Our second destination in mainland China was Beijing. We arrived with the expectation that it would be warmer, as forecasted day time temperatures were no longer below zero. However, it was soon decided that thermals, beanies and gloves were still very necessary. Our arrival into the city was smooth with a hotel bus pick up, arranged after the Harbin experience, and half an hour later we discovered we were staying in a very plush four-star hotel in Wangfujing with Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Maserati and Lamborghini just around the corner.
December 29th – Arrived in Beijing after an hour flight delay in Harbin due to weather conditions. We explored the Wangfujing area that evening, and excitedly decided on steamboat for dinner. Much to our disappointment, the fancy restaurant we chose cooked the steamboat in the kitchen and presented us with tiny servings of meat and vegetables. Still hungry, we paid our thousand Yuan (for 10 of us) and continued further down the road. Soon after, the group spotted a familiar looking yellow sign and we filled the remaining gaps in our tummy with American fast food.
We finished the night with a walk around the Wangfujing, Beijing shopping and exotic food strip areas.
The Great Wall of China
December 30th was the planned day for our trip to the Great Wall, Beijing’s most famous attraction. The forecast for the day was cool, but sunny. We hired a bus and driver who had recommended the Mutianyu site, which is one-and-a-half hours away and less crowded than the popular Badaling section of the wall. The bus ride there was pleasant, with much of the group playing ‘Big Two’ at the back of the bus. We had lunch at the originally named Great Wall Restaurant, which was quite good and much better value than the previous night’s dinner.
After lunch, we slowly ascended the wall. Each step rewarded better views of the walls and by the time we reached the wall, I had forgotten about any previous aches and pains. We spent a few hours walking along the wall, taking photos and admiring the beautiful scenery and the general greatness of the wall. That night, we ate Peking Duck at the famous Quanjude restaurant (after waiting for at least forty-minutes). Between ten of us we ate three ducks.
Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City
December 31st – The last day of the year, was spent visiting the heart of Beijing, Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City. It was a cold day, but the skies were clear and blue. We spent the morning wandering through the Tiananmen Square Gate and walking through the ancient city, which was once only allowed entrance to Emperors and the like.
That afternoon, we went to the Beijing Silk Markets, a shopping complex filled with tourists from around the world. After finding a grocery store which sold jelly cups, we were happy and content and met with the others to have noodles for dinner. By 9:30pm we were off to Sanlitun Road to celebrate the entrance of the New Year. We found a cosy little bar and counted down to the New Year, Beijing style.
The Wangfujing Food Experience and Peking Opera
On the first day of 2008, Travis and I walked around the Wangfujing area whilst the majority of the group returned to the Silk Markets to exercise their bargaining skills. We found a local shopping centre and bought some sticky rice in banana leaves. Along the way, we found a man selling sweet potatoes and bought one to warm us up.
We walked back to the main Wangfujing square and discovered another exotic foods alley. There we ate the tiny bird kebab (the man told us it was frog), lamb and beef on skewers, three unidentifiable balls, and the multiple mini toffee apples on skewers.
Later that night, Travis and I went to watch Peking Opera at the HuGuang Guild Hall. We hired audio translators and watched tales of mythical creatures and their battles atop mountain peaks.
Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven
Our last day in Beijing was spent visiting the Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven. The Summer Palace was surprisingly busy, despite it being in the middle of winter. The cold had frozen all the lakes, and the trees were without their leaves. We walked around the Palace for a few hours. Some of our group took photos dressed up as ancient royalty, we walked around the leafy parks, ate more sweet potatoes and we then continued on to the Temple of Heaven for the afternoon.