Guanghzou. One of the largest cities not just in China, but in the entire world. Immediately after we get off the bus we are joined by a group of women trying to offer us accommodation. At the hotel reception they are able to negotiate a 50% discount for us – and even this guarantees them a substantial provision. In the morning we run to the railway station to buy tickets to Shanghai. This means standing in an infinitely long queue. Fortunately we are lucky and get a ticket for the next evening. After that we go to have some proper meal. Again we are lucky and get a relatively edible food.

In a hostel in Shanghai we see another of the Chinese phenomena – very little emphasis on privacy of an individual. Glass door to the toilet covering less than half of the door frame are more like a design thing. The highlight of all this is the fact that the actual toilet can easily be seen from almost everywhere in the room. To make things just slightly better we put a blanket over the door top. It is here in Shanghai that we finally realize that the heavy smog is not a problem of just one city, but a problem of the entire China. Around this time Ales is probably starting to fully concentrate on writing his diploma thesis because he spends most of his time in the room in front of his laptop. Me and Alin discover the surroundings. Alin goes by a train to Su-chou – a well known historical center of one of the oldest towns near the Jang-c’-tiang river basin. I decide to rather go for a walk around the historical center of Shanghai and then spend the afternoon resting in the famous riverbank of the Huangpu river called Bund. Later I go to the top of Shanghai World Financial Center, world’s third highest building. However the view from the hundredth floor would definitely be much better without the heavy smog, which only allows me to see as far as the sidewalk at the base of the building.

We try to get hold of tickets to Beijing, but this time we are not successful. Trains are absolutely full and only Alin gets a ticket to the sleeper. Me and Ales buy tickets for a sleeper bus, surprisingly these are quite easy to obtain. Next day we say bye to Alin and get on the bus. At the station I quickly visit Chinese public toilets. Businessmen sitting in suits on the toilet with iPhones in their hands behind the glass door have my respect. The night journey could be characterized by the Chinese smoking on the toilet, passing trucks using the emergency lane and smog, which was so heavy that the driver sometimes had to slow down to approximately 30 km/h. In the morning we meet Alin in the booked guesthouse in Beijing.

Apart from a few administration things (getting Vietnamese visa), Beijing for us is mostly about historical sights. First we visit the Temple of the sky. In its gardens we do what most Chinese do – play cards. Most of the other foreigners and even the locals find it interesting. Of course we cannot forget to visit the Forbidden town, which however is extremely crowded and because of the smog it is hard to see from one building to the next (definitely a letdown). And of course the Great Chinese wall. We decide to visit the Mutlanyu section, which is further away from the city compared to the most visited Badaling. We get there by a public transport and are pleasantly surprised by the relatively small number of tourists. After approximately 10 minutes of climbing a steep hill we get to the Chinese most famous historical sight. We can see quite well the wall continuing up and down on the other nearby hills. The journey from one tower to the next is relatively exhausting.

This was basically all we wanted to see in Beijing and our next stop is Dengfeng, a city near the Shaolin monastery. The dinner we get in the local pub is really a disaster. We order food based on the pictures in the menu, but the reality is nowhere near what we expect. Just in order not to insult the staff I eat approximately half of my portion. We then order some beer and play cards. Because we stay in a public sauna, me and Alin take the opportunity and have a sauna before going to bed.

Next morning we take the bus which takes us to the legendary Chinese Shaolin monastery. One could expect it to be an ethereal place full of meditating monks…. the reality however is quite far from this. After paying expensive ticket we follow the crowds of infinite number of tourists going through the front gate and the monks comprise just a very small minority. Our impressions from the city are quite variable. Alin is quite excited, but I would probably be totally desperate if at least I didn’t get a discount using Ales’ ISIC card. In the afternoon we drive to the nearby Luoyang by a private car. Upon getting there the driver tries to make us pay more than what we have agreed on, but we insist on the original price and go to spend a night in a hotel close to the railway station. Late in the night, when the queues finally get shorter, we buy a ticket to the Huashan mountain for the next day.

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