land at Beijing Capital Airport on early Saturday morning. We are
quite surprised how quiet the terminal is --- there is no music,
no flashing ads, no noisy travellers. It is 7am., but still. What
a pleasant start to our stay in the capital of China PR.
must have missed a couple of stars: rooms are a bit run down and
definitely not too clean (they don't even make our bed for the
whole week). We also have a lot of problems with warm water. The
breakfast does not meet the promises on their website: all they
offer are cold fried eggs, bacon, and hot dogs with toast and
orange juice. Other than that the hotel is kind of nice for a
historic place and its location in the old hutong area is great.
View from the Bell Tower.
Both the Drum and the Bell Tower were built in 1272, and since
rebuilt twice after being destroyed in fires. They were used to
tell time during the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties (1271-1911).
Wu Dao Ying hutong in the
neighborhood of our hotel, is home of several local and
international restaurants, ranging from Mexican to Greek. There is
also a vegan restaurant that is run by a young American woman from
A hospital visit awaits us
the first thing in the morning (nothing serious, just rash).
First, the hotel reception directs us to a local clinic, but
luckily we are smart enough to ask if they speak English there.
So, now we are heading to Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital. We
are very fortunate that their International Clinic is not too
busy. In no time we are out of there and on our way to the Olympic
Beijing recycles actively:
bins are everywhere. Apparently there are enough people who can
earn some welcome extra by collecting and reselling plastic
bottles. It used to be like that in poorer Eastern European
countries some ten years ago as people could not afford to throw
The stadium low in sports
use, costs several million dollars to maintain each year (to keep
it rust free basically), but it also attracts some 30000 visitors
a day! (Entry to the stadium costs 50 yuan)
Serious souvenir picture
taking. We have already noticed that domestic tourism is huge in
Beijing, presumably because it is the capital and still relatively
Chinese city, compared for instance to Shanghai. Also, the Olympic
park must have a special place in Chinese hearts. So, we were not
too surprised that we do not see a single Western visitor besides
ourselves during our few hours in the park.
A brown bear. The zoo
visitors are throwing bears food in front of don't feed the
animals signs. The bears and the big cats are pretty much
all we check before leaving --- it is very hot and the zoo is
packed with families with kids. It gets very noisy, too.
Speaking of kids, Chinese
toddlers do not wear diapers, but their pants are split in the
groin so that they can go anywhere, anytime. That is --- anywhere!
Fortunately, many parents carry a piece of newspaper or a plastic
bag to collect the poop (like dog owners do here in S'pore)
Afterwards we visit Reef Bar
for Belgian beers. Amazingly, pretty much every small coffee shop
we visit in Beijing has an impressive selection of international
quality beers. We have Orval and Kwak for 45 yuan/bottle.
Hutong neighborhoods and
actually any area we visit in Beijing have a good coverage of
public restrooms, usually at least one, but sometimes several, per
block. Our guess is, that the sanitation system does not reach all
the houses in these historic neighborhoods and people are used to
using public toilets from their homes and restaurants. Let us just
sum up that some of these toilets are in neater condition than
others: some of them even have toilet paper available, but others
don't even have doors in cubicles.
Today we are real tourists,
joining hundreds and hundreds of of others who visit The Forbidden
City, or The Palace Museum as it is called these days. We are on
our own self-guided tour and do not wear matching baseball caps,
though. The day turns out gorgeous, as all our days so far.
We had skipped the lousy
hotel breakfast in hope of having a nice one in a place called
Grandma's Kitchen closer to the palace (and recommended by Lonely
Planet), but we find it not yet open at 9am. The first thing in
the Palace Museum then is to find something to eat. We find a
coffee shop, but it is already out of sandwiches and only serves
croissants and muffins.
After a couple of hours in
the Forbidden City we start to lose track of various palaces and
halls, some of which served as the residence for a number of
emperors, such as the Palace of Heavenly Purity, whereas some
served as residences for emperor's wives or concubines, such as
Palace of Gathering Excellence and Palace of Complete Happiness,
and some others as ceremonial halls, such as the Hall of Union and
After indulging in Chinese
imperial history for hours, we are very hungry, and return to
Grandma's Kitchen for lunch. We have a garden salad and mixed
fajitas, which is super hot spicy, but perhaps the best fajitas
we've had for years.
Small salads and dips are
served with rustic rye bread. For an entree we share dahl with
rice. Later in the evening we visit Miss Zhao's Bistro for beers.
We don't have enough cash to pay for them right then, but the
server tells us that's 'no problem, pay some other time!'
Next morning we have a hard
time finding a decent breakfast place since all the coffee shops
seem to open closer to 11am. However, accidentally we find one
place open. They don't serve breakfast but have sandwiches in
their menu, and blueberry lassi and a selection of coffee drinks.
Today is an art day. We take
a taxi to 798 Art Zone in Chaoyang
District. It is a complex of former military factories turned into
a home of lively artistic community. There are several galleries
and artists' workshops, design companies, coffee shops, and
restaurants. The area is wide enough and the number of exhibitions
and shops large enough for a whole day visit. And that's what we
Tonight we dine in Saffron,
a place that did not have a table for us a couple of nights before
and was closed yesterday (and now we are seated next to a noisy
kitchen). We have a bread basket with some spreads and a salad to
We have another grey and
hazy day in Beijing. Today we take a taxi to visit the Fragrant
Hill Park, named after the park's highest peak, Xianglu Feng
(Incense Burner Peak) that stands at 557 meters. The ride is much
longer than we expect, and we both fall asleep.
Before heading out for
dinner, we book a Great Wall tour for tomorrow from the Beijing
Downtown Backpackers Hostel. We hurry to Nanluogu Xiang to pay for
the trip and end up having dinner in Tibet Cafe.
It is about a 1.5-hour drive
on a new expressway to the starting point of our six-kilometer
wall hike. After a brief toilet break we start the climb up to the
first watch tower of the total 22 we visit today.
The scenery is equally
impressive as the idea that someone(*) at some point in history
made a decision to build this huge structure on top of the
mountains. We are about 800-1000 meters above the sea level.
(*) The wall actually
consists of a number of sections built in different times in the
era when China was divided into different opposing states, until
the emperor Qin unified them to a single empire in 221BC.
It is hard to capture in the
photos how steep the wall actually is because of the mountain
itself is sloped, and there are no horizontal lines to compare it
to, but our guess is that it is at least 8-10% gradient.
Today we move to another
hotel in another district. We've already planned to take the day
easily, since tomorrow we are going to run the marathon, but for
various reasons the day gets wasted. First, we have a hard time to
get a taxi to our new hotel, Beijing Tailong Plaza Hotel, because
of the insufficient address information we have. In Beijing, the
taxi drivers don't take a passenger, if they don't know the
address or the route to the destination.
Once we get to Tailong Plaza
we are supposed to receive our marathon package and the room key.
We get neither. Tomi takes a taxi with the representative of the
marathon organizer to fetch our packages from the office,
while Tei spends some quality time in a smoky hotel lobby waiting
for the room to be ready. She ends up being a lot in the cool and
windy outside air to avoid the nasty cigarette smell.
When Tomi gets back we have
the first positive surprise of the day: our room is spacious and
does not have that cigarette stench. We have another interesting
dining experience in the hotel restaurant: they do have an English
menu but most of it does not make any sense. We order whatever
items we recognize like pepper beef, asparagus with shrimp, and
Then we head out for some
shopping to Wang Fu Jing Dajie, a pedestrian shopping street lined
by fashion malls and handicraft centers.
The alarm goes off at
2:45am. We get the packed breakfast at the receptions: an egg, two
cold hot dogs, and two dry muffins, nothing to drink, and board
the bus with other sleepy runners. The bus leaves promptly at
3:30am., but soon stops to wait for a couple of runners who left
their race packages behind.
At 6am. we reach the race
start YingYang square in a small village near to Huangya
Pass, and get ready to conquer 5164 steps on the wall. It is
really chilly and windy, and the sun is still behind the
mountains. We keep the windstoppers on to the last minute. The
toilet facilities do not get a single star from us: there's not
even light, and many users (mostly westerners) do not know how to
flush the squat toilets.
This is the village and the
YingYang square where we started. We pass the village once
before heading out to the countryside, and then once again before
climbing up to the wall again. And once more to finish!
The route on the countryside
is more than 20 kilometers long and it goes through several small
After 7:34' (7:07 net) of
running we reach the finish line. We have huge baquette sandwiches
for lunch, and soon board a bus back to Beijing.
When back in the hotel we
book a table in Turkish Mum restaurant in Chaoyang district. Again
we have some difficulties in getting a taxi, and finally hire an
unmetered one for 40 yuan. At some point the driver starts
complaining and demanding 10 yuan more since it is a long way. We
Turkish Mum's food is great
(there actually is a Turkish mum there, relocated from Istanbul
two years earlier). They don't really have non-smoking tables
either indoor or outdoor, so they move other smoking patrons
farther away from us so we are guaranteed a smoke-free dinner.
This is our last day in
Beijing and in China this time, a sunny day for a change. We take
another direction from the hotel, and soon accidentally find
Qianmen shopping street, which we had no idea existed. We have
already been quite disappointed at the location of our hotel,
since we've not been able to find any restaurants nearby. But this
street and its surroundings change everything.