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Trans Sib-Beijing, Jul 07

Beijing Travel Blog

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Street off Wanfujing

The first afternoon in Beijing was pretty relaxing.  After scrubbing away the Trans Sib grime, it was getting late, so rather than venture out, we decided to have a look around the hotel shopping plaza...3 glorious floors of boutiques!

Clearly unable to resist the temptation, I bought a pair of shoes!  Well, they were needed, since I had to throw away the lesbo sandals in Mongolia.  And the lovely new shoes got their first outing that very evening for dinner, if only to the hotel restaurant.

After a great sleep in a comfy bed (I love hotels!), we headed out in search of the Forbidden City.

It took all of maybe 60 seconds before we got accosted by some locals clearly looking to get some hard cash out of us.

View of the Forbidden City
  I swear Smurf’s face says, ‘come get me!’  After a little too much chit chat we managed to get rid of them, after giving the ‘we know what you’re up to’ speech.

Our walk took us down Wanfujing Street, which is one of the main shopping streets in Beijing, and one that I am now very well acquainted with.

It was time for shoe purchase number 2! To tell the truth, this was the purchase that really replaced the lesbo sandals - a pair of good old fashioned Birkenstocks - always reliable and never blistering.  The shoe purchase yesterday was the frivolous, out of traveller mode one, that needn’t have happened...BUT, I really felt a good pair of party shoes were in order for 6 months living it up in China!!  And boy, have the come in handy?!

Having slipped into the non-blister causing, fabulously comfortable Birkenstocks, Smurf and I continued our trek to the Forbidden City.

The crowds at the Forbidden City
  We clearly should have read the guide book a little closer...Beijing is definitely NOT a city you can walk around.  It’s HUGE.  It takes 20 minutes to walk one block.

We thought we must have walked far enough to reach the Forbidden City and paid a fee to go through what looked like the entrance, but it turned out to be some random garden and temple not on the map we’d been given.  I still have absolutely no idea where this place was but it was pretty to walk around, and we actually got a good view of the Forbidden City from inside.  At least knew we hadn’t veered too far off course.

We finally made it to the south entrance of the Forbidden City and were stunned by the number of people there.  I’ve never seen anything like it!  There were literally thousands and thousands of mainly Chinese tourists - we couldn’t even see the end of the ticket line.

Chairman Mao's portrait at the Forbidden City

Today was definitely not the day to go to the Forbidden City, so we headed towards Tiananmen Square, with a swarm of other tourists.  Same problem there....couldn’t even see the square for people so with our sightseeing plan out the window, we opted for a walk instead.

We decided to head wherever the mood took us....through Hutongs and up large avenues.  We had a vague plan to find Beihai Lake but surprise surprise, this was not meant to be. Despite being right beside the lake, we could get access to it from the side we were on.  To get there would have meant walking another 45 minutes and I really wasn’t that desperate to see it.

Finally my patience wore a little thin because my stomach needed feeding, so we grabbed a cab and went back to the hotel to get some dim sum after trying and failing to get the cabbie to take us to a restaurant from our guide book.

Opposite Tiannamen Square

The plan after lunch was to head to Curio City which is an antiques centre, to search for a shop recommended in our guide as being a good place for interesting gifts.

Our taxi dropped us off outside what looked like an antiques centre, but after a bit of time looking around, we realised we were in the wrong place.  We asked for directions but got sent completely the wrong way, so yet another plan had to be aborted and we got a cab back to the hotel.

I have to say that this was probably the worst day of attempted sightseeing I’ve ever experienced and reinforced three very important things about Beijing....

1.       You cannot walk anywhere in the city - don’t even bother attempting it.

Trying to find my way

2.       Beijing cab drivers do not know where they are going - always have a map to hand and direct if necessary

3.       Ask more than 1 person for directions - the Chinese will tell you anything to avoid saying they don’t know...it’s a losing face thing.

The evening was much more successful....We had a couple of drinks at the Stoneboat Cafe in Ritan Park - definitely worth a visit.

The view from the Stoneboat in Ritan Park
...and over-ordered at Xiao Wang’s - a great authentic Chinese restaurant.

A couple of the best Apple Martinis ever followed at the hotel before bed time.  All in all the day ended in a style quite favourable to me.

The following day we took a rickshaw tour of the Hutongs.  It was good fun as we got to stop off in various different places along the way.  We got to go into a Hutong home, which was really interesting.  The houses are built round a central courtyard and are very compact. The home we saw was lived in by quite a well to do family but only had 3 rooms.  They also don’t have their own bathroom - there is only 1 per courtyard, so all the families living there have to share!  This also means going outside, which would be horrendous in the -10°C winter temperatures!!

Most of the Hutongs are now government owned and lived in by government workers.

Over-ordering at Xiao Wang's
  However, when they were privately owned, a number of stars above the entrance would indicate the level of affluence - the more stars the more well off the inhabitants.

We then got taken to the Drum Tower, which is close to Houhai Lake.  The climb up to the top was pretty step but the view was good, although the smog does ruin it, plus the battery on our camera ran out so we didn’t have a chance to capture the 3 drummers who perform every 30 minutes.

Next stop was some Prince’s garden.  I can’t remember where it was exactly but it was very beautiful despite being over-run with Chinese tourists.  We ended the tour in a traditional Chinese tea house where we were shown a traditional tea ceremony.  We got to try loads of different Chinese teas, which was great and then obviously made the obligatory purchase of both cups and tea leaves.

Climbing the stairs at the Drum Tower

We headed back to the hotel for a dim sum lunch before making a second attempt to find Lee & Lee’s antique store.

We refused to be beaten by Beijing’s disorientated taxi drivers, so having called the store and getting the lovely girl there to direct the cab driver, we made it to our destination.

The shop was well worth the effort - 5000 sq metres of antique furniture and repro furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties.  I really could have furnished my imaginary home several times over.  Unfortunately there was nothing suitable for gifts, but we did consider buying some furniture given the fantastic prices.  I expect I’ll be heading back at the end of my stay in Beijing.

We went back to the hotel feeling pleased with our accomplishment and enjoyed a couple of celebratory G&T’s before heading to dinner at The Courtyard.

View of smog-ridden Beijing from the Drum Tower
  As it was our last night in Beijing together, we opted to splash out and head to The Courtyard, which had been recommended for its great fusion food and fab views of the Forbidden City. I wasn’t blown away by the place but we did have a lovely evening there and I managed to get in another great Apple Martini back at the hotel before heading to bed.

The next day it was time to pack up, say my goodbyes to Smurf, and head off to UIBE to start the next phase of my world tour.  I was pretty terrified and extremely sad to by leaving such a great travel buddy.

dfoo says:
I can't say I noticed the star system for the houses in the Hutong area. I guess that makes it easier for burglers ;) I did notice the star system for the public toilets though.

Anyway loved the blog. Reminded me of when I did the Trans-Siberian early 2006. I went in winter though so there were no crowds to speak of. And going out drinking was a lot easier as prices were discounted to lure tourists into establishments.
Posted on: Nov 22, 2007
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Street off Wanfujing
Street off Wanfujing
View of the Forbidden City
View of the Forbidden City
The crowds at the Forbidden City
The crowds at the Forbidden City
Chairman Maos portrait at the For…
Chairman Mao's portrait at the Fo…
Opposite Tiannamen Square
Opposite Tiannamen Square
Trying to find my way
Trying to find my way
The view from the Stoneboat in Rit…
The view from the Stoneboat in Ri…
Over-ordering at Xiao Wangs
Over-ordering at Xiao Wang's
Climbing the stairs at the Drum To…
Climbing the stairs at the Drum T…
View of smog-ridden Beijing from t…
View of smog-ridden Beijing from …
On route to the Forbidden City
On route to the Forbidden City
Beijing street life
Beijing street life
Soldiers on parade
Soldiers on parade
The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City
The new National Grand Theatre
The new National Grand Theatre
Changing of the guard
Changing of the guard
Some of the 9 million bicycles in …
Some of the 9 million bicycles in…
Inside a Hutong courtyard
Inside a Hutong courtyard
Houhai Lake
Houhai Lake
Enjoying a fab Apple Martini
Enjoying a fab Apple Martini
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photo by: Deats