Beijing is a 6.5 hour train journey from Ningbo and we caught the 7:38am one morning. At one point it was unsure if the nine of us would make it – getting five children out of the door by 6:30am was no easy task. For unknown reasons I thought we were changing trains at Shanghai – imagine my horror when I realised we were stuck on a train for 6.5 hours with two children and barely any food! The one journey I got more reading than eating done, which was probably a good thing – I was eating way too many peanut M&Ms each day as it was.
Like Shanghai, we had booked an Air bnb apartment a few weeks in advance and below is the view from our apartment. It was a few minutes walk from a metro station, taxis were easy to catch and there were lots of shops very close by.
Our first full day in Beijing was spent on a guided tour bus. The nine of us had a tour guide and a driver. We were taken to a jade factory, The Tombs of Ming, The Great Wall of China and a silk factory.
Jade has always been the most highly prized material in China. It has been used for centuries for ceremonial purposes, jewellery, decorative items and rituals. Jade was worn by kings and nobles, and after death it was placed with them in the tomb.
Nowadays it is very popular for Chinese people to wear a jade bracelet around their left wrist (to protect the heart) or a pendant around their neck. We were able to watch men carving intricate designs using a tiny electric drill. A traditional happiness ball takes 15 days to carve. Jade dragons are placed in homes facing the door in line with Feng shui to bring good luck, harmony and money.
Our second stop was The Tombs of Ming. They are a collection of mausoleums built by the Ming dynasty emperors. The site was chosen based on principles of Feng shui. We had a chance to go underground and inside the only one of thirteen tombs that has been excavated.
I was completely blown away by The Great Wall. Completely blown away, and it took me by surprise. The immensity of it. The shape of it. How lush the vegetation was. The length of it. The detail. How perfectly it has been preserved. A total and utter wonder. It was a hot day, the chair lift took minutes to take us up and we just walked and walked. One of those times I wish I could go back in time and observe.
Our long suffering tour guide told us that most people spend one hour on the wall, but we’d been two and a half! I think she was so thrilled to have five children to photograph for the whole day that she didn’t say anything. Normally I would have felt so guilty, but I didn’t at all – a once in a lifetime visit deserves at least two and a half hours of my time, I say.
Day two in Beijing was spent at The Forbidden City – the largest palace in the whole world. It served as the home of the emperors and their households and the political centre of the Chinese government for over 500 years. The complex consists of 980 buildings. We hired a tour guide to take us around so that we could walk and talk and avoid the crowds. Chairman Mao’s portrait hangs over the entrance.
I loved all the bold paint colours and intricate details. Part of it burnt down in 1995 so some of the paintwork is really bright.
These two and these tiles.
On the third and final day the four of us spent the morning at The Temple of Heaven and the Imperial Gardens. I didn’t realise the emperors not only needed the largest the palace in the world, but also a whole complex of temples and gardens to worship in. We were umming and ahhing about being able to fit this in but I’m so glad we decided to squeeze it in.
The Temple of Heaven is beautifully set up for ceremonial purposes and were able to learn a lot about ancient Chinese worship, which happens to include animal sacrifice, dancing and incense. I couldn’t help but wonder how horrified the emperors would be to see masses of people walking around their sacred temple! Oh-er.
One of my favourite parts of the whole trip was the couple of hours we spent walking around the Imperial Gardens at the Temple of Heaven.
We spotted a group of school boys learning how to do the splits (they were pretty good), a young girl using a sword with both dance and aggression – whilst being shouted at by her coach, a friend singing so his friend could dance, groups of people doing Tai Chi, people doing Tai Chi alone away from everyone, pairs of people throwing and catching balls whilst dancing, a lady singing along to an erhu (a two stringed fiddle) and I got to hold a beautiful Chinese 9 month old baby named Summer whilst her twin was sleeping. It was so thrilling – we never knew what would be around the corner.
After the Imperial Gardens we headed back to collect our bags from the apartment to catch the train back to Ningbo. We spent one day in Ningbo before heading back to Shanghai for home. Again, we didn’t book a hotel but thankfully our first choice (the airport hotel) had space for us. Phew! We stayed the night and then had a whole day to be very touristy in Shanghai.
From the airport into Shanghai we decided to catch the maglev train. We’d seen one in Winston’s train book and when we told him we’d be going on one he was over the moon! It feels similar to a monorail, except the train tilts, goes a whopping 431 kph and the journey only lasts 8 minutes. I’m not one to get excited over a train (I’ll leave that to my Dad) but I have to admit it was impressive.
It was a beautiful, clear day and we had such a good time hopping on and off the sightseeing bus.
We spent a lot of time walking around the financial district (The Bund) and went up to the 88th floor of the Jin Mao tower to have a good look at the city.
We ate dinner in Shanghai and arrived back at the airport around 9pm ready to prepare for our flight.
In China you very rarely see a mother or father alone with their child, you almost always see the mother or father with one or two grandparents. I had women come up to me asking whether I looked after two children by myself when my husband is at work – they couldn’t believe it, to which I replied some people have far more than two children to look after by themselves! With two children and all our bags we were somewhat of a spectacle.
Our first flight was at 01:25am and thankfully we managed to get them both asleep and successfully transferred for the journey home.
Sleeping, and ready to get on the first leg of our journey to Doha.