After a fun overnight train where I had fun before going to sleep and I still managed to attract everyone´s attention after waking up because I had to stitch my small backpack a bit and they seemed to be overly curious about everything I was doing, after all that, I finally arrived to Beijing. Without any couchsurfing to do because I couldn’t find anybody to take me in, I had booked the cheapest hostel in the city and copied the instructions on how to arrive on my phone. Unluckily, I was distracted with more stuff in my phone and I managed to take the bus in the opposite direction. After a while, I realised and took the right bus and eventually got to the hostel.
Luckily, they allowed me to check in earlier and I could leave my stuff, take a shower and then go to Tianmen Square to have a look because it was quite close and although tired, I didn’t want to bed just yet. The square overwhelmed me, its dimensions made seem that there were barely any people around, but don’t fool yourself, in China there is people everywhere. I decided on checking the museum, as I considered it was already late to start seeing the Forbidden City and that was something I wanted to do with calm to enjoy it. And in the funny moment of the day was starring the security staff of the museum. I was already used to pass security everywhere, in every metro I was taking and any public building. But here they were beyond everything having me taking the big bottle of water that I always have with me out of my backpack. I wondered what was going on, because as always the language barrier was there. They asked me: water? “Yes, water”, I answered. Then they said: “drink”. What? I have to drink it now? I cannot go inside with water? I was confused. They repeated: “drink”. I tried to understand and seeing that we couldn’t get to an understanding and I could not continue with it, I took a long sip to the water before leaving the bottle there. The minute I started drinking they said okay, okay, okay! I had to stop. I didn’t understand. They pointed inside the museum, as I could continue the way. And then I understood: they just wanted me to proof it was water by drinking of it. As in Medieval times! I spent like 5 minutes laughing at it alone.
After that, I spent the whole afternoon in the museum. I don’t think I got to see even half of it. It was huge! But I was kicked out and also tired so I have to leave it alone and be happy with what I saw, which still was a lot.
That was the first day done. The second day I woke up more than decided to get to the Great Wall. I had been doing a minimum research and from what I could see there were different sections of it to be visited. The most difficult to get was also the wilder, the further from Beijing, the more expensive and obviously less crowded. I wanted to avoid the crowds, but I couldn’t afford to take a taxi o get a car by myself and also I didn’t feel I had all the time in the world to do this. I didn’t feel like overcomplicating it so I decided on the Badaling section, the most visited and easiest to get.
So I took a tourist bus, full of Chinese people as tourists as myself, to take me there. As usual, there was lack of understanding but I got there, got my ticket and found out the way to walk up, because I didn’t want to take the cable car. Just while in the bus I had the chance to gaze the Great Wall and didn’t disappoint. But to be there, with the amazing surroundings…the terrain going up and down everywhere around and the wall on top of each, going up and down with the mountains until your eyes could reach to see. Of course it was crowded but nothing like too much. There were a couple of groups together, one of Europeans and another one with American school kids. Once I managed to get detached from them, it felt better. Also, I took the section going through 8 towers which seemed to be longer and therefore more crowded. But at lunch time, when I came back to the starting point and decided to do the other section with 4 towers, it was practically empty and the sun came out and everything was simply perfect. I got a bit of a sunburnt, something I thought I was over with, but well… And I finished the visit with a quick look to the museum, to give some insights of its development through different emperors, its construction, reform, use and other curiosities that I missed because my knowledge of Chinese is limited to hello and thank you.
After such day, I was tired from climbing all the steep parts of the wall and I did nothing else. For next day, I slept in a bit to enjoy a bit more of sleep (the previous night I have had a bear or something similar to a man snoring on the top bunk) and then I headed to the Forbidden City or the palace. What I thought it would take a few hours, took all the day and I would have enjoyed one or two more hours there just to check everything that it is inside. I wasn’t expecting the amount of halls, palaces and buildings that there were and each of them was architecturally beautiful. The only thing that bothered me was the extreme heat and the difficulty for finding some shadow most of the time. We hit the 40 degrees that day and I was already a bit sunburnt from the previous one. Nothing serious though, at this stage I am over the pale Irish skin syndrome I had been suffering some time ago. The funny story of the day was I asked a foreigner to take a picture of me right at the entrance. To what he answered: “To take a picture with you or of you?” I naturally said: “men, why would I want a picture with you?” It was came alone and without thinking but it seems that this was all very natural to him as well because he said that he had been asked for pictures a lot and I answered to him that I was very sorry he was not that exotic to me and if he could take a picture OF me. The result:
I eventually got tired of taking so many pictures in the Forbidden City, it was too big, too vast, too many things… To end up the day and knowing it would be my last full day in the city I decided to try the local delicatessen: Pekin duck. I asked in the hostel reception for a good place to have it and they recommended me the oldest one and I think the expensive one. Of course, they were charging per duck and I wouldn’t eat a whole one despite I barely had lunch that day. The receptionist recommended me to get some friends to share it or try somewhere else. Before the impossibility of getting friends that I had come across (for the first time) I decided to take a walk and find a place.
I got to a nice restaurant and, seeing the price and comparing it with what I had been told by the receptionist, I thought I would get a piece of duck. I asked, several times, but there was no possibility of communication, so I gave up and ordered it. The whole duck came. I only managed to eat half of it and got the rest to take away to do “something” with it because I always refuse to dump food.
The next day was the last day in the city; I checked out, left my bag at the hostel and went to explore certain park and the Heaven Temple which was inside it. I didn’t know what it was about but sounded interesting and I discovered a huge place where people used to pray for the harvest and make sacrifices and all that. It blew my mind to see it all and try to gather in my mind what once had been going on there. They even had the “ovens” and funerary pyres and the holes where the blood and hairs of the animals were going. It was superb.
With the thought that I could have spent a whole week in Beijing and still would be having stuff to do and see, I came back to the hostel to take a shower, chill and prepare until the heat had deceased and I was ready to go to the airport, where I had some stuff to do.
Once at the airport, I panicked a bit when I tried to withdraw money from an ATM and I couldn’t because after 2 or 3 steps everything was coming up in Chinese and I wasn’t able to figure out where the “withdraw” button was. It was an important part because in my next destination, Iran, the cards would not work and I needed to carry enough cash with me for the whole time I was planning to be there. I had some but I needed some extra for emergencies. The panic attack was gone when after a while I found a different ATM and I was successful in the transaction. The next thing I needed to do was to make sure where I needed to head for the check thing and, after that, I was ready to find the nicest possible spot for me to sleep a few hours before doing the check in. The departures area was impossible. So I could only consider the arrivals area, as messy as it was. I spotted some people that seemed to be living there or at least staying for a long term and thought I was in the right place but I needed to find something somewhere else to avoid any problem. But all the chairs had armrests and it seemed impossible to find a place where to lie down a bit. I was thinking of finding a hidden corner to sleep of the floor (it was not going to be the first time) and then I saw a nice padded continuous seat going around some big plant and a person already laying there. That was my place! And I accommodated myself for what it would be 4 hours of pretty good sleep despite the continuous arrivals, noise and airport calls. Because it was free of snoring, finally.
I woke up at 3 am, get my stuff together and hit the counter for checking in, where they were not even sure which country was represented by the initials ESP and were asking each other in Chinese while I was there, just asking them to get the boarding passes to my final destination because with a 7 hours layout in Kuala Lumpur, I didn’t want to waste time going through immigration and security again.
A more than 6 hours flight after, I was back to KL Airport. Back to Malaysia. I have no idea how many times I had been here or how many times this airport had been my house but for this time it would not be from the landside. I took the time to catch up on facebook, to post stuff, to write, to text and to take a nap in some cosy carpeted corner I found with the sign of ATM but without an actual one. Which gave me the advantage of having a plug in there for myself as well and charge my gadgets.
After 7 hours of layover, I was taking my plane to Iran, the very final destination of the day. I would only arrive there at night but a whole day travelling is now bringing me to a new area of the world where I expect to live more adventures. I am feeling excited and the fact that I am coming closer to Europe is not making me sad as a few months ago it would have made me. New goals, new feelings, new stuff to figure out and I can’t wait.