On Monday we followed in the steps of Monty Don by visiting The Humbler Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou. But first we had to buy rail tickets. If hell is hot an sweaty then I’ve found hell on earth the Shanghai Railway Station ticket office. We lined up only to find that we had to go to another queue for English speakers. It seems like most Chinese are also English speakers so the queue felt very very slow! Only standing tickets were available. I was now getting very concerned, expecting an Indian style crush with me hanging out the door. But everything got better as soon as we arrived at the waiting lounge, air condition, free water from Tibet. Even better the train that turned up was a new High Speed train. Very impressive. In fact the Chinese rail system is very impressive in the way it handles the numbers.
We were feeling a bit lazy so we accepted an offer from a tout for van for 6 hours at the cost $20, less walking, happier legs. Off course we knew there would be a catch and were prepared. I got some ties and a pillow case or two at a silk shop 🙂 and we had a chartered boat for the cruise which was a little more expensive than a regular cruise would have been.
I guess at this stage you’d expect me to write something about the garden. Well the garden is very impressive. But can I do a Monty? No! I suggest you check out his DVD. In the mean time admire the photos we’ve uploaded.
On saturday we took it pretty easy and decided to wander around Downtown Xi’an. I converted my digital SLR into a fixed focal length brownie. Zooms are overrated anyway. We took a bunch of shots as we walked past the Provincial Government HQ, past the shops, auctions and street vendors all offering mobile phones. Marveled at the range of washers, air conditioners and refrigerators with interesting sizes and designs. Visited a historical monument or two and designer label shops. The Muslim quarter was the highlight with greats sights and sounds. This is where we settled down for a lunch of 20 dumplings! Finally we returned to our hotel for a peach smoothie and donut not bad eh? Anyway I’ve put together a slideshow for you.
Xi’an is famous for housing the self proclaimed 8th Wonder of the World, The Terra-Cotta Warriors. But if you are traveling independently and don’t want to catch a large bus filled with tourists that stop off at jade houses along the way, you don’t have too many options. Thankfully we read the Lonely Planet section on Xi’an. THe section is filled with good detail and explanations of how to get to places and food recommendations (Beijing chapter was not useful).
As advised by the book we went to the train station in search of a little green bus no. 915. On one side was a number of little buses… taxis, people, and lots of cars. In these situations you start thin king “What the hell are we doing?”. We then wandered through the myriad of people to the other side of the carpark, where we could see a number of buses. In between there was a green bus with Xi’an – Terra Cotta Warriors on the side, and we were ushered on. Yeah! we made it. The trip there took about an hour and cost 7 yuan (<$1.50), only pensioners get it this good back in Australia. What a bargain… why pay any more? For lunch again we followed the book and tried the local places to eat – great noodles. But beware, the drinks (beer and juice) cost more than the food itself).
Entry to the warriors was $90 yuan ($18 Aust. dollars) each, which seems pretty standard. Again we followed the book, and made sure we viewed the film, visited the exhibition hall, before actually any of the pits. The number of tourists at the site was large, but that was nothing compared to actually seeing the warriors in situ. There are three pits, the third is the smallest, and the location of the bronzed chariots. We thought pit 3 was big…. but by the time you get to pit 1 you are truely amazed and staggered by the number of warriors, the detail and workman ship in each one. They are still unearthing (even while tourists are visiting) and will be for many years to come.
Afterwards we managed to cross the road (if you saw the traffic/road you would understand), and catch the green bus back to the city. Surprisingly enough it was the exact same bus, with the same driver and conductor…. from four hours previous. This is amazing given they don’t run to a timetable. It was certainly a great cheap day out.
The Summer Palace site is enormous and is best to use the many ferries to get around. We thought we’d be clever and take the boat from the Zoo to the Summer Palace. Not so sure it was a clever idea long waits and a boat change made it a slow way to get there and when we got there we had no idea where our boat had landed us and no signs in English. If there is a motto that has served us well, at least at major tourist sites, it is GO WITH THE CROWD. We did this time and we landed at small pier at which a small boat took about 20 or so passengers across to the South Island from there we followed the crowd over the 17 arches bridge and then we followed the crowd to the long corridor…. but then the crowd stopped. It stopped because the thunderstorm had started…. we need to keep moving so we could catch our overnight train so we did with our tiny umbrella’s up. It is amazing how upwardly flexible taxi prices are when the rain is falling!
You might be wondering what the weather is like here in Beijing. Well to be polite it hot and sultry. It is very pleasent when we get up in the morning, and slightly overcast with clouds/pollution. However, if we are unlucky this will burn off around lunch time when the sun really comes out and then it is very hot and humid, and putting on sunscreen proves to be difficult. Around dinner time when the sun has set it gets cooler and if you lucky there is a breeze.
We noticed on the news, that it is raining in China… well not here yet. Hopefully it doesn’t though, as I don’t have a pair of rain proof shoes!