Day 1 11th December 2014
Beijing airport is vast and empty at 6 in the morning. “Oh, Tannenbaum” was playing as the Muzak, unless you had a socialist upbringing in which case the words forming in the mind were of proletariat struggle. So, through the airport all ok, until we find we are one bag short. Given the Arctic weather this is no time to lose all those carefully packed baselayers. After the wait for some compensation we had a Buster Keaton chase around the multi-level airport, rounding up the people who had gone to look for the other people who had gone to find the person who had come out of a different exit.
We like to think of ourselves as hardened travellers, but going straight from the airport to sightseeing is a bit hardcore. The Summer Palace as she is in winter. “What’s the temperature?”, “Three degrees below @&£?/! freezing”. The water in my drinking bottle froze, people were walking on the river. Lots of gruesome stories of imprisoned emperors, interfering concubines, poisoned wives, how to dispose of a body in a well. One of the buildings had the windows bricked up on the inside so that the Emperor could not see out – chilling thought. Our 5am airline breakfast seemed a very long time ago, as we listened to how the Dowager Empress Ci Xi had 128 dishes at dinner, some just for looking at, and some just for smelling. Our Guide helpfully explained how to politely decline if you don’t want to buy anything, but warned of a current scam of being given your change in roubles not yuan – has the currency slipped that far?
Eventually, we had seen enough of the 200 hectares of the Palace to meet our Tour Guide’s customer service standards, and were allowed back on the bus to go to lunch. Not especially inspiring (we’ve been spoilt by excellent chefs too often) but no dishes were wasted by just being looked at or inhaled. Off to the hotel, and the prospect of cleaning up before jet lag removes all mental abilities. Trying to stay awake long enough to make it through the afternoon withoutzzzzzzzzzz…….. After dinner most went to a Beijing Tea House for snacks and a show. Not all made it to the end, taking an early exit, which was a shame as the best acts came on at the end.
The traffic in Beijing is a beast, it takes ages to get anywhere, and physical distance is no predictor of how soon you can arrive. It took over an hour to travel 7km in the evening rush hour and only 10 minutes to return the same way at 9pm. The city has 18 million people, plus 5 million who commute in. There are 5 million cars – it’s amazing anything moves at all!
Blissful bed (thankfully not of the solid plank type in Yongchun) – just about managed to turn out the lightzzzzzzz.