On a long day it is possible to discover many of the ultimate highlights of Beijing. This was also the end of a very long journey.
This is article no. 11/11 in a series from a journey in 2011 on the Trans-Siberian Railway through Russia, Mongolia and China. The text is a transcript of my diary at the time.
Beijing was our final destination and end of the third train journey from Moscow. Read about our three days of experiences in Beijing in three articles. This is the third and covers most of the ultimate highlights of Beijing.
Sunday 5.6, Beijing
The traditional hutongs
Early morning day three in Beijing the others went to the same park as yesterday, while I slept a little longer. We drove with the guide to a neighbourhood of hutongs. It is the old building style in Beijing and involves one-storey brick houses with curved roofs along narrow streets. These have been redeveloped, and partially filled with tourist “food”, but it is for both locals and tourists. It was very nice to walk the streets.
A walk through the redeveloped hutongs of Beijing.
Two lakes and two towers
We went over to Qianhai lake and Houhai lake which were also very pleasant to wander along. On the way over we entered a Taoist temple, which in architecture resembled very much the Lama temple we visited yesterday, but with other figures to worship. Here too were many worshipers with incense sticks they put in large urns in front of each temple building within the complex. Afterwards, we wandered through some tourist shopping streets over to the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower.
A walk along a pleasant lake and nearby area.
For lunch we had hot-pot. It is a kind of bowl of water being placed on the table. Inside stands cauldron of burning coal that makes the water boil. It is a kind of fondue. The food consists of vegetables and meat that you boil in the water. The flavour comes from the sauces. There were plenty of sauces, but eventually it became too much of the same, because everything was cooked in water. It was perhaps the most boring meal in China so far, in terms of taste, but it was certainly exciting to try something new, and it was social.
This place was popular among the Chinese, suggesting that the quality of it was good.
A Chinese tea ceremony is interesting. We were led into a private room and given a thorough explanation on the various types of tea and their secrets in not so good English. Interesting though and tasting as well. Later we were rushed into the shop with not so pleasant prices.
Later we drove up to the Summer Palace , which lies 30 km or something from the Forbidden City. This is where the emperor and his court went on their summer vacation. It lasted much of the year; it was from May to October I wonder? There were not so oppressive temperatures as in town. It was warm enough we thought when we went around with a million Chinese people, which turned out to be 63,000 according to the bulletin board at the exit. We went for a walk around in the park and grounds, and took a dragon boat across the artificially created big lake.
Video snaps from the former summer residence of the Chinese emperors. The palace is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
On the way back we drove past the Olympic facilities from 2008 with the Bird’s Nest before we had a quick shower at the hotel .
Acrobatics show and a traditional dinner
Then it was off to the famous Beijing acrobatics show at the Chaoyang Theatre. Chinese acrobats are the world’s best. It was a wonderful program with the most spectacular performances. It was a full-fledged show, because the athletes were not just standing on stage like in the old days, but they had added a setting with thumping techno music and costumes that made sure we had a total experience of it.
Afterwards: the Beijing Duck dinner restaurant. And it was good. With other dishes, in addition, we were really satisfied. It was awesome.
Thus was a long day over, we were back a little over eight. The others felt it was best to call it a night, and we did. And here I sit and record this travel diary on audio files on my Smartphone. My travelling companions are not quite a tuned to testing the evening and night life as me. It’s a pity to enter our last full day without experiencing the nightlife.
We could see that there are lots of places to go. In thehutongs and the lakes there were many closed establishments during the day with clear traces of a high level of activity in the evenings. But that will be another day, sorry, another journey.
Monday 6.6, Beijing
Start of the last full day
The evening is over, at a little over ten, and we ended the evening a couple of hours ago. One of the longest evenings we’ve had here. We were dining on the third of the three restaurants that are in our restaurant street. We have learned the trick of ordering what we want, and then when everything is on the table, we share it all. There are no appetizers here, but the five-piece main courses, each with our beers, cost us a total of 45 USD. It’s cheap. All dishes cost between 4.5 and 7 USD. The food is delicious.
Afterwards we had a cup of coffee somewhere else, and the prices are as expensive as a dinner. Admittedly, I got a giant cappuccino for 5.8 USD. That is enough talking about the evening.
This day was devoted to what I really think would be best to visit on the first day, the Tiananmen and the Forbidden City. However we started elsewhere.
Temple of Heaven
After breakfast we were picked up by our guide and driver and first went off to the Temple of Heaven. There is a huge park area, and a high degree of symmetry and symbolism. We walked around.
Early morning workout in Temple of Heaven Park in central Beijing. Very popular public exercise equipment
A visit to the Temple of Heaven and the park. The temple is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
A silk store
Then we went to a silk store. There we were first given a briefing about the silk worm development, as we saw them crawling between their leaves. We saw the cocoons of two kinds, one that you can wind a long line of 1500 meters, and a cocoon that gave interwoven threads. Then we were led into the store room where we could buy silk duvets to 1205 USD kroner per piece, or bedding that was priced from at least one thousand kroner and upwards. We did not want to buy duvets, and the bed linen we think were a bit expensive, so we dropped it all.
We spent a long inside the premises, for the ladies bought scarves and I bought a shirt. Otherwise the design for men was kind of boring. We dropped the tailor. It seemed a bit expensive there.
Video from guided tour of Beijing silk store showing the six larva stages, the two qualities of silk cocoons, how the threads are extracted, and the final process: What we may purchase.
We had a delicious lunch at a restaurant we probably would not have found ourselves. There we sat with mostly Chinese and ate a mix of goodies. There is so much delicious here that it is absolutely amazing. Chinese restaurants at home can go to bed. The guide helps us to choose and that way we can put together a good meal.
Our next stop was the Pearl Market (officially Silk Street). We first took the elevator to the top of the floor of this newly built mall, to a series of small shops selling inland pearls. They were very expensive. Two of my friends bought something that was not pearl. Afterwards we went down the floors of small shops selling knick-knacks. I bought a stamp showing my name in Chinese characters and corresponding ink, so that I can stamp the books and other things at home.
Furthermore, we saw all the fake brand clothing. A saleswoman said that tourists are so keen on bargaining that they push their prices lower than the Chinese who now have more money in their hands. She seemed sad when she said it, and I can understand. They start with a “special price” for example, 580, against a “normal price” of 700, and so it ends at 30, 50 or 70 Chinese Yuan. There are many small shops on floor after floor in this mall.
Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
There was more to come. We continued our Beijing tour and were let off at the Tiananmen Square. Here we did not enter the Mao mausoleum as it is open only in the morning and have long queues. We crossed the square. I only partially recognized it, as they had added two large screens showing commercials for the country. It was funny when an adult Chinese came up to me when I was video filming, tapped me on the shoulder and politely asked “how do you do”.
I replied and asked him about something, but his knowledge of English seemed very limited as he ended the conversation with another polite phrase. Funny. We went under the road and into the gate of the Forbidden City that still have Mao’s portrait of himself. It was nice for others to see what they have seen on TV all the time, and it was nice for me to see it again.
A walk through the Imperial City (Walled City) and Forbidden City of Beijing; from Tiananmen Square to Jingshan Hill. It is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
We walked through the city in a straight line from gate to gate, square to square, from palace to palace. On the way we did not go out on the sides; we looked not so much into the palaces. In the city we walked from end to end, which is no short, for the walled city is 960 meters long and 750 meters wide. The walled city is bigger than the Forbidden City where the emperor lived, for when we had passed two gates ports and squares we came to an area with a different use of colour – it changed from red to yellow.
Inside we saw the Emperor’s reception room, dressing room and finally the inner chambers that were a little cosy really. We did not go in the park behind, but was driven home in 33 degrees heat and humidity. We had also encountered a little rain at Tiananmen.
Concluding remarks on this trip
We have had a small summary and all have been very satisfied with the program and execution of it. Messy messages from the travel agent in advance, but otherwise it has gone smoothly with hotels, tours, travel and all. A little flexibility in between and some uncertainty with the guides in Moscow and Mongolia, but our guide here has been fabulous. We have had a successful holiday. The impressions have been so many, that I get quite a job to type all my audio files.
I do not know how much I’ve recorded, 45 minutes maybe, or an hour. (True answer later: two hours and six minutes in addition to 8 pages of text from Moscow.) I will have to sit with it some evenings during the summer.
Tomorrow we have a couple of hours off after breakfast and the plane will leave at 1455, we will land in Copenhagen in the evening and return home around eleven. It is at work again Wednesday, a little jet-lagged maybe.
There have been a densely packed two and a half weeks, with impressions, experiences and activities. We have hardly had a day “free”, with the possible exception of one half day in the ger camp. It was nice to travel with the people on the train. We have not met any of them again here in Beijing, which is probably because the city is so big. I cannot orientate myself quite yet, but if I had been a few more days, I would have managed. But there are huge distances; much is happening and a huge development.
Beijing is a very exciting city, more to experience in new and old quarters than in Moscow, which also was fascinating. One day in Ulaanbaatar was sufficient. Should we have been there longer we would have gone into museums to make the time pass. That we had not, and it was just as well because it was the train ride that came first.
Then I close my travel diary and go home and count the money. I had not set up a travel budget in advance, but will summarize when I get home. I think that over the 18 days I spent something over 5500 USD. Thank you for now.
Monday 7.6, Beijing and home journey to Norway
The day went well and I was home at 2230. I have nothing to report from the trip.
Back home, I looked the next day over my three hours of film, over 400 pictures, and look forward to receiving 1000 photos from one of my friends and 2000 photos from the other cameraman. There will be plenty to go through, alone or with my friends during the autumn. For we’ve had fun together.
All chapters in this series
This is the last chapter in this series of posts from our 2011 Trans-Siberian train journey.
- This introduction
- Some very interesting and pleasant days in Moscow. That city has certainly more to offer than we imagined.
- An excursion to a wonderful city in the Golden Ring and an evening in Moscow.
- A cruise on the Moskva River, the Gorky Park, the Kremlin and the departure for Siberia.
- The days on the train, four and a half days continuously on the move
- Mongolia: Well! Not bad to come to this country, some of the remotest imaginable of all inland countries. We first went into a national park.
- A day in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia
- The train journey continues from Ulaanbaatar to China
- The train into Beijing from the border to Mongolia
- First day in Beijing and a visit to the Great Wall
- The last days in Beijing and the return journey