The thing about taking a 12 hour flight that drops you in a city 15 hours ahead of the one you left is that it can take you a few days to get it all together again.

And so it was that we landed in Beijing, running on fumes after changing time zones from South America to Los Angeles to Beijing over the course of a week.

But despite the jet lag and the confusion (What day is it anyway?) we were excited.
There is so much history in this country it is mind-boggling. And as an outsider who doesn’t speak the language there is only one way to penetrate it – with a guide.
Laura, from China Travel 2.0 was the perfect conduit.
After suviving an impromptu rainstorm we finally connected with her outside the Forbidden City and what ensued was pure magic.

The rains and the city

I’ve seen pictures of the Forbidden City (also known as the Imperial Palace) before but with Laura as our guide it came to life. We learned about the life of the emperors who once called the immense grounds home and stood on the centre axis of the city that runs through it.
fam Forbidden City
We stood where the soldiers stood and we peered into the rooms where the concubines stayed – once their names had been randomly selected from the emperor for the privilege of staying for two hours with him that night.
(There are some things that are just too difficult to translate without a guide. )
Forbidden City

Laura, Ish and Cam at one of the many entrances

The kids loved finding the dragons that were the symbol of the emperor’s power. Five-toed dragons were only allowed in places belonging to the emperor, Laura tells us, and as a result Cam spends much of the afternoon counting dragon toes to make sure.
dragon toes

The learning..and counting...never stops

And when we were done exploring the simple and yet daunting grounds, Laura took us to lunch.
I’ve eaten Szechuan food at home (it’s actually Sichuan – as in the province I’ve since learned) but not like this.
Kung Pao Chicken with a bit of crunch but not the overdone frying that can be a turnoff in North America, sweet and sour ribs that had the kids elbowing each other out of the way and a spicy beef that wasn’t kidding about the spicy.
And then to work it off? A walk in the most magnificent park.
The Park
There were few foreigners making their way along the river; mainly locals – here on bikes built for three, holding kites and kidlets, coasting on pedalboats on the water or simply sitting with friends over a game of cards (with a bit of a wager of course).
men in the park Beijing
In the course of 24 hours Beijing, which had felt foreign and difficult became accessible, friendly and poetic. Thanks Laura.
Bridge in Beijing