The overnight sleeper train Xi'an to Beijing was one of the things the grandchildren were looking forward to as a new experience. The soft sleepers come four to a compartment and as it was felt Charlotte wouldn’t stay in her own bed anyway, the family squeezed into one together. We took some food on and had a picnic in the compartment before going to bed. Owen and I were further down the carriage, so we can only assume they slept well – though I’m not sure how Anna went sharing a bunk with a three-year-old.
In Beijing we stayed at the Tianan Rega, which was in a great location for all the must sees. It was a short block from the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square in one direction, the same to the Wangfujing shopping street in the other and just down the road from the underground station which took us to the Silk City market and the zoo and planetarium. The hotel staff were friendly and helpful, though little English was spoken – but that’s not unusual. Owen and I had stayed there once before, over Chinese New Year and had a great time. Then the hotel had a big screen in the lobby lounge area and put out chairs and nibbles for patrons to watch the annual New Years Eve TV show. At midnight they also wheeled out a luggage trolley loaded with fireworks and proceeded to provide a fantastic show, taking up one lane in the street out in front. But I digress. It also had a pretty good restaurant with nice breakfast and reasonably priced meals.
We were there for the May Day holiday and the crowds in Tiananmen Square were quite something. We walked through the Square and south to Qianmen Dajie pedestrian street, then caught a three-wheeler taxi to the Temple of Heaven (Owen’s favourite) with many photo stops with locals along the way. The Forbidden City is another favourite place – I could spend a whole day there. We took a day trip to the Great Wall at Mutianyu as this had been recommended by a friend. We hired a minivan and guide for the day and this was a first for us. She was great, very enthusiastic, helpful, engaged with the kids, and we all enjoyed the day immensely.
We could have gone shopping if we’d had the time. Anna and I managed a too brief shopping trip involving a short ride in the underground to Silk City, site of an old silk market, now a multistory market selling shoes, clothes, bags, jewellery, silk etc. A great place to shop, but you need to hone up on your bargaining skills before going there. The next street along from the hotel was the Wangfujing shopping mall, which was pretty impressive. We ate a couple of times in a big food hall and there were also street stalls selling some interesting options which we weren’t quite up to. In the opposite direction was the Joy City shopping centre with its huge 6 floor high express escalator.
Caught the train to the Beijing Zoo to see the pandas. If you can’t go to Chengdu this is a good alternative. It was a hot day so they were all flaked. The Planetarium opposite is also pretty impressive, not least the architecture of the building. We then finished the day with an acrobatics show which was very spectacular and colourful - and a bit nerve wracking, especially the motor bikes zooming round and round inside a giant mesh ball.
We had a good time in Beijing, but only scratched the surface. Didn’t get to the Summer Palace or any galleries or museums. Next time.