So, we have been back in the UK for a few weeks now. I finally feel like I’ve nearly caught up with myself and the work load, so I have found some time to put part of the journal I kept whilst on holiday up online. Keep coming back to check for more – I’ll be putting the whole trip on here over the coming weeks!

Beijing – Day 1-2

 

After a 27 hour door-to-door journey we arrived at our hotel in a ‘Hutong’ area of Beijing – a traditional area of narrow alleyways and small buildings – at around 6pm. Exhausted having only had around 3 hours sleep since leaving at 9.30am the day before, we went straight to bed and slept until 8.30 the next morning. We got up and had breakfast, which was a good selection of both Western and Chinese food such as noodles and soup, bread, eggs, brioche and cereals with fruit juice and coffee. The hotel itself, Sihe Courtyard hotel, was a single storey square building centred around two inner courtyards with plants and seating all around. It was pretty and inviting. The room was clean and big enough for us to spread out, with a nice modern shower room, fridge and safe. After breakfast we left the hotel around 10am and headed for the Forbidden Palace. We decided to try the subway as it was only a 5-10 min walk away. Upon arriving there we tried to remember our surroundings and which entrance we had used so when we got back we would know how to get back to the hotel.

A friendly American couple saw us looking at the subway map and asked us where we were going. They suggested that as the Forbidden Palace was only a 30 minute walk away we could just go by foot. But being Beijing newbies we decided the tube would be better. We tried buying tickets at the machine but it wouldn’t take our notes; coins only, so we went to the counter and signalled to the attendant that we wanted 2 tickets, by holding up 2 fingers. The fare was a very reasonable 3rmb each (around 30p). We had to take our bags off and put them on an airport-style conveyor belt scanner before being allowed to descend.

The station stops were also written in pinyin, the romanised spellings of Chinese words, so we were able to navigate fairly easily. We tried to find Tiananmen Square, which was supposed to be directly opposite the palace, but because temporary stadium seating had been erected along the road for the 70 year anniversary parade of Japan’s defeat in WWII we were unable to see it, so we went straight into the palace garden. Along the pavement there was yet another airport style security check which held things up even further.

The Forbidden Palace

There were weeping willows hanging over ponds and beautiful canopied walkways.
The palace gardens were very beautiful and typically Chinese in style. There were weeping willows hanging over ponds and beautiful canopied walkways.The arena outside the palace buildings was immense and the queue took around 20 minutes. This was our first taste of how vast everything is in China – it is all on a massive scale. I got an ‘automatic guide’; an audio guide that tracks where you are and starts automatically as you enter each section. We went through 3 massive palace buildings with huge areas around them. Then we meandered around more gardens and smaller palace buildings until we wondered what to eat for lunch.

 

We had seen some people eating hotdogs on a stick further back near the large palace buildings so we headed back there as the rest seemed too different for us; as it was our first day we weren’t feeling too adventurous with food! The ‘hotdog’ was sweet and slightly sticky in texture, but nonetheless tasty and edible. I got a bit braver and bought what looked like a chocolate loaf. It was a brioche with raisins and was quite nice but didn’t feel very nourishing. As we ate a young child wearing crotchless trousers peed straight onto the floor in front of us from his mother’s lap. I had seen a few babies crawling about in crotchless trousers and it turned out to be quite common – but not peeing in a Palace!

One of the large palace buildings in The Forbidden Palace, Beijing, China

One of the large palace buildings in The Forbidden Palace, Beijing, China

 

We had somehow used up most of the day in the Forbidden Palace and by then it was 3.30pm. The palace was just huge and we must have only managed around a third of it. We went to a dusty dark clock exhibition which you had do pay extra to go to, I think it was 15rmb (£1.50).

One of the clocks had an elephant pulling a chariot of people; its eyes, ears, trunk and tail moved
It contained mainly English clocks, some made in France and some Guangzhou, the centre of Chinese clock making. There were some extraordinary clocks, which were really more work of art than clock, as some of them had only tiny clock faces on large scale decorative pieces. One had an elephant pulling a chariot of people; its eyes, ears, trunk and tail moved but sadly none of the clocks were kept wound up so we didn’t get to see it move. We saw that 2 clocks were wound at 2 intervals each day if you did want to see how some of them work, but we had missed the times they were on display.

Closure

By then there was only 30 minutes left until it closed, so we headed to a gate only to find it was closed and we would have to go to a different gate. On arriving at that gate we found it to also be closed. We had walked for around an hour by this time and were thoroughly ready to go home, although we felt lucky to be in the beautiful palace gardens on such a clear sunny day, a rarity in Beijing only possible because they had stopped the factories 2 days before for the 70 year anniversary parade. We finally found a gate we could leave through after paying to enter another park.

Large ‘1945 – 2015’ flower structure to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan's defeat in WWII

Large ‘1945 – 2015’ flower structure to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in WWII

 

Tiananmen Square

We headed over the road via an underpass across the busy main road and walked to Tiananmen Square where there was a large ‘1945 – 2015’ flower structure erected for the 70th anniversary. People milled about with icecreams and we sat (on the floor – there are no benches) for a while before heading back to the subway. We got back to the hotel and showered after a long day walking in the sun and heat. We were starving so around 8pm we asked the receptionist for an address for a restaurant serving Peking duck. She looked at me surprised and said ‘you want to go now? Have you booked?’ Apparently dinner is served early in Beijing. She wrote down the name of a restaurant in Chinese. We looked up her recommendation on TripAdvisor before leaving the hotel and decided we would go for DaDong instead, an expensive but well recommended Peking duck restaurant. We had the address in Chinese ripped out of a copy Time Out Beijing, handily left for us in the hotel room. As we walked towards the main road from the hotel we saw 3 couples already coming back to the hotel. They really do eat early in Beijing.

Peking Duck

We showed the taxi driver the address. None of the taxi drivers speak English so it is important to have your destination written in Chinese. We had no trouble finding the restaurant even though it was down a pedestrian street and the main sign outside said ‘Chef Dong’s Sea Cucumber’ rather than DaDong as we had expected. It was upmarket and modern inside and the duck looked and smelled delicious.

The waiter showed us how to make the duck pancakes, deftly using the chopsticks to arrange the duck, cucumbers and spring onion, and even folding the pancake, with the chopsticks.
We ordered some prawns in a spicy sauce with juniper berries to begin with, which nearly killed me the chillies were so hot; they burned all the way down my throat and water only made it worse. We had a reasonable although expensive glass of wine each (60rmb – £6) and then the duck pancakes arrived. The waiter showed us how to make them, deftly using the chopsticks to arrange the duck dipped in plum sauce, cucumbers and spring onion and even folding the pancake with the chopsticks. My chopstick skills have sadly slipped since my travels to Vietnam in 2011 so I was using a clumsy ‘fingers + chopstick’ hybrid method.

The chef at Da Dong restaurant, Beijing, carving the Peking Duck

The chef at Da Dong restaurant, Beijing, carving the Peking Duck

 

We were the second to last to leave at only 10.10pm. They had started turning the lights off so we got the message. The bill came to around £50, expensive for China, but it had been so incredibly tasty and we were very well fed it felt thoroughly worth it. We hailed a taxi back to the hotel, having made sure to take one of their cards before we left the hotel, and got to bed around 11.30pm.

Day 3 will be on here tomorrow!