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Temples, hutongs and a massive wall

DSC_1094_1.jpgDSC_1099_1.jpgDSC_1110_1.jpgDSC_1105_1.jpgDSC_1113_1.jpgDSC_1119_1.jpgDSC_1121_1.jpgDSC_1122_1.jpgDSC_1128_1.jpgDSC_1130_1.jpgDSC_1133_1.jpgDSC_1134_1.jpgDSC_1141_1.jpgDSC_1147_1.jpgDSC_1146_1.jpgDSC_1158_1.jpgDSC_1165_1.jpgDSC_1171_1.jpgDSC_1237_1.jpgDSC_1238_1.jpg81EF99AEE86EFC535E8AB7D125B45FCE.jpgDSC_1247_1.jpgDSC_1277_1.jpgDSC_1251_1.jpgDSC_1258_1.jpgDSC_1268_1.jpgDSC_1271_1.jpgDSC_1273_1.jpgDSC_1287_1.jpgDSC_1279_1.jpgDSC_1283_1.jpg8216D058CDEEF323078F8A3BCABADA52.jpgDSC_1288_2.jpgDSC_1282_1.jpgDSC_1193.jpg8231F4D1EE124713A6E1CB4B2F520AA7.jpgDSC_1182_1.jpgDSC_1189_1.jpgDSC_1199_1.jpgDSC_1201_1.jpgDSC_1217_1.jpgDSC_1213_1.jpgDSC_1206_1.jpgDSC_1172_1.jpgDSC_1178_1.jpgDSC_1185_1.jpgDSC_1219_1.jpgDSC_1190_1.jpgWe arrived in Beijing after an overnight train and pulled into Beijing train station. After a fair bit of confusion in our delirious state, we realised we were actually at Beijing west. After an hour of walking and subwaying in the Beijing rush hour with huge bags and the general Chinese lack of personal space awareness, we made it to the hotel to be told to come back 4hrs later... fairly exhausted, we walked around the area we were staying (by the Lama Temple) and paid an extortionate amount for a coffee and cake at Costa - the only place open.

Our room at the Grand Hotel du Palais Rouge (a ridiculously grand name considering it seemed to be run by 2 young girls who shared the 24hr manning of reception, breakfast duty and we suspect the massage service) was nice and very Chinese. Only downside was the lack of segregation between bedroom and bathroom- not romantic! The staff generally responded "no" to every question, bit they did do it with a smile so not as bad as some of the other Chinese service that we'd been used to...

Enough of the domestic arrangements, once we caught up on a little sleep we got out exploring and started to love it. Behind our hotel was a cool hutong with all sorts of cafés, restaurants, bars and shops. There was even a homemade sausage restaurant called Stuff'd which served the best sausage that I have ever had! We also frequented a food hall a few times on the main shopping street where you can choose food from stalls specialising in different regional specialities and it is pretty cheap. I treated myself to a few new threads and also stocked up on a few electronic essentials. Sophie trawled the cosmetic counters and we had some minor disagreements about the price one can put on maintaining rosy cheeks...

On the eve of our first night in Beijing we headed to Tianamen Square. I hadn't noticed the smog too much but as the sun went down the bright orange sun disappeared and our eyes burned a little. We were accosted for photos numerous times, but spent some time people watching in peace. Seeing the deadpan expressions as they took the hundredth selfy of the hour and watching families in matching outfits cavort around with kites and streamers was pretty entertaining! Note: the deadpan photo of Sophie is a bit of a micky take of the photo culture in China. The square was very closely monitored by the police/army and as darkness descended, those of us remaining on the square were herded off. It was interesting seeing Chinese suppression in action having seen how westernised much of the city is.

Day 2 was the Forbidden City. I expected not to enjoy it, but thought it something we should see. We joined the hordes to enter the palace but managed to go straight to a ticket window and then found plenty of spots away from the crowds. The complex is huge and pretty impressive and far more enjoyable than expected. I tried to teach Sophie the Wil Poole method of fast walking, but she wasn't willing to give it a proper go... After the forbidden city we wandered around and came upon a bustling hutong, complete with cheap giant mojito stall - an excellent find!

Day 3 was something I'd been looking forward to for a long time; the Great Wall. I was hoping that it would live up to expectations and spent a while looking for the best way to see it. Areas such as Badaling have been restored and converted into theme park type attractions with huge number of tourists trampling around, cable cars and the usual Chinese approach to mass tourism. We found a few other options with complicated transport arrangements, but settled on joining a local walking group: Beijing Hikers. The other walkers were locals and expats, they spoke English and were really well organised. It did cost £35 but was well worth the money! The walk set off at quite a pace and Soph wasn't too impressed. One of the walkers was in full trail running attire and did running drills when we stopped... Not sure she quite appreciated what a hike should entail. Our view is that it involves WALKING, eating, surveying the scene and a general sense of wellbeing. Anyway,she gave us plenty of entertainment as well as something to moan about and we walked at the pace we wanted to so she just had to wait. The views from the wall were better than I imagined, stretching out as far as we could see (a long way on a perfect blues sky day), perched on the precipice of mountain ridges. It was fairly hard going with the heat, the changes in elevation and the state of the wall and watchtowers in places. That said, the condition of wall was amazing considering it's age. It was easy to imagine how easily the army would have been able to march right across the tops of mountains; journeying in minutes what would otherwise have taken hours. As you can probably tell, this was one of the highlights of our trip so far for me!

We took things fairly easy the remainder of our 5 days in Beijing, taking in: the Olympic park, the Summer Palace (huge lake, stunning pagodas and thousands of tourists), the Tmple of Heaven (impressive temple and park complex and surprisingly quiet), the Lama Temple (one of the most sacred Tibetan temples outside of Tibet, stunning, busy but with a reverence and refreshing quietness not normally witnessed around Chinese tourists) and lots of food establishments. One of the highlights was Beijing (Peking) duck. We thought they'd made a mistake and brought us 2 as we had so much food but when the bill came it was all one portion...a pleasant surprise. So much so that we treated ourselves to a glass of French red wine at a nice cafe in our hutong.

I was a big fan of Beijing: an interesting mix of east and west, it felt like we only scratched the surface. The weather was also amazing and I was only bothered by the smog on the first night. Sophie did get ill whilst we were there and whilst it would be a candidate for somewhere to live more permanently, I'm not sure it has made Sophie's shortlist...

Posted by bloorsontour 03:17 Archived in China

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We also enjoyed Beijing-your photographs brought back memories.
One wrinkly says Sophie should stick to fish and chips! Take care xx

by wrinklies

Sounds like an interesting place. Love the photos xxx

by mutsi

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