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Beijing (Spring Festival 春节)

January was such a busy month I’ve only just had chance to sit down and write a blog entry. It’s the last day of Spring Festival holiday today, so I’m taking some time out to relax, reorganise and reflect.

I decided quite last minute to visit Beijing for Spring Festival because it made sense to use my long holiday to travel somewhere farther afield. I also arranged to meet a friend there who lives about an hour away and also works as an ESL teacher. I had been warned by some people that Beijing would be a nightmare to get around on Chinese New Year because of crowds, however the majority of places I visited were relatively deserted – presumably due to the fact that the majority of people living in Beijing had gone back to their hometowns to spend time with family. The most crowded place I visited was Tiananmen Square and the National Museum of China- more about that later.

Rather than flying I decided to get the train from Yuyao to Beijing which was a 6 hour journey. The beautiful views of the cities and countryside in between certainly made up for the long time. I arrived in Beijing by the evening and got a taxi to my hotel, before going for a wander around the nearby streets to find some food. I stumbled across the art gallery which was so beautifully lit up I assumed it was a temple of some sort.

The next day I planned to meet my friend at Tiananmen Square. Looking at a map, my hotel seemed fairly close by so I decided to walk there and get a feel for the city by foot. The weather was very good- freezing cold but clear, blue skies- quite a rarity I think. After grabbing some sweet potato baozi for breakfast (a new favourite I’m hoping to learn to make by myself at home) I headed towards Tiananmen. I ended up walking unintentionally into the outskirts of Forbidden City (sadly the actual site was closed for the holiday). I still got some pretty good views though…

Then I headed towards Tiananmen which was surprisingly quiet, met my friend and had a brief look around before heading onto a shopping/market street to get some lunch and catch up. As much as I hate to be pulled into Western style restaurants in China, we were so excited to see veggie burger and fries on a menu, we couldn’t resist.

Later that evening we headed over to Houhai Bar Street to celebrate the new year and hopefully catch some fireworks. The area surrounds a lake and has a really relaxed atmosphere. Although the bars were pretty quiet to begin with, things soon livened up later on once the fireworks displays began. I got to watch some musicians playing which is something that doesn’t seem to exist in Yuyao (presumably because of the smaller size of the city). The firework displays were different to any I have seen before. Absolute disregard towards health and safety measures- people were setting them off in the streets outside the bars, feet away from crowds of people. It definitely beat any organised fireworks event I have been to in the past.

The next day I decided to take the metro to Summer Palace (I had hoped to visit the great wall, but hadn’t organised it and figured it was too far out and needed more planning- maybe next time!). The metro was very easy to navigate- perhaps even easier than London. It took around 30 minutes to get to Summer Palace station, and then a short walk to the entrance gates. I took a lot of photographs here- it’s probably best to just share these rather than rambling on about how beautiful it was, seriously though…

The following day we went back to Tiananmen square (which was a LOT busier this time) and had to queue for around 45 minutes to get into the square. Then we had to queue to get into the National Museum of China for what felt like 5 hours (probably 1.5) in the freezing cold. I’ve never been so relieved to enter a museum! It was definitely worth the queue though- I got to see some fantastic paintings and exhibitions which I found very interesting and thought provoking.

After that we headed out of Tiananmen towards Wangfujing street and then on to one of Beijing’s famous Hutongs where we spent our final evening wandering around. This felt like a truly “Chinese experience”- being surrounded by crowds of people pushing to get to various food stalls, cafes and independent shops. It was nice to just roam around absorbing the atmosphere. We also stumbled across a cat café, housing some of china’s grumpiest cats.

Here are a few more photos from various places around the city... I'd definitely like to return to Beijing at some point in the future- I feel like there is still so much to explore, and I'd love to visit the great wall.

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