The only minor problem was that we didn't research anything about Beijing/ the Great Wall or other sights in the city. We figured that if we at least saw the Great Wall and had Peking (Beijing) Duck for dinner that the trip would be worth it and anything else would be a bonus. The day before we left, we were browsing the Internet for information and saw that someone posted the e-mail address of a private driver who could take us around and take us to the "must see" places without us having to learn the public transportation system. A few e-mails back and forth and we were set up with Mr. Zhang who would be waiting for us when we arrived at the Beijing airport.
As promised, Mr. Zhang was there. He didn't speak much English but we were able to communicate enough. He took us to the hotel to check in and then onto the Temple of Heaven.
The first thing we noticed was that it was FREEZING! We had some warm clothes but nothing that would adequately protect us from the below zero wind chill of Beijing. We bundled up the best we could but it was rough, especially because all of the sights we went to were outdoors and required several hours to explore each one.We arrived at the Temple of Heaven and Mr. Zhang dropped us off at one end and told us to buy tickets and that he would be waiting on the other side. He said it would take about two hours to explore but because it was so cold we told him to make sure he would be one hour because there was no way we would be able to take the cold for two hours. Fortunately he was there right where he said he was and it took us exactly 60 minutes.
Mr. Zhang picked us up as promised on the other side. A quick ride to our second stop, Tienanmen Square. It felt even colder because everything was wide open and the wind was whipping across the open space. We walked as quickly as we could across the square so we could get to the Forbidden Palace on the other side which we hoped was indoors.
It wasn't! We couldn't explain to Elliot why it was called the Forbidden Palace. He said it was because you were forbidden from taking pictures and he thought we would get in trouble from the guards whenever we took out our camera. We tried to explain it to him that it was ok, but we're not sure he really understood. Quan Ju De was our stop for Roast Peking Duck as it was recommended by everyone we talked to. The restaurant has been around since 1864 and it was the first restaurant to serve the dish outside of the emperors kitchen. If Chairman Mao, Fidel Castro and George Bush could all enjoy the expertly prepared duck we knew that it would be great. Since there are a few Chinese restaurants in the NYC area that serve this specialty, we also wanted to see how they would measure measure up.The waiting is the hardest part, especially for Elliot who was exhausted from our first full day in Beijing. After a long 20 minutes, our duck arrived and was carved by one of the chefs. It was served with traditional pancakes and their own sauce mixture (instead of Hoisen).
Step one complete. Peking Duck at Quan Ju De with the duck "certificate of authenticity." In a city filled with counterfeit handbags, North Face jackets and iPods, it is reassuring to know that the duck was genuine!
While the duck was certainly special, it was good to know that the "Peking Duck Houses" of the NYC area provide a respectable substitute for this special dish a lot closer to home.
Our second freezing day began at the Summer Palace. Like many of the Beijing attractions we went to, the only thing we knew about it before going was that it was our first stop before going to the Great Wall. You probably can't tell but we all wore almost as many layers as we could without suffocating. It was another drop off with an "I'll pick you up in a couple of hours." We went in at the main gate and we had the name of the exit we needed to find written on some scrap paper. While we were walking to the ticket booth we were approached by a guide. We initially brushed him off but we reconsidered after realizing how large the palace was. We hired Daniel, the guide for 100 RMB (about $15) to. It may be some of the best money we spent on the trip because Daniel spoke perfect English, was exceptionally knowledgeable about the palace and was super nice. We wish we could have had him for the entire trip because he was one of the best guides we ever had, anywhere. If you ever see him outside the front of the Summer Palace in Beijing be sure to hire him.
Elliot traded in his hat for a warmer one.
After the Summer Palace Mr. Zhang drove us to the Great Wall. There are several easily accessible locations to visit the wall. We chose the Mutianyu section which was a little further away but it was supposed to be less crowded without any tour buses.
Since we had limited time (and a 6 y.o.) we chose to take the ski lift up to the top instead of hiking. We were also surprised that they had a toboggan for a fast decent.
The wall itself is breathtaking and it was the highlight of the entire trip.
Not only were there no tour buses but we hardly saw anyone else here.
The pictures are worth thousands of words. Certainly an amazing day and memories to last a lifetime.
Afterwards we went to a nearby restaurant for a fresh fish lunch. You can catch your own fish in a man made concrete pond which is conveniently located in the middle of the parking lot. Catch it, and they will cook it to order. It was definitely overpriced, but at least it was good.We spent our final day in Beijing with a driving tour around the Olympic Complex. All of the structures including the "Birds Nest" Stadium were amazing! After a very cold and action packed 2 days in Beijing, we returned to Shanghai for 1 night before returning home.