Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Adieu Beijing

Well - two and a bit days is definitely not enough to see much of Beijing. Still, we crammed quite a lot into our short time. Some of the things that really hit home include:
- Pollution – from our 16th floor room at the Novotel Peace, the view clearly showed the pollution – or so we thought. At times we could not see more than 6 blocks. However, when we were leaving, we were horrified that we could not see one airport terminal from the next! When we asked both the guides both proudly commented that the air quality was pretty good and that the government was doing much to improve it!
- Taxi drivers in Beijing would feel very much at home in Sydney or Melbourne – although I fear that their Australian counterparts would not cope in Beijing where the horn rules and it is readily accepted that vehicles drive at distances of as little as a cm apart and that it is normal that pedestrians and bicycles share the road with little hazard.
- That despite all the hype of Beijing and the modern neon night settings, you do not have to go far to see the poverty of the agricultural sector and wonder at how they survive in ramshackle homes when they cannot farm in the harshness of the winter.
- The history available to be seen is so hard for us to comprehend coming from a country where our built history is so short. Much of what we saw dated to before the western exploration and settlement of Australia!
- The vast and desolate area that is covered by the Great Wall(s) of China and how harsh the climate is. One wonders why they ever needed to be constructed as a defence! Gosh – even at the start of winter it was bitterly cold and windy!
- People, people, people everywhere – but we kind of expected that one.

So, off we head to London via Vienna.
We are collected from the hotel by a non-English speaking driver who speeds through the city, struggling with first gear in a saloon car that is obviously in need of some TLC. He insists on parking in the parking station at the Airport and carting our luggage to the departure check in (would have been easier for all concerned if he had pulled up to the departure doors and let us take it from there – but obviously he had his orders!)
Beijing International Airport is cavernous. The pollution permeates into the building even here.
Check in is uneventful and we are eventually on our Austrian Air plane winging westward. Fed and watered, they close the plane down, raise the temperature and true to form, most people start to snooze. But it is only later afternoon!!! As the journey progresses, we open the shade from time to time to glimpse down on large desert areas, mountains and into the night, on the far off lights of cities big and small. The flight lasts just over 10 hours and flies over Central Asia, most of Russia, over the Urals and then southwest into Vienna. By now, we are carting two backpacks, the laptop, the camera, a full Tim Tam bag, a Duty free bag and our coats so we are thankful that our arrival and departure gates are side by side in Vienna.

We are weary and growing sick of cramped airplanes. Michael has even questioned whether it is worth going business class (OMG). The flight into Heathrow is only 2.5 hours but still we sleep most of the way. We leave Vienna a little late due to closing weather conditions in London and once over London, we are put into a holding pattern for 15 mins. We arrive at an obscure gate right around the back somewhere that smells musty and dank. Twists and turns eventually find us in the arrivals hall.

Tired and laden as we are, we opt to take a cab into Earls Court and our accommodation. In a traditional London Cab with a typical Pommie driver full of jokes about all things Australian, we arrive £50 ($AUD 110) lighter just before 10:45 pm. Our room is inversely proportional to that in Beijing. Where it was spacious, we squeeze into 2.5 m x 4.5 m plus an ensuite bathroom measuring 1.5 m x 2.5 m. Still, we are very close to the centre of London at £55 ($AUD120) per night.

We hit the pc with a vengeance today looking for a car. Finally find one that we want to have a look at on eBay (whoo-hoo). We phone the sellers who are at work and have to leave a message, so we also send an email.
Michael ventures out and brings back kebabs and Starbucks Coffee for lunch.

Ah, Earle’s Court Road, it is exactly how one would envisage it? Crammed with pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and eatery’s (offering a variety of fare), from pubs to restaurants a-plenty.

Finally manage to contact my brother Michael now in New York and Anna, my cousin here in London.

Michael is feeling cooped up and takes a stroll down to the British Museum of Natural History, about 30 minutes walk away, and whets his appetite for when we do some sightseeing once we finalise sorting the car out.

Egads - it is 4:30 pm and DARK! Tonight promises to be cold - 1 degree but with the promise of cloud cover and a warmer tomorrow - maybe as high as 11 degrees. See you all soon back here in cyberspace.

No comments: