Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Summer 2012 - 19th Stop: Shanghai

Ok, this will probably be quite a short blog entry to finish up our summer holidays, partly because it was such a long time ago that I can barely even remember visiting the place, and partly because we didn't really do a whole lot there! In fact, one of the few notes I made from one of the days was "got a bad Subway"... I'm sure that says a lot, not only about what we did in Shanghai, but also, how much we love Subway! (It's really great!).

I don't mean to come across that Shanghai was boring or anything though, we were just on wind-down mode a bit after a summer of travelling and we were also busy looking up new apartments for HK. We did have a lot of fun there and saw some great things. I mean, just look at that for a view!

We arrived in on a night train from Beijing, and literally, as soon as we arrived, the people became a whole lot nicer! A girl directed us to the metro station, a guy asked us if we needed help buying tickets, and this was all completely off the cuff! We didn't even ask for their help! We also saw a young boy pissing into a bin; which, fair enough, isn't ideal, but at least he's trying! It's a start. Beijing, take note!

The Bund (as seen above) is the main attraction of the city and was quite near to our hostel so we went there a few times, just to walk around and take pics. In terms of skyline, it's right up there with the nicest we've seen. Better than Hong Kong though? Hmmm...

On our first night while visiting The Bund, three Arabian men came up to us asking if we would take a picture of them. Of course, we were only too happy to help, but it turned out they wanted us to take a picture of each of them, individually... We did it, but at the time we were thinking, 'did you really need us for this...?'.

As it turns out, according to some beliefs, Muslims aren't allowed to take pictures of people! Who knew?! The Quran must have been way ahead of its time to forbid the use of digital cameras! Although, now that I think of it, I'm the one who actually took the picture of them... if Islam turns out to be the one true faith, I'm in sooo much trouble...!

As I said before, we didn't do a whole lot here, but it's a nice city in itself, just to be in, even if you're not doing anything in particular. Shanghai was historically a major hub for European traders, so the city is a real melting pot of culture and architecture, between the traditional Chinese, classical European and, in the last 20 years, the strangely futuristic.

One of the few things we actually did do in Shanghai was go to an incredible show called Era: Intersection of Time. It was so entertaining! One of the best shows of any description I've ever seen. It was basically a variety show of all different types of acrobatics and stunts. It was amazing. You weren't allowed to take pictures though, but I managed to get off a few sneaky ones.

The only other thing of note from our time here was on our way to the airport. Instead of getting the train or bus like regular 20th century folk would do, we climbed aboard the Maglev and went for a ride - into the future! The Maglev, or magnetic levitation, will probably be the next big thing in the world of transport for the coming century, so it was cool to take a spin before it hits the mainstream, just so we can be real travel hipsters! Due to the fact that the train carriage is floating on a kind of magnetic cushion of air, there's no friction or bumps or ups and downs, even though you're travelling at speeds of up to 430 km/h.

Speeds of 431 km/h in fact! We were going so fast, the pictures even came out a bit blurry! Or else I just couldn't hold the camera properly...

This kind of technology will more than likely revolutionise long distance transport by taking people out of the air and putting them back on the ground (or just above the ground). Although, having said that, the Shanghai Maglev - the only commercially operated line in the world - cost over a billion dollars to build, so we've some way to go before these things spread worldwide. Hopefully, they'll be popping up in a city near you in the next few decades though, which means Ireland will probably get its first Maglev some time in the 23rd century! (We still don't even have an underground for God's sake! Even North Korea has a metro line, two of them! And they were built 40 years ago!)

North Korea - better transport infrastructure than Ireland

We made a video diary too, our last of the summer, on the Maglev, so have a watch of that!

And that's the end! 10 weeks of travelling (and 10 months of writing!). Next up will be our Christmas holidays in Lake Toba (been and gone), and then Chinese New Year in Boracay (also been and gone!). Just up to date in time for another summer of frolicking around the Orient (still to come!). Thanks for reading! :)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Summer 2012 - Bonus Entry: The Great Wall of China

Bonus blog! Wooo! I don't usually write entries for single sights like this, but this one definitely calls for an exception to that rule. The Great Wall of China is obviously one of the most recognisable and well-known landmarks in the world. But the problem with visiting a 'wonder' like this, is that it's so famous and so hyped up, that it can't help but to fall short of your preconceived expectations. And to be honest, The Great Wall just wasn't what we had hoped it would be either...

It was so much more!!!

It really was great! We, of course, only saw the tiniest fraction of it, but it's hard not to when the thing dips and dives and zig-zags its way along for over 21,000 km! That's unbelievably over half of the circumference of the planet! To put that into perspective, if it was built in one straight line, it would stretch from Cork (which I believe is the international standard measuring point) all the way to Tokyo... AND BACK AGAIN! And standing on the hills, watching it snake its way across the countryside, it really does look like it just goes on forever. We couldn't get over it. (Neither could the Mongols! Zing!)

There are, of course, thousands of different places you can go to see the wall. For our visit, we decided to go to a more secluded spot, in a small town called Gubeikou, about three hours from Beijing. It would have been a lot easier for us to just visit the nearest and most popular wall site at Badaling, but after experiencing the Beijing crowds before, we wanted to get as far away as possible! If you're going to travel and spend money to see one of the greatest sights in the world, you might as well do it right, instead of taking the easy way and ending up with something like this:

Instead, we had a lovely, quiet, two-day trip to what is referred to as 'The Wild Wall' - one of the few places where the wall is still in its original state. And there couldn't have been more of a contrast with the picture above. On our first day, we didn't pass a single person. It was like we were the only two people in the world.

And no foreign invaders either, which just shows, after more than 2,000 years, it's still doing its job!

We set off from Beijing and got a 90 minute bus to a place called Miyun, where we were meant to catch another 90 minute bus to Gubeikou. However, after arriving, we couldn't find the bus stop and, like sharks smelling fresh prey, we were swarmed by a bunch of taxi drivers coming out with the usual crap - "oh no, no bus here, you need to get taxi", or "no, last bus gone, I will take you there" etc. etc. Of course this was all rubbish, so after calling our guesthouse in Gubeikou, we were shown to the right bus stop by their inside man in Miyun, and we were on our way again!

When we arrived in Gubeikou, we were trying to figure out where to go when we met two Spanish girls with the same problem. We both had sets of directions to the guesthouse but they inexplicably pointed us in different directions. We followed their route, as it led downhill, and sure enough, we found the place! I'm sure there's a life lesson in there somewhere...

But when we arrived at the guesthouse, they seemed to have overbooked. This could've posed a huge problem, but instead it couldn't have worked out better, as we were the lucky ones to be upgraded to a fancy, private double room! It wasn't even a double room, we had our own little cabin to ourselves! (They sneakily tried to get us to pay for the upgrade first, but after a very minor refusal, they just gave it to us for free!)

We had lunch with the Spanish girls before heading out alone onto The Wild Wall. We had two days here and two ways to go, so on day 1, we headed east on the 'Winding Dragon Trail'. It was kind of a gloomy day and halfway along we even had to take refuge from a thunderstorm in a watchtower! It was all very atmospheric!

We also took a video diary en route, one along the wall and one in the watchtower - two videos in the one video diary! Unbelievable!

That evening there was massive drama in the guesthouse as one of the Spanish girls was stung by a scorpion on their way back! She was alright in the end but the funny thing was, we had only been talking about scorpions earlier while having lunch with them! Oops!

The next day, we headed off in the other direction, over Crouching Tiger Mountain, although this time we had big blue skies overhead!

It's hard to tell if this path was much nicer, or if it was just the weather that changed the view for us. Either way, we had another wonderful day! There's not a whole lot to say as we were just walking and climbing for the afternoon. It was great though, it really was!

That evening, we got a bus back to Miyun, but this time we knew exactly what we were doing, so we were easily able to navigate our way around and find our way back to Beijing! As I said in the last entry, we had a few more days there, seeing the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, before moving on to our last stop of the summer, Shanghai! So, I guess that's where we'll see you next!