A train journey across half the planet
The easy way … Tiananmen Square … University … Great Wall: Simatai … Qinhuangdao … Summer palace … CCTV Tower … Old Summer Palace … Tiantan Park … Mao … Tiananmen Square again … Great Wall: Huanghua … Hot, humid … Fragrant Hills … Last day … Out of China … Across Mongolia … Around Baikal … Through the steppes … Over the Urals … Into Moscow … Red Square … Lenin … VDNKh … Metro tour … Through Belarus … Warsaw … East side gallery … Reichstag … Alexanderplatz … Paris … Home shores
It was a sunny June day. I left my house at 6am and walked to Bounds Green station, slightly unable to believe that I wouldn't be back until almost September. I rumbled under London on my 33-stop journey to Heathrow Airport, and from there I flew to Zürich.
I had four hours to kill in Zürich before my flight to Beijing, and I got a train from the airport into the city. I wandered randomly down what looked like a main street, until I found a coffee shop. With half-remembered German from years ago I bought myself an espresso, and then a caramel iced coffee. I didn't have time to do much more than that, so after a quick wander down to the river I headed back to the airport for my next flight.
For reasons that were never clear to me, I was upgraded to business class for the Beijing flight. I thought this would be awesome and imagined being fed fondue and chocolates by beautiful Swiss stewardesses all the way to China, but in the end it wasn't so great. I didn't have a lot of legroom, the stewardesses treated me as if they knew I hadn't paid for the place I was in, and there weren't even personal TV screens. But as the sun set over Europe, we flew over Poland, Belarus and Russia, reaching Moscow in the late evening. I looked down on the city and could see the Moskva River snaking through it. I was looking forward to coming back this way, eight kilometres below my present level.
I slept, hoping to wake up in time to see Mongolia in the morning. But it was cloudy across north-east Asia and Mongolia was hidden from view. When we landed in Beijing the skies were leaden and the humidity was astonishing. I was met at the airport by Yong, another student of Xiaowei's who I'd met in Australia a few months previously, and we got a taxi to PKU. As rain began to fall, I felt very excited to be in China.