For anyone aspiring to travel around the world, Beijing has got to be in the list. A full-board package tour is probably the cheapest and easiest way to go, especially if speaking Chinese poses to be a challenge. A syllable uttered in a different intonation changes meaning and may lead to a disaster. Full board includes an English-speaking tour guide, hotel accommodation, meals, transfers and entrance fees to all sights. Palace Museum. Temple of Heaven. Summer Palace. Ming Tombs. And of course, the Great Wall included.
It was a convenient choice for a first visit. But opportunities opened for a second and a third. Imprints of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and adaptations to the modern and changing world make it worth coming back to. Places to see and things to do here are aplenty.
Thanks to a dear Beijinger friend, an easy-going itinerary was the order of the day. With a travel card we hopped on and off buses. Subway Line 6 opened just before the New Year and so we tried that, too. Taxi was a last minute option.
A way to see life in the city is to go to a park. Beihai North, Line 6 took us to Beihai Park. Like any park in China, there was already a sense of festivity when we arrived. People were getting on with their morning routine. Be it in clusters or solo, they were ballroom or street dancing, exercising tai chi, playing games or sports, walking and watching others do all sorts. Beihai Lake was turning into solid ice and so some thrillingly dared to cross it. As we reached Jade Islet we exited to the east gate of Beihai and entered the west gate of Jingshan Park. A climb to the peak of the hill gave us a stunning view of the Forbidden City.
From uphill we could also notice a mix of old and new architecture. Traditional rooftops. Skyscrapers. One cityscape. A squad of national flags stood proudly on top of the Great Hall and next to it, sunlight bounced on the National Grand Theater, a titanium dome that was uniquely noticeable. If you are keen to see more contemporary works, check out the Olympic Park, Capitol Museum and the controversial CCTV building.
Recently there is a movement to preserve cultural heritage by renovating ancient structures or at least making the facades look close to the original. Qianmen Emperor’s Avenue and hutongs, alleyways in the area keep the old engraved and hand-painted exteriors but are prepped for the present times inside. International brands in fashion, food and other services now occupy these spaces.
Even though it’s my third time in Beijing, I still have a number of amazing first hand experiences. My comfy boots walked through Behai, Jingshan and Chaoyang Parks as well as Nanlouguxiang, Qianmen, National Theater, Panjiayuan, Capitol Museum and 798 Art Zone…and more.
My List of Firsts
- See China in the winter and bear a 2-digit figure below zero temperature
- Celebrate the New Year with a Chinese family and have homemade dumplings – all chopsticks dig in!
- Eat local cuisine with chopsticks for two weeks – no other cutlery on hand
- Cross and survive a twelve-lane busy street to get to a hutong
- Take a tricycle on a highway in Panjiayuan
- Window-shop in blocks of antique furniture stores and optical shops
- Get on Subway Line 6 – check out the interior design in every station
- Stand at a major intersection to meet a broker, then hail a cab to get out
- Attend a Christian Sunday service in Chinese – flash your passport to get in
- Be at the Beijing Train Station before sunrise and get on a first class train to Harbin
Am already jotting down a list of things I want to see and do for my next visit…that will be another set of firsts!