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Published: April 2nd 2019
R: First job - find a metro ticket. Rather, find the train ticket again. Unusually there was a ticket control at the main station doors that was besieged by people. This proved harder than expected as we couldn't remember where we had put them and we were now in a slow moving shuffling queue. Next, find a metro ticket. And also, money. Richard had come prepared with some Yuan, but I had not. For now I had to start spending his. We found our way onto the Metro and, by the way, it was much hotter in Beijing than anywhere else we had been yet. The metro was quite an experience - there was a lot of underground walking to get to the trains and we were saluted by the police at every entrance, where, in a similar way to Moscow - they x-rayed our larger bags each time. We headed straight to our hotel and marvelled at what I had booked - a shiny palace of thing - then had a quick shower before heading out for another day of speed tourism.
I was due back at work in two days, so one day was all we had. We
had pre-planned what we wanted to see and Richard was interested in the Lama Buddhist temple museum so we headed over there. It was a bit of a hassle getting there and the signs weren't all that great, but we did find it eventually. It was hidden by a cloud of incense (not why we couldn't find it). It had lovely shady courtyards and several buildings to explore with grand Buddha statues and prayer flags draped on stupas. We had a good look round, and were offered some free incense sticks to light in one of the shrines. We did some of this and brought the rest home as a souvenir. Talking of souvenirs we headed into the gift shop to look for suitable gifts to take home to Clare and Cate. Richard had his eye on various things here but left without making a purchase - some of them were supremely expensive!
Next it was a speedy trip on to the Drum Tower. We walked along past numerous little shops with a fascinating array of things to sell on the way back to the metro but we had so little time I really only managed to buy a
drink. Richard decided to stay at the bottom of the drum tower while I opted to climb the steep wooden stairs to get me to the viewpoints at the top. As I reached the top, the monks from the tower demonstrated drumming for us all using an array of large drums in the top level. This was great, though went on a very long time - too long for my speed tourism! The views were great and you could see across the hutongs (residential estates) to the shiny modern skyscrapers. By the time I made it back down, Richard was sat on a wall and had found some Australian tourists to chat too.
Right. Next stop. Tienanmen Square. We arrived too late to go to the Forbidden City - I will have to save that for another trip. Tienamen Square was enormous. We popped out of the metro on one corner and had to walk nearly all the way round it to get in through the security. Thankfully this was straightforward, and the walk gave us a good tour of all the surrounding gates and buildings including a very brightly decorated toilet building. We walked sort of diagonally across
the square trying to take in the history as we did. On the sides of the square were the enormous Great Hall of the People, National Museum. The centre was filled with flags of China. It was all pretty imposing and you couldn't help but draw parallels and comparisons with Red Square back in Moscow. We strolled around and tried to take it all in and couldn't help but notice the heavy police presence here - I suppose understandable given the history.
Suddenly, a woman was in front of us with a baby - trying to introduce herself and hand me the baby. As she did this the baby screamed! I was suddenly aware of the police around us who might think I was trying to snatch this poor creature. I backed off. I think the woman, quite honestly, just wanted to have a picture of me and the baby. (I understand this could be lucky - she obviously doesn't know me very well!). Anyway, disaster averted - she took back the baby, said sorry multiple times and disappeared off - as did we!
It was about time for food so we headed back to the hotel to
get changed. Richard also managed to pick up a Chinese fan from the souvenir stall inside the hotel reception. (Later I picked up Cate a bottle of gin at the airport - I know my wife doesn't want thoughtful/cultural presents - gin is just fine!). I had planned this evening's meal many weeks in advance of arriving! Crispy Duck. There was a Crispy Duck restaurant a few blocks away from our hotel, so we headed there on the basis of a recommendation from my friend Dave (see New Zealand blogs!). When you arrive, you get given a ticket and if they are busy you wait outside on some low tables where the staff bring drinks to you. The announcements are in Chinese but there is also a helpful number guide to help you. Once seated we were presented with a huge menu of options (also in English) so we ordered a Honey Prawn starter, and then the main event - a whole duck. Now this sounds greedy - but we managed it! The prawns came first, accompanied by Tsing Tao beer. Then a man in a white chef uniform with hat came to our table with a tray. There he
carefully carved the duck, separating skin and meat and took nearly all the meat off the bones and carefully laid it out in the shape of a duck on the plate. This was all accompanied by hoisin sauce, but also salt, quince(?) jelly and others on a side plate, and of course spring onions, cucumber and pancakes. We ate the whole plate and had no no room for dessert. I can thoroughly recommend a visit here. We paid our bill which was about £30 (bargain), and left a small tip. Soon after wandering off into the night, we were chased by our waiter with our "change"! Apparently leaving a tip is not the done thing. (Siji Minfu - Dengshikou West Street).
We had a stroll about the dark streets, fruitlessly looking for the night markets which I had been keen to find and knew that they were nearby. Google couldn't help us - it is practically banned in China and the guidebook didn't help either. As we prepared to give up and go home, a lady approached us. Initially friendly, she was keen for us to come to a bar with her! We refused, politely, realising that this was
Carved at your table!
probably a bar we wouldn't get out of without a huge bill - or worse. Her demeanour got increasingly stern, and eventually she called us various words and walked off, but she had now followed us for a block or so on the way back to our hotel.
It now being quite late, we walked along Wangfujing street, Beijing's answer to Oxford Street which was brightly lit up with international and domestic brands on LCD displays and headed back to the hotel for some sleep.
As the trip drew to a close, we headed for the airport. This was pretty standard. The final surprise of the trip was the upgrade I got as I arrived at the British Airways boarding gate - I was being passed into Premium Economy - but Richard was being left in a middle seat somewhere near the back. I sheepishly accepted, and fought for Richard to join me, but it was no good. I just had to enjoy the space and premium steak dinner that came with life in Premium economy, while Richard made friends in the back.
And that was it - our 10 day drip through Russia, Mongolia and China.
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