A China Christmas, Part 4: Beijing (1 of 2)

Meredith procured a large van to drive us and our massive amounts of luggage from the train station to the hostel that would be our home for the next few days. The hostel, Fly by Knight, was located in a hutong, a narrow street in a neighborhood of traditional courtyard-style homes. Our van driver more than earned his fare by venturing down the hutong, asking for directions (we had the address, but it was still hard to find), and even getting out of his warm van to make sure we were headed the right way (did I mention that it had snowed that night?). Breakfast and a warm room were waiting for us at Fly by Knight, which is one of those previously mentioned courtyard-style houses turned hostel. We took it easy that morning and ventured out into the hutong for lunch. There were several restaurants at the end of the hutong where it intersected a larger road, so we picked one at random. It turned out to be one of our favorite meals. The sign said “Beijing Barbeque”. We did not realize that meant the food was cooked on a little grill on your table! We had pork dumplings, rice, and then beef and sweet potatoes grilled at the table. It was all really good.

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One of the reasons we picked the hostel we did was its proximity to a subway station. After lunch we headed that way and took the subway to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City (officially known as the Imperial Palace). It was so cold and windy, and the Palace just seemed to go on and on and on. It was so much larger than I had initially thought. We got to the end, but wanted to go back out the front gate because that was where the subway stop was. So we haul it back to the front, heads down, noses wrapped in scarves, being careful not to slip on the compacted snow. Only to find that you cannot go out the front entrance, as there was some military drill going on. We had to go out the side, all the way around the Palace walls on the outside, and then make our way down a random street to get back to the subway station. Once we made it back to the hostel, we all collapsed into bed.

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But just for a nap, because then it was time for Peking duck with Wilson Hailey! Wilson is an old family friend who has lived in Beijing for 6 years now. His family used to go to our church and we all swam on our city’s summer swim team together. The duck was amazing; my favorite part (and most of my family’s) was the way you eat the skin – by dipping it in sugar! Yum! After dinner we went back to the hostel, where we took hot showers, only to have to emerge into a freezing, unheated bathroom. Brr. Our 6-bunk room was heated, though.  Stephen and I headed to the common room to make use of the wireless internet and check the weather. The high was going to be around 28 the rest of the time we were there. We were kept company by the two 6-month old puppies that live at Fly By Knight. One had a Chinese name that I never got, but the black one was called…Obama. Hilarious.

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The next day was Great Wall day. We were up at 7am, had a Western breakfast (provided by the hostel), and loaded up the cars at 8. The hostel had two cars going, so it was our family and two solo travelers, David and Hannah. David was from Singapore and Hannah from Sydney. They were very nice and happy to be able to split the cost of the cars with us. It took about an hour to get to the portion of the Wall we were going to, called Mutianyu. Once there, our drivers recommended we take the cable car up and down from the mountain ridge, as it was very cold. We lucked out and it was not windy at all. In fact, in the sun it was quite pleasant! The cable car was a good choice because not only was it cold, it was still snowy and icy from two nights ago, so the trail up and down would have been dangerous. Once at the top, the view was amazing. It was so clear; we were able to trace the Wall over the mountain ridges for some distance. I think all us girls were imagining the opening scene from Mulan when they light the signal fires from the guard towers. It was pretty much exactly like that. Haha. We walked perhaps half a mile each way before deeming it too steep and icy to continue safely.  We took the cable car back down and met our drivers at a coffee shop, where we warmed up with a cup and what was perhaps the best Snickers bar I have ever had. (pics) That evening we set out to find the night market with the crazy food we had heard about from a few different people. We thought we knew the general area we were going, but after walking and walking and not finding it, even after asking for directions, we were all cold and I was hangry. We headed back towards our hutong without accomplishing much of anything, except becoming cold and hungry. Dinner was in a hutong near ours, because if I had to wait any longer to eat I would probably have stabbed someone. A bonus was that we did pass a convenience store with some imported goods, so we picked up some Bacardi for NYE festivities, and I got another Snickers. Because I was still recovering from almost starving to death.

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