So much Beijing, so little time. (had a hard time choosing which pic to use... went with the wicked awesome lion statue from the Forbidden City/Palace Museum)
So classes finished up fine on Sunday, and I raced back to my apartment, got all my junk together, and split for the train station. I had a real can-do taxi driver, so I got there in record time, and hopped the last bus to Beijing. Camilla was on board as well, so I sat next to her for the trip up.
Had no issues finding the hostel and Steve and Nika around 8:45pm. We checked in - I was in a nice little 6-bed 'dorm' - dumped our stuff off, and hit a hotpot place they had seen earlier in the day. I got to say "Kuai ying li Jungguo!" ("Welcome to China!"). Beer tasted soooo good. We then wandered down to Wangfujing Street in search of a bar of some sort. None there, of course, so it was off to Sanlitun, the bar district. I chatted with the taxi driver the whole way, and I knew what he was saying! It was a marvel. We talked about the weather and people from Beijing, as well as which areas of Sanlitun were alright.
We went into a small bar first, then moved on. Found a decent little spot farther along where a couple were singing/playing guitar. It was nice, and we could talk. We were there til around 1:30am.
The next morning, we got up at 8:45 and dragged our asses down to the lounge where I had three coffees (they tasted amazing - I hardly get decent coffee over here) and set our agenda for the day. We had some breakfast at the hostel, and departed. We took the subway as far as we could on the Loop Line of inner Beijing, then after standing around like dolts waiting for a bus that wasn't coming, cabbed it northwest to the Summer Palace (about 15 km from where we got off at Xizhimen subway station).
Ah, the Summer Palace. It was fucking amazing. We had incredible weather for late October. It was about 23 degrees, sunny... amazing. We wandered most of the place, seeing plenty to keep us "oooh" and "ahhhh"ing for hours. We were there for about 4 hours or so, and watched the sun set from the quiet western point of an island that juts out into Kunming Lake. Absolutely gorgeous. We sat there for about thirty minutes, just watching the sun sink over the water, and in behind the Jade Bridge and scenic hills.
When we got back to the hostel around 6:15pm (Beijing rush-hour sucks, by the way...), I found us a Sichuan restaurant called Baguo Buyi up north a few streets past the Forbidden City, so off we went. I had no idea what the address was, but managed to ge the driver to trust me. Found it easily: could spot the Qing costumes of the staff from a ways away. We approached and were greeted by 5 young teenage boys, all dressed up. One mashed a gong as we moved towards the stairs, and in a chorus they all chanted a greeting... and whammed another gong. Quite an entrance ritual, I tell ya.
The food rocked - it was some of the best I've had in China. At the end I tried to order mantou and we got a cool platter of rice bread (half of which were fried) with custard instead. It was a fabulous botch.
We then walked back to the hostel... a good 5 kms or so. It took us 35-45 minutes to walk past the outside of the Forbidden City. It gave us a taste of what to expect the following day, and the idea of going back and walking it was a tad daunting after that sojourn. Fantastic little side roads, though. Saw a shu fa shop doing some late business and stopped to peek in. It was a pretty nice evening, though the temperature had dropped 8 or so degrees and it was a tad nippy.
Exhausted from the triumphant day and the 5-6 hours sleep from the night before, we crashed early (10pm or so) after attempting to have a beer in the hostel lounge. We were falling asleep at the table. I had my dorm room to myself for some reason... all five other beds were empty. ... So I built a bed fort. (Okay, I didn't but I thought hard about it for quite a while)
The next day, we had a slightly earlier start, sans breakfast. We booked tickets to Tang Shan for 5:30pm and then hit the subway again for the short 2 km jaunt to Tian'anmen Square and the entrance to the Forbidden City/Palace Museum. The sheer size of the place of the entrance alone was staggering, nevermind the actual Palace Museum area. It really is a mini city. Unfortunately, they're doing renovations in stages, so one of main gates inside was closed off with weather sheeting and scaffolds. However, they only had renovations happening to two buildings out of like 800 so no big loss... pun intended.
Alistair was right when he said he was a tad disappointed by it. It's amazing, but so much has been stripped out of the buildings to preserve the relics, furniture, etc. Also, the weather was a bit foreboding: it was overcast and a tad misty/hazy. Added a bit to the feel of the place, but I depended heavily on the Enhance feature of iPhoto to brighten and sharpen contrast in many a picture of that place. The number of people in there was a bit irritating as well, but to be honest it helped provide a sense of scale. I would have loved to see a mock military assembly, with all soldiers ordered according to rank and station on the stairs and across the courtyard of one section. (I don't have a wide or long shot to show distances... but 9,000 sq meters would not be an over-exaggeration.)
We walked through most of the place for three or so hours, then headed back and had hotpot before getting our stuff ready for Tang Shan. No issues on the train, nor getting back to Tang Shan. We were all tired, though, and slept in fits on the train. We were back by 8:30. After supper at 'the restaurant' (our usual Chinese food haunt here), we went for a beer at Yi Yang You Mang, our usual bar. Sleep was very very welcome that night.
Steve and Nika headed out this morning after we had breakfast. Work wasn't too bad - but it felt like a long day. Now I look forward to sleep and sleeping in.