Beijing and I, that is a love stories that definitely took a while to develop. Yet in these days, it definitely is one of my favorite Asian destinations to fly to. Admittedly, it has not the freshest air and can be therefore a quite hazardous environment to travel to, but as much as China´s uncontrolled Economical explosion during the last decades and the natural consequences that resulted out of this may have affected the air quality, as much is the city a great example of what the government tries to do to minimize these effects. And so it might sound strange to you, but I would call Beijing one of the greenest cities in the world.
I actually had other plans for my free day, but when I opened up my eyes around 12:30pm, it was clear that I had to rearrange my schedule. So instead of traveling past the city borders I decided to stay inside the downtown area and explore a little of the amazing architecture that can be found between the Jiuangomen and Hujialou districts: The CBD, aka Central Business District.
The closest metro station is Guomao (Lines 1 and 10) which lies right in the center of the new Beijing. Unlike Shanghai, for example, city planning seems to make great efforts to combine old and new urban developments, rather than completely demolishing these in order to make room for new projects. As impressive and unique as Shanghai´s skyline may be, to me it is somehow a faceless city which looses more and more its roots to the past. Cold and without a soul.
In Beijing, on the other hand, you will find traditional residential areas right next to futuristic commercial buildings. Just like in my hometown Munich, highrise constructions are kept outside the real downtown area to preserve its original atmosphere.
But here on E 3rd Ring Road, Beijing´s Central Business District (CBD), the sky is the limit. Since 2008, when Beijing organized the Summer Olympics, the city´s re-development has not stood still for a moment. One skyscraper after the other is being built, one more extraordinary in architecture than the other.
By far one of my most favorite architectural masterpieces: The CCTV tower. It took over 10 years to complete this outstanding engineering project which is one of Beijing´s most recognizable skyline landmarks. From the public viewing terrace on top of the China World Mall you can enjoy amazing vistas over the entire area and the array of skyscrapers!
From here you can also track the development of the newest addition the skyline, the Z15 Tower which shall be completed by late 2017. It will be Beijing´s so far highest skyscraper with 108 floors and a rooftop garden.
A walk through the back streets of the CBD takes you through typical residential areas. Most of the streets are lined by trees and small courts are popular meeting spots for neighbors to socialize on. Combined with the super modern silhouettes, you somehow feel like in a futuristic movie such as Blade Runner or Total Recall.
Just two blocks South of the CCTV tower you will find one of the many newly implemented public parks in downtown Beijing. Located on top of the overpass of Jinghua Street, a quiet refuge is awaiting with the only sound audible, the birdsong. A great spot to enjoy the peace and silence that this little park offers right in the busy center of the CBD.
A cool place to shop or simply visit afterwards is The Place, a stone´s throw away from the Jinghua Street overpass. There is a huge selection of restaurants, cafés and shops to spend a whole day at, but obviously its major attraction is Asia´s largest LED sky-screen overhead roof which illuminates during the evenings and is a very popular gathering point for the hip and the cool.
Like stated before, Beijing offers a wide array of public parks. And the one that I concluded my excursion today with was Ritan Park, which lies right in the Ambassador quarter of the city. Again, just a few minutes walk South of The Place shopping mall. It is an extremely peaceful and quiet park and very, very popular with the locals to socialize at. Watch people dance to traditional Chinese music, exercise or try themselves out at singing publicly. It is a wonderful place to visit to enjoy the beautiful garden architecture which roots back to 1530 AD and which also houses the Temple of the Sun.
And as always, time flew and the sun already set when I made my way back to the hotel. One thing was clear though: As much as the skies had been grey the whole day, as much color had found its way to my sight.