Also this is me, Jonathan, writing, but perhaps you’ll be able to guess from the Disney reference that Lily came up with the title. She was also quite insistent that we include this video (I believe the ideal pairing is to listen while you read):
We left Sydney on a Thursday evening and flew through the night to Beijing, getting in around 4:30AM Friday, and not leaving again until we took off for Seoul late the next morning (Saturday), giving us approximately 24 hours to enjoy the city. The plan was pretty simple, and because of the short time we only intended to see the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square. We had previously found online an English-speaking Chinese man who runs his own private taxi service, and (after killing a few hours at the airport) we met him at 8:00AM and took off for the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.
At this point I should mention that it was January 31st, which happened to be the first day of the Chinese/Lunar New Year, perhaps the biggest holiday in China (and one of the biggest in Korea as well). Going into the trip we didn’t know what to expect, if the New Years would make Beijing especially crowded or especially empty, and in a way it ended up being partly both. At 8:00AM the streets were almost completely empty, most everyone sleeping off their New Year’s Eve celebrations, and when we got to the Great Wall around 9:30 it was also almost completely deserted. This was a real treat for us; we know that the Wall is often packed with tourists. By the time we left around 11:30 there were more and more people walking around, but we had a solid 45 minutes practically to ourselves.
After leaving the Great Wall we drove back into the city, quickly checked into our hostel, and then had the driver (who was exceedingly friendly and gracious the entire time) leave us at Tiananmen Square. We’d had a wonderful time at the Great Wall, but it’s fair to say the rest of our experience in Beijing was decidedly less exciting (though in all fairness a lot of it was circumstantial, and we weren’t exactly putting our best foot forward). By the time we got to Tiananmen Square, around 1:00PM, we were exhausted and barely awake, the lack of sleep and extra travel finally catching up to us. It was also freezing cold and the pollution was pretty bad, so everything had a dreary, overcast feel. We wandered around the Square, then over and around the entrance to the Forbidden City and the gardens outside, and finally threw in the towel around 5:00PM and went back to our hostel. We were asleep by 8:00PM, and in the morning went straight to the airport.
It obviously would have been nice to experience Beijing while feeling a bit better, with more energy, but we were nonetheless happy to have gone, if nothing else for the chance to see the Great Wall. Perhaps it’s hard to describe, but the Great Wall had always been for me an unattainable attraction, something I was aware of but never imagined actually seeing in person. There are certain sights, like the Grand Canyon, that are relatively far away and majestic in their own right, but also seem completely attainable (for an American, obviously). It’s very easy for me to picture going there. It wasn’t as easy to ever think of a situation in which I’d be standing on the Great Wall. So to have actually done it is satisfying, and provided a nice bookend for our trip.
Our Vacation, By the Numbers
It wouldn’t deserve it’s own post, but now that we’re done recapping, here are a few numbers to summarize our trip.
Days spent traveling: 17
Countries visited: 3
Different flights taken: 6
Different airlines used: 4
Different modes of transportation taken, at one point or another, to get from A to B: 9
(plane, train, bus, taxi, subway, private car, ferry, bicycle, feet)
Books read: 7
French fries eaten: 765 (probably)
Glasses of wine, cider, et al. consumed: Who can say, really, everything gets pleasantly fuzzy after two or three.
Ounces of lotion used to soothe burning skin: 20.3
Pictures taken: 1,071
Amount of fun we had: 12 (Just kidding, it’s like, priceless, right? Or incalculable? What’s the cute answer here?)