So this was my last morning in the countryside. I packed everything up, leaving my big boots and ug boots behind for Nikki to look after and packing everything into my bakpack but keeping my red duffle bag as it will come in handy for souvenirs as I go along, although I can see more clothes being ditched along the way.
There were some last minute family photos taken with me and all the family on both my camera and Nikkis so I'm sure they'll pop up on facebook soon if I can't get any up here. I also took a photo of the carfeully made sign that Tony put on the (new) toilet door for us that reads on and off and you have to turn to indicate if you are using the toilet.
We headed into Dezhou, stopping at KFC along the way for lunch and then to the train station where there were huge lines for people who hadn't purchased tickets yet. Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival is on 6 Feb and so everyone is trying to get to their homes for family reunions and so all the trains are very full and hard to get tickets on as Nikki and Tony discovered when they tried to get tickets home from Beijing and ticket agents almost laughed at tony as if to say are you acrazy, of course theres none available.
When we were called to board the train you go through a little wating room then line up according to your carriage number behind a railway worker wth a flag then you head to the platform behind your railway dude. Its at a fair hike and when your carrying a backpack like a suitcase its quite difficult, I wished I'd taken the cover off the straps to wear it as a backpack if I'd known we'd have to do a 800m dash in the freezing cold to get to the platform... oh well lesson learned, its now a backpack for the rest of my trip and its definitely a lot easier to carry :P
The train was the fast trained shaped a bit like the bullet train in Japan and goes up to about 210kph, so it was only a short 3 hour trip during whcih Nikki and I poured through the travel books picking out what we wanted to do and (most importantly) where to eat, while I was looking at the chinese food, Nikki was excited to find an english style fish and chip place which we decided would be dinner that night.
When we arrived in Beijing and headed out of the train station (I was now wearing my backpack and it was much easier to get around with) we jumped in a taxi and headed off to the hotel Tony had booked. I tried to work out where we were according to the maps in my trusty guide books but wasn't very successful. Also, when Tony asked how long it would take and how far it was from the hotel to the city the answer was about 1/2 an hour which wasn't a very promising start to at least 4 days in beijing, the traffic here is horrendous and I think had I had to go through that long at least in a taxi each dayI would have gone mental. By this point I was contemplating how I could diplomatically decided to stay in a hostel somewhere closer to the action if this hotel really was this far away and pulled out my guide book to see what recommendations they had.
Nikki was also starting to have some doubts so we had a look at some of the hotels on offer close to the city and read some of the recommendations about accomodation including "the traffic is horrible so it is advisable to stay close to the city", "avoid taxi travel where possible as it is very slow". Nikki had already said she wouldn't look at Hostels as an option and so we rang the top option on the "mid range hotel" list (budget was all hostels). I cross checked the entries in all three of my books and they all had this place listed as acceptable (after all, you only need a bed) and so Tony rang them to see ifthey had some rooms and what cost and it appeared they me be abot the same ish in cost, so we decided to head over and check them out.
It took another half hour or so to get there and we hadn't even reached our original hotel so I don't even want to to know how far away it was. Tony was a bit unsure about the girls having trumped him in the decision making process i think and also had some doubts about the hotel we had selected (it was only then that we realised he hadn't actually booked rooms but said we'd go have a look, so we were hoping the price stayed the same especially when he showed up with two foreigners)
On arrival, everyone was a little bit right. It was definietly much closer to everything, about a five to 10 minute walk to the main shopping area, about teh same to metro stations and only a few stations away from Tianamen Sq and Forbidden City. It was a bit dingy though, living up to its 2 star status and as Tony put it we were living in someone s basement( the cheap rooms were downstairs). There were also some unwlcome houseguests - quite a few cockroaches were roaming the floors, but my size 10 shoes soon put an end to that. I took the basic bargain basement room for 200Y per night but Nikki and Tony went one level up as my room only had standard single beds (no rooms had double beds) and was probably a bit cosy for two people. It was also a step up from the Dezhou hotel in that the toilet flushed properly (although they're a bit different to our hotels in that theres not a pool of water, rather the water comes through on flushing so you can use your imagination to think of the problems that may cause after certain things) and nikki and tonys room in particular was toasty warm (almost too much, but some is better than none I guess)
After dumping our gear in our rooms, killing a few cockroaches we decided to head out and see what was around the area, we knew that down the road was the Wanfujing night markets which I'd seen on getaway/the great outdoors where you can get so\uch "delicacies" as scorpion kebabs, silkworms, and as we discovered even starfish (oops sea stars) and sea horses... Aswe walked past this street the stalls were only being set up so we kept going to the main shopping area on Wanfujing Dajie. There were some kitschy souvenir stores, a beijing olympic store every 100m (By the way, if anyone would like any olympic stuff, please let me know and I will grab some, or can get sme prices for you too)
I also found a book shop with english novels which I will have to go to to top up my supply so that I have at least one book with me that I can swap at each hostel ( have already finished the three I bought along the way and have a few big train trips ahead of me...
We didn't really buy anything and were actually supposed to be looking for an agency so Nikki and Tony could try and buy their train tickets home as the one that our hotel used didn't have any tickets available. We ran into Mel along the way who told us wherethe train station was and so we decided to walk down that way and see if they could get tickets directly. We also planned to try and go to the Beijing duck restaurant that we'd selected from my books on the train. Mel had also picked one out of her lonely planet but it was shut down for renovations so we contacted the one we'd found and made a booking for tomorrow night.
On arrival at the train station it was bedlam. There were people everywhere trying to buy tickets to get home in the next five days or so (before the 6th) for spring festival. There were scalpers standing out the front holding tickets up that they must have been trying to sell. Of course everyone was saying something but its all gobbledy gook to me, although I do know sme key phrases now.
Tony would barely get out the question that he was looking for tickets to Dezhou when the chick/guy behind the counter (he tried a few counters) said meiyo - NO... and kind of looked at him like he was stupid - as if to say its spring festival you goose, you got buckleys...
So Nikki and Tony decided to sleep on it, ring around a bit more in the morning, trying bus stations and if necessary the airport but they were still confident they would be able to get home for spring festival. We then decided to try and head for Fish Nation the fish and chip place we had picked out for dinner.
And so begain our epic quest for fish and chips.
The guide book that I have been using the most for a map has two, one in the back cover which is an inset of the city center and has the position of our hotel and the front cover has a larger map going out to the rest of the city. This was the part of our (ok, my)underestimating problems.
We decided the best way to get there would be to catch a metro from near the train station(Sth of forbiddent city as a landmark) to north of the FC and then walk back south a little way to where the restaurant should be. What we didn't realised (OK, me again seeing as I was holding the map) was the scale and that the map we now were using was atcually half the scale as the one we had used for our hotel (what may have been a 5 minute walk on the back cover was a 10 on the front cover)
we also confused the issue a bit by deciding to get off a station early rather than switching lines to go to the next station. (we had discovered that to actually get to the train platform was a fairly hefty walk once you getinto the metro) After a 500m walk in the wrong direction we were finally headed the right way and seemed to continue this way for ever and ever. I think we left the train station a little before 6 and didn't actually get to the restaurant until about 7:30pm. Once we got home I measured with a pieve of paper and the scale I had now found that we had walked about 8km today... While I have been known to do this on the way home from the pub once in a while in Moranbah, it was something new for Nikki who was even thinking of choosing the section of Great Wall she wanted to visit by the cable car up and luge down. In the end though, it was well worth it and we probably walked off a good chunk of the calories we consumed with fried fish chips and calamari... There was also some prawns and bacon whcih were great apart from someones smart idea that while you should take the head off, there's no need to remove the rest of the skin so I had to unwrap the bacon, then peel the prawn and put them back together again... a bit too much effort in the long run.
So after that effort while I was still allowed to use my map we went back to using taxis and just dealing with the traffic...
After dinner we taxied home, had a quick walk along the night market but were too full to try any of the strange food on offer. On arriving back at the hotel we killed a few more cockys (nikki screeched, tony and I killed) and then took the weight off our poor feet...