Summer Palace and Roasted Duck

Beijing Travel Blog

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Last night, I visited the Olympic Village.  On the way, I did not initially see many people there.  That reminded me of one lesson in getting around Beijing.  It's a huge city with great distances between everything.  When going somewhere by taxi, the important thing is not getting there.  The important thing is getting back.  It's very important to make note where taxis hang out so you can pick one up.  Not seeing many people initially, made me concerned about how to get back to my hotel afterwards.  Anyway, as I entered the Olympic Village, I started noticing people coming out of nowhere.  In fact, there were a lot of people there, hanging out, taking photos, having drinks at outdoor vendors.  I left at 11pm and there were still a lot of people there.  Unlike in the US, the general population in Asia do not feel compelled to go home and sleep at any general time, but it still weird to see little kids playing at a tourist spot at 11pm at night.

Waking up today, I wasn't sure what I was going to do.  I had visited all the sites I had on my checklist on my last trip to Beijing.  The Olympic Village was the only thing on this trip's checklist.  I decided to go to the Summer Palace, based on what I saw on flickr.  It looked kinda cool.  An hour or two of my time?  Sure.  But first, I had to get food.  I decided to hunt down the Liqun Roasted Duck restaurant featured in the Lonely Planet and on Tony Bourdain's show episode on China.  I was already hungry. ...but there was a problem.  Taxis are not allowed to drive near that area.  It's located in the Hutong area near Tiananmen Square.  So the taxi dropped me off at the southern end of the square and I spent the next 30 minutes asking people for directions.  Ok, "asking" was more like going up to people, looking distraught, and pointing to a piece of paper with the name of the restaurant written in Chinese (always ask someone to write it down for you before going).  After a hot and sweaty walk, I found the restaurant.  It was not easy to find, and there were no customers going in and out.  Entering the door, I was excited to see a brick oven with several duck hanging in it.  On the wall, several dozen photos of photos of foreign dignataries who had visited the restaurant.  So far, I was pumped... but there was no one to seat me.  I had to go find a person to help seat me.  Ok...  I also noticed no other customers there.  Ok... On the way to my table, I see two workers mixing a huge bowl of duck sauce.  Very good sign.  Once seated, the trouble became clear.  They don't serve anything less than whole ducks.  This restaurant is so hard to get to and so inconvenient that even if they served the best duck in the world, they don't get a steady stream of customers and therefore forced to sell you whole ducks.  Actually, most good Beijing duck restaurants will only sell you whole ducks.  I can't eat a whole duck, so off I went.  Now hungrier and more frustrated, I decided to take off for the Summer Palace.

The fare to the Summer Palace from Tiananmen Square is about 80 yuan.  The taxi claimed to have a meter and did the slapping motion to start the meter, but when we arrived, there were no meter.  Another lesson, make sure you see the dimly lit digital display of the meter before you take a taxi.  The first thing I noticed when entering the Summer Palace was the massive lake.  I entered through the southern gate, I think.  What I had thought was an hour or 2 trip became impossibly unrealistic.  This place is huge!  When entering, I'd recommend buying the map.  First off, it's a really nicely done map that you'd want to take home as a souvenir.  At $1.50, it's worth it.  Ok, I bought it, but didn't look at it till later (as you will find out).  Looking at the lake, I wasn't sure if I could walk around the entire lake in a single day.  Luckily, there are several gates so there are exits if I couldn't make it.  There are boat rides on the lake available.  Don't worry about going thirsty or hungry.  There are vendors everywhere.  This area is huge, well maintained, and filled with throngs of Chinese tourists and foreigners.  Once I got to the east gate, I visited the Wangcheng Gallery showing some of the former Emporer's belongings.  Pretty impressive.  I then got to the Garden of Harmonious Interest (I think) that displayed the former residence of the Emporer.  There were about a dozen buildings with gardens, etc.  Really nice.  Those guys lived well.  Leaving those group of buildings, I continued my trek around the bridge towards the North gate.  As I got close, I noticed stairways up the hills.  Stairways to where?  By now, I was tired, having walked non-stop for 3 hours.  I checked my map, and quickly became discouraged.  Apparently, up the hill were SEVERAL dozens residences, temples, etc.  Outside the Great Wall, this has got to be the largest tourist spot in Beijing.  It dwarfs the Forbidden Temple by an order of magnitude.  To make a long story short, I eventually went up the hill.  It was worth it.  Down at the lake area, there are throngs of people in tour groups.  Up the hill, all of that noise disappears.  There are trees everywhere, and the lake brings in a nice breeze.  There are many picturesque buildings and rocks and pathways.  Whoever built this spent a LOT of money.  Another 3 hours later, I gave up exploring the hill and left to head back to my hotel.  A total of 6 hours in this area, and I think I had only explored only about 25-33% of the place.  This is truly one of the greatest spots I have seen in all of my travels.  It is really well maintained.  There is shade everywhere, as well as plenty to eat and drink.  I highly recommend it.

Later in the evening, I decided to make another run for roasted duck.  The hotel staff recommended a restaurant near the China World shopping area named Quan Ju De, supposedly famous among Chinese people.  A restaurant near a shopping center that is good?  Was that a joke?  Yeah, it's good, really good.  The restaurant has 4 levels, due to how busy they get.  The place is very well dressed, with many rooms for private parties.  Here, they actually bring out the duck on a cart to your table and cut the duck right in front of you.  The taste?  The best duck I've ever had.  It beats the other duck places I had visited in my previous trip to Beijing.  And they serve half ducks!  Price for half a duck and several drinks?  About $30 USD.  Kinda steep for just one dish, but it really is a good duck.  Foodies will like this place.  I plan on coming back before leaving Beijing.
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photo by: Eric