Hey Hey Beijing! One day in China's "Northern Capital"

One day is by no means long enough in any city, least of all somewhere as big as Beijing. Sadly that is all my brother and I had when we travelled to China after our father died, but we did try and make the most of it - while of course relaxing, getting over the jetlag thing, and thinking through the next few days dealing with Dad's affairs.

Beijing is literally the "northern capital", the southern capital being Nanjing, which was close to where our dad worked. We arrived in Beijing straight from the UK, at about 4pm local time, so by the time we got past passport control and into the city, it was time for food. We stayed at Holiday Inn Dongzhimen, which was picked because of price mainly, as well as being close to everything we wanted to see. Close is relative in Beijing, but that said taxi's are cheap - our ride from the airport costing less than 100RMB (about £10). We had done some research, and there was a top rated duck restaurant opposite, so that was Saturday's dinner sorted.

I was quite happy with just duck, but Merlin wanted more, so we got some ribs and an aubergine dish, as well as rice, to accompany. Going in blind with the menu, we did quite well. As expected our Peking Duck was absolutely FANTASTIC. The rest, well, the ribs were well cooked, very tender, and a bit sweeter than I was used too. However I say sweet - more of a honey sweet than a straight sugar sweet - which was a nice change. The aubergine was also great - unlike with alot of the European cooking methods, it didn't suck up a lot of oil, let tasted very moist and moreish. There really are no words for the duck except IN MY BELLY. We had read it in a review, and oh my god it was true! Sadly, there wasn't enough room for everything but we did try.

We also went for a quick drink around the corner, and watched a police raid go down. It was a small bar in a lane, that had tables in the road. Well, of course, not quite legit, and they got word the police were coming as we sat drinking, and suddenly there was a mad dash to get he tables away before they turned up. It seemed like they managed it, but it was a sight to see go down. A rather eventful evening.

Our "full day" was spent mainly in Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Both are epic, much much larger than I could have every imagined. You can intellectually know that somewhere (in this case Tiananmen Square) can hold 600,000 people but seeing it is another matter. We walked all the way arround Tiananmen square - past the massive queues for Mao's Tomb and climbed the Zhengyangmen (one of the gates in the city wall - opposite the Tiananmen gate) to get a good view of the square. Then through the Tiananmen gate to the forbidden city itself. Tiananmen means Gate of Heavenly Peace, and is an entrance gate to the Emperors Palace (the city) which gives the square it's name. Mao's portrait still hangs on the gate, over the entrance, looking over at his mausoleum, which is in the center of the square.

The Forbidden City is 180 acres in area, and to be honest I think we would need a full day to see the whole thing. I reached my saturation point (when I could take in no more) after about 4 hours of wandering around and still I look back and thing "gah! should have gone to see that bit!". We had no guide book and couldn't find an English language map, so were just wandering around letting it all sink in. Hopefully the photos do it justice.

After the square, a rikshaw ride (don't trust them! take taxi's!!) and a wander through a shopping area that looked all too familiar, we headed back to the hotel for nap to fight the jetlag.

That night for dinner we headed around the corner to The Great Leap Brewing Company. Neither of us fancied venturing far as Beijing is very large, very spread out and to be honest, a wee bit daunting. I had heard of Great Leap, and it turns out that they were only one minute walk from the hotel so we gave it a go. Totally wonderful - great beer, great food (although American style not Chinese) and I felt totally comfortable. Just what you need when jetlagged and feeling completely out of your comfort zone.

So that was our day in Beijing! If I did it again, I might organised to head out to the Great Wall - but it is 2 hours outside the city, it was a baking hot 36 degrees and neither of us were organized enough to have booked the trip, or fancied that long in a car. Also, had we been more organised, getting a cab to drive by a few of the more interesting skyscrapers, knowing what we were looking at in the Forbidden City and getting to the Temple of Heaven, rather than the all too western Wangfujing Street for shopping. But you live, you learn, and more often than not you have time to read blogs about what to do and what not to do. We had heard Wangfunjing was interesting, and it was, but with limited time not what I would prioritize, but this is my take.

Overall I just have to say - not somewhere that was on my travel bucket list but now I most definitely want to go back!

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