Arrived alive, a good start. Sadly we noticed the smog and general dirtiness of Beijing straight away, as we walked from the train to where we were staying. No big deal. The place was great: booked through AirBnB, it was in one of Beijing’s famous hutongs - narrow side alleys that are all over the city. I’d happily recommend a similar option to anyone staying in Beijing.
First stop was Hou Hai lake, passing through some more neat hutongs along the way. A lovely lake, but could have done with bluer skies. The ‘No Swimming’ signs were happily ignored by the locals.
We went in search of dinner back in the narrow alleys, and stumbled into a tiny Muslim place (the Muslim part is not obvious at all until you’re in). No English menu, but thankfully a picture menu! We sort of guessed at what we were looking at, and ordered by pointing fingers. I ended up getting a spicy leg of lamb. It was great - turns out to be a Muslim speciality, happy days.
Next day we went to Tian’an Men Square, and the Forbidden City. The former is grand, nothing to shout home about. A big, fairly empty square. The history is much more interesting. The Forbidden City, or officially the Palace Museum, is decent. Surprisingly large, and realistically a must-visit in Beijing (since Tian’an Men is attached, you might as well go to it too). Just beyond the exit to the Forbidden City is Jing Shan park, where there’s a big hill which gives a great view of the Forbidden City. Definitely worth the climb.
We had one of our best meals after that - finger dumplings (probably not the real name) in Zuô Lín Yòu Shè. There’s a picture, but it appears everything is in focus except the dumplings…
We burned up the rest of the day before going for Beijing duck. We went to Lìqún Roast Duck, a place good enough for the likes of Al Gore. The duck was initially very good, but it cooled down so quickly. A bit of a let down. I really think they should heat the plates - putting sliced duck on a cold plate seems like a recipe for disaster. The cooking and cutting processes were cool. We finished the night with some Chinese-style sweets… not great, but amusing nonetheless.
You'll have to forgive the poor picture quality of the duck: it had to be taken quickly, and the light was terrible.
Unfortunately our third day was marred a bit by really horrible smog - almost at 300 PM2.5. At that stage, you tend to notice it. We visited Peking Uni, pretty cool spot. We grabbed a solid and very cheap lunch there too. Unfortunately we missed the lake! So foolish. Off we went to the Summer Palace, and I guess it had its own lake, so it’s not like we completely missed out on the lake-party. Sadly the lake here really needed a better air day - it didn’t look great at all with the smoggy grey skies. We had fun though, we got a little paddle boat, unreal.
Next day best day: to the Wall! We went to Huánghuã Chéng, about 80km north of Beijing. It has had basically no restoration done, and is very free of people - during our three hours, we probably passed about 3 groups. Humorously you’re “not supposed” to be on this part of the wall, and you go through someone’s private land to get to a ladder up to the wall - you pay ¥3 for the privilege. If you trek far enough along the wall you’ll basically be alone. The views here are stunning. Bit of a slippery steep climb, I probably regretted not wearing real shoes. Anyway, the Great Wall is at least as great as I had imagined - an absolute must-do if you come to Beijing, ahead of everything else.
Warning: mild nudity ahead! Skip forward quickly if you need to.
We ended up going to two very different parts of Beijing to round out the trip. First was Sãnlîtún, the embassy area. Some really fancy things going on here, but honestly not very interesting at all, especially visiting from the West. One thing was cool: Adidas had set up a penalty shoot with some robot lad blocking shots. I couldn’t score against him :(. The other area we visited was the 798 art district. Cool place with some decent galleries, even if as Debbie said it didn’t feel fully genuine. My everlasting search for coffee was tested to the maximum in Beijing, but Cafe Las in 798 was at the very least acceptable. We popped down to check out the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium, which is cool, and the Opera House, also not bad.
Overall Beijing was a great visit, and very cheap. If you’re really short on time, you could probably do it in two days: one for a trip to the Wall, another to do the Forbidden City and around.