Notes From Far Away: Planes, Trains and Automobiles- Travelling to Beijing.

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My intentions were good – honestly.
I was going to write in an ordered fashion about my trip to China, day by day, blow-by-blow.
That said, it would have meant changing the habits of a lifetime, as I never do anything in a logical , sequential fashion – ever.
So, what I am doing here, is getting down the highlight of our holiday to China, which was the visit to Beijing and the Great Wall.
Yes, I am skipping a few pages, but that’s what seems right, so here we go.
Planning a trip half way round the world takes some planning – when you are disabled, its quite a feat.
I guess most people in that position would take a good six months to do it, making sure that each part of the journey went smoothly, and that ever facet of the stay would reflect their personal needs.
I didn’t do that.
Our flight bookings were done on Sunday 3rd November, which gave us just seven short weeks to organise the whole road show.
Our reasons for eleventh hour booking were varied – most of them centred around Nick’s work commitments, and to a degree , my reticence as I was unsure I was up to such a long trip.
In a perfect world we would have flown business class in large roomy seats and stepped off the plane 13 hours after getting on it, relaxed from sipping cocktails and flicking through the on board movie channel.
It really wasn’t like that at all.
We were going en famille so we had to stretch the budget as far as we could, so economy standby via lastminute.com was what we bought.
A trip in three legs, via Heathrow, Amsterdam, Hangzou and then finally on to Xi’an. Four huge airports, plus Nantes a week prior to that to get me onto the same landmass as Nick and Holly made it up to a nice round five.
A break in flights was to add another 5 hours onto the thirteen in the air, a two-hour delay at Amsterdam and an hour’s taxi ride either side meant that we we were out of our house for twenty-two hours.
By my calculations, that’s a long day for anyone.
I had acted like a grown up and opted, for the very first time to use a wheelchair through the airports I am so glad I did, as I would still be trying to limp to the flight gate at Heathrow now.

Anyway on with the tale.

Despite the challenges of the trip, the family all felt that to not “do” Beijing, would be a huge mistake, so just for good measure, we decided to take a 2000 km round trip to Beijing right in the middle of our stay as well.

I am so very glad we did.

Not wanting to make the trip hard, we decided to do it in style and booked to go on a “bullet” train.
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Simply put, on the morning of 30th December, the four of us stepped aboard the fastest train on Earth, and despite the numerous stops along the way, were whisked along a thousand kms of track at a speed of 300kms per hour, and in just five and a half hours. we were in Beijing.
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It was to be fabulous experience, made just that bit special by the early morning roll call, leaving without breakfast, waiting for Macdonald’s to open for a breakfast McMuffin and coffee ( sad, as they didn’t open, and even sadder that we were sad they didn’t) leaping (!) on board, and moment later sipping a sweetly flavoured drink of mashed pineapple , green tea and milk and fighting over a small pack of Oreo cookies we brought with us.
Not for the last time were we to marvel at the gigantesque proportions of the buildings, and Xi’an train station again had all four of us feeling like ants.

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It was the first time we were out in open country, as our arrival in Xi’an had been in thick fog, and we saw very little at the airport, save a bit of the even greyer runway.

There was so much to take in along the way:
The huge monolithic cites we stopped at – virtually unknown in the West, but looming there , large as life, brimming with people, the small villages strewn alongside the track,lifeless, flat roofed, prefabricated, and so so dusty, the open fields, bearing small floral tributes to who or whatever was going to look after the crops growing there, scattered graveyards with rounded headstones leaning to one side, most of them defying gravity, and the solitary man beside the track – on horseback, like a vision in a dream, dressed in full ancient battle regalia.

Who he was I don’t know, but he was there, watching us pass by , and was very real indeed.

Arriving at Beijing we were greeted by our first driver who had been booked for the duration of the stay, so we went straight out. As we whizzed around, I silently gave thanks that Eve could speak Chinese, as I was not accustomed to being unable to communicate in far flung places.

Holly , armed with her Wallpaper Guide City Guide to Beijing led us to to the Dali Couryard which modestly boasts 13th place out of the 9329 listed on Trip Advisor.
It was a modest affair from the outside, not unlike my father’s garage, with a nice set of battered Chinese doors to mark the entrance.
Inside , was a charismatic , ramshackle eatery, with an enclosed courtyard that sadly, was just that bit too cold to eat in. We were ushered to a table indoors where we overlooked it, and as I sat, I noticed that there was a side of beef drying off a tree to one side of the courtyard, along with trays of spices and chilli.
We ravaged our way through the embarrassingly reasonable 100 yuan menu, and ate at leat six course – everything from whole fried fish, mint infused vegetables, sparky beef and chilli, and much more. The food kept on coming, so we duly ordered our own body volumes in soft drinks as this is where these modest places make their money.
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Eager to move on, we did not tarry, and went out, up the dubious alley we had descended a few hours earlier and back out onto the main street that transepts the Nanluguxiang Hutong.
It is one of the older sectors of the city, and, according to reports, in in some danger of being bulldozed to make way for even more tranches of shiny new Beijing. Moves are afoot however, to protect it.

It was for me at least, almost a replica of the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an, albeit charming, so to save my legs I repaired to a Japanese bar, drank an elixir like Lemsip and watched a game show on a colossus of a TV with the bored serving staff, all of whom seemed to be trying to join in the on-screen fun.

The girls came back a forth, heralding the latest bargain they’d acquired, and I duly stowed it under the table for them.

From here we went to see the “Birds Nest” , better known as the Olympic Stadium. It was an impressive sight, and we were only to see it partly due to our early arrival, and the fact that to have stayed may have meant incurring frost bite – it was searingly cold, and there was no escape from it – the stadium sits amidst huge open concrete expanse that on this day was bare, sporting only a few lightly chilled tourists.
No doubt during the Olympic Game’s zenith, this huge space would have barely coped with the Gargantuan footfall of humanity who were there to take part in the spectacle.
The girls decided to return to the stadium later in the evening and took some stunning shots of the light show that goes on in the inner workings of the Birds Nest itself.
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For me at least, it was time to return to our apartment for the evening, get my head down, and prepare for the following day, as the Great Wall was going to be the main event on our punishing itinerary.

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