Trip Start Sep 21, 2007
Trip End Apr 10, 2009

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Ni hao!

This is my last entry from China, because I have to leave the country. My visa extension runs out tomorrow, so I am going to South Korea from here, by ferry. That's not so bad, but saying goodbye to Peony is another case of course, but an unavoidable one. I am planning to return to China after a few months, when the Olympic Games are over and the Chinese visa regulations will relax somewhat.

But there is enough to tell about our last weeks in China, so here I go.

The last entry was from Luoyang and from Luoyang we took a bus to nearby Kaifeng. In Kaifeng we saw an ancient Buddhist pagoda and a very nice temple, the Temple of the Chief Minister and also saw some youths practicing their kung fu capabilities, which looked almost like a show for us. That night at 02h45 I watched the Netherlands against Italy game (3-0) at the Euro 2008 championships (with a big smile on my face of course).

From Kaifeng we took a bus to Zhengzhou and from there another bus to Taiyuan. In Taiyuan we didn't do much, except visiting the excellent Shanxi Museum.

From Taiyuan we took a bus to Taihuai in the Wutai Shan mountains. The trip was boring except for the last bit, because the mountain scenery here was beautiful. On the downside: we had to pay a ridiculous Y168 entry fee (about 16 euro) although I could get a reduction of 50% with my student card. The weather in Taihuai was pretty bad: cold and rainy. The Wutai Shan mountain area is a holy place for buddhists, especially Tibetan buddhists, so there were a lot of temples and monasteries, and quite picturesque ones as well. One night I saw an excellent football game again at 02h45, with another great result (Netherlands-France 4-1).

After three nights here we moved on to the Hanging Monastery via Yingxian, where we changed buses. The Hanging Monastery is a monastery beautifully glued to a mountain face. But it is more a tourist attraction than it is a monastery nowadays. From the Hanging Monastery we shared a taxi with an Italian-Australian couple to Datong.

Near Datong we visited the famous Yungang Caves, a site a bit similar to the Longmen Caves, although the Yungang Caves look more like caves. The sculpted Buddhas here looked grand en beautiful and we enjoyed the site so much, that is was too late to take the afternoon bus to Beijing, as was our plan, so we stayed another night in Datong.

The next morning we took a bus to Beijing, for my second visit to this great city this trip and for Peony's second visit as well, although her first time she had a stopover in the middle of the night and saw Tiananmen Square (and Beijing) only by night. We settled in in the same hostel I stayed before with Inger and walked to the main shopping street, where amongst other thing I bought my Lonely Planet Korea. If I wanted I could buy Lonely Planets of all countries and destinations around the world, except for one: China. I tried to have my camera fixed here, but in the end they said they couldn't do it. We then walked back to our hostel in a heavy downpour, but we had fun anyway.

The second day in Beijing was reserved for the Great Wall. We took a bus to Huairou and changed to another one to go the Huanghua section of the Great Wall. This part of the Great Wall was even quieter than the quiet section I visited with Inger. This section was beautiful too and we walked a few hours on this section of the Great Wall and returned back to Beijing in the early evening.

On our last day in Beijing we visited quite a few things. First of all we visited the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao: quite special for Peony and a completion for me of all three mausoleums with mummified communist leaders in the world (after Lenin and Ho Chi Minh earlier this trip). After this we strolled on Tiananmen Square and had a look at the hypermodern National Grand Theatre. From here we took a subway to the Lama Temple: beautiful but too many tourists. Another subway ride brought us to the Temple of Heaven Park, a big park with truly grand and beautifully designed temples and other buildings. The last thing we did this day was to have a look (from a distance) at the new Olympic Stadium (the Bird's Nest). After this tiring day we returned to our hostel for a relaxing evening.

From Beijing we continued south - the first time this trip with Peony - by train to Ji'nan. Ji'nan is not very special, but about 2.5 hours from Ji'nan we visited the beautiful old village of Zhujiayu. We strolled around here for hours and enjoyed ourselves very much and took a lot of pictures.

The next day we woke up early and took a bus to Tai'an, found a hotel, dropped our stuff there and took another bus to Qufu. Qufu is the birthplace of Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher. The entry fee was again quite hefty (Y150) for a regular ticket. The sights consisted of three areas: the Confucius Temple, the Confucius Mansions and the Confucius Forest. The first one was an enormous temple complex, the second one the also expansive Confucius' family residences and the third one a huge park with all the graves and tombs of the family and descendants of Confucius, including his own tomb. Early evening we returned to Tai'an. That same night (at 02u45) we saw Netherlands lose against Russia (1-3).

After a so-so night's sleep I woke up and took the city bus to the start of the walking trail to the top of Tai Shan mountain. I write walking trail, but the whole trail is paved and consists of 6660 steps! After three short breaks I arrived at the top, completely soaked in sweat, because high in the mountains the sun was bright with al lot of blue sky. I walked around a few of the numerous Taoist temples at the top before returning the 6660 steps down (in about an hour and a half). I don't think this is really good for one's knees. Back in Tai'an I paid a visit to the large Dai Temple before returning to Peony - who didn't join me today because she wasn't feeling really well.

From Tai'an we took a bus to Qingdao, on the east coast of China, from where I will take a ferry to Incheon in South Korea and from where Peony will return to southern China. Qingdao is a former German colony (about 100 years ago) and there is still a lot of German architecture and the whole (old part of) town has a very European feel to it. It is also the site of the sailing events of the Olympic Games. The beaches (and the sea) here are somehow covered in thick layers of bright green algae, but that doesn't deter some Chinese from swimming anyway. Qingdao is a beautiful place, but also a sad place because I have to leave Peony here (for a while).

That concluded my story from Luoyang up to now. I hope you enjoyed reading it. My next entry will be from South Korea, a whole new country for me. I am excited!

Everybody take care!
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