Lets go on a mission, Reid said. Great idea. It’s a long weekend (May Day), it’s a lovely day and we have a car. Let’s head to the Beijing Botanical Gardens and have a picnic.

First, of course, you need to pick a suitable and achievable time for getting out of the house. We aimed suitably low – 11.30 – ┬ábut as you’d expect we missed it by miles. But after much intense preparation we had eventually packed the kids, the lunch, 4 or 5 maps of relative use, the iPhone GPS for disasters, a range of CDs, bot-bots for Zac, treats for Zara and the kitchen sink into the Volvo and we headed out onto the Third Ring Road.

Our apartment is on the East side of the Third Ring Road, and it seems all the interesting stuff to go check out is to the North-West, so we’re probably going to do this particular journey a few times. Reid is the driver as she can’t read a map, so I do navigation, run miscellaneous interference with the kids and attempt to pronounce the names of the off-ramps we’re aiming at. ┬áThere are a couple of interesting navigational challenges on our particular route (to say nothing of the antics of other drivers heading in the same direction) but we rise above all this and end up in… a big traffic jam.

Nothing unusual in that, of course, but the jam seems to get bigger and bigger the closer we get to the Gardens until it is finally made clear to us that all the Beiingers who haven’t gone to Ikea and the Great Wall this holiday have come to the Botanical Gardens instead.

Crushed by this revelation we crawled around in a circle past the entrance to the Gardens, following signs to Parking Lot #4 which, once we find it, appears to be having it’s own exclusive traffic failure. Cars have packed themselves into the entrance to the lot which is unfortunately full – no one is being let in. Cars in the middle of the horde have lost patience and are attempting to reverse out, causing consternation from folks behind. Tempers appear to be running hot.

Zara and I abandoned the car and headed off on foot to check out the lay of the land while a queue of tour buses bank up behind Reid in the Volvo. They are generous with their horn, but Reid hunkered down until a driver came to hurl abuse in Chinese at her directly.

At this point we collectively decide this nightmare should be abandoned and we should make our escape – but miraculously while making our break for freedom we found a park about 100 meters from the entrance to the gardens. Unable to believe our luck, we plonk Zac into the buggy and head off – only to find (as we should have suspected) all of China are already inside.

It was kinda of like strolling around a park just as a Rugby stadium was let out into it. People pushed and shoved their way along the pathways. All grass off-piste were covered by Beijingers who had come early and encamped for the duration – some of them had pitched tents. Blokes with huge cameras lined up to take photos of the fields of flowers, but found their shots contained only people. It was truly ghastly.

Eventually we found a bit of space, put down a rug and sat Zara on it. An appreciative crowd formed with their cameras. Zac joined Zara on the rug. The crowd was reinforced with a number of well-wishers anxious to advise us how we were neglecting Zac by exposing his beautiful pale skin to the sun. Others pushed their kids into view to be included in the photos. Yet more offered treats of doubtful origin to Zara, or asked my permission to take her off for more photo opportunities elsewhere. We shoveled down our lunch as fast as possible and fled.

The gardens themselves? Possibly not our cup of tea, but of course we didn’t see them in the best of circumstances. It was a really hot, dusty day and all the plants looked pretty hot and dusty as well. The Welli botanical gardens look pretty flash in comparison.

But you’ve got to do these things. We did what we aimed to do. That’s the important thing

(And it turned out the car park was illegal. We got what we suspect is a ticket – but of course we can’t read it)