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Posts Tagged ‘Emily Hill

Emily and Adrian’s Day at the Beach

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Going to the beach is no big deal, right? Wrong! Dear blog readers, in 7 years of holidays with Adrian, I have until now failed to get him anywhere near sand. He has always refused to spend holiday time undertaking such an “unproductive and futile” endeavour. However, I managed to persuade him that it would be a cultural offence to visit the Australian East Coast without going to the beach at least once and arriving in beach paradise Noosa gave us the perfect opportunity to experiment with sand-based enjoyment. This is the result …

Hey, sand is fun!

Hey, sand is fun!

Nap time

Nap time

Paddling is nice ...

Paddling is nice ...

... but watch out for jellyfish!

... but watch out for jellyfish!

Shadowy figures

Shadowy figures

Scary face in the sky

Scary face in the sky

Written by Emily

December 5, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Great Wall, Poor Tour

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It’s unforgivable to visit China and not check out the Great Wall. Despite its singular title, the Great Wall is in fact a series of walls, built between the 5th Century BC and the 16th Century, to guard against potential threats from nomadic tribes in Mongolia. Archaeologists estimate that, in total, the walls were over 5,500 miles long.

Most of the wall sections that still exist today were built during the Ming Dynasty, i.e. from the mid-14th Century onwards. The current condition of the wall varies from completely destroyed, through to well preserved/ restored.

Three sections of the wall are accessible on day tours from Beijing, which was our first stop from London: Badaling, a restored section with a reputation for being overcrowded; Mutianyu, another restored section a little further away and less busy; and Jinshanling, an original part of the wall even further away. Usually, there is a 10km hike that can be undertaken from Jinshanling to Simatai, concluding with a cool zip wire ride, but at time of writing Simatai is closed for restoration, so if you start walking along the wall from Jinshanling, you have to turn back and retrace your steps to reach your starting point – a detail that would become quite important for my (Emily’s) experience of the Great Wall.

On our Great Wall day, Adrian and I ended up taking different tours: Adrian to on a ‘guided tour’ to Mutianyu, and Emily on a ‘hike’ to Jinshanling. Adrian was still recovering from a sprained ankle and he wasn’t sure a tour with the word ‘hike’ in the title would be the best idea. Neither experience was quite what we were expecting, however:

Great Wall at Jinshanling, by Emily

Before I start complaining about the crapness of my tour I would like to make the point that a day spent at the Great Wall of China is a day you will never forget, or regret. It’s absolutely incredible, and worth just about any amount of grief to get there. However, whinging about tourist rip-offs is always fun, so here goes:

Essentially, the tour description and itinerary bore no resemblance to the actual experience. I paid £30 for a ‘Great Wall hike from Jinshanling’ to include entry fee, lunch and private bus. The allotted time was 6.30am (ouch!) to 6.30pm, with 6 hours’ travel time built in – so I figured we’d start the hike at 9.30am, stop for lunch on the way, and be picked up by the bus around 3.30pm. I wish. In fact, the round trip was closer to 8 hours, with plenty of faff on both sides. We had less than two hours on the wall, which in no way represents a hike as you simply potter along one stretch of it, then turn round and go back – and you’ve got to allow well over an hour to get the cable car up and down the mountain, due to the enormous queues. “Lunch” was in a canteen next to the car park, and consisted of some cold noodles and egg. The guide simply pointed the way to the cable car (the £5 cost of which was not included in the “tour”) and advised us not to get lost because “foreigner’s face all look same to Chinese”. The private bus, which was the main part of the fee, was so overcrowded they had to pull out special mini seats that clogged up the aisle. We got back to Beijing at nearly 9pm, where the bus stopped outside a random subway station and the guide advised us to get off because it would take a further 1.5 hours to drop everyone off at their hotels due to the traffic.

Summary: If you want to see the wall at Jinshanling (and I recommend that you do), take a public bus for less than £1, stay overnight in a hostel, and take your time hiking along this magnificent stretch of the Great Wall.

Great Wall at Mutianyu, by Adrian

My tour was thankfully a little more successful, primarily as it actually was a tour, with a guide with a suitably fake western name, Harry (Potter’s brother, apparently). The day started with a rather rushed visit to the Ming Tomb which is an underground emperor’s tomb, seeming largely to consist of red boxes containing the emperor and his concubines’ remains. His favourites concubines (from a total of 3000) had the great privilege of being buried alive alongside him upon his death. Nice.

The reason for the rushed tour became apparent as we approached the jade factory. A tour by another fake western-named guide showing the construction of various useless ornamental jade objects, following by a painfully long browsing opportunity. To my dismay, the more moronic looking members of our group actually bought some of the overpriced crap, thus condemning future tour groups to this same depressing ritual.

Next was lunch, rather surprisingly inside the jade factory’s very own massive restaurant. A rather pleasant meal, aside from the omnipresent messages regarding jade’s great beauty and investment potential.

Following lunch, we finally made our way to the Great Wall itself, seemingly alongside the rest of Beijing – despite being the apparently less popular section, the roads approaching Mutianyu were so clogged with traffic that we abandoned the bus and took an impromptu hike to the cable car. Here were were greeted with Tour Pleasant Surprise #2 – the unexpected extra costs. Despite claiming to include admission, our tour cost didn’t include the cable car cost, a rather steep £8.

The wall itself was pretty amazing, though. Three of us were determined to make it to the top of the restored section within the allocated 1.5 hour window, which turned out to be rather ambitious due to the brutally endless steps to climb. We made it, then rapidly turned back again and, after facing a lengthy cable car return queue, arrived back about 30 mins late. The Japanese kid, who’d spent most of the journey looking at his watch, wasn’t happy, whilst myself and the Spaniard considered this a moral victory following the jade gift shop experience.

Brutal traffic marked our return journey, but we were happy to be approaching Beijing city centre again by 7:15 (our planned return was 6pm)… but Harry (the non-magic one) informed us that a second shopping trip was required, and seeing as the silk factory was now closed we would be visiting the pearl factory. As the last group of the day, a rushed demo of pearl harvesting was conducted, before some aggressive sales pitch action, which thankfully even the morons didn’t fall for this time, and we headed off home.

Fairly standard tour action then: a 13 hour day with only 1.5 hours at the key attraction, a 33% unexpected extra cost, and me developing an even greater contempt for fat tourists with baseball caps who buy crap.

Written by Emily

October 9, 2011 at 8:28 am

Distracted from trip planning – but for a good reason

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Since our last update, the ‘2 months to go’ until we set off on our trip has shrunk to just 10 days. I’d like to say we’ve done lots of planning and preparation since then, but something else rather important has cropped up …

On 3rd August, on a beautiful summer’s evening, Adrian took me for a walk next to the Thames. As the sun was setting over the river, he led me into a garden area, got down on one knee, pulled a gorgeous diamond ring out of his pocket, and asked me to be his missus. Well, how could I refuse?

My beautiful engagement ring

We watched the rest of the sunset on a terrace, drinking champagne – well, prosecco – and comparing whether Adrian was more nervous about asking me or about the phone call he’d made to my Dad a few weeks prior to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. [On balance, Adrian felt that asking my Dad was probably more nerve wracking. After all, this is a man who had already forbidden me to marry Prince William. You’re welcome, Kate.]

All in all the trip planning has taken something of a backseat: we have booked the flights plus our first few night’s accommodation in Beijing and will be organising the rest as we go. I actually like travelling this way, as it gives us a certain amount of flexibility.

Time to get some sleep – I need to be up early tomorrow to stand in line at the Chinese embassy in the hope that they grant us some visas. Fingers crossed!

Written by Emily

September 19, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Hello world!

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OK, so as most of you will know, ‘Hello world!’ is the default temporary title given to the first post of every new WordPress blog – but in our case it’s actually kind of appropriate so I’m going to ignore the suggestion of the powers-that-be at WordPress and leave it intact.

The reason it’s appropriate is because this blog is about exploring the world – or, at least, exploring tiny pieces of it. I’m shortly to embark on a round-the-world trip with my boyfriend: the ‘What’s it all about?’ page has a few more details about this.

Recent trip to Paris ... avec two friends and one random! (I'm on the left)

I’ve actually been lucky enough to have been on a round-the-world trip before. I graduated from university in 2003 without a clear idea of what I wanted to do career-wise so I decided to take a gap year and travel. I wandered into STA travel and requested a round-the-world ticket, and was rather flummoxed when they said I would need to tell them which countries and cities I wanted to include in the ticket. [Lesson One: a ’round-the-world’ ticket does not mean a ticket that takes you anywhere in the world].

In the two hours that followed I poured over maps, pestered every travel agent who was unlucky enough to be working that day for advice about where to go, and walked out with a ticket that would take me to India, Nepal, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the US. I travelled alone, met some incredible people (some of whom I’m still in touch with today) and turned up in London 8 months later with no money and no regrets.

8 years on, I’m reflecting on how much has changed. I’m travelling with my partner which I’m looking forward to because there are inevitable moments of loneliness when you travel by yourself. Fortunately Adrian and I have pretty similar travelling ‘styles’, albeit he’s a more diligent planner than I am (see previous paragraph), and we’ve taken many enjoyable trips together in the last 6 years. The biggest change I’m anticipating is technological:

  • My old camera, with its rolls of extra film and ever-growing collection of prints will be replaced by a digital camera with a decent memory card. 
  • I will no longer need a separate holdall to lug around a huge collection of books: they’re all going onto the Kindle.
  • An iPod will replace my discman CD and case of CDs.
  • The days of trudging around strange cities looking for internet cafes are mostly over: I’m buying a netbook.

Now, you may be thinking: “Wow, what a lot of extra space she’s going to have in her backpack”. But you’d be wrong. The space that used to be occupied by books and CDs is likely to be occupied instead by all the additional skin care and beauty products that we ladies tend to accrue in our late 20s. As a fresh-faced 21-year-old I could get away with brushing my hair and putting on a bit of mascara. These days I’ve got a whole array of skin creams (different ones for day and night, of course), hair serums, body scrubs, make up, cleansers – and the list goes on. Now where did I stash that enormous backpack? …


Written by Emily

June 13, 2011 at 5:52 pm

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