Smashed Marble columns, glass and pottery. Exploring the ruins of Xanadu

Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan the legendary warlord who subjugated China from his Mongolian stronghold, built the Xanadu palace complex as a summer retreat from the heat of the Forbidden city in Beijing. The palace is arranged in a pattern of three concentric walled circles. Standing on the outer crumbling wall little remains of the buildings that once stood inside, only the odd column base, and linear foundations are visible amongst the plains of grass. When the Khan lived here many of the buildings were temporary, large tents were erected on arrival and taken down on departure.

Stuffed Squirrels and wandering Sheep: Inside Xanadu

Waiting for Mr Wong I looked through the Jinlianchuan hotel gift shop. It had the a delightful array of essential products seen to be required by tourists. No toothpaste or mineral water, but huge quantities of local brands of alcohol, sharing shelf space with stuffed squirrels in tasteful poses.

In the middle of the Gobi Desert, by Mistake.

The benefits of traveling in an emergency vehicle were becoming quickly apparent. Apart from the comfy leather seats and air conditioning, having sirens and flashing lights gave us the the ability to evade the many tolls on the road heading north. The method Mr Wong used was to slow down as he approached the toll booths, and then turn on the sirens and flashing lights as he sped up past the astonished booth employee. Every time he did this the grin on his face got larger and larger, he was enjoying this even more than us!

One of our emergency vehicles is missing. The road to Xanadu

The hotel travel desk was not being particularly helpful. Run by the ubiquitous government agency CITS (China Tourist Bureau), when I explained I wanted to go to Xanadu I was met with big smiles and an enthusiastic "Yes". I got quite excited. Unfortunately they thought I wanted a car and driver to take me to the Great Wall, a common request from most tourists staying there.

RIP Nelson Mandela. The day I made Nelson Mandela laugh

It's not every day you bump into Nelson Mandela. I had arrived from London via Athens and Nairobi on an epic Olympic Airways flight. I was exhausted, hungover and wondering how to safely get to my hotel in Hillbrow. All of a sudden there was a commotion and a group of six men with AK47 guns surrounding a small figure were moving swiftly out of the airport. It was the recently released Nelson Mandela, who was returning from his first overseas trip to Windhoek in Namibia. Everyone else in the airport seemed to be ignoring them, and there was no rush of journalists or photographers ready to greet them.

Getting to Xanadu, Via a Peking Duck restaurant. Beijing, China


"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
a stately pleasure dome decree,
where alph, the sacred river, ran