Friday we took the fast train from Shanghai to Beijing. In just over 4.5 hours we arrived at the Beijing South Railway Station. The train was fast, clean and well organised. We arrived in a large station not far from the city centre and our hotel. A long que for metro tickets and a few stops later we arrived at our hotel not far from Tian’anmen Square. We booked the Novatel Beijing Xinqiao through a travel booking website. We arrived well before check in which was no problem. The front desk clerk told us we could leave our bags and go and ‘play’ and come back later, or if we preferred go watch TV as we waited for house keeping to clean our room. I was surprised since most hotels are hard and fast on the check in rule and give you no options other than leave your bags, or just go and return at the check in time. We opted to go to the room and the cleaning staff quickly came and cleaned up.
Once we unloaded our bags we headed off to Tian’anmen square. Trying to read the hotel maps with missing streets or
street names proved to be a bit of a challenge. We figured we were going in the right direction, but thought we should ask another Westerner who was passing by since we have limited Chinese. This seemed a good choice and a good idea before we missed the opportunity. He told us to return the way we came. We figured we must have been really misreading the map, so took his advice and returned the same way. Along the way I stopped to take lots of photos of regular streets scenes with their interesting red doors and knockers. After walking and walking for what seemed like forever and past a construction area we stopped to look around. It seemed we were 1 small block from where we should be. Coming out of a small side street we saw the large immense of concrete that is Tian’anmen square.
Crossing the road we noticed guards and military presence that seemed to be everywhere. A small shack with an x-ray machines and more security allowed us to pass through and enter the square. In the distance the large familiar red building with Mao’s large portrait topped the square and marked the entrance for the Forbidden City. The square was not much to speak of, but held a monument and 2 massive video screens that showed pictures of flora, fauna and nature sites in China. We made our way to the end of the square where a large street divided the square (8-10 lanes of traffic wide) from the entrance to the Forbidden City. Despite it being a Friday, a working day for the locals, a large crowd gathered at the entrance to the Forbidden City. It was late in the day and the Forbidden City would need hours to tour, so we decided to leave it for another day. The day was smoggy and cool, the dampness was starting to chill us, so we turned back towards the hotel.
We decided to stay on the main road back and avoid the construction. We quickly realised this was the way we should have come earlier. We were at the corner to this street when we had asked for directions. Instead of directing us the right way and taking 20 minutes to get to Tian’anmen the directions we were given sent us back the way we came and totally out of our way. We must have walked an hour to get to the square, out of the way, when we were almost there!
Beijing is known for its Peking Duck so we decided that is what we would have for dinner. Luckily the best and oldest place was only a 5 minute walk from the hotel. The restaurant was over 600 years old and very popular. We arrived just before the crowds started to come in. With our limited Chinese and their limited English we were able to order our meal. I was impressed that I remembered a few Chinese words and we ordered our meal of Peking Duck, a spicy beef dish, rice and drinks. The duck arrived with the chef who expertly cut it in front of us. As most meat it came with the head intact. It was easily removed and set on a small plate off to the side to my relief. Once the meat was cooked the chef went to cut the head in half, since we ordered half a duck. We both quickly said boo-shure (NO!). With a grin the chef wheeled the cart and took the head with him. Dinner was tasty. I prefered the beef. The duck looked fantastic and was flavourful, but a bit too oily for me.
Back to the hotel we decided to enquire about getting to the Great Wall. From Beijing there are about 5 different areas you can visit. It happened to be low season and the area we wanted to see is only available by tour. We could do the closest and busiest part of the wall, which is also the least authentic, on our own. We opted for a tour. I prefer to do things on our own and not stop at all the shops where they expect you to buy things, but we also wanted to get to see a part of the wall that was scenic and not a large tourist trap and super crowded. We booked the tour for the next day. Another early start….
Stay tuned for more… Next time our trip out at the wall.