While it may not have been bronchitis, both Hugo and I were struck down by an awful phlegmy chesty cold that knocked us for six while we were in Beijing and lasted for over two weeks. At first, we tried to power through, but this left us absolutely exhausted, causing us to go into hibernation at our next stop…more on that later though.
To get to Beijing from Hong Kong, we took a 10 hour bullet train from Shenzhen in Southern China, crossing the border early in the morning with our newly minted visas. It was cool to see China whizzing passed us that day but it wasn’t nearly as interesting as I had hoped – trees, trees and more trees, punctuated now and again by colourful little houses. The landscape changed from rolling hills to flat as a pancake. Apart from that, there really wasn’t all that much variety.
On our first night, we stayed in an airbnb near the train station. This was a complete disaster of a place. The host spoke no English whatsoever and we tried to communicate through google translate. He showed us our room, which turned out to me a converted balcony, with no door, no air conditioning and a bed that felt like it was make out of plywood. To top it off, once we were settled in, someone (I’m still not sure if it was the host), came to sleep outside the entrance to our little converted room, snoring their face off all night on a little futon. Welcome to Beijing!
After moving to a hostel near Tienanmen Square and succumbing to phlegmy illness, our ambitions for the 5 day stop in Beijing quickly shrunk to 4 goals: see the Forbidden City, see part of the Great Wall, eat Peking duck and don’t miss the train to Mongolia.
We crawled through the Forbidden City, coughing and feverish, sweating under the hot sun. The buildings all sort of merged into one: the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Palace of Heavenly Purity basically all became the Palace of Extreme Expulsions of Phlegm.
It also just happened to be our first wedding anniversary while we were in Beijing. For our special wedding anniversary dinner, we ate Peking duck at the restaurant next door to our hostel. I have no idea what it tasted like as I was so blocked up that day. Hugo tells me it was good. We were asleep in bed by 8pm. It was so romantic.
Unbelievably, we managed to find the energy to do a day trip to the Jingshanlin section of the Great Wall. This is basically the reason I wanted to come to Beijing in the first place and so we were not going to miss it for anything. It was the most strenuous 6km walk I have ever done. I am so glad we did it: we almost had the wall to ourselves with our own little group and it was a beautiful sunny (read, sweltering hot) day. The wall was an amazing thing to see, snaking off into the distance in both directions, crumbling off mountain tops on the horizon.
We had to provide our own picnic which had caused a dilemma the day before… Without sandwiches, what do the Chinese take on a picnic? We opted for buns from a bakery filled with both sweet and savoury things, with some apples and bananas. The savoury buns were a mistake. In the heat they congealed on the top and were seriously inedible. The bananas exploded in the day bag. It was a failure of a picnic but we survived.
So, despite feeling like an old snot rag with a blob for a brain, we did actually succeed in ticking off our Beijing list. We made it onto the Trans-Mongolian train to Ulan Bataar and got comfortable in our shared compartment with a fellow traveler from Canada. We watched Northern China and Inner Mongolia pass across out window from the comfort of our little bunk beds. We got free (though uninspiring) meals on the Chinese side. We spent the remainder of our Yuan on Great Wall wine, which turned out to be not half bad. The sun went down in a pinky orange glow as we crossed the steppes and we were fuzzy with wine and cough medicine. It felt like enforced relaxation. That was, until we reached the border with Mongolia at 11pm. All relaxation went out the window then as we commenced 5 hours of border checks, with a bit of bizarre train engineering in the middle so that our train would be able to continue on the Mongolian lines, which had different gauges.