A Travellerspoint blog

Helsinki to Home!!

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We arrived in Helsinki on Thursday evening after a 6hour train ride from St. Petersburg. We then had a get a bus out to our hotel which was near the airport. On Friday we got a bus back into the city centre and spent a couple of hours walking the cobbled streets around the lutheran cathedral. P1080496.jpgP1080503.jpg To make the most of the fine weather we then walked down to the waterfront and spent a bit of time strolling around the markets situated on the docks seelling everything from raspberries to reindeer hides! P1080497.jpg We enjoyed our short stay in Helsinki and although it's only small it gave us a nice chance to acclimatise to the European way of life! P1080490.jpg

After a short nights sleep, we awoke at 3am and made the most of our free hotel breakfast! P1080504.jpg We then donned our rucksacks for the final time and got the bus to Helsinki airport for our dawn flight home. P1080508.jpg After a short stopover in Copenhagen, we were back in the air and landed in Manchester a little early at about 09:15 and were greeted by family and friends in arrivals. P1080511.jpg

It's good to be home and see everybody that we've missed so much over the past 7 months. Thanks for reading our blogs, stay tuned for one final blog coming up in a day or two!

Can't wait to catch up with you all,
Lots of Love
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 23.08.2009 09:06 Archived in Finland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

St Petersburg Part II

overcast 15 °C
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We took a trip out of the city today to go and see Peterhof, which is basically Peter the Greats summer palace on the sea. It is famous for its fountains, and we must agree they were totally fantastic! P1080453.jpgP1080461.jpg We were going to go in the palace, but the queue was massive and we didnt fancy waiting around in the cold and rain to go in. The weather was a bit overcast, but we strolled around the grounds for a couple of hours! P1080464.jpg We headed back on the bus and have spent the afternoon doing boring things like laundry and packing. We leave tomorrow afternoon on a train bound for Helsinki, which takes about 6 hours! We arrive at night and then have one full day there, before we leave the following morning on our flight back home!

Cant wait to see you all,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 19.08.2009 07:10 Archived in Russia Tagged automotive Comments (0)

St Petersburg Part I

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The train from Moscow was fine and only lasted 8 hours, and we got to Moscow the same evening. After checking into the hostel, we went for a quick walk around the city and grabbed something to eat. After a poor nights sleep (mixture of mosquitoes and noisy people) we got up early and went to see the Peter and Paul Fortress, which is across the River Neva. P1080303.jpg Most of St Petersburg was badly destroyed during the war and various revolutions, but it has been rennovated beautifully. A canon is fired everyday off the fortress at midday, and somehow we managed to sneak in with a private tour group who seemed to have a vip within it, as there were lots of local press there! haha! We just stayed quiet and smiled for the photos! We were right next to the canon when it went off, and we were partially deafened by it! Everyone was clapping and smiling and chris and I were shouting to each other! Anyway, we were very lucky to get that close, as the 'normal' tourists were held back by a gate, which was a long way from the canon! We managed to get a video of it, but the computers in russia wont let us upload it, so it will have to wait!

After the ringing in our eas subsided, we went into The SS Peter and Paul Cathedral, which houses all the remains of past Russian leaders. P1080273.jpgP1080287.jpg We saw Peter and Catherine the Great and their relatives, as well as the Romanovs who were moved from Yeketerinburg in 1998. P1080293.jpgP1080294.jpg It was quite modern inside, due to extensive damage from the war. After that we walked back across into the city P1080271.jpg and went to The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (lovely title), which marks the spot where Tsar Alexander II was killed. It looks very similar to St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, with multi-coloured onion domes. P1080311.jpgP1080315.jpg

From there we walked across the famous Nevskiy Prospekt to Kazan Cathedral, which is a huge neo classical cathedral also rebuilt after the war. P1080233.jpg We continued walking all the way down Nevskiy Prospekt, which is a huge road full of shops and food stalls and everything you could want. Its the main thoroughfare of St Petersburg, and the locals are very proud of it. It has lots of glorious old russian buildings, making the general facade look very elegant. P1080318.jpgP1080331.jpg

We got the tube to Alexander Nevskiy Monastery after that to go and see the Tikhin Cemetary, where lots of famous people have been laid to rest. Chris was very excited to finally see many of the greatest composers that ever lived, including - Tchaikovsky, P1080356.jpgP1080357.jpg Borodin, P1080351.jpg Mussorgsky P1080349.jpg and Rimsky-Korsakov. P1080346.jpg We strolled around for a while amougst the many russian notables that are buried here. From there we went back to the hotel for a bit and then went out to see the city at night after we had dinner. It may be so, that St Petersburg is even prettier at night as the lighting on the building facades is very sympathetically done. We strolled along the Neva River until we wandered back to the hostel for the night.

After a good nights sleep last night we left early this morning to go and see the world famous Hermitage Museum. P1080246.jpg0P1080253.jpg It occupies one side of an impressive square in the centre of St. Petersburg, with a column commemorating Tsar Alexander I at its centre.2P1080255.jpg2P1080259.jpg9P1080261.jpg We booked our tickets last night on the internet as it says that you can beat the queues, and boy did we beat them! When we got there the queue was massive, we would have been waiting for about 3 hours if we had joined! Due to our forward planning we skipped all the queues and got our tickets within minutes! It was obviously very crowded, but we managed to break away and stroll around. It was truely stunning and lived up to our expections completly. P1080386.jpg The only issue was that very few of the pieces were described fully in english and there was no clear way to move around the building. Apart from that we had a fantastic time and saw lots of famous works including that of Da Vinci, P1080415.jpg Rapheal, P1080416.jpg Monet, P1080425.jpg Renoir P1080424.jpg and Canaletto. P1080422.jpg We left nearly 3 hours later, with very tired legs but we had a great time! From there we plodded down the road to St Issacs Cathedral, which is the largest cathedral in St Petersburg. It too has been rebuilt, but was absolutly stunning inside with frescoes galore! P1080443.jpgP1080444.jpg It can hold a congregation of over 10,000 people, which is a bit larger than most churches in England! P1080446.jpgP1080447.jpg

We plan to go to Peterhof tomorrow, which is the main palace Peter the Great built outside of the city. We are having a fantastic time in St Petersburg, despite the odd rain shower! Its not long now until we return, cant wait to see you all!

Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

p.s. we're having computer problems, I will try and add more photos tomorrow x

Posted by chrisalex 18.08.2009 10:35 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Moscow Part III

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We had a lazy day walking around Moscow today, seeing all the things that we have missed out on! We started by getting the tube out of town to see the University of Moscow, which is housed in one of the 'Seven Sisters' - the matching buildings which Stalin placed all over the city in 1930s New York Art Deco style! The view was obstructed by a hill, but we managed to get a photo nonetheless! P1080194.jpg From there we got the tube back into the city centre and got off at the famous Bolshoi theatre, which was covered in scaffolding unfortunatly. After that we went to do some more souvenir shopping, russian dolls galore! The weather has been quite miserable today, but we dont really mind! We put our waterproofs on this morning and kept on trekking!

Once we had bought some more things, we headed off on a walking tour of Kitay Gorod, which is the area we are staying in at the moment. There are a collection of pretty little churches and grand old pastel coloured buildings scatted about. P1080198.jpgP1080202.jpgP1080206.jpg

Tonight we went to see the bright lights of Red Square, which were fantastic! P1080225.jpgP1080230.jpg We went into GUM, which is a very posh department store and walked around the square at night. P1080214.jpgP1080211.jpg We leave Moscow tomorrow morning for St Petersburg, where we will be staying for the next 4 days!

Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 15.08.2009 11:45 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Moscow Part II

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We walked past the changing of the guard for the Unknown Soldier again on our way to the Kremlin this morning, still goose-steppingingly mad! P1080138.jpg We had to get separate tickets for the armoury so we had to go there first as you are only allowed in as part of a 'tour'. Anyway, we strolled around the armoury, which is a collection of old regalia and russian artifacts from days of yore. Very impressive stuff, and we saw real faberge eggs! After that we went into the Diamond Fund (which is conincidentally and conveniently owned by the Ministry of Finance ), which houses some of the most impressive sparkly gems we have seen, including the largest cut Sapphire in the world (260 carats) and the crown of Catherine the Great. There was also a large variety of gold nuggets and bars on display - again, very impressive - but one can't help feeling that they're unnecessarily showing off a little! Sorry, no pics were allowed in these exhibits!

After that we walked into the Kremlin grounds proper, past the presidential palace P1080140.jpg and went into all the royal cathedrals with their gold sparkling onion-domes. P1080152.jpg There are 3 in total, The Assumption Cathedral, P1080172.jpg The Archangel Cathedral and The Annunication Cathedral, P1080145.jpg all of which were absolutely beautiful inside (again, sorry, no photos allowed). They manage to cover every wall and ceiling with murals and the result was breathtaking. We also had a look at The Ivan the Great Bell Tower, P1080171.jpg and the huge bell to accompany it, which weighs in at 202 tonnes. Due to its colossal weight it has never been rung. P1080158.jpg Next to it was the Tsar's cannon, which had a massive 89cm bore! Like the Tsar's bell, it was too large to be used and remains a showpiece to this day.P1080156.jpg

From there we walked down Arbat Street, which is souvenir central! We bought a few things and strolled the whole length of the street, which had some really impressive buildings on it, with one of the seven sisters at the bottom end! P1080182.jpg We got the tube from the other end and it happened to be a really impressive station, very socialist art deco! P1080188.jpgP1080189.jpg We did some more shopping on the way back through Red Square and headed back to the hotel. P1080178.jpg The weather has been slightly miserable today, but it didn't stop us and it even cheered up towards the end. We have had another fantastic day in Moscow nevertheless and cant wait for tomorrow!

Miss you lots,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 14.08.2009 11:22 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Moscow Part I

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We arrived in Moscow yesterday morning after only 30 hours on the train (pah!), and after checking in to the hotel we spent the day strolling around our little area of Moscow and generally catching up with ourselves. Today we got up early and walked straight down the road to Red Square, which literally took our breath away when we walked in to it. P1070998.jpg Its a lot smaller than we thought it was going to be, but the buildings surrounding it are the most impressive we have seen. We queued and went to see Lenin's Mausoleum first, which took just less than an hour to get through. P1080015.jpg The waiting process wasn't as painful as past pickled people (Mao and Ho), but Lenin managed to look just as fake and waxy as the rest. The mausoleum itself is an striking lump of shiny marble, which manages to blend well with the older buildings in Red Square. After that we walked through the garden behind the mausoleum, to where Josef Stalin got unceremoniously moved to after his popularity waned. stalin.jpg He initially placed himself inside Lenin's tomb, but de-stalinisation during the 1960's led to him being moved to a less impressive resting place.

After that we walked down the square to St Basils Cathedral (or to give it its Russian title - The Cathedral of Intercession of the Virgin on the Moat), which we got really excited about seeing, after having seen it on TV so many times. P1080054.jpg Again, its a lot smaller than we thought it was going to be, but it looks absolutely fantastic. We were shocked to see that the inside is just as impressive as the outside, with lots of stunning small vaulted areas, it felt like a rabbit warren! P1080062.jpgP1080067.jpgP1080076.jpg After finally pulling ourselves away from St Basils at south end of the square, we strolled the length of Red Square, P1080038.jpg which has the Kremlin on one side, P1070991.jpg GUM (Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin - a huge department store) on the other P1070990.jpgP1080020.jpg and the State History Museum at the north end. P1070997.jpg On the north eastern corner of Red Square is the small but visually striking Kazan Cathedral. P1080083.jpg The original structure, built in 1636, was destroyed on the orders of Stalin in 1936 as part of his clearance of Red Square's religious buildings to make way for soviet military parades. We can thankfully see it today as it was rebuilt between 1990 and 1993 based on the original plans. After Kazan Cathedral, we walked through the north western end of the square into Aleksandrovsky Garden to watch the changing of the guard of the Unknown Soldier (goose-stepping galore!). P1080087.jpgP1080093.jpg From there we continued to walk down to the river and across a bridge so we could get a view of the Kremlin, which is fantastic and just as impressive as we thought it would be! P1080104.jpg

From there we crossed back over the river and went into Christ the Saviour Cathedral which, like Kazan Cathedral, was rebuilt recently as the original was knocked down in the 30's by Stalin in order to build a 415m high Soviet monstrosity to Lenin in its place, called The Palace of the Soviets. The plan, quite literally, never got off the ground and the area was used as a gigantic swimming pool until the Cathedral was rebuilt in the early 90's. It was really impressive and beautifully decorated inside with floor to ceiling murals and guilded artwork. P1080116.jpg Even though it has only been a consecrated cathedral for the past 9 years, it was rebuilt true to the original blue prints and retains all of its former glory.

After that we went to the Novodevichy Cemetery, which is basically a who's who of Russian composers, politicians and artists and literary figures. There are around 27,000 graves within the cemetery, so we spent an hour or so hunting out the ones we really wanted to see. The famous composers for Chris obviously - Shostakovich, P1080131.jpg Prokofiev, P1080125.jpg Rostrapovich P1080123.jpg and Skryabin. P1080129.jpg We also saw Boris Yeltsin, whose grave was a funny marble effort in the shape of the Russian Flag, P1080122.jpg and Nikita Krushchev who succeeded Stalin after his death. P1080124.jpg In addition to these we hunted out Tolstoy (author of War and Peace) P1080133.jpg and Molotov (army general who was famous for making explosive cocktails!). P1080130.jpg After that we plodded home after a really brilliant time, we are both loving Moscow at the moment! The weather has also cheered up, so we are back in summer clothes!

We hope you are all well,
Not long until we see you all now,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 13.08.2009 07:21 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Irkutsk to Yekaterinburg!!

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эдравствуйте ('zdrast-vuy-te' - hello) from Russia!

Train from Irkutsk left 2 hours late, not a great start to the journey, but somehow managed to be perfectly on time when we got to Yekaterinburg 50 hours later! The trains are fine once you settle in really, we got talking to the only russian woman who could speak english, so that made the journey pass a bit! We arrived in Yekaterinburg in the middle of the night and it was really cold and raining.

We are staying for 3 nights in Yekaterinburg, so we we're in no rush to get things done. Out first day we spent doing laundry and going all the way back to the station (in the cold and rain) to book a ticket to Moscow in a few days time, which we managed to do! After that we walked around the old part of town, which is very pretty with some lovely colourful buildings. P1070973.jpg

Today we went to see the rest of the city, which is much larger than we first thought. We are hideously underdressed for Russia, as we only have summer clothes! It's supposed to be warm at this time of year, so we are hoping it will cheer up on our way to Moscow, but right now it's about 10 degrees and we can't feel our noses and ears! We walked around and went to the tiny Chapel of St Catherine, after whom the city is named. P1070963.jpg There are some beautiful massive buildings here, including the city hall and the surrounding buildings. P1070969.jpgP1070983.jpg Opposite the City Hall is the obligatory statue of Lenin, our second on our trip across Russia. P1070971.jpg There are also some random bronze statues everywhere, including one of the founders of the city. P1070962.jpg As well as this there is a random monument to the QWERTY keyboard, which is basically a life size keyboard made out of concrete. Possibly the randomest thing we have seen so far in Russia. P1070958.jpgP1070959.jpg

After that we walked all the way through town to The Church of the Blood (or to give it its stereotypically full Russian title: The Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land) aka the memorial church on the site where the Romanov Royal family were murdered in 1917. P1070975.jpgP1070980.jpg It was still freezing at this point and we were more than happy to get inside the church, which itself is very modern as it was only built in 2003. Inside it was a typical Russin Orthodox Church, with lots of gold and various altars. In addition to the normal altars, the Romanov family were canonised (made into saints) in 2000 and as such have many altars dedicated just to them. Its ironic that after being killed by their own people, they were also made saints many years later. We took a stroll around the church and then had a cup of coffee afterwards to try and warm up. We had a look at some other churches before getting the bus back to the warmth of the hotel. P1070977.jpg

We are having an ace time in Russia, we think because it reminds us of home (the weather does thats for sure!). We leave tomorrow morning on a 27 hour train to Moscow, which will be a doddle after the trains we have done!

Hope everyone is ok,
Missing you all lots,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

p.s. For anyone we forgot to tell, we shall be returning to the UK on 22nd August!!xx

Posted by chrisalex 10.08.2009 03:51 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Beijing to Irkutsk!

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Got on 72 hour train from Beijing, which although the longest train we have ever been on, it wasn't too bad! We managed to read, eat and sleep to pass the time. The change over at the border took 10 hours, starting at 2.30am, which we were not best please at. We had to get the train searched, get through immigration and get our temperatures taken as well! As well as all that we had to get the wheels on the train changed from Chinese to Russian guage, for which we had to get off the train and sit on the platform for a few more hours! We finally got going and made it to Irkutsk about 2 hours late the following evening, after spending about 5hrs skirting the southern shore of Lake Baikal. P1070919.jpgP1070920.jpg We spent the first couple of hours sorting out train tickets out of there, as Chris had spent his time on the train learning the Russian alphabet and simple phrases we managed to pull it off and get a ticket to Yekaterinburg (Katherinburg) for Thursday evening! This was made even more complicated by the fact that all the train tickets are sold in Moscow time, and we are currently 5 hours ahead of Moscow, so there is lots of calculating to do!

We got a tram into town and got to the hostel late in the evening (it doesn't go dark until about 10.30pm here), and had a well deserved shower (our first in nearly 4 days) and went straight to bed. The following day we had to move from that hostel as they only had a room for one night, so they relocated us to another hostel, which is all fine and dandy. After we moved our stuff we took a walk around Irkutsk, which feels so european despite the fact that we are still as far east as Bangkok at the moment! We went to see the statue of Lenin in the town square (very russian) P1070955.jpg and the various churches scattered around the town. P1070936.jpgP1070947.jpg After that we just spent a relaxing day walking around and managing not to sweat for the first time in months as its about 30 degrees here, but there is no humidity and a nice breeze! We sat in a park for a while and then walked back down the river to the hostel. P1070951.jpg Its great to not be stared at either, as although Russians are the ugliest most unfashionable people we have seen so far, we technically look the same! Although they are rather stern, Russians are ok really! We leave Irkutsk tonight on a 2 day train to Yekaterinburg, where we are staying for a couple of days!

Hope everyone is well,
Missing you lots,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 05.08.2009 21:29 Archived in Russia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Beijing Part II

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We got up really to go and see dead Chairman Mao, and when we arrived at Tiananmen Square the queues were awful already! P1070784.jpg We were amazed and shocked at how few Chinese people had seen him! Anyway, we had to shuffle in a massive queue for an hour until we got 3 seconds to shuffle past his 'corpse', which Chris and I thought was shockingly fake (no photos allowed by the way)! Anyway, after that we took a stroll in the nearby Temple of Heaven Park, which was more like an amusement park when we first entered as they were all doing line dancing and salsa in the park at 8am! Very strange nation! Chris and I actually believe that none of them work! Anyway in the middle of the park is a really impressive old Pagoda, which has been beautifully restored and offered us a small bit of peace away from the crowds! P1070791.jpg

The following day we took a day trip north of the city to the Summer Palace, which was really great. Unfortunately the smog was so bad that we couldn't see across the famous lake for the view of the palace! We walked all the way up to the top though and walked through all the palatial complex. P1070807.jpgP1070808.jpgP1070837.jpg After that we got a boat back across the lake and got the tube to see the Olympic Village. It was brilliant to finally see it after it being on our TVs for so long last summer, but the grey sky and the grey buildings gave the whole scene a rather dull look. P1070846.jpgP1070849.jpgP1070857.jpgP1070858.jpg Despite the fact that there were still people coming to see it, it looked rather abandoned. We strolled around for a while though and then headed back home for the night.

Yesterday we went to see the Great Wall of China, which was really fantastic. We got there in the afternoon and luckily the crowds were getting fewer in number (whereas in the morning, you apparently can't even move down the wall at all). We went to the section of wall at Badaling, which is the most heavily restored and the one which we all know. P1070867.jpgP1070879.jpgP1070880.jpgP1070884.jpg There are other, less renovated sections which the hikers like to frequent, but we felt that the stereotypical visit was OK for our first time. Some of the sections were so steep it was practically vertical, but we managed to walk a small section of it, whilst the sun was setting. Afterwards we got the cable car back down to ground level and headed back to Beijing. P1070860.jpg

That evening we went to Tienanmen Square to watch the flag being lowered. P1070890.jpg We thought that perhaps a handful of people would show up, as the main event is the raising of the flag in the morning really. How wrong we were. As ever, there must have been about 1000 people crowded around the flag pole, complete madness. They were going mad, climbing all over each other just to watch their guards take the flag down. It was all over in a matter of seconds, but the crowds seemed elated that they now had another pointless video to add to their collection. The worrying thing is that they were all Beijingers, very odd!

After that, on the way back home, we strayed onto the 'snack market', which literally sells anything you can carry in your hand, including some of the grossest things we have ever seen! P1070897.jpg One stall was selling things on skewers, when we got closer we realised there were lots of things on sale including: skewered starfish, skewered grubs, skewered scorpions, skewered seahorses and the list goes on. When we saw that all of the above were still moving on the skewers, we quickly found the nearest exit! P1070900.jpgP1070901.jpg

We have packed everything up today and we leave on our train at 11pm tonight. We are oddly nervous about it for some reason, perhaps because we are finally turning tail now and heading back home? Either way I'm sure it will all be fine. Not much left now really. We shall write once we get to Russia. Until then, we miss you all lots and cant wait to get home!

Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 28.07.2009 05:50 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Beijing Part I

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We got an overnight train from Xi'an and arrived in Beijing early in the morning. After waiting for our room to be free we checked in and showered. On the first day we spent it getting our bearings and having a look at the big shopping street in central Beijing. We really like it so far, it's busy busy (as with the whole of China) but quite modern as it has only just been redone for the olympics! We also went to see Harry Potter, which was in english so success all round!

On the second day we went to Tiananmen Square, which was amazing to finally see. P1070620.jpg Not as big as you think its going to be as Mao's mausoleum is right in the middle of it, but it was still huge and full of people (and cctv cameras!). P1070638.jpgP1070636.jpg Apparently there are lots of plain clothed policemen placed in the square to 'maintain order'! P1070647.jpgP1070652.jpgP1070658.jpg We walked around the square for a bit and then went into The Great Hall of the People, which is where their congress meets. Luckily they were not in session so we got to go in, which was great. Inside is a huge auditorium which seats 10,000 'politicians' who basically run the whole country! Really impressive room though, in 50's style (bless communism, so behind the times). P1070626.jpgP1070622.jpg After that we headed back to the market area off the main shopping street, which was everything you expect china to be. Market stalls piled high with tat, we have never seen so much rubbish being sold in one place. We are ashamed to have bought a couple of things!

Today we had a fantastic day. We started off going to see the Forbidden City (called the Palace Museum here - doesn't really have the same ring does it?). Anyway, after queuing for about 20 minutes, we finally got tickets. P1070674.jpgP1070675.jpg It was fantastic to finally walk around it, and the buildings looked really impressive. P1070684.jpgP1070693.jpg Unfortunatly the crowds got to us eventually and we ended up searching for exits towards the end. P1070706.jpg After that we crossed the road and walked up the hill behind the Forbidden City, from where we got fantastic views of the whole complex. P1070717.jpg After walking back down we went to another park next door, Beihai Park, within which there is the famous White Dagoba, which sits on a hill on an island right above a huge lake. P1070727.jpg We walked around for a bit and then hired a mini speed boat on a whim and spent the next hour going all the way round the lake. P1070741.jpgP1070753.jpg Even though the lake was crowded as well, we managed to escape the crowds for a short time! Once we were back on dry land, we went and looked at the Drum and Bell Tower, which were much larger than we thought they would be! P1070772.jpg

We plodded back home and had the most amazing dinner ever at a restaurant which served some oddly labelled meals. Naturally there was only one choice for us, Peking Duck. They serve it just like they do in the UK, but its 10 times better and 10 times cheaper! We have another busy day planned for tomorrow! P1070777.jpgP1070779.jpgP1070781.jpgP1070782.jpg

Hope you are all well,
Miss you lots,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 28.07.2009 05:29 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Xi'an!!

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Our flight from Chengdu to Xi'an was fine and we arrived only slightly late (which is impressive by asian standards). Xi'an is a really lovely city, the first place in china that has managed to retain its chinese routes, as all its buildings are still chinese in stlye. There is a friendly feel about the city as well, so all in all we have gelled well with Xi'an. We relaxed on the first day and plodded about the city. Yesterday we went to see the terracotta warriors! We got up at 5.45am in the morning and then got two buses and arrvived at the ticket office half an hour before it even opened! This is our attempt to beat the ever present chinese tour groups. We got our tickets and got to the pits only a little after opening time. We must have been amongst the first 20 people let in! There are 3 pits in all, number one being the most famous and the lesser two being sidelined somewhat. Pit 2 was just a big hole in the ground where it had been excavated, and pit 3 had a small selection of warriors. By the time we got to pit one, the crowds luckily hadn't gathered yet so we managed to get prime positions to stare at them for a while. P1070500.jpgP1070537.jpg It was so impressive, there are about 2000 warriors on display in the pit (which is in an aircraft hangar type building), each as we all know with different faces. P1070556.jpgP1070585.jpgP1070552.jpg Its estimated that if each warrior was present, the room would hold 6000! It was just stunning, there is no other way to describe it. P1070525.jpg We walked right to the back of the pit, where excavating is still going on and the neverending 'glueing back together process' to build them back up to their former glory. We lingered quite a while until the tour groups arrived...needless to say we ran for the door when they did, as they dont exist in numbers less than 4000 people and the tour guides have microphones as well! Urgh! So we scarpered back to the city after that! Had a fantastic day though, even though it cost 10 quid to get in!

Today we went to have a look around the ancient walled city of Xi'an, where we're staying. We got a bus this afternoon south of the city to go and see The Big Wild Goose Pagoda (I know, we laughed as well), which is a really old pagoda surrounded by a new temple complex. P1070591.jpgP1070594.jpgP1070599.jpg It was really impressive and at 64 metres high, towers above many of the new buildings, despite it being 1400 years old! P1070603.jpg After walking around the complex for a bit we got a bus back to the city walls, which have been repeatedly rebuilt over the years (due to war, disaster and neglect), but were still really awe inspiring to walk along and get a feel for xi'an. P1070605.jpgP1070607.jpg The current Ming Dynasty wall dates from the 14th century and is still one of the most impressive city walls in China. It's over 25km long and takes 3hrs to walk around, which we were not keen to do in nearly 40deg heat! Of course, being chinese, there are golf buggies to whisk you around in an hour or so for the extortionate price of 10 pounds! P1070608.jpgP1070609.jpgP1070606.jpg After that we went to the bell and drum tower which are in the centre of town, which look slightly lost in the middle of a traffic island! P1070614.jpg After that we decided it was too hot, despite it being one of the clearest days in China so far, so we retreated back to the hotel!

We leave Xi'an tomorrow evening on an overnight train to Beijing, where we will be staying for a week!

Hope everyone is well,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 23.07.2009 03:40 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Chengdu!!

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We went to the Giant Panda Research Base just outside Chengdu yesterday. We got up really early as pandas are only active in the morning as that is when they feed! P1070291.jpgP1070327.jpg We had a totally brilliant time, they are really sociable and playful with each other and like to perform for the crowd. P1070304.jpgP1070324.jpgP1070374.jpgP1070378.jpg Thats about as far as they go though, as they sleep for the rest of the day! P1070302.jpgP1070403.jpg They are so cute and lazy though, most falling asleep part way through a stunt for the audience! We got a really funny video of one falling gracefully from a tree, but we cant upload it on here unfortunatly! The crowds got too much by the time we left and we popped into the Red Panda enclosure before leaving. They are funny little creatures, half way between a fox and a racoon - nothing like a panda at all! P1070430.jpgP1070432.jpgP1070437.jpg They seem to be a lot more shy than their giant cousins, but they are just as cute and we managed to get some good photos despite the fact that they are not that sociable. We had a great day though - even the road signs are panda related!!P1070443.jpg

Today we got up really realy again to get a bus 2 hours down the road to see the 71 metre tall, 1300 year old Leshan Grand Buddha. Having seen a lot of buddhas throughout india and south east asia of varying sizes and poses, this was the piece de resistance as it is the largest buddha in the world! Even though we got there early we still had to queue for about and hour and a half as chinese tour groups start at about 400 people per group! P1070457.jpg It took ages to walk down the cliff to his feet, but it was well worth it! P1070444.jpgP1070448.jpgP1070450.jpgP1070461.jpgP1070464.jpg The climb back up was exhausting due to the heat and number of steps. We made it in the end and then went to get a boat which takes you on the river just in front of the Buddha, where you can also see to 'guards' carved into the rock which aren't visible from the land. P1070472.jpgP1070476.jpgP1070483.jpg That was also brilliant, despite the fact that we were forced to wear bright orange life jackets as no-one in asia can swim! We got the bus back to Chengdu afterwards, rather sweaty and very tired from the day! We fly tomorrow afternoon to Xi'an, where we will be for the next 4 days!

Hope you are all well,
Missing you lots,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 19.07.2009 01:57 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Nanjing!!

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Wow are we having a stressful time in China at the moment. The lack of english and immense heat are finally getting to us. We have had a very stressful day trying to get train tickets out of here, and failing miserably. We tried for 3 hours to get train tickets and couldnt, so we gave up and checked flight tickets which were only 10 quid more and fly tomorrow morning. The earliest train we could get is days away so we are flying to Chengdu tomorrow morning at 8.30am.

After that we went sightseeing and went all the way up their hill, on which Dr Sun Yat-Sen (the founder of the first chinese republic and considered a legend over here) has been laid to rest. We didnt realise that you had to walk up about 400 steps to get to his mausoleum, and in 39 degrees that wasnt a tempting offer, so we aborted that plan rather quickly! We got the cable car, which goes further up the hill, all the way to the top. 149793891_..e8fa_1_.jpg We didnt realise that when they put 'cable car', it actually meant 'ski lift'! It took half an hour to get to the top, which was rather relaxing. Unfortunatly china as a whole is so hazy that when we got to the top, we could barely see the city below! We got the cable car back down, followed by a bus, which took us back to town. From there we went to see the old city walls, which used to be the longest city walls in the world (before parts of it got destroyed by the Japanese). They were really impressive, from the Ming dynasty and was built like fort knox! culturalch..2d32_1_.jpg We walked around there for a bit, and then got on a random bus which just happened to take us back to our road! Finally something works for us!

So due to the slight change in plan, we are leaving Nanjing early tomorrow morning and flying to Chengdu to see the pandas!!

Hope you are all well,
Lots of Love
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 17.07.2009 03:37 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Shanghai Part II - Hangzhou

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We went on a day trip today to the nearby city of Hangzhou. Its a very pretty city, built around a massive lake. We decided that it looked a bit like windermere, as there was both a huge lake and it was full of chinese people! haha! We spent some time just wandering around the edge of the lake (which apprently takes 5 hours to walk around completly!) and having a look at the various temples and pagodas along the way. P1070242.jpgP1070245.jpgP1070248.jpg After that we went on a cable car up to the top of the hill to get fantastic views of the city and the lake. P1070250.jpgP1070254.jpg We came back and relaxed at the bottom of the hill before heading back to get our return train to Shanghai. We had an ace day, but are now tired out and looking forward to bed! We leave Shanghai tomorrow to go to Nanjing, which is 3 hours away on the train.

We hope you are all well,
Missing you lots,
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xxx

Posted by chrisalex 15.07.2009 06:57 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Shanghai Part I

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We got our 20 hour train from Hong Kong with little delay and arrived in Shanghai on time the following morning. Our hotel is a little out of the city, but the tube means that you're never far from the centre anyway! We headed into the city centre the following morning to see the bright lights of Shanghai. The famous bund and the cityscape are the two most famous views Shanghai can offer and we were very disappointed to see that massive boards have been put up right in front of the bund, so not only can you not get a photo of the city scape across the river, you also cant get a photo of the Bund as you are too close (it's all in aid of renovation of the riverfront for the Shanghai World Expo 2010). Rather disgruntled we crossed the river via the weird and wonderful 'bund sightseeing tunnel', in which you cannot see any of the bund or any sights as the tunnel goes under the river. To make up for the lack of sights, they covered the tunnel in LED lights to make it 'crazy and exciting', like only the Chinese can. Lets just say Chris and I left slightly underwhelmed. Once on the other side of the river we couldn't even see the Bund due to the roadworks going on on the other side, so we gave up and went up the (slightly gaudy as ever) Pearl Tower instead. P1070143.jpg The view from up there was slightly better, if a little hazy, but we couldn't stay up there for long due to the masses of people! P1070146.jpgP1070158.jpg It took us about 15 -20 minutes to get back down as we had to queue for the lift!

We crossed back over the river, where Chris slipped down some steps, as they thought cleaning them by throwing a bucket of water on them would be a safe and practical thing to do. Hes ok, but we got so grumpy then that we gave up and returned back to the hostel. Chris managed to slip again on another wet patch and broke his flip flop, so had to trek back bare foot and buy some more at the other end. Not a good day for Chris et Al!

We tried again yesterday (take II) with slightly more success as we realised we could get a boat across the river. There is no bridge, you can only get the underground, boat or freaky tunnel thing across. Anyway we crossed over the river and got our first shot of the cityscape, which looks pretty impressive. P1070163.jpg After that we went up The Shanghai World Finiancial Centre, which is the 3rd tallest building in the world and has the worlds highest observation deck (the one on the right)! P1070170.jpgP1070172.jpg We stayed up there until it went dark and the lights of Shanghai came on, which we quite impressive. P1070185.jpgP1070204.jpg We are surprised at how much of a building site Shanghai is, there are roadworks everywhere and we expect it will look very different in years to come. We got the boat back across the river, eventually got our photo of the bright lights of Shanghai at night P1070218.jpg and then got the tube back amoungst the masses of people. P1070228.jpg

We are having a day off today to do washing etc, as Chris has had too much of the crowds! We are going on a day trip tomorrow to Hangzhou!

Hope you are all well
Lots of Love,
Chris and Alex xx

Posted by chrisalex 14.07.2009 00:44 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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