Part 3: Ruth and Kenny in Beijing.

19 Apr

Beijing: 3 nights

What we did: on Sunday afternoon we took the 5hour bullet train from Shanghai to Beijing. I highly recommend the train: tickets were 500RMB per person (cheaper than airfares I found but I did only check last-minute) and if you include all the faffing about before and after flights, total travel time probably amounted to much the same. We arrived at our hotel quite late and the only thing we did was hunt for some dinner and book our tour to the Great Wall for the following day.

We went with one of the tours that was advertised on the back of a free Beijing map. That’s what Dave and I did when we went to the Great Wall last year and everything had been fine. I’m pretty sure it was the same company actually. We organized to be picked up at 10am and our guide Frank and driver Peter then took us to Mùtiányù, one of the sections of the wall that has been restored and is open to tourists. It is about 2 hours away and meant to be less crowded than other parts (particular Bādálǐng) and have the most dramatic views of the wall snaking over the hills. Once there, you have to fight through throngs of stalls trying to sell you extortionate souvenirs and snacks. Our guide ran off to buy our entry tickets (40RMB) while we bought tickets for the ski lift/toboggan (80rmb). You can walk as well but that’s not as much fun!

The Great Wall takes my breath away, it really is amazing. Unfortunately this time we didn’t have the clearest of skies but it was still impressive.

Impressive was also how unfit we were as climbed up the steps. Some parts are really steep but given that little children and grannies with babies in their arms were doing it, there was really no excuse for our panting and ohmygod-huff-when-is-this-huff-over-why-am-I-so-huff-huff-unfit cursing. And I also thought about how I contemplated (for a like an hour) to start training for the Great Wall Marathon even though I’ve never ran a marathon let alone have the patience to run for more than an hour. That was an  amusing thought for about 3 seconds until I realised that I had another 100 million steps to go!

Up and down, up and down.

Made it to the "end"!

We only had 2 hours on the wall so after about an hour we went to the toboggan queue that was endless!!! Kenny calculated that it would take about 50min and we debated back and forth if it was worth staying but in the end we held out and I don’t know what we were thinking, toboggan is ALWAYS worth the wait. The trick is to go really slow at the beginning to let the slow-poke in front of you get as far as possible and then push down the lever and let rip, woohooo! Also, don’t get stuck behind a parent with a child like Kenny did!

He still had fun though, it seems!

We had lunch at a nearby restaurant that was totally overpriced (and for which our guide got a commission for, no doubt) and then it was off back to Beijing via an assortment of government-owned factories and a tea house. Anyone that’s travelled in Asia will know that this is a common side effect of organized tours and, god knows, I’ve been to my fair share of crappy jade centres and pottery shops. But the factories we were taken to on our last trip were actually quite interesting and it broke up the ride back a bit so we were quite happy to do it again. Turns out we went to the exact same factories this time around: an enamel “pottery” centre, a silk factory and a tea house. The guides breeze through the different stages of the production and then let you browse in huge gift shops. Some guides can get a bit pushy about buying stuff but generally I didn’t feel too pressured, especially since Ruth was being a good consumer!

I was particularly excited to go to the tea house again because I bought the best black tea I’ve ever had when we were there last year and have been dreaming about it ever since I finished it. It was black tea grown amongst lychee bushes and mixed with dried lychee bits and was a perfect blend of black tea and fruitiness. And I was all ready to spend 200rmb (!) on a pack because I love it so much. I made the girl doing our tea ceremony give us a taster and thank god I did, because their new recipe tasted just like plain black tea. She tried hard to make a sale (of the lychee tea and a hundred other things) but I left empty-handed.

On our second day in Beijing we dropped off Ruth and Kenny to explore Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City on their own because both Dave and I didn’t feel the need to visit it again. And it was mobbed by Chinese tour groups!

Instead the two of us went and explored some hútòngs (narrow alleyways), the traditional Beijing neighbourhoods of two-storey grey brick houses that sit along a myriad of little alleyways. Last time we were in Bejing was over New Year’s 2010-2011 and it had been SO cold that we didn’t do much exploring. (On the other hand, everything we did see was deserted which in China is rare and always welcome!)

Hutongs are fast getting replaced by residential skyscrapers so be quick! We checked out the Nanluogu Xiang one that has been transformed into a tourist attraction with little shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. We went into a couple of other, less developed ones and it was really nice. Away from the big roads, you can no longer hear the traffic, it’s lovely and peaceful. On Wudaoying Hutong you can find little shops geared towards Beijing hipster youth, vintage shops (!!never seen a proper vintage shop in China!!) and cute little cafés, though most of them were closed when we were there around mid-day. Further south there’s various art and design spaces.

Corner shop with a pay-as-you-go washing machine.

Balcony with sofa.

In the evening we went to an acrobatics show, another popular tourist activity in Beijing. We got our guide from the day before to organize tickets and a car. We really enjoyed the show, there was juggling, tight-rope walking, acrobatics of all shapes and sizes and I ask you, how many girls in flapper dresses fit on a little Chinese bike?

Thirteen, it turns out.

However, for anyone thinking of going to see a show I advise you to organise it yourself. There’s various websites online that you can book through or you can go to the theatre itself. We wanted to go to a specific show (with a finale of 10 guys on motorbikes racing inside a spherical cage that Clif had been raving about) and when we got to the theatre we realised we hadn’t been given the right tickets. We still enjoyed the show but I thought it was a bit cheeky that the guide didn’t get the show we’d decided on. Also, booking tickets yourself will come a lot cheaper. Our mid-range tickets were 380RMB but given  that the show was only an hour long I thought that was really pricey, no? When I did a bit of research online I realised all theatres (ours included) give discounts for purchasing multiple tickets. So buying four tickets brought the price down to 190RMB (£19) per ticket, a lot more reasonable. I guess the tour company made a good profit off us!

What we ate: Peking Duck, Peking Duck, Peking Duck, yum, yum, yum! There was also a bunch of street food, lots of kung pao chicken and sweet-n-sour pork, I found raisin scones in some random Chinese bakery that were really good… but let’s get back to the Peking Duck. Especially the one we had at Peking Duck Private Kitchen, a small restaurant that had ranked high on various online sites I visited. It that was really hard to find but it was so worth it!

Peking Duck Private Kitchen.

We got the 299RMB set meal for the four of us and got a whole bunch of starters, a whole roast duck, along with a three other main dishes, a couple of vegetable side dishes and dessert we never had because we were too full. The duck skin was cooked till the skin was thin and crisp and the duck liver we got as a starter was to die for, move over foie gras! We also had the duck’s webbed feet in a wasabi soy sauce as a cold starter which weren’t too bad!! Better than chicken feet definitely.

Gnawing on duck feet. Not so easy with the old chopsticks.

If you’re in Beijing, get yourself over there!

We flew back to Ningbo on Wednesday night which gave Ruth and Kenny another 1½ days for some last-minute souvenir shopping and – finally – some time to put up their feet and relax! A little bit here and there, anyway.

Who of you has been to Beijing?

Any recommendations (for when I go again)?

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2 Responses to “Part 3: Ruth and Kenny in Beijing.”

  1. Sally (@unbravegirl) April 20, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    So, unlike you, I actually let crazy do the talking (rather than reason) and I signed up for the Great Wall Marathon — well, just the 10K, but still. It seemed like a reasonable goal back in, umm, January when I was being all crazy with my resolution-making. The magnitude of what I did didn’t really sink in until last week when they delivered my race package. And seeing your pictures hasn’t helped with my general nervousness. I’m seriously going to die.
    Looks like a fun time in Beijing though. I LOVE Peking duck so much. I can’t wait to have more! That will maybe be my present to myself if I live through the race.

    • miravakily April 20, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

      Are you SERIOUS??? I actually went back to the website after our walk on the Great Wall just to see why on earth I even put it into consideration in the first place… and all I could see where things like “tough”, “put your physique to the test” and “No runner should enter The Great Wall Marathon believing that this is an easy course”… those warnings were enough.

      But wow, hats off to you!! I’ll be thinking of you in a month’s time!

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