Having dithered a while, I booked my flight to Auckland just two weeks before setting off. The flight was quite cheap, mainly because it was with Air China and had a New Year’s Eve layover in Beijing.
The layover was for 10 hours and Beijing has a snazzy little 72-hour visa that I beelined for. Ella safely wrapped up in her cardboard box (with little other keeping her company as Heathrow would not let me sneak extra luggage by stuffing it with clothes, tent and sleeping bag), I swung my Ortlieb backpack over my shoulders and emerged out of the subway onto Tiananmen Square, where Mao, security cams and an unforgettable sunset greeted me.
My goal was to find some noodles (the airplane meal was scarring), stroll through the Imperial City, and gaze down hutongs lined with traditional houses…
But all did not go according to plan. First, I got lost in the Imperial City in 5°C weather as its gates were shutting, then after some teeny tiny fragments of broken Mandarin I finally managed my way to what I thought was Ghost Street where noodle shops were promised…
Not at all. Bright lights, big city and not a traditional house in sight. Instead I slinked into a chicken feet restaurant where I was served a tower of beer and four dumplings. So much for my Mandarin, though I did manage to change the tower for a king size bottle instead.
Wary of missing my flight and 2017 turning into 2018, I decoded the way back to the airport and to a VPN-enabled Happy New Year video call with my family from the gate, Swiss sunset included.
Ella safely loaded back into the hold and me feeling smug at having managed to convince the Chinese authorities that my bike tools were non-threatening, I boarded the flight to Auckland hoping to return to this city I had not yet managed to tame.