Monday, 21 January 2013

48 hours in Beijing, China

One of the advantages of being married to an airline pilot is I get to tag along on some of the big K's layover flights. Beijing is one such flight where he gets a 48-hour layover. Shades of Anthony Bourdain's show The Layover but lucky me I get to go more than once. 

It was in early November when I first went with the big K. Our flight, a red-eye, arrived at the capital of China a little past midnight. Nothing much to do but catch up on some sleep since the next day was going to be a marathon sightseeing tour of the city. 

The next morning's weather was clear but cold, still it was the perfect day to go see one of China's greatest architectural achievements, The Great Wall. There are different sections of the wall one can visit, from the easily accessible and well-maintained thereby popular with tourists Badaling Great Wall to the unrestored and dangerous-only-for-rock-climbers Jiankou section.


The Mutianyu Great Wall.
The big K and I opted for the Mutianyu Great Wall. Just like the Badaling section Mutianyu has been restored. It is a bit farther to reach from the city so it does not get a lot of tour groups unlike Badaling. 

To get here the big K and I hired a local taxi with the help of the hotel's concierge. With a little bit of haggling we settled for RMB500 (approximately USD80) for the small expedition. The trip took a little more than hour to reach the wall. We explored the wall for about two hours while our taxi waited for us. Good deal!


We took the cable car up to the wall and the toboggan going back down. Pretty scary both ways but all worth it!
We were lucky on this visit as there were only a handful of visitors that time. We practically had the wall all to ourselves. Sweet!
It is one thing to read about it and know about it but it is entirely different to be standing on the Great Wall and imagining how it was those thousands of years ago. Hundreds of men, sometimes children too, working night and day, struggling to complete the wall that would save China from the hordes of "uncivilized barbarians". Gave me goose bumps.   

It was almost three in the afternoon when we got back to our hotel. Freshening up a bit, we were on our second wind. Taking the subway this time, the big K and I were off to Wangfujing, one of the capital's shopping areas.


Wangfujing is a pedestrianised shopping area popular with both tourists and locals. Most of the luxury branded goods have shops here.
Dinner was at the Donghuamen Night Market. The market is well-known for its out of the ordinary food offerings. I played it safe by having some of these dumplings.Though the xiaolongbao was a bit of a disappointment.
See what I mean about out of the ordinary? 
More creepy crawlies for the adventurous taste buds.
They say scorpions are natural aphrodisiacs. I say there is nothing natural about seeing these critters squirming on the stick......... 
Roasted leg of lamb, the big K's favorite. He never leaves Beijing with out getting his fix here. 

To end our very long day the big K and I were off on a short subway ride to the Olympic Park where the 2008 Olympics were held.


The Beijing National Stadium more popularly known as the Bird's Nest. Purposely built for the 2008 Olympics, this was where the opening and closing ceremonies were held. Plus of course the athletics event and football finals during the games. It is now a popular venue for international football games. In 2015 the IAAF World Championships in Athletics will be held here. 
The Beijing National Aquatics Center or the Water Cube, just across the Bird's Nest, was where the swimming competition was held.

Day 2 of our 48 hour marathon tour

Our feet still aching with all the walking we did the day before, the big K and I were off to see the Forbidden City. Located in the middle of Beijing, it was the home of the emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the last two dynasties before the creation of the Republic of China. 

The Forbidden City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 as the "Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties". 
It was called the Forbidden City because no one, from commoners to nobility, were allowed to enter the palace unless they were invited.

The place was so huge, the big K and I were not able to see even half of it! Plus of course we didn't have that much time in our hands as we had to go look for lunch (a very late one!) and head back to the hotel to prepare for our evening flight back home. 


Tiananmen Square right in front of the Forbidden City.
Our trip would not have been complete without sampling the obligatory Peking duck. 
The Peking duck came with hoisin sauce and thinly sliced cucumbers to be wrapped together in crepe-like pancakes. Yummy! We also tried the local version of the big K's favorite Chinese dish, sweet and sour pork which turned out to be very good. Oh, of course we had to have rice, yangchow fried rice. Lunch is served!

I had a wonderful, albeit very short, time seeing some of the famous attractions Beijing is known for. Places I've only read about or seen in books and on TV. I never expected the city to be so beautiful! 

As I've said earlier, lucky me because I get to see more of this beautiful city on my next trip with the big K. This time in May. Spring time!