Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Days 171 to 178: The Temple Of Heaven and The Summer Palace (and Pilkington)

Due to Burness's illness and current period of convalescence, we are bound to Beijing for the foreseeable future while he receives treatment and returns to the happy fellow we all know and love. In travels with deadlines, such as these, delays can be costly, but fortunately China is the one place that there was always a bit of slack and time to play with. And fortunately, there are many worse places to be trapped than Beijing.

Beijing has a wealth of history and attractions. As well as two of my Wonders, - the Forbidden City and many famous sections of the Great Wall (within an hour or two from Beijing) - it has lots of what might be termed "Unofficial Wonders". This is the name I give to the notable landmarks I visit along the way, that aren't part of my Wonder list, but nonetheless impress either with their sheer presence, or simply their iconic status within the city or nation. Some were considered for my list but didn't make it, and some I'd not even heard of before visiting, but they all stand out from the common construction in some way.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Days 164 to 170: The Good And Bad Of North Korea

It is cold in North Korea. Or at least is was from the 14th to the 20th of February, when I paid a short visit to the Land of the Kims. As many of you will know, in the mid-2000s I spent a couple of years living in South Korea, and ever since then I'd harboured a desire to visit the northern half of the peninsula. However, North Korea is not exactly known for its warm embrace of the outside world, and does not admit the casual tourist. Unless I wanted to get involved in politics or business, the only way for someone like me to visit was by tour group. Hence why before setting off on the Asian leg of these travels back in September, I bit the not-inexpensive bullet and signed up for one. It happened to be for the recently-deceased Kim Jong-Il's 70th birthday...

The tour agency I signed up with were Koryo Group, not the only agency that offer North Korea tours, but by far the most acknowledged, having been in operation for two decades and having pioneered travel there. From start to finish, Koryo were nothing short of excellent, combining the perfect marriage of friendliness and professionalism that every business in every field should strive towards. In a military autocracy such as North Korea, there is every reason to feel a little uptight, but Hannah and Nick were hilariously irreverent and honest about what was really going on, although never at all disrespectful to the nation. Our visit to North Korea was very tightly controlled - Koryo made it seem less claustrophobic.

Days 162 and 171: Some Walls - Badaling and Tiger Mountain

The Great Wall of China, as many before me have observed, is somewhat long. It is regarded as the world's largest man-made structure - if you could call it a single structure. A figure of 6000 miles is often bandied around, but that's not the result of a scientific survey with a trundle wheel, it's an estimate based on historical records and looking at maps. That's because the Great Wall of China is not one single long wall from the sea in the east to the desert in the west, it's a fractured mass of walls spanning that distance, as though a cartographer had tried to draw a straight line but was seized with a mad sneezing fit. The significant stuff is all found in the north of China, where it was once required to fend off the advances of the ghastly barbarians, but it's a confusing mess of branch-offs, dead-ends, ruined sections and reconstructed sections that nobody can easily define. What is the Great Wall? Even UNESCO aren't sure - when they put it on the Heritage List in 1987 they couldn't reach a definitive scientific conclusion to the overall length or ages of the various walls that seem to make it up. As little as three years ago, government studies revealed an extra five hundred miles previously not counted. Five hundred miles is almost twice the length of mainland Scotland, or almost seven Hadrian's Walls - just overlooked!

Day 172: Burness Scares Children

At just after 8am today, Burness and I arrived back from a week in North Korea.

Taken from one perspective, it was a very interesting and enjoyable trip.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Days 160 to 163: Arrival Into Beijing

And so, enter China.

China to North Korea

I arrived in China a few days ago, and have visited two more Wonders - the Forbidden City and a part of the Great Wall (many to follow) - and a write-up on these days and Wonders is pending. However, it will have to wait a week. Tomorrow I'm going to North Korea for a week and will be almost entirely out of contact. I say almost - the hotel, surprisingly, has BBC World, so if you urgently need to get a message to me, do it by means of major news story. See you in a week (probably).

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Days 157 to 159: Sigiriya and Three Days In Sri Lanka

A few months back, Burness and I were planning the best route from southern India to Beijing. The land between India and China border is closed, and any land border in the vicinity (Pakistan or Nepal) worked out as more trouble than it was worth. By air, therefore, was the obvious solution. I spent many hours poring over flight website favourites and and came up with a surprising, but very pleasing answer. For a little over £200, we could go from Mumbai to Beijing, with a stopover in Sri Lanka. We opted for a couple of days there. All of a sudden, we'd gained ourselves some bonus time in Sri Lanka at no extra cost.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Days 136 to 152: Goa and Kerala

Goa and Kerala. To do the seventeen days there any amount of justice would need many more words than I can manage now; I was barely on the computer during my time there, and together with four different Wonders to write-up, have found myself with somewhat of a backlog. Instead, I will summarise these couple of weeks as best possible.