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  • Another day, another train trip. Just as I was getting over my train legs and becoming accustomed to daily showers again, we venture back into our 2 x 2.25m cabin after another early start at 5.30am. We were the first into our cabin and quickly got settled into our bottom bunks before our cabin mates were to arrive. The minutes ticked on and before we knew it the train was departing the station and realised we had done good by the train gods and we got the four berth cabin to ourselves.

    We waited for all of 10 minutes before we started exploring the train and it's all wares. We were so glad when we confirmed that this train had a restaurant car. Our hotel had lovingly packed us a takeaway breakfast but as the main portion consisted of a BLT, I decided to take one for the team and sample the restaurant car for breakfast. Our joy for the restaurant car was shortlived when we saw the price of the set menus (being 14 US dollars for breakfast, 24 USD for lunch and 28USD for dinner) which is insanely priced compared to all of our other meals we have been having. We also realised after we had ordered that the restaurant car had no cash machine and we were running very low on currency as we attempted to get rid of it the night before The other issue was that every set meal apart from breakfast consisted of meat, meat, meat and more meat which meant I was well and truly stuffed. After hearing stories of how good the restaurant car was on the Beijing leg we failed to make a trip to the supermarket, so the only food supplies we now had were a few more protein bars, some cup of soup and porridge sachets, so we were going to have to ration. The only upside was that our restaurant waiter was a splitting image of Psy the man who sang Gangnam Style and it turns out he had similar dance moves so it made the inflated prices a little more enjoyable.

    After a pretty average breakfast we headed back to our cabin before I went on the search of our carriage mates from the Russian leg, who were found at the other end of the train. This was great for my physical fitness after feeling like a fatty for the last few days. We traded stories of our time spent in Ulan Bator realising that we had all done variations of the same thing.

    Our first stop was only 10 minutes later, and after time spent on many trains over the last two weeks we were well accustomed to making the most of anytime available off the train. A quick stretch of the legs and we were back on the train for another 4 hours before our next stop, during which we planned a tour to the Great Wall of China with Victoria and Emily with a plan to meet up with John for cocktails later that evening before he departs for a new life in Perth, Australia. As we approached our next stop, I noticed the large quantities of rubbish scattered adjacent to the railway tracks which was quite stark given the surrounding untouched landscape. It made me incredibly sad and angry that the human impact here is so noticeable when we have had the absolute pleasure of coming to appreciate the pristine beauty of this land.

    Our next stop was a bit longer with 37 minutes off the train at Sainshand. Due to the over inflated prices of the restaurant car and having no actual money to our name, the main purpose of this stop was to a). Find an ATM and b). Peruse the options for food. Food existed in the form of potato crisps, ice cream, chocolate, fried bread and more two minute noodles. I was hoping for something in the form of alcohol but the stop was completely dry so after searching far and wide for something semi healthy (and not processed), I settled on peanuts, sparkling water and for a treat a random Mongolian Ice Cream. I opened the packet to quickly discover that my random Mongolian Ice Cream was the curd flavour from the day before and luckily the smell hit my nose before I took a bite because if I had I surely would have been sick. I gave it to Jamie and said "it's all yours" and even Jamie could only manage the tiniest of bites before passing it around to anyone that was game enough to try it. The phrases to describe this monstrosity of an ice cream ranged from "it tastes like toe cheese", "it smells like musty underwear" and "that is the most awful thing I've ever tasted". Safe to say this certainly was an acquired taste and I will never purchase this horrific piece of confectionary ever again.

    Back on the train and it was time to hit the bar with our favourite family from the Lake District - Kath, Paul and Andrew who had a bit of a headstart and were already on beer number 5. After negotiating reduced prices with my main man Psy, I joined them with a full cup of vodka and a soda water. Kath continually filled our glasses up with more beer and by the end of it we were feeling pretty tipsy before we hit the Mongolian Border. After the disaster of the toilets yesterday, we all ensured everyone had a loo stop before they locked the toilets 30 minutes out. This was a fortunate move as we happened to be stuck at this border for two hours with no access to toilets.

    We made the quick journey to the Chinese border and again awaited customs clearance. The stop here was for four hours (from 9pm to 1am) to allow for passport control, customs clearance and the switching of the bogies, so watching your fluid intake was a must. We thought we might be lucky to find some food at this station in the short time that we were allowed off but the only thing the station came with was customs officials and a replica light up Effiel tower. This meant dinner consisted of cup a soup, a protein bar and a sachet of peanut butter I had been carrying around in my backpack since the UK. Mmmm

    The changing of the bogies was an interesting experience, our train was split apart into carriages and jacked up to switch out the Mongolian wheels with the Chinese ones. We happened to be directly opposite our friends Victoria, Emily and John who flaunted their alcohol to us while we wrote them notes showing our disgust in large font on my tablet. It wasn't long until the lack of sleep started catching up with me and I fell asleep and didn't wake, even with the most extreme shunting that was likened to an earthquake.
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  • After a brilliant nights sleep, it was time to see the sights of Beijing but not before the ATMs had to be renegotiated so that we could take out money to pay for our tour of the Great Wall. It seems that the bank had decided that just as we wanted to pay, they would do some maintenence on their systems which meant that no transactions were able to be processed during a 3 hour window and of course that 3 hour window occurred when we were trying to pay. Embarrassed, Jamie ran off to draw some money out of the ATMs while I went and did the most important task of the morning - purchasing breakfast for the two of us at a local bakery.

    Jamie returned flustered, as it appeared the ATMs didn't want to give us any money either, so had to explain to the lady that we would only be able to pay later when the bank maintainance was complete. I watched on, scoffing my face with breakfast as I was hungry.

    We had attempted to be out of the hotel at 10am but due to our financial debacle of the morning taking longer than expected we ended up leaving the hotel closer to 11am. We decided to walk the three blocks to Tiannamen square from our hotel and passed countless rickshaws and cyclists braving the Beijing traffic. As we had three large intersections to cross, we quickly realised the rules of the pedestrian crossing which are there are no rules. Even if there is a green man, that doesn't mean cars stop for you and even if there is a red man it doesn't mean you can't walk. Basically, you walk anytime there is a space in traffic and hope like hell the cars will stop for you. The other striking observation was again the Smog and how our visibility was limited to about 500m. It really dampens your mood being in somewhere so grey and knowing that the quality of the air you are breathing in is equivalent to roughly smoking 18 cigarettes.

    We knew we had hit Tiannamen Square as the volume of people multiplied by what seemed like millions. After walking through a security checkpoint, we were greeted with massive lines of tour groups trying to get it to Mao's Mausoleum, security guards and selfie sticks (God I hate those things). The other surprising observation was how much internal tourism there was in China, with Europeans being few and far in between. Because of this, we had wondered if we would bump into our friends Emily and Victoria from the train and literally about 30 minutes later they spotted Jamie and we laughed at how ironic it was finding each other in such a massive city.

    We realised that we had the same itinerary planned for the rest of the day which included the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven so we decided to hang out together to check out the sights. First stop was the Forbidden City, which was a selection of temples repeating themselves over and over again with a sea of never ending tourists. The shear number of people was enough to drive us out of the place, so after a quick look around we made our way out and walked towards to Temple of Heaven via our hotel to sort out the tour tickets for the following day.

    After our quick stopover, we made our way to the Temple of Heaven via McDonald's where we stopped for an ice cream cone. Turns out the ice cream was actually frozen yoghurt and after craving ice cream all day, I ended up cursing McDonald's for providing me with the healthier option. After this incredible disappointment, we continued to the temple and had the option of an entry ticket or a through ticket which would allow all access to all temples within the complex. After the Forbidden City we were a bit templed out, so we opted for a walk around the grounds where we anticipated that we would at least get a view of the temples. The majority of the complex was just grass/gardens and the only buildings that were found required the through ticket or entrance was available at an inflated sum. Our tour consisted of a lot of brick walls, some roses and grass. As it was getting darker and closer to 6pm, we decided to catch the metro back to our hotel to enjoy two for one cocktails which unfortunately were incredibly disappointing bit as they were supplemented by free left over afternoon tea, it almost made up for it.

    A few cocktails later and it was time to hit the local food market for a bit of dinner. We passed the same wonderful delicacies from last night with the scorpions and cockroaches being in particularly high supply. We consumed corn on a cob which was very chewy, steamed vegetable dumplings which consisted of some vegetsble and some meat, the favourite being a potato fritter with an egg in the middle and dessert consisting of a hot waffle cone with a scoop pf icecream.

    Our night ended with a brief walk down one of the expensive shopping streets which had light up stairs and some cute little pop up art things. We started making our way to the Tube station where Emily and Victoria would go the opposite direction to us and the second disaster of our holiday struck as I fell down the stairs and landed heavily on my left arm, scratching and brusing my arm and losing all the feeling in my little finger. Jamie said I was fine if I had broken my arm as long as it wasn't my ankle. Awww young love.
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  • When we woke at 8:00am this morning, the train was approaching Beijing. The wide open plains of Mongolia, and the rocky desert of the Gobi had been replaced overnight by towering mountains, dammed rivers, and heavy, heavy haze.

    You'll see from the photos just how spectacular the scenery was, as we followed along the side of a river gorge, popping in and out of tunnels, as below us, on the river, farmers tended to their orchards, in the narrow river plain before the gorge wall. After a while, it quickly became apparent that the haze we were looking through, was not from the early morning cold, but in fact, thick smog. A proper pea-souper. This realisation was particualrly awful because, we had four days to survive in this polluted jungle.

    As the train pulled into the station at Beijing, we said our goodbyes to our new train family, unsure if we would see many of them again. We had vague plans to go on a tour with Emily and Victoria, and catch up with a few more for a drink in a couple of days' time, but didn't know if it would happen.

    After the obligatory team photos, we made for the nearest ATM, to try and get some cash. This proved to be a problem. China is not the most traveller friendly place that you will ever happen upon. Finding a bank was easy enough, there was one across the road from the train station, but finding an ATM that would work with any of my cards. As it turns out, some ATMs will work, and some won't, so after trying five ATMs and three separate bank cards, we eventually got some money, and headed back to the train station, to buy a subway ticket, to go the one stop to our hotel.

    With all the hassle getting money, we had contemplated just walking to our hotel, knowing that it was close by, but without access to GoogleMaps, or any Google app, we thought it best to get the subway, as we knew our hotel was right next to its local subway station. After 45 minutes of trying, we finally got ourselves our subway tickets, passed through the secutity check point to get into the subway (every station has an x-ray machine and metal detector you have to pass through), and got on out train. Two minutes later we at our stop, and two minutes later we were in the lobby of our hotel.

    Having dressed for the cool weather we had become used to in Finland, Russia, and Mongolia, Beijing was not cold at all - it was ~15C - so by the time we got the room, we were saturated in sweat. The first order of business was a shower, and clean clothes, though clean clothes were in short supply. The second order of business was catching up on washing. Knowing that hotel cleaning costs are extrotionate, Courtney went down to the concierge, to try and find a local laudromat. While there she met Sebastian, an MBA student from Mexico, living out of the hotel for the past to months, while doing his MBA placement. He recommended a service called Laundrytown, where your clothes are picked up, cleaned and returned to you two days later. It was much cheaper than the hotel costs, and about the same as a laundromat, so we thought why not, and arranged for our clothes to be picked up the next day.

    Having dealt with the admin, and had some lunch at the hotel, it was time to go for a walk. We headed for the main shopping street. While there we found a crazy market, that had a lot of food stalls, and some other shops selling awful Chinese tat. The foods available were a bit crazy. There were scorpions, locusts, cockroachs, starfish, seahorses, and sea snails. We didn't have anything to eat, as we were still working of our lunch, but agreed to come back for dinner the next time.

    When the light had faded on the day, we headed back toward the hotel, and stopped at a local Chinese restaurant on the way. Courtney order a tofu dish, that nearly killed her. Not because it was bad, but because it was egg, in the shape of tofu, and a lot of egg at that. There must have been seven or eight eggs used at least, which was far more than could reasonably be stomached. Aside from that the food was prettty decent, if not spectacular.

    And that was the day. Nothing too exciting, nothing too boring.
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  • The day started early, as we got on the tour bus at 7:15am. We were in the lobby on time, and were approached by the tour guide pretty quickly to get on our bus. Unfortunately, we then sat outside the hotel for another fifteen minutes, as we waited for another group to board the bus. This was the first indication, that the day was not going to go to plan.

    We left our hotel 15 minutes late, and headed to Emily and Victoria's hotel to pick them up, on the way to the Ming Tombs and Great Wall. By the time everyone was on the bus, it was 8:00, and we made our way out of Beijing towards the Tomb's. Our guide spend about 30 minutes talking to us about living in Beijing, living in China, and the history of the Ming Tombs.

    We got to the Ming tombs at about 9:00, and started the tour proper. As is customary at any Chinese attraction, we were heckled by hawkers trying to tell us all manner of cheap rubbish. Once inside, we made our way to the tomb itself. After the obligatory stories of who was buried there, and how many concubines (mistresses) joined him, we were let loose to explore the tomb.

    The tomb was pretty unimpressive - sadly. To the many Chinese tourists there, I think it had a great deal of cultural meaning, but to the unitiated westerner, the connection we had was limited at best, and the architecture, no different to so much else that we had seen on our travels already, through Beijing.

    WIth a sense of slight disappointment, we boarded the bus, and headed to our next stop - lunch. Though before we got any food, we would have to suffer through an exhibition of jade products, for 45 minutes. This was not ideal, but we tolerated it by sitting at the bar. The jade jewellery and ornaments were not our thing at all. Incredibly Chinese, funny enough, and there was absolutely no way we were going to buy anything.

    The food was okay , when we finally came to eat it, though there were limited vegetarian options. And then at 12:00, it was time to get on the bus again, and head to the Great Wall. We went to a section of the wall called Badaling. As we got closer, the tour guide walked through the cabin to collect money to pay for the cost of a cable car to the top of the hills and the Great Wall that sat on top of the them. As we wanted to walk up, we declined the invitation, but were told that there was not enough time for us to walk to the top, before the bus left for Beijing, and we would have to pay the extra money for the cable car, if we were actually to walk on the wall. This didn't sit well at all. with us, with Emily and Victoria, or with the remainder of the bus. It was also an issue for Emily and Victoria, as they had insufficent money to pay for the cable car.

    Much as credit card payment exists in China for some things, the Chinese stubbornly persist in requiring cash payment for many others. And to verify the identity of people making cash payment, you instead have to present some kind of ID. For us, it is our passports, which were collected by our tour guide and marched away, while she bought our tickets for us. In the western world, it would be entirely unaccpetable, but in China, it is par for the course.

    After getting our tickets, for the cable cars, we queued to hop on, and head up the mountain. As various Chinese security guards shouted and manhandled people in the chaos, we were pushed into a gondola which sped up tye mountain at lightning fast speed, and in two minutes later found ourselves at the top of the mountain. From the gondola, it was a short walk to the wall, but when we arrived, there wasn't much of the wall to see. It was covered in people. Covered in people to the point that you couldn't walk freely, and had to shuffle. Covered in people to the point that it took ten minnutes to walk 100 metres.

    The sheer number of people made the experience horrible. And then there was the smog. In a different place, you would have throught that the 'clouds' were just that, clouds. But this is China, and we were high enough to be inside the smog cloud that hovers over Beijing, all day, very day. This was another black mark against the experience. A very large, very black, mark.

    Having suffered as much as we could of the environment on the Great Wall, we made our way down the mountain, very early, about 1 hr before the bus was due to leave. And all that greated us were more hawkers, trying to sell us their wares. There wasn''t a moments peace, and there was nothing pleasant about the experience at all.

    After waiting for everyone to get back on the bus, we left at close to three. Very soon after, the bus groaned in extreme annoyance as we discoverd that we were not heading back to our hotels, after a deeply dissappointing day, but instead heading to some random foot massage parlour, to received a free foot massage. A free foot massage that no one wanted. As the bus told the guide that we didn't want the foot massage, we were told that we had to go to one other store. The bus responded "Why?". We had paid for a tour to the Ming Tombs and Great Wall, with a lunch included, nothing more. But no, buried deep in the fine print, and in no way made obvious, was the fact that we had purchased a shopping tour, not a 'private tour'. We were required to visit two shops. To the western population of the bus, this was highly deceitful. The bus sat stewing in anger for the next twenty minutes. You could hear a pin drop.

    The bus would not be dropping off anyone at their hotel, until it had made a stop at another shop, though the shop was changed from a foot massage parlour, to a Chinese tea house. Annoyingly, the bus passed right passed Emily & Victoria's hotel on the way to the tea house. The bus passed within a block of our hotel too. When the bus eventually stopped at the tea house, half the bus disembarked and headed to the nearest metro. We were far from impressed.

    Arriving back at the hotel, we thought that after our disapoointing day, we should relax for a bit. It was at this point, we got a call that out washing has been delivered to the hotel reception, and we should pick it up. We did so, only to discover that the washing delivered to us, was not ours, but someone elses. This was problematic. As there wasn't much time to sort the problem before we left for Vietnam. As we spoke to the concierge about whether the mix up happened in the hotel, or at the wahing company, we saw Sebastian, who had directed us to the company initially.

    He was feeling a bit embarassed, that having directed us to the company, they had made a meal of things the first time out. He helped us out getting in contact with the company to sort the problem, and we then headed to the hotel restaurant for a quick meal before heading out to a bar to meet some of the train gang. Dinner was tasty, and quick, but as we were walking out through the lobby, the conceierge shouted over, as they had the laundry company on the line. Speaking to the company, they advised that the delivery driver would be there in the next ten minutes to try and sort out the mix up. That meant a trip back to the room, to get the random clothes that we had received, to take them down to reception.

    On arrival back at reception, the driver was already there with five separate bags of clothing. After having a look through four of the bags, to ascertain that they weren't ours, we were not confident of finding our stuff in bag number five. Amazing we did find our stuff in the laundry bag of a person called Alex. Amazed, Courtney ran the clothes up to the room, before we headed out to drinks, which we were now running late for.

    On the way, she had to suffer the very unwanted advances of two drunk Chinese men in the lift, who through mime and inneuendo, tried to speak to chat up Courtney. Things took a turn for the ugly, when the men followed Courtney off the lift, and began following her. Thanks to a number of turns in the hotel corridor, Courtney was able to make it back to the room, with the aid of some running out of fear, without the Chinese men seeing where she had gone. Had she not been able to get in the room , she would have hit a dead-end, and who knows what might have happened. After waiting in the room for five minutes to make sure her unwanted admirers had dissappeared, Courtney the hot mess arrived in the hotel lobby, to head to drinks.

    The drinks were good, and for Courtney, a bit stronger than usual. It was nice to catch up with the train gang, and say goodbye to them. Maybe we'll see them again - maybe we won't. We are dispersing across the world, and no one knows where we might all end up.

    Another day of adventure over.
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  • Monday morning. Normally it would consist of an early morning wake up call proceeding a trip on the Northern line to complete my gym workout before heading to work to start the week. My Monday mornings now blur into one fantastic long weekend but to ensure a modicum of routine is maintained, a gym workout is still essential after my sleep in, to work off the alcohol (and ice cream, and rice and peanuts) from the night before.

    After a nice long run to work off some of the deep fried Chinese cuisine consumed, I returned to our room to an agitated Jamie who was now trying to figure out why the wifi button on his phone was greyed out and not able to be turned on. After some searching on the yahoo search engine (God I miss Google), we were able to establish that it was most likely a hardware issue with his phone after dropping it on a marble floor the day before. With my phone somewhere between Scotland and New Zealand, we have now successfully reduced our cellphone quota and means of contacting the outside world via phone to zero. Technology and our collective gumbiness is certainly not our friend. After mucking round for what seemed like hours, we headed for our first meal of the day at 12.30 at our hotel restaurant which fortunately has some delicious Chinese food because we just couldn't be arsed anymore.

    Counting the hours until we could leave China (everything is just so so hard), we headed to the train station to pick up our train tickets for our trip to Nanning the following day. Walking out of our hotel, we could hardly believe our eyes. After three days of horrendous Smog, we were greeted with bright blue skies i.e. a perfect day to have gone to the Great Wall and we couldn't help feeling both pissed off and sorry that Victoria, Emily and John got to miss Beijing relatively smog free. Not wanting to waste the beautiful blue sky, we made our way with haste to the station. The process to pick up our tickets was relatively quick and easy with exception to Jamie's ticket being booked using his NZ passport details, when his visa is in his UK passport. As this is an internal train, I reassured the increasingly agitated Jamie that it should be fine, but it didn't help that the ticket lady appeared puzzled and mentioned something about cancelling a ticket in her best pidgin English. The most important thing is that we left with 2 tickets to Nanning, in our respective names. For now that will suffice and we will see what tomorrow brings.

    With the blue sky and day ticking away, we took the subway to the Lama Temple which came highly recommended by Victoria and Emily. On arrival, it appeared that this temple would be much easier to navigate than the Forbidden City and we breathed a sigh of relief. After collecting our free insence to pray to the Buddhist gods we made our way through the site to admire the beautiful Buddhist relics and statues. It turned out that we were in the esteemed company of Monk Royalty with the most senior monk in China (assumed) also visiting with his posse in the glare of TV cameras. I found it quite ironic that I got told off for taking photos of the Buddhist boss man when TV crews and monks galore, snapped away, happy as Larry.

    A little bit over temples, we decided to walk to the Drum and Bell towers through the Hutongs - the small narrow residential areas which can only be navigated by scooter, rickshaw or bike. Our first observation was the large number of public toilets which dotted the streets. We assumed this was because most properties do not have access to toilets and that these would be communal for the local residents to use. These restrooms have no seperate cubicles, with just a few holes in the ground to do your business. I'll never take another Portoloo for granted.

    Our second observation was that there seems to be a wonderful sense of community within these areas, ranging from groups of ladies gossiping and laughing in Doris' doorway, to the gambling society taking Roger's last Yuan in a game of cards, backgammon, or checkers (Chinese of course). It was evident that these people do not have a huge amount of money, but what they lack in financial security they make up for in seemingly strong relationships and neighbourly love. It was certainly eye opening and I think something the western world can definetely learn from. Can I borrow some flour for my cookies Natasha?

    When we arrived at the Bell Tower we were 1 minute past the final entrance time, pretty typical given our last couple of days, so we observed from the outside. We decided it was time to go check out the Olympic Park so made our way through the neighbourhood to the nearest tube station. We walked passed a couple of delicious looking restaurants and decided we would make our way back to the area after for a spot of tea.

    The Olympic Park was heaving with Chinese tour groups who took turns taking photos in front of the birds nest coming up with the most elaborate poses they could possible think of. We walked around and waited for twilight to turn to darkness to see the park in all its LED splendour. The water cube (the national swimming pool) was pretty spectacular (see photo below) but the birds nest was a bit disappointing with its light show dedicated to Chinese advertising.

    After obtaining the obligatory photos, we made our way back to our predetermined dinner choice and enjoyed a delicious Mojito (rating 4/5) and some fried red bean dish that was out of this world. China might have annoyed us with not being able to do barely anything without difficulty, but I'll give it this, the food has been sensational. I am however becoming increasingly concerned that my fat pants are not going to fit when I get back to NZ.
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  • Last day in Beijing today. We didn't have too much time, so we hurried to get as much done as possible.

    First was a trip out to get some breakfast. We went to a small cafe on one of the main roads around our hotel, and had a decent lunch, for breakfast. There were lots of noodles, lots of rice, and plenty of chicken. Not knowing what the eating arrangements on the train would be like, having a big meal before we got on, was a smart thing to do.

    After breakfast, it was time to head to the supermarket, and stock up on supplies for the train trip. The wonder of Chinese supermarkets, is the amazing array of certain products, that you don't get in the West. For example, the cooking oil aisle, resembles the wine aisle in a Western supermarket. The same goes for the noodle, and rice aisles. The fruit is also more than a bit different. Having stocked up on supplies, it was time to check out of the hotel, and head to our last attraction in Beijing.

    Arriving at Qiongdao Island Park, it didn't look like much, being an island, in a lake, in a park, surrounded by eight-foot hight walls. Once in the park though, things were rather different. The hustle and bustle of Beijing was gone, and there was nothing but space, and groups of school children laughing and playing, around what was a very polluted lake. Courtney wanted to steal one, but I wouldn't let her.

    Trying to get to Qiongdao Island, we had to chose which way around the lake to walk. We picked wrong, and as we got to what we thought was the bridge to the island, we actually arrived at the end of the park. Not having time to turn around, and walk the other way around the lake, we decided instead to head for the train station.

    Having arrived in China at Beijing Central Station, we had a very good idea of how busy the place was. What we didn't know however, was where the entrance to the building was. Looking from one end of the building to another, we could not find the way in. All we could find was the way out, and many, many ticket booths. Wasting about 25 minutes wandering around, trying to find the way in, we eventually discovered that the some of the ticket booths, were not in fact ticket booths they were a ticket check station, from where you could enter the station.

    Sighing at our stupidity, we made our way to the closest ticket checking booth, to enter the station. Only we couldn't. We were at the wrong station. We were supposed to be at Beijing West Station, not Beijing Central Station. Cue panic. We had arrived with plenty of time to spare, but had wasted so much of it trying to find the entrance to a station that wasn't even ours. Speaking to the ticket check man, he suggested that we get the subway to our proper station. A taxi could be faster, but with the Beijing traffic, it could as easliy take 5 times as long as the subway.

    So we headed to another ticket booth, to get a ticket to the the right train station, and got ourselves moving. Courtney was not at her best, in the rather stressful situation, which was not aided by the muggy heat of Beijing. Despite having had a shower only a few hours ago, we were both saturated in sweat from the stress, the heavy bags, and the running that we were doing.

    Making it onto the subway, we hoped that we would make it our correct train station in time. We knew from our research that the Chinese authorities recommend arriving two hours before a train departs to make sure that you can clear secuity and check in. It works a lot like getting on a plane. By the time that we got to the right train station, we had 45 minutes left. As luck would have it, that was plenty of time to deal with all the admin, and make our way to our train.

    Rather relieved, we got on, and made our way to our cabin. We had a bottom and a top bunk, and hoped, as had happened betwen Mongolia and Beijing, that we could get the compartment to ourselves. That wasn't that case sadly, and we ended up sharing with a mid-thirties Chinese man, and a late-sixties Chinese woman. Not being able to communicate with them verbally was a bit difficult, but through maps, hand movement, and food, we were able to strike up a limited report.

    With the stress of the day, we decided to make use of the restaurant on the train, have a quick meal, and have an early night. The options in the restaurant car were a bit limited for vegetarians, but speaking to one of the train conductors, we were able to ascertain, what would work, and what wouldn't, and ordered it. The beer was half-decent too, though the conductor was adamant that it was a very poor example of Chinese beer.

    Amply sufficed, and tired, we repaired to our bunks to read briefly, and then get some sleep. Though in Courtney's case, the prospect of sleep was an aspirational goal.
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  • Argh, If I take an overnight train again it would be too soon. Shame that I have another 4 nights of overnight trains to complete on our journey home. Luckily for me the time between them and now is a lot longer than our last rendezvous on an overnight train. Anywho, after a night of broken sleep in between train hoots and clickety clacks, I awoke instantly alarmed to our Chinese cabin man standing over my bed with his arm over my face attempting to plug his cellphone charger into the socket adjacent to my bed.

    Even though exhaustion was seeping through my pores, there was no getting back to sleep after such a sight and I decided to watch some episodes of the Big Bang Theory and consumed articles of our food bag for breakfast until Jamie awoke from his blissful slumber. I'm so jealous of his ability to sleep right now.

    By the time Jamie awoke properly it was nearly 10.30am and I had battled hours of doing everything in my power to not finish the most delicious garlic crostini I have ever tasted before Jamie got to sample any. Being bored out of my brain, the next food break was the only thing I had to look forward to and before I knew it, it was time to head to the restaurant car to grab some lunch before getting off the train. As determined last night, the only two vegetarian options were ordered and I looked forward to my egg and eggplant dishes to give me some proper sustenance instead of the snack food that has plagued my diet whilst being on the train. Our eggplant was brought to the table quickly followed by a plate of cabbage. Incensed, tired and hangry, I made Jamie ask if they had made a mistake but it turns out the kitchen had run out of eggs. I wanted to cry but instead drank my beer and ate my rice in silence cursing China for the 1 millionith time in 5 days.

    We returned to the cabin to prepare to get off at Nanning and switch to our overnight train to Hanoi (oh yeah I forgot I had another night on a train). At 3.35 (our supposed arrival time), we arrived in a big pretty station called "Nanningdong" where everyone was seemingly getting off, so we strapped on our bags and jumped off the train thinking we were so awesome and we got this train stuff down. Our arrogance lasted all of 5 minutes when we realised that we had got off a station too early and now had to negotiate the ticketing hall with our minimal Mandarin to try and get another train to the right station. Fortunately, we had 2 hours or so until our train departed the actual Nanning Station, and by the time we boarded the train to take us to the right station, we had eaten into that time by 45 minutes.

    The Nanningdong station was fancy and new and came equipped with lots of fine food outlets which would have been perfect to grab some more hearty products that would suffice for dinner in case our next train didn't have a restaurant car, however given our limited time there we thought we would wait and grab some food at Nanning Station because if international trains departed from there they surely must have better food options right? WRONG. On arrival at the station, we quickly determined that we were in some glorified warehouse with the only food options now avaliable in vending machines. With supplies running low, I grabbed a packet of crisps and some things like pockys but in the shape of mushrooms, and they were eaten before getting on the train.

    At 5.40pm we were finally allowed to board our train leaving at 6.09pm, and whilst walking to our carriage we noticed no restaurant car. Once settled in our cabin, our worst fears were confirmed and there was no restaurant car on board. Dinner was now going to consist of our last cup a soups, a muesli bar and apples. Breakfast in Vietnam cannot come soon enough, but we are a little bit unsure what time we actual cross the Vietnam border and our Visa entry is only valid from the 20th October and today is the 19th... so depending on the time we cross it will either be just before or just after the clock in Vietnam strikes 12....

    We made it to the China border at 10.20pm where we were required to exit the train with everything we own and put our bags through additional security checks while awaiting a visit to passport control. This was all done with me muttering under my breath how much I hate China with Jamie nodding his head in agreement. However, for the first time since we arrived in China, everything was pretty straight forward and within 40 minutes we were back on the train and left the station not much later heading towards the Vietnam border. This was probably the only time I have hoped for more time on the train or for it to break down but alas we arrived at the border at 12.20am Chinese time which unfortunately was 11.20pm Vietnam time. We again had to exit the train with everything we own and I was trying every delay tactic in the book and waited for everyone else to join the queue before I joined at the very back. Turns out Jamie could use his UK passport without a visa, so he joked about leaving me on the border to fend for myself while he went on to enjoy pho in Hanoi. Jamie, forever the comedian was lucky that I was so tired that I didnt have the energy to rip up his passport right there for him to find out how funny being left at the border was.

    We got to the front of the queue at 11.45pm and stood patiently waiting for the inevitable problems but they never came, we got our stamps and went on our merry way back on the train (I know such a drama queen). Upon our return we discovered that the bathrooms were shut again and would not reopen until the train left the station which turned out was at 2am. This is when I really regretting not picking up a shewee - boys have it so easy. I couldnt be bothered waiting so it was time for a few hours sleep before the train arrived in Hanoi at 5.30am.
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  • The sun is out and it is glorious! And the views!!!! Simply stunning. You can see all the way to Beijing.

    And the one thought running through my head is exactly how did they build this. Sheer cliffs on both sides and steep ascents and descents along the ridge.

  • We joined the tour with our guide Tony and the driver, Master Wong. He is called Master, because you have to be a master to negotiate the Shanghai roads.

    The first stop of the tour was the Shanghai Museum of ancient Chinese art. The shape of the building is a square base with a round top attached with arches like a bronze Ding (which is an ancient cooking vessel) indicating the ancient Chinese philosophy of the universe that the earth is square while the sky is round.

    We saw bronze, ceramics, calligraphy, paintings, jade and costumes.

    Next stop was the Jade Buddha Buddhist temple. The Buddha is carved from white jade.

    We then went for lunch in downtown shanghai at the sea palace floating restaurant which consisted of a yum cha style lunch.

    After lunch we stopped at the Jin Mao Observatory 88 which is a very high tower that swings a little in the wind. It is the biggest sightseeing hall in China, with a height of 340.1 metres. The elevator runs at 9.1m/s and takes 45 seconds to rise to the 88th floor.

    After the Jin Mao Tower, we went through a tunnel under the sea which is two levels, one level is for cars and buses and the other level is for trucks heading towards the Yu Gardens.

    We saw a three fingered dragon. A real dragon is 5 fingers.

    Around the Yu Gardens were many market stalls and shops with lots of approaches from pushy sales people selling tea, watches, bags and other electronic gadgets. We were sick of them not leaving us alone.

    The last stop of the tour was the shanghai silk museum where we saw what the silk worms produce to then make blankets.

    We drove through the Bund on the way back to the ship. The Bund was named that after the 1840 opium war by the indians.
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