If you are close to me, then you should know the next line after the title can only be, “to defeat the huns.”
Because, I mean… Disney, duh.
As my time came to a close in Saudi Arabia, I began to look for my return flight. Turns out that I could piece together a flight through China and Toronto with extended layovers in each for less than a direct flight. This was good news. I also found out about a 72-hour transit visa in Beijing. This meant that I could actually see the city, visit friends, and explore the Great Wall.
I talked with my friend Mit, and it turned out that he was heading out to Asia for his Tax Adjustment Month. We decided we should explore Beijing together. After digging into some hotels, we settled on the JW Marriott Beijing. I am slowly finding that while I still love the Ritz, JW Marriott brands are very well-done hotels. We booked a one day tour of the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square through China Highlights.
The best flight I could find into Beijing was with Sri Lankan Airlines. This meant I had a 6 hour layover in Colombo. Sadly, it wasn’t enough time to get back into the city, so I just spent the time in the lounge. After more than 20 hours of travel time, I made it to Beijing around 10:00 PM local time.
Mit had told me that the visa process took a while. So I was ready for it. I guess I lucked out, since I was first in line. It only took me about 15 minutes. One of the forms is purely in Mandarin… Luckily the agent spoke English. I quickly discovered that China was the least international country I have visited: barely anyone spoke English, they acted as if they had never seen a 6′ 5″ Giant human, and they were actually upset when I asked for help using my translation app. I am pretty sure I got fleeced by the cab driver who made me pay 5x what Mit had paid for my ride to the hotel. Whatever, I was tired and ready to go.
The JW Marriott was quite impressive. I checked in and immediately went to the bar, hoping to catch a local beer. I was dumbfounded when I discovered they only carried international domestics. They had one local-ish beer, Tsingtao. I guess this night was going to end quickly. I headed back to my room and rested up for the next day.
6 AM came quite quickly. I am glad I didn’t go out on the town. I grabbed a quick bite and got ready for the day. Downstairs, I met up with Mit, and we found Doris, our lovely tour guide. We had two other groups to pick up. It is always interesting the other tour-goers you meet when you travel. Two of the guys were from Puerto Rico. We hit it off pretty well. The other two were an older married couple. We were finally ready to start the tour, 90 minutes later.
Our first stop was Tiananmen Square in front of the giant Mao portrait. It was quite impressive to be in such a historic place.
Next, we went into the Forbidden City. I love the rooflines the most of all the architecture. Doris explained the history and the superstitions of the culture including numbers and colours. We also learned about feng shui and how it applies to building design.
I cannot say enough awesome things about Doris.
It was pretty cool to see the contrast of old things and new.
From there, we headed out into the country towards the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. We grabbed a quick bite at a restaurant just called Dining. The food was what you would get at Panda Express basically… except no egg rolls.
Then we left and parked for the wall. I had found the tour that seemed to have the least hiking. Turns out, it is unavoidable. after a mile long uphill road, we made it to the cable car. This took us to the top. Doris gave us a while to explore on our own. 600 stairs later, we had gotten some great views. between the Beijing smog, my asthma, the thin air, and days of travel, I was exhausted. But I was so glad I made the hike.
The wall was beyond impressive. I loved the whole scene. I was nearly blown away with the magnitude and detail.
One of my best friend’s brothers lives in Beijing where he teaches English. I was pretty happy to catch up with him and his wife for dinner. We chose some authentic Peking Duck. Because that’s what you do when you visit Peking (Beijing). Nina and Ty had picked out this solid spot. We indulged on a duck and pork feast.
After dinner, Mit grabbed a little bottle of Baijiu, then we went to check out some local breweries.
First up was Panda Brew Pub. They were out of many of their beers, but we were still able to get a couple flights and take some fun pictures.
Our next stop was Arrow Factory Brewery. The location I found on Google took us to a closed building. But Ty knew about a pub that served Arrow Factory beer, so we turned the corner and made our way. Turns out the spot he knew was the Tasting Room. These bartenders were very fun and knowledgeable about their beer.
I enjoyed a sample of all their beers and live Snapped it all (@craigtrevor if you’re on SnapChat). Our next stop was Heaven Supermarket. Turns out this place is way more than a grocery store. They had hundreds of local and import beers from everywhere. Mit and I selected a mixed six-pack each. At this point, the travel and long days had caught up to Mit, so he took a quick breather while I polished off his beers. Getting a cab to take us home was quite tricky. But finally we found one, and we were taken safely home.
The other reason I wanted to go to Beijing was to get a tattoo. But I will write about that in another post. My last day was quick. I ate breakfast then hit my appointment. After that, I packed and made my way to the airport. It was a quick trip, but I had fun. We were blessed with amazing weather. The skies were clear and the the sun shone bright. I will hopefully be returning to China in July.