We flew back from Beijing yesterday. Our flight was 11.15 a.m. local time (around 03.15 a.m. English time), and landed at Heathrow at around 3.00 p.m. It was a good flight but the food was the worst we've had the entire trip (and that's saying something)! It was more or less inedible. The world's favourite airline? The motto on the side of the plane was 'we're flying the flag'. Not in our eyes! We then contacted our car parking firm and the car was waiting for us in the short-stay car park as soon as we walked out of the airport. And we set off north. We had thought to stay the night somewhere en route, but Richard felt fine and we just kept going. It was daylight all the way (very sunny, actually), and we used the M6 toll road which helped (£5.00, can you believe!). We got home around 6.30 p.m, which was great. We were met with an urgent 'phone call from no. 1 son - bad news, we thought! But, no - just to say they have got a new kitten. Lovely Nala died a few weeks ago, and left a hole in their household, obviously. This one is ginger (shades of Vaclav) and is called Oscar. Hooray for Oscar!
Our time in Beijing was amazing. We disembarked in a port called Tianjin which was an amazing city in its own right. There happened to be a World Climate Conference going on there as we landed. They seem to be building all round it and reclaiming land from the sea - you'd think China was big enough, wouldn't you? But no - they need more. We then got on a coach and went up to the Great Wall. The journey - as mentioned in the previous post - was something else. Coming back to this country and driving here just put it all into perspective. China is mad! We saw at least 5 accidents, and there were more that we didn't see. You take your life in your hands every time you get into a car or bus. The road up to the wall was crowded with enormous lorries (longer and bigger than ours) which were going up to Outer Mongolia or somewhere to collect coal and bring it back to somewhere in Beijing - presumably for power stations. This part of the road was the one that had a 10-day traffic jam a few weeks ago - and we could see why. The wall itself was incredible and we managed to walk a few feet up some steps to one of the little houses that are all along it. It was so hot and crowded that we retired to a rather elegant tea-house for a good argument and one latte coffee. We had stopped on the way up at a government-owned jade factory. Jade is considered very lucky and most girls are given some at birth, when they marry, etc. And jade comes in many different colours. It was all very expensive so we didn't buy any. But they had some good toilets - which was great. They actually had seats, a door you could lock and - wonder of wonders - some toilet paper. This tells you a lot about some of the other toilets we used!
We got back to the hotel at around 5.00 p.m. and booked in. We were shattered, and, after finding the executive room where the computers were, we hastened to bed. For some reason, I couldn't log in to this site, so sent an email to Lucy which she added to the blog - thanks, Lucy!
Next morning we were booked on an all-day trip and set off very early to Tiannenman Square. 1st October is one of the Chinese national holidays, and it lasts for 7 days, so you can imagine the crowds. The biggest queue in the world was already in the Square waiting to get in to see Chairman Mao's embalmed body - whatever turns you on I suppose - and it could only have got worse through the day. We were escorted down the side of the square, which is enormous - biggest in the world, we were told. Then we crossed into the Forbidden City and walked right through up to the far end, where we got back on to our bus. This place is truly staggering. The colossal ego of the emperors was evident everywhere - you can't imagine what life must have been like back then. I must watch 'The Last Emperor' again to get a better idea of all this. After the Forbidden City, we were taken the Silk Factory, where we were shown how silk is made and what they can do with it. Once again, we were under pressure to buy - but we resisted. From there we went to a small (and rather dirty) restaurant for an 'authentic' Chinese meal - which Richard loved and I didn't - but I managed to eat some of it. And then we went to the Temple of Heavenly Pleasure, where the emperor processed once a year to pray for that year's harvest. This was the most beautiful building - I think my favourite of all the ones we saw.
Back to the hotel, and we decided we just had to go up to see the Bird's Nest Stadium. We took a taxi up to the northern part of the city (just £5.00). Again, it was very crowded, but we went in. It cost 50 RBN to enter but fortunately I had copies of our passports with me. As I was over 60, I had to pay 25 RBN but Richard - because he's over 70 and is much venerated - got in free! He was well chuffed. We walked through the stadium - and what a building. Truly inspirational. Again, because it was their national holiday, there were all sorts of different shows going on there - a military band was playing, there were tumblers, dragons, acrobats, drummers. Next door to the stadium is the Cube, the building used for the swimming events at the Olympics, and further down were two more huge buildings used for other events. We had passed the velodrome on the way back from the Wall. The Chinese certainly put on a terrific show and these venues are all obviously still much in use. Let's hope London can come up with as good a show in 2012.
By the time we got back to the hotel, it was after 6.00 and already dark. Another quick meal in the hotel, and then bed. Beijing is a huge city, nearly all of it high rise, and so crowded.
And then on to the bus again yesterday morning and off to the airport. Once again, the Chinese had surpassed themselves with a brand-new airport terminal (3), built to resemble a dragon and a carpark outside built to resemble a turtle. Everything in China is done to bring luck, fortune, good health, etc. All buildings - in fact most of the city - are built on the Fung Shei principle and every symbol has a meaning. Even the car registration number that you're given is considered lucky etc. No. 4 is very unlucky indeed, and you don't see many with that number on.
So - home. Washing underway, post read, email quickly scanned - already thinking about what we have to do next. But so many memories in our heads from this holiday. And around a 1,000 photos to download!