Contrary to popular belief, China has an astounding amount of long weekends. This semester alone we have one in April, one in May and one in June. Caught up in the midst of class and UTS assignments (cultural report anyone?) we kind of forgot that the first long weekend was approaching until our teachers reminded us on the Monday. Whoops.
Since we left it so late, booking tickets got kinda hard. With no-one else making concrete decisions I decided to take a solo trip up to the northern capital of China – Beijing. One of my best friends is living up there this year so I had someone local to show me around which was great.
After booking myself on a first-class train (hey, the ticket was only $70 more expensive than second class!) I prepared for my first really long distance bullet train. It’s about 6 hours on a fast train to Beijing. Luckily I’m good at entertaining myself with a kindle and iPod.
I made it up to Beijing around 7pm and jumped on the metro to the Novotel, coincidentally right across the road from where Mum and Dad would be staying in two days time. Jes and Kasia (another of our Aussie friends from UTS) met me around 8pm and we wandered around the city for a while.
After accidentally finding the Forbidden City and buying some delicious rose shaped ice-creams we finally got dinner at around 11pm at a Korean place. Funny how you forget about the time when you’re travelling.
The next day Jes and I decided to go to Wangfujing, the main shopping strip in Beijing. Last year one of the main sentences we studied in Chinese was ‘I want to go to Wangfujing to buy things’ so it seemed like a suitable starting point for our Beijing adventures. We wandered around the markets and ducked in and out of some very expensive designer shops for almost the whole day.
Sunday we decided to finally visit the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Unfortunately it was a public holiday so to get in to the Forbidden City you had to have pre-booked your tickets several months in advance. We still got to walk around Tiananmen Square which was one of the main things I wanted to see. After a delicious (and cheap!) brunch of Beijing roast duck, eaten with pancakes, hoisin sauce and cucumber, we headed to the Summer Palace.
The Summer Palace was built in 1750 as a royal garden for the Qing dynasty family. It was destroyed by the Anglo-French allied forces and then rebuilt in 1888. Rumour has it that Empress Cixi embezzled navy funds to reconstruct her dream holiday resort to live out her days, however it was again destroyed in 1900. In 1924 it was officially reopened and listed as a World Heritage Site.
Jes and I wandered around the Summer Palace for a couple of hours before heading back down to the reality of the Beijing Metro at peak hour. Even though it was peak hour, the metro is still one of the most efficient and easy ways to get around. Sydney could learn a few things from the Chinese metro systems!
I had a great time on my first visit to Beijing and I’ll definitely be coming back to see the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.