This Expat Life (Beijing + Italy): Month 33

After moving abroad in July 2014, I started compiling monthly roundup posts about life as an expat in Asia and all the nitty gritty that goes on behind the scenes here at Travel Lush. You can find all of my previous monthly roundup posts here.


“Honestly guys, the month of March was a bit of a bore.” That’s literally what I wrote to start out last month’s roundup. And while I actually appreciated the routine that I fell into in March, I’m extremely happy to report that the month of April was so far from being boring. It was actually the best, most action-packed month I’ve had in a really long time.

From going on a Beijing brewery tour to traveling to Italy for my friend’s wedding, I was on the go last month. And it felt really good.

I started out the month going on my second Beijing food tour with Lost Plate Food Tours. But unlike the last tour – which was all about sampling local Beijing food – this tour solely revolved around sipping on brews from some of Beijing’s best craft beer places.

beijing-brewery-tours
Photo courtesy of Lost Plate.
A lot of people are surprised to learn that China of all places would have a thriving craft beer scene, but I assure you it does. And believe it or not, Beijing is pretty well known for its breweries.

If you live in Beijing, you’ve no doubt visited the big three breweries: Great Leap, Arrow Factory and Jing-A. But if you’re Beijing-bound, I highly recommend getting yourself to at least one of these places during your trip. Or, better yet, go on Lost Plate’s brewery tour!

My boyfriend Aaron and I were lucky enough to go on the tour with Richelle from Adventures Around Asia and her boyfriend Chris from Aussie On the Road. So beer aside, it was bound to be a good time.

We all made the mistake of eating late lunches and therefore not eating dinner beforehand, so let’s just say we all got pretty tipsy. We visited four breweries (only one of which I’d been to before) and sampled all sorts of different brews – at least 16 if I’m recalling correctly.

Some were more on the exotic side – think pomelo, Sichuan peppercorn and peanut butter brews. While others were on the more traditional side, from IPAs to pale ales to wheat beers.

All in all it was another fabulous tour by Lost Plate, which I honestly cannot recommend enough if you’re looking to sign up for a boozy food or brewery tour in Beijing. I’ll be writing a full post about this beer tour soon, but for now you can read Chris’ full review here!

beijing-brewery-tours
Photo courtesy of Lost Plate.
Fun aside, there have been some things going on in Beijing for the past month or so that have soured me on China. Don’t get me wrong – I really like living in Beijing. But sometimes the way things are handled here is hard for me to wrap my head around. And sometimes it makes me really angry.

I can’t fully explain what it is that’s going on in Beijing right now. But in an effort to apparently beautify, clean up and preserve the traditional character of the city, the local government is on a mad mission to brick up and tear down a bunch of local businesses, mainly in the city’s historical hutongs. Some of these places date back to the 13th century, so to see them literally bricked up and torn down is highly upsetting and disconcerting for a variety of reasons.

beijing-hutong-construction

In April crates of red bricks began appearing all over Beijing and no one really knew why. And then, almost overnight, brick walls started being erected in front of homes and businesses. Let’s just say it makes it really challenging to conduct your business when no one can get into your business.

beijing-hutong-construction-2

So many popular bars and restaurants have had to permanently close shop or attempt to find new locations with little to no notice.

In one instance bulldozers literally headed to one of Beijing’s most well-known “bar streets” and razed a huge portion of it. Like, they just tore down the facades of businesses, many of which were still in operation.

It’s harsh, to say the least.

In the past month these bricks and walls have appeared all over the city. A couple weeks ago the crates of red bricks appeared throughout my out-of-town neighborhood and just a few days ago a brick wall was built just outside of my apartment. I still have no idea what is going on. But I fear for my sweet vegetable vendor whose business is on the other side of that ominous wall.

Not only do city officials seem to be targeting some of Beijing’s most beloved bars, restaurants and music venues. But they are pushing poor, migrant workers out of the city. The whole thing breaks my heart to see. But unfortunately this seems to only be the beginning.

beijing-hutong-construction-1
The fate of Fangja Hutong (a popular area in Beijing) does not look good.
Alright, now that we got the depressing news out of the way, on to some more fun stuff… I went to Italy last month!

villa-cetinale-10

If you’ve been reading my last few posts, you’ll already know that the sole purpose of my Italy trip was to attend my friend’s wedding. And while I was ecstatic to have the chance to go to Italy to see my friend get hitched I could never have imagined just how truly amazing this trip would end up being.

I will never experience a trip that fun ever again.

Hiking up to Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset

Aaron and I started out by booking one night in Florence. I literally did no research on Florence beforehand but somehow we managed to make the most of our time by exploring Florence’s cobblestone streets, hiking to its stunning viewpoints, sipping on its excellent wines and eating all the cheese.

Florence – though touristy – is rad.

We then made our way down to the Tuscan countryside to the site of the wedding, Villa Cetinale. Again, I did no research on where exactly this wedding was being held or what was in store for us.

villa-cetinale-1
The incredible Villa Cetinale.
Had I Googled the location I would have realized that the 17th-century villa we’d be inhabiting for the next week has its own Wikipedia page. It turns out this place is a historical relic. The land and original (more modest) home was originally owned by someone who would ultimately become Pope Alexander VII in 1655.

Basically this place is incredible.

villa-cetinale-4
Villa Cetinale even has an old church on the property.
villa-cetinale-3
And this is what it looks like inside!
Villa Cetinale is a sprawling compound complete with a 13-bedroom villa, a swimming pool, a chapel, libraries filled with creepy 18th century books and ledgers, art and sculptures galore, groves of olive trees, a lawn the length of two football fields, and an old abandoned monastery at the top of an insanely picturesque hill (and yes, we had the keys to it!).

villa-cetinale-11
Can you spot the monastery at the top of the hill?
villa-cetinale-6
The view of Villa Cetinale taken from the hilltop monastery.
villa-cetinale

Because, you see, the entire thing was ours for an entire week. We literally had a waitstaff who would fulfill any request. We were cooked three gourmet meals a day by our in-house chef. Every evening a selection of wine and a spread of appetizers magically appeared in the main living room (pictured below). And we would all gather by the fire, sip wine, crack jokes and laugh our asses off because this truly was the funniest group of people ever.

villa-cetinale-5

We stayed in rooms fit for kings – or at least popes. Our bathtubs were like something out of a dream and the views from every window of the house were unreal. The whole thing was unreal.

villa-cetinale-2

It was a week of luxury, of good company, of bliss. And the memories made will most assuredly last a lifetime.

Oh yeah, and the wedding itself could not have been more beautiful or more magical. And I am just honored to have been able to be there and be a part of it. It really was the most picture-perfect ceremony for my two incredible friends who finally got hitched.

Instagram:

Obviously my two most popular photos from the month of April were taken at Italy. Because duh, Italy is an Instagrammer’s dream.

The rooftops of #Siena🇮🇹. Can I live in one of these houses please?

A post shared by Justine (@thetravellush) on

Where in the world did you spend the month of April?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

4 thoughts on “This Expat Life (Beijing + Italy): Month 33

    1. You have no idea how spoiled I was. They rented the entire thing for the wedding, but I know it’s possible to take tours and I think you can rent out rooms? I’m guessing people typically just rent the whole thing but I’m really not sure…

    1. Yeah, Italy is an easy place to love. It’s absolutely incredible. Now I understand why everyone wants to move there. I want to move there! Definitely go if you ever get the chance 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge