Two (and a half) days in Beijing

We arrived in Beijing early lunchtime, our last trains-Siberian railway journey over, we’d finally reached the last destination on our trip. I was feeling a bit sad that it was all coming to and end but super excited to start exploring Beijing!

We met our honcho, Eric, on the platform, he’s a nice sweet guy and was happily guiding us outside to meet our car. When we walked out of the station it was incredible, there were people everywhere! I’ve since found out there are 23 million people in Beijing (6 million more than the whole of Holland, Florine pointed out) – this definately becomes apparent as you leave the train station. The sun was shining, there was bright blue sky and a lot of noise from people talking, loudspeakers outside the station and shops and music playing; it was really a busy and vibrant atmosphere.

After a little bit of faffing around with the car Eric got us on route to our hotel, it’s so nice to have a hotel and not a hostel. Me and my Tom have our own room, so has Florine no Aussie Tom nearly had his own room too, until Eric told us about the ghosts. Apparently, Eric’s residence in Beijing is haunted (this isn’t his usual home as he lives outside of Beijing, it is where he stays when he has groups of guests), he tells us in the car that he is very scared of the ghost and is frightened to go back to his place in Beijing. As we check in at the hotel he is quick to ask Aussie Tom, if he minds sharing his room with him! Naturally, Tom was a little taken aback but he did agree to it. We made sure to warn Eric about Toms extremely loud snoring but he said he’d rather have that than ghosts. We quickly learnt that Eric is quite a character.

After showering and unpacking our stuff we went to get some lunch at a traditional Chinese restaurant next door to the hotel, it was really nice but the plates of food were huge! Eric hadn’t mentioned that all Chinese people order food to share, not individual portions, we made a note of this for future reference.

Unfortunately we were too late to go to the Forbidden City so Eric suggested an acrobatics show instead. Intrigued, we agreed and went on the subway to the theatre. Beijing’s subway system is so sofisticated! It feels like a very hi-tech city when you’re riding the subway, although it can be super busy at times. 

The acrobat show was amazing! Some of the tricks they do are unreal. At one point there was a man balancing on a plank on a cyclinder, with a frame holding another man on his shoulders, two girls hanging off the side and the man on the top flipping ceramic bowls off another plank onto his head; mental. There were other tricks like riding motorbikes inside a metal sphere on stage. This doesn’t sound that impressive but when they kept bringing more motorcyclists out and ended up having five inside the sphere riding around one another it was pretty spectacular to watch. The four of us were a little in awe of this weird and wonderful show. The music was far too loud, too choppy (I don’t think they had a sound technician so tracks would literally stop and start like someone was on the ‘pause’ button) and the theatre was tired and draughty but what an experience! The show was brilliant and we loved it.

We got an early night then, as we’d arranged to have a driver pick us up early to get plenty of sight seeing packed into the following day. Aussie Tom’s flight is early in the morning the day after, so we had to make sure we got the most out of the sightseeing on the last full day we all and together.

This morning we were all up bright and early to go to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. Eric had said that it takes around two hours to get to the Great Wall – we were heading for the part called ‘Mutianyu Great Wall’. Before setting off we went for a traditional Chinese breakfast, this didn’t really go to plan. We didn’t know what anything was and Eric’s English is somewhat limited so it was a bit of guess work pointing at what other people had on their plates. My Tom and I ended up with a kind of omelette pancake each – which was very tasty – but I’d made the mistake of asking for porridge. The porridge was dark brown and tasted like it was made of kidney beans. Not disgusting but not exactly delicious either. Needless to say my Tom was rather disappointed as he does enjoy a hearty breakfast, usually consisting of sweet pastries…

First on our sightseeing trip was the Forbidden City and it was amazing. The grandeur of the buildings in the traditional oriental style was simply stunning. As we were there early in the morning it wasn’t too busy and the smog hadn’t settled yet, meaning I could get some great photos! As we walked through the city Eric gave us details of its history and architectural style, it was such a beautiful, peaceful place. One of the most beautiful parts was waking through the garden after the palaces. Some of the trees in the garden are labelled either with a red or green tag. Green meant they were over 100 years old and a red tag meant they were over 300 years old – trees that were over 300 years old! It was such a beautiful, traditional Chinese garden.

After leaving the Forbidden City our driver took us to the see part of the Great Wall – one of the seven wonders of the world. We were all so excited about this! The weather was still good, quite warm and sunny but unfortunately there was a lot of pollution around today and the smog had settled a bit, meaning the view of the mountains was very hazy. We took the cable car up the hill – you do quite a lot of walking along the wall itself so getting the cable car was a good idea – we went on the open one, so it’s more like a ski lift that takes you up above the tree tops. This was so much fun! Even just going up on the cable car gave us great views of the walls and surrounding mountains.

We walked along the wall and took in the breathtaking views. It’s such an amazing feeling walking along the ancient wall, such an iconic piece of Chinese history. We were all taking lots of photos and trying to get photos that weren’t full of tourists! The weather was beautiful and it was really relaxing strolling along the mountain tops, some parts of it are very steep but it is a very enjoyable walk.

On the way down, instead of walking, we opted for the taboggan run! This was brilliant. I love that there is a taboggan run down the mountains where the Great Wall is. We all jumped in and set off down the steep hillside. As you shoot down the track there are big speakers telling you “NO STOPPING FOR PHOTO” in English and then Chinese, this made me chuckle. Obviously I took a selfie, I just did it on the move!

After the Great Wall we all enjoyed a well earned snooze in the back of the car as our driver took us back into Beijing city. Eric said we should go for Peking Duck for dinner as it is the iconic dish for Beijing. He took us to a great restaurant – I always think it’s a good sign when the restaurant is full of locals – where the five of us enjoyed sharing a whole Peking duck. They did slice it up and bring it to the table but they literally use everything. There was the skin, which is basically pure fat, the meat nicely sliced – delicious in pancakes with cucumber, spring onion and the plum jam – then a soup with pretty much everything else in. Everything else other than the head. That came baked on the plate with the sliced meat which isn’t something I wanted to see when tucking into my pancakes!

Nevertheless, the food was delicious. The traditional rice wine however, was not. We all tried some, the lads were very manly about it and continued to drink half of the bottle, Florine and I took a small sip each and it took everything I had not to gag at the table. Now I love wine but this stuff is like 46% proof and blew your head off. I’ll stick to my Pinot in future.

One thing that I did find a bit disturbing was when the table next to us ordered the fish. The waitress brought the fish out in a bag whilst it was still alive, presumably so the customer could confirm they were happy with it, okay fine, I can see why they would do that. But then the customer proceeded to kill the fish himself by bashing it on the table! I could hear this happening and didn’t want to turn around to watch because I thought it was a bit brutal to do this at the table. Assuming it was some kind of Chinese tradition, we ignored it and carried on eating. When we mentioned it to Eric he said he’d never seen it before either, so it obviously wasn’t a tradition and was just a really strange request…

This evening we went for a few drinks in a bar on the cool little street. We’d been there the night before and it’s full of quirky little bars, kind of like the style of the ‘hipster’ bars you get at home. There was plenty of craft ale to choose from and we all enjoyed a little drink on our last night together.

We then asked Eric if we could walk back to the hotel rather than get the subway, he said there is a lot of pollution around and the subeway would be better – there was a lot of pollution, it’s like a thick fog across the city – but we pointed out that the pollution gets down into the subway anyway (you can see the haze underground!) so said we’d prefer to walk. I’m so glad we did! It took us about an hour but we walked a fantastic route through what Eric called the “commercial” street in Beijing. What he meant was that it was commercial in the sense that it is made for Chinese tourists and we found this amazing! There were lots of quirky little shops, bustling bars, bright lights and loud music. It was a fantastic atmosphere to walk through, we popped into little shops here and there, my Tom bought some churros and we thoroughly enjoyed our night time walk. 

We continued on through part of Beijing old town, this is where the ancient houses still stand and some families still live in them. The streets are narrow and lit with small lampposts, it was really peaceful strolling through these streets at night. The noisy bars had disappeared and there was just the quiet hum of families going about heir business in the evening. There weren’t really many people around and it was a lovely end to the walk.

One thing that Florine and I kept laughing about was the silent scooters. We’d be strolling along and then you turn round and a scooter has taken you by surprise, sneaking up silently behind you! Quite a few people have electric scooters and they are so stealthy you don’t hear them coming unless the beep their horn at you.

We have one more day tomorrow, my Tom, Florine and I before we fly back home. Aussie tom heads to Japan early in the morning, Florine has a couple of days in Beijing before flying to New Zealand and Tom and I head home to England. It has been such an amazing trip, I’m so glad we finished in Beijing on a high, it is such a fascinating city. I’m sad that the trip is coming to an end but have the best memories that both me and Tom will treasure for a lifetime.