We left Xi’an in the evening on an overnight train to Beijing. We are a bit of a parade with the six of us- the twins and their retro frame backpacks, blue-haired Fiercely, and DH with his walking stick from the Himalayas. It was interesting to see the differences between Chinese and Indian trains. The station was clean, orderly, and free of animals. No one was sleeping or picnicking on the train platforms. We went through a gate to the platform only when we were allowed and after showing our tickets. We boarded the train at the appropriate car as directed by uniformed staff who stood military-straight by each car entrance and checked our tickets. Inside the car, we noticed that the car was bright with white walls, comfortable with a/c and the windows did not open. When the train started and people came by selling things, the people always wore uniforms. The cars seemed newer and very clean. There is hot water available in every car, useful for making tea or instant noodles, both extremely popular here. We had a nice ride, a decent night’s sleep and there we were at the Beijing station. Our destination from there took us on three subway lines and a bus, this is a big city!
We spent the first few days in the northeast suburbs hosted by a very sweet family (Lanxin and her mom, above) we met online through couchsurfing. They are so awesome! We hung out, cooked, shared photos and stories, played a wii-style dance game, and spent an afternoon at the Great Wall with our hosts. We also spent an afternoon with a Swiss family we had met in Xi’an. They are also going RTW with daughters for a year! We found a park, the kids had a great time, and I think all of the adults also enjoyed hanging out with other adults crazy enough to do this yearlong family travel thing.
The Great Wall. The section of the Great Wall we saw is called Mutianyu. Lanxin and her mom drove us there and we took a cable car up to the wall and walked from there.
This section was originally built for defense in the 500’s and restored in the 1600’s. In the 1980’s it was again restored, this time to bring tourists in rather than keep invaders out. The surrounding land is forested and has some hills with rock outcroppings. The day was sunny and hot but the watchtowers have cool inside breezy resting spots, so the walk was not uncomfortable. I was happily surprised by the lack of crowds on a beautiful Sunday in spring.
Handstands on the Wall!
Next, we went to a hutong (small alleyways) district and stayed at a backpacker hostel. We had to get paperwork together for Russian visas. When we got our photos, the lady at the shop fixed our hair and skin on the computer, we thought that was a hoot.
The hutong areas in Beijing have mostly been razed to build modern construction, a bad decision in my opinion, but a few remain. The one where we stayed, at Nanluoguxiang station, looks to be newer construction, all grey brick with one or two-story traditional style buildings and has almost a carnival or boardwalk feel. Much fried food, photo-taking, live music in bars, and crowds. The vast majority of tourists are Chinese, looking very happy and taking selfies and eating fried squid on a stick.
We stayed a few days and worked on those Russian visas. Cross your fingers- after three visits to the office and numerous hours logged by DH filling out the 10-page form on each member of our family- we don’t have them yet. We are waiting for the visas and enjoying Beijing. More soon!