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Beginning the day with a little positivity.

Source: 9gag.com via Simone on Pinterest

 

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Krakow – Now I Believe in Magic

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Poland was quite honestly never a country I had thought about visiting…at least any time soon. It was a place I associated only with its terrible history and as much as I enjoy reading and watching documentaries about the war, I didn’t want to put myself into direct contact with the remnants of it. Thankfully my parents had been once before and loved it so much that they invited me to join them for a second visit. They didn’t need to ask me twice!

We arrived in Krakow thirty minutes ahead of schedule after a cosy two-hour trip crammed between two strangers; one of whom was almost falling asleep on my shoulder and the other who spent the entire flight playing Sudoku and what I decided was ‘political Hangman’ on his iPad. Each to their own I guess! Once out of the airport we had already arranged a taxi pick up to take us to the apartment we had rented. It would have been simple enough to take the train but we decided to opt for convenience (laziness) on this occasion.

Our apartment could not have been located in a better place! Well, not unless you plonked it in the middle of the Market Square. It was just a 5 minute walk into the city centre so nothing was far away. The apartment itself was beautiful and truly a home away from home and I’d recommend it over staying in a hotel to anyone.

Information about the apartment can be found here.

Krakow is a beautiful city rich in character and magic. There’s a certain buzz that you get from walking around that I haven’t quite felt anywhere else; it’s kind of hard to describe but I guess it’s a feeling of belonging. The atmosphere gently lures you in with welcoming arms and Pierogi at the ready. Be ready to fall for its charm!

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Fooling around!

 

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China – Part VII

A brief exploration

20.10.11

Today we had the opportunity to do a little site seeing around the main attractions in Beijing.

We went to see the Temple of Heaven which is a beautiful and enormous complex of religious buildings which are definitely worth going to see. There is so much going on such as large groups ballroom dancing; people playing some form of badminton where they kick a colourful feathery shuttlecock to each other; Tai Chi, groups of locals playing cards and dominoes as well as other games I didn’t recognise.

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A visit to Beijing wouldn’t be complete without visiting Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (possibly my favourite area). Tiananmen Square was immense and crowded and not without its quirks; one of which was a Chinese mother holding her child over a bin to do her business (better than the floor though right?). My expression when I turned around to see that was probably priceless and no, on this occasion I did not take a picture.

I wish I would have had a few days to go exploring alone to see the ‘real’ China too though, rather than being in the shadow of thousands of tourists. We did however have the opportunity to visit the Silk Market alone. Flagging down our own taxi was quite interesting! The traffic as you can probably imagine is absolutely manic here and you could easily get run down without anybody  noticing it happened. It was such a buzz though.

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Our next challenge was navigating the enormous train station to take a sleeper train to Xi’an. The station was crowded with thousands upon thousands of passengers making their way to various destinations. A lot of people were dragging big bags of heavy crops. As we walked briskly to our carriage I looked up to the sky and noticed how heavily polluted this city was. The sky was pink and smoggy, I can understand why people cover their noses and mouths.

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Snug as a bug!

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Trying to fit in.

The cabin rooms were extremely snug and consisted of two bunk beds on either side plus a small table by the window. I think I only stayed awake for a few hours in total as I wasn’t feeling too well – the whole journey was about twelve hours long (8pm-8am) so having the opportunity to stretch out and have a nap was very welcome. I remember waking up in the middle of the night desperately needing the loo but because the train had stopped for a break I couldn’t go. The toilets don’t operate whilst the train is not in motion so that was a long hour to wait! It was interesting to see the habits of the Chinese – such as spitting on the ground (yes even on the carpets of the train, lovely). You just have to accept it or you’re really not going to enjoy the trip.

First impressions of Xi’an? Loved it! All the buildings had arched roof edges and the city had a nice feeling about it. After breakfast in a posh hotel, we went to see the Terracotta Army. It was unbelievable! I’ve seen them on TV but nothing prepares you for the scale of the area in real life. In the first pit there were approximately 6000-8000 warriors as well as horses which were rebuilt. There were still a lot of terracotta bodies which were broken and could still be seen lying around half unearthed in the pit. It’s just incredible to imagine how long it took to make each statue all with unique faces.

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After having some lunch we went to visit a mosque and a traditional market place. It was brilliant! I could have spent hours going around every market stall each selling their own original goods and interesting foods.

On our final leg of the journey we had the chance to go to Chengdu and visit the Panda breeding Centre. I even had my picture taken with a baby! This was the first time I had ever seen a Panda and I was amazed by how much smaller they were in real life! They’re really amazing to watch and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to see them. I really hope that they plan to eventually find a way to release these amazing creatures back into the wild where they belong.

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Homeward bound…

I definitely plan to cross paths with China again in the future. It was an incredible journey that I will remember for the rest of my life with some of the greatest people I have ever met and I recommend anyone planning a trek to book with CharityChallenge as they were brilliant!

If you have any questions that I haven’t answered in my blog, drop me a message and I will fill you in on the details.

Visit China!

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China – Part VI

Day 5 – Mutianyu

 19.10.11

So Wednesday was the last day of our trekking. We had an early wake up at 6:30am to reach the last part of the wall. It took us about 50 minutes to reach the wall and when we arrived it was still relatively quiet and uncrowded. To reach the wall itself we first had to walk up a hill which was lined with market sellers. We then had to walk up 700 steps to reach the start of our walk. My energy had returned and I was so ready to go! The walk was about 10km in total and our final destination was the Stairway to Heaven which was another 700 steep stairs to the top. Walking up was tough but I had the determination to finish.

Some of the 700 steps to the actual starting point of our trek!

Some of the 700 steps to the actual starting point of our trek!

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Everyone in good spirits!

Everyone was  in good spirits!


That's where we're headed...

That’s where we’re headed…

Yep, it was pretty steep!

Yep, it was pretty steep!

The beautiful autumn colours <3

The beautiful autumn colours <3

The last 10-15 steps were the most difficult and the steepest. Hearing the other six who had reached the top chanting my name and clapping just brought so much happiness. I can’t really describe the sense of achievement that I felt to complete the trek – no shortcuts. I was and am honestly so proud of myself. Two years ago, if I had told anyone that I was going to trek the Great Wall they would probably have laughed at me. Now I’ve done something to also make my family proud of me (If you’re reading this, I know you will say you already were :p).

We did it!

We did it!

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Once everyone had reached the top it was time to go back down again. There was the choice to use the cable car or walk back down. At first I was thinking I would just take the cable car because it would be a different experience, but after speaking to Kim I was convinced into walking back down. I don’t think that I would have felt quite the same about finishing if it wasn’t for her. It was Kim, Mandy, Richard and I who walked basically together for the rest of the way. When we reached the bottom Kim gave me a big hug and that’s when I knew that I had really completed the journey.
For lunch we had Subway! I was happy for the change from having Chinese every day. Afterwards we were taken to a Jade Factory to part ways with our money. I can’t remember much of the information that was given except that we were told that 80% of jade comes from China, which I had no idea about. The statues and ornaments were beautiful and ornate.
In the evening we were driven to our next hotel which was The Holiday Inn Express in the city of Beijing. I can’t express how nice it was to have a proper shower with power! Not to mention the lovely comfy bed.

This was the end of an unforgettable trek, but not the end of the trip!