Well, what a week it has been!! Just arrived back into the UK after an epic 36 hour journey back from central China. Now getting round to writing up the amazingness of the trip away, due to hazy wifi while travelling.
We arrived in the colossal Beijing airport around 9am local time (body clock time completely confused) and welcomed by the below freezing air on arrival. Being intrepid adventurers we went straight onto our tourist bus and on to visit the Summer Palace. Built for the Dowager Empress Ci Xi (the dragon lady) we walked around the massive site, getting our first glimpses of palace, temple, frozen lake and tales of imprisoned emperors, poisonings and sacred rocks.
I found it very interesting to see how well the mix of vast modern city, with a rather ridiculous volume of neon everywhere, sits so neatly among such a range of old relics and sites. The mix of ancient heritage and modern seemed to me not to feel contradictory. Is this how the locals feel? After the summer palace we went out to lunch. Out tour guide was clearly used to some very unworldly people as she amusingly started trying to explain what Chinese food was (and how to use chopsticks) to us – a group of Kung fu students plus me who all eat rather a lot of Chinese food!
After lunch we made it to the hotel after a 2 hour drive from the other side of town (only just a few km away) to get a shower before heading back out. We went to visit Tiananmen Square on the way to dinner which we saw as the sun was setting. Very formal place, with a feeling of no real life – and strange to see the square so often portrayed on international TV as the heart of China’s capital city. Also quit strange to see the famous red gate with the haunting image of Chairman Mao ringing around the vast expanse of the a Forbidden City. From here we went to a tea house for food and to experience an amazing array of Chinese Cabaret acts – from Sichuan face changing, to opera singing, shadow play, traditional ladies dancing and a long spout teapot performance. Alongside an endless pot of tea and snacks. Great to see all locals in the audience too, it was nice to be the only westerners in the room.
Breakfast in our hotel, which had Jingle Bells on repeat in the foyer (alongside the giant neon christmas tree, mini grotto and giant gingerbread house). Huge range of stuff from fried noodles, eggs steamed veggies, pickles, fruit, banana bread, a few nods to “western tastes” (bread, ham, cheese, Danish pastries and muffins). I was recommended the congee and fried Devils – which are my new favourite breakfast dish. As well as the pork buns. Hmmm, so tasty.
After stocking up on food, we ventured out into the -7C morning. Our tour bus took us a couple of hours north of Beijing into the mountains and Great Wall country. We went to a touristy but lovely spot – Badalin – where the wind was wickedly cold in the valley where we stopped. Even with 5 layers, bobble hat and bunny fur mittens I was still really cold until we started climbing. And climb we did! Up and down insanely steep slopes and steps for about an hour. At the top, the highest point in the reachable area, the girl guide in me came out and HB and I were the envy of the group as we whipped out a flask of hot tea and snacks. The view is amazing and is an amazing feat of engineering, you can clearly see while the raiding hordes would be terrified of it. It puts my local Roman Wall to shame! We were incredible lucky with the clear blue skies all day.
Tasty lunch on the way back into the city, and a fight to see whether me or RW could eat more of the Gong Bao chicken. Can’t get enough of the flower pepper and peanut combo. Afternoon naps all round on the bus back after so much fresh air, stairs, food and a warm bus. We stopped in a temple grounds near to our hotel for a quick walk to wake up. There were so many locals hanging out playing cards, games and singing – such a nice contrast to the formal coldness of Tiananmen Square the night before. After a rest dinner and a new exciting dish of inside-out fish. Another one to try at home perhaps?