Beijing 2013 – Journal Excerpts.
In January 2013 we took our winter holiday to Beijing, China. It was a rough start due to weather conditions here in the UK but after a 24 hour delay we were off and on our way. We spent quite a long time in Beijing itself but this gave us plenty of time to explore the city at our own pace, also to escape the cold icy weather when needed. Our hotel the ‘Shatan’ was on a little backstreet in the hutong district. It took us ages to find the hotel, we didn’t expect it to be quite so tucked away but the location was amazing. We were a short walk to numerous parks, the Forbidden City and the metro line.
Excerpts from travel journal..
Day 1, our first evening was a quiet one, we spent time getting lost in the local residential area, in the dark, thank goodness we had a map. After finding our way back to the hotel we ended our evening with a Chinese pot noodle from the corner shop and an early night.
Day 2, and turns out jet leg is bad, a 4am wake up call for me. Not happy. An early start and we headed to the south gate of the Forbidden City. We eventually found our way to the gate, but it was closed! Turns out they weren’t open on Mondays so instead we found a food court on Wanfujing St in the mall and had lunch. The restaurant was called ‘Yippin’, a chain style fast food place. It was obvious to the cashier we had no idea what we were ordering so he was very helpful. We were able to differentiate between meats by acting out the animal, then determine spiciness by wafting in front of our mouths. I ended up with a chicken Chinese style curry with rice, and Rafe had beef in black bean with rice. I somehow ended up with a sausage on a stick with my meal too. We were very impressed! They were very unimpressed with Rafe and mines efforts at mandarin from the phrase book! We then went back to have a look around Tiananmen Square and a leisurely stroll back to the hotel. We may have had an extended nap at the hotel so decided to have supper at the hotel. The menu was partially English although I’m sure that some of the dishes lost their appeal in translation, ‘Deep fried bullfrog’ was the first dish (and it had a picture), we instead went for some pork dishes, pancakes and noodles. Lesson one, apparently noodles on the menu meant for cold noodles in brine. Oops.
Day 3, we attempted the Forbidden City again. On our way we got caught out by the tuk tuk men, I know everyone has to make a living but getting left in an alley in the middle of nowhere £20 shorter is not cool (lesson learnt!). We found our way back to the main street and then went to the Forbidden City! It was amazing, although it was hard to imagine life inside during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The three main halls were magnificent, you must wonder where all the materials came from to construct these masterpieces and then how they did it! My favourite was the Hall of Middle Harmony, it was purely for the Emperor to sit and have a think whilst on his way to official meetings in the Hall of Preserving Harmony. What a man. We exited through the Gate of Divine Prowess (North Gate) and up the hill in Jingshan Park to look over the city. The park appeared to be missing some Buddha’s, nothing to do with Anglo-french forces in the 1900s of course. In the afternoon we were booked on a cooking class. It was in a little hutong with Chef Zhou. We learnt how to make authentic dumplings and noodles. A pot of green tea and a full belly later we headed back to the hotel. China was cold and very very smoggy that day.
Day 4. Time to head to the zoo. Not to take Rafe back though sadly! We bought a multi pass but our main interest was the panda house. The pandas were smaller than what I was expecting but were amazingly cute. They eat 21-38kg of bamboo no wonder they have no desire to mate. I may have bought a panda soft toy here too. The ticket included the aquarium, I wasn’t expecting a lot however it was a lovely aquarium and it had two beluga whales. WIN! We ate in ‘Yummie House’ today, a little vintage Japanese cafe.
Day 5, and finally on China time, a lay in until 8am. We had a while until our train so we stopped at Yongegong station and went to the Lama Temple. It was a Buddhist temple, lots of people praying and offering incense. It was lovely and so relaxing to beat hustle and bustle of the city. On we went to Beijing North Railway Station, we eventually found the train to Badaling, got our tickets and were off to the Great Wall of China. Despite it being very cold and windy I’m glad we visited in low season, we practically had the wall to ourselves. There was snow on the mountains in the backdrop. It looked beautiful.
Day 6, after yesterdays hike around the great wall we started our day later today. We took the metro to the ‘Temple Of Heaven’, we had a lovely walk around the park and escaped the city for a few hours. Hard to believe it was still inhabited 100 years ago. Then back on the tube to Houhai Lake where it was completely frozen over. It had a festival atmosphere, lots of family’s ice skating on the lake, candyfloss stands and hot chocolate. On the way back to hotel we stopped in a little back street cafe. I believe it may have been the local takeaway but we weren’t really sure. No menu as such so we both had beef chowmein. It was served on a melamine plate and cost 60p each! And best of all, we didn’t get food poisoning.
Day 7, quite possibly one of my favourite days in Beijing. We took the metro to the Summer Palace. We entered through the north gate and climbed the hill through the pavilions so we could get a view from the top. The frozen lake had a layer of mist and you could see the halls and pavilions in the background. It was really beautiful. We descended down and walked around all the halls. Our favourite temple was the ‘temple of intense moisture and timely rains’. Somehow I don’t think we had a need for this temple in Wales. We exited through the South Gate, where supposedly there was a tube station. We walked for around 30 minutes and eventually found a tube station, not the one we were looking for but still. Dinner tonight was ‘kung fu’, another chain style fast food restaurant. Part of this included a bony broth, I don’t believe I ordered the broth and neither of us were brave enough to try it.
Day 8, our last full day in Beijing. We went back to ‘Yippin’ in Wangfujing before heading to a 7 storey bookshop. It took us 8 days to find a postcard but found them in the end. We also found lovely maps of the city and the great wall. Then onto the silk market, this is not something I would like to do again. I‘m not good at haggling and do not enjoy it either. Chinese women get really grumpy when you don’t buy something from their shop!
For supper we went to ‘xiabu xiabu’ and had Chinese hotpot, then a walk through Behai Park back to the hotel.
Day 9, Zai jian Beijing!