Beautiful Beijing & The Forbidden City

Saturday, June 9 - Sunday, June 10

Remember several months ago when Tina and I boarded a plane headed for Thailand and I was all but peeing my pants with excitement?!?! Yeah, I wasn't quite as excited {most likely just because I'm not sure that's physically possible to be more excited} but I was pretty darn close...I was heading to China!

The Great Wall has always been such an intriguing landmark to me, but so out of reach from Northwest Ohio that I never wanted to dream too big {{lesson learned!}}

My last day in Taiwan was Saturday, July 9 and I was so full of mixed emotions as Clement and Director Chen drove me to the airport; heartbroken to be leaving a country I had fallen in love with, excited to be seeing my friends and family so soon, nervous about traveling through China alone, tired from lack of sleep...truly...everything was hitting me at once. We said our goodbyes and as they drove away it finally hit me and the tears began to wonderful, amazing, and life-changing year of teaching in Taiwan was over. Lucky for me though, a quick 3 hour nap landed me in the heart of Beijing at Beijing Capital Airport...China here we go!

I hopped on the Airport Express line connecting to the subway and headed downtown towards my hostel, Saga Youth Hostel {PS-if you're heading to Beijing anytime soon I HIGHLY recommend this hostel!}. I arrived around 7pm and after situating myself in my bunk, I met several of the guys in my dorm room and after talking for a bit we decided to head out together for dinner. Marcus, from Germany, suggested a large night market about 20 walking minutes away, so we headed out. One of the many things I love about traveling alone and staying in hostels is meeting so many people along the way and the discussions that come along with these new-found friendships. We enjoyed our evening at the market sampling some dumplings, meet skewers, sugar coated cherry tomatoes, and ending our scorching hot evening with delicious mango ice cream!

Waking up Sunday morning I hit the ground running early on, I only had 6 days in Beijing and I had to make the most of it! After grabbing some street-food breakfast meal I hopped on the subway headed for Tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City {only 2 subway stops from my hostel!} to begin my day.

Walking out of the subway station I found myself standing right in the middle of Tiananmen Square and was in awe both at the size of the square as well as the sheer amount of people {and umbrellas for the sun!} that were covering the square. I walked around the square for a while before I found the underpass leading to the entrance gates of the Forbidden City. Now I paid attention in history class {more or less..} and I knew the Forbidden City was big and all, but oh my was HUGE! The 950+ building cover around 180 acres of land and while you are walking from one building to the next, you look out and the layout gives the impression that the Forbidden City (the palace from 1412 - 1920) goes on for forever.

When entering the city I decided to purchase the GPS audio guide they were offering and was so glad I did! Other than being an amazing map (no place in China that I went to had maps for people!) it kept track of where you were with a blinking red light, and upon approaching an important area or building would begin telling you about the location until you moved on. By using the guide I was not only able to keep track of where in the palace museum I was, but also what else there was to see ahead of me (aka, tons!) The architecture of the palace buildings reminded me a lot of many of the temples in Taiwan, both in structure as well as color choices. Although we were not permitted to enter many of the buildings, many of them were set up with furniture and artifacts from the emperors and it was neat to see the period pieces from a culture so different from my own! After 4+ hours of walking {99% of which was outside} in temperatures reaching the high 90's, I decided that I could only see so much of the palace in one day and headed back to my hostel to cool down for a bit.

After a quick cool down and power nap {never underestimate the power of an afternoon power-nap!} I headed back out for the evening towards the Temple of Heaven. Though not entirely far from my hostel, by the time I got there they had stopped selling tickets to enter inside the temple, so I opted to buy a ticket to simply walk the gardens around this iconic 200-year-old temple. Although I was bummed I couldn't go inside the temple {haha you know how I love my temples!} the gardens around it were beautiful and I loved getting a glimpse at the evey day life of many Chinese people. There were small groups of people covering virtually every flat space of the gardens playing cards and mahjong, men and women alike; it was quite fun to see!

Once I left the gardens, and after grabbing a snack at a local bakery since I was STARVING!, I headed off in the direction of the local silk market. The hostel had posters of recommended sights in Beijing and little bits of info about each one and after noticing the market was open late (many things closed between 4 & 6) I figured it might be a fun way to spend my first evening in China! Getting to the silk market was a breeze and I quickly located a small restaurant with an ever  instant waiter and figured I'd give it a try...I mean where else can you get a "fast food", duck sandwich for dinner!!! I enjoyed my sandwich along with the free fries and nuggets they brought me out later as well! :)

Walking just a couple feet from the duck restaurant I found myself in the midst of the silk market. This 8 story building is filling with vendors trying their hardest to sell you anything and everything under the sun. Every two feet had someone shouting "hey pretty lady" or "do you need a..." and "I give you good price". I just had to laugh....things we never see in America! I browsed the isles for a while before buying my brother a Beijing soccer jersey and told myself I'd be back again when I had a little more sleep on my hands! Back to the hostel I went and after a little online research for the rest of my Beijing stay...I quickly crashed...midnight comes all too soon when you're traveling!