Welcome to Beijing

We arrived in Beijing expecting utter chaos but found the train station to be relatively calm. After searching and walking in a few circles, we eventually found the luggage consignment department and were able to claim our bikes. We reflected upon how in China we handed over our bikes confident that they and our gear would arrive safely, not worrying about theft for damage, and in the USA we did not even consider sending the bikes via Amtrak because they did not insure them! What a contrast after a year and so much travel. In some ways, we wonder if the lack of familiarity with the country allows us to have more faith in its mechanisms.

At first riding posed a challenge, as the road just outside the train station was big with eight lanes of traffic and no bicycles. We wondered if bikes were not permitted on this road? Becky spotted a bike lane sign on a cross street, so we made our way to it. Once we found the street with the bike lane, riding to the area of our hotel was much easier.

At one point we pulled up to the entrance to the Forbidden city and Tiananmen square. Becky knew where she was, recognizing it from her previous trip to Beijing eight years ago. Scott did not believe her at first, as the GPS had us on a different street – he did eventually realize that she was correct and that the GPS was showing that blasted 500m+ “security offset” such that the map and our current position do not line up! (To his credit, after that he navigated us right to the first hotel on our short list, notwithstanding Becky’s concerns that we were going the wrong way as she checked the map).

We rode around the streets finding the Hutong that had our short list of hotels on it. The first hotel no longer existed. The second one was much too expensive for what you got (200 RMB – $40 for a hostel room without an ensuite bath). We found a nice place at the New Dragon Hostel just down the street from the Saga Hostel (the expensive one). For 180 RMB (about $30) we got a nice clean room with ensuite, hot water, and air conditioning. Trip advisor reports that the hotel staff were rude, but we did not find this at all. The hotel staff were amazingly pleasant and helpful – especially given the large number of excessively rude tourists that we encountered there!

We noticed that Beijing is very dry compared to southern China and Thailand. We felt the need to gulp down water in order to keep our throats moist – this is likely caused by a combination of the dryness and the pollution. The pollution is visible, but does not seem to be having an adverse effect on either of us (to Becky’s great surprise, she is not experiencing any breathing issues here).

We went for a walk out to the park, which has a large hill made with the dirt from the moat around the Forbidden City. Unfortunately, it was rather dusty/smoggy and there was a storm in the sky blocking the sun – so the sunset was rather unspectacular. It was interesting to look over the rooftops of the Forbidden City though. As we were leaving the park we saw a bunch of people playing a game similar to hacky sack, except the “sack” looks more like a badminton birdie, with feathers attached to a weighted sack. What was especially amusing is that the people playing this game were all older people – age range 50 to 70 at a guess.

Another observation about Beijing is the distinctly longer days. The sun was up by 4:45 am and it did not set until 7:30 pm. After being in the 12-hour day tropics, the longer days and slightly cooler temperatures (it is still getting up to the mid 30s) feels much more familiar to us. Becky is especially enjoying the occasional cool breezes. Scott was surprised when he went out with long pants and a t-shirt and actually felt cold for a moment or two. We guessed that the temperature was 20 C at that point!

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