In Beijing, we stayed in a fabulous bed and breakfast called Mao Er Hutong bed and breakfast. It is run by a very nice chinese woman named angela, whose aunt owns the place. We have had a fabulous, authentic Chinese breakfast every morning which has been some of the best food we have eaten. Our breakfast foods always include some sort of starch including fried rice, scallion pancake, or homemade roll with egg as well as a fresh vegetable marinated in a light vinegar based sauce. This morning we had a cucumber and carrot salad as well as a spicy green bean salad. I must say, i feel very healthy eating vegetables with my breakfast every morning.
The bed & breakfast is located in a 'hutong', or alley, near Qianhai Lake north of the forbidden city. The hutong are networks of narrow streets between the major arterials and we have found them to contain some of the more interesting culture in the city. One of the hutong adjacent to ours has recently been given a facelift and is now home to some very trendy bars, restaurants and shops.
To the west of our B&B as well as the forbidden city are a series of linear lakes ringed by greenspaces and parks which provide a pleasant backdrop and refuge from the urban environment. We started out our first day in Beijing exploring a couple of large urban parks including Beihai park. This park has a large lake and some old temples. There were lots of Chinese people out in the park hanging out, dancing in large groups, dancing in small groups, singing in bands with harmonicas and drums, doing tai chi, playing badminton, hackey sacking, and doing a dance that involved twirling a scarf on a stick with particular wrist motions. It was quite entertaining. It seems to be common in Beijing to exercise outside in parks in groups. We think this might be because there are very few yards in Beijing. Most houses we have seen have walls that front directly onto the street and have a central courtyard open to the sky, including the b and b we are staying in.
In the afternoon, we visited Tiananmen Square, and then the forbidden city. The forbidden city was built in the Ming dynasty and was the home and court of the emperors and their families. It is a huge place with many amazing buildings and a fabulous garden.
The next day, Angela arranged a private van for us and 4 other guests to go to the Great Wall about 2.5 hours outside Beijing. This was probably my (Amy) favorite thing we have done so far. We hiked for about 4 hours on the Jingshanling section, which including both restored and unrestored segments. It was amazing, the wall is located along the very crest of a mountain ridge, and follows every steep up and down of the ridge. There were multiple sections where I was hanging on or pushing off with my hands. Also, it was a gorgeous sunny day, and you get a fabulous view of the surrounding hillsides from the top of the wall.
We have had highly variable food experiences thus far. I think this is partly due to the language
barrier. We are so totally clueless in restaurants, especially when the menu is written in Chinese characters with no pictures. Sometimes the pictures are not helpful either as nothing seems to be what you expected when you ordered based on the picture. After a horrible lunch today, we were rewarded this evening with an excellent meal of dumplings at a local eatery that specializes in this northern Chinese staple.
Today we also had the pleasant experience of working out on the public exercise equipment we found in multiple locations through the city.
Well, tomorrow we are off to Datong to see a hanging temple and some caves!