After an almost restless night in our little white capsule train we arrived in Beijing. We navigated the metro map with our index fingers and were soon at the closest station to our hotel, Double Happiness. We had a rough idea where it was, but figured we could always ask for directions if we needed. We did need them, but realised our Mandarin is non-existent so instead we wandered aimlessly through the old Hutongs until we saw a smiling man at the front of the building.
The hotel was beautiful. The rooms all overlook the courtyard with traditional Chinese lanterns and silks. It could not have been more what we wanted. The other bonus was the toilet was not a glass cubicle… quite a step up from Shanghai. As we said in our Shanghai post, you tend to get a feel almost immediately about a city. Other then the hotel, we did not have the greatest feeling about Beijing. Probably because were were comparing it Shanghai, which we had fallen in love with.
We think it was the fact that wherever you walked in Shanghai, there was something to see, whereas, Beijing is sooo big that walking it takes hours. Yes, there is a brilliant metro system, but we try not to use them as much from experience from living in London. Walking gives a better perspective, plus you never know what food you might stumble across.
We had arrived on Saturday and had heard about a large antiques market a little way out. Of course this tempted us, as we were still carrying ridiculous items in our backpacks and thought a Ming Vase would fit nicely alongside five pairs of shoes, a cleaver and thirty six metres of silk… We got directions from the hotel, wandered to the metro and headed out.
At first glance it seemed quite small, but it turned out we were looking at some street stalls and the market was situated inside a walled carpark. When we entered we were blown away. It was massive. We stupidly brought our backpacks along, which is a rookie mistake at an antiques market filled with what could be priceless ceramics and jade that we almost knocked over on numerous occasions. We definitely didn’t look like tourists…
We wanted to buy so many things, but our Antique knowledge does not really exist. We picked up a few items and looked underneath at their markings, but none of them said IKEA, so were none the wiser. We wandered through piles of Jade, Jewellery, Buddha’s, you name it, they had it. The Jade turned into aisles of ceramics which turned into silver which turned into postcards of Chairman Mao which turned into buildings filled with beautiful furniture. Unfortunately, there was not a coffee table to match our Turkish Rug we had carried for two months.
The market was pretty cool but we soon had to jump on the metro and head to the old part of town. It was lunch and we had a list of places we had to visit for one thing and one thing only – Peking Duck. Or as the citizens of Beijing no doubt call it in their native tongue, Duck. You would think this was easy to find, however, it seemed every restaurant we had located had closed. We stopped in at the hostel to confirm our booking out to the Great Wall the following day and asked them for a recommendation. They pointed us to a restaurant one block away. Perfect we thought. It was a large block, but when we finally made it, it too had been knocked down and was being replaced with a shopping mall. It was 2 degrees Celsius, colder with the wind and we were hungry, needless to say, we were grumpy. We wandered back to a busy restaurant on the corner with some people eating duck and sat down. Through the medium of a chine translator app we ordered duck. The waiter mentioned something, and with the medium of the same Chinese translator app, we established they had just sold out. GRRRRRRR!
We ordered something else and waited for it to arrive to see what it was. It turned out to be a pretty tasty chicken dish. It went down considerably well, especially with a Tsingtao, but it was no duck. And we were still hungry but the restaurant was shutting. We went to wander around the ancient Hutongs but the all seemed to be renovated giving the appearance of theme park/movie set. Adding the golf carts filled with local tourists left us underwhelmed but we did happen to stumble across a little restaurant that served chicken wings on skewers. While we waited for our bucket of wings, Sarah went on adventure to the the obscure land of Chinese toilets.
After a quick yahoo (no google) search we established that the best Peking duck in town was to be had at Dadong. Looking at it, it was out of our budget and situated on top of a shopping centre that housed stores like Aston Martin and Ferrari. We grabbed our least stinky clothes and wandered the streets in search of the restaurant out of our league. We eventually found it and wandered in. We had no reservation, and the place was busy, but the managed to accommodate us next to the kitchen. And what a kitchen. It was in the centre of the room on a podium and consisted of 5 finely dressed chefs working consistently on ducks at the different stages of cooking.
When one was ready, a chef would take it out of the oven and lay it on a block. All chefs would inspect it and if it got the approval, it would have one last shave with a razor and be brought to the table for a chef to carve. It was a lot different to what we had eaten at home, not overcooked and the skin was golden, not overly crispy, but the meat was incredibly moist. We enjoyed the meal, but there seemed to be something lacking, perhaps seasoning, or perhaps we were just used to crispy skin duck, which as everyone knows, is delicious. We are happy we went and would recommend going, if not just to check out the incredible kitchen.
The following morning we headed off for our adventure to the Great Wall of China. We had met a British couple in the first week of our adventure on Vis, in Croatia who adamantly suggested we had to go to Simatai section of the wall. And we are glad we did. It is further away than the other two sections that are easily visited from Beijing, but completely worth it. There were only 10 other people on the wall this day and it was the perfect day to visit. It was perfect blue skies and there was even a dusting of snow. We pulled out our big camera to take some photos and it broke. It could not have been a worse time. The scenery was incredible. Thankfully we had our little camera as back up.
We were unsure what to expect. These major tourist destinations do have a tendency to disappoint, however, The Great Wall of China, at Simatai on a clear day, with the dusting of snow, has to be up there with one of the most incredible sites we have ever seen.
We walked a few kilometres along the wall, stopping for photos at almost every metre. We eventually arrived at the halfway mark (approximately three quarters of the way through our walk) where we had the opportunity to head down and take the easy path home. We had already taken over half the time to get to that point and knew the next part was the hardest but we decided to do it anyway. We took off with speed and were immediately halted at quite a steep slippery slope. We managed to crawl up it but needed a five minute rest. The rest of the way was spent looking at our watch, jogging and looking ahead for the tower we had to stop at.
It turned out that we were a lot closer than we anticipated so ended the walk with time to spare. A little chinese lady looked at us and offered us some tacky souvenirs to which we declined. We sat down for a small picnic when she returned holding two beers. She got a sale!
By the time returned back to the city it was dark and we were hungry. We opted to skip peking duck and instead wandered up a road to try and locate another recommended restaurant. Eventually we were pointed to a busy little diner type establishment that we knew we would have trouble working out. But they were serving a delicious looking steamboat so we gave it a go.
We were given a menu that we managed to decipher, but it was looking good. Cows Penis and lamb penis were the first two followed by various types of offal.
We eventually ordered what we assumed was mixed meats and were then bombarded with questions. Thankfully, a young family to the left of us noticed, and the father leaned over and said “I apologise, I do not speak very good English, however I am happy to help.” We have had steamboat before and we were under the impression that you fill the broth with your raw meat and vegetables to cook and flavour the broth to be eaten as an intensely flavoured soup. Not here. We were instructed to only place the green leaves in first, eat that and then work our way to the meat. We got to this point and began eat the broth. It was delicious. We were not even deterred by all the laughter and pointing that was being directed to us by the smiling waitresses, the family next to us and the rest of the cliental for that matter.
We opted again to walk the full distance from our hotel to the Forbidden City. Another false move, as it took forever and when we arrived, it was locked. Ironically, we were forbidden to enter the Forbidden City. We tried to come back the way we came, but were directed to walk the entire way around the outside of the building we couldn’t enter. We wandered back towards the entrance, again through the metal detectors and onto Tianamen Square. We could have entered Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, but instead decided to wander past and towards a large shopping precinct to try and replace our broken camera.
We failed at the camera purchase but did enter a Chopstick Store. I was particularly interested in obtaining chopstick as a souvenir, but had been quite picky about what I wanted. Sarah did not care, but managed to show her distaste to the more affordable options. I am not pointing the finger at her, and Sarah does not point her finger at I, but collectively we walked out of that store with the most expensive set of chopsticks we had seen… whoops.