Travelling from Shanghai to Beijing was preemptive of the chaotic city I would inhabit for 3 days. After missing the 5pm bullet train and lurching from one help desk to another, my friend and I were presented with the choice of trailing back to our apartment, tail between legs, or booking business class tickets for the following morning. My bank account may have taken a battering, but after six hours of assessing our lack of options we didn’t have much choice. Consoling myself with the exhausted words ‘it’s a once in a life time experience’, I slid my debit card under the glass window and it was a done deal. Beijing bound at last!
Upon arrival, my travelling companion very aptly described Beijing as being ‘one large exhaust fume’. The pungent whiff of petrol and suffocating heat certainly wasn’t welcome after a 5-hour train journey (having your fringe sweat-super-glued to your forehead is not a desirable look, I assure you).After the habitual fumbling in the murky depths of my rucksack for the scrap of paper containing the name of our hostel, we headed towards what would be our hedonistic home for the next few days.
When travelling in Beijing, you become the tourist. Loitering around on the sidewalk, moaning about the stifling heat and theelusive invention also known as the Western toilet, becomes an occupation It is impossible to travel anywhere without waving an address card in the perplexed faces of locals. Even the simplest task begins to draw parallels with a James Bond mission. After attempting to consult maps (a similar experience to cracking Morse code), we abandoned what was remaining of our rationality and hopped onto what we hoped was the correct bus. Driving away from the smog shrouded skyscrapers, it was literally light relief to see mountain peaks basking in the afternoon sun. The view was certainly idyllic from behind the safety of a pane of glass, but I am going to be brutally honest – we did not opt for a dutiful five-hour walk along the wall in 40 degree heat. Instead, we caught the last cable car of the day and followed a group of tourists for a brief stroll along a popular point. After snapping a host of obligatory insta-worthy photos (no filter, I promise), we headed back.
Our second morning in Beijing was met with an unwelcome (but very much deserved) headache. After a bleary eyed breakfast, sunglasses were placed firmly on our faces and the pilgrimage to The Forbidden City was underway. Evading the infamous Beijing traffic, we opted for the gloriously cheap metro in the not so glorious heat and arrived at our destination. The barren grounds surrounding the Palace were initially deceptive but after observing the interior of the rooms, it was quite clear as to why this tourist magnet is considered China’s most impressive cultural treasure.
With only one morning left in the heart of this pulsating city, we took a wander through Beijing’s 798 art district, marveling at the bizarre amalgamation of trendy, contemporary, art with what used to be an industrial hotspot. Yet, in a similar fashion to the city’s rickshaws, our weekend break juddered to a satisfying halt. What started out as a precarious journey, ended with the smug satisfaction that we had survived and intensely enjoyed our brief break in the city where tradition contently co-exists with vibrant modernity.