Gardens and Temples

Since the weather today was much cooler (only 28°!) we set out to see Tokyo’s outdoor attractions. Since there’s still an Emperor, you’re only allowed look at his front garden – though it does boast a water garden with a great set of fountains, and loads of cypress trees that sort of look like giant bonsai trees if you know what I mean! We looked at a famous bridge – though we never found out what it’s famous for 🙂

Next was the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. This temple is approached via a 250m corridor of shops and stalls – not particularly spiritual, but then some of them have been there centuries, so maybe it’s just our western background that made them feel out of place. Mind you, it didn’t stop us buying a couple of souvenirs 🙂

The temple entrance gates hold huge lanterns taller than a man, that you walk beneath as you enter. People crowded around a large vessel filled with burning incense, drawing the smoke over their heads – presumably for luck. Inside the temple itself was a kind of altar, before which was a container where people threw coins and prayed. There were cabinets of small drawers with metal tumblers you shake till you get a rod to come out. The number on the rod corresponds to a drawer, each one containing a piece of paper. These end up folded and suspended like home-made christmas decorations on strings – perhaps they hold the supplicants’ requests and wishes. It was all quite different from the kind of thing we’re used to from home, and it was different from the temples we’d seen in China because these were busily being used.

We took a quick look at the Asakusajinja Shrine next to the temple before getting refreshments at the great western temple of McDonalds. The combination of air-con and coffee got us going again, and we decided to stroll back to Ueno at street level rather than use the Metro. This gave us a taste of a more normal Tokyo, a step away from the neon lights and Prada outlets. Before long we were back on the train heading back to Shinagawa.

The display on the train indicated that two lines had been closed or delayed due to earthquake! I thought I had been imagining things last night, but I distinctly felt three rocking movements as I lay in bed fitfully trying to get to sleep, and thought I heard three similar sounds like the curtains moving, or maybe the clothes in the wardrobe. It was nice to find out I haven’t completely lost my mind – yet!

Tomorrow we’re off to see Mt. Fuji, and the day will involve sky gondolas, pirate ships on a lake, and return by bullet train. It’s shaping up to be a great way to end our Far East tour. The only downside is we have to be up at 6:30 in order to get ready and have some breakfast before the coach picks us up, and just like Lost In Translation, it’s hard to get to sleep here 🙂

The Sunset Coast

We continued our stay in Perth by the beaches of the Sunset Coast. Adam and Cora played with the breakers on the steeply shelving beach at Scarborough. We caught some rays while the surfers caught the waves. We drove along the coast and watched the sun set as we returned to Perth, all of us feeling pretty chilled out.

Our last day in Perth was spent again with Owen, Orla, and their two boys. Lunch at the playground in King’s Park was followed later on with fish and chips on City Beach, watching the sun go down as the kids played in another of the ubiquitous playgrounds 🙂

It’s been great here, a different pace, and being able to hang out and chat with Owen & Orla has been great – they have been so welcoming. Next it’s a nine and a half hour overnight flight to our last destination – Tokyo.

The Red Centre

From Cairns we flew on Monday to the Ayers Rock Resort, which sits pretty much in the middle of Australia. Since the area is characterised by red sand and rocks, the region has been dubbed the Red Centre of Australia. Here’s where you find Ayers Rock itself, or Uluru as it’s now known – its original Aboriginal name.

The Ayers Rock Resort itself is some distance from Uluru, and is a complex of hotels, shops, and restaurants – but they’re all run by the same company, so there’s no competition, and consequently prices are somewhat inflated. Since we’re about 5 hours drive from Alice Springs, the nearest major town, it’s similar to when you’re skiing up the top of a mountain and the prices are much higher. It’s a real tourist trap, and there’s a palpable feeling that everyone here is just waiting to go on another tour, or to head on to another destination.

However, we had some idea of what we would be letting ourselves in for, and we checked out the various tours available. In the end we combined hiring a car with two organised tours – star gazing and a helicopter trip over Uluru.

Using the hire car we drove out to Uluru. The Cultural Centre gave us some idea of the local Aboriginal culture and customs, and the history of the Rock and the National Park around it and Kata Tjuta – similar rock formations 50km away.

The local Anungu people are quite secretive about Uluru and Kata Tjuta and the roles they play in their ceremonies. There are certain areas you are not supposed to enter or photograph, and they don’t like people climbing Uluru – though that doesn’t seem to stop many people making the ascent.

We drove around Uluru and stopped to take one of the shorter walks to a waterhole at its base. There were traditional painted images under some of the rock overhangs, and the features of Uluru around us, such as different coloured areas on the rock face, all had significance and stories associated with them. It certainly struck you as a special place, looming out of the desert sands, providing shelter, shade, and water.

We went on to the designated parking area to watch sunset on Uluru, where the colour changes as the sun goes down are supposed to be remarkable. We got there early, but we weren’t the first there by any means. The colours did change, from glowing orange through burnt ochre into dark violet as the last shadows rose surprisingly quickly up its face, and yet it might not have been as spectacular as I expected. Still well worth seeing though 🙂

The next morning we headed out to Kata Tjuta – similar to Uluru in its physical makeup, but made up of over 30 sheer-sided domes of rock. This area seems to be even more significant spiritually to the Anungu – certainly to their men. Again there are restricted areas and no climbing. We walked into a narrow gorge where there was water and rare vegitation, surrounded by the vertical sides of the rock domes.

The rock itself is an odd mixture of stones and boulders in seemingly solidified red mud – reminiscent of concrete. The surface weathers at different speeds, giving the rock a strange texture. Uluru and Kata Tjuta are impressive geological features, well worth seeing. I don’t feel that I really connected with the Anungu or got real information or insight into their people or culture – but maybe that’s the way they want it.

This afternoon we topped it off – literally! – with a helicopter ride around Uluru. We had our safety briefing, hopped in and donned our headsets. They were the best thing as far as Cora was concerned 🙂 She talked non-stop through the flight! That certainly didn’t spoil it, or the view, which was spectacular. The real size and bulk of Uluru was revealed, along with a view of its rippled top. Amazing!

Almost as good – as far as I was concerned anyway – was just the fact of being in a helicopter 🙂 I sat up front beside the pilot, and got a great view of all the controls and gauges. The flight was really smooth, and the noise from the rotors didn’t seem much different than the engine noise in the light aircraft I’ve done some lessons in.

Being up front in the helicopter meant I could see down through the window in the floor of the nose, and overall the visibility was excellent. You could see really far towards the horizon, and the ripples in the sand – which were low hills – were really clear. The aerial perspective really highlighted how much of an anomaly Uluru is in the local geography.

Anyway, I came off the flight with a big grin on my face. I’ve always wanted to fly a helicopter, and this is the closest I’ve come yet – and what a place to do it in!

Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef

Wednesday we were up early to head out to the Great Barrier Reef. We got a coach to Port Douglas and then boarded a high-speed catamaran that brought us to the outer reef. It was a bit too high-speed, and there were many passengers green around the gills – including poor Cora. Before long though we were at the pontoon on the reef and getting our snorkelling equipment.

The water was warm (24°) so we didn’t hold back and got right in. After getting used to breathing through the snorkel and convincing our reflexes that we could in fact keep breathing face-down in the water, the wonders beneath the waves were revealed. Even though the day was overcast the visibility was still excellent. There were loads of fish of all kinds and sizes, and many types of coral, including ones that look like large brains 🙂

Cora’s mask didn’t fit her that well, so she didn’t really get the chance to look under water, which is a real shame – she would have loved it. She still swam for a while in the sea, but before long she wanted to get out – plus she was starting to turn blue 🙂 Rachel and I took turns swimming with Adam for a bit longer, but then we got out to have some lunch.

After lunch we checked out the underwater viewing area which was great – it gave Cora the chance to see what we had seen, while giving us the chance to see more aquatic life. All too soon we were on our way back home – a nicer trip than the outward one. The snorkelling was just brilliant, we would have loved to spend more time in the water. Next time hopefully Cora’s equipment will fit better so she can enjoy it as much as we did.

Thursday we walked into Cairns along the seafront which was great – loads of amenities for the public – playgrounds, barbeque stations, exercise points, skateboarding park, etc., etc.! There were warning signs about crocodiles along the beach – which put paid to our ideas of swimming. Mind you it was more muddy mangrove than sandy beach, so swimming probably wasn’t on the agenda anyway 🙂 To compensate, there was loads of wildlife, including crabs, pelicans, and those wierd fish that can crawl out of the water using their fins!

Cairns centre was mostly just shops & restaurants, and we had lunch while being deafened by the parrots squawking in the palm trees overhead. We bought some souvenirs and topped them off with a few bags of groceries for good measure before grabbing a taxi back to the appartment. Unfortunately Cora left behind a pink cowgirl hat we just bought today – but she didn’t seem that bothered.

Tomorrow we’ve another early start as we head off on a guided tour up to the Daintree River and Cape Tribulation – so named by Captain Cook when his boat ran aground on the nearby reefs 🙂 Can’t wait!

Harbour cruise & creepy crawlies

We started the day with a harbour cruise. The weather was perfect for sitting on the deck in the sun taking in the sights. We got great views of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, and cruised around the many bays and coves surrounding Sydney.

Next we visited the Sydney Aquarium, and it was excellent. There were all kinds of sea creatures on view, but the high points for me were the two large pools which had underwater viewing tunnels where you could see the seals in one pool, and sharks, turtles, and rays in another. You could stay for hours just watching them swimming around.

After lunch by the harbour, we went to Sydney Wildlife World, and checked out the wierd creatures that inhabit the island. First up were the creepy crawlies, where I lingered while the others moved swiftly on 🙂 There were glow-in-the-dark scorpions, giant cockroaches, huge red ants, deadly spiders, stick insects, and more!

Next up were the reptiles, including the deadliest snake in the world, and Adam, Cora, and I got to stroke a baby python! The nocturnal section boasted strange large-eyed rodents of various shapes and sizes. Up on the roof there were koalas resting and eating eucalyptus, while further on there were several variants of kangaroo and walabee.

Our last stop was the tropical butterfly area, where the butterflies and people could mingle. My orange t-shirt proved irresistible to the butterflies, and a couple landed on me. A large blue-winged Ulysees butterfly stayed on my back for several minutes, and finally it had to be taken off by one of the staff. Cora got to hold it for ages before we left.

Rachel was meeting up with a Google colleague who had transferred to Sydney, so I brought Adam and Cora to see The Simpsons Movie. It was great, full of laughs, and “spider pig” had us chortling our way home 🙂

Sydney is lovely

After sleeping for so long yesterday we were all nicely refreshed and ready for some sightseeing in Sydney. Rachel’s suitcase had turned up at the airport but wouldn’t be at the hotel for a few hours, so while she went off to get a warmer jumper & shoes I brought the kids to the playground (again!). The Darling Harbour area is lovely, with lots of pedestrian areas linking the various waterside restaurants and shops. The pathways are interspersed with interesting water features, and you quickly forget the roadways overhead.

It’s wierd having a low, winter sun but temperatures in the high teens. The weather is really mild with clear blue skies, light breezes, and no humidity to speak of. It’s such a contrast with China, where the temperatures were in the low 30s with 100%+ humidity. It’s a relief not to start sweating as soon as you leave somewhere air-conditioned 🙂

Sydney also really highlights how crowded and full of noise China is. Looking back I realise that I was stressed out a little by the press of humanity in the Chinese cities, the sheer difference and alienness of the place, and the inability to understand the language. At the same time there were several aspects of China that were familiar, especially in Shanghai, and the whole place was fascinating.

Whatever the reasons, I am much more relaxed here in Sydney. It has a strong European feel, but with American overtones. It has a clean, compact city centre that feels safe and friendly. I really like it 🙂 We decided to hop on the Sydney Explorer city tour bus to find our feet and get our bearings. Before long we found ourselves approaching one of the most recognizable buildings in Sydney, if not the world – the Sydney Opera House.

The Opera House is built on a headland which gives great views of the harbour and the other famous Sydney landmark – the Harbour Bridge. While the Harbour Bridge is the largest single span metal bridge in the world, and is impressive enough, the Opera House is something else entirely. It took many more years to complete than originally expected, came in at more than 10 times over budget, the original Danish architect fell out with the Australian government and has never seen the building in person, but his vision of sails in the harbour that was so revolutionary in the 1950s is still breathtaking.

We went on a guided tour of the building, and the interior is a striking mixture of polished concrete and natural wood. There are a couple of smaller stages, and the two main halls – the Concert hall and the Opera hall. We saw the larger Concert hall which is approached round the sides via staircases that feel and look like a cathedral, and the lobby is at the back of the building, but with great views out over the harbour. The hall itself is magnificent, and we were allowed in to listen to a school choir doing some rehearsing. The acoustics are supposed to be excellent, and they sounded great to my untrained ear. I think it’s a wonderful building, a real modernist statement without being a stark concrete box, and it thoroughly deserves its place on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

We ate lunch at the waterside on Circular Quay with the winter sun glinting off the water, fending off the scavenging seagulls. We strolled on up to the Museum of Sydney and spent an hour or so wandering around the exhibits. Adam & Cora had fun with activities prompted by a leaflet they each received as we went in, and the exhibits were interesting enough, and well presented.

We hopped back on the bus and travelled around the city, including crossing the Harbour Bridge. We saw most of the city centre and its environs, though it was dusk at this stage so it was hard to see some of the buildings properly. It seems like a lovely city.

We ended up back at Darling Harbour, and after a quick stop back at the hotel where Rachel’s bag had turned up, we went to yhe IMAX cinema to see the latest Harry Potter movie. It was AU$66 for us all, which was a bit steep to be honest. The movie wasn’t much bigger than most screens back home, and the 3D section at the end didn’t add much to the whole experience. However the movie was fine, enjoyable enough, and we returned to the hotel where the kids were asleep before long. Tomorrow we’ll continue exploring this lovely city.


We had to get up early today to catch our flight to Shanghai, which only took about 2 hours. We said our goodbyes to Lucy at Xi’an airport, which reminded me of Stansted. In Shanghai airport there were few people around, especially at the baggage reclaim. We were all like “where is everybody?” – a first for our stay in China 🙂 We met our local guide “E” (I’m sure that’s not how it’s spelt!) who told us all about her city as we drove into it.

Shanghai feels much more cosmopolitan than Xi’an and Beijing. It has some western architecture from when the city was under the control of European countries after the Opium Wars, and this is mixed with soaring skyscrapers on the opposite side of the river and traditional Chinese architecture in the Yuyuan Garden area.

After checking in to the hotel we drove down the Bund area where the western buildings mostly are. They could have been transplanted directly from a London street. Across the river are the modern skyscrapers, which are great – all different designs trying to outdo each other, and lit up at night in a multicoloured light show. We took a boat trip along the river which gave us a closer look at them. It also showed us the working areas of the docks, which frankly we could have done without.

Next we visited the area around Yuyuan Garden, which uses traditional Chinese architecture with flying eaves on the sloping tiled rooves. Picture an oriental version of Temple Bar and you get some idea what it’s like. Yuyuan Garden itself is a traditional Chinese garden, full of rockeries, pools, trees and shrubs, and wooden halls and walkways. The garden has a convoluted layout designed to increase its perceived size. It’s full of little details, and it’s no wonder it took 28 years to complete!

At this stage we were all hungry, despite it being just after 5, so our guides recommended one of the restaurants in the area. The food was lovely, and we polished off the lot – though Cora didn’t eat much. I think she’ll eat for a week when we get to Sydney! After eating we grabbed a couple of coffees from Starbucks and wandered around the streets. We were impressed by warnings we seemed to receive from people to watch our bags, until we realized they were asking us if we wanted to buy watches or bags 🙂 We politely declined. We’ve bought enough already to last the whole trip!

We finally headed back along the Bund as dusk fell, and watched as the skyscrapers began their light show. This was complemented by a natural lightshow as a thunderstorm got going. Back at the hotel we chilled out, playing cards and watching “The Incredibles” on Cora’s PSP, with the sparkling lights from the TV tower glinting through our window. Tomorrow we’ll be going up there to get panoramic views of the city. It’s a remarkable building that looks like some kind of alien space rocket ready to take off! I can’t wait 🙂

Xi’an in the rain

We awoke fairly early on the train, ensuring we had enough time to get ourselves sorted before arriving at Xi’an. I found the bed a bit hard, and didn’t get a good night’s sleep, but the overnight train was overall a fun experience.

The area outside Xi’an train station was packed with people waiting to meet the arriving passengers, but we found our local guide “Lucy”, who led us through the throng to our minibus. Our driver had parked outside a hotel, and one of the attendants prevented us leaving without paying for parking, despite the driver trying to persuade him with 5 yuan. After returning from paying the fee, the driver said something to the attendant as we drove past, and the row took off again. It could have dragged on if it weren’t for the fact that we were blocking the exit so someone else came over to move us on. It was refreshing to see some dissent for once!

We arrived at our new hotel without further incident, and had breakfast while Terry checked us in to our rooms. After eating we headed up to our rooms for some rest and much-needed showers 🙂 We met up at noon and went to a local restaurant which specializes in noodles and dumplings. The food was really tasty, and Rachel and I tucked into the delicious noodles, dumplings, and other tasty dishes, while Adam and Cora made short work of the rice and sliced meats.

After the meal there was a demonstration of how to make dumplings, and everyone had a go. We saw how to make standard dumplings as well as the special ones used for new year’s eve that are shaped according to the filling. Adam and Cora chose one each to take with them – though they didn’t last too long before becoming shapeless blobs!

After stuffing our faces we visited the old city walls. They are still standing because after one of the Emperors moved the capital from Xi’an to Beijing no-one attacked the city walls any more. We climbed up the Southern Gate and had good views of the old city – only 3km by 4km. No tall buildings are allowed within the city walls, and new ones must conform to traditional designs. In contrast the buildings on the other side of the wall are tall modern skyscrapers, especially to the south. The wall is a great place to see the contrast.

The day was much cooler than those previous in Beijing due to the threat of rain. Sure enough the showers began just as we were about to hire bikes to cycle along the top of the wall. A combination of the weather and lack of bikes suitable to accommodate Adam and Cora meant we took an electric car along the wall instead. It felt a bit like cheating really!

Finally we visited the Muslim area of the city. Xi’an used to be the end of the Silk Road, so many middle-eastern traders remained, bringing their customs with them. We walked through a busy alleyway full of stalls that led to the mosque. While the mosque itself was closed to visitors, the courtyards and gateways leading up to it were open, and they were really calm and peaceful – a real island of tranquility among the surrounding commercial hubbub.

We were all tired from the early start and the train journey, so we returned to the hotel to take it easy before heading out to dinner.

Emperors, Kites, and Kung Fu

Today we began with Tianemen Square, big enough to hold 1 million people – and it sure felt like it! Bloody massive is the term that comes to mind 🙂 It’s surrounded by various buildings including the one where the government sits (which also hosts concerts!), the Southern Gate, and Tianemen Gate. The square itself is mostly open space apart from an obelisk and Chairman Mao’s tomb – which was undergoing renovations in anticipation of the Olympic Games next year. The mausoleum itself was just a square grey building, but apparently the queues can go twice around the square when it’s open!

Mao rears his head once more as you pass through Tianemen gate, and there are several more gates before reaching the entrance to the Forbidden City. All the gates (which can be up to 30m high) along this north-south axis have several entrances, and the Emperor was the only one allowed through the central one. The lower your rank the further away from the centre was your entrance – if you were allowed in at all!

The Forbidden City is ostentatious in its use of space as much as in its decorations and buildings. We only saw a small section of it, but you could easily imagine the Emperor living there separated from his people and living in luxury. It was a shame that several of the buildings were under renovation, as it spoiled the effect somewhat. However it was still impressive. We exited through the Northern gate in the 10m-high wall, crossing the 35m-wide moat, all powerful symbols to the surrounding population and any visitors.

I think perhaps the Chinese people’s apparent acceptance of their collaborative social order is due in part to hundreds of years of Imperial rule. Or perhaps it’s an inbuilt trait which allowed strong leaders to take and keep power for so long, holding together so many people with diverse ethnic backgrounds, dialects, and customs. Even since the end of the Empire the country seems to have stuck with autocratic leadership.

In any case, we took a welcome break from the heat and humidity with lunch in a local noodle restaurant. We were greeted at the door, and once Terry indicated how many of us there were the waiter called out the number, which was greeted with cries from all the other waiters followed by a beckoning call from the particular waiter who had a table of the right size available.

The atmosphere was great, full of life and the buzz of conversation – though we could understand none of it of course! We ordered some noodle dishes and fried rice – Adam’s favorite dish now 🙂 The noodles arrived along with different sauces to mix into them. The taste was reminiscent of teriyaki, and quite tasty. As with most of our meals it was very cheap – less than €20 for us all!

We continued our tour with a visit to the Temple of Heaven – another old Chinese building 🙂 By this stage we were flagging, so we headed into the surrounding park where Terry provided a kite each for Adam and Cora. We found a shaded area to put them together, and used a quiet pathway in our attempts to get them airborne. Unfortunately only occasional brief gusts of wind arrived, and the still, humid air couldn’t lift the kites – it just raised a sweat as we ran like fools trying to get our eagles soaring, just to see them twist and tumble to the ground 🙂

At this stage we needed to get out of the heat, so we headed back to the minibus and its glorious air conditioning! Terry took us to one of his local restaurants, pointing out his home on the way. We had Chinese barbeque food – chicken wings, chicken skewers, fried rice (for Adam, naturally!), roast potatoes that were more like crisps coated in chilli flakes, and strange ear-shaped mushrooms you dip in a wasabi sauce – with extra chillis if that’s not hot enough 🙂 We declined the “Devil’s Tears” chicken wings (eat ten and your meal is free!), but Adam and Cora really took to the regular ones, even though they left your mouth “tingly”, as Cora put it 🙂 They are both taking pretty well to the local food, dispelling our fears that we wouldn’t find anything they would eat. Rice seems to be the best bet, and Adam is getting more adventurous each day.

We returned to the hotel and freshened up before heading out once more to see a local show. It told the story of Chung Yi, and how he became a monk as a young boy, learning Kung Fu and seeking enlightenment. It was full of noise, movement, and spectacle, with just enough “plot” to string together the various martial displays. Some of these were impressive, others less so 🙂 It struck me as a kind of oriental Riverdance.

One particular performer – the hero of the tale – displayed how his skin had become “like iron” by leaning on a pair of spears, bending their shafts, being suspended on three spear points, having wooden staves broken over various bits of his body, breaking three metal bars simultaneously with his head, and finally lying on three swords with a concrete block studded with nails resting on his torso supporting another “monk”, who in turn had a concrete block on his chest, which was smashed by a sledge hammer! Thus he proved he had found enlightenment, and following a big battle with the other monks, the abbot realised his work was done, passed his mantle on to his student, and went and lit his funeral pyre, his work in this life complete!

During the whole performance Cora kept up a stream of questions, such as “where has the little boy gone?”, and “will he see his mother again?”, and so on! No attempts at hushing her or encouraging her to whisper worked. In contrast, Adam slept through most of the performance! I’m not sure how he did since the noise was really loud at times, but the heat and the walking had taken their toll 🙂 In fairness we were all tired, and myself and Adam were asleep by 10:30, though apparently Cora struggled on till 11:00 before finally getting to sleep. It was a full day with lots of walking and lots to see – tomorrow will probably be more of the same!

Day 2

Things improved somewhat yesterday evening when we came down at 6 p.m. after a much needed rest. We were met by “Terry” (Chen Tsiaochen) our guide, and it looks like we’re the only ones on the tour. He’s very friendly with good English, unlike the hotel staff. That said, the rooms are clean and comfortable, with good air conditioning, and breakfast this morning was fine, with a wide selection of food on offer.

We set off around 8.45 to see the Great Wall, which lies to the north of Beijing. The section of the 6,700km long wall we were brought to runs along the top of a series of hills. We took the easy way up via cable-car and ascended into the misty hilltops.

It was remarkable there. You see images of the Wall on TV and in books and magazines, but the reality of this solid stone structure stretching away as far as you can see cannot be truly captured that way. We walked about two thirds of the section that’s open to the public, both Adam and Cora doing really well with the often uneven and steep steps and walkways. We descended by foot through pine trees and a stone garden full of strangely shaped rocks. My legs were getting shaky by the end – not enough exercise no doubt to blame 🙂

We continued on to have lunch at a Friendship store, a state-run souvenir shop, though emporium might better describe it 🙂 We had a fixed menu lunch which had more than enough “normal” Chinese food dishes to fill us up. We then wandered among the silks, paintings, jade carvings, and other assorted wares, though we left empty-handed.

Our next stop was the Ming Tomb area, where 13 emperors of the Ming dynasty built their tombs. It’s a huge area, but there’s only one tomb that has been excavated and is open to the public – the Ding Ling tomb. There are three surrounding courtyards planted with pines and cypresses leading up to the Soul Tower and the tomb itself – a palace buried beneath the hill. The exact entrance wasn’t discovered until the 1950’s, when a stone tablet was found that gave the exact direction and distance to the entrance. Archaeologists excavated according to these directions, and found a thick wall, behind which was the underground palace with several chambers. These held the coffins and thrones of the Emperor and his two Empresses, as well as precious artefacts.

On our trip back to the hotel we had a brief stop at a jade factory, where we discovered how to differentiate between jade, glass, and marble. After wandering around another large shop full of jade items, where we again bought nothing, we headed back to the hotel.

Despite the 32 degree heat and high humidity we had a great day. We were pretty tired, so we just chilled out before heading down for dinner in the hotel restaurant, which was fine. A brief trip out to find a working ATM was followed by a relaxing drink in the front courtyard of the hotel, while Adam & Cora played with the sprinklers 🙂 Tomorrow, Tianemen Square and the Forbidden City!