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Beijing to Louyang

Luoyang Travel Blog

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Our flight into Beijing was smooth enough, and we encountered no real difficulty in getting to our hostel. First objective accomplished. Prior reports of lack of English and the unfriendliness of the Chinese had yet to materialise, but obviously these were early days yet. Unbeknown to us (this wouldn't have been the case if we had read the rough guide a bit more carefully) we had arrived in the capital of China during Labour Day celebrations, essentially the busiest holiday week in the Chinese calender. What this meant for us was that we would now not be leaving Beijing for 8 days! No real hardship.

Pam unfortunately was still suffering from Dehli Belly and her regular bout of Tonsilitis chose this opportune moment to resurface, so she spent the first few days in bed or watching DVDs in the TV room. Apart from being ill, it was really rather relaxing. So, day 3 of being in China, Pam finally felt well enough to leave the hostel and venture out into the big unknown.

We had also heard that China was dirty and smelly. In comparison to India, China was a breath of fresh air (actually, smog), but nonetheless it was an absolute joy not to be walking around people s***ing in the street, and to be hassled constantly by street hawkers. Above this, the first thing that hit us about China is that it is very big...and very grey! Communism obviously doesn't allow colour. We did the usual tourist sites; Tian'anmen Square, the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park. All very spectacular in a Communist kind-of-way.

The next day we tried to find a kung-fu show, but to no avail. Being the seasoned travellers that we now are (?) we refused to pay the hiked up prices in place for the holiday period, and therefore went and spent even more money at Lao She Tea House. This consisted of front row seats (they saw us coming, or was it just that we hadn't pre-booked like everyone else?), complimentary snacks, tea poured from a watering can in a rather novel way, and an hour-long show that can only be described as an experience. Let's just say that the Chinese language isn't really designed for singing opera. Screaming and squawking opera, yes, but singing opera, definitely no. At least it made Pam feel better who was practically on the floor, in tears of hilarity. Not too sure that that was the desired effect, but worth the entrance fee alone. There is something about a woman screaming through a trio of candles that is holding between her teeth, that just doesn't quite say quality opera to us. This aside, the dancing girls, changing-face girl, pot-on-head balancing man and the magician with a 70+ year old not-so-glamorous assistant turned the evening around.

With Pam finally feeling relatively human, we chose to take advantage of the good weather the next day and hired a couple of bikes (crap ones, it has to be said), and cycled to the Summer Palace in the north of the city. The ride was certainly eventful, with first the front brakes falling off Pam's bike and then one of the crank arms choosing to come loose, that made riding the bike about as comfortable as riding a camel. May have also had something to do with the fact that the saddle was harder than Mrs B's custard! The 50km round-trip was definitely worth it (no, we hadn't checked the scale on the map), and deserved a much needed beer at the end of the day.  We found a place called bar street, and as you can imagine it was full of bars, all around a lake.  This is our kind of place for a Friday night - heaven!  We first got in the stomach lining of beef for me and bull frog hotpot for James (yummy) whilst enjoying our first bottle of wine for 5 weeks - orgasmic!  We rocked on until 5am and made some Chinese Friends along the way.  Two soldiers called Tristan and Maple (!?!), the dance student who got me Salsa-ing in the bar and the pole dancers in the Sex in da City Bar (took a picture for you Girlies - of the bar sign, not the pole dancers!).

Hangovers a plenty the next day, Starbucks was a welcome oasis for us.  That night we experienced true Beijing Roast Duck at the best restuarant in town.  It was crap! A lot of fat and not a lot of meat - we found a better place a week later - although eating the duck's brain by accident was a 'special' treat for us.

The next day we went to the Great Wall - hurray.  We did a 15km hike from Jinshanling to Simatai.  Because it was the last day of the holiday it was empty - well, once we managed to get rid of the hawkers.  That only took 45 minutes but they would have walked the whole way if they thought we'd buy a postcard - nutters!  The walk was 3 hours of amazing views, thigh-crunching steps and just general admiration for such an immense feat of engineering.

Our last day in Beijing involved a visit to the International Hospital as my Dehli Belly was still lingering.  So $250 later, a diagnosis of accute gastro-entiritis and a shot in my ass we left for Xi'an.  This involved getting a freezing cold sleeper train just to see the Terracotta Warriors. 

The city itself was nothing to write home about although it did provide some great Beijing duck (at last), but then that is not why we were there. Having foolishly not booked ourself into the local hostel we ventured down to it to book the cheapest tour to the Terracotta Warriors and that's where the fun began.  On the trip we met two great guys from Scarborough and a 12 day China adventure began for us all.  But back to the Terracotta Warriers.  Basically, years ago an Emperor decided that when he died he wanted to take an army with him to conquer the afterlife aswell - bit mad.  So he built himself an army of stone.  There were literally 1,000's of these soldiers, every one individual, all self sufficent with water bottles and everything.  The site itself wasn't as impressive as we had imagined but the detail that went into building them all those years ago was brilliant.  So thumbs up all round!

Now back to the boys from Scarborourgh - Steve and Ade.  It transpired that we were all heading in the same direction to go and climb Mount Houshan so decided to do it together.  We also collected another Steve, from Sheffield, to join in the fun.  So the northern possie (and James - c'mon!) head for the hills - literally.  We decided the bus was the quicker option to get there - how wrong we were!  Before it left, it had to wait to fill up.  No problem I hear you say - that is until it took 4 hours to fill!  Thank god we had the card game 's**thead' to keep us entertained.  We finally arrive, fill up with noodles and head up the mountain.  The hike took us three hours, the last two were in the dark and there was no-one around, it was fantastic.  Our destination was the hostel at the North Peak, roughly 1,614.7m high.  After all the thigh-crunching work during the 5km hike the top felt like we had conquered Everest and we needed beer!  The hostel had the hardest beds ever, but we were so exhausted we couldn't tell.  We rose to watch the sunrise over the mountain which was lovely and peaceful.  However, having gone back to bed, when we got up 4 hours later millions of tour groups had got the cable car up and our peace was ruined - shame!  So we did the thigh-crunching work back down again.

We decided to catch the bus onto our next destination.  Given our first bus-waiting experience we were wary.  But the guidebook filled us with hope.  So we took a cab to the necessary inter-section, as instructed.  Let's just say the taxi took us way off the beaten track and dropped us off under a motorway bridge and pointed for us to go up to it.  Given that he dropped us by a gang of Chinese hells angels we weren't in a position to argue.  So up to the motorway we went and walked in the described direction down the hard shoulder.  We decided our best option was to flag down a bus going our way.  This is not so simple when everything is written in Chinese symbols but we were looking for a picture of a TV and a pair of ladders with the letter B attached - how hard can it be!  The first bus we flagged down refused to take us.  The random old couple with a cow on the hard shoulder couldn't understand our 'Chinese' so when we finally saw our bus we were in heaven.  Just as it started to pull over a police car pulled over as well so the bus drove on - damn!  We tell the policeman where we're going (in poor Chinese) and he basically tells us we're walking the right way and drives off.  He left us on the hard shoulder of the motorway - mental!  Just as we were starting to loose hope and get sore legs a man in a suit appears (could it get any crazier) and asks if we need a taxi.  At this point we realise we have just been scammed by the first cab driver.  We agree an extortionate price for someone to take us to the train station (we are in no position to bargain and we've given up hope for the buses) and practically the same cab (who dropped us by the hells angels) appeared 2 seconds later (literally).  We were all very annoyed until we realised that apart from the 2km death defying walk down the motorway he'd only scammed us out of a 50 Yuan; about a fiver, which would have to have been shared amongst about 8 people...not exactly the crime of the century.  So off to Louyang we go.

At Louyang we visited the Shaolin Temple which is home to the Shaolin Monks.  They are hardcore kung fu, killer monks who can break metal bars over their heads and would put any olympic gymnast to shame - fantastic to watch.  We were particualry impressed by their ability to throw a pin through a pane of glass and burst a balloon on the other side without shattering the glass.  The next day we went to the Longmen caves.  We'd seen something similar in India so weren't overly amazed but the funniest thing was we were all really stiff from climbing the mountain and ended up looking slightly handicapped when we tried to walk up and down the many steps!

The final highlight of the area was the food.  We decided to venture to a restaurant with no English menu and no pictures (mainly because we were too stiff to walk far) and it certainly worked for us.  James did charades for 'you recommend the food' and it was delicious.  We had rice, 2 vegetable dishes, a whole fish, soup and beer for less than two pounds each.  Bargain - eating local is the way to go!

We're now moving on to Chengdu to see the Pandas - still with the boys from Scarborough.......

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photo by: portia