Arriving in Beijing, it suddenly hit me... this was the last stop on our China leg, that was the last train ride to a Chinese destination. Wow almost 6 weeks here. It’s been good, but to be honest, we’re ready to move on. The differences in culture were beginning to wear. The spitting, the smoking, the lack of situational awareness, the lack of earphones, the lack of volume control! That said, its been great. The people are really friendly and lovely. The country is so vast it was impossible to see it all but the a range of topographies and cultures we experienced surprised and delighted. We have been blown away.
In order to have our Trans-Mongolian rail tickets delivered on time we had booked our last few nights in Beijing well in advance and left a few flex days before to allow us to catch up with Doug. It wasn’t until we were just about to reach Beijing that we realised we didn’t have accommodation for that night. Our booking was from the following day! We tried to book an extra day with the same hostel but they were sold out, so we booked a one nighter was to be at the Happy Dragon, not far from the next nights hostel. The reviews were obviously written by people whose first stop in China was Beijing and they were a little thrown for what you got for your money! The place was fine. A little run down, but it was clean, good beds, hot shower and the staff were super friendly with good English.
The temperature had risen dramatically. It was now 35 degrees! I feel we may have bought this on ourselves after complaining about the amount of drizzly rain and overcast weather in the last 6 weeks, so we changed into shots and T-shirt’s and headed out.
Paranoia over our Trans-Mongolian tickets drove us to go to the next hostel and make sure there were no issues, there weren’t.
As we continued our stroll back we came across an area of Hutongs. These are the historic lane ways that Beijing is known for. This particular area had been turned into a walking street lined with restaurants, cafes and overpriced snack vendors and was obviously a popular evening hangout.
Now I’ve loved Peking Duck ever since I first partook of these delicious pancake wrapped delicacies in London so many years ago and was eagerly anticipating a fine dining experience we had booked later in the week, so what we found little way down the hutong took my breath away.
Early the next morning we headed to The Forbidden City. Pete was dreading the thought of the hordes of people and mass queues. Last time he was in Beijing, he only got as far as the entrance gate, the mass of people was just too much. So we were both surprised at how efficient and seamless the process has become. Impressive, given the staggering numbers of people that visit this icon each day (in fact their website now has a live update of how many people are in the complex at any one time). Kudos.
By early afternoon it was hot and we were tired and hungry. Lonely Planet had recommended a Muslim restaurant nearby that did juicy lamb skewers. It was too hard to resist, so we decided to search it out. Anyone who has used the Lonely Planet will know, finding recommended restaurants is not as easy as it reads, their maps appear very different to google’s! After wandering around we went into a restaurant close to where the one we were looking for and asked, showed them the name, they had never seen or heard of it, more discussion with patrons who could interpret then suddenly some one clicked - right location, right food, changed name this was the restaurant we were after, and It was true, the lamb skewers were tasty... and juicy!
After 2 and a half months of travelling and heading into warmer weather I needed a new shirt and knew it was available Decathlon. (We are turning into Decathlon freaks! Well that and Mont-Bell!!). We had visited a small Decathlon in Shanghai which didn’t have what I wanted but the assistant recommended a store in Beijing that apparently is the largest in Asia & not far from where we were staying. Wow, he was not wrong - its massive, has every sport imaginable. Unfortunately what I
wanted wasn’t what I wanted after all, but we didn’t leave empty handed!
We picked up our bags and moved to the Beijing Drum Tower Youth Hostel. What a lovely place, light, bright, modern, great rooms but yet again staff let them down. If only they had the staff from the Happy Dragon! We were exhausted and decided to eat locally. A short distance from our hostel was the “Beer Guys” a craft beer house. Oh no!! Beijing and Shanghai is experiencing a surge in craft breweries and some of them are pretty cool. After a couple of (expensive) beers we had dinner nearby at a little local restaurant... more dumplings!
The humorous guide gave some concise explanations and instructions in both English and Chinese then left us to our own devices.
We arrived back in Beijing in the early evening, exhausted and in no mood to go in search of food, so fast food it was (and another couple of episodes of Game of Thrones).
Opposite the Birds Nest was The Water Cube (the venue for the swimming and other water sports). Unfortunately the Water Cube was being renovated and being turned into the Ice Cube so they would not allow visitors. We managed to get just inside the door and Pete got to take a few photos of the structure, but they were adamant we were not going further and we were pushed out.
Heading home, we thought we would nip into a cocktail bar that had a good write up. Wow what a find. Revolution is a very hip and crowded dive bar located off a back street on the ground floor of a non-descript residential tower block that serves sensational cocktails. We had to be strong, just one cocktail each!!! We were leaving the hostel the next morning at 5.15AM.
The alarm going off at 4.45am was not pleasant, but exciting, we were heading to board the Trans-Mongolian.