The Great Beijing Adventure: from the Hutong to the Forbidden City

Beijing hutong temple of heavenDays are moving rapidly in China and as the hours fly by, it seems that the one week long trip will only leave me wanting more. Since I haven’t got used to the local hour in Beijing, I’m currently visiting by day and writing by night, which in a way is quite nice. Although the last two sleepless nights have brought me to the point where I wasn’t able to visit “another imperial palace” today due to exhaustion, not sleeping at night does provide me with interesting Chinese TV shows…currently “China’s got talent” is playing in the background with a Chinese lady dancing on Ke$ha’s “Take it off”.

Enough about me, let’s talk about the city: Beijing has been surprisingly friendly these past two days, both in terms of weather and of (English speaking) people. We had a bright blue sky and around 20 degrees Celsius both on Thursday and on Friday, are living in one of the last remaining Hutongs of the old city (honestly don’t know if this hotel will still exist by the time we get back because of the pressure that is being put into a forced modernization and sky scraper-ization to soothe the needs of a growing population) and have great restaurants on our very small street. Plus, we reached the best Beijing roast duck according to Tripadvisor in around 15 minutes, making this first trip a “coolinary” experience by accident.

We didn’t get the chance to ride a cab because going to places by public transportation is much easier due to our location and also extremely cheap (2 quai/RMB per trip, meaning around 0,25 Euro). What we did do (and I’m very proud of it) is walk until we almost dropped. All the places you “must” visit in Beijing or to be precise, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and its gardens and the Summer Palace – that we haven’t seen yet due to my exhaustion – are HUGE. You basically walk from one courtyard into another without even realizing how much you had to move up and down and left and right. These places look like they were especially built for a population this size.

Even though I thought that the Forbidden City would impress me the most, I still can’t pick out a favourite place in Beijing, but maybe you will help me. Do you know a place aside from the Great Wall that MUST be explored in Beijing and isn’t always presented in the online tour guides you read before getting here? Please comment as fast as you can, I’m really curious about your opinion and experiences regarding the capital of China.

[Wangfujing Street and its creatures + Shanghai and its Bund will be posted anytime soon...]

The Great Beijing Adventure: on getting there in the first place

No matter how hard it might seem to plan a week long trip to East Asia or how many unfriendly tips you may hear about China, if you can get your hands on decently priced tickets, come check this country out! I’ve been here for less than 24 hours and it already feels worth the long journey we took to get here. Want to know how?

how to get to beijing cheap

Well, first of all, this trip (just like another one you probably read from me before) starts one sunny afternoon in July 2013, back when the website decided to have a small glitch in its system (a so-called error fare) that allowed me to book two tickets from Geneva-Vienna-Beijing and Beijing-Vienna for 250 Euro each. Yes, you heard it right, China was less expensive than a ticket from Vienna to my hometown Sibiu that lie about 800 km away from each other. Even if this was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, I highly suggest you check out cool deal websites such as (where I found this offer), or even my Facebook page, since we all regularly post ticket prices you wouldn’t find if you are not obsessed with booking – I am and I can gladly help you out :) .

From that point on, I had to solve some simple stuff to make my trip towards Beijing more pleasant: I got the tourist visas (60 Euro each from the Embassy in Austria, even if we are both Romanian citizens living here – we just needed our Meldezettel), the ride from Vienna to Geneva by train and a night at a lovely Airbnb in Geneva near the center of everything (totalling 85 Euro per person). I also reserved a place to stay in Beijing (which I managed to find quickly on using a system that never failed) for 5 nights and 90 Euro per person…in an interesting Hutong (old part of the city, quite close to the center). That plus what we spent in half a day in Geneva plus all the rides with buses from and to the airports plus the five hours we spent in the Viennese airport makes about 500 Euro to get a week into a country that I never thought I could have the money to visit during my student years.

Yes, I was tired upon arriving here. But believe me, living this experience makes all the fatigue go away. Once we served our first Chinese meal at a restaurant near our hotel in Beijing, the spices of a country that is so different from what we are used to kicked in. And that was just the first in a series of events we were about to witness…

[stay tuned for more]

Travel and tell stories about it

Beijing Great WallThe first time I ever went abroad was back in 2006, when I was 14 and freshly out of middle school. That was the year my dad managed to find the necessary cash for us to drive and visit not one, not two, but eleven countries in Europe, checking out their most famous sightseeing spots as we moved ahead. At the time, I had heard so many stories about “strainatate” (countries abroad) and knew that the chance of visiting all of them was so little, that there was no use for me to hope to see the world. We had had little to no budget of going on vacations over the past years and I was starting to get used to the fact that Bucharest would probably be my last stop on the journey towards self discovery.

Then I met Vienna. It was my glimpse of hope for a better future, for myself as well as for the ones that will arrive after me. I felt secure walking down the streets of this wonderful city, it felt like the home I never quite managed to get in my hometown of Sibiu. It was the city I needed for a start worthy of the dreams I’ve always had – and just didn’t have the courage to pursue until that age. And soon after, in 2008, after visiting Croatia and traveling back to Sibiu via Vienna, I called my father telling him that I want to study in Vienna more than anything in the world.

In 2010, we made it happen. With the help of my amazing family, I’m able to write these thoughts from one of the most beautiful and inspiring cities in the world, getting ready to wrap up my studies in the field of Communication and Media. It’s 2014 and I’ve been traveling these past months more than I did in my entire life (just read the first paragraph again to see how many countries I saw in my first trip through Europe and come back here). I’m trying to remember all the places I’ve seen in 2013 and up until now, but honestly, I didn’t even get the chance to upload all the photos I’ve shot in my last 5 trips onto my computer let alone think about each experience. And that’s a shame.

Since photography is a just a hobby, but writing is my life, I really want to tell you the stories I’ve been living these years. Some are boring and need a lot of insider information to get even slightly logical, but the most of them make a lot of sense and are worthy of being written down. If somebody would have told me that I can get to NY for 300 Euro and to Beijing for 250 Euro, I would have probably laughed hard and thought that person is crazy. But look at what I’m doing now…and look at where I’m heading towards next ;) .

The city that never ends

The cityIt’s been a great week, a week that has left a lot of beautiful memories behind of the streets that have been walked and the words that have been talked. It feels as if I am leaving a piece of me behind in this place, in this room, in this city. I’d roam through Manhattan 24 hours a day if the Starbucks coffee I plentifully enjoyed over the last couple of days would have actually kicked in. I’ve met interesting people and the people I already knew have become even more interesting than before.

The city has been a cold, but colorful companion to me. It’s been kind, hasn’t ripped me off even though I still am just a tourist wondering on its lanes and getting lost on its avenues. Although I enjoyed the warm, Californian weather on its Western coast more, this country has made me truly believe that if I can made it there, I’ll make it everywhere. I’m so in love with the images that have once been showed to me on the big screen and are now being revealed in real life.

Normally, it feels so hard to go away and try to live your life in another spot. New York makes you want to reconsider your options once more and see just how soon you can find a new ticket to return to its streets. I didn’t even care about the fashion, all I could think about these days was to go more in depth with the buildings, the people, the lives, the places, the food, the coffee, the endless search for a good WiFi to post my shots in real time.

New York, I promise I’ll be a good girl if you promise to have me back soon. Until then, let’s keep in touch through blog posts and novels that still need to be written.

Writing about traveling as a non-travel blogger

Reaching for the EmpireI may not be a travel blogger, but I really do like to travel a lot! Thing is, until just about two days ago, I didn’t quite manage to get the time, sit down and just write what I’m experiencing during my trips because…well, I really like to travel and I’m more of a “let’s go out and explore the city instead of sitting around” kind of person. So much so that I didn’t even manage to post the photos I liked most from my past three trips (London, Dublin and London again) – not to mention start blogging about them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love writing. I’d write 10 hours a day if I knew that by the end of it something good will come out of my thoughts. The fact that this trip to NY is just about me and about how I can manage my own sightseeing + shopping + gift buying time meant that there could finally be a part of the day during which I focus on…you guessed it, writing. I didn’t even know I needed this extra time until I got here. And I’m so glad that I’m doing this right now, right here, from the 23rd floor of a beautiful Manhattan room.

I’ve been wishing for this moment to come for the past 12 years of my life. That moment when I sit down and write my soul away on the streets of a big city – that moment has arrived. This is the time to stop wasting the days in places I don’t belong and simply focus on what’s most important to me. And right now, I really need to get to Chinatown, check out Bleecker Street once more and tell you all about it. See you later!

Manhattan – I don’t need a MetroCard, I can walk…

Bronx and Upper Manhattan…said the tourist returning from NYC back in 2012. “Ah, you can walk the whole island if you have 1 h 30 min to spare” – gushed my boyfriend then, since he had no clue whatsoever of the traps the city secretly places in your way. So yeah, that’s not true. Whoever heard that from me in 2012/2013 should now find out that you have to have extremely good shoes and a wonderful weather to even consider walking more than 40 blocks at once in Manhattan.

Since some of you may not know how the streets of Manhattan actually work, here’s a short intro into their secrets: almost all the streets are horizontal on the island and are numbered, whereas almost all the avenues are vertical on the island and are numbered as well. Therefore you almost always hear terms such as “52nd and 10th”, meaning the girl lives on the corner of 52nd Street and 10th Avenue. That means if you live on 72rd and 3rd, you have to walk down 20 blocks and 7 avenues, so…not much, if you would look it up on a map and not check how long it takes for you to get from point A to point B. That’s what we thought when visiting just a very small portion of NY in August, 2012. That is soooo far from the reality I live in now, in February 2014.

Maybe it’s the cold weather. Maybe it’s the shoes, since I’m wearing booties instead of sneakers. But most certainly, it’s the fact that we didn’t get to explore NY as much when we saw it for the first time. Now I feel as if I’m zooming in on a map previously downloaded in my mind and suddenly start to see all the details I missed out on two years ago. Those details can’t be seen in the 50 minutes it normally takes to get from 52nd to 85th. Another three days are certainly not enough to get my own map updated properly. Might need a lifetime to figure out this city and I’m almost certain that I won’t have that time to spare for it.

So to speed up things, I decided to refill my MetroCard and just go with the flow (although that means sometimes having to be less fancier than I’ve imagined my post-SATC Manhattan experience). Go with the blue lines heading uptown, for that matter. Cause those booties aren’t taking me back to 10th Avenue on their own.

(There’s a lot where that came from and there’s more coming up…)

How to fly to New York City for under 305 Euro

Because New YorkFirst of all, you need a dream. If you don’t dream enough of being in the city you once loved, then loathed, then loved again, you will probably not see the deal to get from FRA to JFK appearing right in front of your eyes one crazy night in November at around 11.40 pm.

Then, you need to be just a little bit creative and take advantage of the error fare on the site you caught by trying out locations that are closer to you, such as München. Oh great, 289 Euro for a flight at the End of February. “I can do that, I can definitely do that”, now let’s ask the boyfriend/travelling buddy. No wait, let’s check out Vienna first. Holy §$%&, it’s 300 Euros for a direct return flight with United (aka Austrian operated by Tyrolean aka more than 4000 bonus Star Alliance miles aka cheaper than just buying those miles online). NOW let’s ask the boyfriend. He doesn’t want to come because it’s the end of February and he might have a thing then. That’s great, “I’ll just give up”.

If you are thinking that right now, go to the kitchen, get a glass of good red wine, go back to the desk and play your favourite New York songs. Remember just how much you wanted to be there during Fashion Week and how close you are to achieving that. Then go back to the error fare site and find out it’s not working anymore. Well, it was worth a shot.

No wait, just go back into your History and check out the reservation link you created before. Bingo! Now change the dates to the ones fitting New York Fashion Week and find out it costs exactly the same. Ask your boyfriend if he wants to join once more and after a second hesitation from his side, just book the damn thing. You always wanted to be there, it doesn’t matter who you are with or what you are doing. Just click book now. You have exactly that amount of money left on your credit card, that must be a sign to do it. Click it. Click it woman!

Yes, you are doing this. You’re going to New York alone in Fashion Week for 304 Euro. Now all you need is to find a decent place to sleep and the world belongs to you…

(Stay tuned, there’s more coming at you…)

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