As usual for me, this post is a couple of weeks behind the activity and I am sure if I thought about it long enough I could come up with a decent excuse, like the "Great Firewall of China" preventing me from posting anything, but I have just been a bit lazy.
Joining us for our Beijing expedition was Helen's niece, who was taking her first visit to Beijing, she certainly helped entertain the girls and as a new Kindergarden teacher she was able to practice on Zoe and Sophie during the trip.
We took the new high speed train from Xi'an to Beijing, these new trains and the rail network are a modern marvel in China, I think they have built about 30,000kms of new high speed rail connecting all sorts of places with 300km/h+ trains, something we cannot even dream about in Australia.
We travelled in 2nd class (cheap) seats which were really good, and the 1300km journey took just over 4 hours. Once in Beijing we had arranged an Airbnb stay for 3 nights followed by another few nights with family friends. The Airbnb apartment was in a great location, very convenient for our planned sightseeing.
We only had 6 days and with the Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Great Wall, Beijing Opera House and the Olympic Games park on our list, were pretty busy while in Beijing. Throw in a few dinners with friends, and former colleagues and there was no time to waste.
The weather played a part in our sightseeing, we had a mix of glorious blue skies and warm sunshine to overcast and full-on rain for our time in Beijing, the contrast reminding us just how pretty Beijing can be with some sunlight.
Our first evening in Beijing was spent visiting a pedestrian only "food street" (DaShiLan), which meant you only had to dodge bikes, motorbikes, electric scooters and tuk-tuk delivery trucks on the street.
Our walk from the apartment to DaShiLan found us wandering through some preserved and restored Hutongs, small narrow alleyways with single storey courtyard houses, it was pretty and a huge surprise. Even though I had lived in Beijing for 5 years I had not seen this area previously and thoroughly enjoyed the walk.
Once we arrived at DaShiLan we were joined by hordes of people and this was to be a central feature of our travels - so many people, everywhere.
Helen went off to catch up with friends for a more formal dinner while the girls and I were left to explore and eat with 10,000 new friends. Excellent fun, some odd food on offer and weird translations.
Day 2 - The Forbidden City
Next day was our visit to the Forbidden City, the weather was overcast and dreary with the promise of rain later in the day, nevertheless we set off to walk there via Tiananmen Square.
Unfortunately Tiananmen Square was too busy for us to visit, so after passing through a couple of security checkpoints, along with thousand of other tourists, we came to the entrance of the Forbidden City. We were greeted with the familiar, and famous, picture of Chairman Mao as we walked across the bridge and through the first gate. To say it was busy is an understatement. The Forbidden City is now limited to 80,000 visitors a day and it felt as though we rubbed elbows and shoulders with each and every one of them.
However, it is an incredible place and you can still find quiet, almost deserted, places to compensate for the incredible crowds around the main halls and throne rooms. I have listed a couple of reference sites for those interested in the history and architecture, but if you are ever in Beijing, it really is a must do destination.
As we explored the weather changed, the promised rain came and cut short our visit, we persevered for a while but after a quick lunch and then visiting a couple of the Treasure and Clock rooms we called it a day as we had dinner plans later that evening with friends from our time working for Cisco in Beijing.
Day 3 - The Temple of Heaven
What a difference a day makes, and something of a rarity in Beijing, clear blue skies meant we had perfect weather for our visit to the Temple of Heaven.
This has always been my favourite place to visit in the city of Beijing, there is something quite magical about the design and symmetry of the temples, coupled with their vivid colours. And on a clear day you can almost forget you are in one of the world's mega-cities.
The park is also alive with locals and tourist alike, locals come out to play, dance, sing and exercise in the areas between the walls of the temple complex and it is fantastic to see the space being used every day like this. We had a great day, and if you are in Beijing this should be right at the top of your list of paces to visit.
Day 4 - Mutianyu Great Wall
We were up and about early, moving out of our Airbnb to meet one of Helen's friends across town, before heading off to the Great Wall. It was a bit of an exercise getting us, and all our luggage, across Beijing on the Metro during rush hour to meet up with Zhang Jing, but it went surprising well.
It wasn't long before we were heading out of the city to one of my favourite parts of the Great Wall, the weather was still good and we were all set for a fabulous day.
The access to the Great Wall at Mutianyu has changed a bit in the past few years, visitor numbers are increasing and the place needed managing a little better, different but still excellent.
Like most people we opted to take the cable car up to the wall and then climb towards Watchtower 23, the last of the restored section on the route to Jiankou. I have been to Mutianyu dozens of times and I am always amazed by the incredible feat of engineering and absolute effort that went into building the wall.
The weather gods were smiling and we had a mixture of sun and passing clouds, the walk up the steps of the wall is a little tougher than it looks but the girls and I made it to the top, delighting in our achievement. Helen and Zhang jing made it most of the way but chose to save their energy for the walk back, which includes another section of steep wall with thousands more steps to conquer.
We were all pretty exhausted by the time we finished our walk, although nothing a quick ice cream couldn't fix. Then off to town and the first in a series of celebratory dinners over the next few days. I think we all slept pretty well that evening.
Day 5 - The Summer Palace
We had a pretty relaxed start to our day, staying with friends and having people cook breakfast for us made us all feel somewhat spoiled. The weather was back to normal, grey and overcast skies with the promise of some rain later in the afternoon.
We decided to take a chance and visit the Summer Palace, we took a couple of umbrellas along for the ride but ended up buying additional rain-wear as you can see from the photos. It probably wasn't the best day to visit the Summer Palace although all the colourful umbrellas made for a slightly ironic and cheerful sight.
We spent a few hours walking about, it is a huge complex and on a bright day is incredible, the wind had also come out to play so everyone ended up cold and wet and we retreated to the nearest restaurant for a late late lunch. This is probably the first time I have eaten in KFC in Beijing but it was warm, dry and even the coffee was passable.
We sat around, ate, drank and dried out before meeting up later with friends, for another beautiful dinner.
Day 6 - Opera House, CCTV Tower and Olympic Park
Another slow start to the day had us heading into Beijing late morning to go and see some of the new iconic buildings built for the Olympic Games and to demonstrate China's ability and desire to create some amazing new city-scapes.
Our first destination was the new Opera House, described as a pearl floating on a lake, is a truly awesome building, both inside and out.
The Metro system takes you directly there and we got to experience the inside of the building before venturing outside to take a look at the shimmering Titanium clad structure. It is both functional and beautiful.
Like all great buildings, it took some years to design and build, but I am sure it will stand the test of time and become regarded as one of Beijing's jewels.
Next was the equally incredible CCTV tower, built to defy logic and seemingly gravity, unfortunately it was not possible to get close or inside as it is a working TV Centre, So I snapped a couple of pictures as best I could but I think there will be better picture on the web for sure.
And finally we were off to visit the 2008 Olympic Games Park, there are a number of venues and stadiums on the site but the two most well known are the Bird's Nest main stadium and the Blue Cube Swimming venue. We were running out of time when we arrived as we had yet another dinner date to attend but did get back for the lights and water show later in the evening along with another 10,000 close friends... I may try and post some video when I get back to Australia with better connectivity.
Day 7 - High Speed Train to Xi'an
And that was it, a whirlwind week in Beijing, catching up with friends, showing our girls some of Beijing's best attractions and sampling some delicious food. We made our way across to Beijing West Railway Station, an older terminus trying to cope with the demands of huge numbers of people travelling to all parts of the country via the amazing High Speed Rail Network and the existing old rail network. Somewhat chaotic but it seemed to work, just.
Once we were settled on the train it was bliss, being whisked efficiently out of Beijing towards Xi'an at 300 km/h. And Polar Ted come out during the travel, making a comfortable pillow for our weary travelling family.
Regards Roy, Helen, Zoe and Sophie