Our 12 hour train ride to Beijing ended up being a little delayed and closer to 16 hours, so by the time we arrived in China’s capital, found our hostel (Flowering House Hostel) and got cleaned up it was late afternoon. We tried a nearby restaurant with posters of bao that piqued our interest for lunch/dinner. We tried to use the touch screens on our table to order and were very far in the process but got stuck not knowing enough Mandarin to figure out how to pay. Luckily they used an iPad to show us pics of their menu and with some pointing and nodding they took our order and we had a tasty feast of noodles with chili and cilantro, bao filled with taro and steamed shrimp dumplings.
We went for a stroll along the main street near our hostel heading west and found the hipster neighborhood of Beijing. A little side alley led to a hutong filled with shops selling milk tea, fried desserts and grilled meats. It also had enough traveler friendly restaurants, bars and cafés to attract back-backers and expats. We saw the most foreign tourists on this little street than we had see the whole trip. It was already very lively and even more so when we returned to the street for drinks late in the evening. We found a cool rooftop bar and had Tsing Tao the local Chinese beer. We heard some live music and saw a crowd a little later and popped into a Spanish Tapas bar filled with foreigners. It was a little to crowded and felt a little too familiar so we quickly finished our drinks and got some shut eye so we could be bright eyed and fresh for our visit to the Great Wall the next day.
Through our hostel we booked a hike along a lesser known and travelled section of the Great Wall called Huanghua. I’d been before and the spots I had visited were definitely more crowded and the land around the wall more arid. The Huanghua section we visited was stunning and the wall weaved its way off into the distance along some very green and picturesque mountains against a fresh blue sky. Our tour group was 12 people including our guide Jacky. He gave us details on the history of the Wall and the parts of Beijing we drove through to get there. It was a moderate hike with some steep inclines, broken steps and limited railing but the views and experience were well worth it. We walked through several watch towers where the soldiers would patrol and looked down on the river that crosses the wall and is the only section where the wall is submerged in water.
After our hike we had a phenomenal lunch at a nearby hostel/restaurant with views of the Great Wall and the mountains while we ate.
The sun and hike took its toll on us so after a few hours rest we managed to get up for a late meal of spicy crayfish on Ghost Street and drinks back on the Hutong we discovered the day before.
The next day was a bit of administration and sightseeing combined for me. I spent the morning obtaining my train tickets for the Transiberian Railway, getting US dollars to pay my Mongolian Tour company and most importantly did some shopping and picked up my laundry as my clothing options were down to my I heart Beijing t-shirt and sweats.
The afternoon was much more fun with a walk through the Forbidden City, Jishan Park and the park surrounding the Temple of Heaven.
All the walking made me hungry so I took the subway to Wangfujing and just managed to miss the rain as I walked through the snack and night markets of Beijing. I had crystallized strawberries, fried banana, bao and a crepe filled with veggies and eggs while taking pics of insects and sea creatures on display for grilling.
After dinner we checked out two metal bands at Mao Livehouse. I didn’t know what to expect but was very impressed with the venue, bands and crowd. Everyone was really into it and the bands put on great rockin shows and encouraged their fans to get on stage and sing along. The bands had some great hair and there was lots of headbanging and growling into the mics.
On our last day in Beijing, I spent the morning running a few errands and spent the afternoon at the Lama Temple and discovered some new hutongs.
Our last meal ended up being on one of the hutongs I discovered on my afternoon walk. We ate a a cozy place called the Yard with a courtyard and some surprisingly good pizza. The next day would be the start of my 11 day journey from Beijing to Moscow via the Trans Siberian Railroad. Honestly I was so excited I could barely sleep but I eventually dozed off to sleep.