Day trip to the Laburnum Arch 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

I received a frantic sounding message from a friend wanting to visit the National Trust Bodnant Garden, but we had to go within the upcoming 3 weeks! Luckily we both had the same Sunday free, so two weeks later, with packed lunch and a brolly just in case, we set off through the Mersey Tunnel, to the Welsh county of Conwy.

Pretty much a 90 minute drive from Liverpool on an early Sunday morning, we arrived at our pre-booked time of 09.30. Although you don’t need to pre-book an entry time, the Laburnum Arch is a huge attraction, we saw coach loads of people arriving with impressive looking cameras, so booking is highly recommended, although I expect at other times of the year, you could just turn up.

Once we arrived it was a little overwhelming as the place is just so big, armed with a map, we couldn’t quite decide on which way to explore, but then noticing the streams of other people coming in, including a coach full of American tourists, we decided to head straight for the famed Laburnum Arch before it got too busy.

Started 140 years ago, this 55 metre long walkway, was in full bloom when we arrived, said to be possibly the longest and oldest of it’s kind Britain, roughly 50,000 people visit during the short window each year, to experience the walk way beneath the yellow flowers.

We took our time, took loads of photos, got our noses right up into the flowers to really get the full experience and then walked back round to get another go. Second time around, we had time to marvel at the ingenuity of the way the trees were planted and grown over the delicate scaffolding to create this incredible natural pergola, it really was a wonderful immersive experience.

With the weather looking a little overcast we decided to stick to the gardens closest to the coffee shop by the adjacent garden centre, which were to open at 10.30, so we could shelter and get caffeinated if we needed too. The other coffee shop in the heart of the gardens opened at 11.30 and although there is a coffee shop by the main carpark that was already open, that involved exiting and entering again, and was far too complicated to undertake on what was still early on a Sunday morning.

I hadn’t really done any research on the rest of the gardens, but it’s a National Trust garden, so of course there is so much to see other than the Laburnum Arch with its short yearly life span. It’s a huge place, with so many gardens, lakes, bridges, waterfalls, not to mention a gigantic collection of trees, plants and flowers of every size and colour from all over the world.

We made our way over to the Pin Mill, originally it was a lodge house, before becoming a pin factory and then a tannery. With lily pads floating on the water and the scent of roses coming from the nearby rose garden it made for a beautiful wander, along with incredible views of the Welsh hills from nearby Snowdonia in the distance.

Everywhere you turned you were faced with every colour and shape of flower I had ever seen, I really don’t think I have taken that many photographs in one day trip before. I rarely knew what I was looking at, I couldn’t tell you the difference between an oak tree and a yew tree for example, but you don’t need to be an expert to appreciate the sheer beauty of the place.

We returned towards the entrance to make a stop in the coffee shop by the garden centre, whilst we let the dark clouds overhead pass us by. There are also some plug sockets available should you need to recharge your phone after taking too many photos (which we both needed to do!), and toilets are found at the back of the garden centre too. They had diary free milk options, but no diary free cakes, but luckily for me I was prepared with snacks, which I sneakily ate alongside my latte.

We then decided to follow the pathway through the old park, up to the dell, and along the stream, eventually taking the path over to a beautiful building set into a rock, called The Poem. The Poem is actually a mausoleum, but we only figured that out once I zoomed in on my camera through the lattice framework on the door and saw the plaques inside.

Close to The Poem is the gorgeous waterfall bridge, which is exactly as it is described, it’s an incredibly scenic photography spot, with a babbling brook, surrounded by pink, red and green trees, chirping birds and the relaxing sound of the waterfall, so peaceful!

Finding a nice bench with a great view wasn’t hard to find, so we had our packed lunch a top one of the higher footpaths, looking back down onto the river. Sheltered from the elements from one of the huge old trees above us, it was one of the best picnic spots we had found in a long time.

Revitalised with food, we continued walking along one of the many foot paths, over little bridges, streams, a small pond with jumping fish and found the site of a large old fallen tree, a victim of the vicious Storm Arwen from late 2021.

Although starting to feel tired from all that fresh air and the early start, we still had a few footpaths left to explore. So we meandered along, trying to make sure we left no part of the gardens unexplored, around every corner was a new beautiful flower, tree or plant to discover.

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away, conscious that I had another 90 minute drive to Liverpool to drop my friend off and then another 30 mins after that to get myself home. So after picking up some rather delicious Welsh green tea with coconut from the gift shop, we headed back to the carpark, with people still eagerly arriving in their droves for the mid afternoon slot.

Since the trip I have had so many comments from friends and colleagues asking me where I had been and how could they get there, it seems at least in my circle of friends, Bodnant Garden is a bit of an unknown. None of us had heard of it before , but I would recommend it to anyone looking for a peaceful, green, Sunday walk with the most stunning gardens, even a reluctant nature lover would be hard pressed not to enjoy it.

Pastries & Mermaids in Copenhagen 🇩🇰

Returning to Copenhagen on the train from our trip across the Øresund, we dropped our bags off at the Cabinn City Hotel and eagerly headed out to explore this historic capital city.

Only staying for a couple of nights, it would just be enough time to get a taster of the place, so we had to prioritise what we wanted to see and eat and with city map in hand, we set off.

To get our bearings, we made our way to the City Hall Square or Rådhuspladsen a huge public square that was full of people making the most of the sunny weather, little craft stalls and food huts created a welcoming atmosphere. We did a quick loop of the square, passing the city hall building, the dragon fountain, and the Hans Christian Andersen statue, planning (but failing) to return later that weekend.

High on my list of things to see was the Little Mermaid statue at Langelinie Pier. Erected in 1913 the statue commemorates the fact that the Hans Christian Andersen story was not only written but also published here in Copenhagen in 1837 and is now a top tourist attraction. Made even more special for me as I reading it and more of Andersens fairy tales during my stay, as I often like to read a famous book or two from places I am travelling in.

Disclaimer – I look back now and realise just how much we missed on our whistle stop tour, but it was more about 2 friends reconnecting and having a quick city break, than a full on sightseeing weekend, but reviewing the photos 5 years later, I know I need to return to see more.

At the time, I had a colleague who had family living in Copenhagen, so before the trip she had given me a list of places to eat and drink, so in need of a good pastry, we made our way to one of the branches of The Coffee Collective.

A danish pastry and cup of mocha, Copenhagen, Denmark
Mocha and a Danish, Coffee Collective, Copenhagen

With a chain of shops all over Copenhagen, including one housed in an old telephone booth, the collective have won numerous awards including gold in the world barista championships and with the coffee freshly roasted on site, you would expect it to deliver, and it did. If I had brought a bigger travel bag, I would have been tempted to taken a jar back home, but instead we ordered our pastries and sat back to soak up the culture.

It was only a short walk from the coffee shop to Assistens Cemetery but probably not far enough to burn off the pastries unfortunately. So we explored the tree lined paths across the park, making time to pet any local dog I could find, before locating the graveyard. Famous for being the final resting place of many notable Danes, including Hans Christian Andersen, disappointingly though his grave had been defaced with graffiti.

There are three rectangular lakes in the city, so with the sun still shining and our feet holding up, we followed the locals and went for a afternoon stroll around the waters edge, crossing bridges, admiring the incredible buildings along the shoreline and dodging cyclists of which there were plenty.

That evening we lost ourselves in the magical wonder of one of the most visited amusement parks in the world, Tivoli Gardens. Built in the 1800’s parts of the park, (deceptively right in the heart of the city centre), have a vintage feel, the fountains, the flowers, the food stalls, the gardens. But don’t be fooled, there are some serious rides here too, like the Demon and the Golden Tower that shoots you 63 meters high up into the sky, before dropping you back down again.

Visiting at night time, we got to experience the more sedate parts of the park, especially with the gardens all light up, it was serene and quiet, until the loud roar of a rollercoaster nearby rudely brought you back to reality. We then spent far too much time deciding which stall to eat dinner and which stall to eat dessert, it was a tough job but we finally went for the family run Vaffelbageriet for a late night treat of sugary pastries and hot chocolate. Then to work off the sugar high, we explored the shopping area, from the Lego store, to the souvenir shops and trying not to fall in love with absolutely everything on display in the Danish lifestyle stores, I absolutely love all things Scandi when it comes to homewares and design and it felt like we were at ground zero. I made a mental note to increase the shopping budget for my return trip.

We started our 2nd morning as we meant to go on with more pastries, how could we not, being in the land of the multilayered, sweet breads known at least to outsiders as ‘the Danish’. We headed to another recommended bakery for our breakfast, the delicious and organic Emmerys.

We then spent an hour indulging our Nordic Noir obsession at the time, by visiting some of the sites featured in both The Killing and The Bridge, including the Police Headquarters only a short walk from our hotel. Many tour guides now offer bespoke Nordic Noir walking tours if you really want to get deep into the genre, but again we were short on time and our budget was tight. We had achieved our goal of travelling across ‘the bridge’, so a few photos of recognisable buildings and streets would have to do for this trip.

One place I did want to make time for was the unique, alternative community known as Freetown Christiania. Originally a former military barracks, when they moved out in 1971 local homeless moved into the vacant buildings and the families from the nearby neighbourhood transformed some of the land into a children’s play area. Within a few weeks, the entire space had been proclaimed a free town, appealing to people across many communities, including ‘hippies’, anarchists, artists and all people looking for a more communal and collective way of living.

50 years on, this place has now become one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city. You can take guided tours, or a take a self guided walk, as we did, exploring the amazing and colourful self built dwellings, workspaces, craft shops, art galleries, concert halls, nightclubs and cafes. We cautiously walked along Pusher Street, the notorious area where cannabis is bought and sold, obeying the rules to not photograph a single thing, took a lovely sunlit nature walk around the lake, admired local art on display pretty much everywhere and finished up with lunch in a cafe.

It was late afternoon by the time we were leaving, passing by the spiral topped Church of Our Saviour, adding yet another thing I need to visit when I can make a return trip.

With a few gifts left to buy, we explored the fascinating and colourful area of Nørrebro which had piqued our interest the previous day when we visited the cemetery. As well as little independent stores and vintage shops, coffee houses and restaurants, there was some incredible street art too, there was a real vibrant feel to the place, too much to explore in the short time we had.

Our final stop had to be the world famous flagship Lego Store, not to buy anything particularly, but to marvel at the largest toy company in the world. Inside as well as boxes and boxes of every kind of lego block you could image, there were large scale replicas of pirates and cycling Danes, as well as reconstructions of local landmarks of the city all built from those little plastic infamous blocks, it felt like the perfect place to finish our sightseeing for the weekend.

Settling down for our final meal and a local beer, I tried to take in all that we had squeezed into our long weekend, covering two different cities, across two different countries. Short and sweet, increasing my fascination and appreciation for all things Scandi, while quietly hoping I would be lucky enough to return someday to explore some more.

COFFEE AND CAKE – the Coffee Collective we visited was the one on Jægersborggade, only a short walk from Assistens Cemetery. We loved Emmerys too, with a number of locations both in Copenhagen and Århus, they serve both breakfast and lunch, with an amazing selection of cakes and pastries.

EATS – If you are visiting Christiania, definitely plan to stay for lunch, there were some quirky indie places to eat and drink, we ate our lunch outside at Grønsagen and had their buffet lunch. We also combined our trip to Tivoli with our evening meal to save time, the Tivoli Food Hall is slightly separate to the actual gardens, so you can enter here for free to eat and drink, paying an entrance fee only if you then want to venture into the amusement park itself. Next time though I am saving up to try and get a spot at the world famous Noma.

TOP TIP – Plan for at least 3 nights, which we didn’t, ha! Writing up my travel journals on this blog is just a personal place for me to reflect on all my journeys to date, but this particular post has made me realise there was so much more I have to see, so hopefully there will be a Copenhagen part 2. Copenhagen is an expensive city though and although there are lots of cheap flight options, accommodation prices are often anything but. If you go when the weather is likely to be warm, there are loads of free things to do outside, all the parks, lakes, markets and if you are staying for a few days, and want to cram a lot in, its probably best to invest in a Copenhagen Card.

ALWAYS BE POLITE – Tak – ‘Thank you’, Hej – ‘Hello’, you can also use Hej Hej for ‘Goodbye’

Crossing The Bridge to Malmö 🇸🇪

It wasn’t my first trip to Sweden, I had actually been a couple of times previously, out in the countryside, close to the Norwegian border, when my parents used to visit a couple of times a year to hike and canoe. I was never as into outdoor pursuits as they were though, and I remember one cabin we stayed in, it was a 30 minute drive to the nearest town, my parents loved it, but for me it was too remote.

So I had always fancied returning and to somewhere a bit more lively and after a friend and I became obsessed with the Scandi-Noir TV show The Bridge, we booked a two centre long weekend, to visit Copenhagen and then travelling across ‘The Bridge’ to visit Malmö.

Although Malmö does have an airport, there are no flights from the UK, but luckily for us, there are many cheap flights from its neighbour over the water in Copenhagen. Once you land, you can catch the train from Terminal 3, and in 24 minutes costing only £11 you can arrive in Sweden’s 3rd largest city.

Of course there is the small matter of Øresund, the 73 mile body of water acting as the border between the two countries, but that’s no bother for the train, as it travels across on the the Øresund Bridge. As seen on the TV show and what prompted my interest in visiting this region, the bridge allows both car and train travel across the 7.5 miles from Copenhagen Airport to Malmö. But what I really loved and was excited about was that for the first 2.5 miles after leaving Copenhagen Airport, you travel underground through a tunnel. Once you pop up and into the daylight, you are on the manmade island of Lernacken in Sweden in the middle of the strait, with the final 5 miles spent travelling high up on the bridge itself, before returning to dry land in Malmö.

By the the time we arrived it was mid afternoon so we dropped our bags off at the hotel, and as it was warm and sunny we grabbed a local beer, people watched and took in our surroundings, happy to be back in Scandinavia.

We didn’t really have an agenda for our trip, if I had been travelling solo or with mum, we would have had a long list of everything we fancied seeing, all the local historic sites, traditional restaurants etc. But this was a semi-relaxing city break, with my friend who was coming out the other side from a painful divorce, having to renew her passport just to come along. So our plan was to chill, soak up the local culture, geek out on Scandi-Noir television and catch a few historic sights along the way.

We spent the remainder of our afternoon exploring Gamla Staden the ‘old town’ and wandering though the 3 main squares and along the canal. It was June, the weather was beautiful and everybody seemed keen to enjoy the outdoors and the warm temperature.

Along our travels we passed a proud statue of famed Swedish business man and founder of Malmö, Frans Suell. We spotted the The Knotted Gun a poignant non-violence statue which was erected after the murder of John Lennon and intrigued by the twisted skyscraper dominating the skyline, found ourselves curiously wandering around the base of the Turning Torso. All the while exploring local market stalls, gift shops and stopping for the obligatory coffee and cake along the way.

That evening, we found a lovely local restaurant with stodgy food and decent beer and got stuck in, finishing the night off with a walk through Lilla Torg, the historic small square for a nightcap.

The next day we started slowly by going for a swim and then sauna, although the home of sauna is of course its neighbour Finland, Sweden does still have a real appreciation for the practice. I had many happy memories of my previous trips to Sweden when we stayed in log cabins complete with saunas, it became a daily ritual, one that I still miss to this day.

Once cooled off and fully clothed again, we headed out and ended up window shopping in a large mall, the food court was pretty impressive and so we stopped for coffee and pastries, as hunger started to hit after our earlier swim.

By early afternoon the sun was out and it was glorious, we were to leave later that day, but still had time to take a walk along the waterfront and through some of the parks, including the Kungsparken and Slottstradgarden. All around the area was full of dog walkers, cyclists, families picnicking and children running around, it had a real friendly, welcoming feel. We passed beautiful fountains, a windmill, and saw Malmö Castle, which we didn’t have time to explore, but I know Sweden is a place I have to see more of, so I made a mental note to return in the future.

Taking one last look across the Strait, the Øresund Bridge glistening in the sunshine, I could see the cars and the train making their journeys between the two countries, that I had seen so many times on TV. Then it was our turn, we took a quick detour to collect our bags, then returned to Malmö Station ourselves, to board the train and cross the bridge back over to Denmark.

TOP TIP – If I’d had a bit more time I definitely would had visited Malmö Castle which is now a cultural heritage museum. I also would have popped into Absmaland for some sustainable home furnishings (I will have to bring a bigger bag next time) finishing off with a vegan lunch in the cafe.

EATS – We ate at Bullen which had a great specials board, including meatballs with lingonberries and an impressive beer list. Next time though, I’m heading to The Veganbar for a burger!

COFFEE AND CAKE – We enjoyed coffee and cake in the food hall at Triangeln shopping mall, although Café Holmgången is on my list if I return, its vegan and dog friendly, always a double win in my book.

ALWAYS BE POLITE – ‘Tack’- Thank You, Hallå – Hello.

Final Stop – Beijing 🇨🇳

After successfully meeting back up with my friend at the Dragon King Hostel we wasted no time in heading off to explore Beijing, we had a lot to cram into our final 3 days of the trip.

It was a short walk to the underground, where we took line 1 to get off at Tian’anmenxi Station.  It was almost New Year and the cold wind was brutal so it was a brisk walk to our destination – Tian’anmen Square. This giant square, one of the largest in the world, was built in the 1600’s and has considerably grown over the years. Chairman Mao designed plans for the square to be extended to fit 500,000 people, which expanded yet again after his death to hold 600,000. Of course outside of China its most famous for the 1989 protests and massacre, but of course you can’t mention that whilst you are there, and the security cameras mounted on posts all around you, remind you of that fact constantly.

We found the Meridian Gate which lead to the main entrance of the Forbidden City, but as we were in the middle of a public holiday, the crowds, security and winter cold proved too much, and we decided to return later. We also had planned to visit Chairman Mao’s mausoleum but it was closed due to being a Public Holiday, so after doing a full lap of the square, we admitted defeat and decided to get some food.

Our first meal in Beijing had to be the famous local dish, now known all over the world as Peking Duck. This roasted bird, with a sweet bean sauce, steamed pancakes and thinly sliced vegetables has been around in some form since the 1300’s, and like anywhere with a national dish on offer, we were spoilt for choice on places where we could sample it. We were cold and hungry so we entered a place just a short walk from Tian’anmen Sq, up N.Dongdan Street, a wide, busy street, full of designer shops and modern shopping malls. We found a place that was open and suited our budget and placed our order. Back then I was still eating a little meat on holiday (if it was a traditional dish) nowadays though, I’d have given it a miss. But even back then I preferred the sauce and pancakes over the duck, washing it down with copious amounts of green tea that accompanied it.

We spent the rest of the evening exploring the streets, cafes and just trying to take in and absorb the crazy, chaotic city that is Beijing. We window shopped in the designer stores, perused the local markets, sipped more delicious salty cheese tea and then found ourselves in the now defunct Donghuamen Night Market. Not for the faint hearted, this market was famous for selling silk worms, scorpions, star fish, crickets and a whole array of what you could call ‘interesting’ delicacies to eat. My friend was ready and willing to sample some of the treats on offer, so I somewhat reluctantly joined in, buying a couple of deep fried scorpions on a stick, to the amusement of a local family who seemed less keen to try them than we did.  I can’t say it was tasty, but it was definitely crunchy, and an experience I wasn’t going to repeat.

Feeling a little queasy we managed to locate our hostel in the dark and collapsed on our beds for some rest, the next day was Chinese New Years Eve and we had an early morning pick up, to visit probably the most famous site in the whole of China.

Booked via our hostel, we had a 40+ mile journey to see one of the best preserved portions of the Great Wall, Mutianyu. Arriving mid morning, we almost had the place to ourselves, as it was New Years Eve and most local were probably preparing for the evening celebrations. Having seen lots of photos of the Wall rammed jammed with tourists, we were incredibly lucky that it was just us and a couple of other tour groups.

There are 2 options to get up and down, climb the steps or ride up in a gondola and a 3rd option to descend back down, via a wheeled toboggan. Having walked a fair bit across Beijing the previous day, we decided to head up via gondola, having second thoughts as we started the ascent, it was a quite old and creaky, but it was too late to change our minds, and despite the odd noise and rattle, we made it up to the wall in one piece.

Once on the wall we had about an hour to wander, take multiple photos, drink in the amazing scenery and woodland that surrounded us, never mind the immense history this manmade wonder represents. The fact that we had portions of the wall to ourselves was mind-blowing, we were so incredibly lucky, what a way to spend New Years Eve.

The Mutianyu section of the wall is said to be the best preserved of all the sections you can visit, as well as being one of the oldest parts, as the building started in the mid 6th century, becoming the northern barrier to protect the capital from invasion. As we had about an hour, we walked one way for almost 30 minutes and then retraced our steps for the other 30. As I glanced across the countryside, from high up in one of the watchtowers, I couldn’t help but wonder just what these walls have seen over the years. It really was a pinch yourself moment that I was actually there and I wanted to remember every second.

Of course what goes up, must come down, and although the hundreds of steps back down seemed inviting, we opted for the wheeled toboggan with a gentle push from the most smiley man who’s sole job was to push people back down the hill & he gladly too photos of us too.

Once back on the street below, we had time to shop for souvenirs, all things Great Wall related of course and then it was time for a late lunch at Mr Yang’s, before boarding the bus back into Beijing and to get ready for the evenings celebrations.

That evening at the hostel we had a dumpling party, were we all got to make our own dumplings from scratch and then steam them for our last dinner of the year.

Once suitably stuffed, a bunch of us from the hostel jumped back on the metro and headed to a very cold and unfortunately deserted Tian’anmen Square. Turns out, all outdoor parties and firework displays were cancelled due to already disastrous  of pollution, all we encountered were police advising us to leave the area. We wandered in the cold for a while, eventually getting separated and I found myself in a McDonalds as the clock stroke midnight with 2 strangers from the hostel, eating french fries and dancing in the mass of red paper let off from the many firecrackers being exploded (quite possibly illegally) outside. We all eventually found our way back to the hostel and continued the celebrations there, not exactly how I had imagined celebrating Chinese New Year in Beijing, but it was definitely one I won’t forget.

After a lie in, we decided to start New Years Day over at the Summer Palace, despite it being in the heart of Winter. We took the metro and then entered via the path up Longevity Hill, where we were met with spectacular views of palaces, gardens, temples and a frozen lake full of children enjoying the holidays tobogganing.

Trying to stick to a budget, we decided to follow the locals and eat what they were having, which involved buying a cup of noodles on sale in the palace grounds, then adding boiling water from an urn, then slurping our way though our tasty lunch. Absolutely delicious and costing about 50 pence.

The grounds were vast and once we had warmed up from our lunch, we explored more gardens, temples and marvelled at the frozen lakes glistening in the new years sunshine.

It was coming close to the end of our trip, so we headed to the old part of Beijing, exploring the ancient hutongs or alleyways, buying a few souvenirs along Nanluoguxiang Alley including a little red book.

There were some cheap delicious places to eat and drink in the hutongs, so after a rest back in our hostel, we returned once it had gone dark for a few beers and some great live music at 69 Cafe. It was such a friendly little dive bar, with young local musicians, cheap beer and excellent live music, we stayed till closing time

Our last full day together, before I returned to the UK and my friend returned to Wuhan, we aimed straight for the entrance of the Forbidden City, but it was overwhelmingly busy as everyone and their uncle was out on the public holiday, so we reluctantly turned around, putting it back on hold, for maybe China trip No 2 in the future.

So we decided on a chill out day instead, and went and got cupped. Although its origins don’t necessarily start in China, it is a popular part of Chinese Medicine, with it being used in hospitals since the 1950’s. The idea being, glass suction cups create a vacuum when placed on the skin to draw up fluids and toxins to aid health and circulation. There are different forms of cupping available, so we decided to go all out and book ourselves in for fire cupping, which involved cotton wool soaked in alcohol. The cotton is then lit via a match and in one motion, placed into the cup and quickly removed, while the cup is placed on the skin. The fire uses up all the oxygen in the cup which is then quickly placed onto the body and the negative pressure “sucks” the skin up. It tingled but wasn’t unpleasant and once I got over what exactly what happening to my back, I could relax and enjoy it, then with a cup of green tea I could sit back and watch my friend get hers done, then the fun part, we could compare bruises! Then to end our spa day, I got my final salted cheese tea from Coco’s, I knew it may be a while before I had another one.

That night, our last night, we convinced some of the others in the hostel to join us back for food and drinks in the hutong. Grabbing the most delicious dumplings at Mr Shi’s Dumplings they were so good, we still talk about them to this day, then it was back to the 69 Cafe, for a final few drinks and a bit of a dance.

The next morning it was an early trip to the airport, with a slight headache for the long flight home, but my goodness what a country, it completely surpassed all expectations and I so hope I can return one day to see more of it.

Top Tip – When I originally started planning this trip I figured I would fly in and out of the same city, but China is HUGE, and getting a train back from my final stop in Beijing to Shanghai where I started was over 4 hours, that’s not including getting too the station, and the extra hour that you are supposed to arrive prior to departure. Flights were 2.5 hours, but cost about the same as the extra cost of my main flight if I departed from a different city. So, basically play around with your options, get creative, the less time spent getting too and from places, the more time you will actually get to explore when you get there.