So I’m a little overdue, considering that we visited Beijing just before Christmas. We travelled to Beijing on the way to Sydney, so with my clever flight planning, I managed to get us a direct flight from Zurich to Beijing and from Beijing to Sydney, leaving us almost three whole days in Beijing to explore.
I have to say, Beijing was awesome! We were incredibly lucky with the weather and had a great, jam-packed layover trip. I am starting to love layovers more and more. Also, we had our first private tour guide and I was surprised how happy I was that we booked it! I spent a lot of time researching the tour because I really wanted to maximize our time and make sure I saw my top picks.
See this? This is the sun rising up bright and clear while we arrived from the airport. We were SO excited how clear it was. There was almost no smog, which is apparently really lucky in Beijing.
I’m always happy whenever we travel somewhere with good weather because so often it’s rainy or cold and cloudy, but to have blue skies in Beijing just felt especially lucky. It was like an early Christmas gift!
First up on Sunday was Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
Mind you, blue skies does not mean that it wasn’t freezing. It was a bit colder than Zurich at the time and super windy!We got the audio guides with Forbidden City and wandered around for a few hours, but after that we got cold and wanted to head back to the hotel.
The architecture is so entirely different than what you see in Europe and some of the buildings had recently been renovated and repainted.
Also, apparently Christmas is becoming a big thing in China. They had Christmas lights and trees everywhere! It really surprised us because we thought they wouldn’t celebrate as much as Western cultures. I got my fill of holiday lights. 🙂
The next day our tour guide from Catherine Lu Tours arrived at the hotel at 8:00am with a driver to pick us up for our Great Wall tour. Our tour guide’s name was Minnie and she was so friendly! The entire way to the Great Wall she spouted out fact after fact about the Wall and the surrounding area. We ended up visiting the Mutianyu section because we heard it was less touristy and it was fairly empty on a Monday morning.
It felt a little bit like being on a school trip again, except that a private guide has your complete attention and you don’t have to fight for attention to have your questions answered. We could point to anything and Minnie would tell us whatever she knew about a certain kind of drawing, stonework, empresses, you name it!
I was like a little kid on the wall. Somehow being in Zurich at work on a Friday and then being on the Great Wall on Monday morning just seemed crazy… and the sun made me all the more ecstatic.
Tour guide bonus: They can take pictures of you whenever you want! Even Kay was humoring me to take as many as I wanted.
I’m sure the wall must be just gorgeous on a clear summer day, however rare those are. It was really warm with all the sun on the stones, but I just imagine what the hills would like like with a little more green on them.
It was also nice to be out of the city and see a bit cleaner part of Beijing. Being in the city and the surrounding area was definitely eye-opening to the reality of Chinese industry impacts.
We even saw someone collecting the famed “sewer sludge” for gutter oil from some sewers in the city. Kay showed me a Youtube video about it a few years ago and it was astonishing and sad to see things like this really happening. It makes me wonder how much of an impact do our Western needs make on countries like China.
We took a break for lunch, where Minnie helpfully ordered some gluten-free food for me with the restaurant and then we were on our way to the Summer Palace with Minnie giving us a history lesson along the way.
The summer palace was gorgeous and we had a wonderful time asking Minnie about the long gallery and how it was when Empress Dowager Cixi lived there.
Next to Kunming Lake, it was pretty cold. You can see how the water was even beginning to freeze on the surface.
Cold, but beautiful. I was impressed by China. 🙂
On the last day we took our time with breakfast and then went to see the Temple of Heaven and its gardens where locals practice Tai Chi, dance, play cards, music and other games.
Even Kay admitted that he was having a good time. Beijing surpassed all our expectations!
It might not be on my top places to live, especially when the smog started coming back on our last day and you could smell the stink of pollution, but I had a blast in Beijing and would think about visiting China again some day if it works out.
I’m also really impressed how luxurious, handy and informative it was to book a private tour and driver. We are more the DIY type of travelers, but it was really worth it to book. I can’t recommend Catherine Lu Tours enough. They were worth the cost and I would book again in a minute !
Is China on your list of countries to visit? Do you ever book private tours?