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Drama on the Nile

Egypt - Aswan

sunny 29 °C
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The train ride wasn't too bad... we got a lie in and didn't get woken up by the Adhan at 4:30am. But the toilets were grim and breakfast was a three course selection of different types of stale bread. We had a bit of chance to enjoy the Nile Valley, as most of the population (and therefore all the transportation routes) are along the banks of the great river. By mid-morning we had arrived in the southern city of Aswan.

Welcome to Aswan

Welcome to Aswan

We started by taking a visit to Philae, a temple dedicated to Isis (the goddess, not the group...). The temple sits on the island of Agilkia, in the Aswan Reservoir - the area between the Low and High Dams.

Temple of Philae

Temple of Philae

Until the construction of the dams, it sat on the island of Philae (hence the name) which was then submerged and required it's relocation to the neighbouring island. However it is near enough the same as it was - same position, almost the same orientation, and still requiring a boat to get to it.

Boarding the boat

Boarding the boat

We arrived at the marina, which as surrounded by locals selling tat, as well as millions of flies. Trying to avoid both, we eventually made it onto a boat, where we were joined by some local salesmen before we finally reached the island.

Philae

Philae

The temple was a standard Egyptian complex, with colonnades leading to a gateway portal and inner sanctuaries. Was it the best temple in Egypt? No. But it's setting on an island did make it very interesting, plus it had some pretty cats to look at...

Cat at the temple

Cat at the temple

We headed back into Aswan, arriving at the hotel - the same one I had originally booked to stay in in March 2020. We checked into the room and had a few hours to ourselves. Some of the group decided to take a walk around the area, grab some food and visit the souq. I had Pringles and decided to have a rest instead. I've overdone it on previous trips and having had a rubbish breakfast... (If I never see stale bread again, it'll be too soon)... I was best off resting.

It was also the first time since the brief few minutes in Cairo that I'd had chance to connect to the WiFi and the outside world - so the time went by pretty quickly. Before I knew it, it was time to regroup, and after meeting in the lobby, we headed across the road to board a small boat.

At this point of the river there are many islands. The largest of which, Elephantine, contains luxury hotels to the north and a Nubian village to the south. The Nubians were the original inhabitants of this part of Egypt, and are of more African complexion as opposed to the majority of the Arab Egyptians from the north. For the first time it felt like we were actually in Africa. Northern and cosmopolitan Egypt is very much part of the Middle East.

Boat Tour

Boat Tour

We circled the island, including views of the Old Cataract Hotel (where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile), before taking a walk around the village.

Old Cataract Hotel

Old Cataract Hotel

After the tour we then visited a local family's home for dinner. Once again it was local food - grilled chicken, rice, tagine, stale bread. Fine, but nothing special. Thankfully it was still relatively early, as the next day we had a very early start.

Sunset from the Nubian Village

Sunset from the Nubian Village

At 3:45am the alarm went off... I took my travel pillow and blanket with me and prepared to board the coach that would take us south to Abu Simbel. I was ready to knock any grannies over if necessary in order to claim that back row all to myself. But thankfully I boarded first so didn't need to... I settled in to grab a few more hours sleep, as it was a four hour drive to Abu Simbel. To ensure our safety, this was via a police escort which had enforced this disgustingly early start.

After a few hours of sleep I awoke to find sunrise as we drove the last hour or so through the Sahara Desert.

Waking up through the desert

Waking up through the desert

Abu Simbel, like the temple at Philae was moved due to the construction of the dams at Aswan. Previously located within the cliffs on the banks of the Nile, it has now been moved to relatively flat land above Lake Nasser (the lake that was formed by the Aswan High Dam). Consequently artificial domes have been created to house the relocated Temples, which look ridiculous and so out of place!

Back of the Temples

Back of the Temples

But the temples themselves are very impressive. As we had a fast driver, we were one of the first groups down to the Temples.

Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel

This allowed our group to take what was essentially a photoshoot outside. Just half an hour later and the place was completely crowded!

Not long later...

Not long later...

There are two temples. One for Ramses II, and one for his wife Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti).

Nefertari's Temple

Nefertari's Temple

We looked around the temples, impressive, with lots of side rooms, but quite small, considering the scale at their entrances

Inside the Temples

Inside the Temples

After spending several hours here we then headed back through the desert towards Aswan. We were so far south that we were on the other side of the Tropic of Cancer, where even before midday, it was hot enough to form a mirage. An incredible sight.

Mirage

Mirage

After having had some lunch out of a snack box, we arrived back in Aswan. We crossed the Low Dam, just managing to get some sights of the High Dam, before we stopped at an Essences store.

Aswan High Dam

Aswan High Dam

The store showed us examples of natural oils that can be used as an alternative to medicines. I didn't buy anything but came out smelling lovely... That evening we went for dinner at a restaurant beside the Nile, before taking a night time walk through the souq.

View from the hotel

View from the hotel

The next morning, thankfully later than yesterday, we had breakfast at the hotel before heading back down to the river. We were now leaving Aswan, but slowly... We would sail down the Nile on traditional Feluccas - wind powered boats.

On the Felucca

On the Felucca

The boats had mattresses upon which we would sit. And with our luggage aboard, we sailed off. The group had been split into two, which allowed us views of the other boat at close proximity. We didn't travel very fast, as the wind was not overly strong, and was coming from the north! Therefore we spent much of the time travelling across the river from side to side.

Felucca

Felucca

As the boat had no toilets or other facilities, we would make regular stops with the support boat in tow. Having sailed for a few hours already, we stopped along the western bank of the river just outside the city for lunch before restarting our journey north.

Getting to know our travelling companions, the sunshine and views meant despite being stuck on a boat all day, time went by quickly. It was also a well needed opportunity to have some relaxing on what was so far a very busy trip.

After a few hours we stopped again. And this is where the first disaster took place. The support boat pulled up beside us and everything was roped together. Then we were able to get off and have a walk around or use the facilities. One of the older ladies from Canada popped to the toilet, then when she came back attempted to walk on the boards heading to the river bank. As she did this the boat moved slightly, she grabbed the pole holding the boat in place, which dislodged and then she fell into the river. Queue panic with all the staff...

She was fine, but shaken up, as she had been fully submerged into the river. She stayed behind with her sister and our tour leader on the support boat to clean herself up, get changed and recover from the experience. A little later, the support boat caught up with us, and the three of them re-joined us.

It wasn't much later before sunset. And as the boats did not have lights we needed to stop sailing for the evening. We pulled up at another riverbank on the western bank, and began to get sorted for the evening. We re-joined our other travel companions and chatted over dinner.

Evening on the boat

Evening on the boat

Many hours of great conversation went by, discussing our experiences and before we knew it, it was already pretty late, with a busy day tomorrow.

The boats had a blanket wrapped around them to give us some privacy, but it made it pretty difficult to find our way around! I managed to grab my bits, sort out the blankets and settle in for the night. It was a bit cold, but pretty peaceful, and I got a better night's sleep than I expected.

The transformation into beds

The transformation into beds

We awoke to a pretty chilly morning, and this is when the second disaster on the Nile occurred. One of the younger Canadians had been sorting through her stuff ready for the day when she suddenly heard a plop... she looked over and realised that her bum bag containing her passport, money and phone had dropped over the edge of the boat and into the river, sailing submerged under the water downstream.

Cue panic, for the second time in 15 hours... The felucca began untying itself to sail down the river and see if it could locate the bag, before the support boat joined. But sadly, to no avail. The bag and it's contents were lost forever...

Early morning hunt

Early morning hunt

After returning to the one remaining static boat, everyone moved their belongings onto the support boat where we enjoyed breakfast. The sun was starting to rise and I was finally feeling some warmth for the first time in hours!

We then made our way across the river where we were picked up by a coach and began heading north to Kom Ombo, where there is a double temple - dedicated to two Gods, Sobek and Haroeris. The former of which being the Crocodile God.

Temple at Kom Ombo

Temple at Kom Ombo

We took a look around the temple in the morning sun, before heading next door to the museum full of mummified Crocodiles, in Sobek's honour.

Mummified Crocodiles

Mummified Crocodiles

After a short time at this odd museum, we made our way back past the tat sellers and onto the coach, to continue to the final major stop on this Egyptian Adventure - Luxor!

Posted by kmmk17 18:44 Archived in Egypt Tagged desert boat temple train river egypt museum island ancient mummy Comments (0)

Terminating in Tokyo

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Tokyo & Mount Fuji

all seasons in one day 18 °C
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Leaving our very excitable host in Kyoto, we made our way over to the station to catch the bullet train I had reserved the day before, bound for Tokyo. The Japanese capital would in fact be the last of our bases on this trip, staying here for the final four nights of this East Asian adventure.

Sitting in the reserved part of the train, we had a bit more room around us for bags which made the trip more comfortable, even if it was only for a few hours. The one thing I didn't get to do last time I was in Tokyo, was see Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, the humid summer air meant seeing it from the city was too difficult. This time we had more opportunities, and our first would be on our way to Tokyo - through the city of Fuji.

Seeing the mountain is always difficult, as the weather conditions need to be just right. Having researched when we would be able to gain a view, as we headed through the last hill before the city, we got up and headed towards the window at the door (all of the seats on this side were already booked when I requested our seats the night before). However our luck was not in, and the unseasonably warm humid air blocked the view, with us just managing to catch a glimpse of the snow peak through the haze. Never mind, there would be more opportunities!

Fuji through the haze

Fuji through the haze

Not long after, we arrived in the heart of Tokyo city. With our Japanese rail passes still valid for a few more days, and a good network of local rail in the city, it wasn't even necessary for us to use the metro initially. We got on a local train and headed to our hotel - the same one I had stayed in 4.5 years earlier. After dropping off our bags, we headed back into the city, deciding to visit the central sights, beginning with the Pokemon shop inside the station.

Pokemon Store

Pokemon Store

After taking a look inside the shop, we headed outside the station and made our way around the corner to the Imperial Gardens. It was yet another beautiful hot and sunny day in Japan, and we enjoyed a walk around this idyll in the middle of metropolis.

Imperial East Gardens

Imperial East Gardens

After a lot of travelling already, and ample time in the city, we headed to get some food before making our way back to our hotel for a break. Once it got dark we then headed back out and made our way to the Senso-ji Shrine in Asakusa. By day this a bustling shopping street and active shrine, but by night it's a more peaceful and lit up attraction.

Senso-ji by night

Senso-ji by night

After enjoying views of the beautiful complex, we headed back for our first night's sleep in the city.

Lanterns at Senso-ji

Lanterns at Senso-ji

The following morning the weather had changed completely - after a week and a half of warm summer weather, it was now down 10˚C, feeling much more like early April.

Having not been able to see Mount Fuji very well on the train to Tokyo, we planned to visit the Fuji Five Lakes area for a better view. With our Japan Rail passes ending the following day - giving us free travel on most of the trains to this area, we were trying to make the most of it, as well as using the weather forecasts in order get the best views of the mountain. Annoyingly as the weather had changed, clouds were coming in making the opportunity to view Mt Fuji even more limited.

It now looked very iffy we would get to see the mountain at all, but tomorrow looked more promising and so we gambled and spent today in the city. After having a lie in, we headed out to view some of the sights outside the centre centre - starting with the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war dead (including war criminals from WWII) are commemorated.

Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine


Takeshita Street

Takeshita Street

We then headed over to the Harajuku area, heading straight out of the station and down Takeshita Street, a popular shopping street full of novelty and small gifts. After buying a few keyrings and doing a loop of the area, we then headed into Yoyogi park and towards the Imperial Meiji Jingu Shrine.

Rice Barrels in Yoyogi Park

Rice Barrels in Yoyogi Park

Heading back out of the park we then walked south towards Shibuya, and the bustling crossing in the heart of the area. We stopped at the Starbucks that looks over the crossing and sat watching the huge amount of people crossing in all directions every minute.

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing


Tokyo Tower overlooking Zojo-ji Shrine

Tokyo Tower overlooking Zojo-ji Shrine

Our last sight for the day was the Tokyo Tower, from the Zojo-ii Shrine, where upon arrival we found a service was being carried out.

Service inside Zojo-ji

Service inside Zojo-ji

After watching part of the service, we then headed to Tokyo Bay, for views over the port area.

Tokyo Bay

Tokyo Bay

We then headed back to our hotel for a rest before we headed out for dinner. Originally we had planned to go for Ramen, and with us wanting to head to Shinjuku we found a few places to visit. However as suspected, even early there were long long queues, and with it being quite chilly, we decided to scrap that and eat at Burger King. We can always have Ramen at home!

Kabukicho

Kabukicho

After eating, we took a tour around the Kabukicho area, which is famous for it's LED lights and billboards, before heading back to the hotel for some well earned sleep.

The following morning we got up early and headed to Shinjuku station for our trip outside the city, to the Fuji Five Lakes area. The weather still looked iffy, but there was a better chance of seeing the mountain earlier. Using our Japan Rail passes for the last day, we spent an hour or so on the train heading outside the city before changing at Otsuki to a private line, that would take us the final journey to Fujiyoshida. As we headed up the valley it became clear that we would see Mount Fuji, as the huge mountain dominated the backdrop.

Mount Fuji - finally

Mount Fuji - finally

We got off at a small local station, that was clearly a tourist draw, as signs led us all the way to the Chureito Pagoda. Making the most of the views, which could be scuppered at any moment by the ominous clouds, we headed up the steep hillside towards the top. Chris paused halfway whilst I continued, in what was one of the biggest struggles I've ever faced! Two weeks of exhaustion against the strong winds in a rush against time almost seemed impossible.

The amazing view

The amazing view

Nevertheless I made it, and the views were worth it. As Cherry Blossom had come early this year, it meant that although there was nothing left in Tokyo, this area was full! Approximately two weeks earlier than normal. It meant we got to see one of the most picture perfect views that are in many of the tourist guidebooks. Our luck clearly was in! And after taking some photos, Chris had also made it to the top and we took in some of the breathtaking views.

We then headed back down to the train station, and eventually back to the city. It was a lot of faffing about, spending about 6 hours getting there and back just for 10 minutes of views, but it was worth it.

Our last thing to do in the city, was head back to the Senso-ji shrine, this time during the day, and grab some souvenirs. After grabbing some dinner we then got some sleep before our last full day on this long trip.

Shopping at Senso-ji

Shopping at Senso-ji

Having overestimated how much time we needed, we had already seen everything in the city, with a day to spare. Therefore we decided to spend out last day at Tokyo Disneyland. It had been years since either of us had been to Disneyland, and so this was a nice experience. With the sun shining, we headed out early to the park early to try and beat some of the weekend rush.

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland

Starting with Westernland, we headed onto Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise before the queues got so long. Whilst we waited in the queue for Thunder Mountain however, the sunshine was masked by clouds, not to be seen again. The wind was picking up, as were the length of the queues.

We continued around, heading inside the Haunted Mansion and the Snow White ride, before we headed over to Tomorrowland. Japan is generally quite warm, and so the park is not built to break the wind - despite this being on a reclaimed island in Tokyo Bay, and with long queues, it meant for a freezing experience, for which we certainly weren't dressed accordingly.

After waiting over an hour and a half for the Buzz Lightyear ride, we went inside the gift shops to warm up and wait for the parade. However just before it was due to start, there was an announcement that because of the wind this would not take place - hardly surprising, but a real shame. We headed back to the Star Tours ride, luckily most of the queue here being inside, before cutting out losses and heading back to our hotel.

After two busy weeks it had been an amazing adventure, we were thoroughly exhausted and now just had the ridiculously long journey back.

With this being the peak time to visit Japan, flights were not cheap. There were two flights each from Tokyo to Beijing and Beijing to London, but taking the combination with just 4 hours to transfer was twice as expensive as that with 7. We therefore took the cheaper option, even if this did mean we would be travelling for 24 hours.

Getting up at 3am in Japan, we headed on the first train to the airport, eventually leaving Japan at 7:20am. We flew west, heading right over Mount Fuji, getting great aerial views of the iconic mountain.

Views over Mount Fuji

Views over Mount Fuji

Eventually, after circling the city for ages, over three hours later we had arrived in Beijing. Originally it was possible that we may leave some things in the city for this return leg, and use the 5 hours to sit about, to explore the city. However having seen everything we wanted two weeks ago, as knowing how much time would be wasted to get down there, we instead decided to stay in the airport.

Airport Lounge

Airport Lounge

Transferring for over four hours meant we also got free access to an airport lounge, which although wasn't the best, did give us free food and drinks. Despite not being able to connect to most of the internet, time went by quite quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to board our final flight of the trip, the long 10 hours back to London.

Having exhausted not only the entertainment, but also ourselves - despite not being able to sleep for fear of worsening our jetlag, this was a tough journey. By the end of the flight eating was a struggle, and so was staying awake. I even napped for an hour with Chris unable to wake me back up.

Sunset over Siberia

Sunset over Siberia

Arriving back in London was a relief, but having been awake for over 24 hours, also a struggle. Waiting for ages to get our bag back evetually we made it out, to find my dad who picked us up and took us home. Eventually we made it to bed - but only after having been awake for 28 hours!

Nevertheless, even with all these struggles the trip was amazing, fascinating and totally worth it!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 13:06 Archived in Japan Tagged park temple mountain airport palace train city shrine themepark eastasia Comments (0)

The Seoul of Korea

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Seoul

overcast 18 °C
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After a busy few days in Beijing, we were headed on to our second city on the trip - Seoul, capital of South Korea.

Getting up early in order to make our morning flight, we arrived at Beijing Airport to find Air China had seated us in different sections of the plane. Annoying, but at least it would only be for an hour or so. We then found after boarding, that this had happened to numerous people on the flight and we were both surrounded by other people also separated from travelling companions. Ridiculous! Another tick against Air China.

Winter Olympic Legacy

Winter Olympic Legacy

Nevertheless we arrived at Incheon Airport in Seoul by mid-morning, finding it still filled with lots of Winter Olympic merchandise, and enjoyed the free WiFi with our first access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Google Maps in days. After struggling to get cash out from the local ATMs we eventually made it onto the train and headed into the city. Grabbing supermarket supplies we checked into our hotel early, dropped our bits and headed out to explore the first part of the city.

War Memorial of Korea

War Memorial of Korea

Our first sight in the city was the War Memorial of Korea, where military equipment and memorials sit outside the museum. After a wander around the complex, we headed on towards the Bongeunsa Temple in Gangnam.

World Peace Gate

World Peace Gate

After a quick walk around the shrines, we headed to the World Peace Gate, at the front of the Olympic Park. Walking past this gate and the eternal flame, we headed to the flagpoles, where the flag of each country that participated in the 1988 Olympic flies. This is particularly interesting as many countries have since changed their flags or disappeared entirely since the end of the Cold War, which are being kept here as a historic record of the event itself, and thus it was possible to walk past flags of the Soviet Union, Zaire and South Yemen.

Flags from the 1988 Olympic Games

Flags from the 1988 Olympic Games

After a long day, the last place on our list was Dongdaemun, the best preserved of the original city gates into the city. Starting at the modern Cultural Park just to the south, we made the short walk north to the gate itself, where I took a short walk up past the city walls for a vantage point over the area. After a long afternoon we headed back to the city centre, completing our loop of the outer city, and grabbed food before bed.

Dongdaemun

Dongdaemun

Having enjoyed our first lay in in days, we eventually headed out for our full day touring the rest of the city, beginning with the City Hall area. With a train just about to leave I jumped on it, to find Chris had got stuck behind some people and had missed it. Luckily the next train was just a few minutes later, and we eventually reunited not long later.

Emergency Supplies

Emergency Supplies

Leaving the metro station, which like others in the city also serves as an evacuation shelter - with its own food and medial supplies in the corridors, we arrived just in time to see the changing of guards ceremony outside the Deoksugang.

Ceremony at Deoksugang

Ceremony at Deoksugang

We got to watch most of it take place and even had a photo opportunity with one of the guards at the end, before we entered the complex itself to explore.

At Deoksugang

At Deoksugang


Cheonggyecheon

Cheonggyecheon

After taking a look at the City Hall square, walking north, we viewed the gentrified Cheonggyecheon stream, walking past the US embassy where there were a few protests, before arriving at the Gwanghwamun gate of the Gyeongbokgung royal palace.

Gwanghwamun Gate

Gwanghwamun Gate


Bukchon Hanok

Bukchon Hanok

After having a walk around the entrance to the complex we then headed westwards towards the Bukchon Hanok, a traditional Korean village located in the heart of the city. Spending a bit of time walking around the area, we headed to the Changdeokung palace, resting outside before continuing to the Changgyeonggung palace.

Changgyeonggung

Changgyeonggung

We then started heading back, through some side streets in the jewellery area, making our way down to the Jongmyo shrine, before heading to the Insadong shopping street. After having bought our souvenirs, we then headed via the Jogyesa shrine back to our hotel having now toured the city.

Inside the Jogyesa Shrine

Inside the Jogyesa Shrine

The following day was our last in South Korea, and was planned to be spent the DMZ. However a couple of days before we had received an email to inform us that due to the upcoming conference between the leaders of both North and South, in order to prepare, trips to the Joint Security Area were cancelled for the next month or so. A real pity we wouldn't get to see the blue UN huts, but having managed to rebook our tour, we still managed to head to the border zone itself and see some of the other sights.

Heading back to the City Hall area, we checked in for our excursion and boarded the coach. Not long later we headed north, arriving at the first checkpoint around an hour later, and having our passports checked.

Dora Observatory

Dora Observatory

We began at the Dora Observatory, for views from a small hill over the border area. From here we could see not only the border, but the first parts of North Korea on the Kaesong area on the other side - including the North Korean Peace Village, with the huge flag pole. We could also hear the propaganda broadcasts from each side - although when asked, our tour guide stated that due to different dialects she couldn't understand what the North was broadcasting anyway!

Views of North Korea

Views of North Korea

After time to take in the views, we then headed towards the Third Infiltration Tunnel. This tunnel is one of the four that have been found, dug by the North Koreans into the south. Due to its location in this area it is now a major tourist site, being included as part of tours to the DMZ. Unfortunately today the monorail had broken and thus we had to walk down the 350 metres to the bottom before walking the length of the tunnel up to the border line, where it had been sealed with concrete barricades. With Koreans generally being smaller than westerners it was a struggle for myself to walk along the tunnel, and many of the taller visitors hit their helmets on the top of the tunnel.

At the visitor centre

At the visitor centre

After a strenuous climb back to the top, we headed across the road to the visitor centre, to watch a video on the history of the tunnel, as well as see models of the DMZ.

Inside Dorasan Station

Inside Dorasan Station

We then boarded the bus again and made our way to the Dorasan Station, a modern station complex built during the last period of cooperation between both sides in the last 00s. The station in the last on the railway line in the south and if peace is achieved it is hoped that the line will be reconnected to the north. However being located within Civilian Control Area, the only visitors are tourists. The station has a gift shop and many plaques, and we also went onto the platform to see the special DMZ train as well as signs indicating the distance to North Korea.

On the platform

On the platform

After visiting most of the sights, we headed to a restaurant outside the immediate border area in Imjingak for Bulgogi, and then taking a look at the immediate area, include the Bridge of Freedom. This whole experience felt very surreal, as the risk of conflict in this area is so high, and yet it was so touristy, with an amusement park and souvenir shops, this could be a theme park!

Overlooking the Bridge of Freedom

Overlooking the Bridge of Freedom

Heading back to the city, we chilled for the rest of our time before our early morning rise and finally heading to Japan the following morning.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 08:59 Archived in South Korea Tagged temple train memorial city tunnel border shrine war olympic eastasia Comments (0)

Beginning in Beijing

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Beijing

semi-overcast 25 °C
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After six months without travel, it was finally time for our two week 2018 holiday to East Asia. Beginning with the Chinese capital of Beijing.

The trip had been planned for over a year, in order to not only make Cherry Blossom season, but also to take advantage of the Easter Bank Holiday. It had been difficult to get all the dates to fit, and this first stopover was worked to take advantage of the 72 hour visa policy.

Annoyingly after booking, flights were cancelled and earlier flights were required in order to fit the visa policy. Only to find a few weeks later that the 72 hour visa was extended to 144 hours, making a lot of the stress unnecessary. Nevertheless, after a 10 hour overnight flight, with morning views of desolate Siberia and Mongolia, we finally arrived in a surprisingly modern looking Beijing.

Anticipating lots of smog, we were pleasantly surprised at the midday sky, being beautiful and blue. Getting to our courtyard hotel, we checked in and headed back out to make the most of the nice weather, heading first to Tiananmen Square, where the scale of the security checks throughout the city would become evident. It took us ten minutes to get into the square itself, by which time the Forbidden City had already been closed.

Tiananmen Gate

Tiananmen Gate

We enjoyed views of the Tiananmen Gate, before walking south into the huge square itself. A local guy asked to take a photo with us for his own photo collection, before we headed past Mao's mausoleum and exited the square heading into the souvenir shop we found.

Afterwards, and now by early evening, we headed north to the Olympic Park site, to see the Bird's Nest Stadium before ending our first day with food and bed.

Bird's Nest Stadium

Bird's Nest Stadium

With limited jetlag having travelled eastwards, the following morning we awoke early in plenty of time for our excursion to the Great Wall of China. Meeting our guide who wondered if we were brothers or friends (we went for friends), we jumped in the car for our private excursion, an hour or so north of the city. Although more expensive than a group tour, it meant our day would be much shorter, and thus more time to explore the rest of the city in our limited stay. We also got to arrive nice and early, beating the crowd.

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

Taking the cable car up, we quickly arrived at a relatively quiet section of the open wall, more extreme in steepness than expected. Our guide 'Jenny' was quite good, not too chatty, and also allowing us to explore it by ourselves, as well as giving us tips for the rest of our stay in the city. After lots of photos and walks (or climbs) across a short section we headed back down via toboggan, and back to Beijing.

Arriving back at lunchtime we headed out to the Temple of Heaven, one of the city's imperial temples which was used by Ming and Qing Emperors to pray a good Harvest.

Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven

With time left today, our last sight was the Summer Palace, located out in the north of the city. By this stage we were quite tired and achy, so we only took a look around the palace buildings to the north of the huge complex, before heading back to the hotel for a well earned sleep.

Inside the Summer Palace

Inside the Summer Palace

Our final day was to spend time at the Forbidden City. Originally we had planned to visit the mausoleum and National People's Congress first. However getting to Tiananmen at 8am, it was already packed and took an hour to get through the security. This was before the queues for these sights too, and thus we decided to give these a miss, and headed straight for the Forbidden City, where we toured the complex for few hours before exiting to the north and heading towards the Jingshan Hill for views over the complex.

Inside the Forbidden City

Inside the Forbidden City

Before climbing up the hill, we popped in the toilets. Chris went inside a cubical, before quickly running back out, I wondered what was going on as the attendant directed him to the one at the far end. Having noticed Chris's panicked face, he clearly knew that this panicked westerner would prefer a sit down toilet instead of a squat one and directed him accordingly!

Squat Toilets

Squat Toilets

Up on Jingshan Hill

Up on Jingshan Hill

After walking up the hill for limited views through the smog, we walked through some hutongs to the nearest metro station and headed to our last sight in the city, Beijing Zoo. After having seen panda merchandise all over the city (even though pandas don't even live in this part of China) we decided to pay a visit to the few in Beijing.

Pandas

Pandas

After three busy days it was time to rest up for our early start the following morning, heading to the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Beijing was much more modern and less smoggy than expected. However it was shabby in a lot of places and the locals were not ones to be very courteous of tourists nor each other. Nevertheless an interesting place to visit!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 11:43 Archived in China Tagged architecture culture temple history palace zoo city hill capital eastasia Comments (0)

Almost Afghanistan

Central Asia - Termez

overcast 22 °C


After an overnight train from Samarkand, the following morning we arrived in the dusty border town of Termez, located on a headland facing Afghanistan.

Arriving in Termez

Arriving in Termez

After saying goodbye to Edwin, our Dutch companion who was headed into Afghanistan itself, we headed to the hotel to drop our bags before heading back onto the coach for our tour of the border city.

Entrance to the mausoleum

Entrance to the mausoleum

Termez, sitting right next to the failed state of Afghanistan naturally had a large buffer zone separating itself from it's neighbour. However at certain points the buffer was narrowed for historic attractions. This included our first sight - the Al Khakim At Termizi Mausoleum, dedicated to an ancient religious leader. This was just metres from the riverbank, and thus less than half a kilometre from Afghanistan itself. Not that you'd know, as it was surrounded by a bund on all sides.

Jim at the Temple overlooking Afghanistan

Jim at the Temple overlooking Afghanistan

Our next sight was the Fayaz Tepa - an ancient Buddhist temple. From the grounds of the complex you could see the border fence and watchtowers in all directions; whilst on the way back to the city for lunch we could briefly see Afghanistan itself across the Amu Darya river.

The border

The border

After having lunch, we spotted an Afghan diplomatic car, and so Christine put her scarf around her face - pretending for a moment we had left liberal Uzbekistan and entered the Islamic world.

"Afghanistan"

"Afghanistan"


Kyrk Kyz

Kyrk Kyz

We then boarded the coach again and made our way to the Kyrk-Kyz Palace before going to the Sultan Saodat Ensemble for our last sight in the city.

Sultan Saodat Ensemble

Sultan Saodat Ensemble

We then had the afternoon free, which gave me an opportunity to rest and repack my suitcase before our final dinner in Uzbekistan - with it also being Simon's birthday, we had a special cake and concluded our five days in the country before continuing our tour into Tajikistan in the morning.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged temple border centralasia Comments (0)

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