So I skipped the Great Wall, I told my wife it’s not going anywhere (fingers crossed), but I had a massive success with the Forbidden City aka Palace Museum. Entering from the south side the real life movie experience begins. If you’re a fan of Chinese cinema, it’s easy to imagine the fight scene from The Assassins, as you enter the gate and onto an absolutely immense open area. I didn’t ask for the guided tour so I probably missed out on the nuances of architectural aesthetic. However, I was totally and thoroughly blown away by layout, size and numbers of people managing to do similar to me. Proportions count for a lot in a scenario like this. The Palace Museum has a mix of open areas, rooms containing relics, museums within museums and park like gardens, all encompassed by a ‘moat’ for want of a better description. Opening hours are limited and some say 3 hours, which I can imagine is all you get on a guided tour, is enough. But it’s worth the time and, if you can afford longer, the effort to take it all in. It’s in the centre of the old part of Beijing, close to Tiananmen and has views toward Jingshan Park. In fact the elevated areas within the Forbidden City offer the best perspective and some sense of location that can be easily fortified with a trip up the hill in Jingshan Park. For my sake, I hope neither the Great Wall nor the Forbidden City go anywhere, anytime soon. Yet another reason to go back to Beijing.
It’s summer here. There’s a palace here. Another of Beijing’s delights is the Summer Palace. You can catch the subway there, it’s near the northern end of line four. We had heard that 3 hours is enough time to see it. It’s not. You should really take a picnic and enjoy the tranquillity of the west side of Kunming Lake and the view of the Hill of Longevity, whilst doing so. The day we visited threatened rain, but as it was so hot we didn’t mind. Unfortunately, we either missed getting a map or there wasn’t one available. The theme continued throughout. No really informative maps to be seen anywhere. Just white lines on boards with destinations and distances. Needless to say, the Summer Palace is set on almost 3 square kilometres of land. There are boats criss-crossing the lake at various points and it is fairly obvious where they are going. There are a plethora of buildings and monuments to take in. There are a lot of people to contend with, 44,000 on the day we visited. It has a great contrast of crowds of people and areas to find seclusion, plus there are a tonne of people fishing to watch. As I said it threatened rain; and rain it did, but it really only added to the whole experience. It’s a classic mix of a great park and tourist mecca, but worth the trip. It is very similar to West Lake in Hangzhou though, so if you have to settle on one or the other, Hangzhou has the lot and more to offer, as far as lakes go.
Here are my simple ingredients for staying in Beijing.
1. Stay central.
2. You will need bikes.
3. Get lost but have a map.
Simple really. On day one of a recent trip to the big city, we stumbled upon Mr. Beer Supermarket. “Lets just take a quick look” he said. Gobsmacked was the reaction. Big fridges with a big beer selection. Big beer fridges with a big Belgian beer selection. Cold, big beer fridges with a big Belgian beer selection. Well I won’t lie and deny that one beer didn’t become two and I won’t deny that repeat visits weren’t warranted, because they were. This place is small. Has air conditioned inside comfort as well as outside seating. Reasonable prices. Friendly staff. Food if you are so inclined. Wifi. It’s a beer nirvana of sorts. The best part, a Belgian beer glass collection to compliment Belgium’s finest brews.
Mr. Beer Supermarket. Every town needs one. If only I lived more local. Thanks Mr. Beer Supermarket, you have single-handedly reinvigorated my passion for Belgian ale. Check it.
Number 41 Mao Er Hutong, Dongcheng, Beijing.
Temple Restaurant, Beijing. It’s a restaurant inside an old temple that has been a TV factory, amongst other things. It was a hot day in old Beijing. We spent the morning in the Forbidden City, which was busy but thoroughly enthralling. The Temple (TRB) is a bar and restaurant that focuses on high quality food and has a wine manifesto of ample proportions. Escaping the heat, we entered through the backdoor being uncertain of where we were, but that was half the fun. Food wise lunch is a sure fire winner. 3 or 4 course set menu with Amuse Bouche and post dessert jellies included. Bring it on.
My dining decisions read Lyonnais frisee salad, lamb rack and polenta and the super chocolate dessert including Saint Malo, biscuit sacher, chocolate ganache and caramel. In hindsight I might have forgone the salad but the breadbasket complimented it well. Service was all suit and ties. Drinks wise I opted for a sloe gin, Earl Grey, blueberry and citrus infused cocktail and a grand cru Rodenbach Flanders red ale.
I must say that seldom a more enjoyable two hours has passed. But passed it did without fail. Honestly, when you’re next in the big BJ, give it shot.
Expectations count for a lot. Arrived back in Beijing to typical summer weather, minus checked in bags – thanks China Air. Made our way to chosen hotel – The Orchid. Pleasant location, cute Hutong – read real slice of life. Check in person seemed unsure if we were coming or going, we were checking in. Room was a relief to get to. What is it with house keeping at hotels though? Yes, you are supposed to sweep and mop the floor. Yes, you are supposed to check the duvet is the right side up. Yes, you should have repainted the re-plastered roof in the bathroom. No, I don’t think you should have used soft wood on the shower floor so that the shower floor flexes when you’re in the shower. You should probably sand down some of the doors in this room so they are easier to close. I mean these things were all noticed in our first 30 minutes and as much as it may sound like one big negative rant, it is not. Simple observation. Never mind. Initial thoughts are very important.
We enjoyed our stay. Good location, nice breakfast, bikes for use (massive plus). Funny locals. I will finish with this. We had the cheapest room. It’s not big enough if you have baggage like we did. Sound travels at this place, say no more.