I’ve been little behind with my blogging… opps! So sorry I’m about to hit you with two or three in a row.
I flew one from Germnay on Christmas day. Flying on Christmas is cheap, but kinda sucks. No, the airline did not do anything cool because it was Christmas. However, I had 16 hour layover in Beijing and I was definitely going to leave the airport. But how? It’s China. From what I’ve been told not a lot of people speak English and because they don’t use the Roman alphabet their signs are impossible to figure out. So I set out google. It’s the one part of my winter break trip I actually researched. I read various blogs and emailed several different tour companies. The standard visa into China, for Americans, is a 10 year visa and it cost $200, however if you are there under 72 hours and have an ongoing ticket you can apply for a free visa. This seemed like that better option for my bank account. I was able to book a drive and an English-speaking tour guy who would take me to the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City. I was stoked!
When I flew through Beijing on my way to Paris there was a huge line for this visa. I figured it was because it was later in the day (I guy I work with was on that same flight and he said it took him four hours to get through the line). I figured I’d have better luck because my flight would arrive at 4:45 am. My luck ended up being not much better.
I recommend that if you ever decided to try out this 72 hour visa you have patience. Buckets and buckets of patience. It’s a long somewhat chaotic process but don’t worry your tour guy will not leave you! (Something I was stressed about).
So I arrive at 4:45am and went straight to the line. There are two different forms you have to fill out. One is at the counter next to the line and the second you have to ask the person processing the visas for. Interrupt him/her or they will never give it to you. There were maybe 7 people in front of me, however they were holding 5-6 passports each. I didn’t think anything of this assuming one person was processing a whole family of passports. Time dragged on. An hour passed and we still hadn’t moved much because there was ONE person processing all the requests. There must have been 150 people behind me (no joke). As it started to creep towards two hours things went down hill fast. First they ran out of the appropriate paperwork. People began forming a line next to the actually line just to get the paperwork. This would have been fine, however the people in front of me needed to get their families in line when it was their turn. This started causing a lot of issues. Accusations of cutting began to fly around, cussing happened, and a third line on the other side of the real line formed where other people decided to just start cutting in. What was once a nice orderly line turned in to a mob of people pushing. It was awful! When my paperwork was finally process I had to push and shove people to get out of the line.
I would like to hope that my experience isn’t typical. I have my doubts about that. There was one person processing paperwork and it took a lot of time. People were frustrated. A gentleman told me Shanghai is much better as they have multiple people processing the paperwork. After that line you have to go the actually immigration line to get your passport stamped. This didn’t take long.
It was definitely worth the wait and stress of the whole process. Just prepare your self to be there for a while.
My tour guide, Alice, (along with at least 15 other tour guides) was waiting for me at a Starbucks in the arrival area which was really easy to find. She took be to our car and we were off to the Great Wall. On the way she gave me a brief history of the wall and soon decided I looked too tired let me take a nap instead. (Actually, I was car sick from being over tired but didn’t want to make the driver feel bad). we went to the Mutianyu part of the wall. It was rebuilt in the 80s and you can still see parts of the original wall. We arrive and took a chair lift up to the top. You can take stairs but it was freezing and I was exhausted so I opted for the easier option. When we got to the top there was barely anyone there. It was so nice!
After the seeing the Great Wall we headed to Tiananmen Square (“the Square of the Gate of Heavenly Peace’). Tiananmen square is the largest public square in the world. I was surprise with all the security around the square. Because I was with a tour guide I was able to bypass all the lines!
We then walked under the road via a tunnel and were at the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was a palace complex for the Chinese Emperors and is now a museum. It’s beautiful and has several palaces with in it which get smaller the farther in you go. The front was repainted for the Olympics so the colors were much brighter. My tour guided pointed out how so much of it was built around the idea of feng shui.
This was probably one of the best layovers I’ve ever experienced. I highly recommend booking a driver and tour guide! China seemed like it would be hard to navigate on ones own and the Great Wall is about an hour outside the city. It was a great way to end my trip to Europe and a neat way to spend my Christmas!