You see, for Spring Break this year, I'm taking a group of students to Europe. We're traveling to Italy, Switzerland and France, to be exact! While this is amazing in and of itself, this travel opportunity lead me right to China! When we go, we will be traveling with an educational travel company called E.F. Tours, and if you are a first time group leader (like me) the company will provide you with a free training tour. Training tours are offered in a handful of countries, one of them being China! I thought to myself that I may never get another opportunity to travel to Beijing, so why the heck not?!
So, one early morning in November, I found myself on the way to the airport preparing for a fifteen hour plane ride to China on my own. I was quite nervous but I 'm so glad that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone because I had an amazing trip!
I took about a million pictures while I was there but I will only share a few of my favorites here. Despite that, this will be a longer post than usual. But let's jump right in with the most amazing part of the trip: visiting the Great Wall of China!
Actually walking the Great Wall of China was a surreal experience. I had to keep telling myself that I was actually there! We walked the Wall for about an hour and only saw a tiny fraction of it. It's crazy that it goes on for thousands and thousands of miles. Before visiting, I pictured the wall just as you see it in the above picture but there are actually lots of stairs. We were constantly going up and down and winding around the mountains of China.
What you see here is the way in which I got down the mountain from the Wall. I tobogganed. Yes, you read that right! You can pay a small amount to sit on one of those little, black toboggans and luge your way down the mountain on a metal slide. And let me tell you, it was a blast!
While touring Beijing and the surrounding areas, we got to visit the Summer Palace. Standing by the lake on the grounds, I had my favorite moment of the whole trip. We were there towards closing so it was peaceful and the sun was setting. We had a few moments to wander around so I stood alone by the side of the lake and just let it sink in that I was really in China! I will always remember that quiet moment.
Yet another example of beautiful Chinese architecture that I got to visit was the Temple of Heaven seated in the midst of relaxing gardens. And my trip wouldn't have been nearly as much fun without the friends I made while there. Yes, I left alone, but while there, I traveled with a group of about forty like-minded teachers. This was my little posse and we had so much fun together...even riding the bus (which we did a lot of)!
In any travel experience, one of my favorite parts is trying the local cuisine. For most dinners, we we were served the most amazing, fresh Chinese food. Think of the best Chinese meal you've had and amplify it by 100! These dinners were mostly served family style on a lazy-Susan in the middle of the table so that we could sample all of the dishes. For lunches, we were on our own to try other local dishes. This noodle dishes was one of my favorites (although it was hard to eat with chopsticks)!
Did you know that Tiananman Square, while being the seat of lots of history, is the biggest public square in the world? And it is surrounded by important national buildings. One of these buildings is the entrance to the Forbidden City, where the emperors used to live! The Forbidden City is just that, a city consisting of these beautiful red buildings.
On a side note, can I please have this wall for blog photo taking purposes?!
If you've spent any time around these parts, you know that this girl loves to shop! I so enjoyed the morning we spent wandering the markets haggling for anything from souvenirs to knock-off designer goods. And these dumplings? They are from the market food court but were handmade and cost less than two U.S. dollars!
Another couple of fun experiences were visiting a silk factory and trying Chinese street foods. Yep, that is a scorpion! Definitely the weirdest food I've had to date (and I've tried some interesting things)! For those of you who are wondering, it was tiny and fried so it didn't taste like a whole lot. It was just crispy!
Our last morning in Beijing, we took a rickshaw tour through a traditional housing district. And this last picture is a view from my hotel room. At night, you could see the lights of Tiananmen Square. By day you see the smog that you hear lots about in the news. It is really as bad as they say. By the end of each day I could feel it in my lungs!
Despite the traffic, smog and interesting toilet situation that I won't discuss in detail (you're welcome), I loved my experience in Beijing. Not only did I visit one of the Wonders of the World and many other amazing sites, I experienced a culture that is so very different from mine. And I did so with a really fun group of people! It was the trip of a lifetime!