Where to start in China? It’s a good question…

China was the biggest dream on my bucket list. My interest was fired way back in 1976 when I saw a report on the TV news of the Terracotta Warriors being found. (They were actually discovered in 1974, but ’76 was when I first heard about them). I had big plans to travel the world, making a start in China in 1993/4, but falling pregnant with my 1st daughter meant I had to delay my plans.  My new goal was to spend my 50th birthday on the Great Wall of China and thanks to family, I got to do that.

Who To Travel With?

Originally I planned to go alone, mainly because I couldn’t think of anyone who would want the same things from the experience as me.  Much as I love each of my daughters, my mum and my sister, this was something I didn’t want to share with family. Selfishly, I wanted this one to myself.

My lovely partner, Steve (aka “Grumpy”), and I have discovered we do NOT travel well together.  His idea of heaven is a beach, a bar, and “no b****r trying to wake him up before noon”.  Travelling with him would have meant me going out alone on the excursions.  This in mind, the obvious person to go with was his ex-wife…

Anyway, he clearly has a type, intelligent, witty, adventurous, beautiful and modest of course. Coralie summed it up better as ‘mad and fab’.  So basically, after the laughs about ‘wouldn’t it be funny if we travelled together’, we stopped laughing, agreed it would be a great idea and we booked the trip.

The ex-husband's girlfriend makes the ideal travel buddy!
We had more than a few jaw drops when we explained how we became travel buddies!

Basically that’s us, Sparkles and Fizz.  I’m Mo (aka Fizz), the one of the right with pink hair. I like drinks with bubbles in them. And alcohol. Coralie is the clever one, so Sparkles suits her better. She also likes drinks with bubbles, and gin, and sparkly things.

The night before the big trip

We spent the night at Premier Inn, Gatwick North Terminal before our flight to Beijing. I’ve used them lots and they were, as always, excellent.  If you have the luxury of booking a month or two in advance and pre paying, you can shave a lot off the cost for the night.

Needless to say, we were way too excited to manage to sleep well.

How we got there

We flew Cathay Pacific Airbus 350-900 from Gatwick to Hong Kong in Premium Economy, starting with a ‘Little Fizz’ during boarding. What a treat! Great food, lovely, comfortable seats, perfect for spending 12 hours in the air.  There were no loos in Premium, but plenty nearby in Economy so this wasn’t an issue.

A cheeky glass of fizz to get us on our way to Beijing.
A cheeky glass of fizz to get us on our way to Beijing.

I’ve flown Premium with Virgin to/from the USA.  While the Cathay Pacific seats had slightly less leg room, they were infinitely more comfortable than the Virgin ones!

But 12 hours in the air is still 12 hours in the air and we were a little jaded by the time we reached Hong Kong. The Cathay Pacific flight staff and Hong Kong Airport staff were lovely and helpful as we did the quick run to catch our connecting flight (basic economy) for the 3 1/2 hour connecting flight to Beijing.  Seats on Cathay Dragon were comfortable, but we were very tired when we arrived in Beijing.

Where to start in China? Beijing of course!

Our first glimpse of the masses of skyscrapers in Beijing! We couldn't believe how many there were.
Our first glimpse of the masses of skyscrapers in Beijing!

This was our first sight of the beautiful mega-city of Beijing (not the best photo but it’s from the plane).

We flew over the city for at least half an hour and all we could see was mile after mile of ‘forests’ of skyscrapers. It truly is a massive city!

Beijing is home to about 22 million people and it’s been the capital of China since the Mongol controlled Yuan Dynasty in 1279.

Don’t believe reports about pollution in Beijing, they are out of date. The air, streets, tourist attractions and parks are immaculately clean. They put most European and American streets to shame in my experience.

Where we stayed in Beijing

We started out at the very pretty Shadow Art Boutique Hotel, Beijing where we were greeted with little glasses of local plum juice as we registered. Delicious!

The rather pretty outside of the Shadow Art Hotel, Beijing, China
The rather pretty outside of the Shadow Art Hotel in Beijing

Located in one of Beijing’s ancient Hutongs, this little hotel has lots of interesting quirks.

The very pretty reception area/breakfast room at the Shadow Art Hotel, Beijing.
The very pretty reception area/breakfast room at the Shadow Art Hotel, Beijing.

There’s a little shadow art theatre in the reception area, with a free performance most afternoons for hotel guests.

Shadow Art Hotel, Beijing, China
There were so many pretty little touches dotted around the hotel, like this beautiful shadow art panel at the top of the stairs. We really felt like we were in China!

Points in favour:

Price: very reasonable

Guest rooms: immaculate

Bathrooms: better than any we found in 4* hotels with a stunning rainfall shower and lovely little touches

Food: simple, tasty food, available at reasonable prices

Staff: English-speaking and beyond exceptionally helpful

Points against:

Beds: Seriously uncomfortable and there was no mattress topper used. It was like trying to sleep on a wooden floor with just a blanket beneath me. To be fair, they did get duvets to cover the beds which made them just about bearable for 1 night.

Note: Hotel beds in China are very hard by Western standards. Most use mattress toppers which makes them perfectly comfortable. Read 17 more tips on China vacations here.

Access: The road to the hotel is very narrow and many cars can’t (won’t) get down it. Our driver refused to risk it. Expect a 1/2 mile walk from car to hotel entrance. And expect to carry your luggage all that way. The road outside the hotel is poorly lit and not very even. We’re only in our 50s, but neither of us wanted to take a tumble in the dark.

The narrow, unlit, uneven road outside the Shadow Art Hotel, Beijing
The narrow, unlit, uneven road outside the Shadow Art Hotel, Beijing. Imagine lugging your bags half a mile down this road after a 12 hour flight!!

No lifts: There is a flight of steps down from street level to reception then more stairs up from reception to guest rooms. More bag lugging and it would not be suitable if you have a mobility issue. There are no banisters either…

The stairs down to reception at the Shadow Art Hotel, Beijing. Rather perilous with a bag in one hand and no bannister!
The stairs down to reception at the Shadow Art Hotel, Beijing. Rather perilous with a bag in one hand and no banister!
The only power socket in our room at the Shadow Art Hotel!
The only power socket in our room at the Shadow Art Hotel!

Power sockets: there was only 1 in our room!! Having to unplug the air-conditioning to use the power socket  was OK to make a cuppa, but forget being able to charge any devices.

You shouldn’t have to choose between a full phone battery or aircon!!!

Plus, the socket was located just outside the bathroom door. You had to put the kettle on the floor to boil and try not to trip over it when going to the loo!! Not funny. Or safe.

Entertainment: There was nothing nearby for going out in the evening and no evening entertainment in the hotel. We couldn’t find any restaurants and were concerned about finding our way back in the dark through uneven, unlit streets.

Extra comedy value

The comedy lightswitch located in the middle of the headboard!!
The comedy light switch located in the middle of the headboard!!

There was a light switch positioned behind the pillows on my bed!!

Every time I rolled over in my sleep the light switched on! For one very jet-lagged night, we found it funny, but 4 nights of waking both of us up all night would have got old, very soon.

We chose to change hotels within a couple of hours here, so we only spent one night here.  In fairness, it is not a bad hotel, it just wasn’t what we’d asked for.

Thankfully Expedia is not blocked in China so we booked a new hotel. Then we settled led into unconsciousness after a very, very long day of travelling.  Punctuated randomly with the lights going on and off, we did manage some sleep…

We woke up ready for the excitement of our first day of excursions.

BTW, did I mention I’ve been to China?

Mo xx



Mo is the Fizz behind Sparkles and Fizz. A 50-something mum with 2 gorgeous daughters, a lovely partner (Grumpy) and an elderly rescue dog (Oscar aka Splat). Mo loves live music, travel, drinking fizz, painting and she lives life to the max.


  1. Pingback: 18 Things I Learned From My First China Vacation |

  2. Beautiful photos! You’ve made me want to visit even more now. Love the hilarious story of the light switch!

    • I’m so happy you enjoyed it Jane and hope you do get to visit soon. China is awesome.
      Mo xx
      PS We still laugh about that light switch too!

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