We caught the bus to Beijing, a mad bus journey which at times had us on the edge of our seats. We were dropped off on the very edge of the city (actually we weren't sure where we were!) as soon as we stepped off the bus we were surrounded by chattering Chinese. We managed to find a Taxi driver and pointed to our hostel on the map.
We settled on a deluxe room at our hostel, which was more like a hotel room with use of the swimming pool at the hotel next door..result.
We had decided to stay in the North East of the city in a business district and close to the Indian Embassy where we needed to apply for our Indian Visa. It was quite a walk to anywhere, including the subway station, about a mile away. Although a well renowned Roast Duck restaurant was just over the road from our accommodation, where we ate on our first day in the city. The crispy duck was carved by our table and was accompanied by the obligatory plum sauce and pancakes, it was delicious.
We soon booked a trip to the Great Wall and travelled about 110km northeast of Beijing to do a 10k hike from Jinshanling to Simatai which took us about four hours because the trail was very steep and runied in parts. The wall was just as amazing as we had imagined, and stretched as far as the eye could see. We were walking along some of the oldest parts of the wall (it was started over 2000 years ago)and some of it was in a state of ruin, which just added to the feeling of history, it was also very cold and windy and felt very remote. When we started the walk we were joined by a couple of local farmers who gave us information about the wall along the way in their limited English. One of them even helped Lucy up and down some of the steep and ruined steps. Half way along the trail they told us they were going back and out of their bags they produced souvenirs for the 'tourists'. What else could we do but buy a 'I have climbed the Great Wall Tshirt" and bid them a fond farewell.
On another day in the city we took the subway to Tiananmen Sqaure and the Forbidden City. When we came out onto the street, between the two landmarks we were surprised to see so much openness, no tall building, just lots and lots of Chinese tourists. The Forbidden city aparently is the largest and best-preserved cluster of ancient buildings in China and it was HUGE and took us about two hours just to walk around some of it, it would take a whole day to explore fully. It was similar to temples we had seen in Xi'an and Pingyao but on a much much larger and grander scale.
Next on the agenda was Tiananmen Sqaure, the worlds largest public square, which was awash with red flags and people selling Mao memorabilia. While there we couldn't resist a visit to the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, as morbid as it is, to see the mumified corpse lying in a crystal cabinet.
While in the city we also caught an Acrobatic show at a local theatre which reminded us of something you would see on a Royal Variety Performance but better and finished with about 20 of the female troupe balanced on one bicycle.
The weather in Beijing has been changeable, typical spring weather. It seems to get very cold at night, maybe down to 2 degrees and takes a while to warm up. Temperates have varied from 8 - 17 degrees and it has felt very cold to us after being in warm climates for the past couple of months.
We have enjoyed our time in China, it has been interesting but at times also a struggle. Many people you come across don't speak English and it is so frustrating when you want to have a chat with your Taxi driver (for example), it is these conversations which we have enjoyed in other countries. The food we have mostly enjoyed although many things are not what they appear! Two things which have driven us crazy while here is the nations inability to queue, often throwing money over your shoulder while at a ticket office and pushing you out of the way. The other thing is their habit of noisely coughing up phlem and spitting it out anywhere and everywhere..we have heard and witnessed this many many times and although we know it is just their way we just can't quite get used to it!!! Still it is an expereince we wouldn't have missed for the world.
Next stop Tokyo.