“So yeah.. she basically burst into tears and ran out of the room.” – Joe finished his story and we both looked down at our tea cups not knowing what would be the best thing to say next. The silence was soothing after the ending like this one.
I met Joe at my hostel in Beijing and he was not sharing with me any romantic gossip from his dorm. He told me about one girl’s reaction when her anticipation and excitement to visit capital’s mausoleum was confronted with a punchy statement coming from a fellow Chinese countryman – “It is not the body of Chairman Mao on a display! It is only a lump of wax!”
Oh yes… I could tell that patriotic feelings were running high in the capital and especially at the Tiananmen Square. I went there on my first day and when I entered the 440,000 m² square I gazed in awe at the monuments, large groups of Chinese tourists and soldiers. In my head, like a broken record, was the advice I received from one lady before my first visit to China – “Do not mention or start discussions about the three Ts: Tibet, Taiwan or Tiananmen Square.” Of course I kept my mouth shut but could not share the enthusiasm around me.
I was impressed with the Forbidden City even though I heard different opinions from my friends and other travelers that I met. This place is still a must-visit when discovering China’s cultural history and maybe it is best not to have any expectations. I definitely recommend renting an audio guide as it is extremely helpful when you are navigating through the crowd and it provides a great insight into the background of the home to the Emperors.
After couple of days in Beijing the temperature dropped below zero and I woke up to the sight of snowflakes spinning in the air and the ground covered with a thin layer of snow. Brilliant.. I was already wearing everything I had in my backpack and I was still cold so I decided to spend a day at the National Museum of China. Again.. do not forget your passport and be prepared for the bag check. Seriously entering that building was more strict than security check at some European airports.
A visit to Beijing would not be complete without a trip to the Great Wall of China. When I was putting together my itinerary I did not expect that I will be walking the Wall in the snow, wrapped in all my layers or helping any snow casualties, who were holding to the metal barrier for their life! By the end of the day I was frozen to the bone but I loved every minute of it.
As my last day in Beijing was sunny I decided to spend it at the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. Both places are of cultural significance so I braved the cold to walk around them for hours. The Temple of Heaven used to be visited by Emperors to participate in the ceremonies to pray for a good harvest. The main hall provides an incredible backdrop when taking photographs so I was not surprise to see a young couple taking part in the wedding shoot. I hope that blushing bride did not end up with pneumonia!
The Temple of Heaven is not really a temple so if would like to add one to your sightseeing list I recommend the Yonghe Temple. It is also known as the Lama Temple as it is a renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple with amazing roofs, decorative arches and prayer wheels.
The Summer Palace was one of my favourite places in Beijing. It is the largest and extremely well-preserved royal park in China. The lakes, gardens and amazing architecture of the palaces are a treat and act as a small oasis in the urban jungle of the smoggy capital.
I did not enjoy my stay at the Leo Hostel in Beijing. It was dark, cold and not very friendly. Maybe it did not help that I ended up at a smelly mix dorm wondering why is it so hard for some guys to keep clean. Oh well.. it smelled like someone died in my dorm but the good aspect of the hostel was its location – literally round the corner from the Tiananmen Square.