The first full day, and time to explore. We had a fairly busy schedule whilst here, as there is a lot to see and experience. Beijing is the size of Belgium, after all. First stop for four of us - the Summer Palace. Sean was elsewhere, and Tom...didn't show.
The Palace was once the chillout zone of the imperial kingpins throughout the centuries. The centrepiece is Kunming Lake, which is shielded by a wonderful and idyllic collection of temples and trees. It is a place of stunning beauty.
We spent the best part of four hours wondering around, including hiking to the highest temple on Longevity Hill; the Buddhist Temple of the Sea and Wisdom. I do love the names of these places - filled with positivity and spirituality. We ventured as far as the Marble Boat before deciding to head back. The story behind this is that the Empress at the time, Qixi, demanded this be built, from the entire budget of the Chinese navy. Not the greatest decision.
We could have spent a lot more time at the Summer Palace, but had a tight agenda to stick to. Next up - the Olympic arenas. China was the most recent host, in 2008, and though I didn't really see too much of the showpiece - busy in Prague - I was eager to see the stadium.
It is ridiculous. I still can't get over the fact that you cannot see any stone within the structure. The metal looks rugged, violent and brilliant in the flesh. The Water Cube was less impressive, but I'm sure it was great when lit up. We all agreed that the Olmypics seems to have transformed this city - it would have been fascinating to visit before 2008.
Whilst there, a local woman sheepishly approached us and asked for a photo. We happily accepted, and soon enough a line was forming for them to get their photo with the strange foreigners. At least they asked. On the subway, Matt noticed that a girl was slyly trying to take a picture of him. I waved at her, and then she grew a pair and asked. We found these two instances especially strange as they occurred here, as opposed to the countryside, where they may not see many Westerners.
We briefly returned to the hostel to pick up our absent duo and then headed to a restaurant. Only one thing on the agenda - Peking Duck. I'd asked the hostel for a recommendation, so there was little issue ordering it. Problem getting drinks, though. You may remember I recently went to a Korean island. On the way we tried a 'mystery Chinese liquor' that tasted like petrol. Well, we now know that this is called baijo, and that it is China's national spirit. And that it still tastes like petrol.
The duck was incredible, though they didn't bring the whole thing onto the table. Two ducks, loads of greens - including a chilli and green bean combo that I am now addicted to - noodles, beer and baijo...for 50元. $7US. Ridiculous.
A quick trip to the supermarket afterwards was quite enlightening. Chocolate is kept locked behind a glass pane - Britain take note. We found Korean food. We saw a boy in a shopping basket. We saw turtles - that may not seem special, but wait until a later Beijing blog. And we saw, bought, and drank, pineapple beer. That was it for beer, though. We had a Wall to scale in the morning...
Love you all