China - Back to Beijing

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

We managed to get much more sleep on the return journey to Beijing; we swapped bunks, put earplugs in and took a travel pill that knocked us out for most of the journey.
We were back in Beijing for a few days before catching our flight back to the UK and had one more place on our list of things we wanted to see; the Summer Palace.
The Summer Palace is an enormous collection of buildings set in vast landscaped Chinese gardens. It was built in the 12th century and then continuously developed and expanded by subsequent dynasties over the next few hundred years. The main features of the palace are the central lake, large hilltop tower and the long corridor.
We wandered around the picturesque lake with the Seventeen Arch Bridge in the background and took in the elegant architecture that surrounded the waters edge (PIC). As we made our way around the lake we came to the 'Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha' that looms over the palace with its multi-level pagoda-like structure (PIC). It is possible to pay extra to go up to the tower but we were more interested in the long corridor that continues to surround the lake.
The Long Corridor is a 2500-foot long covered walkway that features over a thousand unique painted murals. Each painting is different and adds a colourful and attractive fašade to the winding walkway (PICS).
At the end of the corridor is one of the most impressive, intriguing and ostentatious features of the Summer Palace; the Marble Boat. The Empress Dowager Cixi, a frivolous spender of the countries money, commissioned the boat to take her across the palace lake. It is indeed made of marble and is quite a feat of engineering, especially for the time, remarkable in the way that such a heavy stone can float let alone be crafted into a huge boat (PIC).
Throughout the Summer Palace we consistently passed massive tour groups of Chinese people. It amused them no end to see us turn the tables on them and point our camera at their group (PIC).
Climbing the hilled areas of the palace gardens we delved into a much quieter, serene section with very few other tourists to be seen. We wandered along the tree-lined pathways and discovered the occasional bandstand-style building lurking amongst the landscaped shrubs. In one building we came across an old local guy playing a long wind instrument...alone (PIC). The calming melody transcended through the layers of greenery and gave the place a magical aura. It seemed so far away from the bustling, tourist-ridden network of palace buildings just a few hundred metres away.
As we descended the hilled region of the palace gardens we came to the enclosed 'Garden of Harmonious Interests'; a series of pagodas linked by walkways around a small lake (PICS). The garden was a haven away from the nearby crowds and seemed to be a favourite spot for local musicians and singers. Each pagoda was occupied by a different group of performers who were playing away with vigor. The problem was that it didn't really help with the relaxation; the music was loud and whiny and many of the instruments (including the women's singing voices) were shrill and ear piercing. Perhaps it just wasn't our style of music but we had to get out far sooner than we would have liked!
As part of our final day in Beijing we decided to go back to the Silk Market and take further advantage of the potential bargains to be had there. We bought a couple of pairs of trainers for Andrew (60 quid in the UK, 5 pounds in the Silk Market!), and four designer handbags for Verdi (too expensive in the UK, nice and cheap in the Silk Market!). We could have kept spending and spending but we had no room in our luggage and could only take one bag on our BA flight home...shame!

The flight back to the UK was trouble-free and all our souvenirs made it home to our relief. We would pop back to South Wales to surprise Andrew's parents (Verdi's folks were in Borneo at the time) and drop off our bags before packing up again and heading off for three weeks in a private villa in Lanzarote! We needed some relaxation after all the hard work of the last 18 months. It may sound crazy but if you've traveled for any length of time you'll know how exhausting it can actually be!
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