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The Fastest City Zip Wire in the World at Zip World London

The Fastest City Zip Wire in the World at Zip World London

When I was told there was a birthday surprise in store for me, but that before going, I'd have to sign a waiver, my brain went into meltdown. Waivers mean 'dangerous', right? What could I be doing?! I'd been on the world's biggest swing in New Zealand, so began to think that my boyfriend had planned something similar and convinced myself I'd be heading up the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide in Stratford.

Hiking the Incredible Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Inside a crevasse on Franz Josef glacier

There's something beautiful about seeing mountains in winter, when the snow is fresh and thick, the skies are blue but the air has a bite. The cold seasons in New Zealand, and especially on the South Island, transform the rolling green landscapes we all know from those films into icing sugar-dusted peaks instead. I was told that 60% of hikes going up onto Franz Josef Glacier are cancelled due to poor weather, so as we drove to the area, my eyes were firmly on the skies.

An Incredible (Budget Friendly) Safari in Kruger Park, South Africa

Elephant seen from safari vehicle

My long haul travels are only feasible because I do them on a budget, but with every one I save a little extra to do something special: a few nights in a nice hotel or eating at an incredible restaurant. For my trip to South Africa, I kept costs low with careful planning specifically so I could go on my first safari.

The Nevis Swing, Queenstown (or, The Most Bloody Terrifying Thing I've Ever Done)

The world's biggest swing

By the time I reached Queenstown in New Zealand, I'd already spent three weeks in the country exploring various tiny towns as well as large cities. The country pulls in adventure tourists, promising adrenalin-rushing activities for wannabe thrillseekers, but to be honest, I was visiting for the stunning scenery more than anything else. Over my time there I had been caving, hiked on a glacier and been on many a boat trip, but the more I saw my fellow travellers indulge in increasingly crazy shit, the more I found myself wanting to try something too.

What I Ate in Beijing (Not Veggie Friendly!)

I've written about the incredible wedding I went to in China, and the top sights you must see if you visit Beijing, but there is so much more to this amazing city if you just walk around it. Everything about it is entirely different to London or anywhere in the UK. The atmosphere, the smells, the sounds - it's pretty hard to take it all in, especially when you're jet lagged! But the best bit for a perpetually hungry person like me? The food! Within our first few hours we'd sat in a street cafe and tucked into a bowl of tofu, miscellaneous meat and intestines. I can't say I was expecting that, but I was hungry and it wasn't actually that bad, if a little chewy.

Later on that evening we also had frog, which is slightly more accepted, but still not in my usual dining repertoire! Eating in China is a social affair and it's rare to order a dish to yourself, rather everyone orders together and shares.

We had traditional Peking roast duck, amazing Dim Sum from Din Tai Fung (a restaurant I'd previously visited in Hong Kong), and traditional Hot Pot. Don't get it confused with a stew from Lancashire, this is a pot of boiling water in the middle of table, heated with charcoal. We were then presented with plates of raw meat and vegetables which we had to hold in the boiling water until they were cooked - a real test of my chopstick skills!

We also got to explore local street food markets like Donghuamen Night Market, where the strangest food was on offer. There were numerous bugs on sticks, deep fried starfish and seahorses, testicles and squid. We tried snake, which was so chewy it made me gag. And then bought a pigeon on a stick, because how often do you get to try that?!

The best meal we had though was a night out with a friend of mine who is a Beijing local, born and bred. We let her and her friends order for us, and we had plates of grass roots with coriander, szechuan spiced fish, mushrooms with chilli flakes and dried tea leaves with shrimp (that one was my personal favourite). To top it off we had a strong spirit infused with snake and ants. Yep. When in Rome/Beijing...! Maybe not exactly a vegetarian-friendly visit, but I tried so many new things, and that for me is exactly what travel is all about.

Beijing: What You Must See

It's difficult to know where to start with writing about this trip, as Beijing is so vast. The city is sprawling, yet packed at every point. And it is loud! There's a lot of traffic and a lot of people. For the most part it is very cheap (we could buy beer for as little as 30p), and the Metro system makes it simple and easy to get around. We felt incredibly safe the whole time we were there too, despite the fact that there are very few people who speak English. We'd get a few weird looks if we went and sat in a random restaurant on a back street away from the crowds, but that didn't make anyone any less accommodating. There is so much to see that I've had to break my post into two parts, or you'll never wade through the photos to get to the end of it!

These are a few of my favourite sights from our trip:

Tiananmen Square

Probably the most well known tourist site in Beijing, the square is home to the tomb of Chairman Mao (where his body still lies preserved, free for you to view, and we did!). Around the edge is the Great Hall of the People, which acts as the meeting place for the Chinese government, the National Museum of China and the Zhengyangmen Gate Tower. It makes Trafalgar Square look like a drop in the ocean, and is impeccably clean. The security throughout Beijing is incredible, with every tube train and public place requiring you to put your bag through an X-Ray scanner and be checked by security personnel. There is a vast history around the Square, but you would never know. There are no memorial placards of previous troubles, just the Monument to the People's Heroes towering in the middle.

The Forbidden City

Everyone knows the name of Tiananmen Square, but you probably recognise the front of The Forbidden City with it's giant portrait of Chairman Mao more instantly. I didn't really know what was beyond the big red walls, but rest assured, it really is a city. For 500 years it was the home of numerous emperors and their families and was the political centre for the Chinese government. We walked through nine gates, each with their own homes, buildings, gardens and walls, making the most incredible fortress with views over Beijing's old and new sites. We walked for hours but all of it was fascinating and absolutely breathtaking.

Temple of Heaven

Another sprawling park that shows just how enormous the city of Beijing is. This was favourite outdoor space we went to. Unlike Hong Kong, I felt the temples in Beijing all looked kind of similar and it was the setting that made them stand apart. However, the Temple of Heaven really stood out and was surprisingly peaceful considering how many people were walking around it. It's gorgeous setting means it's been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, perfectly protected and wonderfully secluded.

Summer Palace

This was essentially all burnt down by the Anglo-French and rebuilt in the 40s. The fact that it is all replicas doesn't take away fro the fact that it's totally gorgeous, and everything you'd expect from a Chinese palace. It covers 720 acres so it's basically impossible to see the whole thing, although we did walk up Longevity Hill and walked part of Kumning Lake, which takes up three-quarters of the park. In essence, it is huge (which I feel is how I'm describing everything in Beijing!). It was roasting hot and we were completely overwhelmed by the sheer size of it!

I've got a couple more posts coming up about this trip as it can't all be summed up in one go. Check out any posts tagged 'Beijing' and follow me on Bloglovin' to make sure you don't miss out!

A Traditional Chinese Wedding in Beijing

As I wrote a while ago, it's got to that time in my life where wedding invites are coming in thick and fast. However earlier this year I was invited to a wedding in a slightly less conventional location, and when you're asked to attend a ceremony in Beijing, it's pretty hard to say no! Yes, it was expensive to get there, but my thinking was, 'When would I ever actually go to China?' It's always looked interesting, but it's never been top of my list to visit, so this seemed like a great opportunity to go somewhere new and slightly out of the ordinary.

I've got a couple of posts coming up about the sights and sounds of Beijing, but the wedding was genuinely a huge highlight and unlike anything I'd ever seen before. This wedding began at 7.30am and went on until 2pm, with tradition at its very heart, and the ceremony only playing one of many parts in the whole experience. The day began with a 6am wake-up call which played havoc with my jet lag. It's an odd sensation putting on a floor length sequin dress that early in the morning, but even more strange when you are filmed leaving the hotel by the wedding videographer as the guests get into a convoy of red cars to drive to the bride's parents' house. Yep, a convoy. Driving through Beijing is terrifying at the best of times, and the horn is used more to tell people you're coming through regardless, rather than to ask them to get out of the way. Plus most of them don't have seatbelts, so I spent a lot of the journey pressing an imaginary brake on the floor as our own private paparazzi scooted past to get a good shot!

But we made it in one piece of course, and were greeted by firecrackers and fireworks in the street when we arrived just to make sure everyone knew we were there! All of the women were then positioned behind different doors in the house and the groomsmen assisted the groom in performing forfeits set by us in order for him to find his beautiful bride. These included push-ups, burpies, performing the full YMCA dance routine and singing Summer Lovin' from Grease. Essentially, humiliation was key, and I think we succeeded! Once the groom was allowed in with the bride, he had to find a pair of her shoes hidden in her room and then propose to her again in front of the mini crowd. The room was decked out in red and the bride was wearing one of three dresses she would wear that day (a decision I could definitely get on board with for my own wedding!), totally setting the scene for the rest of the day.

Tradition obviously played a huge part, and just as in English weddings, family is extremely important to the day. The bride's parents accepted tokens from the groom and they in turn gave their wedding gift to the couple. We all then headed to the actual ceremony where the groomsmen (including my boyfriend) got to wear some pretty amazing outfits and I got to take a zillion photos. The procession to the altar included the bride in a sedan chair and the groom on a horse, with people doing backflips and 'lions' dancing through the street. It was all incredible and oh so beautiful. 

The ceremony itself involved the bride wearing an awesome cloak covered in peacock feathers too. There wasn't any exchanging of vows, but there were symbolic references like drinking water from each other's cups and then joining them together. I wish I could explain it more eloquently, but there was so much to it and it was all in Mandarin that I got lost in the sheer beauty of it all!

After the ceremony was the wedding feast with all the food, rice wine and cigarettes (yep!) everyone could wish for. The video of our morning had already been edited and was shown on a big screen as we ate, and the happy couple came back out to join us. There were speeches as usual, but this also included the groom doing an entire speech in Mandarin - a huge task and so impressive. I had no idea what he was saying but the Chinese guests were clapping and laughing in the right places, so he clearly did a good job, especially for somebody who knows very little of the language. 

The whole day was totally new, brilliantly executed and visually stunning. I am so honoured to have been involved in such a special day and wish a lifetime of happiness and love to the wonderful bride and groom.

As of 20th November 2014, any products marked with an asterisk (*) have been provided as a sample for unbiased review