bakery and I sample (pistachio) baklava for the first time. It’s delicious and I learn that the Turks, like the porteños, all have a sweet tooth. We move the car closer to the evening milonga venue – the Armada Hotel – and resume the sightseeing just as dusk settles over the city. We walk past the Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque and then around Hagia Sophia in the dark before stopping to eat in a renowned traditional Turkish restaurant. The walls are decorated with letters of thanks and commendations from the rich and famous of the last 90 years. I play safe and stick to Turkish meatballs which for some reason aren’t round but rectangular. Apparently there are all sorts of conditions that will be imposed on Turkish restaurants  by the Brussels bureaucrats if they join the European Union. Whether their meatballs will have to become round I don’t know.

Over dinner we both decide that actually we’re pretty tired and don’t need to dance tonight. The milonga won’t start for another hour anyway. So no tango for me today making for a pretty lightweight festival performance.  We head home past the Armada Hotel and across the Bosphorus for my last time. It’s still misty, and the traffic is pretty minimal. Tomorrow I’ll be flying back to Blighty.