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A runner with an appetite for adventure!

Beijing: The Hutongs & The Summer Palace May 5, 2014

Filed under: Beijing,China,Food,Travel — Kelocity @ 8:50 pm

Our last day in Beijing began with breakfast in our hotel. A great mix of Eastern/Western food. There may have been a plate of noodles in there somewhere too! IMG_0687Spinach, Pumpkin, Watermelon, Pancake a Churro… and Noodles. Served with chopstix. ha!

Shortly after, we met up with our local guide for one last day. This is Hubert, he was wonderful. We loved his jokes, history and stories. And his Pikachu. IMG_0688

First stop was the Drum & Bell towers in near the Hutongs. Inside one of the tower was a little tea house where we received a tea demonstration. We got to sample a few teas and learn about why the Chinese love their tea so much. (Side note: I had at least two cups of tea every day while we were there, it was SO GOOD. And their coffee is notoriously bad. But the tea was fantastic!) IMG_0698
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From there, we walked over to the Hutongs and hopped in a rickshaw for a ride around the village. The Hutongs are little neighborhoods or communities in northern china. They are made up of alleys and courtyards where middle-class families live together. They’re actually quite large considering it’s city living. The only caveat is that there are no/little septic systems in this area, so they all share communal neighborhood toilets! Eek!
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Here’s what an entrance to one of the houses looks like. The doors lead to the courtyards and the rooms are along the edge.

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Our Rickshaw ride was great, it was a nice tour of the area and an inside look into the culture of the people here.
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PS, check out these electrical/telephone(?) wires! The whole city of Beijing was wired like that. Yikes! How do they know what’s what?
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Once we had a nice tour, we stopped for lunch at our host’s house. Her husband actually prepared most of our meal, they’ve now made a living out of hosting tourists at their place.
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Totally unrelated to our meal (promise!) our hosts raise pigeons — as a hobby, not as dinner!–
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Because our group was so big (28 total!) we were split into two different rooms. We ate in their bedroom!
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It was such an adventure, this was one of my favorite meals of the whole trip. Everything was SO good!

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It was so fun to step into someone else’s life for a few hours and see how they live. What a nice afternoon.
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Then we hopped back into our Rickshaws and made our way back to our bus!
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These drivers work hard! (bahaha)
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But seriously, we did enjoy our ride, it was really nice.
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—And now, Part 2 of this (already long) post! The Summer Palace!
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The Summer Palace sits on 720 acres and includes a large lake, walking trails, temples and more! Unesco has declared it a World Heritage Site. It dates back to the 1700s.
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We took our time admiring the beautiful scenery and enjoying the stroll around the lake to the other side. It’s a very photogenic area… which is probably why the Emperors and Empress’ loved it here.
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Follow Pikachu!
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Along the way, we walked through The Long Corridor. It’s almost a half mile long and is said to be the longest corridor of paintings in the world.
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Soon, we found ourselves at the base of the big temple atop Longevity Hill.
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There’s only one way to go from here (up, up, up!) Technically you can bypass the walk up to the temple, but why would you, the views were incredible as we climbed!
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You can see Beijing off in the distance. And no, it wasn’t raining… that’s the air pollution!
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On the other side is a ‘boat’ made out of granite. It was never intended to float, the Empress just wanted it built for fun. Apparently she used government money intended for Navy improvements.
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PS. The Chinese don’t believe in Dessert. We couldn’t find dessert (or any sugar really) anywhere! So I jumped at the chance for a bite of imported choclately goodness from the souvenir shop. Magnum bars. Mmmm.
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As we walked on, we came across a little ‘make believe’ village. I can’t exactly remember the significance, but it was so cute. The Empress used to hire people to ‘pretend’ to work in the village and she would stroll around playing make believe.
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You can tell by the length of this post, this was a looooong day. We were hungry and tired by this point! Off to dinner! We ate at a hotel right near the train station.
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I don’t remember this meal being anything spectacular, but we did LOVE the lotus root (the flower looking vegetable below!) They taste like water chestnuts. I loved them!

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And then we were off to the train station to board our overnight train from Beijing to Xi’an.
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Hmmm… which track?
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The trains were really well organized and felt like the nice European ones we had ridden in the past. I was impressed. I think they updated the trains and routes before the Beijing Olympics to get tourists to other destinations faster. Well done, China.
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We had a room with four bunks. The tour guide organized everyone’s rooms in order from Super Partier –> Us old people. So we were in the last room that we ended up sharing with two French, chain-smoking, high school kids on a field trip or something. (The smoke in China…ugh Why?!?! Even on trains?!)
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With the help of some Advil PM, the 12 hour ride actually went pretty smooth and we were ready for our adventures in Xi’an once the train pulled into the station the next day!

(Traveler Tip: Bring your own travel sheets for a cozier stay in places like trains. Irving and I both have our own sets. I love mine!)
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It was organized chaos retrieving our bags the next day, but I have to say, it was a pretty efficient system. Now off to Xi’an to meet the Terra Cotta Warriors!
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Beijing Olympic Stadium May 1, 2014

Filed under: Beijing,China,Olympics — Kelocity @ 9:54 pm
Tags: , ,

After touring around the Forbidden City and the 798 district, we boarded our coach and headed to the Beijing Olympic Park! I LOVE visiting Olympic stadiums! I’m fascinated by the world stage these venues have. The stadiums themselves are usually impressive, plus the history that’s made inside of them is so exciting! (Remember our fun Olympic-Themed party to kick off the Vancouver Opening Ceremonies?)

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But we were EXTRA pumped to visit the Beijing stadium because their ceremonies were the biggest and best the world had ever seen. We had a big party to celebrate the games in China back in 2008. I remember seeing the fireworks shoot out from the Bird’s Nest! I couldn’t wait to see it in real life!

But first, a little trivia… Every city has their own Olympic Symbol, do you know where the Beijing one comes from?
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The little man is actually an interpretation of the Chinese character for “Jing” (as in Bei-Jing), which looks like this:

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The park itself is huge, and we only had enough time to visit two of the most iconic structures while we were there.

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This hotel housed a lot of the media and some athlete families. It was designed to look like a dragon. See the head on the left and it’s long body made out of those smaller four towers?
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And here she is! The Bird’s Nest!
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Sadly, the stadium is now in disarray. The inside is falling apart and they don’t really use it for anything. I think they hosted a few concerts and events there after the Olympic Games, but for the most part, I hear it’s pretty desolate inside. We didn’t pay to go into that one. But she’s a beauty from the outside!

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Across the way is the infamous Water Cube. The place where Michael Phelps made history winning EIGHT gold medals in the pool! We were definitely excited to go inside of that one!

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But the inside was…. um… not what we expected. For example this was in the main lobby….

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I wonder what Michael Phelps would think about feeding fish with a baby bottle in the same venue he competed in the Olympics. Hmm.

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If the main lobby had left something to be desired, surely seeing the main pool would make up for it right? We opened the doors to the pool and found this…. !!!???
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Where is the pool???!! Where is the water?! Where are the diving boards? Look closely, and you can see the boards behind the false stage they placed where the pool would be! They had drained all the water and set up an expo hall for the Beijing Auto Show. Whaaatt??

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We had a good laugh and pretended to be in the cheering squad for Michael. Go, Michael, Go! Don’t get hit by a car as you swim across the pool! Seriously though, what the heck?

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Here’s a closeup of the diving boards and the edge of the pool. If you look reallllly close, you can see an inch of water at the bottom. So so sad!

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Some of the original signage is still there though, that was neat to see. 
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Here’s what the pool should have looked like! IMG_0641

 

Regardless, you could still feel the grandeur of the Olympic Village walking in and around it. One of the highlights of our trip, for sure. I just hope they can find a use of those beautiful buildings!
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(Some of my past Olympic Stadium visits: Vancouver | Munich | Barcelona | Athens | Los Angeles | Squaw Valley | Moscow). 

 

After the Olympic visit, we joined a small group from our tour and headed over to a fun bar district on a lake. It reminded me of Downtown Disney.

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We descended on a small pizza place where the food (and the company) were both wonderful. One of our favorite perks of traveling with a company like Contiki is the instant friends you make. We love sitting down to a meal chatting with others about travel, life, culture, politics and more. We had a great group on this tour!
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A bunch of people stayed late into the night to try out the bar scene, but we opted to take the city bus back to our hotel. We were so impressed at how great the public transportation was all over China. Safe, easy and cheap. =)
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We’ve still got one more full day in Beijing before we move on! Can’t believe everything I’ve posted so far happened in just the first two days!

 

Beijing: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City & The 798 April 30, 2014

Filed under: Beijing,China,Travel — Kelocity @ 10:22 pm

The second day of our tour started out with a fun breakfast of east meets west. Had some awesome Asian noodles and some bread and watermelon too! All eaten with chopsticks. I really enjoyed our breakfasts on this trip. They all had a great selection of food, all of it delicious! The tea was incredible too. I enjoyed several cups a day!IMG_0374
We hopped on our coach bus and headed out to Tiananmen Square to explore.
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Tiananmen Square is one of the largest squares in the world. A lot of history happened here, including some important political events and protester riots. The tomb of Chairman Mao is also in the square.
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The security is tight in the square, you could see fire extinguishers everywhere (presumably to control riots if they were to happen). They also had a huge jumbotron in the middle playing a loop of patriotic propaganda.
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At the end of the square, a giant portrait of Chairman Mao looks over the crowds.
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The building behind us is the beginning of the entrance to the Forbidden City. 
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Soon enough, we got close and it was time to inside!
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Lead the way, trusty tour guide, Alex!
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I wasn’t prepared for how huge the Forbidden City was. Courtyard after courtyard, we were in there for a few hours and I feel like we barely scratched the surface!
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By the end of our tour, we had literally been walking for hours! Time for lunch!
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We jumped back on our bus and headed to the 798 District. This area used to be all factories, but is now inhabited by a community of  local artists. It feels very much like Berlin, you’d think you were in Europe!
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It has a unique history, here’s more information if you’re interested! We thought it was especially cool since we had been in Berlin a couple of years back.
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We chose to eat at one of the many cafes along the main drag: Cafe Flatwhite 798.
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I got a little excited to see a somewhat ‘western’ menu and ordered a sandwich and a coffee float (with ice cream)! Irving had a potpie with fries. Everything was excellent!
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After we ate, we spent some time wandering the area. Every alley had hidden shops, art galleries and public art to see. We just meandered up and down dropping into stores here and there. They had some unique things we had never seen before, everything from vinyl records to custom iPhone cases to modern art. Our favorite was a gallery of traditional Chinese art that had been re-imagined into Modern Art. Think a cherry blossom tree with paint splatters over it. Very cool stuff. I’m sort of kicking myself now for not buying a print. Le sigh.
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The 798 District is off the beaten path (our tour book didn’t even mention it), but well worth the visit if you’re in Beijing!
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But the fun didn’t stop there on Day 2 of our trip! Up next is the Olympic Village! Stay tuned for more!
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