China – Week Four

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>What a whirlwind week!! I’m starting to really wish that I would have broken this into two parts and posted part one before the weekend, because the weekend was so incredible that I’m almost having a hard time remembering what went on earlier in the week! I know that we went to a new Szechwan restaurant one night. I’m almost positive that we also went to the Japanese restaurant in the hotel twice. We really love that place. They use a special seasoning on the Fried Rice that is just amazing and Jesse simply can NOT get enough sashimi. I also went for a very long run (I’m such a liar, it was a walk-walk-run at best) around the lake one day. And we went to Times Square one evening to take pictures of the lights. While we were there we ate at Papa Johns. Back in the States I never really go to Papa Johns (there are just other pizza places I like better) so I can’t really say if it tasted “normal” or not. All I know is that the bread and cheese really hit the spot. All in all it was a good week. But what I REALLY want to talk about is our weekend (and bare with me here, it’s going to get wordy, feel free to just skim through the pictures and come back later this week for Homemade Oreos!!).

What was so great about our weekend? In one word, Beijing. In many words, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, the 2008 Olympic park, the Great Wall of China, and the Forbidden City. I don’t think I need to tell you how exhausted I was by the end of the weekend, my calves have not been this sore since I was dancing.

Beijing is just over 1,000 km from Suzhou so this was no trip for a taxi or a car. Lucky for us, in June a new high-speed train opened that connects Shanghai and Beijing, so instead of an expensive 2 hour plane ride or 14 hour car ride, we (Jesse, Mandy, and I) hopped on a high-speed train that got us there in just under 5 hours. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. When they let us up on the platform it took just a minute or two for the train to arrive. We boarded and before we were even seated the train was off. I guess I expected it to be more like an airplane where they wait for everyone to be seated, give a little speech, and tell you before you take off. Nope, I was wrong. The train doesn’t usually spend more than 2 or 3 minutes at each station. Just enough time to let people off and let new people on. The trains speed scrolls along a screen at the front of each cabin and the fastest speed I saw was 320 km/h, but it certainly didn’t feel like we were going that fast.

Once we arrived in Beijing we met Mandy’s sister. We walked down to where you are supposed to meet taxis and the line was so long. Mandy and her sister found a man that operates a “black taxi” service and negotiated with him to drive us to the hotel. We went to bed as soon as we arrived because we had a VERY early wake up call planned – 4:15 am, so we could catch the raising of the flag at Tiananmen Square. We did manage to wake up early enough and get to the square. Along with just a couple thousand other tourist. With a 4:50 flag raising time I figured it would be a pretty personal experience, but no, every single morning (at the butt crack of dawn) the square is flooded with people to watch. It was worth it, though. It’s also fun to watch the sky brighten up in the pictures. It is timed perfectly so the flag reaches the top right at sunrise. After that we went back to the hotel for a short nap, shower and breakfast and by 8:30 we were off again.

We spent the rest of the day visiting the National Museum of China, having a traditional Beijing roast duck for lunch (which I came to lovingly refer to as a Chinese taco and is a new favorite of mine!), seeing Summer Palace, and finally we took a taxi to the Olympic park. The Olympics were in 2008, so you would think that maybe some of the novelty of the park would have worn off. Again, nope. 3 years later and the place was packed. That’s OK though, we wanted to see the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube and we did. We also were asked by a several people to have our photo taken with them. Jesse had told me before that sometimes people would stop him for pictures but it hadn’t happened to me in Suzhou. Then in one weekend we were stopped probably 6-7 times. Our theory is that Suzhou is a business area, there are lots of foreigners here on business, so while I may feel like a one woman parade, it’s not that exciting to see an American in Suzhou. But Beijing is the kind of place that gets a lot of Chinese tourism. I think that people save for years and come from smaller villages where they probably don’t ever see visitors. So when they visit Beijing on holiday and see a handsome American boy and a blonde girl, it’s more exciting. Just our theory.

Sunday was the big day. We hired a car for the day to drive us to the Great Wall and then drive us back later. It was 600 RMB (~ 90 USD) which may seem a little steep, but when you consider that he drove an hour to take us, waited there for 3 hours while we climbed the wall, drove us to his recommended place for a Beijing local lunch, then drove us back to hotel, AND he spoke pretty fluent English, I think it was an incredible deal. The wall was everything I thought it would be and more. To the point that I can’t even think of the right words to describe, so I won’t even try. Here are some pictures.

After the wall we headed back out to a popular bar street for dinner. I was beyond skeptical as we passed through a dirty alley, went in a dark back entrance, walked up the stairs with boxes piled every where, and through the kitchen to a tiny little restaurant. But holy crap. Best noodles I’ve ever had in my whole life. I will probably dream about these noodles for the rest of my life and I may need to take another trip to Beijing at some point, just to eat those noodles. It was a good night.

To say that we were exhausted by Monday morning is a huge understatement. When the alarm went off I think I could have cried. But we had one more place to visit, the Forbidden City (named as such because entry and exit was forbidden without direct consent from the Emperor). It was pretty awesome too. There is just something about being a place that is that old and has that much history that makes you really think. Forbidden City was originally built in the 1400’s and lasted through the Ming and Qing dynasties and was the home for 24 emperors. Pretty cool if you ask me. Of course much of it has been repainted, renovated, and rebuilt, but the skeleton is still the same.

To wrap it up we jumped back on the high-speed train and were back in Suzhou by 7:30. Having gone a whole weekend with out sashimi from the Japanese restaurant we went there for dinner and I was zonked out by 10:30.

Now we have just 4 more days until we are back HOME! I have loved this entire trip but my two little babies are calling my name as well as my KITCHEN! I can’t wait to get back and start cooking and make this a real food blog again. I may or may not post one more short recap of our last few days here, but I want to say thank you again to anyone and everyone that has read these lengthy posts of mine.

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