Our first full day in Beijing started off not involving Beijing at all. We decided that we needed to spend some more time planning our trip so we dedicated the morning to doing just that. Most of the research was regarding the 10 days Doug’s parents, aunt, and uncle would be joining us in New Zealand. And, we also dedicated a significant amount of time to figuring out which part of the Great Wall we would conquer this week. At this point it seems to be Jiankou to Mutianyu, a part of the wall we’ve read is absolutely stunning but less visited due to its remoteness and lack of restoration. We still need to figure out transportation, but we are planning on doing this later in the week after the 3 days of predicted rain has passed.
At about 11 a.m. we packed up our day pack and headed out to the Summer Palace, the main residence of royal members at the end of the Qing Dynasty. This was our first venture on Beijing’s subway and we were quite impressed. It was clean, the signs were helpful, and it only cost $0.75 per person per ride. We’ll take it! We were on the subway for 45 minutes before reaching our destination. We promptly departed and decided that it was time for lunch. We scoped out the nearby area and quickly settled on a xiao long bao (soup dumpling) joint. Many delicious dumplings were had.
After lunch we headed off to the Summer Palace entrance where we were greeted with a number of tour groups making their way to the gate. We quickly got our tickets, opted not to purchase the audio guide, and headed on our way. In lieu of the audio guide, Lynn had found that travelchinaguide.com offered a pretty in-depth description of the grounds so we collected ourselves in a corner and read the intro on Lynn’s phone. The Summer Palace is comprised of Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake over 743 acres. In the Court Area of the palace we were really good, read every sign, read more detailed descriptions on Lynn’s phone, and viewed the various buildings ranging from halls used for state affairs to a theater built to host operas. But after about an hour and a half, things started to look the same and the descriptions and naming choices got more and more hilarious. As an example, note the title of this post. This line was on every single plaque about every single structure. The only time we didn’t see it was on a sign talking about the very old willow trees on the opposite side of Kunming Lake. So, we would like to suggest that in the future that the Summer Palace put up a very large, bold sign as you enter the summer palace stating, “The Anglo-French Allied Forces burned it down in 1860. It was rebuilt.” This would save them significant text space. As mentioned previously, we also very much enjoying the building names and have now chose to refer to our home back in Austin as The House of Joyful Cuddles and Handsome Puppies. Here are some good examples: The Hall of Benevolence & Longevity, The Chamber of Heartfelt Contentment, The Garden of Harmonious Interests, The Tower of Cloud Retaining Eaves, and one of our personal favorites, The Temple of Timely Rains and Extensive Moisture. About halfway through our visit we decided to take advantage of the grounds and spend the remaining time walking along the lake and enjoying the pretty views.
Feeling like we saw all we wanted, our next destination would be a Carrefour, a French grocery store, in the hopes of acquiring our remaining items: floss and contact solution. Deciding that we had not yet walked enough we chose to stroll the 55 minutes on foot rather than take the subway. On the way we passed by a Bubble Tea shop and decided it was time for some milk tea. Unfortunately the server didn’t speak any English and we were forced to quickly map Chinese characters on a pamphlet to a translated menu outside. Needless to say it didn’t go so well. Instead of milk tea, we had ordered lemon aloe drink, but this didn’t get us down. It just made us realize that we either need to learn the word for milk tea or ask that our hostel write out the characters for us so that we can keep it handy in times of milk tea emergencies (more likely).
We made our way to the Carrefour through some apartment blocks and commercial buildings and ultimately ended up at a mall. A never-ending walk through the mall finally lead us to the entrance to Carrefour. Navigating the many aisles, we were able to successfully find floss (150 meters, in fact), but no contact solution. Luckily on our long walk through the mall we noticed that an eyewear store sold some so we made our way back and were able to successfully purchase both things on our list. Check and check.
From here we hopped on a train back to our hostel to drop off our bag and find some dinner. Deciding it was time for some Sichuan food, we did some quick Google/TripAdvisor searching to find one 1.3 miles away. Taking the scenic route through our hostel’s neighborhood hutong, we arrived only to be greeted with what appeared to be a giant commercial building that seemed to be closed. Wanting to be sure we walked the entire block looking for an open entrance, or really an entrance with some activity at all, but were unsuccessful. Rechecking the post, Doug learned that the last reviews were from 2013 so our best guess was that it had gone out of business. Not to let that kill the dinner plans, more searching was done. Doug found a Peking Duck restaurant ($$) close by, so it was time to have another food adventure! We were greeted by the hostess and brought to a table in the middle of a very large room with full of both locals and tourists which seemed promising. We were handed two very large menus featuring pictures of all the foods you could try from braised sea cucumber to what we had come for, roast duck. Our waiter came and we pointed at the Super Lean Roast Duck. He nodded, suggested the duck-specific serving sides, and recommended roasted cauliflower for a vegetable. We agreed and added on two Chinese wheat beers because beer is cheaper than water at fancy restaurants, it seems. A short time later we were greeted with a tableside carving of our roast duck which has perfectly browned skin. When the first bit was carved, the waitress appeared and directed us on how to properly eat it. First way: Use chopsticks to pick up duck skin, dip it in sugar, and eat it. Strangely delicious. Lynn really enjoyed what she kept referring to as “candied meat.” Second way: Take a small pancake from the bamboo steamer, use chopsticks to pick up duck meat, dip it in the brown sauce (similar to hoisin, if it wasn’t hoisin), place the sauce-covered meat in the pancake, add raw onions, and gracefully enclose the pancake around the meat to eat. Also delicious, but less strange. In addition, we were given raw melon and cucumber, pickled radish and plum, and garlic paste to add to our duck tacos, as we were now referring to them. The cauliflower came and it was a wonderful recommendation and reminiscent of our time in Mongolia with it being cooked in duck fat. We ate and ate and ate till we were stuffed, an entire duck worth, only to be told we were to be given fruit and dessert. In the succinct words of our waitress, “It’s free.” Very happy with our meal, and satisfied that at $64 USD this would be our most expensive while in China we headed back to the hostel for some sleep.
Daily Walking Mileage: 17.3
- We think there has been a security threat in recent years because China has surpassed TSA. Not only did we need to put our backpack through an x-ray to get into Tiananmen Square, we also learned that you must do this every time you enter a subway station.
- Doug learned that crosswalks are a newer thing for the Chinese. So, when the walk light is green, don’t think that buses, cars, motorbikes, and bicycles will stop. In fact, assume that they won’t stop and stop for them. Otherwise, there is a high likelihood that you will lose your legs.