China: Fabulous, Gigantic, Magical.

Its funny the things you remember. I think for me those memories tend to be of sensations and feelings. I will never forget my first time I tried pepper steak. I was maybe 8 or 9 years old in Marrakech where my aunt Khadeja and her husband the Governor of Marrakech were living at the time. They  took me up to the mountains to a restaurant. All I remember is the pepper steak. That first bite and I  can still feel the taste, the creamy peppercorn sauce and I was hooked for life.

Only time will tell what memories my brain will hold on my trip to China but I can’t imagine I will ever forget the luggage sales lady at the silk market  in Beijing who on seeing my interest in a  bag started literally smashing it on the floor jumping on it pouring water on it to demonstrate how great this piece was and calling me Belinda. It was surreal out of some comedy sketch know .

Its strange what you remember from any trip but I simply cannot imagine forgetting being on a bamboo raft gliding down the Li river in Yangshou with rose petals strewn on the table and chairs. I have already forgotten what we ate but I wont forget the stark lush beauty and the quiet stillness of the limestone mountains the vivid green of the banks where ox were lazily eating. I don’t know what we ate but the beauty of the sunset and that strange glowy light was  is memorable.

Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by China. My impressions were largely based on old Hollywood films and I was intrigued by the glamour of the long bygone ere of Emperors, Empresses , Palaces, Concubines and ceremonies.. My imagination was just wild as I envisaged intrigue everywhere with enigmatic people amplified even more by the political upheaval and isolation of China.

I don’t know what I was expecting. I knew it was big. I knew that the Chinese were the largest group of people, billions on earth  and that it was the world leader in mass production. Somewhere in my mind I associated that with synthetic cheap unrefined thing-in total contrast to the old Imperial China but in truth I was wrong about almost every poor conceived idea I had.  Nothing prepared me for the vastness and complexities of China or the havoc the humidity would play with my hair which became one large fuzzy mass of frizz.

China is beyond big. Its huge its giantenormous,

And its absolutely jaw dropping magnificent from the sheer largeness of Beijing with its 7 ring roads and the stunning tranquilly of Yangshou in Guilin. Its like a mass of contradictions with the massive markets in Beijing that just sell almost every conceivable thing you can think of. A lot of what I consider to be boring pedestrian stuff that is necessary to absolutely stunning pieces of exquisite Chinese design. fabrics The finest Mongolian shawls delicately beaded or intertwined with lace. I loved the very defined  and distinctive style of the young Chinese women. Their nail art is mind boggling with the best absolute absolute best technique of shellac removal anywhere in the world.

China is so rich in history  and so many cultures  that its hard to describe simply.

Each region has specific  cuisine habits, traditions its not one size fits all though obviously that is what communism tried to impose.  The shame is that much of the historical Imperial China palaces and buildings were torn down so there is very little to view in that sense.

Beijing was just to to much for me and I am glad we stayed in the tranquil Aman Summer Palace otherwise I think just the sheer volume of people and the distances would have overwhelmed me. Here in the Aman part of the old imperial Summer Palace everything was tranquil and of course we had the imperial gardens with a private right on the doorstep.

Our guide Franck was superb. There is not a chance in hell that we would have navigated our exit from the Bullet train without assistance from a guide who manoeuvred us out to meet the driver and Frank.

We did all the tourist things you should and must do. The Forbidden City is an absolute must as of course the Great China Wall.

Yes the Great China wall is packed with people but it is an amazing site. The drive from Beijing to the part we visited at Mutianyu  was very beautiful .We took the cable car up and I just lounged by the café at the wall while Richard trekked up. We of course bought touristy stuff like  buying table cloths  and parasols at the market below. After a leisurely lunch in one of the tourist restaurants we drove back to Beijing and took a peddle cab to Temple of Heaven and Hutong. This is an area which is all tiny streets and we stopped at a tiny house to view glass sculptures.

Despite the massive amount of crowds  everything is very well run. We of naturally went to  Tiananmen square but we didn’t enter the mausoleum for Mao Zedong  as the queues were just too long and it was too hot.

I  the Forbidden City which was incredible.  Franck, our guide had suggested we watch the Last Emperor  before we visited and I am  glad we did as it really gave us an insight of how life was in the Imperial Palaces.  Frank  really was a superb and knowledgeable guide and I stress its important to have one whatever your budget is.

We are regular travellers and I know my way around most things but there are countries like  China  where I think its best to have a professional.  On the few occasions we wandered off by ourselves we really found it hard  to make our way around as English is not really spoken. I am very experienced and we managed but I would not recommend it here. I don’t think we could have seen or understood as much if Frank was not with us. We got a real insight not just to the history but also to what it was like living in Beijing and the changes that are happening. In each place we went we hired a  private guide. In Xian we even had a an archaeologist to accompany us to the Terracotta Warriors.

Frank was great in taking me to the silk and pearl markets. I was also curious to go and see the wholesale markets  and because distances and traffic is so difficult and taxis don’t speak English its was great having Frank to navigate us around. In his car  He took us to his favourite restaurant for lunch. I have no idea to what I really ate just  lost of steamed dumplings but it was delicious and cheap.

I did have somethings made a  gorgeous velvet cape with pearls scattered and a lovely Chanel coat. Richard had several shirts made. I am not so sure that the prices were cheaper . I am rubbish bargainer but the experience was fun.

Before I travel I do lots of research  and tend to do everything myself but  it became apparent to me that for China it is important to have a tour company to arrange visits and pick up and internal flights and transportation  as while its easy to book online hotels and tours ,  I felt it best to go with an established company. And I am glad  I did as there were several instances were train timetables  and flights were changed and we would not have been aware till the last moment. China is a place were you need someone who knows how to do things is on hand.   I decide to go through Abercrombie and Kent. However, I chose exactly where we wanted to stay and what we wanted to do as in general my experience operators tend to guide you to what’s on their list.

Debbi our booking agent was hugely patient with me  and my endless requests particularly in the routing we wanted. All the internal flights , private guides and transportation was arranged by them and I think it was worth every single penny.

In conclusion the whole trip from the beauty of  Yangshuo in  Guilin to  Xian the site of the Terracotta Warriors , Chengdu for the Pandas was overall an eye opening experience. Nothing really was like I imagined or expected but in a good way.

I came away hugely impressed by China its beauty its diverse cuisines, the level of services and how everything worked.

Links

www.abercrombiekent.co.uk

aman.com

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