Once we made it into China, we loved it! China is obviously a HUGE country, and we will need to go back to get a feel for the rest of the country, but Beijing was a great starting place!
When we walked into our hotel, it was a little after midnight. We promptly checked in, walked through the indoor garden towards our room, and upon entering, flipped on the television while we began to strip the day away. Essentially, the TV was just background noise, but the news was on and they were covering some kind of school vigil. I've seen a lot of these. Being an American, we have an exorbitant amount of school shootings and it seems like there's a vigil every week. My mind just assumed that China had the same issue, but after turning my attention towards the screen, I realized that school children all over China had gathered and were holding a vigil for American children who had died due to gun violence. It took my breath away.
We woke up around 9:00am and decided to walk through the hutong to find a bite to eat. I was aware that China was not exactly "vegan friendly," so my expectations were low, but I plugged the words into our google translator and we set off. The first few restaurants we passed did not have any vegetarian dishes, or they just didn't want to serve us. It seemed a pretty common belief across our travels in Asia that people who order vegetarian or vegan dishes are just considered cheap, not enlightened. And that logic makes since when you consider that most westerners who made these cities tourist destinations wanted exotic animal dishes and they were willing to shell out big money to eat a skewered scorpion. Meatless dishes are always cheaper, and the staff is serving your fat American butt because you have money. If they think you're cheap or poor, your service, if you get any at all, is not going to be good. So, Ian and I would have to make a point to spend extra money on things like alcohol in order to prove that we weren't cheap, just cruelty-free.
We came across a produce market and bought some of the most beautiful strawberries I've ever seen. I rinsed them with bottled water and went to town. They were amazing!!! Thankfully, after two more turndowns from restaurants, we found one willing to feed us!
I don't really know what we ordered, but it was some kind of vegetable soup and it was OUT OF THIS WORLD. It could have been because we were starving and it was our first real meal in 24 hours, but literally, these noodles were one of the best things I've ever eaten.
After our noodle fill-up, we decided to hit up the Great Wall and "get it out of the way" so to speak. It was the one thing on my list and since our time in Beijing had been cut by customs, I wanted to make sure we got it done.
You can take public transportation to get to the Great Wall, but time was of the essence, and I wasn't willing to bet on my rotten Chinese and Ian and I's affinity for getting lost to get us there. We took a taxi. I asked the driver with my translator app to take us there. He hesitated for a while, pulled out his translator app and we began negotiating the price. If he was driving all the way out there, he wanted to take us back too. That made sense to me. Basically, we were getting a private driver for the day. He wanted 700 Yuan, or $100 American dollars. He would drive us there, wait for three hours, and take us back. For the same price, I could get a ride one way from Newark to NYC. Seemed like a great deal to me!
It was so freaking cold! Even though the Great Wall is a short drive away, the temperature is considerably lower than the city of Beijing. Bring an extra coat if you're on the fence about it. The wall is also pretty steep. If you have bad knees, please be very careful!
Ian and I were stopped by several people who wanted to take photos with us. I assume it's because we look different than everyone, but my Chinese is terrible, so I don't really know why. Still, you may see us in some Chinese people's vacation photos from the Great Wall!
At the base of the wall was a weird forrest attraction with a bunch of live bears. There was no admission fee, so we just walked in. The bears were extremely friendly and adorable, but it felt so sad to see them in such confined spaces, even though they were right next to the real forrest. Clearly, people had been feeding the bears from the concessions and the bears were very comfortable with tourists. All I'm saying is that if someone wants to break in and set all the bears free, I'm 100% down to help.
Our driver took us back into Beijing and we spent the rest of the day walking around in the city, seeing Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Confucius Temple, The Drum Tower, etc. We didn't have a lot of time so explore each attraction, but we wanted to at least see the main ones.
I will say that I was surprised at how far away everything was. On the maps, it all appeared to be so close together, but each attraction was easily a 45 minute walk, and we're fast walkers! Many of the connecting streets were blocked off and it just took a while to get anywhere! Once, we even took a taxi (the driver tried to rip us off) and what was less than a mile away took 20 minutes to arrive. Just don't think that because something looks nearby, it will be a fast, easy journey! We definitely needed at least 2 more days in Beijing.
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