As we were really sick of wearing the same clothes for close to 7 months, we decided to head shopping for a couple of hours the next day in an area called Xidan. This was a central part of the city surrounded by nice shops and restaurants. Surprisingly, alot of shops were the same as home- Zara, H&M, Vero Moda and the prices were quite similar also. We still managed to pick up a few bits on the cheap. After, a trip to Tiananmen was in store for us
. Tiananmen Square is a large city square in the center of Beijing named after the Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace
) located to its North, separating it from the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is the third largest city square in the world (440,000 mē - 880m by 500m or 109 acres - 960 by 550 yd). It has great cultural significance as it was the site of several important events in Chinese history. After a long stroll around, we grabbed dinner in the hostel, watched more dvds and took it easy for the night.
For our second full day, we had arranged a cheap tour to The Great Wall. The price was approx 12 euros so in hindsight too good to be true. That morning, the tour guide and driver collected us. It turned out that it was just the 2 of us on the tour! Our guide told us to pay for everything at the end but first we were going to be making a few stops. Stop 1 was at a pearl factory. Of course, everyone here was trying to sell us jewellery. Stop 2 was at a tea house where a young girl “treated us to a tea ceremony". She proceeded to get quite cross with us because we wouldn't by any tea. Stop 3 then was at a silk factory where everyone was urging us to buy clothes and even pillows/mattresses! All this was annoying us because all we wanted to do was go to The Great Wall. Tour guides take you to these places as they receive commission on any items tourists buy under their watch
. Stop 4 was at the Olympic village. This was on our itinerary anyway so we were happy to stop here. The tour guide told us to meet him at a certain point after 40 minutes but low and behold himself and the driver never turned up. Our guess would be that as they didn't make any commission off us, they didn't expect us to tip well either. Hence, they decided to cut their losses and drive off. It didn't cost us a penny as we hadn't paid for the tour but it just wasted our morning. Having got 2 metros to arrive back at our hostel, we decided just to grab lunch in Starbucks (the easy option) and head to The Great Wall the next day by public transport. Our evening was instead spent at The Forbidden City. This was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the middle of Beijing and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government. Unfortunately, to us it was just another Shrine. It was quite late by the time we left there so we grabbed a really nice curry in a close-by restaurant before heading back to the hostel.
Our last day was excellent. We made it to The Great Wall by bus with no hassle at all and the transport only cost a euro or two each. The Great Wall was all we imagined it to be and more! Our pictures can't even portray how nice the place was
. We walked for 2 or 3 hours but then had to get back to the bus as that night we were leaving Beijing having arranged a sleeper train to an area further South, Xi'an. Many people had told us that overnight trains need to be booked 10 days in advance but we got the last 2 beds on this particular train. As it was a “sleeper", our carriage contained many cabins, a disgusting toilet (just a hole in the ground) and a few fold down seats next to the window (where you would be in everybodys way). Our actual cabin had only 2 bunk beds. Of course, myself and Eoin were on the top. With little room to maneuver, we had no choice but to perch ourselves up top until morning when our train arrived in Xi'an. An observation of ours since we arrived in Beijing was how horrible the toilets are. In Beijing train station, all women squat over little holes which are on display for all other waiting women to see. So disgusting! Also, the majority of people that we crossed paths with in China seemed quite rude compared to South Korea, Japan and infact every other place in the world that we have traveled to. They stare alot, spit (we hear people hock-up at least 10 times a day), push and laugh in our faces. I got so many dirty looks off girls the first few days for wearing light summer tops that I covered up alot more in Beijing. The weather like Japan and South Korea got quite cold at times so this wasn't too big of an issue. On the other hand, we also had people come up to us alot to take photos with them or take photos of us as we passed. This was very flattering but clearly it's because they don't see too many Western tourists.
Our flight to China was quite short (arriving at 10 in the morning) but we still ended up getting fed which was a big bonus. After catching a bus at the airport, it was some time before we landed at our hostel as it was quite a distance away. It involved a bus, a metro and alot of walking. Our evening/night was spent getting to know the surrounding area, catching up on some dvds in the tv room and eating plenty of Western food which the hostel supplied.