Visit #1

I haven’t written much on here over the past couple of weeks because my mother, sister and her fiancee have been visiting. Now they are all safely back in the UK it’s time to put up the photos, describe briefly what we were up to, etc.

For budgetary and logistical reasons the three of them decided to fly in via Dubai, requiring something like a 10-hour stopover. Understandably they all looked pretty shattered when they landed, so we checked them in, got a bit of dinner, and let them have a proper sleep.
The following late morning we went off to see the forbidden city. Here is a turtle.

It was a bit hot, and would moreorless stay that way. Always nice to look around the emperor’s place, though – lots of cool stone walls to hide between.

We exited, oddly, to the front. Here they are with their good friend Mao.

That evening it was time to introduce them to V’s family, so we went to a Hubei restaurant. Unfortunately my description of what a vegetarian was didn’t seem to have properly sunk in and almost everything was meat-based. Anyway, there was food enough to feed an army, so there were sufficient vegetables in the end.

The next morning we went to JingShan Park to have a brief climb and look at the view. It wasn’t bad.

It was dragon boat festival, so we went back to our house and ate some of V’s Zongzi for a bit, then took a variety of transportation to 798, Beijing’s “Art Zone”. As usual there were lots of odd new things to look at, and while there was nothing amazing this time we did at least have the opportunity to take lots of silly photos.

The hotel we’d found for the three of them was next to Nanluoguxiang. We thought it would be good if they could live just round the corner from us. Of course, then we weren’t able to find another house up there and had to move down to Shatan. All the same, Nanluoguxiang is always a winner, and when we needed to run off and organise things it was a good place to do a bit of souvenir shopping.

Then we took the sleeper train to Xi’an. V and I are used to the ‘hard sleeper’ now (we even enjoy taking it now), but I’m afraid it may have been a bit of a culture shock for everyone else. Nobody looked like they’d had a particularly good night’s sleep when we got to Xi’an and started our mini-quest to find breakfast and a hotel room.
With those found, we headed south to see the Big Goose Pagoda.

It was a ridiculous 50 kuai each to get into the grounds, and they expected another 30 to climb up the pagoda itself, so we just hung around the gardens instead.

It was baking hot, somewhere around 40 degrees, and after lunch everyone looked ready to drop, so we returned to the hotel for showers and naps.
When everyone was feeling more up to it we returned to the Muslim quarter and checked out the Great Mosque, which is still my favourite thing in the city. Next time I’m just going to bring a book and stay there all day.

After the heat of the daytime it was a relief when the sun went down.

The next day we went off to see the terracotta warriors. It was a long coach-ride to get there, and a long walk in the now frankly unrealistic heat past hundreds of souvenir stalls before we got to the site itself.
I’ve heard people say they found the warriors disappointing, an opinion I never fail to find astonishing. The only thing I can put it down to it lack of proper context-setting at the museum. The ‘Legacy’ section here gives a nice introduction.
Anyway, it was (in my opinion) worth the trek.

After a less-than-perfect bus ride back to Xi’an we had a walk, had dinner, and caught the sleeper back to Beijing. This time everyone managed to sleep properly – I suppose it must take a couple of journeys to get used to the idea.

We took the last couple of days in Beijing a little more slowly, partially due to the fact that the heat seemed to have followed us back from Xi’an. We’d also spent a lot of time looking at old things, but Beijing is home to some of the newest, most experimental buildings in the world, so we took them to see some examples.

First here’s the CCTV building. I watched this thing being built and couldn’t believe it at the time. Now it’s finished it looks, if anything, stranger. A building that looks like it should fall down? In an earthquake zone? Looking like an impossible object? Or even (according to the locals) a giant pair of boxer shorts? Whatever it is, it’s bound to become Beijing’s Eiffel Tower (something that was also very unpopular when it was built).

Unfortunately careless use of fireworks destroyed its sister building.

Next stop was the famous Birds Nest Stadium. Scorching heat plus miles of exposes tarmac equals something barely bearable. No wonder those marathon runners were fainting.

To cool off we went down to Houhai to boat around the river for a while.

It was a good trip, but I fear everyone was exhausted from all the heat and the walking by the end. The last couple of days I had to work, so I couldn’t take them to the great wall. We did manage to go to the Lama temple together, though.

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