We arrived in Beijing on a hot and humid Monday evening and instantly recognised that thick, orange smog of the Chinese capital. I was prepared for traffic as we got closer to the city but I wasn’t prepared for the 12 lane highway leading in to the centre of the city. This place is huge, I thought to myself.
The sheer scale of the buildings and the size of the city blocks made me nervous that this city might not as easy to navigate as the rest of China. If you open a map of Beijing, this ancient city’s landmarks are scattered over what seems like an incredible distance. So our first impressions of Beijing were ‘wow’.
We were staying close to a wangfujing pedestrian street, famous for its street food, strange snacks (scorpion on a stick anyone?) and souvenirs which seems like a good location for visitors to the city. We were only a 15 minute walk from the Forbidden City and about the same for Tiannamen Square.
Jez and I spent half a day exploring the Forbidden City and the countless buildings contained in the huge walled city. Each building had a particular purpose, where the emperor would receive guests or pray. There were so many patterns and rules explained to us in the audio guide we hired that we think it might have been a good idea to hire a guide instead so that they could help us keep up with it all.
A couple of days in to our stay, we met up with George again at Tiannamen square. I had read that the square itself could hold over a million people and given it’s turbulent history, I wondered if I would feel overwhelmed. However, when we arrived, the square didn’t overwhelm but instead looked like any other large city square with the exception of the police officers that were checking people’s official papers. I have been reminded how lucky we to have the freedoms that we do back home.
After the square, we jumped on the metro to visit the impressive Summer Palace. A place where the Emperor and his family would escape the heat of Beijing, the Summer Palace is about a 40 minutes ride by train from city central. As I have mentioned before, all tourist places in China are packed with people and tour groups so it was hard to move around to see all of the sights in depth. It was a very hot day and there was a beautiful breeze coming off the lake so we decided to hire a paddleboat and ride around for an hour or so. Gimmicky, I know!
We had a very strange experience as we were pulling back to the pier in our paddleboat. Remember how I told you that we were some of the very few Westerners at the national park Jiuzhaigou? Well, as we pulled up in our paddleboat, a western couple that we saw at Jiuzhaigou was also pulling up in their paddleboat! More than two weeks after we had first seen them, it’s a funny coincidence that we were to cross paths again!
We also saw the Olympic site during our time in Beijing, the Birds Nest and the Aquatic Centre looked impressive, if a little worn down. The number of people walking up and down the boulevard made me think the Olympics were still on! It was great to see that there was a positive energy still at the site after 5 years.
We still have lots of amazing things in store for Beijing!