Beijing - Day 1 - Tiananmen Square, the Olympic Precinct and CCTV

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September 6th 2011
Published: October 1st 2011
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We got up reasonably early on our first full day in Beijing and started the morning off with egg fried rice, garlic broccoli and a pot of jasmine tea. We then set out for what turned out to be a massive day of walking. Our first destination was the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square – we walked through Beijing, then along the side of the Forbidden City and turned a corner and were standing on the street which runs between the two sites…at which point we realised we probably should have brought our passports with us.. Unfortunately they were doing some kind of repairs to the front wall of the Forbidden City so it was covered in scaffolding, but Mao’s portrait was still there smiling down over all the people in the square. We wandered through the square amongst the masses of Chinese tourists and a few westerners and made our way towards Mao’s mausoleum. Entry to the mausoleum is free…for people with a valid ID – damn, should have remembered the passports! Since we had a few days in Beijing we decided to come back later on and see the sites when we actually had some ID with us, so we made our way back to the hotel to book train tickets to Pingyao.

When we checked in at the hotel we had noticed a little train ticket booking booth down the street. We wrote down the characters for Pingyao in our terrible kindergarten level Chinese script and then walked over to the window. Fortunately there were a few staff who spoke enough English to tell us that the only tickets left on the train to Pingyao on the day we wanted were standing tickets which are exactly what they sound like – you stand. The train ride to Pingyao is 12-14hrs overnight, so we decided to pass.. We then spoke to the people at our hotel who phoned the railways and discovered that next available sleeper tickets were 2 days later than we wanted. That delay wouldn’t be a big deal if we were travelling for a month or so as we normally do, but for a two week long trip that certainly causes some issues! Booking train tickets for China is extremely disorganised compared to other countries. You cannot easily book tickets online if you’re not in the country and don’t have a Chinese credit card. Tickets can typically only be booked from the city you want to depart from (i.e. if you are in Beijing but want to book the train from Xi’an to Shanghai you’re out of luck). As there was no guarantee that we’d be able to get a train from Pingyao to Xi’an, and then Xi’an to Shanghai we decided to cut our losses and book a train to Shanghai where we would base ourselves for the second half of our holiday.

After booking our tickets we walked to our local subway station and caught about 15 different lines to get to the Olympic area. Beijing has a fantastic subway system, the trains are very regular and the signs inside have a little map of the line with lights which show you where you are and which stations are coming up. We made it to the Olympic area with no issues and walked out of the station and saw the Birds Nest and the Water Cube right in front of us. The colour schemes they chose for both of the structures was ‘Beijing Grey’ so they didn’t look quite as nice as they did on TV. However, the structures were still very impressive and were a lot larger than I had expected them to be. It’s possible to go inside the Birds Nest stadium when there are no events on, so we both bought the overpriced entry ticket and ventured inside to explore the stadium. The stadium looks great on the inside, though for some reason they chose some weird plastic seats which aren’t hugely comfortable or Western sized!

When we were done admiring the cool stadiums we got back on the subway and took another few lines to get to the other modern architectural attraction of Beijing – the CCTV building. We came up out of the subway and walked in the direction we assumed it was in and eventually managed to catch a glimpse of the building over the massive billboard/screen they had erected along the side.. We continued walking around the building hoping to find the entrance point but discovered a construction site…apparently they are constructing some additional buildings in the CCTV complex so our view of the main structures was severely restricted. We walked around the whole (huge) block to find the best vantage point but didn’t have a whole lot of luck. However, we did decide that the building looks even less like it should stand up in real life than it does in photos..

From the CCTV building we made our way back to our hotel where we had dinner before calling it a night.

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