It was good for us to have a few hours on a train in daylight to watch the countryside pass by, although for long and frequent periods of time it was 'cityside' we were passing through, or miserable desolate industrial towns.
Large portions of villages and towns are being razed en masse to make way for multiple high rise apartment blocks replete with no external spaces (balconies).
We continue to be amazed at just how arid and harsh the countryside continues to be, particularly given the need to nourish such a vast population. Where there is no farming, the vegetation comprises stunted bushes and small conifers. This landscape hasn't changed since Beijing.
We're spoiling ourselves at a five star hotel in Datong. $50 a night for a swish twin room - with king singles - comfortably accommodating Helen, Shane and the kids, and Lee luxuriating (of course) in her own room.
We ventured down to the pool with the kids, only to be told that it was going to cost us $40, plus we needed $28 of swimming caps. Helen was indignant that all internet info described the pool as being inclusive. It took us around half an hour of animated discussion with three or four staff members/managers, but in the end the kids got their swim and we bought $14 of swimming caps for the pleasure.
The emotional investment of negotiating a positive outcome, added to the absolute joy from the kids getting their swim, meant that Shane and Helen chose to miss out on their planned visit to the famed Buddhist Caves. In the end, we were all more than happy to spend some chill time in the luxury of the hotel.
At the pool we noted that it is inappropriate for any of the following deviants to swim:
People with sexually transmitted diseases
People with cardiovascular disease
People with skin conditions
People with epilepsy and mental illness
Lee has been super excited to be travelling with us. Some of her pearls are:
"How could you not be excited by this budget travel!" (Said whilst sitting in a crowded train station with most of the crowd staring at us.)
"I thought I'd lost my lipstick. I'd rather have lost my passport!"
And been quite often saying something to the effect of:
"The last two days have just been fantastic!"
Shane, Helen, Rosie, Tom and Lee