It is always exciting when you step on a destination for the first time. After reading about a new country in travel guides and blogs, on arrival the curtain is finally drawn and the show is about to begin. Uncertainty is part of the appeal: will I like it? Will it surprise me? And if the country speaks an unknown language, with an indecipherable writing, another question: will I know how to manage and make myself understood? All this we thought while the plane landed very early in the morning at the Beijing airport. Moments later, while we were descending the plane's stairway with the typical tickle in the belly, the first rays of sun that appeared on the horizon welcomed us and the travel through China. The "show" begins.
Map that gave us the hostel and Google Maps: night and day ...
At half past six in the morning the first express train leaves for the center of the capital. Once there, we take the subway to the hotel. The Beijing subway is quite new, but precisely the lines we use did not have escalators or an elevator, so we had to drag our bags for a while.
And if we hadn't had enough morning exercise, then we had to drag them to the hotel. Just a few hours after landing in China, we suffered the harsh reality of the dysfunctionality of the city maps. At least the one that gave us the situation of the hotel, apparently a couple of streets from the subway, but in reality it was much further. And here is my First tip for traveling to China: print Google Maps itineraries.
Our hostel with a little animation in the middle of the morning
Our first image of Beijing and China was the commercial avenue still asleep at that time and an irregular sidewalk where we dragged our bags. We walked and walked and the hotel street did not appear. Some passers-by with a slight command of English stopped to see if they could help us and all told us to continue straight. "How kind," I remember thinking, and also: "Uff, how hot is it at this early hour."
Walking through Tian'anmen Square.
According to Google Maps (now that I have consulted it) there are fifteen minutes walking, but of course, dragging suitcases and stopping every two by three to see if you have not passed by, it takes much longer. When we reach the height of the Yoshinoya restaurant, we turn to the left and enter a strait hutong. It seemed that in just a few meters we would have gone back 40 years in time: low-rise buildings a bit shaky, a post office of another era and food stalls on tablecloths on the ground, bicycles, vans and, in the middle of everything, the facade from our hotel. "Are you sure it's here?" "Yes, yes, it's here." At last!
Forbidden City from Tian'anmen Square
The photos on the hotel's website did not look much like what we found: a slightly chaotic hostel, packed with objects and ornaments, and sleepy guests like us at the reception. We were given our room, turned on the air conditioning and fell in bed. Between the night flight and the dragging of suitcases we were so tired that we decided that it would be another day later. A few hours later, upon waking up, I noticed that the air conditioning made a lot of noise and also that the room was somewhat tiny, but for € 24 a night I suppose that little more can be requested.
Government buildings in Tian'anmen Square
We went out to the street prepared for the first contact with the city and headed straight for the most nerve-moving point: the Gate of Heavenly Peace Gate or in Chinese: Tian'anmen (天安门广场).
Right in front of the Forbidden City they built in 1949 the new symbol of communist China, a large square, a large expanse of cement where they could hold large political concentrations similar to those held in the Red square of moscu. The difference is that of Russia It has a historical air that gives it a certain presence. In China it seems that they threw down everything old and left a large esplanade surrounded by new buildings, also of concrete, which would be the headquarters of the new government.
Patriot feeling flag in hand
The Tian'anmen Square It is ugly, huge, overwhelming to travel, partly because there were areas cut by works that made you give a great detour to reach some points. In spite of everything, it is a place with enough life. At least that Sunday in the middle of summer, there were all kinds of street vendors selling flags of China, paper kites with the image of the mascot of the past Olympics, ice cream vendors whose freezing cycle had been broken days before and many Chinese tourists visiting the capital. In addition, the communist symbols and the monumental statues of heroic workers, along with the famous portrait of Mao at the door of the imperial palace, give it a certain charm.
Hutong near the Lama Temple
Then we approach to see the great jewel of China, the Forbidden City, but seeing the waves of people entering and leaving we decided to see her another day with more time. Discarded the visit, we went to the practical issues and we began to wander in search of a bank where to change money.