Lots of metro journeys
3 Train journeys including 1 x 6.5 hour smokey and cramped journey
1 Lift from a stranger
I’m sure you wont need me to tell you that Beijing is a massive city, especially when you compare it to Glasgow or any other Scottish city so the transport info above is how we navigated our way about the place for the week that we spent there.
The subway, bus and train will be transport that most people in most cities will use at some point. The lift from a stranger, however, might need an explanation.
On the morning of Saturday 13th September 2014 (UK time) we boarded a flight from Glasgow to Amsterdam and then another one from there to Beijing.
After that, we got the airport express train which links up with a subway. Approx 25 hours after boarding the flight in Glasgow, we were standing in a street in Beijing with a map, the name of our accommodation and absolutely no ideas how to get to it.
The first thing to do was to wander about and try to find street names that tied in with the map – that’s fairly straight forward isn’t it ? Usually it is but not in Beijing because a lot of the street names are only written in Mandarin, which we don’t understand.
Not allowing something like that to get in the way, we walked around, with heavy back packs and hardly any sleep trying to find where we were looking for.
We did ask some local people for help, one or two seemed to vaguely know where we were looking for and were able to point us in the direction – sometimes different people would point you in the completely opposite direction ! Our lack of Mandarin made what would normally be a straight forward task turn into a pretty difficult one.
We had prepared in advance though as we had a copy of the address written in Mandarin that we were able to show to people.
Even a few taxi drivers that we stopped didn’t seem to know where the place was. Later, we found out the reason for that was that we were looking for a place called the Beijing Hutong inn – that’s the same as asking someone for a hotel on a street back home. Booking.com gave the name as the ‘Beijing Hutong Inn’ on our booking confirmation but it was actually called the ‘Zaoyuanju Hotel’.
Apart from some more aimless wandering, we didn’t really have very many ideas. Until, our knight in shining armour appeared. Well, it wasn’t actually a knight and they, thankfully, had no armour. It was a woman in a car but the car did have a nice shine to it. She saw us looking at a map, she spoke English and asked if we were ok and where we were looking for ?
She then told us that she knew where the address was and that it was difficult to find so offered us a lift there. So, as much as that’s a long winded story, that is how the lift from a stranger ended up being part of our transport in Beijing.
A lot of people say that first impressions count and that was a nice way to start our time in Beijing. Was it a bit risky to accept a lift from a complete stranger ? Of course it was but it’s also risky to get on a plane. It’s risky to move out your house and it’s risky to quit your job to spend a year travelling.
You could say that we like to live life on the edge 🙂
There’s risks in just about everything in life and there was no point when we felt the woman in question was going to cause us any grief or harm.
The smokey train journey that I have noted above was our train journey from Beijing to Datong, the next place that we went on to visit.
It was a 6.5 hour journey and we, well me, not Audrey, had the bright idea of booking the cheap seats. It’s only a 6.5 hour journey, surely it can’t be that bad ?
It was quite bad. In China, you get hard seater tickets, hard sleeper tickets or soft sleeper tickets. The hard seated were the cheapest and also the busiest. The seats weren’t particularly bad but there just wasn’t a lot of room on them. If you think of our train seats, the ones which have the space for 4 people and a table, you had a bit less room than those and you’re stuck there for 6.5 hours.
In the carriage, there is no smoking allowed but at the end of the carriage, at the bit between the carriages, the locals can smoke away till their hearts (or lungs) are content. After a short time, the reek wafts into the main carriage and you end up with a sore throat.
I remember pubs and clubs before the smoking ban (yes, we are that old) and I can’t remember the smell ever being that bad.
Maybe I’m getting more intolerant in my old age or maybe the brand of cigarettes on sale here are stronger than the ones back home. I think a combination of old tyres and rubber seems to be the cigarette of choice out here.