Jan 30-Feb 3: Beijing
(Whoa, sorry for the long break. India happened.)
Our flight from Shanghai to Beijing was on Air China – too bad we didn’t actually bother to order a vegetarian meal ahead of time, because it would have been interesting to see what it would have been! Instead we went to Carre-Four in Shanghai and bought stuff to make sandwiches (roasted pepper and mozzarella, they were good!).
In Beijing we stayed at the Tian An Rega hotel, which was really good – the price was right, there was a rain showerhead, the bed was comfy and the location was awesome next to the Forbidden City…but the temperature was a pretty constant 25-26 C all the time. Not so comfortable for sleeping, and the reception said they couldn’t really do anything about it. That sucked pretty bad. We did somehow manage to get it down to about 24 some nights, but it was uncomfortable. And it was below freezing outside!
Since the Chinese New Year festival was still going on there were tons of fireworks! Our first night in Beijing was the fifth night of the festival, which apparently means a LOT of fireworks. We were just wandering around (looking for a particular vegetarian restaurant which we never found) so we got to see people just setting off fireworks and firecrackers on their neighbourhood streets. Fun, but the noise and smoke got to be a bit much after 45 minutes of pretty much constant celebration!
Unfortunately we left our Beijing guidebook in Shanghai in the apartment (oops) so we had a bit of an adventure trying to figure our way around – we ended up buying chapters from Lonely Planet online and putting them on my ipod touch. It worked okay but having a proper map might’ve been useful!
We were right next to a big shopping street, Wangfujing – it’s full of different shops, a huge fancy mall, a couple department stores, and lots of people! It was really useful to have such a close landmark – it was easy enough to tell taxi drivers to go there, and then we could just walk. There’s also a Wangfujing metro stop which came in handy! Just off Wangfujing was this snack street, which houses a bunch of food vendors and a couple souvenir shops as well. Most of the stuff wasn’t vegetarian, but we did try one that was like a crepe filled with bean sprouts.
We walked around Wangfujing a lot, mostly out of necessity – we went to the department store a bunch of times to buy water and snacks, and we found a really tasty dumpling restaurant that actually had veggie options! The second day we headed down for a walk to Temple of Heaven park, which was a bit further than we had thought and quite a boring walk. At least the temple was quite nice.
Lots of tourists – again, because people were on holiday. Apparently Beijing empties out a lot during the festival but it still felt pretty populated to us! There were even some sheep carved into the marble promenade.
At least, I think it’s supposed to be a sheep – what do you all think?
Afterwards we checked out Tiananmen Square briefly before being shepherded out by the police when the square closed. That building on the left (entrance to the Forbidden City) is where that oh-so-famous portrait of Mao is hung.
We got a great tip from Elyse of iheartbeijing to check out a temple fair that was going on for Chinese New Year in Ditan Park – it was great! Pretty much all locals celebrating the festival, eating from the many food stalls and playing various midway-style games. There were also some performances going on, and lots of people selling stuff. We met up with Elyse in person afterwards, and she took us to a good veggie restaurant for lunch – unfortunately we didn’t take down the name or take photos or anything!
After lunch Elyse helped us book a taxi for the Great Wall (more on that in the next post) and we went to Hou Hai, a manmade lake with restaurants and stuff. People were playing around on the ice, but mostly without skates – they used metal chairs with ski-type rails on the bottom!
The next day we went to explore the Forbidden City, right next to our hotel – it was huge! Quite a compound with tons of buildings. A bunch of sections were closed off to the public but it was still really cool to explore.
(Just some dude, not one of us.)
As for the veggie food situation, it was a little easier than in Japan. There are Buddhist vegetarians, plus apparently people will just eat veggie for stretches of time as sort of a cleansing or religious thing. So there are lots of veggie restaurants! We found one at the top of the street the hotel was on, just by chance – they had some really nice tofu and veggie dishes, as well as nice tea.
It was at the corner of Beiheyan St and Wusi St, if anyone finds that helpful! We also ate at a veggie buffet restaurant near Yonghegong Lama Temple which wasn’t all that great, and kind of expensive compared to other restaurants. All in all, it was definitely doable to find veggie-friendly food. And if we’d been able to speak the language we probably could have ordered veggie dishes in pretty much any restaurant!
The Great Wall gets its own post coming up next!