Hey there. It’s been a while. Andrew and I have been keeping plenty busy with school, work, visitors and of course travel! I’m on a short break from school now and feel like I’ve been able to catch my breath and write about what we’ve been up to.
Over the past couple of months I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Beijing twice. Once when Molly was here in February and again when my parents came in April. The first visit it was freezing and snowing on the Great Wall, the second was hot and sunny. Both times were incredible visits and I feel lucky to have seen the wall in two different seasons.
Walking (okay, let’s be honest. It’s more like a hike.) the Great Wall, especially for the first time, is one of those pinch-yourself, can’t believe you’re here moments. Even just a few years ago I never pictured I would ever make it to China or visit this site. For the first visit, Molly and I went to the Badaling portion of the wall which is the closest to Beijing. Just a short hour and a half train ride that drops you off right at the entrance, for only about 6 RMB each way (less than a $1)! This part of the wall also tends to be the busiest, but since we went in the winter and on a weekday we decided to give it a try anyways.
At the beginning it was pretty crowded but as we walked further there were times when we had the wall to ourselves. When we were in the more crowded area, Molly and I got asked about 20-30 times to get our picture taken; some Chinese people also visiting the wall had never or rarely seen Westerners before and had to document it. Now we now what it’s like to be celebrities, ha! As you can see there was quiet a bit of snow and ice on the wall which made hiking some parts pretty difficult. For some downhill parts, we sat down and literally slide down the wall, which only brought on more picture taking from the Chinese. Badaling is a really beautiful portion of the wall and was perfect for an off-season visit.
Fast-forward two months later and add 60 degrees, my parents, Andrew and I visited the Jinshangling portion of the Great Wall. This section is about three hours away by bus and cost about $40/person to get there BUT our visit fell on a weekend during beautiful weather. We knew if we went back to Badaling, the place would be swamped with tourists. Also, the Jinshangling portion is partially restored and partially “wild,” or untouched, which we were very interested in seeing.
As you can see in some of the pictures the side walls have deteriorated and nature is trying to reclaim the land. Jinshangling is also stunning, but a bit more of a challenging hike with steeper climbs. We’re really happy we took the extra time to come here to avoid the crowds and enjoy a rare, sunny day in Beijing.
For the rest of our visit in Beijing when Molly and I went, we spent our time wandering the hutongs (neighborhoods made up of alleys), checking out Tienanmen Square and finding cozy spots to warm up in.
One of our favorite spots in Beijing was the 798 Art District. It’s located a bit outside of the city center, but has a large area of old buildings and warehouses that house art galleries and shops for artists to sell their pieces. We only had enough time to spend a couple hours, but we could have stayed the whole day I think. I took my parents here and we ended up spending about four hours. A definite must-see in Beijing.
Another must-see is the Wangfujing Night Market, where the food has more legs than usual.
We did not try any of the bugs, but played it safe with dumplings instead. Bruce was thinking about the squid, but chickened out in the end. A popular food in Beijing is the Peking Duck, which unfortunately Molly and I didn’t get to try, but my parents and I had the chance to try. The duck is known for it’s crispy and flavorful skin. We went to a recommended restaurant to try the duck which is served which think crepe like pancakes and vegetable toppings to make a sort of wrap with the duck. Really tasty, but a little pricey.
Molly and I learned the hard way the the Forbidden City is closed on Mondays, the day we tried to visit, and also that you need your passports to enter, which we didn’t have when we went back the next day 😦 I did make it back there with my parents, and I’m glad we went, but it wasn’t the greatest site I’ve seen in China. Far too crowded and you can’t enter the buildings to see the details inside. The doors to look into the buildings have so many people in front of them you have to push your way through if you want to take a look. We found the Temple of Heaven to be much more enjoyable. The Temple of Heaven is a park with several ancient buildings located on the grounds, like the circular buildings shown below. They were used to pray to the gods for better harvests or more rain.
Overall, Beijing is a nice city but it doesn’t hold a candle to Shanghai. No doubt, though, Beijing should be a city you visit if you tour China!