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Great walls of fire

Well, uploading the pictures took too long in Mongolia, so I've decided to leave it until we get to Mum's place in Wuxi, or when we arrive back in Australia.

On our night in Ulaanbaatar, we went out to Khan Brau as it was Paul's birthday (happy birthday Paul!). Had lots of drinks and got merry, then nipped back home for some sleep before the mad dash for the train in the morning.

Our minibus got caught in a traffic jam outside the station, so we simply got out in the middle and walked up to the station, where our bags had mysteriously gotten through.

The train was pretty much the same as the Moscow - Ulaanbaatar train, just a bit nicer and cleaner. This the time the train was packed to the rafters with Chinese going back home after Spring Festival though.

Only grumble is the food, or lack there-of. We got a free meal two hours after we boarded at 10:00am, then nothing after that. The restaurant car was constantly jam-packed, and when we finally got in there at 6pm to have dinner we were told it was closed.

We found out why soon after, as we stopped at the Mongolian border at 7:30 for border controls. By now we were pretty well versed in this. We were just really, really hungry.

Across the border, our guide books had said we would be able to get off at the platform in Erlian (Chinese side of the border) and eat while the carriages get their bogeys changed. Well, I think you can, except they took our passports for processing first. Not wanting to risk being stranded in a (completely foreign) country without our passport, we duly waited for our passports to be returned.

While we waited, they shunted us into the sheds and changed the bogeys. This takes at least 2 hours. By the time we got our passports back and they finally let us back onto the platform it was midnight, and we hadn't eaten in over 14 hours! Jess and I raided the supermarket on the platform for the (superior to Russian) pot noodles and other things and managed to get back on before the train departed at 00:42am.

On arrival into Beijing we bid goodbye to our new friends and travel companions (Bart, Es, Ellie, Alistair, Simon and Jez) and managed to find Mum without any hassle.

Somehow she managed to get us a taxi, we all squeezed in with not much room to spare and made it to our hotel. After having a (nice long hot) shower we checked out the hotel restaurant and had a decent hot meal.

During the meal Mum somehow got the manager to help us go buy fireworks (as being Spring Festival still nobody cares if you let them off - they are still going off in the alley behind the hotel now as I type this, setting off the car alarms ...). We promptly found an alley ... conveniently behind our hotel, and underneath a mass of powerlines ("I think it ok, not much happen" says our helpful restaurant manager). Honestly we were just scared of a) setting something on fire and b) being thrown in jail.

Of course nothing of the sort happened, quite a lot of fun anyway. Mum then took us on a quick tour around east-central Beijing, and taught us how to haggle properly.

Today we went on a tour of the Ming (Qing? not sure) Tombs and up to the Badaling section of the Great Wall. Except for Mum, none of us were very impressed with the tour, which included a couple of "scheduled" (apparently) stops at a Jade Carving Factory (left alone to "browse" the merchandise) and at a Chinese School of Traditional Medicine. At the school I think the idea was we were to be assessed by one of these professors and then prescribed traditional treatments at greatly inflated prices.

The Great Wall itself is amazing, and getting to the top was quite difficult even though we got a "slide" car up to the 4th tower up the hill. The place was totally mobbed with Chinese tourists though. We were told by our guide that it wasn't a very busy day. It's not easy for us to get used to, the sheer number of people. Then again it might just be the tail of Spring Festival holidays.

Well this post got longer than it needed to be, so I'll end it here. I'll see if we can do another podcast tonight or tomorrow morning and get it uploaded, I think I can plug my iriver into this comp here.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 25th, 2007 12:49 am (UTC)
wow, sounds very exciting, can't wait to read more.
Feb. 26th, 2007 12:20 am (UTC)
We are getting a bit of a dab hand at finding internet places. Whenever we get to one we all usually post a bunch of stuff. Jess's is at americanlass, Paul is at myspace.com/paulcostello_comedy.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


Steve P
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