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Day 27: Erlian - Beijing

Beijing Travel Blog

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entering China

We woke up to a complete change of scenery. Gone was the Mongolian desert, it was replaced by a very green, very mountainous and above all very foggy China. The dense fog, or smog as we would soon learn, is the result of dust from the gobi, pollution from the industrial and urban areas and moisture trapped in the mountainous region around Beijing.

According to our guidebook we would be able to see the great wall at various places along the railway line, but unfortunately the smog made this impossible. The weather did have its charm though, as the white fog gave the valleys an eerie atmosphere.

We arrived in Beijing around 2 pm. Beijing - the first proper city we saw in four weeks.

entering China
It took us about three minutes to adapt to the fast city life again and after that the quiet calm of the Mongolian countrylife seemed nothing but a distant memory.
Now I don't know what I had expected of Beijing, but it certainly wasn't this. I expected dirty and gritty streets, with nasty people spitting everywhere, chaotic traffic, bicycles, fuming tuk-tuks and other generally unpleasant nastyness. It turned out to be the opposite. Yes, there was smog, and the air was definitely the worst I ever to have entered my lungs, but for the rest the streets were remarkably clean, the traffic remarkably ordened, and the people remarkably friendly.

We had to wait in line for a taxi, which went smooth and efficiently and for a couple of euros we got our first half hour tour through the city.

arriving at Beijing Central station
Even though the streets of Beijing are not laid out on a grid it was surprisingly easy to find where we were heading on the map. That said, we would never have been able to have found our hostel on our own - The Beijing Downtown Backpackers was situated in a historic Hútong (traditional Beijing alleyway).

The hostel was another gem. Like the UB Guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar we immediately felt at home here. Unlike the UB Guesthouse this hostel was spaceous and beautifully situated in an restored turn-of-the-century mansion.

After check-in we wondered around through the Hútongs around our hostel. According to our guidebook there were once over 4000 of these alleys, but these days they number less than 500, as more and more get demolished to make room for high rise buildings.

Beijing Hútong
The Hútongs are a wonderful place to wander around for a couple of hours without a map, getting lost in the seeming maze of houses and alleys.
Because of the coming Olympics most Hútongs had been carefully restored (or were still being restored), with streets re-paved, houses painted, lighting fixed, et cetera.

We were trying to find a restaurant recommended in the Lonely Planet, but, like so many things in the Hútongs, this turned out to be impossible to find... or it simply didn't exist anymore... or both.
We ended up in a nameless restaurant along a busy street. The interior was decorated with cheap posters, the chairs and tables were cheap plastic and none of the staff spoke a word of English.... it turned out to be one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in!

It turned out they did have a menu in English, which actually looked like it had been some sort of school project, as it contained a lot of markings and corrections in red ink.

Beijing street life
It took a while for us to decode it, but it looked like you had to order different dishes, so we pointed to the word for beef and chicken and mushrooms, a few other types of vegetable and medium spicy sauce. That was it... right? Well, no, the kind waitress then flipped the page and pointed at another section of the menu: all kinds of kebabs, lamb, prawn, vegetable and whatnot. As most of these cost a few quarters each, we pointed at half the page, smiled, and hoped for the best.

If you have ever heard people talk about their travels to China, undoubtedly they mentioned the great food. I'm sure you have eaten Chinese at some point in your life, and I am sure when you then hear people raving about the food you go like 'yeah, yeah, right'. Don't be ashamed, that can happen to anyone.

Sumptuous Wok dinner in a nameless restaurant
My dear sister Robbel for example, she was not looking forward to China, because she hates Chinese food.
So here we were, expecting some kind of collection of small dishes, as is typical Chinese. Instead they brought us a huge wok where all the ingredients that we had pointed to on the menu had been stir-fried. Everything super fresh and everything incredibly tasty. A true feast!
The contents of the wok were way too much for the two of us to finish, and then we remembered we had ordered those kebabs as well. These too were delicious and went surprisingly well with the wok dish.

 

Meanwhile it had started to rain. And not just a light drizzle, no, pouring down from the heavens it was. In no time the streets were filled with pools and people were walking ankle-deep in the water.

and then came the rains
Obviously we hadn't brought our rain coats and we had quite a long way to walk back to the hostel. Oh well, it was warm enough, we're not made of sugar, so we'd live.

Ten minutes later we arrived back at the hostel, soaking wet. After changing into dry clothes we spent the rest of the evening checking our e-mails in the hostel's internet café, while drinking nice cold Tsingtao beer. 630 ml for the price of 30 Euro cents! In a hotel! I love this city already!!

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entering China
entering China
entering China
entering China
arriving at Beijing Central station
arriving at Beijing Central station
Beijing Hútong
Beijing Hútong
Beijing street life
Beijing street life
Sumptuous Wok dinner in a nameless…
Sumptuous Wok dinner in a nameles…
and then came the rains
and then came the rains
and then came the rains...
and then came the rains...
Beijing
photo by: Deats