We docked in Tienjing, the cruise port for Beijing at about 7am and at 730 we were off the ship and meeting with Jessie, our guide. She was a lovely young Chinese lady with excellent English that I had found via TripAdvisor. We had a most excellent people carrier/van and we were away! The day was warm and sunny but there was a mist over everything. Not thick but enough to dull the views. And it wasn’t fog. It was smog. Pollution from Beijing. An awful problem which they are trying all sorts of means to fix including planting thousands and thousands of trees.
Our first stop was to be the Great Wall of China and we were going to a section north of Beijing, called Mutianyu. It promised to be less crowded and was in a very good state of preservation. It was a journey of about 3 hours from the dock. Hardly any traffic on the way. We took the cable car up to the wall which was rather exciting, and then there it was stretching away as far as you could see in both directions. An amazing wall, about 17m tall and about 5m wide, built of stone at the bottom and then brick on top. The wall is bisected by guardposts and small forts all the way along at intervals of perhaps a couple of hundred yards. The mountain views in each direction were astonishing, if a bit hazy. The wall was built here because originally on one side was China and on the other side was Mongolia,, the Chinese people’s historic enemy. It is all China these days of course.
We walked along, admiring the view. It wasn’t crowded at all thank heavens. Jessie explained that over a million people died building the wall and they are buried in it, in the earth that makes up the central part between the walls of stone. Each family had to provide either a labourer or a soldier and these people lived on the wall or just below it on the hill. Very much like Hadrian’s Wall. The soldiers were buried in it too when they died. So, it is not only the longest wall ever but also the longest cemetery.. Long sections of it are stepped and it was quite challenging to walk along it. We were so glad that we came and saw this though. A wonderful, marvellous sight.
When we descended to the valley again, Jessie took us to a local restaurant for lunch. It was so warm we sat outside in our t shirts. The weather really was glorious. We ordered communal dishes for lunch: belly pork in a bbq sauce with chestnuts, green leaves, chicken gizzards with peppers, rice, sliced potato in gravy, and lemonchili leaves in batter deep fried.. It was all delicious. The star was the pork belly with chestnuts though. So tender. A whole feast with beers came to £19 for 5 of us. We couldn’t eat it all.
Then, the trip into Beijing itself which took about 90 minutes and as we got into the city the traffic built up. I was expecting a huger version of Hong Kong but in fact it is reasonably low rise in the centre, more like a European city. We stopped first at one of the historic Hutong districts. These are the small districts of Old Beijing where people lived in small houses on alleys. They had started to be demolished but now the government has put preservation orders on a lot of them which is an excellent thing. So picturesque. We wandered around, up a street called Pipe Smokers Alley full of shops, around one of the imperial lakes and into areas of the Hutong still inhabited by ordinary residents. The one story houses are built courtyard style and each “wing” would once have been occupied by a different generation of the same family. There was something very Roman about it all. The narrow streets with walled houses on either side, thick wooden doors leading into a courtyard. Anyway….. lovely to see.
Then we went to a night market selling all manner of fast food China style: dumplings, kebabs, deep fried spiders, silkworms, crabs, snakes, scorpions. Huge dishes of thinly sliced tripe with greens, fruit, prawns etc etc. Actually most things looked delicious and I wanted to try them. Not the spiders though…….
Then, to our hotel, The Hulu, which is a heritage property in a Hutong area quite near the Forbidden City. Really really nice place. Our room is lovely with wooden furniture and a fabulous bathroom, every comfort. There is a courtyard garden with LANTERNS!!!!
Walked out to a local restaurant tonight to eat. Still a very pleasant temperature. Lots of interesting shops and the streets nowhere near as crowded as I’d expected. Less crowded than London….. Quite like Beijing. It has a lot of character still despite being so modern in parts. Would be worth a bigger explore . So we had quite a feast: crispy bbq spare ribs, noodles and sweet and sour aubergine (amazing) and then a whole roast Peking duck which was ceremoniously carved at the table for us. Came with all the trimmings including green pancakes. The chef’s carving was very precise and it was served on two large platters with the meat in a duck shape and the crispy skin at one end for a tail and half the crispy head and beak at the other end!!!! I think you were meant to eat that too but we didn’t. The meat was succulent but not as succulent as the roast goose in Hong Kong. Still very yum though. You can pay a fortune for Peking Duck here so we were glad this was a more reasonable £18. The whole dinner with drinks for 4 was £40. I suppose quite reasonable for central Beijing.
So back to the hotel, absolutely knackered and ready for another full on day tomorrow!